Thursday, 28 February 2013

Book Review: The Man Within My Head

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Book: The Man Within My Head

Author: Pico Iyer

Pages: 245

Publisher: Penguin India

ISBN: 0307387569

The book "The Man Within My Head" by Pico Iyer begins with the declaration: "there is another within me". The book sets out to explore the influence of English writer Graham Greene in the field of literature and his role in influencing Iyer's literary sensibilities. Little wonder then that the book is smartly juxtaposed with contrasting views of Iyer and Greene. The title is seemingly borrowed from his literary father's work "The Man Within".

The theme of self-exploration as a literary device, is used well. It is also an attempt to examine the concept of dislocation. There is absolutely no doubt that this book is a reflection for Pico Iyer which is laced with fine prints which make it an absolute delight to read. It helps the reader in understanding facets of Graham Greene. Despite its underlined theme being discovery, the book ventures into a territory where it almost risks being an unofficial biography of the English playwright and writer. In the own words of Iyer, the book is like an attempt to paint a "counter-biography" which opposes the view painted by Greene's official biographer Norman Sherry. It seeks to deconstruct the mythical nature of the writer.

Over the years, Pico Iyer has established himself as a writer specializing in narrating tales about dislocation. In a very neat manner, the book explores the theme of displacement as the writer influenced by Graham Greene's ideas and setting out to map his life through a series of experiences. Despite its seemingly monotonous tone, the book is a reflection of fine print and manages to strike a balance between personal and professional lines. There is absolutely no doubt that Pico Iyer holds promise as a storyteller.

The writing in itself is not negative but the utter slow in which the narration progresses might prevent readers from reading further. The real deficiency in this book is not in the way the story is narrated but in the unusually long and descriptive nature that might turn off some readers. However, to write a 245 page novel and still not being able to distinguish between admiration and homage through description and rambling makes it a laborious task to read.  

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Book Review: The Big Short

Title: The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine

Author: Michael Lewis

Genre: Finance

Pages: 266

Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company 

ISBN: 9781846142574

The 2010 non-fiction book "The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine" by Michael Lewis is about the run up towards the housing and credit bubble of the 2000s in the financial markets of USA. The book effectively maps and informs readers about the real players in the bubble who were primarily credit default swaps in a market that sought to bet against collateralized debt organization bubble. Thus, they ended up profiting from the financial crisis of 2007-2010. 

In a country like India where financial literacy is not well-advocated, the book is a welcome change. In fact, you don't even have to understand the intricacies of the complex business of sub-prime mortgages to be gripped by "The Big Short". Indeed, the less you know to begin with, the more remarkable results the book can produce. Michael Lewis has made his reputation with gripping books such as Moneyball and The Blind Side, which is no accident that they were made into highly successful English films and performed well even in countries where few people follow American sports.

Most of the book deals with the financial instrument called asset backed securities. Despite being a non-fiction book, the storylines, the characters, the ideas reflected in the book are so strong that you are eventually drawn into the field of finance in a way that you might have never explored the field otherwise. Despite it being set temporally in the financial markets of the US, you do realize that it could be placed in any financial market across the globe.

Michael Lewis masterfully deconstructs what the sub-prime mortgage crisis did for the Lehman Brothers, which a small group of investors and hedge fund managers along with bankers spotted that lending large sums of money to fundamentally insolvent house buyers was bound to end in tears. The language adopted by the book is extraordinarily simple. There is minimal use of the financial jargon and never does he assume that you would know what it means. He illustrates the technicalities of the topic (asset backed securities) through analogies that intelligent readers can grasp. 

The book has pieces of generalizations and exaggeration and a limited frame of reference, however, it manages to give us the truest picture of what went wrong on Wall Street Journal and the reason behind it. In portions, it reads like a lesson on morality while in other patches, it reads like a modern day farce. Despite its tone and topic, Michael Lewis does exceptionally well as a storyteller and succeeds in explaining and demystifying how things work in Wall Street while creating a compelling narrative. 

The book was shortlisted for the 2010 "Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year" Award. Similarly, it also spent 28 weeks on the New York non-fiction bestseller list. With the pace of a thriller, The Big Short is probably one of the best pieces of financial journalism written in recent times. 

Title: The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine

Author: Michael Lewis

Genre: Finance

Pages: 266

Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company (USA) and Penguin (India)

Monday, 18 February 2013

Father In A Dream

I was recently at a poetry workshop and I must admit I was fairly embarrassed at myself. I lack the wisdom and expertise to rate or write a good poem. I had been to the library the other day and I came across this lovely poem called "Father In A Dream" by acclaimed painter and poet Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh. It has been translated from Gujarati by the poet himself and Saleem Peeradina. It is sourced from an anthology "Signatures" which has translations of 100 Indian poets.

Father In A Dream

Father I saw you again, yesterday
thousands of miles away from home, here on the shore
Of the Baltic where I lie asleep.
You stood by my bed in this strange land
in the same patched, wrinkled coat
you wore when you reconciled quarrelling brothers.
On grandfather's death you must have stood exactly like this
holding the lonely old man's shrivelled hand.

When did you migrate from Kathiawar
to join the refugees of Crimea?
Leaving behind the Bhogavo river, crossing Bhadar,
Climbing bastions of Roman forts
with a postman's bag on your shoulder,
You descended down here.
And look at the cemetery has followed in your wake.
(Why do I see your grave in every burial ground?)
Brothers come shadowing your trail.
(Is the dispute not settled yet?)

And there, on the edge of the horizon,
supported by a cane, Mother struggles through the glaze
of her cataract to locate my bed.
Mother, I too have lost my sight.
The childhood I thought I held
in the palm of my hand, has just fallen.
Somewhere under this bed.