I think it was the summer of 2006 that I first read a book that made me realize there is more to a book than just a nice story. I went through the rite of passage in reading cycle by starting the habit with books written by Sydney Sheldon & John Grisham. One fine day, in the college library, a book with a badly torn jacket caught my eye. The cover had a small pink flower in a pond covered with what look like lotus leaves. It was such a simple picture and yet I was so drawn to it. There was something about this book. I had to explore. And boy ! did I make the best decision.
Yes, the cover with murky, green leaves & pink flower was The God of Small Things. I don't think I have read another book this beautiful. The way Arundhati Roy describes the intricacies and nuances of her characters, the way she writes about Ammu's love for Velutha, the way she writes about Rahel & Estha's strange relationship, Baby Kochamma's misery that feels like the only thing that is right about her life. There s so much to this book than just the political, communal, social aspects. This was the first book that helped me understand the power of words, the intensity of emotions they can evoke. Below are some of the most beautiful lines from the book -
"..the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again"
"The way her body existed only where he touched her. The rest of her was smoke"
"He folded his fear into a perfect rose. He held it out in the palm of his hand. She took it from him and put it in her hair.”
“Her grief grieved her. His devastated her.”
To me, the benchmark of beauty of prose was the above book. I didnt find any book that matched the alluring quality of The God of Small Things until The Book Thief. What a wonderful book ! Two aspects of this book touched and played melodiously with the strings of my heart. One was the touching story, the hopefulness, the optimism, the friendship, the feeling of being protected that it eluded. Second was the quality of the prose. I loved reading it and re-reading it. I loved how there was so much peace even in a story that was about the situation of Jews in Nazi Germany. Here are some lines from the book that tugged at my heartstrings -
""I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."
"Usually we walk around constantly believing ourselves. "I'm okay" we say. "I'm alright". But sometimes the truth arrives on you and you can't get it off. That's when you realize that sometimes it isn't even an answer--it's a question. Even now, I wonder how much of my life is convinced."
"If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter. "
"There were people everywhere on the city street, but the stranger could not have been more alone if it were empty."
3. I am China
I am fascinated by stories of China! This was a book I d been meaning to read for two years and finally got my hands on, only last year. The story about love,land & music kept me hooked on until the last page. I wanted to be in the story. To me, it was that real, it was that mesmerizing. I would have loved to be associated with the story even if was a tea maker in a small part of London where Iona begins to translate the letters from Mu to Jian. The desperation and the tension so palpable that I had to finish the whole story in two days. There is some poignancy despite the stress of knowing if Mu & Jian have a reunion in the end. Here are some of the lines from the book that I loved -
"Nothing is in my soul, apart from the image of you."
"Revolution happens when the water in which the citizens swim is frozen."
"Art is the politics of perpetual revolution. Art is the purest revolution, and so the purest political form there is."
I am amazed at how delightful this book is. It starts with a tragedy, it takes you through a journey of a well-kept secret, a mistake made, a rule broken, a new story's birth, a decision taken & the consequence of it. This book made me understand how much I appreciate the world I live in, it made me think of how even in times of despair, the only thing that keeps you going are the people in your life and their influence over you. Just 3 characters !! The author keeps you interested in the book with only 3 characters, their pasts, their present and the completely different worlds they come from. This book was a fabulous fable of sorts. Here are some of my favorite lines -
"Energy dancing with itself -- the flow of rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, cars, horse-drawn carriages, donkey carts, trucks and buses stopped and started up again in sectioned paroxysms, the air full of hot fumes, the roar of vehicles, the sun flashing off the glass and metal."
"It sometimes seemed to her that 'failure' was a term of abuse these days. To have not succeeded in the world was required to be a source of shame for a person. And yet she suspected that failure in worldly terms was the condition of a majority of the people in the world. To have been rejected, to have lacked courage, to have tried but failed."
"That was how one continent poured itself into another. How one person carried the answer through his life until he met the person who was carrying the question"
At the end of the day, any book that helps you find hopefulness is a good book. And I am in constant search of such books for what is life without a good book in hand on a rainy day!