Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

I’ve come to really enjoy travelogues. Of all sorts. This was another Goodreads recommendation, based on the books I have read and rated. The description had me hooked.

EmpiresofIndus

‘One of the largest rivers in the world, the Indus rises in the Tibetan mountains and flows west across northern India and south through Pakistan. It has been worshipped as a god, used as a tool of imperial expansion, and today is the cement of Pakistan’s fractious union. Alice Albinia follows the river upstream, through two thousand miles of geography and back to a time five thousand years ago when a string of sophisticated cities grew on its banks. “This turbulent history, entwined with a superlative travel narrative” (The Guardian) leads us from the ruins of elaborate metropolises, to the bitter divisions of today. Like Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between, Empires of the Indus is an engrossing personal journey and a deeply moving portrait of a river and its people.’ says the blurb, and I just had to get hold of it.

Albinia, a British journalist, fascinated by the River Indus, and the civilizations and religions that it spawned around it, travels up the river, from its delta in Sindh, to the place of its origin in Tibet. As she travels through Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Tibet, she also narrates history, and links it up to the present world and culture. The Sheedis in Pakistan, who could trace back their ancestors to Africa and to the first African disciple of Prophet Mohammed, the life, and hierarchy of Pakistani society after the Partition, the Aryans and India as it had been. The way of life in India a few centuries ago, when religions co-existed, peacefully. Fascinating tidbits and facts – both historical and contemporary ones. There is a lot more of Pakistan than India, in the book, but that is of course a given, since Indus is almost completely in Pakistan now, but she still manages to link the common history of the region with the mighty river flowing through it, really well. A wonderful mixture of history and culture with Indus as the ever-present protagonist. The river which is mighty, deep, mysterious, divine and a lifeline to those who live by it. For centuries, Indus was more than just a river. At one point in history, conquering the Indus was equivalent to conquering India. The books spans from the Vedic times to today’s world, touching upon Kargil, the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas amongst other important recent developments that impacted the subcontinent.

The author’s meticulous research is evident in the book. And her evident interest in her subject. Conversant in Urdu and Hindi, she is able to converse with the locals, and live like them, fasting during Ramzan, living in their houses during her travel, almost becoming one of them. The author’s enthusiasm, and zeal left me amazed. The journey that she undertook, couldn’t have been easy by any standards, through one of the world’s most volatile regions, potentially one of the most unsafe regions for a woman to travel alone, is one of the bravest things to do. A lot of travelogues have the authors being enraptured by the subject, in this case, she is utterly fascinated and yet objective, fascinated enough to have researched her subject thoroughly, and objective enough to analyze it all, so very well. I just did not want it to end. I wished she could go on and on, I wished I had learnt history reading books like these.

A totally recommended read for anyone who loves travelogues and history – such a marvelous combination, handled in such a wonderful manner! Another Goodreads recommendation, that I absolutely loved.

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The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

I came across Tess Gerritsen’s crime fiction about 7 years ago, and have been hooked ever since.

Her books are fast paced, the story ling gripping, and totally shakes you up. The Silent Girl is part of her Jane Rizzoli/Maura Isles series.

A ghost walk tour in Boston’s Chinatown comes across a severed hand, in a place where a gruesome murder-suicide had taken place, seventeen years ago. Detective Jane Rizzoli  and Medical Examiner Dr Maura Isles have to piece together the mystery. They find a woman who has been nearly decapitated, and the only clue is a couple of silvery gray hair, which seems to be non-human, and something that nobody seems to have encountered before.

The story delves into Chinese Folklore, and there are times when you start to wonder if there is something supernatural happening. Mystery, mythological tales, ancient warfare everything merges together to form a story full of suspense, and excitement. A total page turner, which is difficult to put down. She keeps the suspense going, and wraps up the book really well.

If you like fast paced crime thrillers, this is the book for you. I would rate it a 4/5.

Promises, Promises by Erica James

Every now and then I need a good chick-lit to cheer me up, to soak in the warm,warm feelings, and to read,  without thinking.. knowing that everything will indeed be fine at the end.. Erica James’ Promises, Promises fit the bill perfectly.

Ella has just stepped out of a seven year old relationship after realizing that her partner’s daughter would never accept her, no matter what she did. She is determined to stay single, and promises herself to not let her heart rule her head, ever again.

Maggie is married to a man who does not appreciate her at all. She run around earning money working as a cleaning lady and is treated like dirt by both her employers and her family. All she wants is to stand up for herself and she promises herself that she would be more assertive and stand up for herself.

Ethan is caught in an unhappy marriage, working a business which is in a tough spot, and his socialite wife and spoiled teenage daughter do not seem to realize that a recession is on, nor do they care about anything he cares about. He promises himself that he will not resort to meaningless sex with other women to hide his unhappiness.

Fate brings all the three of them face facts that might have been ignoring, and forces them into making decisions which they might have never done other wise.

I can’t tell you anymore without all of you guessing the plot, but would recommend it if you like a light,fun and entertaining book. All the characters are well developed, and you can’t help feel for them. As you read the book, you want things to all work out for them. It is a nice feel good book, and it certainly made me laugh out in loads of places. A nice pleasant, fun and predictable read, and I would give it a 3.5/5.

PS: I would not be pestering you all with reviews for a while, I don’t seem to be making a headway in the latest book that I have been reading. I suspect the term break has been having it’s effect on my reading as well.

The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka

I have enjoyed books in the non-Indian, South Asian setting a lot. The stories, characters evoke such a lot of similarities with India, that I end up enthralled. So when I saw The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka, I grabbed it without a second thought.

Parvathi, a young girl in Ceylon is married off to a rich landlord in Malaya, by her unscrupulous father, by showing the marriage broker some other girl’s picture. This also fulfilled the prophesy when she was born. Parvathi’s husband is annoyed at the cheating, and asks her to get ready to go back to her village. For some reasons, her husband(Marimuthu) lets her stay on with him. She stays there, but not as a much loved wife, but more as a person who is just about tolerated to be allowed to stay on.

Some years later, her husband brings home his love-child with a dancer. When she (the dancer) dies, Marimuthu brings their daughter(Rubini) home to his wife. Later Parvathi gives birth to a son, who ends up being extremely pampered and spoiled. Both these children test Parvathi a lot, in different ways. Marimuthu passes away just before the Japanese invasion of Malaysia.

After the Japanese invasion, it so happens that Parvathi becomes the lover of a Japanese General, and for the first time in her life, is happy and cherished as a woman.

While the story was interesting, there was still something missing. I haven’t been able to pin point it. There was a lot of prophesies, and portents happening, but the story could not really hold it together to explain everything that was brought up in the narration.. It almost feels like a lot of ingredients were added, but somewhere along the line, the purpose of the recipe was lost?

I would rate it 2/5, mainly because it started off well, and the way it ended was a little disappointing. Not a book that I would particularly recommend.

Darjeeling by Bharti Kirchner

Another book that I picked up, just by the blurb at the back.

The tale of two sisters. Two sisters who do not get along, who have their own set of insecurities which cloud their relationship. Aloka and Sujata have grown up in Darjeeling, with their father and loving Grandmother Nina. Aloka is the older, confident, accomplished sister who is the centre of attention everywhere. She has numerous suitors buzzing around her, while Sujata, the prickly, younger sister is ignored in the general scheme of things. Aloka falls in love with the tea taster and revolutionary Pranab, and the two get engaged. In the meanwhile, Pranab meets Sujata and they fall in love with each other. Pranab ends up marrying Aloka(let me not divulge too many details). They emigrate to New York, and have finally get divorced. Pranab is keen to re-kindle his romance with Sujata, who has been living in Victoria, Canada.

Grandmother Nina, invites all of them to come and celebrate her birthday with her in Darjeeling to try and get them to reconcile. I can’t write any more without giving away the whole story. It is an interesting story, but in a lot of places, I felt it was quite cliched. In some places, I found it difficult to understand what motivated the protagonists to behave the way they did.. I mean, some of the choices seem quite inane – at least to me. Pranab’s character especially felt quite lame.

What I did like about the book was the descriptions, and the way she brings out the feel of the places. It transports you to tea plantations of Darjeeling, New York or Victoria. She did make me drool with the food that she describes. I actually feel like making Channer Payesh, just to have a taste of it.

I would give it a 2.5/5. An easy read -but not exactly something I would buy – I would much rather pick it up from the library.

The Lost Empire of Atlantis by Gavin Menzies

I don’t recall where I got to know about this book, but I had it in my wish list. When I got my hands on it finally, it was amazing how the book took hold of me.

Gavin Menzies takes us on his journey to rediscover the Lost Empire of Atlantis. He builds up on his theory that the Minoan empire was more accomplished that it is assumed. He tries to bring together facts and goes on to try to prove that the Minoan civilization had extensive sea faring abilities and that they might have discovered America way before Christopher Columbus. He challenges some of the accepted notions of the lost civilizations.

I have no real knowledge of history, so I would not be in a position to say whether all that he says, could actually be true or not, but he sure does paint a very convincing picture.

The manner in which he relates it, makes it a fascinating read. It left me wanting more, at the end of the book. To me, the added interest was that I had visited Thera(Santorini), which has an important role to play, and it helped me visualize things a bit better. I had also read about how it is assumed that Atlantis might have been there, before the mighty volcanic eruption ended it all.

I think it would make interesting reading for anybody who likes historical research of this sort. I had not known that I enjoyed it before I read this book. And maybe if someone with a better grasp of history read it, they could tell me how much of it is fiction and how much could be reality?

For me, it was a fantastic read. I will be reading it again, to absorb it better, and maybe do some other related reading as well, to understand it better. And yes, I will try to get hold of his other books. I really enjoyed his style of writing and his obvious enthusiasm for his subject.

The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell

Another book that I picked up purely by instinct. I think this is the first book by the author that I have read so far.

Melody Browne is a  single mother with a 17 year old son. She lives in Covent Garden in a council estate and works as  a Kitchen Assistant(a fancy term for dinner lady). She goes out on a date(after years) with a lovely man she met on a bus. It takes her a lot of courage to go on a date at all. They go to a hypnotist’s show, from where her life goes a little crazy. She has flashes of memory which she does not recognize. She does not remember anything before the age of 9. He oldest memory is at the age of nine, when she is rescued from a burning house, with her parents and one painting. She does not have any recollection of her life before that. But after her experience at the hypnotist, she starts getting flashes of memory.

She starts finding out things from her past and it leads her to the missing pieces of her memory. I can’t say much more without relating the whole story. It is a fascinating read. A very quick read, fast paced, keeps your interest throughout, and leaves you thinking of how easily fate could change life in an instant…

I would recommend it for a quick read. Some thing light and interesting and at the same time captivating. 3/5