Every year, I try to read at least one book from some literary prize shortlists and almost every time, I end up disliking the book. This year I picked the JCB 2021 winner – Delhi: A Soliloquy. I was in for a surprise. Before we get into that, something about my reading habit.
A short note on reading habit before the actual review: Remember this post? A lot of you appreciated it and while I barely continued this practice, at least it initiated me into reading articles more mindfully. As for books, I already used to savor what I read but I mostly forget what I read. Hence, going forward, you will see a structure to my book opinions. I also maintain a book journal for my notes now and I love doing that. You’ll also see me writing why I chose to read a book. It will sort of help me take a mental picture of the time I was reading that book in. I want to clarify here that I don’t read for ROI (not that that’s a bad thing) but the note-taking may sound like tedious to some of you and that’s totally understandable, but I do it to savor the book reading experience. Goes without saying that I only do it when I like to.
And, now, here it goes:
Book 7 of 2022:
Delhi: A Soliloquy
Why I chose this book? I pretty much mentioned the reason in the first paragraph.
What is it about? This book is a narrative on Delhi through the years from a Malayali person’s standpoint, with the backdrop of various wars that happened in modern day Delhi, starting from the war with China in 1960. Sahadevan, protagonist and also the narrator, is convinced to come for a job to Delhi by his known person from his native – Sreedharanunni, a communist person who loses his life when Delhi is attacked by China (yes, the irony). The book then has multiple characters who grow up and old in Delhi, all from Kerala and everything happens from Sahadevan’s point of view against wars like the 1965 one with Pakistan, 1970 one with Bangladesh and so on. The riots after the murder of Indira Gandhi were hair raising, and to know that this is not just a book, but rather something that actually happened, is something else.
What I liked? The book has so many characters but i found it in me to love most of them, they all held some place in my heart and i don’t even know how. Usually, books with multiple storylines get really annoying for me but, here, i waited for every character’s chapter to come up again. A lot of good work has gone into giving ample character building to each character. i think it also has to do with the fact that the narration is uniform, told from a single point of view. All the events were based on historical events (various wars in modern Delhi) but there were some that stood out for me. For example, reading about emergency riots was like watching a tragedy happening on screen. Very well written. i usually don’t enjoy the introspection kind of parts in any book, but Sahadevan’s monologues with himself were also worth looking forward to. the book is essentially a growing older of Sahadevan as Delhi grew up with him too.
What I didn’t like: I can’t think of anything honestly, because I went in with no expectations. Additionally, I have been reading a lot of war fiction these days, so it was a natural pick at the time.
Book 8 of 2022:
Prelude to a Riot
Why I chose this book? can’t say why i am going from one war book to another but I am and i am just into that right now.
What is it about? Coincidentally, this book was also based in Kerala, so the Malayali community basically. It’s about different perspectives of various characters as the Hindu Muslim divide begins to be “seen” in Kerala. primarily focusing on three friends and their respective perspectives, it also has many characters like the previous book and each one stood out. It’s a great thing that I don’t remember right now how this book ended but I do remember most of the characters. The most endearing part of the book is how the three friends one out of whom is Muslim start falling apart due to their changing perspectives and the ongoing events at that time.
What I liked: Obviously the fact that how relevant it is in current times. Also, how true to its name is the title of the book – it was really a prelude to what was to come, i.e. riots between two communities/religions. it highlighted the kind of differences or stigma that one starts associating with another community because of the propaganda. The book was scary, because it felt close to home.
What I didn’t like: Why was this book so short? I can totally see it to be intentional but can’t figure out why. It could have been so much more detailed and that would have made it all the more lovely. i hope a sequel is planned.