The Baron in the Trees: Italo Calvino

Title: The Baron in the Trees
Author: Italo Calvino
Buy it from: Amazon, Flipkart

Young Cosimo, the twelve year old son of a Baron is faced with an unpleasant prospect at dinner one day. His sister Battista has prepared a dish of snails. This circumstance is especially unpleasant since a few days back Cosimo and his younger brother Biagio had tried to help the snails escape from their captivity. The boys had been caught and punished. But as a result now it has become unacceptable to Cosimo to eat this dish. It is sheer disobedience to refuse food at his father’s table, but Cosimo has more will than what his family suspects. Not only does he refuse the dish but he also escapes the stone mansion of his father and takes up residence among the trees.

‘The Baron in the Trees’ tells the extraordinary story of this Cosimo. Once Cosimo entered the world of trees he decided never to set his foot on the ground again. In the trees he grew up to be a young man, a well-read man because he took an early liking to books and spent many a happy hour reading great works in the branches of an Oak or a Magnolia. He found the love of his life while sauntering about in the orchards of his neighbour, the willful Viola, and later assumed his Baronetcy while still living in the trees. He made many friends - unusual friends for a Baron - in the poorest of people of Ombrosa, helped these friends face their adversities and generally lived a good and satisfying life. All in the trees.

A singular story, narrated by a singular author. I will not talk about what a great writer Italo Calvino is because anyone who has read any of his work already knows that. Calvino’s easy and yet meaningful style makes this novel a great joy to read. The social observations, the commentaries on the human behaviour that form such a natural part of his writing make for rich reading.

In this novel he builds a perceptive picture of the social geography of Ombrosa. He writes about the lives of the common people – the labourers, the farmers, even the thieves and the pirates alongside the politics and aspirations of the noblemen. It is very interesting and entertaining to see these dynamics play out into the events of the novel. The character of Cosimo is of course pivotal to the novel. It is very easy to fall in love with this unusual Baron and his extraordinary pursuits. The generosity, the rebellion, the philosophical maturity that he carries in his bosom makes him one remarkable character.

In conclusion: Of course go read this book, while I go and read my next Calvino ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’.

Book Source: Self

The Cosmic Clues: Manjiri Prabhu

Title: The Cosmic Clues
Author: Manjiri Prabhu
Buy it from: Flipkart, Jaico

Astrology holds a very important position in the Indian psyche. Everything from arranging marriages, starting businesses, forecasting the future to finding remedies to diseases has solution under the umbrella of astrology. Author Manjiri Prabhu has made another very intelligent and unusual use of Astrology by employing it to solve crime. The outcome is ‘The Cosmic Clues’ a very gripping and enjoyable detective novel.

Sonia Samarth is a young detective who has just started ‘Stellar Investigations’ with the help of her assistant Jatin. But it is not just any detective agency; Sonia is well versed in astrology and believes it can be used to investigate crime. The venture does not begin very well; she is met with skepticism and ridicule. But soon enough a lovely cat wanders into her office and brings with her the first case for the Stellar Investigations. It is a gruesome murder which needs to be unraveled, a murder which appears senseless, without motive and yet has been committed. Sonia puts her unconventional methods into actions and is able to solve the crime. This first success brings her a string of cases in its wake. Some of these cases are easy and yet others are challenging and while solving them all Sonia finds new friends and discovers new things about herself.

Manjiri Prabhu has spun out one gripping case after another in this novel. The most interesting aspect is of course the use of astrology in solving the crimes. I had no inkling going into the novel what kind of role astrology would play in the story and how effective it would be. But Manjiri Prabhu knows how to tell a story well and she makes intelligent use of astrology to give twists to the cases. I adored the protagonist Sonia Samarth; she is a spunky and adventurous young woman who makes the novel an enjoyable read. The novel has a fast pace and it keeps the reader hooked till the end. 

In conclusion: It was great fun to read ‘The Cosmic Clues’. I loved the unusual combination of astrology and crime which Manjiri Prabhu has woven into her stories. I will recommend this book to anyone who likes reading mysteries or who wants to read something unusual and fresh.

Book Source: Self

Anansi Boys: Neil Gaiman

Title: Anansi Boys
Author: Neil Gaiman
Buy it from: Flipkart, Amazon Kindle Store

Anansi is one of the West African gods, a trickster god, a Spider god. Anansi is also the owner of all the stories. The stories used to belong to the Tiger before, but then Anansi acquired them from the Tiger using his cunning. It was a change for the better of course. For the stories which were violent before now became the stories of cunning and wit. Gaiman’s ‘Anansi boys’ is also a story of cunning and wit. Here intelligence overpowers brawn, and good wins over evil.

Fat Charlie had never known that his father Mr. Nancy was the spider god Anansi. It was only when Mr. Nancy died that Charlie discovered this little fact. On the same day he also found out that he had a brother. In one of his several moments of despair, Charlie sends for his brother Spider. Now Charlie has not inherited any of his father’s godliness, it had all gone to Spider. So when Spider decides that he likes Charlie’s home and his girlfriend, Charlie’s simple and depressing life becomes all topsy turvy. What Charlie decides to about this leads to further complications and hilarity. 

Neil Gaiman certainly knows about gods and about stories. I had read his ‘Graveyard book’ before and had totally loved it. I found ‘Anansi boys’ to be just as spectacular. The tricks are clever and the story is full of wit and good humour. The gods and the people are quirky, unpredictable and very likeable. I enjoyed the way Gaiman mixed reality and fantasy like where at one moment you are in a musty old parlour and the next into some weird godland. I also loved the ending and the way all threads are tied up into a pretty bunch. Overall an adorable and completely un-put-downable book.

In conclusion: Great story? Check. Magic? Check. Loads of fun? Check. Should you read it? Yes!!!   

Book Source: Self

The Cat's Table: Michael Ondaatje

Title: The Cat's Table
Author: Michael Ondaatje
Buy it from: FlipkartAmazon Kindle store

The Cat’s Table is the latest novel by Michael Ondaatje, the author known for his outstanding Booker winning novel ‘The English Patient’. I had loved ‘The English Patient’ when I had read it a decade back and when I read it again a couple of years back I loved it even more. So it was interesting for me to read ‘The Cat’s Table’ and see what Ondaatje had to say in his latest work.

The protagonist of this novel is Michael, an eleven year old boy, travelling to England to his mother. He has spent all his life in Colombo, and now heading to an unfamiliar country, to a distant mother is filling him with uncertainty. On the ship, the ocean liner Oronsay, he becomes friends with two other boys, the wild Cassius and the gentle Ramadhin. The boys form a tight group and haunt the nooks and crannies of the ship, and make friends with the crew and the other travellers. Amongst their new friends are also the travellers who are assigned to the same table as theirs, the Cat’s Table. The Cat’s table, the least privileged table on the ship, hosts an assortment of people, a spinster taking pigeons to England, a tailor, a musician, a botanist. As the ship progresses and the young trio learns more about their fellow travellers, they realize that life can be very complex and most simple people can carry fascinating stories hidden in them. With their new knowledge and experiences the boys make a tentative entry into adulthood as they reach the shores of England.    

The Cat’s Table is a deceptively complex novel. It starts off slowly, simply, showing us the assortment of the people on board the Oronsay. Ondaatje’s prose is powerful enough to keep the reader engaged in the slow unfolding of the characters. Then very gradually the story becomes layered, unlikely links are formed and unexpected events occur. It is this part of the novel that I enjoyed the most, the gradual build-up of the events, and the increasing complexity of the relationships. It was interesting to see the individual characters become part of a greater story.

In conclusion: I enjoyed the slow progression of the novel and Ondaatje’s beautiful prose. It was wonderful to experience the geography of the Oronsay’s journey with Ondaatje.

Book Source: Self

The Girl in Blue: P. G. Wodehouse

Title: The Girl in Blue
Author: P. G. Wodehouse
Buy it from: Flipkart, Amazon Kindle Store

As improbable as it is, it is the truth that I had not read any of P. G. Wodehouse’s novels before. Many friends had recommended his different works and had insisted that I read a Wodehouse at once. I planned to do it and then forgot. I confess this was a bad bad thing to do. After reading ‘The Girl in Blue’ and laughing my head off the entire time I was reading it, I realize what I have missed all these years being a Wodehouse illiterate. Wodehouse's writing is fresh, fun and very generous at heart. The wicked are not really wicked and the kind are beyond limits kind in the novel and it all of course ends into a 'happily ever after'

‘The Girl in Blue’ is the story of Jerry West a young man who has fallen in love with an heiress. The path of love is full of hurdles for Jerry; the first being the girl with whom he is already engaged, and the next being his inheritance which is taking far too long to come into his possession. To add to the troubles, Gainsborough’s miniature ‘The Girl in Blue’ has been stolen and it is up to Jerry to bring it back to its owner. Add to that mix an American corporation lawyer enamoured by a beautiful young girl, his hearty but shoplifting sister, a voluble broker’s man and we have a very droll story at hand. The humour is of the best nature, the characters are very adorable and the story is entertainingly convoluted. 

The Girl in Blue is a delightful read full of charm and good humour, and I am very glad to have picked this particular book of P. G. Wodehouse. 

In conclusion: Go grab it! 

Book Source: Self