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Review – “The Spy” by Paulo Coelho

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The cover design of the book (and the ads/promotions in last few months) easily helps reader to derive that the author has tried to re-construct the life of one of the most (in)famous spies of all time “Mata Hari”!

The book is quite fast paced and the pace does not drag even for a minute. The story starts with the ultimate fate of the character (facing firing squad) and then goes into flashback mode. The story is developed through a letter from the lead character, penned while undergoing trial in the court…. the letter is addressed to her lawyer, whom she regards as incapable and a non-fighter. The story in itself is not so much about the spying activities of Mata Hari, rather it highlights the social and political commentary of the era in Europe… the wars and the political maneuvering.

The story briefly touches upon Mata Hari’s early life (childhood and first marriage) and how she managed to flee from an abusive husband and landed in Paris. The book traces her journey of becoming an instant sensation as an exotic dancer in Paris and reaching the heights of fame and riches. The storyline delves into the ambitions of the character and how she managed to manipulate the powerful men of the period for favors in return. For her, dance was the epitome expression of one’s existence and realization of the spiritual purpose of one’s life, others viewed her merely as a mediocre dancer who did not have second thoughts about shedding clothing in public performances.

The reader is led to realize that the only real “Crime” which she committed was to be a path breaker as a woman in that era, of being a truly “independent” woman who lived her life on her own terms and which might have been the main reason for her Ostracism and final punishment. All in all it is a fantastic read and provides insight to help the reader learn more about the real “Mata Hari”…. not the image of the double agent- femme fatale which we have come to assume over the years. It is a breezy read and can be completed in 3 hours or so. Happy reading.

Rating – 3/5.

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Review – “Selection Day” by Aravind Adiga

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I belong to the Indian populace, whose favorite sport inevitably happens to be cricket. Even in the era of T20s, test cricket (albeit selective tours/opponents/locales) beckons my latent interest and somewhere in my rooted sub-consciousness it still retains that romantic appeal, which the shorter versions are bereft of. So of course it is a given that any form of media publication (including movies) related to cricket would have my instant attention, of course the bounce rate on my part would depend on the content and my level of engagement with it.

While I was on my daily sojourn on the amazon website to scout for some nice books and to add to the shopping cart, I happened to stumble across this particular title. Aravind Adiga being an instant sensation few years back, due to his Man Booker prize on his first publication of course drew my attention. The title and the illustration on the cover page of the book piqued my interest. Well well, a seemingly great book on the pursuit of cricket in India. The synopsis clicked and I completed the check-out process.

The book seemed to be bulky which was ok, as long as it was going to satisfy my reading pleasures. I started on the book on Friday night and was soon immersed in it. It was the tale of the cricketing journey of 2 brothers, who hailed from Kannada belt in Western ghats. The elder brother Radha seemed born for cricketing greatness, with inbuilt talent and single minded dedication. The younger brother was a more recalcitrant version and wanted to pursuit a career in forensics and loved science in school.

The father of the kids played a major role in their lives and being a single father, had a single minded devotion to his kids playing in the Mumbai Ranji team and thereafter Indian squad. He represents the typical parent we see or hear about in our daily lives, whose single goal in life is to push the seemingly talented kids and closely monitor their every single aspect of life so that there is no scope for any distraction which would upset the so well thought out path to cricketing glory and the attached perks which would enhance the financial status of the poor family.

From the notes of the author, it seems it took 5 years worth of detailed research including conversations with Cricket historians like Ramachandra Guha to complete this book. Actually it is very evident throughout the book.

Disclaimer – The book does not cover a movie-esque happy ending of aspiring cricketers, struggling with poverty and the single minded devotion of a dominating father, rather it is a realistic version of the talented cricketers we see or hear of. The book is much much more. It certainly does have a strong dose of cricket in its DNA, but it delves into each and every related aspect, from covering the cricketing season in Mumbai to the various local competitions, down to the pitch preparation cycles and the typical characters which we can never miss…the talent scout, an aging and brusque mentor, several unscrupulous characters looking to make a quick buck and of course the associated super ambitious parents who make the journey onerous and possibly render it a sure recipe ripe for disaster.

All in all it is an interesting story, which takes the not-so-regular path and covers all the related aspects associated with the arduous journey each and every aspiring cricketer from the country’s hinterlands or slums or middle class belt inevitably has to get baptized by. The book is highly recommended for all cricket lovers.

Rating – 3.5/5.

 

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