Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

The book started with a great promise. A bunch of Japanese teenagers have found their soul mates and they are the happiest they have ever been. But, everything does not continue to remain swell. Differences occur, the group falls apart. One young man, our protagonist, a colorless, dull (you could say in a manner) passionless, Tsukuru Tazaki is expelled from it and leads an almost normal looking but a solitary life after that. 16 years later he sets out to resolve the mystery of his expulsion and finds out what happened.

The buildup was quite good. Even till the end, one keeps looking for the next answer but the book does not end in a resolution. There is much pondering about loneliness. There are some characters here and there, a venture into mystical, supernatural etc…but in the end, it’s all pointless. It is quite a pointless book.

It was okay to read, i wanted to turn pages but not as often. I dont know but I am not as charmed by Murakami’s storytelling as others seem to be. It’s just an OK read.


How to become filthy rich in rising Asia – Mohsin Hamid

I just finished this book by Mohsin Hamid which is a quick read – 179 pages. Took me all of 2.5 hours to get through it.

I picked up the book because I had read Hamid’s reluctant fundamentalist and found it an interesting story which was well told.

This book, however, has left me unmoved and unaffected. The style and the structure of the novel is unique and also attention grabbing for a while but after that the novelty of the style fades as quickly as the strength of the story. It is a decent story, filled with predictable cliched descriptions of poor people living in horrible conditions, defecating openly, having sex when there is no privacy but it falls flat.

It falls flat in the end because there is no character development and there is no motivation or drive ascribed to the central character. We don’t know what fires him or gets him down, we do not know the intensity with which he loves. He is a passive figure and yet he is portrayed as the ambitious underdog who goes on to overachieve. Most of all, the title of the book is completely misguiding.

The language is good. Hamid has a flair for writing, there is no doubt about that but the structure and the storyline of the novel do not serve it very well. For the most part, it seemed to me like a half hearted effort.  

What I Talk About when I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

This is a book about that part of Murakami’s life where he runs. He has gained a lot of insight into himself by running for nearly 23 years and taking part in marathons and triathlons and an ultramarathon. It is a memoir of his running life. Is it well written?? Yeah. It is a simple book, easy to read and with a couple of takeaway lines full of life wisdom. It is inspiring in a lot of places. So much so that even a person like me, who is dead against running, was inspired to start to run. 

It is breezy. Murakami does not reveal a lot of himself. I sensed him being restrained all through out the book. Nonetheless, it can be picked up. It took me all of 5 hours to finish, so is a breezy read as well.

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

A novel about deceptions of memory. What we choose to remember is not always all of it. What we choose to forget is sometimes the bigger story. The most unreliable of narrators – the memory. It is ruled by emotions and shaped by intentions.

This is what the author has tried to weave in an intriguing tale of awkwardness, humiliation, revenge, remorse and an attempt at peacefulness. Things are not what they seem at first. Many undercurrents catch you by surprise. It is a crafty book. Not so easy to get at the first time in its entirety. Will need to read it again and again.

The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins

Given the normal Hindu upbringing that I had, I had grown up hearing and knowing about all the innumerable gods we have. Then, my education in a convent school for a few years of my life exposed me to the Christianity as well and a couple of my friends as well as family friends being muslim showed me that way of thinking too. In short, I knew about 3 religions and how they functioned. I loved the mythology. I loved the stories of Gods – more like superhuman beings. There wasn’t much I questioned early in life. It is when I came in higher class in school – around class X or so..that I started reasoning for myself and found many incompatibilities. It was just flabbergasting to believe what mythologies were saying and what science had actually proved. It did not go together and that is when in the hearts of my hearts I accepted that God – be it any religion – was a superhuman character in an elaborate plotline with earth as center.

The book asserts as much and tries to argue rationally. Dawkins is a charming speaker and a gifted writer and he is very passionate about the subject. It is indeed a touchy topic and he starts by pointing out how religion gains much more immunity than anything else (in terms of offence).

I came across Dawkins and his quest for Atheism when I was in college – 2nd year I think. I have been thoroughly convinced since then, of course but reading this book was just a reassertion of the fact that if one begins to see the world through scientific lens and tries to accept the unknown/fuzziness as such , which is as yet unknown, rather than devising supernatural story plots, there would be so much more beauty to be seen!

Rationality is a gift we all have but the choice to use it is what makes a difference. Sadly, most of us choose to believe in something which is incompatible with rationality, science and evidence.

If you want to give even an iota of a chance to see the argument for not believing in a supernatural – This is the book.

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

(Might contain spoilers)

Before yesterday, I had often come across recommendations for this book. They all said how it was so inspiring and had been written by a Nazi concentration camp survivor. Now, I have read a bit about the era and seen movies about Nazi tortures. It was a painful time. It saddens me to read about it and I did not want to get depressed again reading about the worst possible dimension of human nature. It was for this reason, I just kept delaying reading the much touted Frankl’s book.

Yesterday, I eventually got it on my Kindle and started reading and I only stopped when my eyes completely surrendered and started once again as soon as I got up. It is a small book. But it’s power is enormous. Yes, It is about the concentration camps and torture but its not dispiriting. Instead, its uplifting and that is why it is a great book. Victor Frankl is an extraordinary man who not only survived the camps but at the same time used that experience to understand one of the man’s most basic survival skill as well as his innate desire – that of a meaning in life. Throughout the book he describes how those who were determined to allocate a meaning to their lives were the people who survived the unimaginable brutalities. As soon as any one gave up that trust in the meaning, they gave up all hope and were quickly consumed by death.

Through his and other’s struggle and survival, Frankl makes a case for having a meaning in one’s life. He asserts that it is not the will to pleasure (as advocated by Freudian School of Thought) or the will to power/money (as advocated by Adlerian School of Thought) but the will to meaning which is the most powerful driver of a human’s satisfaction and actions. He has christened this school of thought as ‘logotherapy’. He emphasizes that people can be helped more by focusing on their future and the actions which make that future possible than by delving deep into hidden desires and intents.

There is also much discussion about free will and liberty of man in the book. His view is that while man is not free of the situations and the difficulties he might have to face, he is free to choose his actions and the attitude which he will adopt in every possible circumstance – favorable or not.

He also suggests self transcendence as the best way to live a meaningful life and also having therapeutic value where one shifts his focus from himself to something outside it. This resonates with Bertrand Russell’s thought that a man’s locus should be external to his being. Being the locus of oneself forces one to constantly watch, evaluate and criticize one’s actions which can get very tiring and frustrating soon enough. So, one has to choose meaning which is external to self.

More than once he quotes Nietzsche’s words ‘ He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how’ which forms his credo as well. Here are a couple of lines from the book regarding Logotherapy –

According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways : 1) by creating a work or doing a deed 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone.3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

He concludes with a thought that it is not happiness which man finally seeks but a reason to be happy – which means a meaning for his life and happiness is but a by-product of that. Also, meaning is not some generalized abstract concept but is unique to each and every person and should be tailored by answering the questions which life asks of us at different points in our lives.

All in all, it is indeed a very inspiring book and should be read at least once. I am glad I finally did.!