The Book Life

Book Reviews

  1. The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer

 Meet The Grand Sophy. Someone completely out of place in the typical Austenian family setting with the mother looking for a match for her daughter, the strict older brother, the jovial but disconnected father and a very staid, restricted way of life governed primarily by the strict brother. Along comes Sophy to turn it all upside down and just the right way up. What a fun ride!

 The story is not exactly unique. It is something that we have read often. A rich and somewhat redoubtable Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy has to travel on some business and he decides to drop his only daughter Sophy with her sister’s family the Ombersleys. He not just drops his daughter but also asks his sister to find a suitable match for “his Sophy”. The Ombersleys paint a picture of a sad motherless girl who would need all the help that they can give to see her way through this world. But what a fabulous shock awaits them.

A viviacious outgoing Sophy barges head-on into the family steeped in morals and stuck up notions and each member having something ailing the peace of their minds. And gets jolted into their innate human natures by the whirlwind of a guest. The Grand Sophy is just like that – a fun, cheerful wonderful read. Like a very fast paced Jane Austen book except this is more story and sheer entertainment. It is laugh out loud funny in some places and the pace of the book never slackens. There is no point in the book where the reader might feel bored.

 And what is best is that the end is somewhat different from what one would typically expect. We often see these exuberant heroines who sort the sad mad tangles of everyone around them nurse some heartbreakingly vulnerable side which a “knight in shining amour’ sees through and rescues the brave soul. Not in this case. Nope. Nada. Nothing doing. Sophy is through and through a riot. She knows exactly what she is doing and makes no bones about it. There is nothing mushy hidden in some deep deep corner of her heart. You get exactly what you see and much more.

 Definitely looking forward to reading some more of Georgette Heyer’s books.

  1. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

 Here is a small fact.

You are going to die.

I recently read The Book Thief and I am overwhelmed with the number of things I would like to discuss, speak out, tell. From the narrator, the narration, the characters to chapters beautifully adorned with breath taking sentences, to the story – so simple, so poignant, so heavy. Everything about this book is beautiful. So much so that it hurts.

A lot like John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas did. So small. So elegant. So painful.

I saw this book in a book store in another time another place but for some reason did not pick it up. Last week I was walking aimlessly in yet another book store when this book caught my eye. And this time I decided to read it.

The book is narrated by the most unusual person (I am not sure if I should use the word “person”).

It is narrated by DEATH.

So beautifully, so sadly that you almost feel sorry for it/him/her. Such a job it has which generates only hate in our hearts. But even Death is helpless.

The story is set in a small town in Nazi Germany, and magnificently captures the innocence of the children, the dilemmas of the grown-ups, the maddening, infuriating helplessness of it all – the Germans, the Jews and Death. We are not taken to the concentration camps and graphically shown the horrors. But the horror is present, stealthily slinking around in the back ground. And it is not just in the camps, but in the hearts of these German families who, if they could help it, would not have anything to do with the insanity spiralling out of control.

 Liesel, a little girl has to live with foster parents as her mother can’t afford to take care of her.  On the way to her new home, Liesel’s younger brother dies. That is where she steals her first book – The Gravedigger’s Handbook. Liesel and her new Papa set themselves the challenge of reading the book, and she learns to read bit by bit.

This book is a reflection of the WW II from the German families side which we don’t get to see too often. How people living in Germany were also victims in the terrible war. The sadness is palpable because the suffering was real and it was a lot. It is full of gut wrenching stories – How a father sacrifices himself, to prevent his son from going to a Nazi school only to come back and find them all dead. How another father gets whipped physically first and the whips himself in many ways mentally because he had the audacity or should we say idiocy to hand a piece of bread to one Jew in the parade of misery passing through the town.

It is a beautiful book though I am not sure why it is often kept in the children’s book section. It is definitely not for younger kids. It is too painful raw and sad.

I would suggest reading the book before watching the movie. As is always the case – the book is better.

This article was published first in the magazine Goan Espresso, November 2017 issue.

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