Breaking the Silence by Diane Chamberlain

Laura has just lost her dad. On his deathbed, he leaves her an intriguing message to ‘look after Sarah Tolley’, because she ‘has no family’.

Laura is puzzled by this. She has never heard of this woman. Little does she know that her father’s request was going to change her life.

Just as she is grappling to come to terms with her father’ death and his strange wish, her husband commits suicide and her 5 year old daughter, witness to her father’s suicide, stops talking. Completely. Laura, a renowned Astronomer, gives up her passion and career to help her daughter come out of her trauma. One of the things her daughter’s counsellor advises is to get in touch with her daughter’s birth dad, a person who she has met just once.

Despite her worries for her child, Laura is unable to forget Sarah Tolley. She visits Sarah in the old age facility that she lives in when she discovers that her dad had paid for Sarah to live there. Sarah is alone, nobody has ever visited her and is suffering from Alzheimer’s. She does not recognize Laura’s dad, nor does it seem likely that she and her dad might have ever met. Puzzled, Laura delves deeper into the mystery of Sarah Tolley and how her dad knows her.She comes across some shattering secrets that some people are trying very hard to keep hidden.

A wonderful book. One that refused to let me stop reading it. It keeps you hanging on, keeps you guessing and then some more. I would definitely recommend this book.

The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi


Dr Ravi Mohan Saini, a star professor at the prestigious St Stephen’s College in New Delhi is given a seal by his old friend Anil Varshney for safe keeping. Varshney had told him that it was part of a set of 4, and would sit on a base plate, which he had locked away in a locker. In case anything happened to him, Saini would be contacted as the main signatory. The seal is the key to the secret that Krishna is said to have left for the generations later to decipher and is called the Krishna Key. The other 3 seals are with three other people.

The next thing he knows is that he is implicated in Anil Varshney’s murder. As the last person who saw him alive, and with his fingerprints all over the place, Saini looks set to be convicted. Saini manages to escape with the help of his doctoral student, Priya Ratnani. Saini realizes that he needs to uncover the mystery of the Krishna Key in order to prove that he is not the killer of his friend. As he rushes to the others who have the seal, he finds, to his horror, one by one, they all get killed and he gets even more embroiled in the mess. To add to it, there seems to be a person who believes that he is the tenth avataar of Vishnu – Kalki. Now Saini has to try to stay alive while trying to uncover the Krishna Key. All his expertise in History, Mythology and skill in connecting things, are crucial to his survival. It doesn’t help matters that Radhika(Sniffer) Singh, an ace policewoman, is trying hard to catch him and prosecute him for what she believes is his crime. It’s tough enough to escape her, without having to worry about serial killers who seem to get everywhere.

First Impression – it was pure Dan Brown in genre. Conspiracy theory abounds, linking historical facts and exposing different facts and concepts that make you wonder if everything you knew was actually not true. Fascinating read, in terms of all the revelations. So many revelations that it made my head spin, that it made me google and check it out, just as I did when I read my first Dan Brown. It came with all the twists and turns that one would expect, with trusted people turning rogue and corrupt officials that are willing to do everything for the right price.

The best part of the book were the non-stop revelations. It was a walk through history, of a different kind. Right from prediction of the exact time when the Mahabharata was fought, using the astronomical events that were mentioned in the texts, proving that Krishna was not a mythological character but a real life person, who indeed lived on this earth, linking events till the later parts of Indian history, and even world history and the other religions. It was fascinating, to read all that. At the same time,I think the storyline got kind of muddled, somewhere in the process. In the sense that while all the revelations tied up together, it was just too much of it. By the end, I felt it was more about these startling revelations/conspiracy theory than the actual story line. And the ending, for me, it was quite lame. Disappointing in the way that Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol was.

What really amazes me is the amount of research the author must have done to come up with a book like this. Research as well as a thorough knowledge of the subject that he is writing about. So many things are linked up so well, Mythology, history, possibilities of nuclear technology in the olden days, Chemistry, Symbology, it’s almost never-ending.. Even to do the research, one must have a clear idea about what one is looking for, that I believe is just amazing. And to put it all together in a story, takes talent, and for that, I have immense respect for the author.

While it was a great read, I wish the ending was more powerful. And I wish there was a little less information. I love historical books, but in this one, I felt there was a bit too much information, which after a point, started getting a little boring for me. But then, that’s probably just me. What I loved about the narrative was Krishna’s story that was narrated alongside the happenings in the story. I loved that. It came across really well, added to the flavour of the storytelling. All in all, it is still a book I would recommend. Despite the shortcomings, It’s still an interesting read, but for me, probably a one-time read, yet I would still go ahead and try to read the other books by the author.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free bo

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Recommended by Saks, it took me a while to get hold of it. And just like all the books she recommends, it was priceless.

The tale of young Japanese ‘mail order brides’ who left Japan to come to America for a multitude of reasons, all believing that the migration would do them good, in one way or the other. The book charts the collective life of the brides. From the time they board the ship to the time the Japanese disappear after Pearl Harbour. Then they all left, while one of them left behind a ‘Buddha in the attic’.

All these young women, have one thing in common, when they board the ship. They are all looking for a better life. They have all a picture of their future husbands, which had been sent to them telling them that they would have comfortable lives in America. As they reach America, some of their dreams and aspirations are shattered, some are wives, some have just been sold, some are lucky enough to get what they were promised. Some were not even lucky enough to complete the journey. Some become laborers, some become maids, promised by their husbands to their employers. All of them realise that the English that they practiced was of no use. Their lives as wives, workers, mothers and immigrants in America. Holding on to their culture and beliefs, they struggle to bring up their children who are in a hurry to shrug off their cultural baggage.

A powerful tale, sometimes which sometimes takes shape of a story, sometimes a poem, sometimes a collective voice, and sometimes that of an indivudual. It’s a great book, and one that gives great insight into lives of the women, and the migrant Japanese community at that time. It also gives an insight into the way migrant communities work all over the world. The style in which it is written is unique, one that I haven’t read before, but extremely effective. It brings to the reader the lives of the women in a very strong and emphatic way. A book, that will stay with me for a while. A quick, un-put-downable read.

Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

All through the book, the one question that kept pestering me was, ‘What kept me from reading Bill Bryson for so long?’ Seriously, I cannot figure it out. But then, I’ve done it before as well. I kept away from Harry Potter. No idea why. Just stayed away from it. And then when I did read one, finished four books in four straight nights. Sigh! But better late than never, right?

I picked up this book on a lark, as this was the only interesting book I could find in my apartment complex’s library.

After living in England for twenty years, Bill Bryson moves back to America, his home country. He finds himself a stranger in his own country. The book is a compilation of articles that he wrote for a newspaper about his experiences in America.

I found it extremely funny and loved his sense of humour. A lot of his sentiments, I could identify with because when you move back into your home country after some years abroad, so many things seem different. The things you enjoyed and cherished might not even be part of your new experiences. The reverse culture shock that is part and parcel of moving back to a place after spending time away from it. Having gotten used to the British way of life and terminology, he struggles to remember/find out the American equivalent of things. His British wife and children, though, seem to love America while he seems to be the one having the most difficult time. Rediscovering America with it’s joys and it’s trials, all the while poking fun at himself and others around him, it was a fun read. I chuckled through the book.

Some of the chapters, though did seem dated, after all , this book was written in 1999. Some chapters about computers for instance remind you that this book is of another time. But for most part, it is Bryson’s style of poking fun at the things he observes that stands out. The sentiments and the humour, I have to say, are timeless. Reading the reviews of the book, I realize that this might be one of his not-so-great books. If that is indeed true, I can’t wait to read his other books.

Antharjanam: Memoirs of a Namboodiri Woman by Devaki Nilayamgode

I came across this book last year, when I was in India, but could not get hold of it. Since then it was on my must-read list of books.

The book is an English translation(by Radhika Menon and Indira Menon) of a Malayam book written by Devaki Nilayamgode, a 75 year old Namboodiri woman. She recounts the life of a Namboodiri woman from childhood. Namboodiri women are called, ‘Antharjanam’, which literally means, ‘People who live inside’. After the age of 6 or 7, Namboodiri women are confined indoors, and not seen even by their own fathers or brothers. Those days, it was common for only the oldest son in a family to marry within their caste. The other sons would do a ‘Sambhandam’ with Nair women, and the Nair women and their children would continue to live in their house and not in the Namboodiri illam. It was common for the eldest sons to practice polygamy for various reasons. There were instances where a man on his death-bed would marry a teenager. Illams traditionally would have unmarried girls, married women and widows of the Namboodiris.

The author recounts her own childhood in a prosperous illam. She grew up in a prosperous illam, and yet her childhood felt almost inhuman. The hierarchy is clear right from the beginning of life. A girl child was never welcomed with happiness. She talks about how they did not even have a comb to brush their hair. Nobody cared about such things. She talks about how her mother never encouraged her or her sisters to have any sort of freedom, as that would not bode well for a life where they would have to live under the shadow of others. Rituals, traditions and rules, made their lives. Some of the things she describes are heart-breaking. Namboodiris could get polluted by getting touched by other castes. During deliveries, Nair women would be attending to the Namboodiri women, so after the delivery, the first thing the poor women had to do was go and have a bath in the pond, to purify themselves. Already weakened by the delivery, they had to make their way to the pond, have a bath before they could be rest at all. As Nilayamgode mentions, nobody spared a thought that often the water would be muddy during the monsoon, and having a bath in that condition might attract infection in the already weak women. Traditions were the most important thing, so had to be followed.

The plight of the widows were particularly sad. They had to pay for the crime of having outlived their husbands throughout their lives. Nilyamgode’s mother was a widow, the third wife of a Namboodiri, but she was respected for her abilities, so she had a slightly better life. Education was practically non-existent for women. Devaki learnt how to read and write, and that was about it. Her sisters started reading books that their brother would slyly pass to them, and that was their only source of reading. It was only when they came in touch with their sophisticated Nair cousins that they realised how different their lives were. The Nair girls would be well-groomed, well looked after, and would even treat the little Namboodiri children with affection – something they never got from their mothers or fathers. She recounts how they would give them pieces of soap, which was treasured and used sparingly to make it last longer.

Fortunately for Devaki, the family that she married it was very liberal and socially progressive. By that time, social reforms and movements had begun. They were focussing on educating women, widow re-marriage, encouraging the other sons of households to marry within their caste.

Nilayamgode writes about how her book will be the last of it’s kind, because change has ensured that there are no longer problems that are restricted just to the Antharjanams. That life today is so much better than it had been a few decades ago. The book brings to focus how much of change has happened, and how change can happen when communities decide for themselves that things have to change – when the change happens from within. Most of the change that happened in the Namboodiri community was because people themselves realized that things have to change in their society. When the society convinced their widowed sisters to remarry, educated their daughters, and encouraged their wives to take control.

I though I was shocked because I grew up in a different time. My mother started reading this book, last week, when she was here, and she was as shocked as me. She had an inkling about the lives of the Antharjanams but had no idea how different it was. My grandmother would have been 86 or 86 now had she been alive today, so around 10 years or so older than Devaki Nilayamgode. They would have grown up in villages quite near by, in families of similar financial capabilities and yet Ammamma(and her sisters) was an educated, empowered lady. So much of variation in lifestyle just because they belonged to different castes.

Isn’t it wonderful how time and progress has brought it to a point where today, everything else being equal, there would be no difference between me and a Namboodiri girl?

A wonderful book. A must read.

When the Snow Melts by Vinod Joseph

Ritwik is in big trouble. Completely in debt, thanks to gambling and his fondness for Old Monk rum, he is being hounded by loan sharks who are out to get him.

Ritwik Kumar, a veteran spook, had been sent by the Indian Government to the Intelligence Assesment Group (IAG) in London, where intelligence agents from countries all over are fighting the war against terrorism. However, Ritwik is not functioning at his best. His alcoholism has led him into embezzling office funds and taking out loans all over the place. He needs to return the money to his boss, as well as the loan sharks.

The only way Ritwik finds to save himself from both General West(his American boss in the IAG), and the merciless loan sharks is to defect to the Al Qaeda. Of course, things are not as smooth as he would have liked. Not only do his new friends/allies start to doubt him, he also falls in love with one of his new allies Junaid’s wife Nilofer. Nilofer is treated badly by her husband Junaid, a foot soldier of the Al Qaeda who is a complete believer of it’s ideology. Ritwik is affected by Junaid’s treatment of Nilofer. Not that he can do much about it. After all, Ritwik, has other more urgent concerns, like staying alive, chances of which start looking bleaker by the hour.

So what happens next? Does Ritwik come out of all this mess alive? You’ll have to read it to find out.

My verdict. Vinod Joseph’s book is a fast moving thriller which keeps you on your toes. I did have an inkling of what could be the possible outcome, which was indeed true, but despite that, there was one twist at the end which completely took me by surprise. The descriptions of London and Basingstoke had nostalgic value for me, so that was an added bonus. Suspense, torture, international intelligence, fundamentalism, double crossing intelligence agents all made it an interesting read.

Some parts of the book did not sit very well with me, though. There is one particular sequence in the beginning of the book where Ritwik is called ‘the Man’, ‘the Old Monk drinker’ alternatively. It actually got me confused. That might just be me – but I felt that it detracted from the flow of the book, because I had to re-read to figure out what was happening. But then, as I said, that might just be me.

I also found the constant reference to Old Monk, a wee bit annoying. It almost felt like a commercial.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed the book. It was a first time read for me, a thriller by an Indian Author, and I am glad to say that I enjoyed it too. The best part for me, was the fact that it had an Indian angle, of how 9/11 effected Indian intelligence efforts and the power struggle in the subcontinent. As one of the Pakistani diplomats in the book says, all that Pakistan wants is to go back to the pre-9/11 era, when they could use the Taliban to help them in Kashmir. 9/11 brought the Talibans into the US’s focus, and that changed it all. It also gives an insight into lives of intelligence officers and the trials and dangers that they face . Lured by the money(and other considerations), there must be plenty of double agents out there, who have no qualms giving out their nation’s secrets.

I would definitely recommend it to everybody who likes books in this genre.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!