Byłem niedawno (po raz pierwszy) w ogrodzie zoologicznym w New Delhi. Chyba dlatego nie mogłem nie powrócić do lektury jednej z najlepszych książek o tematyce indyjskiej. Mam na myśli “Białego tygrysa” Aravinda Adigi. Tak samo, jak główny bohater wspomnianej powieści, i ja odwiedziłem delhijskie ZOO, w poszukiwaniu białego tygrysa. Na szczęście, cała tygrysia rodzina ma w Delhi (jak na ZOO) całkiem spory wybieg i podziwianie biało-czarnych kotów sprawiało mi całkiem sporo radości. Pomagała trochę świadomość, że żadne białe tygrysy nie żyją na wolności - tylko w ZOO...
Biały tygrys w ZOO (New Delhi, listopad 2017 r.)
„Patrzyłem, jak chodzi. Przez szpary w ciemnym ogrodzeniu błyskały oświetlone słońcem czarne pręgi i biała sierść - niczym na wyświetlanym w zwolnionym tempie starym, czarno-białym filmie. Przemierzał jak zaczarowany wciąż tę samą trasę, od jednego końca zagrody do drugiego, w identycznym tempie.
Chodząc w ten sposób, sam siebie hipnotyzował - inaczej nie zniósłby tej klatki.”
„Biały tygrys” Aravind Adiga
„Biały tygrys” Aravinda Adigi został w Polsce wydany w 2008, niemal równolegle z oryginałem i chwała za to polskiemu wydawcy. Mimo upływu lat, tekst się nie zestarzał. Opisywane w tekście dynamiczne zmiany, jakie obserwował bohater, wciąż w Indiach są widoczne na każdym kroku Jednak jeszcze dużo wody w Gangesie upłynie, zanim odmienią się, pokazane przez autora, mechanizmy społeczne czy polityczne oraz gospodarka kraju.
W Jama Masjid (New Delhi, listopad 2017 r.)
„Biały tygrys” to trochę taka indyjska wersja mitu o awansie „od pucybuta do milionera”. Nie jest to jednak optymistyczna wizja awansu społecznego dokonującego się dzięki błyskawicznie postępującej globalizacji. Czarny humor przeplata się z gorzkim tragizmem losów głównego bohatera. Wzniosłe idee społeczne zderzają się z twardą rzeczywistością „Ciemności”, czyli światem indyjskiej prowincji rządzonej przez bezwzględnych posiadaczy ziemskich. Dodatkowego kolorytu książce dodaje fakt, że główny bohater „spowiada” się premierowi Chin. A one są poniekąd największym rywalem Indii w Azji. Stawia to opisywane w książce Indie, w dość słabym świetle, ociera się o zdradę stanu i tym silniej oddziałuje na czytelnika (szczególnie indyjskiego).
„Kojec dla Kogutów” to ulubiona metafora Aravinda Adigi (New Delhi, listopad 2017 r.)
„Rozumiem, że wy, żółtoskórzy, pomimo sukcesów w dziedzinie kanalizacji, wody pitnej i złotych medali olimpijskich, demokracji nie macie. Jakiś polityk mówił w radiu, że dlatego was pokonamy: może i nie mamy kanalizacji, wody pitnej ani złotych medali olimpijskich, ale przecież mamy demokrację.
Gdybym to ja miał stworzyć państwo, najpierw bym zdobył rury kanalizacyjne, potem demokrację, a dopiero na końcu wziąłbym się do rozdawania broszurek i posążków Gandhiego, ale co ja tam wiem? Jestem tylko mordercą!”
„Biały tygrys” Aravind Adiga
Główny bohater książki nie wstydzi się swego awansu ekonomicznego i społecznego, który został osiągnięty dzięki przemocy. trochę go to uwiera, ale co więcej, niemal do tej przemocy nawołuje. Ostrzega, że w końcu najubożsi Indusi wyrwą się ze społecznych więzów kastowego społeczeństwa. Pokazuje równocześnie, jak taki awans jest (wciąż) niezwykły we współczesnych Indiach. Oby się mylił.
Centrum handlowe Ambience Mall (Gurgaon, listopad 2017 r.)
Choć pochwaliłem Prószyńskiego za szybkie wydanie książki, to niestety nie mogę tego samego powiedzieć o e-booku. Wersji elektronicznej (oficjalnej) „Białego tygrysa” niestety nie ma w sprzedaży. Pozostaje poszukać wersji papierowej. W każdym razie, do przeczytania powieści gorąco zachęcam.
Tasks for Pancha Ganapati: Post about your 5 favourite books this year and why you appreciated them so much.
Tasks for Festivus: [...] --OR-- Perform the Airing of Grievances: name 5 books you’ve read this year that have disappointed you - tell us in tongue-lashing detail why and how they failed to live up to expectations.
I decided to create a joint post for my most and least favorite reads of the year -- and I'm going to have to divide the "favorite" part into "fiction" and "nonfiction." There is no way I could whittle the list down even further than these 10 books or treat some of them as "honorable mentions." That being said:
... in reverse chronological order of reading:
A searing portrait of modern India, writ large on a colorful, chaotic, topsy-turvy and utterly depraved and amoral canvas, but told with a great sense of humor belying the distinctly perceptible underlying sense of urgency.
Audiobook splendidly narrated by Kerry Shale -- if ever someone deserved the title of "the man of 1000 voices," it's him.
The spine-chilling portrayal of an honor killing in a small Columbian seaside town and the events leading up to and following it, told in barely 100 pages and essentially in reverse chronological order, with the actual killing occurring on the last pages of the book: a brutal indictment of false morality, backwardness, cowardice and ineffectuality, both social and individual.
Ostensibly a stand-alone, but actually more of an extension of May's Lewis Trilogy, featuring some of the same characters but chiefly told from the point of view of an amnesiac scientist and an Edinburgh teenager in search of her missing (presumed dead) father. Starkly atmospheric and so gripping it made me overlook the fact that it contains not one but two elements I don't particularly care for: an amnesiac protagonist, and first person present tense narration of part of the story. (Note to Ms. Allingham -- see below, Traitor's Purse: This is how you convincingly write an amnesiac protagonist in search of his own identity while making sense of a murder that he may or may not have committed himself.)
What can I say? It's Shirley Jackson -- nobody does psychological horror like her; slowly and meticulously building from a slight initial sense of unease to full-blown terror. I don't know how often I will actually revisit this book, but I do know that it, and the ladies in "the castle," will stay with me forever.
Also a great reading of the audio version by Bernadette Dunne.
Not quite on the level of The Big Sleep, but what a pleasure to revisit Chandler's version of 1940s Los Angeles. His books are all essentially of a pattern, so I can't take too many of them back to back (or if so, it has to be in different formats; the way I revisited them for the Halloween bingo, with full cast audio adaptations mixed in), but it's hard to beat the gut-punch quality of his imagery and language, particularly when rendered as splendidly as in this audio narration by Elliott Gould.
... again in reverse chronological order of reading:
Martin Edwards: The Golden Age of Murder
The early history of the Detection Club, told by its current president and first archivist. Martin's knowledge of both Golden Age detective fiction and the lives of its writers is downright encyclopedic, and he tells a multi-faceted story very compellingly. At times I had the feeling that he was taking his own conjecture a bit too far (I will, e.g., have to explore Anthony Berkeley's and E.M. Delafield's writing for myself before I wholly buy into his theory about their relationship, what they may have meant to each other, and how it is reflected in their novels), and there were things, chiefly relating to Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, that I was already familiar with, but by and large, wow, what a read.
Not yet reviewed; status updates here:
Jennifer Worth: Call the Midwife
Yes, I know, I know, I'm late to the party and there's been a whole TV series at this point. And I'm sure the TV adaptation (which I've yet to watch) brings across the stories and the characters very nicely. But there's both an unflinching straightforwardness and a genuine warmth to the original literary version of these tales of midwifery in London's mid-20th century East End that I wager will be hard to replicate in any screen adaptation -- particularly if read with as much empathy, sense of humor and tasteful restraint as by the incomparable Stephanie Cole (who I would sorely wish would narrate many more audiobooks!).
Review as yet to come.
Gregory Doran and Antony Sher: Woza Shakespeare -- Titus Andronicus in South Africa
Man, what a trip. Titus Andronicus is not, and never will be my favorite play by William Shakespeare, but having read this book, I'd give anything to be able to watch a recording of this particular production. In the 1980s (when Apartheid was still in full swing) Gregory Doran (later: Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and Antony Sher decided to take this most violent and controversial of all the bard's plays to Sher's homeland, from which he had emigrated some 20 years earlier, wowing never to return (and even dramatically burning his passport). This book reproduces the salient parts of Doran's and Sher's diaries written during the project, from the moment the project was born to the play's actual run in Johannesburg and later, London and on tour. Insightful, illuminating, dramatic and, particularly in the moments of greatest tragedy and misfortune, surprisingly and supremely funny -- this is definitely one of those books that will stay with me forever (and not only because I happen to own it).
(And yes, one of these days I may even write a proper review of this book, too.)
Robin Whiteman & Rob Talbot: Brother Cadfael's Herb Garden / Robin Whiteman: The Cadfael Companion - The World of Brother Cadfael
Shared honors for two simply gorgeously illustrated coffee table books full of facts and knowledge about medieval monastery life (Benedictine and otherwise), the healing arts of the medieval monks, and the plants they used. Must-reads not only for fans of Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael series but for anyone interested in the Middle Ages, monastic history, social history in general, botany, medicine, and pharmacy.
Review as yet to come, too.
Incidentally, a third book by this pair of authors -- Cadfael Country: Shropshire & the Welsh Borders -- provided, together with Ellis Peters's own Strongholds and Sanctuaries: The Borderland of England and Wales, important information and stimuli for the "Welsh borderland" part of my trip to Britain in late July 2017, and will certainly be consulted again should I make good on my plan to spend some time in Wales proper next year.
A lavishly illustrated coffee table book-sized guide to the gardens Shakespeare knew (or might have known) both in Stratford / Warwickshire and in London, as well as an introduction to the gardens of the five Shakespeare-related houses in and around Stratford, with an introductory chapter on Tudor gardening in general. The find of several great finds of my trip to [London, Oxford and] Stratford in mid-June of this year. (And it's even an autographed copy ... as I only discovered when I unpacked the book back home!)
... again in reverse chronological order of reading:
This started well, but went downhill fast literally within a page of the first murder having been committed. And I sincerely hope the real Giordano Bruno was not anything even remotely like the headless chicken that we're being presented with in this book in lieu of the incisively intelligent, street-smart -- indeed, supremely cunning -- philosopher-scientist and sometime spy that anybody who had spent even an hour reading about the real life Giordano Bruno would have expected.
Utterly predictable and unengaging, never mind the author's obvious amount of research into 16th century Oxford academic life. Would she'd spent as much time thinking about her characters' personas and motivations ...
Shared (dis-)honors for my two recent reads from Margery Allingham's Albert Campion mystery series. Both of the spy / international conspiracy variety that none of the Golden Age witers really excelled in, and Allingham's plots (and characters) tend to be among the most ridiculous of the lot -- as certainly exhibited here. Thank God her Campion series also contains some genuine jewels, such as Police at the Funeral, The Case of the Late Pig and, particularly, the downright devious Death of a Ghost. I hope my next exposures to Mr. Campion's adventures will be decidedly more in the latter line again.
Possibly the disappointment of the year, even if I knew that McDermid's background is in journalism and crime writing, not in science. But she's associated with a forensics program at Dundee University and her crime novels manage to transport forensic detail with what has so far sounded to me as a reasonable degree of accuracy, so, given that I like her crime writing in other respects, too, my anticipations for this book ran fairly high. Alas, what I got was a frequently manipulative piece of investigative journalism and true crime writing, whose actual scientific contents was on the super-light side and entirely third-hand, with frequently not even a chance given to the reader to verify the precise source of a given statement or piece of information. I do hope Ms. McDermid will turn to crime fiction again in her next literary ventures ... her crime novels show just how much better than this she can really be.
My first book by Simon Brett, and again, from a former president of the Detection Club I would have expected better. This novel wears its 1970s setting like a stifling cloak; it hasn't aged well at all and, what's worse, I didn't take to the protagonist at all, either (an actor in the throes of a midlife crisis); neither as far as his attitude towards women nor as far as his attitude towards amateur theatre productions was concerned -- in short, he struck me as a mysogynistic snob. I may give the series another chance at a later point, but it certainly won't be anytime soon.
Patrick O'Brian: The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey
I love O'Brian's Aubrey / Maturin series and raced through the whole 20 books at breakneck speed earlier this year, but by God, this particular publication (I won't even call it a "book", because it isn't) has to be one of the most blatant exercises in the exploitation of an author's literary legacy under the sun. Patrick O'Brian died when he wasn't even halfway into this story -- but instead of letting things rest, because this really is not anywhere near a completed novel, his publisher went and released the puny few initial chapters as a "book" in its own right.
My sincere advice to all newbie readers of the series: Spare yourselves the trouble of looking into this one; it's not worth it -- not for all the enjoyment of O'Brian's writing. Blue at the Mizzen, O'Brian's last completed Aubrey / Maturin novel, has a very satisfying conclusion -- content yourselves with that and just take it as read that "they lived happily ever after." Or, well, maybe not entirely happily as far as Stephen Maturin is concerned. But then, he probably wouldn't know what to do with himself if ever he were entirely happy; he's just not that kind of person. And Jack Aubrey couldn't possibly be any happier than he is at the end of Blue at the Mizzen.
Didn't review this and am not planning to.
Chris Bohjalian: The Sandcastle Girls
Not an entirely bad book, but boy, this could have been so much more. Ostensibly, it deals with the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkey in the middle of WWI. What we really get is -- at least chiefly -- the love story of an American volunteer nurse trainee who has accompanied her father on a humanitarian mission to Syria and an Armenian refugee who, having concluded that his beloved wife is one of the 10,000s of victims of the death march through the Syrian desert to which the Turks exposed their Armenian women and children captives, falls head over heels in love with the aforementioned Western nurse trainee. Oh, sure, there are bits about the genocide as well (and Gallipoli, too, for good measure), but for many of these parts the reader isn't even right there with the characters but learns about them second-hand and in hindsight; and the ending is incredibly soppy -- and while it's obviously intended as a happy ending, a look beneath its shallow surface reveals that some characters' happiness comes at the greatest of all costs to another ... and at least one of those living happily ever after even knows about this, and nevertheless doesn't do anything about it (and if I hadn't stopped caring about that person long before I reached the end, that bit alone would have been the absolutely last straw for me.)
Georgette Heyer: Death in the Stocks
Georgette Heyer's books are hit and miss for me; this was definitely the most "miss" of the miss books to date. It's got a nicely-drawn atmospheric beginning, but that doesn't last for more than a few pages, and I didn't take to any of the characters; certainly not the "bright young things" and "good old chaps" at the center of the story -- nor even really Inspector Hanasyde, who is being introduced here. Also, the "who" in whodunnit has a likely candidate from early on, even though the "how" is a bit out of left field.
I'm not planning to read the entire Hanasyde series, just one or two more (those that have the most direct ties to the subsequent Inspector Hemingway books, which overall I prefer); and -- but for the odd stand-alone -- I think that'll conclude my foray into Heyer's crime writing.
I have a suspicion bordering on phobia of pretty much every book being marketed as the greatest thing since sliced bread; and after this book won the Booker Prize, that suspicion / phobia certainly came into play big time here. So it was that it took me almost 10 years, and the discovery that there is an audio version read by Kerry Shale, for me to go near it after all.
The White Tiger is, ostensibly, a letter by one Ashok Sharma (aka Balram Halwai) to the Chinese Prime Minister who, All India Radio has just announced, intends to visit Bangalore in order to learn about entrepreneurship -- and that magic word has caught Mr. Halwai's attention:
"Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don't have entrepreneurs. And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs. Thousands and thousands of them. Especially in the field of technology. And these entrepreneurs -- we entrepreneurs -- have set up all these outsourcing companies that virtually run America now.
You hope to learn how to make a few Chinese entrepreneurs, that's why you're visiting. That made me feel good. But then it hit me that in keeping with international protocol, the prime minister and foreign minister of my country will meet you at the airport with garlands, small take-home sandalwood statues of Gandhi, and a booklet full of information about India's past, present, and future.
That's when I had to say that thing in English, sir. Out loud.
That was at 11:37 p.m. Five minutes ago.
I don't just swear and curse. I am a man of action and change. I decided right there and then to start dictating a letter to you.
Don't waste your money on those American books. They're so yesterday.
I am tomorrow."
And so, over the course of seven nights, Mr. Halwai proceeds to tell the story of his life, from a poor childhood in "the darkness" on the shores of the Ganga (Ganges), to an existence as a rich man's driver and servant in Delhi -- until fate puts the means into his hands to "better" himself and at last become the "entrepreneur" as who he presents himself to his reader: having watched and learned from his observations in his Delhi master's service until he himself had mastered the Indian game of business, politics, and public life; and firmly believing all the time that he really is, as a school inspector once made him believe, "that rarest of animals, the creature that comes along only once in a generation -- the white tiger."
It's a tale set against a vast, colorful, chaotic and utterly depraved canvas: though I hate describing books by way of a reference to another author's writings, The White Tiger really does remind me of the early works of Salman Rushdie; there is the same sort of exuberant narrative voice, enjoyment of word play, humor, tumult of persons, events and sensous experience, and the same sense of urgency underlying the story being told -- albeit, however, with one crucial difference: Salman Rushdie's protagonists, particularly in his early novels, may be deeply flawed; they may even set themselves outside of formal law, but deep down, they are not amoral. Yet, there is no question that this story's narrator is; as are, indeed, the majority of the characters populating this book. That didn't take away one iota of my enjoyment; in fact, anything but a profoundly amoral narrator wouldn't have worked in this particular context, and the last thing Balram Halwai himself wants is the reader's compassion or sympathy -- he wants his applause.
But to the extent that the "white tiger" himself is a product of Indian society, this book also operates as lacerating an indictment of modern Indian society as is possibly conceivable -- even if the indictment of a writer who seeks to cure ills by mercilessly exposing them -- and that, too, is a distinguishing mark from Rushdie's writing: Rushdie, even during and in the aftermath of the fatwa (which had made him persona non grata in India just as in the Muslim world and even in certain places in the West) never lost his abiding sympathy for India. He was (and is) certainly not blind to its manifold flaws, but the Indian subcontinent he describes, and its representatives in his books, always have some sort of redeeming quality that counterbalances an undeniable ill; and they're frequently a heck of a lot more sympathetic than the same novel's Westerners. When it comes to India, Rushdie would, I think, always argue that people are flawed, society is made up of people, and hence society is necessarily flawed -- but people, and hence society, are / is way too multifaceted to be reduced to their flaws only. Mr. Adiga might even agree on this; The White Tiger doesn't read like a book written by someone who has given up on his country and is just airing his grievances. But he clearly believes that shock therapy, albeit sweetened by humor, is what is urgently called for.
The one thing that probably contributed most to my enjoyment of the wild ride on which Mr. Adiga invites his readers -- other than this book's narrative voice -- was its audio narration by Kerry Shale. To stick with the Rushdie comparisons for a moment longer, in the Satanic Verses there is a character nicknamed "the man of a thousand voices": that, in a nutshell, to me is Kerry Shale. There are many audiobook narrators that I greatly admire; yet, while they all manage to switch characters, and hence voices, and go from a rumbling bass to a high pitch and from the Queen's English to Texan drawl or any other sort of accent seamlessly and in the blink of an eye, and thus give each character their own, unique voice and personality, I have yet to come across any narrator who has perfected this ability to as high an art form as Mr. Shale -- and it's on marvelous display here as well.
I listened to this book for square 6 of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season -- Bodhi Day: "Read a book set in Nepal, India or Tibet." Given that the book's narrator works as a servant for the better part of the story, it would however also work for square 15 (Boxing Day).
I added this book to my "to-read" list after hearing an interview with the author on NPR. There was a lot about the description of the book that intrigued me, but perhaps what was most interesting was the idea of reading a story with a familiar premise (father drives his sons to succeed in sport) in the unfamiliar setting of modern-day India.
And this is exactly what Aravind Adiga delivers. It's the story of two teenage boys, Radha and Manju Kumar, who have been moved to Mumbai by their father Mohan in the hope that he can use their skills as cricket to escape from their family's poverty. Adiga's story centers on Manju, the younger of the two, who idolizes his older brother and dreams of becoming a forensic scientist. Together they share a loathing at the controlling lifestyle that their father imposes upon both of them and the hope of escape, yet their growing self-awareness and exploration of life in Mumbai sets them on two very paths towards adulthood.
Such a story is hardly a novel one, but uses it to explore themes in a very different setting -- a vibrant, cricket-obsessed Mumbai, with stark divides of wealth and poverty. It's a fluid world populated with a solid cast of supporting characters, from the cricket scout Tommy Boy desperate to define his legacy by finding a great player to the handsome middle-class Javed, who represents both the main competition for the brothers and the allure of a different life. What they all have in common is that they are all striving in one way or another -- the adults striving for wealth through the children they try to control like chess pieces, the children who seek to break free from that control and discover themselves before the world opening up before them. It is their growing realization of their power to determine their own fate that drives the story, even if it leads them in some very familiar directions.
And that is what disappointed me about the novel: the predictability of Adiga's plot. The whole story unfolds in an extremely formulaic fashion, with the ending telegraphed to its readers well before reach the book's midpoint. Perhaps my expectations were excessive, but I hoped for something more from an author who has won the Man Booker Prize for his previous work. What he has written is an enjoyable novel about two boys living in a world of in which the promise of youth intermixes with the desperation of poverty, but I couldn't help finishing it thinking that it could have been so much more than it was.
Oh, well, at least it got me to finally learn about the game of cricket.