bookspluslife

December 30, 2012

Book: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:34 pm

imagesThis is a door stopper of a book, weighing in at 1400 pages in relatively small print! Perhaps this is why most have heard of the book but few have bothered to read through it.

First, let us discuss the central core of the book. Even though it chronicles in detail the lives of nobility in Russia in detail, delving into their loves, passions, and interactions, the story is mainly about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, right up to the capture and pillage of Moscow, and his eventual defeat. In this it offers the following theory:

According to Tolstoy, Napoleon is not responsible for all his spectacular victories, nor for the defeat in Russia. All of it happened due to circumstances, and the historians, later, with a hindsight of 20/20 attributed military genius to the man. Why, you ask? Tolstoy has this theory. In a battle, no matter how well the plans are laid out by the generals, it is seldom followed. Indeed, it is impossible to follow. The heat of the battle requires quick thinking and the complexity requires constant adaptation; so the original plans have no relation to what happens on the field, decided minute by minute by the local leaders and even the soldiers themselves. Therefore it is wrong to attribute greatness to any general, let alone Napoleon. This is a big pill to swallow by anybody who remembers the phalanx of the Ancient Romans of the Pincer movement of Hitler. But such is the theory.  This is only told towards the end, but a lot of the story is the description of the people prior to and during the war.

The story revolves around many, many characters in the book. The first impression, when you start reading the story is that all the major noblemen in Russia are kind of childish and even bumbling incompetents. The outlook of theirs, the thinking, their worries, all seem kind of childish. When you go further into the story, you begin to identify and understand the characters and then you realize that it is the storytelling style that is partly accountable for the levity in the scenes and the tone and the comport of the characters.

Even after the dawning of such understanding, the characters still seem kind of childish. For instance, take one of the multitude of main characters in the novel: Count Pierre Bezuhov. He comes across as totally frivolous, incapable of keeping track of, let alone handle, money. Suddenly, in the midst, he discovers cult religion, and joins Freemasons. That lasts for a while when suddenly he decides to go and assassinate Nepoleon single handed. With no concrete plans and even intelligence on Napoleon’s whereabouts, he wanders near the battlefield, gets caught, and then realizes through his prisoner of war hardships that everyone is good and everything is good in the world, and becomes a sympathetic understanding man who is liked by everybody who comes into contact with him!

Through all this weaves a story of various characters – Anna Pavlovina, who is  a social centre of St Peters berg, Count Rostov who is old and another man who does not know how many fingers he has and his offspring: the beautiful songbird Natasha who veers from extreme happiness to extreme depression based on what the scenery calls for (She plans to run away with a rascal named Denisov, who incidentally speaks like Elmer Fudd, only to be saved at the last minute) betrothed to Prince Andrei who dies in battle;  Nikolai, who joins the army to distinguished service and is in love with Sofia, Nathasha’s childhood friend; Petya, the young one with hot blood who, against the wishes of the family joins the army and is killed in a battle, Vera, the elder sister, cold, distant, arrogant.

You have Kutozov, a brilliant commander for Russia but unappreciated by everyone including the Tsar Alexander.

Tsar Alexander comes across as inexperienced, a boy bewildered to be thrown into battle against the great Napoleon, while the people are still mourning the passing away of Katherine the Great. Napoleon is vain and so sure that he will never lose, with his genius

Pierre’s fabulous beauty of a wife is unfaithful and distant from him but dies in childbirth, the child most certainly not Pierre’s.

Interesting and trivial alternately, it still carries enough of a storyline and narration to hold your interest until the end. Just don’t expect a page turner of a novel like some modern historical narratives, and you will not be disappointed.

I would say a 6/10

 

— Krishna

December 15, 2012

Movie: The Crying Game 1992

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:00 pm

imagesThe movie is interesting. Just when you think it has gone into a slumber when it seems to meander without direction, it picks up and goes off into another explosive phase. Which saves the movie from being marked as a slow, mediocre movie and makes it really one of the movies that I would recommend to people to see.

The story starts brilliantly enough. Jody, a British soldier (played by Forest Whitaker when, I presume, he was not as famous as he later became) is lured into a honeytrap by Jude (Miranda Richardson) and kidnapped and taken prisoner, with Maguire as an accomplice. They are IRA operatives and hope to exchange Jody for a few of the IRA men held by the British government. Jody realizes that one of the IRA men assigned to guard him, Fergus (played by Stephen Rea) is a kind man really and gets close to him, much to the dismay of others including Maguire, his superior in the IRA. When the plan fails, Fergus is asked to kill Jody and Jody starts to run, convinced that Fergus will not shoot him in the back. Fergus cannot do it but then the British soldiers launch an attack on the IRA hideout, accidentally killing Jody. Before he died, Jody had shown him a photograph of her girl, Dil, in London (brilliantly played by Jaye Davidson, later) and asks him to find her and tell her that Jody loves him, after Jody is dead. He gives the address of the hair salon where Dil works. (He is convinced that he will be killed by IRA since he has seen the faces of some of them including Fergus)

Many years later, Fergus lives in London as a building labourer under a new name, Jimmie, and after the hot trail of the British agency runs cold, goes to the salon mentioned by Jody to meet Dil. He meets her and follows her to a bar and then falls for her. She is in the clutches of an older but vile man who ill treats her, and Fergus rescues her and she falls for Fergus, without realizing that he knew Jody.

Here is where the movie started to sag but when they get really close and Fergus realizes that Dil is a man – a cross dresser with a woman’s mind, but certainly a man, the movie picks up pace. When the IRA tracks down Jimmie (Fergus) and when Fergus realizes that both Maguire and Jude are alive and well and threaten to kill Dil (who they think is his girlfriend) unless he carries out a hit for him, he panics. He then tries to hide Dil in a hotel and, meeting Jude, Dil suspects that it is Jimmie’s ex girlfriend, and the movie completely takes off at this point, with a tense climax and an interesting ending.

I was wondering how this will all end since Fergus aka Jimmie is straight and Dil is madly in love with him, but the ending is logical and interesting. The story of a scorpion and a toad told by the soldier Jody in the beginning also makes its appearance at the end, which is a very nice touch.

It is an interesting movie and the bartender Col played by Jim Broadbent is an interesting character as well. By the way, if you now  see the unique mannerisms of his, you are instantly reminded of the Moulin Rouge, where he plays Harold Zidler a few years later.

Good movie and I would give it a 7/10 only because the middle still is not as taut as the beginning and the end.

 

— Krishna

 

 

Book: The Book of Names by Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:44 pm

imagesWell, another mystery adventure book that cannot seem to decide what it wants to be. The book is a complete Jewish immersion with every character being Jewish and much of the action happening in Jerusalem.

In a way, it tries to be a Da Vinci but gets carried away where the hero (in a minute I will come to him) tries to do a James Bond kind of unplanned attacks without the intellectual pursuit of Dan Brown’s heroes.

The story begins well indeed. It is an Egyptian archaeological site where the famous archaeologist Sir Rodney Davis is digging through for a parchment, convinced against all odds that it is there. He is helped by a loyal, well built assistant Raoul LaDauceur, who sticks with him through thick and thin. When the parchment has been unearthed, in his moment of triumph, Sir Rodney is assassinated by Raoul himself, who now has achieved his life’s dream.

On to David Sheperd, who, after an accident that near killed him, involving a roof top romping with friends starts remembering names at random. There are hundred names, which are the saviours of the world. Kill them all, and the world belongs to the Dark Lord. (No, this is not a children’s comic. It is meant as a serious adventure book!). The scroll has most names, and they are killed systematically by the Satan cult to which Raoul belongs. They all report to a mysterious head of the organization called Serpent or Crispin.

Now, the Rabbi who holds a talisman required to break the code enlists Yael HarPaz, who is a detective investigating the crimes and she pulls David in to help because of his symbology background (What? Wait. No this is not another Robert Langdon of Dan Brown books).

There is a whole description of Kabbalah, but not the Madonna variety (the ‘real’ Kabbala), Yael’s father, who is a conservative Rabbi in Israel, who frowns on her falling in love with a ‘casual’ Jew like David, spirits ascending up and up in levels until they reach salvation, and a whole lot of childish plots involving Italian Prime Minister, (the fictional) Eduardo DiStefano, and the major villain who turns out to be the childhood friend of David when he was involved in the accident.

It turns out that David somehow is able to recall the hundred names, and they set out to protect them as the Serpent and his organization set out to destroy them.

A whole pile of what the authors think are nail biting suspense scenes with the villains one step behind the hero pair most of the book and David attaining spiritual purity in the original land of Israel and then a happy ending where the evil forces are vanquished and the world saved from eternal doom.

I think this only rates a 3/10

— Krishna

December 3, 2012

Book: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:15 am

imagesMy God, what a collection! This is a collection of stories by that master storyteller, Stephen King. When you have read enough books of any author, you think you get a sense of the author’s style and even plot lines but this one keeps serving surprises all the time, in a way. Yes the storytelling is all there, as is the suspense that he ratchets up slowly until breaking point, but the angles are new and some stories have a power of unexpected surprise ending even after all this time (as in Fair Extensions in this collection. We will discuss this shortly.)

We have already reviewed many other novels of Stephen King already (see for example, the review of Leisey’s Story or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon ).

On to this book: This is a collection of four stories. I hesitate to call them short stories because the first one takes up almost half the book and is a novella rather than a short story. The others are smaller. But without exception, all of them are exceptionally good, which makes this book a totally fun read from end to end, in my view.

Take the first story, 1922, for instance. As I have said, this is the longest. This deals with Wilfred Leland James and his wife Arlette. They live in the country with the land bequeathed to the wife with their son Henry. It is anything but a quiet life. Arlette hates the form, and wants to move to the city, selling the land but for Wilfred, who is the narrator, it is like cutting off his hand. Henry is sweet on Shannon Cotterie. Harlan, the father of Shannon, allows that as a harmless puppy love until Shannon finds a man more suited to her stature in life.
Arlette makes life miserable to both her husband and her son, by nagging, making lewd remarks to her son about Shannon and when she is drunk, which is often, she is very near intolerable.
When she gives an ultimatum to Wilfred and Henry, Wilfred realizes that the only way out of this impasse is to kill her; he hatches a brilliant plan to kill her and to hide the body – and claim that she just ran away – she has done so before. The plan goes horribly wrong, and the story is pretty gruesome and horrifying to read. The murder first does not go according to plan and a reluctant Henry is pulled into it. Then the corpse is thrown into an old well and the body does not hide well – there are some hideous descriptions of how it shows up inside the well. Then there are the sinister events with the rats…
In the meanwhile the relationship with Henry sours and Henry starts to go bad from the good, pure hearted, soft, son that he was. When Wilfred finds out that Shannon has been made pregnant by Henry, all hell breaks loose.
The story goes from tension to tension, with Arlette, that foul mouthed, rude, uncouth woman in life, pursues her husband from beyond the grave. (No, this is not a ghost story). A great read.

The second story, The Big Driver, is about Tessa, a moderately famous author, who is called to be the guest speaker in the Books and Brown Baggers Club’s knitting society. Ramona Norville, the organizer suggests a shortcut back on the way home and there, she is forced to stop by obstacles in her path and a large man comes in rapes her and stangles her. She is left for dead, and wakes up near other corpses stuffed in a pipe. She manages to escape and is traumatized. Slowly, she realizes that she has to do something because the killer has killed before, as evidenced by the other bodies, and will do so again unless stopped. She decides to call the police and immediately changes her mind and decides to stop him in her own way.
She researches and finds that the Big Driver is Al Stretchlke of Hawkline Trucking Company.
The story is not just a simple one of revenge, but also one of some twists and turns that will make you gasp. Very good story.

The third story, Fair Extensions, is a very different story from him. It tells the life of David Streeter, who is friends with Tom Goodhugh. Their lives can be hardly more different. Tom is a man in rude health, a sportsman in university and now married to Norma Witten. They have two kids and seemingly everything in life. Tom is an executive, his two children are destined for greatness and are doing well in school.
David was dating Norma when she was swept off her feet by Tom, and ends up marrying her. David is bitter but then meets Janet and is very happy. He also has a son, Justin, doing OK in college and a daughter. David is toiling in a cubicle all day long and then discovers he has cancer and is in chemo. One day, when he is driving through a deserted road, he meets a salesman, George Elvid, (yes, the anagram is obvious) and makes a deal with him. He will have good things happen in his life, just for the asking, but on two conditions. He should choose someone who must have the bad stuff happen to them and also, like the ancient tithe, 10% of his earnings, no matter how high, must be given to charity. He agrees and his life is transferred. Until he is asked in the same meeting, he does not even know that he is going to name his buddy Tom as the person who should bear the brunt of the bad things to happen.
The story is told very well, and ends in a surprising way (at least for me).
A Good Marriage is the last story in the collection. It is about a wife, Darcy Anderson, who is in love with Bob Anderson, a salesman who is funny, gentle and lovable. Her two grown kids have moved out and are living a happy life. One day, when cleaning the house, she stumbles into a box, and realizes that her fun loving, gentle husband is Beadie, the serial killer that the police are trying to catch! Her world comes crashing down. Can she live with the fact? Can she expose him? What will happen to her kids when this is known? Her struggle and the escalating tension when her husband discovers that she knows his secret are extremely well told. The end is satisfying, and the elderly detective who comes to investigate is also very endearing.

All in all, one of the best collection of short stories from the author. Deserves a 9/10

— Krishna

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