What are you reading this week? Tell us using the Comments button at the bottom. Here’s what we picked up and simply could not put down. Four books utterly unlike one another, but joined in being the kind of work one cannot stop reading before the end.
The Diary of Manu Gandhi 1943-1944, edited and translated by Tridip Suhrud, Oxford University Press.
Mridula Gandhi, aka Manu Gandhi, was Mahatma Gandhi’s constant companion in the final years of his life. The youngest daughter of his nephew Jaisukhlal Amritlal Gandhi and Kausamba, she was entrusted by Gandhi with the responsibility of being present at his hour of death, of being the witness who would confirm that he had died with the name of god on his lips.
Manu was also part of Gandhi’s experiment to test himself on matters of celibacy and chastity, which he referred to as his yajna. She subsequently withdrew from this arrangement. Gandhi wrote to her in 1947: “In this yajna I got glimpses of the ideal of truth and purity for which I have been aspiring, And you have fully contributed towards it.”
In keeping with Gandhi’s directive to all his followers, Manu kept a daily diary from 1943, when she was 13, to 1948, which are a record not only of her own activities but also of Gandhi’s own conflicts and activities. This book is the first volume of these diaries in English translation, chronicling not only Manu’s day-to-day pursuits but also her spiritual and educational quests.
Synapse: Ratan Oak Stories, Kalpish Ratna, Speaking Tiger
Medical surgeons Ishrat Syed and Kalpana Swaminathan are Kalpish Ratna, whose fiction spans a unique range of history, medical information, science and speculation, all tied in through genre-defying storytelling. In their new book, microbiologist Ratan Oak returns to action along with his great grandfather Ramratan Oak – anything is possible in this kind of fiction – and flits between the 19th and 21st centuries. The cast of characters includes “vedic scientists, brahminical eugenicists, lusty serial-killers and ghostly seductresses”. It is safe to say that this book offers a truly one-of-a-kind reading experience.
“Ratan returned, though the waiter hadn’t spoken at all. When he looked again at the mirror, the picture was complete.
The man was sitting there now, as expected. He leaned forward a little and his back loomed in the mirror, drilled neatly with a bullet hole. The spidery cracks around it radiated brightness into the space beyond.
There, in that dim interior, was Ratan’s table; and there he was, stealing a glance at the man; then quickly looking away and smoothing his moustache –
Perhap’s it’s time I grew one, thought Ratan.”— From "Leopold Café", from "Synapse", Kalpish Ratna.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know, Malcolm Gladwell, Allen Lane.
“Sometimes the best conversation between strangers allow the stranger to remain a stranger.”
In the late 1930s, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, alarmed by Hitler’s war whoops across the Channel, decided to visit the German head of state and talk down the possibility of war. He came back from a face to face visit convinced that Hitler’s ambitions of conquering Europe were limited. Of course, he was wrong.
In his new book, Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, asks what makes us trust strangers and lead ourselves into catastrophes in the process. Of course, it isn’t as simple as that, because, as Gladwell shows, there is a complex sequence of interactions and assumptions involved.
Delving into history to pick out instances of encounters with ‘strangers’, the book asks – and attempts to answer – this question: Why do we so often get other people wrong? Provocatively, Gladwell hints at too much information – instead of information that matters – being responsible. He is as full of insights into human behaviour in this book as in his earlier, bestselling works.
Nadya: A Graphic Novel, Debasmita Dasgupta, Scholastic.
A quiet but gloriously drawn graphic novel, Nadya almost operates without a need for text, so evocative are the settings, characters, and interiority caught in the sensitive images that make superb use of the horizontal and the vertical axes. The story is simple enough to the point of being an add-on – it is the reader’s journey with the teenaged Nadya that stands out in this work. The art evokes the mood at every stage, especially the colours. The perspective shifts in each frame, making for a rich narrative despite the linear storyline. Teenagers may read this story of a nuclear family living in the hills for relatability, but for everyone there is the poetry of the form that this graphic novel poignantly evokes.
So, what book have you got in your hands? What would you recommend to us and to other readers. Tell us.