Book Review of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye

William Faulkner understood The Catcher in the Rye as this, “His (Holden’s) tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there…. until he either gave up or was himself, by himself, by his own frantic buzzing, destroyed.”

This book is a funny one. Not blatantly entertaining but surreptitiously so. If somebody hands you a classic, they hand you a perspective to go with it. And gradually, as you read it, your mind’s eye recedes and your understanding of the protagonist becomes submerged and buoyed in the immediate nature of the story. And a story like Holden’s, with its undefeated realism, seems stagnant. But is it really?

Holden is an intelligently sensitive character. He demands your complete attention or nothing at all. As a reader, you can only inhabit either one of the extremes. The story he narrates to you is but an echo through his own becoming. He reels you in in how carefully and incisively he tells his story. I observed that his telling of his own despair, his hopelessness, his aloofness, his angst, is ultimately how he shields that very depressive realism of the world from the world. Let me explain.

Depressive realism is the state of letting go of delusion. The very notion that a certain kind of living can make you feel happy, loved, worthy, and accepted is what’s challenged here. In Holden’s story, this is a fine education, women, friendship, and parenthood. Examples of this view are everywhere in the book. What if, on the contrary, you viewed Holden as not a tragic hero or a great American teenager, but as a flawed human being? You recognise his naïveté as a part of growing up. His pinching indifference as the drawing out of a psyche that is more complex than the world would want him to believe.

Book Review of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces

I remember contemplating Siddhartha’s spiritual journey in Herman Hesse’s novel as a solitary one. The ironic completeness of his protagonist through enlightened and carnal pleasures and Siddhartha’s conscious approach to living them. Through The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the portal of change and illumination is revealed once more. Though less lyrically and more symbolically. You can read it as a profound guide to the consistency and relevancy of myth suffused in history, religion, psychology, and spirituality.

There is something truly revealing about Joseph Campbell’s manner of writing. It questions modern psychology and myth through the lens of human plight. It threads the ascend and descend of human endeavor: highlighting its rusty and familiar bits. You read it not as a scholar would to cultivate an interpretation or hypothesis. The structure is not dogmatically dragging. It’s individual and consciously aware – it’s hopeful.

Self-reflection is never possible on a collective scale. It’s never about the others, it’s always about you. Such lonely and shape-shifting contemplation and confrontation with the self can seem alarming and intimidating. But this book makes it easier. So to reflect on the staggering and revelatory questions of life on a human level, to respond to it through your psyche alone opens up a new, deeper understanding. Then you have the tools to achieve self-reconciliation and gain back the beauty and terror of human nature.

It is possible, I believe, to awaken the memory of myth as it is to get closer to symbols and stories. To explore the labyrinth of self-expression and consciousness again, in its vital and resplendent capacities, and find in them the prophetic oneness of human psychology. Is it the otherness of human life that makes you understand yourself? Or is it your own reflection you are so afraid of learning about when you do?

Book Review of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

In the meandering course of life, you need a book like A Room of One’s Own to ground you. The book reflects a lifelong yearning, to tirelessly be, to consider the self as an eternally shifting dimension, which comes together in the form of strength, conviction, and knowledge. This book contains the spirit of spirit itself. From beginning to end, it unshackles the imperfections of perfection.

The human mind, Woolf writes, must realize its masculine and feminine characteristics. This is what sets the foundation of all human experience. Only then is the being and becoming of a self primitive. Since its inception, a novelist is so absorbed in one’s own sex that it overwhelmingly devours one’s words and actions. That’s when ‘I’ becomes “a convenient term for somebody who has no real being.”

This ‘I’ in a self is also what defines a person in “the relation of stone to stone.” It’s lacking in emotion and truth. Woolf urges you to map your inner and outer world in “the relation of human being to human being.” This activates in each of us a beauty and familiarity that is profound and indispensable.

Read A Room of One’s Own for its stunning wisdom and honesty. It’s for the androgynous mind. The mind that, in its every crease, has an unfathomable depth. The mind that shares in the common language that Virginia Woolf so contemplatively inhabits. Her words, her stream of consciousness is, in its very being, a stroke of genius.

Book Review of Jorge Luis Borges’s Fictions

The stories inside the cocoon of life’s perplexing and re-defining boundaries are never linear. They all inhabit different realities, different mysteries, different creators, and different evils. The point, however, is how they’re told. What if, within those worlds, every dream and its remembrance ignited a chain reaction? Sort of like a tunnel through which you could step over reality’s time-bound singularity and tuck yourself in as if tucked tightly under a blanket, an incomprehensible and strange dimension.

Reading Jorge Luis Borges’s Fictions felt like a tussle between known and unknown worlds. It occupies a prolific and celestial field. And on each stop on your journey is a unique and magical story; The Garden of Forking Paths, The Library of Babel, The Circular Ruins, The Shape of the Sword, and so many more. “Thinking, meditating, imagining,” Jorges writes, “are not anomalous acts – they are the normal respiration of the intelligence.” He instills in each of his characters, his worlds such an acute and concentrated sensitivity. That to understand the complexity and nothingness of life, you are relieved of the heaviness that is your own.

Separate yourself from your known reality’s dimensions to read Jorge Luis Borges. It is like transcending and strolling down multiple realities, each interlaced by its abstraction and mystery. You can be a different person in each, converge with different identities, laws, and natures.

Book Review of Raghu Karnad’s Farthest Field

“People have two deaths: the first at the end of their lives, when they go away, and the second at the end of the memory of their lives, when all who remember them are gone. Then a person quits the world completely.”

The measure of all things echoes in the stories that are left behind. The photographs of history tucked away between covers and in old and oxidized jewelry boxes. Farthest Field, penned in bold and imaginative strokes, is a story of India’s role in the Second World War. The fabric of the book is non-fiction but the patterning that gives it a personality is a fictionalized acquaintance of 3 young men.

The story is in parts sketched out of the author’s faithful and passionate re-telling of his ancestry. So it’s not all fiction. The roots of history have been dug up and revealed to the reader through records, memoirs, and interviews. The book shoulders that weight from the start. Especially when the following words, “For my mother, who didn’t let me forget” are pasted on the book’s dedication page.

This is history like you’ve never matriculated in school before. It’s factual, gripping, but oftentimes, a bit stretched to the extremes. But if you keep at it, the story sinks in deeper and stays there as something you aren’t forced to learn before understanding, as most of us did when learning about our history for the first time.

You can think of this story as “imperfect, live flesh drawn over skeletons rebuilt from scattered bones.” But what it also is is a quick and captivating read. Heavy with grief, loyalty, and courage rather than sacrifice. The kind that pulls you closer to home as you fathom a seedbed of humanistic force and conviction.

Book Review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Does all deep and unfortunate pain that is closed off and suffocated turn into distorted and excessive desire? The kind of yearning that, in imagination, relinquishes and claims the stillness, the emptiness, and non-existence of time’s passing. So what is to be is you and your desire and everything you do to prove, to nobody but yourself, that it still is yours. .
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is often misconstrued as a romantic novel. The sort in which our character, Jay Gatsby, falls in love and abandons himself in a dream. Through an ironic display of grandiose materialism and wealth, he seeks to take back and pardon those lost years between his conquest, Daisy.

And there exists our protagonist, Nick Carraway, though solitarily. As he fastens his grip on the knife’s sharpest edge, you see characters like Jay Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Myrtle, and Jordan taking shape. Their unconscious movement and uniformity arouse complete dormancy of identity. Is that tragic? What stroke of living could possibly negate the nausea of such self-deception? Or is it that the few who do survive sail in the same boat that goes “against the current” and shoulders the weight of “the past” as Nick Carraway?

The Great Gatsby exists in the known and the unknown. It tests its limit on how far you, the reader, can go before injuring the innocence of each of its characters. So the most predictable way of navigating this tragic and loathsome story is to perceive in it a different kind of beauty. A beauty that exists not as a quality in the lives of the characters but as a beauty that lets us into their self-serving psyches as a standard of desire and its unending pursuit.

Book Review Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

You gather the courage to look back to look into the future. Margaret Atwood’s compelling and profound novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was published in 1985. The story is dystopian – a possibility that directly and effectively stamps on the feet of what makes human humane.

What makes this novel so captivating is that it has a human element. It’s not just a story that restricts women into their homes, compartmentalizes them based on their fertility and corporeal value so that it brings profitability to the men in power. But it’s also a historical story. A strict regime, punishable by death offenses, rape, moral codes, chaste clothing and conduct, and social and cultural regimentation. What Atwood does is she fictionalizes all this hurt, this puritanical pecking order without minimizing the historical suffering of it. The story merely reflects what has been done before. And the telling of it, in crisp, elaborate, and provocative sentences, is one of the best I’ve read.

You feel the intensity of the story and of the lives of all the women under surveillance and unconsented conformity to Gilead when you read the following lines. “What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise, there are only two dimensions. Otherwise, you live with your face squashed up against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise, you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.”

The narration is chilling and terrifying. You’re catapulted into the past, before the regime, where the protagonist lived an intellectually, politically, and sexually uninhibited life. Then, in the present, where you read her words as your own as she navigates the “burning city” in all its heaviness, darkness, and soulless existence. Read The Handmaid’s Tale not because it’s one of the top dystopian novels of all time. The novel is psychologically-incisive in that it’s reflective of what we are all familiar with

The Face of Another – Kobo Abe

The loyalty of a face is so inveterate against the reality of identity. We’re lost in the maze of misplaced, forgotten, or abandoned identities. And no other Japanese author understands the significance and crisis of this fable better than Kobo Abe. In his book, The Face of Another, this part of our humanity is most chronic and ablaze.

The book rises to the challenge of an experiment. This experiment is as much in the protagonist’s mind as it is in the reader’s. It’s a dormant state followed by a line of questioning. Though we can escape anger or loneliness, can we strip the face that holds on to these emotions? We may not look at other faces and turn our gaze to nature and reflect in its mirror, but how is it that we cannot turn away from the many faces we ourselves cannot bear to remove? Is it a disguise even if it feels more real and closer to reality than nothing?

The protagonist strips each layer of identity and then of its masks. He loses his ability to distinguish person from person, object from object, music from music. These sights, sounds, and smell flood his inner ecosystem. And to redeem it, he chooses a different identity in order to meet the world and himself. Kobo Abe’s literary style – in The Face of Another, The Box Man, The Woman in the Dunes – feels like a black hole in space. Inside it are different pulsating soliloquies suspended over a vast space of empty air.

Have you ever read a book that feels the right kind of nihilist, perhaps even cynic? Kobo Abe’s chilling and classic fiction scrutinizes a man’s suffering and reawakening. The most absurd and existential of catastrophes is the confrontation of your inner mind’s eye with your outer. This book is humanity’s letter of admission to the world. It’s brutal and brisk in the way it breaks down superficialities.


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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind

A deeply disturbing story that evolves through time as it shifts and surpasses the boundaries of literary worlds. What if what we perceive as the boundaries of our objective universe isn’t the only space we inhabit? The story of Perfume and the provocative and redolent sphere it creates definitely makes a good argument for it.

It inhabits a blip in time; a black hole of the universe’s most cruel joke which is to become an accessory to fragrance. Now, we think of fragrance as having a more meek quality. Imagine a world where we were the meek ones. It can be mystifying, titillating but knuckled under a growing horror. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer discovers the atoms and molecules of such a world in its every breath. It’s a celebration of the living world but carried out through its destruction.

The book is full of effulgent descriptions, the poetics of perfuming, and finally, murder blanketed as a sensual remedy for isolation. The path it takes is profoundly imaginative, horrific, and unpredictable. It’s not a historical tale, not a mystery, not a crime novel, nor is it horror. Most of the time, the stamp of a book is not what it is for the world, but what it becomes, detached, for itself. And that’s exactly the kind of book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is.


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The Dichotomy of a Culture

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories, you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

This was an excerpt from one of my favorite reads…. A book that is the measure of loving and the subtraction of it. It carries the weight of a heavy soul… kept in a jar… tightly sealed… full of anguish, regrets, misplaced memories, and shattered kinship. You see glimpses of it through cracks in the surface left behind by the piercing eyes of one’s political, cultural, and historical predispositions.

The book is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

The book reads like a melancholic and secretive diary. A diary that you never bring out into the world; keeping it safely tucked away under a mattress or behind a mountain of personal belongings. A diary that is cradled too close to the heart, brutally and yet fervently expressive; the honesty of which even frightens you. It’s the flesh of the wound that runs the deepest and that bleeds on those blank pieces of paper; but in the end, it is bandaged by only you. This is it. The enormity of Arundhati Roy’s compass pointing us in so many glued-together directions. Having read this book three times, tucked between periods of days, weeks, months of staying away from a book that I, who am inclined to always pick up a new book because there’s always so much to read, go back to it every time for some sentimental and perceptive consolation. 

The thing about reading tragedy is that it becomes your own. Or that you claim that it is your own. How else would you feel it? The triumphs of loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger run deep into the well of your emotional tendencies. The characters are waiting for you to peel back their layers, upon a surface that makes up a story’s setting. The inadequacy of such a task is ironically what brings you closer to Arundhati Roy’s fiction. You read the words, maybe in whisper-quiet echoes. But you feel it pulsating in every muscle and their hollow spaces as if those very echoes mimic the speed and the color and the density of blood.

The book is set in Kerala, ingrained in its language; the dichotomy of a culture, of lives that were born too soon (or that shouldn’t have been born at all). The narration is restless with religious and political descriptions. Arundhati Roy has a unique way of defining these descriptions through her characters. The role of a mother, of a child, of a brother, a cousin, a lover, it’s in their history that one remembers the history of Kerala. If you’ve read the back cover of the book; the description hits the nail on the head. Amid the ruined, the forgotten, the misplaced – you won’t find a book this expansive in its depth and yet the characters live lives that feel quite the opposite.

It goes on for 340 pages; enough to contain decades and decades of survival. As a reader, you will diligently surrender to the writing style and tone of the book. It’s fast in its narration and yet you feel like it holds back time. Dropping an anchor in anyone who evaluates a book not only by its unpredictable structure but by its understanding of emotions – and their lyrical reminiscence.