Book Review · Books · Hindi Books · Kindle and E-books

Book Review – Upcountry Tales by Mark Tully

Upcountry TalesUpcountry Tales by Mark Tully

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mark Tully, the quintessential Indian, has written a set of exquisite vignettes about rural Eastern UP. There are insightful accounts of life in DU and contrasts between Lutyen’s sylvan Delhi and the disease-infested slums of Faridabad.
The settings and narratives are echoes of Premchand’s pre-independence India – this says a lot about the contribution of the then ruling Congress Party to India’s development. The pot-holed roads, absence of medical facilities and electricity, greedy and obese policemen, venal politicians, rapacious moneylenders still exist in Indian villages today as they did in the time of Munshi Premchand’s classic “Godaan”. Grinding poverty, religion and the equally divisive caste equations are still a poison of our society – exploited gleefully by quacks, oxymoronic ‘godmen’ and politicians.
There is a facile murder mystery; a poignant story of bullocks, a tale of unrequited love, where idealism wins over love; a thrilling race between the most unlikely contestants; a green-horn Gucci-wearing politico inheriting his family Parliamentary seat spouting ‘women’s empowerment” (sound familiar?) accompanied with a jholawaali from JNU. One story seems to be partially autobiographical – Mark changes to John, Prithviraj Road turns into Defence Colony and the ‘Beeb’ becomes Unilever!
The writing style is simple, no fancy words, no gymnastics with convoluted plots. This is an immensely readable book.

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Book Review – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpyTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title of le Carre’s classic originates from William Caxton’s, “The Game and Playe of the Chesse (sic)” (c. 1475), in which pawns are named: Labourer, Smith, Clerk, Merchant, Physician, Taverner, Guard and Ribald (The present book is indeed a game of chess between Smiley and his arch-nemesis Karla).

In 1695 William Congreve’s poem “Love for Love” groups four professions as:
A Soldier and a Sailor, a Tinker and a Taylor,
Had once a doubtful strife, sir.

The ditty evolved to:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief,
Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief.

In its modern avatar, the children’s rhyme has now taken the following shape:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief,
Old Man, Young Man, Lawyer, Jailer,
Captain, Pirate, Fisherman, Chief,
Plowman, Cooper, Farmer, Teacher,
Banker, Gunner, Gardener, Cook,
Burglar, Boxer, Baker, Preacher,
Writer, Politician, or Crook.

(Incidentally, the marriage vow recited in Game of Thrones has a somewhat similar content:
……. Father. Smith. Warrior. Mother. Maiden. Crone. Stranger.)

Le Carre adapted the first part of the litany as his title. These were the code names of likely moles in the quaint British espionage service known as the Circus. Smiley, who has been given the thankless task of sniffing out the culprit, is himself suspect and is labelled Beggarman!

Read the painstakingly intricate methods adopted by Smiley and his tiny band of devout followers – the debonair Peter Guillam, the taciturn Fawn, Connie Sachs and others to unearth the ‘something that was rotten in the State of Denmark!’

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Book Review · Books · Kindle and E-books · Pink Floyd

Book Review – A Murder of Quality by John le Carre

A Murder of QualityA Murder of Quality by John le Carré

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in the backdrop of a hoary, fusty and gloomy British private school, peopled with sniffling pimply pubescent students and eccentric, gone-to-seed academics, posing as teachers, along with their scheming spouses, le Carre narrates a gory murder mystery.
It is more an expression of personal angst against the bigotry and bullying in all schools – both private as well as the plebeian ‘grammar’ schools. Le Carre draws on his personal experiences both as a student of the latter type of schools, as well as an ‘outside’ teacher in snooty Eton.
That the meretricious class divide in olde England was as pervasive and humiliating as the caste divisions in India was a revelation to me – echoes of “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd.
Although exquisitely written (as one can expect from le Carre), this is a wishy-washy plot with too many loose ends (not expected of le Carre).

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Book Review – Call for the Dead by John le Carre

Call for the DeadCall for the Dead by John le Carré

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the emergence of the strigine George Smiley into the literary world. Strigine, because of his owlish appearance and his being wise as an owl. He is the antithesis of the fictional spies like Bond. He is plump, nondescript, bespectacled and instead of getting his girl, loses his wife to a rakish and hirsute Cuban car racer. Le Carre has based him on an amalgamation of spy-master Lord Clanmorris and teacher/chaplain Vivian Green.
This is not a spy story, rather a murder mystery with spies littering the narrative.
I read this on my Kindle. However, I tried it on the Android version in the newly released Samsung Galaxy Note 8 – especially the S-pen and its translation tool. It was a disappointment, to say the least. The French phrase “partir c’est courir un peu” (used disparagingly when Ann leaves Smiley) is bizarrely translated as “nadir it is cozzrir zzrz little” rather than “getting away from something insignificant”. Conversely, “malgre lui” was correctly translated as “despite himself”.

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Book Review · Books · Kindle and E-books

Book Review – The Looking Glass War

The Looking Glass WarThe Looking Glass War by John le Carré

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John ‘the Square’ at his worst is still better than most espionage-fiction writers. He is a genius at capturing the ‘atmosphere’ of those shoddy red-tape enmeshed British spooks lurking about in the gloomy environs of London, the British country and the windy and snowy wastes of Finland.
This book is essentially about the petty turf wars between various departments of various Ministries.
The agents in the field those days could never have visualized the ease of communications with cell-and sat-phones as they struggled with cumbersome wireless sets, wires, ‘crystals’, ciphers on silk to transmit messages in encrypted Morse code.

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Book Review · Books

Book Review – A Legacy of Spies by John le Carre

A Legacy of SpiesA Legacy of Spies by John le Carré

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once in a blue moon one comes across an exquisitely crafted book, “The Legacy of Spies” by David John Moore Cornwell aka John le Carre being one of them.
Starting with “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”, le Carre’s writing and narrative style has been rather cerebral. There is not one superfluous word or punctuation. While reading his stories, merely skipping or missing one comma, article or preposition can leave the reader confused – one cannot afford to skim through his books.
Liken his previous books, “Legacy” is a classic cold-war espionage story; but seen through the temporally tinted glasses of today’s politically correct British bureaucracy. It accurately portrays the ordinary ‘intelligence agents’, wrestling with red-tape and personal demons, office politics, betrayal by friends colleagues and spouses.
There is a doomed love affair poignantly encapsulated by a flower aflame on the cover. There are no macho, martini swigging spies, simpering femme fatales or cackling super-evil villains found in Fleming’s or Ludlum’s books. The assiduously schemed plans of le Carre’s sleuths rarely fructify and invariably go horribly belly-up.
Or do they, really?
This book should stimulate younger readers to read le Carre’s previous books. The sixties were so different from today’s unipolar world – before mobile phones and fundamentalist religious terrorism changed our socio-political structure.
I, for one, am revisiting the Cold War and the Berlin Wall and reading ALL of le Carre’s books again.

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Book Review · Books · Conundrum · Humour · Psychosis · science fiction

Book Review – The Punch Escrow

The Punch EscrowThe Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This SF story is set in a relatively not too distant utopian future when governments have been replaced by corporations akin to Google, Uber or Amazon. There is the archetypal mad scientist with delusions of grandeur who wants to unleash an untested form of teleportation that could herald the beginning of space travel or everything going pear shaped (particle physicists should get that allusion, if not, I’ll get the physics in at the end).
If you can differentiate between toothpaste foam and quantum foam and want to know the difference between a paradox and a conundrum, then this book is for you. There is an intriguing yet innovative way of pollution control using GM mosquitoes. However, the sheer number of footnotes tends to distract and to further obfuscate esoteric scientific concepts. The foot notes could have been incorporated within the main text thus making for a smoother flow.
The fighting and the consequent blood and gore were other needless distractions.
Now for that bit of promised physics: At the atomic level particles have the so-called CP-symmetry. CP stands for charge and parity. In C-symmetry, if you switch every particle for its antiparticle, they are expected to behave in the same way e.g., anti-hydrogen will behave like hydrogen The P-symmetry is about space: A system can be inverted, like in a mirror, and the physics should still be the same.
CP-symmetry suggests that for every particle spinning anticlockwise and decaying in a certain direction, there’s an antiparticle spinning clockwise and decaying in the opposite direction. Violation of C and CP symmetry are proposed and expected to explain the lack of antimatter in the universe, but so far only a handful of examples have been found.
The universe is symmetric under CPT (charge, parity, and time), which adds a time reversal condition. This implies that if CP is violated, then also the T symmetry must be violated so things don’t happen forward and backward in time. This is another example of an obvious thing at our level (broken eggs don’t jump back together) but not in fundamental physics. This discovery strongly indicates that time is indeed broken and it has a specific direction.
The isotope Barium-144 has been discovered not to be spherical or oval shaped. In this short-lived atom, protons and neutrons end up distributed in an asymmetrical shape, with more mass at one end of the nucleus than the other – hence the term pear shaped. This finding is in contradiction with some nuclear theories, and it could prove that time travel is impossible.

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