Monday, January 28, 2013

The Feast of The Goat

The Feast of The Goat by Nobel winner Mario Vargas Llosa is considered as a landmark Latin American novel. It is a semi historical novel set in Dominican Republic and deals with the thirty one year’s rule of Rafael Trujillo. The novel can be called as a study of Dictatorial rule world over, as it portrays psychological, social, economical and political situations while and after a long dictatorial rule. Novel portrays the starting and hey days of the Dictatorship, assassination of Trujillo and the aftermaths of it that extends to the next generation. In the true history of Rafael Trujillo, the author has interlaced several fictional elements. Many of the events and major personalities of the novel are real, while many subplots and characterizations are fictional.
The novel follows three different story lines. In the first story line set in 1996, there is Urania Cabral, a successful attorney in USA, returning to Dominican Republic to visit her father decades after the fall of Trujillo. Her father used to be a confidante of Trujillo, who fell from the grace due to some unknown reason. Her confrontation with her ill father and her conversation with her aunt and cousins reveals a secret about her to the reader. Here we come to know of the political turmoil and general degradation in the society after the fall of the Goat, as Trujillo is known inside Dominican Republic. In the second story line, the last day of Trujillo is revealed, from his waking up to his eventual assassination. It is told from the view point of the dictator himself. In this story line we are shown the inside working of the regime- the fear and obedience that the dictator commands and how it is maintained. The third story line starts with the assassins waiting for Trujillo to appear, the subsequent killing and their eventual fates. The curious fact here is that all the assassins were once true and loyal Trujillistas, but turns back when the vulgarity of the rule is revealed to them in varied circumstances.
The Feast of the Goat is one of the most intriguing novels that I have read in years. The non linear narration builds up the atmosphere towards the twist ending. By setting three parallel story lines, the writer succeeds in giving a three dimensional, all encompassing view of the time period. Several themes concerning dictatorial rule are explored in the book. Prominent among them is the fear psychology used to maintain power and loyalty among others. It is well summed up in this line in the novel told by Imbert, one of the conspirators.
“They kill our fathers, our brothers, our friends. And now they are killing our women. And here we sit, resigned, waiting our turn.”
Finally I would strongly recommend this dark and powerful novel as a must read for all.

¡°This book review is part of Book Review program at¡±.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Elephants On Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments

Curiosity is a virtue that paved the way for human progress through centuries. This quality of asking ‘what if’ made us capable to improvise and innovate thereby causing several scientific breakthroughs and increasing our general standard of living. At the same time curiosity has also caused some rather bizarre scientific experiments. For Example, some decades back, when some scientists were curious about the effect of mind altering drugs on animals, they actually experimented by administering LSD to an elephant. Elephants On Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments is a book by Alex Boese that chronicles this and several other unique and bizarre actual scientific experiments of this kind.
Elephants On Acid is the history of several experiments that makes us wonder due to their seemingly absurd logic. The experiments detailed in this book cover most of the areas of modern science. For his credit intention of Alex Boese is not just to amuse and entertain readers by recounting some outrageous fantasies of mad scientists. All the experiments in this book are done with proper scientific methodology and documentation by publication in journals. He wants to arouse curiosity about science in the minds of readers who are reluctant in picking up a book about general science by writing a fun book.
Book is divided into ten categories- surgery, senses, memory, sleep, animal behavior, mating behavior, babies, bathroom research, human nature and death. For those who are interested in further study of any of these experiments, a detailed bibliography is also included. Many of the stories that involve surgery and dissection, like that of isolating a live monkey’s brain or dissecting heads for replacement, are cringe worthy. Some of the experiments, the psychological and behavioral ones about brainwashing and stuff like that cause our humanitarian mind to protest. Some of the experiments are plain silly, like that of tickling oneself. The experiments related to human nature establishes how vulnerable and weak humans are to negative traits like greed, power and authority.
The book is written in a matter of fact manner but laced with humor and a bit of sarcasm. The weak hearted may skip the first chapter about surgery altogether and I advise others to keep it for final reading as it may cause a bit of disinterest in the first few pages due to its graphic nature. Altogether, I will conclude that Elephants On Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments is an interesting book. It is funny, insightful and absorbing in parts, though gory content may turn off some readers.
¡°This book review is part of Book Review program at¡±.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Skip to death..!

Lot of comments have been pouring in from friends and relatives since last couple of months about my slightly (?) protruding belly. I strongly believe that the hands of a newly opened samosa-kachori shop-owner is responsible for this. Trouble is that by putting an open blame of him I will have to avoid buying from him at least for time being. Provided the quality of his eatables, even the thought is unbearable for me. And then I made up my mind to seriously take up exercising. What an idea sirjee...! 

After work just stop at the kachori stall, wolf down one samosa, some hundred grams of hot jalebi, a kachori and come home, do work out for some time and see that all those delicacies become integral part of my body muscles. My idea was to start with skipping. It is easy to do and don't need any investment as such. I bought a good skipping rope and before starting the exercise schedule, just googled the benefits of skipping, to get a motivation. 

I opened first couple of results in the Google search page and it was satisfying. All were recommending skipping as a good cardiovascular exercise, perfect for the whole body. Then I reached the last result of the page. And all my enthusiasm drained off my mind. The title displayed for that result was, 'Skipping exercise can be fatal to you!'. I was shocked. Oh my God, that was close! Fatal? How is it possible? Skipping seemed quite a harmless sort of workout, which doesn't give any big shock for the body and here they say it is fatal! Then I opened the link and read it hurriedly, only to realise that the article was not about skipping exercise but about avoiding (skipping) physical exercises which can be fatal. What a relief!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Calcutta Chromosome: Medical Thrill

The Calcutta Chromosome is an acclaimed science fiction medical thriller written by Amitav Ghosh in 1995. It can be called as a semi historical fiction because its plot deals with the discovery of parasites causing malaria by Nobel Prize winning scientist Sir Ronald Ross in Calcutta. The novel implies that it was a group of Indian mystics who actually helped Ross in his discovery to further their own secret research on attaining eternal life. The author has used Ross’ autobiographical work Memoirs for establishing several actual characters with fictional background into the novel. The novel received Arthur C Clarke Award in 1997. 

In a distant future, Antar, an overworked computer programmer of LifeWatch Organization in New York starts searching for his long lost colleague Murugan, when he strikes upon an old ID card. Murugan had requested a transfer to Calcutta in 1990s to track the life of Sir Ronald Ross and was missing from then. Antar investigates the disappearance of Murugan through several old documents. He finds that Murugan had unearthed a deadly secret that can change the destiny of mankind. The plot of The Calcutta Chromosome unveils in three different timelines. In a distant future Antar tracks Murugan’s investigation. Murugan is investigating the black holes in Sir Ronald Ross’ life in Calcutta in the 90s. Sir Ross is on his way to fame and honor, by discovering parasites responsible for Malaria thanks to the secret assistance of his servants Mangala and Lutchman. 

I loved this novel mainly for the way facts and fiction is interspersed. Undoubtedly Mr. Ghosh has done some serious and enormous amount of research to come up with such a story! He does not show any restraint in dealing with technical aspects of the story like medical terms and such. This makes the book all the more convincing. The unique narrative like a maze and the dark atmosphere adds to the suspense element of the novel. The Calcutta Chromosome is a bewitching and clever thriller that not even for a single moment leaves the reader unsatisfied. The narration that unfolds in different places and different time periods is gripping, though may be confusing at times for a casual reader. The fact that the mystery is not solved fully at the end and left for the reader to fill in the blanks may irritate some. Still the effect of this novel to take the reader with it as the story flows to its culmination makes it worth a try. 

¡°This book review is part of Book Review program at¡±.