And the reality games have become actually that – a perverted terrifying reality. The greatest crowd puller over the centuries has been a public execution. The Games federation has just used this mob mentality and has come up with the “Running Man”, a game where men are hunted and killed- the longer the men stay alive, the more money they earn. And they have no shortage of takers. People are willing to put themselves on the show to earn money to feed their starving families, as Ben does.
As March gets deeper and deeper into a conspiracy that is the very foundation of the Third Reich, you get a glimpse of the world that would have been if the Wehrmacht had not been stopped at the gates of Stalingrad. A world where Albert Speer got to design Germany the way he wanted to, a world where Third Reich seems all set to fulfil the prophesy of Hitler of being a “Thousand year Reich”, a world where Europe is under the rule of the swastika and the eagle, where Churchill and the queen live in exile, a world where Goering dies of natural causes and Heydrich still lives and Stalin fights an endless guerrilla war on the edges of what was once the Soviet Empire. A world where Jews have disappeared and Slavs work as maids and gardeners.
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Just for my own record, this is the first book I finished on my e-book reader (the Infibeam Pi)!!!
“Four Seasons” was the first book by King that I read and contrary to what people around me have been telling me about the author’s genre, the first thing that had struck me about King was that he was one of the finest storyteller I have read and all of his stories were not of the macabre. It did not matter whether he wrote about paranormal or macabre activities, spine chilling stories or whether he was talking about the art of writing, there is a magnetism about his writing that simply hooks you.
I mean few people I knew then knew that Shawshank Redemption was actually written by Stephen King and for once the movie version did justice to the written material.
Carrie is a typical King novel. A typical sleepy American suburb is unknowingly home to a terror that would be unleashed on them soon. Carrie has the TK gene or in other words she is telekinetic and she is also the butt of every joke in school – a dangerous concoction just waiting to explode.
But like every King story, its not a simple horror story. There are stories within stories and there are lots you can identify with – that make the stories almost believable. And as always it draws you in before giving the KO.
However when it comes to authors who are prolific and who have penned numerous stories, there is a tendency to rank novels. So having read a dozen King novels, where would I put this one? Somewhere in the middle. Though it is neither epical like “The Stand” nor immersive as “Hearts in Atlantis”, it is still a harrowing and tragic tale of a girl who is forced to turn into a monster.
The imagery, as always, can be frighteningly vivid and the words as always are gripping. And you get it, yet again, why film-makers just love Stephen King. He has already done all the work for them!!!
This book is one of the best dark political comic thriller that I have read in a long time..this is bitingly satirical and at times cuts you like a knife while making you split on the other side with laughter.
And for anyone who knows Pakistan’s troubled political landscape even passingly, this book is a realization that the best way to express themselves is by humour – the savagely comical variety. The truth which would be depressing in a factual format suddenly becomes something that can be laughed at and laughed with. You understand the anguish much better when you have shed a few tears of laughter…
The book is based loosely around the assassination of General Zia-ul-Haq, who died with almost his full military brass and the American ambassador in a plane crash in 1988.
But the story becomes a sort of “Murder on Orient Express”, with everyone trying to do the killing – the generals, trade unions and our hero and narrator, Under Officer Ali Shigri, who seeks revenge for the death of his father, a decorated officer but who is ultimately haunted by his actions.
The book is dark and funny at the same time. The events happening are dark but the narrative and the characterisation makes it humorous. There is intense lampooning of General Zia and other military top brass, which cuts them down to size and makes you almost feel sorry for them at-times. In fact Zia comes across as a dangerously deluded avuncular character who has got worms in his ass, who is browbeaten by his wife and uses the Koran as a daily horoscope.
That the author makes the country almost devoid of civilian in the narrative is deliberate. It heightens the sense that the military are living in their own lie. And the occasional glimpses of the people only results in them abusing the ‘uniforms’, much to the soldiers’ amazement, who thought they were idolized…
The book alternates, in its chapters, between Ali and Zia, with our narrator stumbling from one hole to another (sometimes, quite literally), meeting quite interesting characters on the way especially the ‘Secretary General of the All Pakistan Sweepers Union’. Zia, on the other hand moves from one paranoia to another, convinced that someone is out to kill him (he was not wrong of course!!). The two characters converge in the closing part of the book, when Zia is killed in more ways than one!!!
What makes this book stand out is that the material it deals with is dark yet the author manages to bring out the laugh out of you almost every page. You feel like a phantom floating above a comic opera. And that is the best vantage point from which to see the panorama. At times what Zia and Co is doing almost seems unreal, but then you realize that we have been fed too many boring news reels!!! And seeing them bumbling around makes you almost closer to them and produces better laughs!!!
And boy, is this book racy. I finished it in one sitting and its 364 pages long! It just keeps you on the edge, not only with the humour but also because you can see the plot thickening!!! And yes, the political satire is mature, which makes it even more enjoyable!!!
One of the best reads of the year for me definitely, if not one of the best of all times!!!
Though a fearless warrior, Humayun is a dreamer of sorts, preferring to watch the stars instead of court activities. He finds himself thrust with a legacy that he feels he needed more time to get adjusted to. Babur’s death had left the fledgling empire vulnerable with enemies closing from all sides. But as the new emperor soon finds out, its the enemy within that is much more lethal.
Babur had left the whole of the new empire in the hands of his eldest and favourite son. This left a lot of hearts broken, but the one who is most affected is Kamran, his half brother who is only a few months younger. Askar and Hindal were to follow Kamran’s lead, though Hindal, the youngest, was always a reluctant conspirator.
So begins this book, which, as is readily apparent, is much well written than its predecessor, Raiders from the North – about Babur. The action is more gripping and seems less like a tract of historical text. The characters have much more flesh. Of course some of the old characters from the previous book make an appearance – especially Khanzada, the pillar for Humayun in the most difficult of times.
And as you progress, you realize that the old cliché – truth is stranger than fiction is well, so true. The story of intrigues, love affairs, battles, betrayals, the incredible turning around of fates and an end that any fiction writer would have been proud to have come up with. The book is so packed with so many twists and turns that you literally have to keep reminding yourself that this is in fact historical fact (of course with liberties taken from a writers point of view).
Humayun’s dreamlike character, his addiction to opium (encouraged by the scheming mother of Kamran), his haywire schemes of running his court according to the stars, the titanic clashes with Sher Shah Suri, Humayun’s miraculous escapes, his fleeing across half of northern subcontinent seeking refuge (at one time reduced to a handful of men in rags pursued by armies), his reversal of fortune, the constant betrayals by his brothers, the constant battles when one battle has been won, his love of the women in his life – especially Hamida (the mother of Akbar).
All these read almost like a potboiler. I mean, for it being a novel based on history, I found myself on the edge of my seat many times as the book was polished off in a couple of readings.
For me, as with the first book, the appeal is in knowing more about the Mughals in a way that Wikipedia can never teach me – learning while being entertained. It is strange how little we really know of our history. As we witness the early Mughals struggling to reserve a vision that Babur had nurtured, we almost see modern India in the making as one of the greatest empires in modern world begins to take foothold. You get to know more about other characters – like Sher Shah, who are dismissed in a couple of sentences in most school books.
Importantly, it brings into focus a Mughal who is so often overlooked in history with almost everyone else hogging the limelight, even though it was him who actually set a firm foundation in India for the Mughals. Humayun was emperor in actuality for a very short time and died almost in a bizarre tragedy when he tripped and fell down stairs after he had secured his kingdom after long gruelling years. We see a man who in more peaceful times would have become more of a poet rather than a king. His acts of benevolence especially in forgiving his brothers again and again is a feature that is almost impossible to imagine in his times when kings eliminated rivals at the first chance. Humayun comes as irritable personality possessing all faults but more than compensating for them with his more generous qualities.
All in all, a gripping and enjoyable read. And hopefully the writing would keep on improving with the next one – on Akbar. Cant wait for that one…
Hobsbawm literally pioneered the study of bandits as a social phenomenon. Bandits as a popular form of resistance. Bandits was first published in 1969 and the field has expanded greatly since then, with many theories (some complementary and some opposing) coming forth on the subject.
This book, however, remains a seminal one. And for that reason, this book is simply must read for anyone who is interested in this fascinating topic.
The book starts by explaining who and what a social bandit is. The earliest form of banditry is the example of the mythical Robin Hood (who in all probability did not exist as a single individual). The late examples include bandits like Salvatore Giuliano (whom Puzo immortalized in international popular culture in “The Sicialian”) and bandit turned revolutionaries like Pancho Villa.
Hobsbawn prepares the basis of the definition of bandits by describing the political, social and economic reasons for the rise of bandits and why they still exist in some forms even to this day. He goes on to describe some forms of banditry that persisted for a long time in some countries (like Haiduks in the Balkans).
He describes the environment under which they flourished and gives explanations for the reasons why some bandits are eulogized and become legends, even in their own lifetime and why some other bandits are not (and the latter are not a part of his description of social bandits). He explains why the social bandit enjoyed extensive support in the rural and marginal areas even when they may not have actually lived upto the Robin Hood principle of robbing the rich to give to the poor.
Later he ties up the bandit phenomenon with revolutionary and independence movements in the countries and he explains the various relationships that bandits had with the nationalist movements. He brings in the role of women and their relationship to the bandits.
As I said it is a fascinating topic and it is an interesting book. But I was expecting and hoping for much more. From a purely academic point of view, the book is excellent since it brings forth its theories well. But from a reading point of view, it falls short of expectations.
To be an enjoyable read, you need more description of the bandits. You get the theory but you dont get to know the bandits. You dont quite get the smell of the world that they lived in. You dont get many examples for the different theories that are given to you. You cant quite relate to the bandits and you feel an itching want to do so. The author whets your appetite that much.
Another point is that the book is almost exclusively devoted to European or South American bandits. Eastern ones (from India or China) get only passing reference.
To be fair, the author concedes as such in the introduction. The author explains that he intends to give this book as a primer and the reader must read other books to get more meat.
So, read this book as a window to a world that is not easily accessible. But be ready to trawl the internet to delve deeper.