Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey: A Review

gorillas in the mistGorillas in the Mist

Dian Fossey

Six Word Summary: Basically The Godfather, except with gorillas

I rate it: 8.5/10

Sometimes, when the world does you in, and the pettiness of people exhaust you, a dose of the jungle is a healthy prescription. If you have it in you, you should visit the lands beyond the laws of man, sit in a shrub, be bitten by hideous insects, and observe wild animals in their element through your field glasses. If, however, you are a couch adventurer like me, the next best thing for you would be to pick up a book like Gorillas in the Mist. Continue reading

The Gambler by Dostoyevsky Adapted To Film

Guest Review.

DostoyevskyGambler_1

In late December, a Mark Wahlberg film called The Gambler was released to mediocre reviews. The main story about where the film came from was that it was a sort of reboot of the 1974 James Toback film of the same name. This is true, but going back a bit further, both films actually share the foundation of a short novel written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1867. Toback based his 1974 film loosely on Dostoyevsky’s work, so it stands to reason that the 2014 film also shares elements with that work. In this case of book-to-screen adaptation, however, a great deal changed along the way.

The projects are all similar is in their basic subject matter. Dostoyevsky’s book and both films share the premise of an intellectual figure seeking to balance the obligation to please elder family members, the desire to win affection from a beautiful young woman, and the temptations of a gambling addiction. And with all these factors in play, the works can accurately be described as cycles of hope and disappointment, as is generally the case in stories of gambling addiction. But beyond this shared basic structure, it’s interesting to view how the story has been twisted and changed through multiple adaptations.

Perhaps the biggest change has been the inspiration behind the creators of the projects. The most fascinating aspect of Dostoyevsky’s original work is that the actual process of writing the book was the fulfillment of a gamble. As explained in Paul Lyons’ book on great gambling stories, Dostoyevsky took on the project in order to pay off gambling debts. He had to deliver it on a strict timeline or else forfeit the rights to his own written works to his publisher. This was one of many examples of Dostoyevsky’s own struggle with gambling addiction. It’s one that was shared by the 1974 film’s director, James Toback, but not, so much as the general public is aware, by 2014 director
Rupert Wyatt. As is only natural, the creative masterminds’ connection to the subject matter has weakened over time: Dostoyevsky wrote the material as a gamble, Toback understood Dostoyevsky’s addiction, and Wyatt was merely making a creative adaptation.

Atmosphere has also shifted fairly dramatically across the various versions of The Gambler, with the casino culture within basically becoming less glamorous and more modern along the way. In Dostoyevsky’s novel, casinos are presented as belonging in wealthy towns that serve as homes and destinations for wealthy figures. In the 1974 film, naturally, “the gambler” plies his trade in Las Vegas. But in the most recent film, casino culture is presented as more of a shady and serious underworld as opposed to a loud, glamorous celebration.

This has been the case in numerous modern gambling films (21 and Runner Runner both come to mind), and it is in part a result of the shift of gambling to Internet culture. These days, many high-volume gamblers spend more time online than at brightly lit Vegas casinos. This has cultivated an understanding of casinos as more private experiences. Sometimes, it’s even apparent in the design of an online casino. The Betfair poker platform is one of the most capable and popular options on the Internet, and yet its design is sleek and minimalistic. The site uses dark colors and a homepage background that resembles an unfinished basement, instead of tempting players with bells and whistles. And it’s this same shift in image that is apparent in the latest adaptation of The Gambler. Whereas James Caan gambled in Vegas c
asinos in 1974, Mark Wahlberg’s “Gambler” does so in dark rooms. It’s all quite a far cry from the vacation destination town casinos of Dostoyevsky’s original work.

In the end though, the biggest change that has occurred across the multiple adaptations of The Gambler is probably the tone of the various endings (spoiler alert). Dostoyevsky’s novel ends with a sense of ambiguity on the part of the reader. The “Gambler” of the novel, Alexei Ivanovich, is given a small sum of money and reason to hope he can still pursue his lost love. But hanging over this seemingly happy ending is the feeling, or perhaps probability, that Alexei has become so addicted to the roulette tables that he’ll ultimately use the money to chase a larger sum, rather than his love interest.

The 1974 film by James Toback ends on a somewhat similar, albeit more morbid, note. James Caan’s “Gambler” finishes his story off by relishing the risks involved (in this case a wound sustained in an alley fight) in the high-stakes gambling lifestyle. Caan’s character, like Alexei Ivanovich, is fine so far as debts are concerned and appears to have the opportunity to walk away. Yet he’s also lured by the lifestyle his addiction spawns.

The 2014 film makes a bigger leap, perhaps as an indication of the changing nature of viewing audiences and the constant expectation of a happy ending. Mark Wahlberg’s “Gambler” is actually portrayed as making a conscious decision to turn down a sum of money and walk away from casino culture and toward his love interest. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers said of the film: “the hopeful ending comes off as too little, too late.” It is probably fair to say that with this ending, director Rupert Wyatt created a pretty substantial difference between his own adaptation and the source material. The hopeful ending is potentially good for an audience, but in a way belittles the greater subject of addiction.

In short, the 2014 film is not a remarkable experience. But it does offer an interesting look at how a creative work can be changed over time. It’s also a nice reminder of a fine Dostoyevsky work that’s too often overlooked in favour of his larger novels.

Yatrik by Arnab Ray: A Review

front_9789384030506 Yatrik

Arnab Ray

Six Word Summary: Dead guy asks questions, gets answers

I rate it: 6/10

Arnab Ray, I am aware, writes an enormously popular blog. Arnab Ray, I have been informed, has written the best Indian horror fiction in English ever. Arnab Ray, I have discovered, also writes mediocre erotica.

I read Arnab Ray’s blog, though not as regularly as I would have liked. I gave the horror fiction a miss, because books advertised as the best so-and-so ever are usually not, to my frequent disappointment. The erotica, as I might have mentioned, was mediocre (at best). And so, I started Yatrik, Ray’s third and latest book, with very little idea of what to expect. Continue reading

One Hundred Alcoholic Puns for Book Lovers (or Bookish Puns for Alcohol Lovers)

I apologize in advance. I’m a terrible person, and a worse punner.

One Sunday during the pujo build up, a friend mailed me a list of 20 book names with alcohol related punning. Delighted, as ever with anything that makes no sense, I sent him back a few of my own. He kept asking for more, and him being truly M and me being truly S, the list just grew on and on, from 30 to 42 to finally 100.

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The punathon began at 3 in the afternoon and went on till 8.30 in the evening. It would have amounted to self-torture, had it not been for the very lively discussion I was having on the side with The Bong Pen about the nature of literary punning. Two of the titles below are his creations, which I have credited properly because I am no punloiner. But many of the others are indirect pickings of his very fertile brain.

This is the list. As mentioned, the first 20 are generic email fodder, the remaining are mine except if mentioned otherwise. Many of these are in bangla. Each peg is not for everybody. Enjoy what you can.

Cheers. Continue reading

The Monogram Murders: The New Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah: A Review

monogram murders coverThe Monogram Murders

(Official Poirot Pastiche based on characters created by Dame Agatha Christie)

Sophie Hannah

I rate it:6.5/10

Six word summary: 3 murders, 300 theories, Poirot’s back.

Long Story Short: One evening at dinner at his favorite haunt, Hercules Poirot runs into a woman who seems to be terrified for her own life, and yet insistent that she not be helped in any way. On the same evening, three bodies are discovered at a posh hotel on the other side of town. Three bodies in three separate rooms, laid out identically and with a monogrammed cufflink planted in each dead mouth. With the help of his faithful sidekick, Poirot traces the victims to a common past and a shared, horrifying secret. But was it a suicide pact that led two elderly women and a man to breathe their last so far away from home, or was it an execution of justice, or was it simply murder moste foul? Poirot makes his way around red herrings and semi-fabrications to get to the truth behind the Monogram Murders, and race to prevent another killing from happening very soon. Continue reading

My Favorite Quotes from 10 Books I Love- A Variation on the Book Bucket Challenge

The Facebook book bucket challenge craze has come and gone, leaving each of us wiser about the tastes of our friends. We now know which unassuming elderly lady is secretly cool because she likes Douglas Adams, which colleague should be best avoided because Chetan Bhagat changed his life, and what books we should not make fun of in the presence of certain people.

The reason I didn’t respond to the multiple tags on my name was that listing out your 10 most favorite books is very similar to listing your 10 most favorite lovers, as in you’re pretty certain who 1, 2 and 3 are but after that there is this whole fuzzy internal debate with dilemmas like “But he had fabulous hair” and “Ah, no, he cried that one time during a really stupid movie”.

Anyway, I didn’t post my list to Facebook, because people there have the attention span of a mosquito at a nudist beach, and also because it is hard work figuring out who to tag and who not to.

Also, as Kriti Sharma pointed out, this whole tagging thing is so 2008 for us old blogkids.

So here is my list of 10 books I love a lot, along with my favorite quote from them:

Continue reading

Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some of Them Have Wings by Kuzhali Manickavel: a Review

It costs me never a stab nor squirm

To tread by chance upon a worm.

“Aha, my little dear,” I say,

“Your clan will pay me back one day.”

-Dorothy Parker, Thought For A Sunshiny Morning

 

 

“The cockroach would surely sing

 if it were made of other things”

 -Kuzhali Manickavel, A Bottle of Wings and Other Things

 

coverInsects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some of Them Have Wings

Kuzhali Manickavel

Six Word Summary: Insects have wings, people are crazy

I rate it: 9/10

Some books are magical because of where you read them, or when you read them, or who you read them with. Any other circumstance, and the enchantment fades, what was magical is revealed to be mundane.

Some books are magical because they just are. You could be reading one near the mephitic toilet of a sardine packed train running 7 hours late, and your fingers and toes would still be tingling.

Occasionally, but very occasionally, you will read a magical book, in a magical place, at magic o’clock. And who knows, maybe while using a wizard as a pillow. Continue reading

The Slaying of Mahitsuri: A story from 10 photos

The Backstory:

Nobody ever challenges me to anything. Abhishek Mukherjee, on the other hand, gets a lot of delicious challenges, the latest of which is from the esteemed Devapriya Roy (whose lovely book I reviewed here)

The challenge was that Ms. Roy supplied Mr. Mukherjee with 14 photographs, of which he had the freedom to choose any 10, in whatever order, and build a story around them. This is the result of that challenge, and I request you to please read it before you read on. The story is perfectly fine, if a bit disjointed, but it’s a rainy Saturday morning, and I’m home alone, and I don’t want to read about a tearful spinster dreading her upcoming wedding.

As I just mentioned, nobody challenges me to anything, so I have to scavenge other peoples’ challenges for inspiration. This is the story I wrote this morning, based on the exact ten photographs that Abhishek used, in the same order.

Hope you enjoy it!

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His men had asked him not to step out onto the balcony, but the Boy King went anyway, drawn by the sound of wailing. The royal courtyard was covered with bodies- bodies of sailors and fishermen, unmarked, unbloody, they could almost be taken for sleeping, had it not been for the ripe smell of carcass that hit him full in the gullet. Even the widows, wailing like alley cats, kept a small distance from the pit that now smelt like nothing apart from death.

It's Sleep, and Worship (600x800)

“They washed ashore. In hundreds, the fisher-folk would have us believe. They’ve dragged these bodies out for His Royal Person to see.”  The information came from his royal guard, Bankejiwan Murali, a giant of a man with an overall air of slickness.

“Wha..what’s killing them?”

“Kaali Kapalini knows. Some sea disease probably. They talk of some stone eyed monster from the deep. But that’s just fisherfolk talk, your highness.  They want the King to protect them.”

The boy turned away from the gilded railings overlooking the sinister view below. “My father. They want my father to protect them. Take me to the Lizard Children”

The Lizard Children were misnamed. It would have been closer to the mark to have called them the Chameleon Children, for they could change their colors to match their environment, and had tongues half a mile long tucked in their throats. His father bought them back, suckling infants, twins from the womb of a Narigodhika, from his last conquest, the Garden City. The King had been grievously injured even in victory, and had lingered for two weeks before his bleeding, rotting innards took him away to a better place, but the twins had thrived. That had been four years ago. Now they no longer looked like identical wrinkled foetuses. Vedaara, at four, had the size and strength of a ten year old. Kataki had not grown after her first year, keeping her resemblance to an angelic toddler in a basket with wheels. They both looked perfectly human, till you peered into their eyes .

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Today, the Lizard Children, grey against a grey sky, turned their head in unison to look at the Boy King approach them. “Your highness,“ Kataki krilled, “we have been expecting you. The days are dark.”

“You have heard, then, of the massacre along the coast?”

“The Godhaks do not need to hear, King.” It was Vedaara who looked at him this time.” We can smell death. We can smell the storm. We know what approaches”

“What approaches, then? What haunts my sea-farers? Tell me if you know!” the King was finding it difficult keeping the desperation out of his voice.

The children looked at him with cold, unmoving eyes. Then they spoke in one voice, the krill-krill of their throats making the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

 

“He sleeps the deep, the depth of dark

No god may ever touch his mark

He dreams the world, he dreams the sea

Awaken not the Mahitsuri”

  Continue reading

My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday: Revisiting My Innocence

How many of you discovered sex on your parents’ bookshelves?

That’s an actual question. If you are reading a book review blog, it’s a pretty thick chance you are a prolific reader and have been so all your life. Since reading is usually an ingrained habit, you possibly have parents, or other close family members, who own/ed a substantial library that you cut your teeth on. You probably learnt about love from those mighty shelves, about hate and murder and genocide and the horrors of childbirth. You found out that grown-ups were scared, nervous, confused people too, and that they did lie. You read enough to be worried about what was waiting for you in the dark abyss of adulthood, and enough to be excited.

Did you also first learn about sex in those crevices, is what I’m asking. Or was it just me? Continue reading

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams: A Review

 

 

“It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion on them.

On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.”

dghdaDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Douglas Adams

I rate it: 9.5/10

A very happy Towel Day to all Douglas Adams fans out there! No matter how strange things get, don’t panic, and always know where your towel is.

I stumbled into Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy all by myself a few years ago, but it was the esteemed Abhishek Mukherjee who shoved me headfirst into his other works, namely the two Gently novels, and the delightful Meaning of Liff.

Dirk Gently is a detective unlike any other you have read about. He doesn’t believe in eliminating the impossible and making do with the improbable, he seeks to find out how the impossible happened. He does not focus on the problem, he believes in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things and that one cannot solve a problem without solving the universe first. Unfortunately, the only utilisation he has been able to make of his considerable talents is trying to convince elderly female clients to send him to the beaches of Bermuda to search for their missing cats. Until, that is, he noses out an incredible puzzle, involving a horse in a bathroom, an impossible magic trick, the horrendous murder of a software tycoon, an impossibly stuck sofa, a meaningless note on a chit of paper, a missing question, and the impossibly out-of-character behaviour of his long-ago friend, which may or may not indicate possession (of the ghostly kind, not the narcotic kind). Continue reading

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger: A Review

TimeTravellersWifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife

Audrey Niffeneger

Source: A gift from my friend Nik Thakur, because he is awesome that way.

I rate it: 5/10

Six word summary: Time traveling mutant does nothing awesome.

I’m reviewing this on a re-read, which is strange, because the first time I read The Time Traveler’s Wife, I never supposed I would want to read it again. But, after finishing Yan Lianke’s disturbing and depressing Lenin’s Kisses, I felt a hankering for an unadulterated love story, and I do not have a substantial stock of those on my shelves.

Henry DeTamble has a genetic disorder that makes him slip physically away from here and now to some other time (and place) in his lifeline and that of his wife, Claire. He cannot help when he goes, or where, or how long he stays there. Also, nothing that is not a part of his actual body goes with him, so he always lads up buck naked, without ID or money, often in crowded place and occasionally in sub-zero temperature. Continue reading

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton: A Review

the_luminaries_a_pThe Luminaries

Eleanor Catton

I rate it: 8/10

Six word summary: murky conundrum in NZ gold mines

 Any reader who takes a book of more than 800 pages in hand knows that there is a 70% chance that she will lose interest midway. This says nothing about attention deficiency in the reader, or lack of skill in the writing, it is merely the nature of the beast. A really long book, whether it is a saga or a murder mystery, will sag at points, will over-elaborate, and will generally not know where to sensibly stop. We know these things through many years of reading experience.

 Eleanor Catton’s Booker winning marble slab of a book defies most of these things we know. It weaves a complex storyline, occasionally baffling even the most perceptive readers, but not once in its 832 pages does it lose pace or become boring.

 Twelve men meet at the Crown Hotel in Hokitika, New Zealand, in January, 1866, to discuss and get to the bottom of some extremely peculiar incidents that have been taking place in the mining town in the past fortnight. A penniless recluse has been found dead with an enormous amount of pure gold in his keeping. A prostitute has attempted suicide or been poisoned. A very wealthy young man has gone missing. And each of the twelve men in the gathering have been implicated in some way or the other. Each has something to share and something to hide, something to explain and something to understand, some prejudices and some bafflement. Walter Moody, fresh off the boat and grappling with recent horrors, stumbles upon this assembly quite by accident, and becomes entangled in the events that are causing such turmoil in the tiny township. Gleaming in the background are trails of blackmail, betrayal, lust, villainy, black magic, and murder most foul. Continue reading