Paperback Pickings

A taste for blood

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 28.01.11

A taste for blood

The scourge of the mission: Marco Della Tomba in Hindustan (Yoda, Rs 350) by David N. Lorenzen is a “biography and autobiography” of the Italian friar who travelled to India in the 18th century. Della Tomba, who arrived in Bengal in the same year that Robert Clive’s forces defeated Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, is a fascinating observer of early British rule in India. In this telling of history, Lorenzen borrows from the traditions laid down by the “ars historicae” of the 16th and 17th centuries. History acquires the colour of fiction as the errant friar tells his story in first person. The author has “filled out” autobiographical essays and letters written by Della Tomba himself. A well-researched project that challenges modern conventions of historiography, Lorenzen’s new work promises to be an exciting read.

Rebirth: a novel (Penguin, Rs 250) by Jahnavi Barua is aptly named. A familiar story seems to be going through its umpteenth incarnation in this tale of “love, friendship and self-renewal”. When her husband leaves her for another woman, Kaberi is shattered and must rebuild her life from scratch. The narrative voice in the novel is Kaberi’s. She speaks to her unborn child, often divulging things that no foetus should ever hear. As in Barua’s short stories, the lush landscapes of Assam are a haunting presence; the novel weaves between Bangalore and Guwahati. Despite a tired storyline, Barua evokes a sense of melancholy and moments of emotional intensity.

Way beyond the three Rs: India’s education challenge in the 21st century (Penguin, Rs 250) by Y.S. Rajan examines the country’s education system and the flaws inherent in the current model. The reforms needed in the Indian education system, argues Rajan, must be as radical and far-reaching as those that brought about the end of the licence permit raj almost 20 years ago. These reforms, moreover, cannot be left to “legislative action alone”. Rajan suggests alternative approaches to effect changes within the system. Packed with information and lucidly written, the book comes with a foreword by the former president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Dead and gone (Gollancz, Rs 295) by Charlaine Harris deals with your common garden vampire as well as the friendly neighbourhood werewolf. But the ones you really have to watch out for are the “unhuman beings”, ancient creatures who are far more powerful and secretive than either werewolves or vampires. Shapeshifters range the night, were-panthers are murdered and the protagonist must use her powers of telepathy to solve the crime.The book has been turned into the popular HBO television series, True Blood. Indeed, blood has never tasted this good.

By the water cooler (Westland, Rs 250) by Parul Sharma will strike a chord with many readers trudging to their offices every day. It is the story of Mini and Tanya, who work for a firm in Mumbai, and their quest for “corporate stardom”. This necessarily involves ghoulish bosses, espionage, piles of files, quantities of chai and, of course, the “Sutta Club” that convenes near the “achingly romantic garbage dump” outside the office building. While Tanya is banished to “corporate no-man’s land”, Mini puts in a heroic effort to complete the project she has been assigned. The harrowing becomes hilarious; Sharma tells her story with much wit and candour, not to mention a proper dread of health food.