Saturday, December 21, 2013

Book Review: Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure

This book was given to me as part of the #TSBCChallenge. What is that, you ask? Well, I direct you to go & read this:

The book's blurb reads: "In this wonderful blend of adventure and travel writing, Michael Palin journeys from the forests of North Michigan to the battlefields in Italy and the sites of the Spanish Civil War. He encounters the running of the bulls in Pamplona and the Fallas festival in Valencia, as bar-hopping in Cuba, marlin fishing and daiquiris helps unravel some of the myths surrounding Hemingway's life."

The book is an attempt by the author to recreate the well-known writer Ernest Hemingway's life by travelling to all those places where he stayed and experiencing some specific events there. In Palin's words, "Hemingway's world was close and uncomfortable and itchy and sweaty and frequently exhausting...This stuff was too good to be wasted on school exams. I must be bold and fearless and go out there and do it myself."

Since #TSBC had dared me to read this book, I could not leave it unfinished :) However, I need not have worried. I love travelling and this book is a semi-travelogue. The book is a collaborative effort between Palin and the BBC. Basil Pao has captured the wonderful photographs that are so generously spread out throughout the book.

The author begins his journey in Chicago & Michigan and then travels to Italy, Paris, Spain, Key West, Africa, Cuba and lastly the American West. At each of these places, Palin attempts to give us a sense of what Hemingway would have experienced/gone through. In his inimitable style, he also gives his probable reasoning for the events and Hemingway's reaction on the same.

The book not only captures the unique sights & sounds of each place but also puts a lot of Hemingway's life into perspective for us. Says Palin, "What terrified him [Hemingway] most was not losing his life but losing his mind; losing the ability to write."

In Spain, he gets a chance to witness the bulls running. According to the author, "There is something intoxicating and dangerous and reckless in the way the Spanish celebrate, which is what must have drawn Hemingway to their way of life." In Africa, Palin feels, "Mortality, of one kind or another, always feels close at hand."

I loved Palin's explanation for why he felt Hemingway travelled so much - "I reflect that what motivated Hemingway to travel, apart from natural curiosity, was a mixture of boredom and boastfulness." Don't we all experience that sometimes? I know I do.

The most interesting part about the book is the way Palin meets and mingles with people who may have interacted with Hemingway or who can shed some more light on the writer. Also, the author keeps mentioning Hemingway's books at specific points in time in the book - it helps us see how or what influenced Hemingway to write about a particular incident or place.

The only negative for me was I felt, at times, Palin forgot he was undertaking the adventure for Hemingway, i.e. his personal interests took precedence. Thankfully, that was only in a few places.

In a nutshell, pick up the book if you like Hemingway. Even if you don't, you can still pick it up and travel the world - from the US to Africa to Europe - all from the comforts of your couch :) And since the book was written in 1999 [15 years back], it's interesting to read about things/perspectives at that point in time.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Book Review: The Best Of Ruskin Bond

The book’s blurb reads: “This volume brings together the best of Ruskin Bond’s prose and poetry. For over four decades, by way of innumerable novels, essays, short stories and poems, the author has mapped out and peopled a unique literary landscape. This anthology has selections from all of his major books and includes the classic novella ‘Delhi Is Not Far’.

What review can you write about somebody whose mere name evokes a sense of nostalgia about the hills? Whose writing transports us directly into the markets of Dehradun & Mussoorie?

This book is a collection of his writings categorized into Love and Friendship, Tales of the Macabre, From A Little Room, On The Road, Love Poems & extracts from his novels. It also includes Time Stops at Shamli & Delhi Is Not Far.

For me, personally, the best part about Bond’s writing is his focus – he is passionate in weaving stories around the hills. Pick up any story from the book and you can visualize the sun rising/setting in the mountains, the long winding roads, the smell of fresh air, the varied flora & fauna and the different types of people residing there.

Bond is a keen observer of people and he puts those observational skills to good use in his writing. In addition to the physicality of people that he so vividly describes, he also brings out their nature very well. And the way he brings to life these characters it is almost as if you are seeing a live movie.

Though the theme running through the book is common, each story is different from the other. He speaks about being a pedestrian and loving to walk, the difficulty of making new friends, spirituality at the Ganges, his love for books, the local tea-shop being the gossip spot, falling in love, etc.

And while almost all his sentences seem like poetry in motion, a few that stayed with me were: “Nostalgia is simply an attempt to try and preserve that which was good in the past. The past has served us: why not serve the past in this way?”; “And when all the wars are done, a butterfly will still be beautiful.”

I would strongly suggest reading this book to someone who wants to know what it is like to live in the hills – not as a tourist, but as a local. For someone like me who has lived pretty much her entire life in a big city, this book offered a nice contrast. For me, Ruskin Bond made the hills come alive and become more romantic. Through this book, I have tasted the local tea and snacks, had interesting conversations with strangers after the Sunday mass at the church, foraged through libraries in search of good books, taken train journeys from one small town to another and dreamt of living the big city life while sitting at a window that overlooks the valley. If a single book is able to do all that, would you not want to read it?