The Taj conspiracy
Book Review, Historical, Thriller

The Taj conspiracy by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The taj conspiracy The Taj conspiracy is a thriller from a genre in Indian writing that is just waking up to its potential – crime fiction. Also the fact that this is based on one of the perennial controversy surrounding the Taj Mahal – of its very authenticity, makes it a compelling pick

So far so good. The positioning is brilliant. The question then is – is the story and the writing to the mark? Read on…

As you start reading this, you get a sense of deja-vu. Which is confirmed as the first chapter goes by you and realize that "The Taj Conspiracy" is heavily inspired by "Da Vinci Code". The strong woman with a powerful sense of history, a murder victim who leaves clues with his own blood, a elderly intellectual who is steeped in the history of Taj Mahal, an investigator who starts believing as the story moves on…

The good thing about the inspiration is that it does not stretch too far. You see the obvious similarities but it is never a pale imitation. Instead the Indian context is brought out well. And after a few chapters, you forget about Da Vinci code and begin enjoying the book in its own right

And its time that we get a doughty and attractive women sleuth of our own!! Mehrunnisa Khosa, she of the exotic name and the exotic origin fits the bill.

The book opens with a murder right inside the Taj and unravels with a plot to destroy the Taj Mahal itself. And it only gets more exciting. Bringing in politicians and fringe fanatic groups, the story never loses steam through to its ending. There can be no joy in telling a story in a review, especially one like this. It just has to be picked up to be read!!

What the "Taj Conspiracy" does well is bringing to life the controversies surrounding Taj Mahal. And brings to life, how the conspiracies resonate to this day bringing in politicians and media and fringe groups of all hues. Its refreshing to see an Indian mystery/thriller based on historical intrigues. India's history is laden with riches just waiting to be mined by storytellers. Its a wonder why it has not happened on a large scale till now

This is where Manreet Sodhi Someshwar does well. The research is upto the mark and contributes a great deal to the readability. And Manreet succeeds where many authors falter – meshing the research with the storyline. Amidst all the running and shooting and killings and revelations, the wonder of the mystery is never far off.

In fact, this book will open up the Taj Mahal for the readers once again. I know that the next time I go there, I would beManreet sodhi seeing it with new eyes and not what the guide or the guide book tells me. And if a book can open up something new in something that seemed so familiar, I daresay that its worth reading…

I have a small gripe though. The character development could have been improved a little more. Manreet creates fascinating characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more. At the end of the book, the characters remained slightly one-dimensional.

But then, Manreet has planned a whole trilogy with Mehrunnisa Khosa. So lots of space to iron out the chinks…
Overall, a book worth picking up. And in the fledgling genre of Indian mystery, this quality book is a great step forward. Looking forward to see which mystery Manreet throws at us next…

Book Review, Fiction, Thriller

The lost symbol written by Dan Brown

the-lost-symbol If a writer reaches his apogee  with a book that creates unimaginable fame for him, he or she is perhaps compelled to forever write in the same vein, in the same style unless he is bold or iconoclastic enough to change direction. Some like Rowling can manage it, both because she was writing a series and also because she had the courage to finish off something that has already made her the modern Enid Blyton (and much more than that).

However for some like Dan Brown, who ploughed magnificently  into the need for people to believe in mysteries and controversies with his ‘Da Vinci code’, the end of the road may have already been a few years back. Telling the same story by a different name may seem an easy way to continue sales but the lack of freshness may well trigger the literary equivalent of diminishing marginal utility. Which is something I felt strongly with his latest book “The Last symbol”

After you finish the book, you realize that the author still has a very potent touch when it comes to marrying action on the pages with deep mysteries and conspiracies that the characters are trying to solve before the time runs out. Which is what made Da Vinci code so engrossingly addictive. This book too is a furious page turner right from the first page.

But we soon run into problems. You get a powerful sense of Déjà-vu. The same sense of Langdon rushing headlong into a conspiracy that only he can decipher before everything goes awry. There is an intelligent good looking woman neck deep into everything who he has to accompany and occasionally save,  (you wonder what happened to the other two!!!). There is a powerful secret organization (in this case the Freemasons) whose secret is about to be unveiled for the better or worse. And there are clues strewn around (in this case in Washington DC) that Langdon has to put together, while being on the run from, well, virtually everyone!!! and there is the villain, some twisted, misunderstood, self mutilating outcaste who believes in miracles – rings a bell anyone?

But Washington is not Paris and the secret of the Freemasons does not exactly set your pulses racing as a secret about Jesus might. And a story twice told loses it zing. You feel you are watching a cover version of a book after some time. You know that something is going to be revealed at the end and its going to end happily. And well, it does…and though a good amount of research has gone into the book but the symbology jigsaw puzzle is not that exciting anymore as it was in Da Vinci.

Another problem is that I found the book to be exceedingly preachy. dan_brown You begin to feel that you are being told to believe than make up your own mind. The vision of noble founding fathers of America building the nation in the image of a utopian society, seeing themselves as helping humans attain god-like status by spreading knowledge begins to really jar on on you after a while. I mean hey, they kept slaves in the backyard and committed a few merry genocides on the way. If they were really following Masonic principles (Atom bomb dropping, Harry Truman was a mason, no less), the world would have had a few hours of quiet sleep today. The preaching becomes screechingly preachy towards the end when the characters talk of universal consciousness and Bible being a repository of deep knowledge (instead of being a political book). You almost feel you are in some New Age healing centre where you pay a small fortune to sit in groups to chant (and go back to the punishing work grind the next day!!)…

A book to read if you have nothing else to do and if you are immune to preachy writing that stops making too much real sense after a while. If you enjoyed Da Vinci code, give this a miss. It would be too painful to see an author trying to make money by piggybank on his fame by churning out a Xerox copy…

Book Review, Historical

The General in his Labyrinth written by Gabriel García Márquez

200px-Garcia_marquez_general One of the most enigmatic, heroic and tragic figures of all time is ‘The Liberator’ – Simon Bolivar. He tried to achieve essentially what any conqueror of continents try to achieve, except for one significant difference – not seeking an empire of conquest or loot, he wanted to free the continent of its Spanish rulers and unify the continent. It was a highly idealistic mission which almost became a reality.

His life reads almost like a fairy tale with an imperfect ending, the whirlwind story of an underdog who with his rag tag army of freedom fighters toppled a giant but could not keep the flock intact after the common enemy was thrown out. It is a very human story of a military genius who like Hannibal could scale the Alps and take the fight to the enemy but could not complete his dream only due to human weakness and folly

This story is about the last few days of this man. Days, when his glorious cavalry charges and his improbable victories have already receded into history and he has become an object of derision for some people and an object of pity for others. His liberating army has scattered around the continent and civil war is raging in many parts of the continents he had set free. Cities, where he was hailed as the Liberator only a few years ago, turn their back to him. Only a handful of faithfuls stay with him. Fewer still believe and understand what he tried to do. The Liberator is physically wasted, prematurely aged due to the demands made on his body over the years and is being set adrift by the world he helped create. He is racked by the injustices done to him and he bemoans the infidelity of his erstwhile comrades especially Santander and he bemoans the fate of the continent and in his deepest despair questions the uselessness of it all. Only one thing still stays with him – his indomitable will and his readiness to spring to action at a moment’s notice

The story is as much about the great man – his eccentricities, his simon_bolivar_by_tovar_y_tovar_zitat1achievements, his superhuman courage as it is about the time he lived in, a time, a century of great ferment, a century of revolutions around the world. Bolivar is both the man who covered himself with glory with single minded, almost god-like dedication to his cause and the man who was full of inner contradictions. He was the man who trusted some people like children and who could be the fearless general in battle, a man who gave away his wealth who asked for it and also the man who can give the order to kill as easily. It is the sum total of everything that made up Bolivar. All of this is presented in the story, though as flashbacks. The time that the story is set, the sun is setting on Bolivar and on the ruins of his dreams…

It is a lyrical prose about an old man’s last days. The fact that the old  man is one of the greatest figures in history does not detract from the universality of the story. Every man has his glory days and at the end, every man seeks the same things that Simon Bolivar wanted. The best thing about the way Marquez has written the story without any embellishments on Bolivar. When he is pathetic, he is shown to be so without apologies or excuses. When he shows the traits that made him one of the most feared man on a battlefield, it is simply stated as a fact. That leaves us to concentrate on the man himself as he faces one enemy he cannot ride to battle – death.

It’s a book that lends itself to a lot of contemplation – about history and the men who make it and what happens to every man when their glory is past. This story about Bolivar is about one way in which such men live the last days – things which are not easily recorded in history since we like to remember our heroes unblemished and perfect. This simon_bolivarstory is about when each one of us becomes human and all too mortal.

Beautifully written, the words flow easily and the most difficult emotions are expressed easily. The man who is Bolivar and the men and women around him comes out beautifully in the pages. Awareness about the history of the period is not necessary as the story reads as an allegory. It is at once a homage to a great man and a poignant story of old age