July 18, 2015

Book: And The Mountains Echoed by Khalid Hosseini

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:11 pm

imageThis is the latest book by Khalid Hosseini. His earlier books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns have both been reviewed here earlier. Let us look at the story first.

Baba Ayub’s favourite of all his sons and daughters is Qis. He has to give it away to a div – a monster creature – to save the rest of his children and is heartbroken. He goes to save the child and realizes that the child is not eaten by the monster but is happier there and leaves him there. The div gives him a potion that makes him forget he ever had a child or that he went on a mission to rescue it.

The story forms a preface and the father Sadoor is telling it to Abdullah and his sister Pari. Brother and sister are inseparable.  They do not like Parwana, the stepmother. She seems not to love them.

They go to Kabul to meet Uncle Nabi’s employers – Mr and Mrs Wahdati –  rich, sophisticated, a source of constant amazement to Pari and Abdulla and even overwhelming father. When Abdullah realizes that Pari is to be sold to them, his life comes crashing down and he is disconsolate after returning to his home town.

Parwana’s story is also fascinating. She is in love with Saboor from a very young age, when Saboor was also a young man. Her sister, Masooma, who is fair, very pretty with blond hair, steals a march on her and gives Saboor – fond of telling stories and dreaming of being a writer – the notebook that Parwana had got to give him. When they are on a tree and Masooma confides that Saboor’s parents will ask for Masooma’s hand, jealousy makes Parwana push Masooma off the tree and cripple her for life.

After a while, Masooma begs to be released from her life and wants Parwana to do it. She also asks Parwana to marry Saboor, who had already married, gave birth to two kids and had been widowed at the childbirth when Pari was born.

Now we switch to Nabi. He watches Mr Wahdati marry a woman, Nila,  who is out of tune with the conservative mores of Afghani society and also does not see eye to eye with her husband. Nabi is totally infatuated by her but she is unattainable, of course. Improbably, Nabi and Nila get close (as friends and confidants)  and Nabi takes her to see  Saboor’s house, especially Pari and Abdullah. He learns on the way back that Nabi is barren because of removal of ovaries.

He suggests adopting Pari and even Mr Wahdati takes a shine to the girl but Saboor cuts him off totally. He is persuaded to part with Pari due to difficulties and due to a promise that would make Pari live comfortably for the rest o her life.

When Wahdati is indisposed by a stroke, Nabi stays with him but Nabila leaves to Paris with Pari – they were never close, ever.

Nabi too does not get the closeness he thinks he will get by giving up Pari to the Wahdatis.

He discovers that Suleiman (Mr Wahdati) had a love for him all these years. As an invalid, Nabi cared for him and got caught in the war’s damages.

Finally, there is a heartrending piece about how Nabi is asked to do one final favour for Suleiman when his health worsens. All with the background of war, the Soviets, the Muhahideen and the Taliban. In fact, these background landscape appears in each of his books but does not appear tiresome at all, such is the skill of the author in breathing new life into his stories. Truly a gifted author, this one is.

But of you compare this story to his earlier masterpieces, especially A Thousand Splendid Suns, this one comes across as weak and moves through generations like the Kite Runner does. Idris and Timur, the children of Nabi’s neighbour, come into the picture and so does Roshi, a victim of an axe attack by her own uncle in a vicious family feud. Idris, a successful doctor, has an attack of the conscience. Abdullah is seen running a kabob shop in California with a wife and a daughter whom he has named Pari. The fact that Idris chickens out from pulling Roshi out and kind of adopting her is realistic.

The story of Pari and her alcoholic mother and Pari’s affair with a much older professor called Julienne in Paris are fairly boring. Pari going out with Julien,  then leaves him and marries Eric, getting flashbacks about her early childhood, all that is very unnatural and you realize that Khalid Hosseini does not do modern urban life as well as he does the rural Afghan life – even in this book.

What is more interesting is the meeting between Abdullah’s grandson and the son of a warlord who does not know the extent of the misery his father has caused. That part is quite well done. (Again, Afghani life, not the emigre experience).

Except for Markos and his relationship with his mom and Thalia, the disfigured daughter (dog bite and a botched operation to fix it) Thalia who comes to live with Markos and her mom. And therein lies another problem. The book seems like disjointed account of several people’s lives, with only a tenuous touchpoint that some of them were in Afghanistan at one point or another. It does not have the coherent narration of his earlier work A Thousand Splendid Suns, or even the limited disjointedness of the first book The Kite Runner.

The ending – he tries his memory stuff again, which he used so devastatingly in the previous two books but somehow this time it does not hold so much power as the previous two books.

Still a good book to read and is on most peoples ‘Recommended Reading’ list. A pity that it is not as good as his previous books.

Let us say a 6/10



Movie: Inside Out (2015)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:33 pm

imageThe reviews are definitely fawning. One typical review says that the reviewer doubted the ability of the Pixar team to do good movies anymore but he (or was it a she?) is glad that ‘they are back’.

I agree with that review up to a point. Pixar seems to have lost the ability to make exceptional movies that shake up the media. The Toy Story was a brand new concept and they followed it up with incredible movies like, well, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Up and Wall-E.

Come to think of it, Ratatouille was also not bad, not bad at all. Somewhere there, they seem to have lost their mojo. There was a time when they made only serials of the (now not so hot) Toy Story or the not so incredible Cars and Planes. I grant you that these movies also appeal to kids, but there was nothing in it for adults. In the meanwhile, others seem to have caught up. Dreamworks came up with the Shrek series and Universal came up with the adorable concept of Despicable Me, where the first two movies were fabulous. The third one? I will give you my views in another post. The only half decent movie Pixar has come up with recently is  Big Hero 6 but I would not classify that as outstanding.

Even Disney, which bought Pixar over, seemed to find its old magic in the amazing Frozen.  Pixar? They seem to continuously miss the mark and this movie, Inside Out is also one of the misses. Sad to see the once revolutionary company get mired in sequels and tired concepts.

Inside Out has an interesting premise for sure. It talks about the mental processes that drive us. To make it interesting, all emotions have been given a persona. Joy (played by Amy Poehler of Parks and Recreation fame) is there, Sadness (Phyllis Smith of the Office fame) are there, as is Fear and Anger. Disgust (Mindy Kaling, also from Office) and others.

It may be very useful as a documentary to explain psychology  but as a commercial movie, it leaves a lot to be desired. Each event is a coloured ball of memory (happy, sad, angry) and some of them are key memories. There are islands of support (though none of the emotions ever go to any island; they are just there at the end of radiating poles from the central place where they “live”. Weird.

It even gets weirder. Every emotion takes its place in the controls, pushing others away – OK, I see what that means in practice. Anger pushes away joy, sadness etc momentarily and takes over. But sometimes everybody sits around and cheers joy or helps her get life back on track. Sadness and disgust helping joy gain control? Good as a children’s concept but does not jell with the basic premise.

It gets even weirder. The childhood imaginary friend is still rooting around, looking like a character from Dr Seuss book which wandered into this story. The Train of Thought is a weird train that goes and stops at will and is hard to catch. Don’t even get me started on the clown and the weird party.

All in all, it sounds like an attempt to educate with random characters doing random things that makes no sense altogether. Just one example : Joy and sadness get lost and need to get back to the control room to save the girl? Well? What does that represent?

I know that there is a link in everything to the mental processes of people and is cutely portrayed, but if it is not obvious to a layman like me, what is the movie trying to tell me?

Not a very bad movie or anything but it does not justify the hype or the expectations set by early Pixar movies.

4 / 10


July 7, 2015

Book: Those In Peril by Wilbur Smith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:10 pm

imageWe have reviewed many of Wilbur Smith’s books earlier here. The story, as is his wont, is the usual but the setting is different. There are no Courtneys or Ballantynes to contend with here, but what he starts here seems to have become the start of a new offshoot, as the main man and the woman appear in a sequel as well.

The story first.

Cayla the wicked daughter of doting billionaire mother Hazel Bannock – who inherits a crumbling business from her dead husband and revives it –  brings aboard her ship an Islamic African terrorist Adam as a lover, thinking he is a Frenchman. She is 16 and deep into sex already. The man she brought aboard guides boats of terrorists and takes over the ship. The ship is destroyed and the girl kidnapped. Hazel enlists the help of his assistant Hector Cross in desperation.

Now if you have read enough books of Wilbur, you know he loves to bring in  extreme gore, violence and sex in his books. Even to a reader as inured to his style as me, the torture of Cayla was a bit shocking to read. All this is done to promote Hazel and Hector into unthinking, rash action combined with impossible ransom demands.  What they seek is revenge.

And true to form, Wilbur’s characters do not even grieve much. While in deep grief for her daughter and terror of her plight, Hazel finds time to seduce and skinny dip with Hector and do a whole pile of other things.

Tareeq and Uthman, two “natives” in Hector’s employ (another staple of Wilbur to show that even though a white man is always in charge, he is benevolent to the natives)  find  out the whereabouts of Cayla’s abductors (Puntland) but Tareeq warns Hector of treachery from Uthman. Tareeq goes as a spy to a nearby village where his aunt lives.

When they get to rescue Cayla, Uthman’s treachery brings death to the waiting crew and they are pursued by dogs, hunters and are on the run. They meet and kill the Sheikh, who is Adam’s grandfather and now Adam controls the gang.

They are pursued closely by Uthman and Adam and their attempt to escape by boat is disappointed when with all their allies the rescue boat is sunk. In desperation, they run and get a bus to ride through. Adam and Uthman find them and surround them on a cliffside and at the last minute, Hector’s friends comes and rescues them via a cavalcade of jeeps and then airlifts them back to South Africa.

Hector is invited to join Hazel at the headquarters in London. Cayla is deeply psychologically affected by the whole ordeal. They all have fun time while Cayla recovers – fairly easily it would seem –  until they go back and find Tariq’s wife and son have been killed by Uthman now.

Hector pops the question to Hazel and meets her mother. Then they discover that when they were away on their honeymoon, Cayla and Hazel’s mother Grace were beheaded.

So they mount a counterattack, where the world’s largest oil tanker is deliberately taken near the coast of Sudan, tempting Adam. What Adam does not suspect is that the ship is altered and inside the hull is a full attack force, ready to deploy at the slightest chance. The trick is to let the ship be “captured” by Kemal, Adam’s uncle, so that Adam will visit the captured ship and then attack. Kemal captures the ship but when he tries to get his men to serially rape Natasya, a commando double for Hazel, he gets his finger bitten off, his men killed and they retreat, locking her into the room.

Adam and Uthman come in, and Uthman discovers the treachery, fleeing before he could be stopped, leaving Adam on the deck. Hector goes after him. It all ends predictably well.

There is gore but it is kind of underdone. Not like Wilbur Smith’s usual amped up violence. Yes, sure, there are tiger sharks tearing off a man, there is foot shattered by bullets, there is gang rape etc but then for Wilbur’s usual gore where he seems to describe agony with great relish, this is surely underdone. The main villain, Adam Tippo Tip (yes, I know, his name sounds like something you will see in a cartoon of the 1960s and also I know there are references to this name in some of his earlier books) is supposed to be given a suitable death and you expect something truly horrifying, knowing what Wilbur would write in such a situation. But what really happens is almost tame.

The thrill is there, the style is there, the story is there and so let us say 6/10

– – Krishna

July 3, 2015

Book: The Teeth of the Tiger by Tom Clancy

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:28 pm

imageDavid Greengold, head of Mossad in Italy is murdered in the washroom on what should have been a routine clue pickup trip. Meanwhile a set of brothers are recruited by CIA. Now that Jack Ryan, the hero of almost all of Tom Clancy’s earlier works,  has become President and retired, there is nothing more they can do with him so Tom Clancy brings in his son, Jack Ryan Jr into the story in this book. His comments on the (then) President (presumably George W) are interesting. Even a fully right wing novelist hates him?

Nice touch. Ed Kealty, who was dismissed from Vice Presidency for womanizing and raping in a previous book, is now the President.

Another thing, this book was written in 2003 and Tom predicts that it is Germany who will be dominant in the Euro zone and not France – About 9 years prior to when it actually happened exactly as he predicted! Not bad for a thriller writer…

The Caruso brothers’ training is very interesting. They are invited to join an ultra elite and ultra secret government agency. The agency’s mission is to execute “bad guys” who cannot be prosecuted by law. Their agency does not exist anywhere in records, they will be not in uniform and will be infiltrators in a country they are not welcome in. On top of that, if they are caught, the government will disown them and deny all knowledge about them or their existence.

Meanwhile a group of jihadists headed by Mustafa gets themselves smuggled into the US with the help of Mexican underworld collaborators with the aim of creating mayhem in the country.

Jack Ryan Jr is on their trail through his financial wizardry – shades of his dad. He is on to a shady deal in financial transactions of one suspect, who has been devilishly clever but has made one misstep.

The jihadist assault team arrives in America and is ready to wreak havoc in the malls of middle America. By chance the Caruso brothers happen to be in one mall. They subdue attackers and kill them, not without loss of life and are stunned to hear of coordinated attacks everywhere.

The first target of their masterplan is Uda, who is a shady financier of the attacks. They pop him with a drug needle disguised as a pen, right in front of a tail put there by British Intelligence! The tail had no clue that there was any foul play involved. Fascinating descriptions

The second ‘job’ is to get an Arab living in Germany, right after the first one. They do it and find that a third is already lined up. Jack is sent to join them, as the bosses feel that they need a backup brain to ensure that the wrong one is not whacked by mistake.

In the end Jack takes the initiative to get the biggest of them all so far, when things go accidentally wrong for the brothers.

A typical, enjoyable Tom Clancy but nowhere near the Red Rabbit level perhaps. Would say a 6/10

– – Krishna

Movie: The Descendents (2011)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:14 pm

imageThis is a family drama. There is not even much drama. These kind of movies were popular in the eighties, where you get served a slice of life, to watch and savour. Not a whole lot happens in the movie, and while there are some interesting moments, you come out of it kind of wondering what the point of all that movie was.

The story is about a rich family who owns a lot of property in Hawaii. The paradisiacal locales are breathtaking, and as uniquely Hawaiian as it gets. The roads that they travel in, the cottages and houses they visit, the beaches that they pretend they own (I mean, according to the story, they do own the beach and surrounding woodland but…) are all fantastic to watch. The cinematography is great and captures the scenes in vivid detail.

That’s about it. Let’s look at the story.

Matt King is a successful attorney in Hawaii (Honolulu to be precise) and is also a descendent of an ancient royal family and owns about 25000 acres of pristine land through a trust. His wife Elizabeth gets into an accident while water skiing and is in a coma. His whole family seems to have been fully dysfunctional up to that point.

Matt and Elizabeth have two daughters, and the elder one Alex is living in a dormitory. Matt had no time to give Elizabeth or the girls up to the time of the accident and when he goes to get Alex home, he discovers that she is fully into self-destructive behaviour, with alcohol, drugs and a completely insensitive idiot of a boyfriend, whom she insists on dragging back into Matt’s house.

Scottie, the younger one, is clueless on everything in life and simply seems to float along. We are supposed to feel total sympathy for her not being aware of how critical her mother’s condition is. Does not fully work.

Now, when the doctor tells Matt that Elizabeth will never come out of the coma, he faces the uncertain future. Alex tells him that Elizabeth was having an affair and was also planning to marry her lover, after seeking and getting a divorce from Matt. The news devastates Matt and he is now obsessed with finding who that man was. He learns from friends that it was Matt Speer and tracks him down to his house, only to learn that he has gone to Kau’ai. He follows with his entire family in toe, including the crazy boyfriend.

Well we learn of the hard feelings between Elizabeth’s dad and Matt, learn how Sid is married and had no intention of giving up his wife for Elizabeth.

Finally, Matt decides to “forgive” both the lover and his wife. He changes his mind on the sale of the property. He was originally planning to sell it. The added detail  is that the realtor who stood to make a great amount of money out of it was the lover of his wife. But that does not seem to be the motive for not selling. The desire is to not spoil the beauty by allowing condominiums and hotels built on the pristine land.

The movie is OK but there is no plot in it except ‘When the wife dies, how did this family cope? What brought them together?’  Not much of an attention grabber, is it?

I would say a 3/10

– – Krishna

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: