In the Frontline
Years ago, BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, swapped the job of a banker for the freedom of a freelance journalist. Later, when he joined BBC, his interest in the Arab world led him to conflict zones in West Asia. Blood and Sand is Gardner’s account of the life-altering events that confronted him while covering the Al-Qaeda in the wake of 9/11. In June 2004, he was shot at while doing a routine recording at Riyadh. His fellow cameraman died, while Gardner survived, albeit partly paralysed for life.
Unlike most recent journalistic memoirs of Western journalists in the Arab world (a memorable one being Jason Burke’s On the Road to Kandahar), Gardner is not consciously a sympathetic raconteur of life at the mercy of militant Islamism or American imperialism. Blood and Sand is unpretentious and poignant, made so by the chilling account of his near-death experience in a land that he went to as a young journalist and grew to love.
Blood and Sand
Bantam Books, 452 pages, Rs685
War and love
Indu Sundaresan’s passion for history and characters set in an old era was evident in her first novel, Madras on Rainy Days. Her second, The Splendor of Silence, begins in the India of the early 1960s, with a 21-year-old American arriving in India to discover her roots. The narrative then leaps back to 1942. It’s a story that echoes many familiar story lines in Indian cinema and literature—a US army captain arrives in the princely state of Rudrakot and falls in love with a local girl. The 21-year-old is, of course, the army captain’s daughter, and she discovers that the couple was confronted with extraordinary circumstances in a country on the brink of independence.
Sundaresan’s narrative is sentimental, but she is very adept at evoking historical details with descriptions of ordinary characters and places.
The Splendor of Silence
Penguin, 399 pages, Rs350
A woman’s world
In all her works of fiction, author C.S. Lakshmi (aka Ambai) gently shatters stereotypes of women in rural and small-town India. Her protagonists, mostly women, are characters imbued with mental reserve and intrigue. In the Forest, a Deer, is a translation of her third collection of short stories and is nominated for this year’s Hutch Crossword Book Award in the translations category.
The characters in the stories, living in Tamil Nadu, Mumbai, Europe and the US, grapple with questions related to displacement, identity and individual achievement.
Even in translation, Ambai’s narrative is riveting. In one of the stories, Wrestling, she affirms that artistic genius is impossible to hide, even if it is a woman in a traditional family set-up. The collection also includes an unpublished story, A Movement, a Folder, Some Tears.
In the Forest, a Deer
Oxford University Press 210 pages, Rs295
After Raj Mohan Gandhi’s engrossing portrait of his grandfather’s life in Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, his People and an Empire, comes a 960-pager by his other grandson, Tushar Gandhi. Unlike the first book, which is a chronological portrait, much of Tushar Gandhi’s book is conjecture. Let’s Kill Gandhi claims to have an analysis of events from 1944 to 1949, based on the study of archives, records of the trial of the Mahatma gandhi’s murderer and verbal versions of history.
The first half regurgitates a lot of what already exists in pages of Indian history books. The second half contains half-hearted arguments attempting to prove that Gandhi’s assassination was a “carefully plotted murder”. He expresses surprise over the way the then home minister of Bombay province, Morarji Desai, had handled the assassination bids on Gandhi’s life.
Let’s Kill Gandhi
Rupa & Co., 960 pages, Rs995
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