When this year dawned there was no inkling of the enormity of what was going to hit us. There were news reports about a virus in China and initially my thoughts were that even if it were to somehow reach our shores it would be contained. But nothing prepared me for the disaster that lay ahead. As the year comes to a close, there is news of a mutation of the virus. We also have news reports of multiple vaccines that are ready and being given to people. In tandem there are news reports of side-effects of the vaccine. It will take some time before the general public gets access to the vaccine. First in line would be our healthcare workers followed by the elderly and high-risk people. I am assuming it will take till April or May before the general public starts getting vaccines and it remains to be seen if it will be fully safe for all. Till then mask, sanitizer, soap, and diligence are our only support.
When I visited the Chennai Book Fair in January 2020, I did not think that we may not have the fair next year. I picked up several books from the Zero Degree Publishing stall. Two stand-out books that I loved and will be my top-two reads for the year are:
“Willfully Evil” by Balakumaran translated by Pritham Chakravarthy.
“Out of the Blue” by Indra Soundar Rajan.
The first book shows one man’s descent into sin and evil as he seeks to fulfill his material and carnal desires. Set in ancient India, the book shows how the protagonist goes all out as he amasses knowledge, wealth, and magical skills, and yet cannot control his carnal desires and kills his wife. Then the story showcases how the woman’s spirit plots revenge. The story spans multiple eras (is a reincarnation saga) and is a cautionary tale for all those who think that their actions have no repercussions. Amma used to love reading Balakumaran’s books when her eyesight was normal and there used to be discussions between Amma, Patti, and Mama that I recollect from my days as a child in Calcutta. I really hope more translations of the master’s books are made available in English soon.
Indra Soundar Rajan is a familiar face to many. His stories have been made into successful TV programs and he also speaks on spirituality and Mahaperiyava of Kanchipuram in his popular program “Anushathin Anugraham”. This is a fascinating book that blends mysticism, legend, myth, religion, and spirituality and is based onthe fabled flute of Lord Krishna and the adventures surrounding the identity of several people seeking it and protecting it. A racy read and brilliantly translated, this is a must-read for the fans of fast-paced and well-researched stories.
“Namaha” by Abhishek Singh is a fascinating work of art as well as inspirational stories steeped deep in Hinduism and spirituality. This is a collector’s item. Lovers of art will not be disappointed.
“The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” by Ken Liu. I received this book as a gift from Karthik Raghavan a friend and someone whose taste in books is absolutely brilliant. Be it the classics or science fiction or comics – his taste is impeccable and have noted over the years that his recommendations never fall off the mark. A must-read for lovers of science fiction.
“Moustache” by S. Hareesh – Way before it won the JCB Prize – I had read this book. In fact this was my last purchase from Om Books in Chennai before the lockdown started. I had purchased this book along with some others in February of this year. It was a birthday present for myself. The book falls in the realms of magical realism and is set in Kerala. Not everyone will like this book as it meanders with descriptions of the idyllic surroundings and the characters. If you enjoy the writings of Marquez, I think you will plod through the book.
“Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories” by Vandana Singh.
Once the lockdown ended and malls started to open up, I ventured one day to a book shop after I had my health check-up with my doctor. I picked this book and enjoyed the intricately woven stories. The book has received several international accolades and is again a must-read for fans of science fiction.
I visited Moore Market and picked up some copies of “The Three Investigators”. These books have become rare now and are no longer being issued/published afresh. Don’t know if there are licensing issues and who holds the actual copyrights now. I really hope the books are published again and a new generation of readers get to enjoy the adventures of Jupiter Jones, Pete, and Bob. One of my aims in the upcoming year is to hunt for old copies of this series and buy them.
The Pushkin Vertigo series has been the discovery of the year for me as I read books by Frederic Dard, Friedrich Durrenmatt, and Soji Shimada. The books that I would love to recommend among the ones that I read are as follows:
This year will also be noted for books that I started and somehow could not complete. The Ponniyin Selvan English translation by Varalotti Rengasami is excellent but somehow I just could not progress with the books and am stuck with volume-1. Perhaps will give it a try again next year.
Have you read any of the books that I have mentioned above? Do share your favourite reads of the year.
Wishing you a bookish 2021 ahead with lots of books to read.