Why I Like These Books

The reasons why recollection came so easily when I thought of these books were:

1. East of Eden – John Steinbeck

The running theme of personal choices and resulting consequences throughout the book. The concept of “timshel” or “thou mayest”, magnificently illustrated by Steinbeck, has stayed with me all these years and has helped validate my own personal philosophy. The book also has the most vivid and memorable description of true evil in the character of Cathy Ames, the chief antagonist..

2. The World According to Garp – John Irving

I identified completely with the protagonist who only felt whole and satisfied when he wrote. He also “lived” life – embracing all his gray areas and retaining an immensely positive aura about himself. There were parts of the book that left an indelible mark on me, for instance the depiction of Garp’s tenderness toward his children, how he needed to kiss his children good night, every night, staring at them as they slept, in awe of their innocence, loving their sweet breath, remarking on how there wasn’t a trace of bad breath in children until they reached the age of six or so. I liked how his family overcame his wife’s infidelity and the loss of a child and how Garp changes and evolves as he lives his life.

3. The Clan of the Cave Bear – Jean Auel

An unforgettable epic novel, this is a moving saga about life, love and human relationships, that takes us back 35,000 years to a fictional moment during our evolution. The adoption of the five year old blue-eyed Ayla, the lost daughter of a Cro-Magnon group and her less than whole-hearted adoption by the “clan” of Neanderthals who find her blond and blue-eyed looks ugly. Jean Auel’s extensive research into those times shines through as she weaves her magic in this very modern tale of human trials and tribulations into Ice Age times.

4. The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco:

A very compelling murder mystery set in the 14th century within a Franciscan monastery. The range of ideas represented in this book, the elaborate details of the medieval church torn apart by theological argument and the rapier-sharp, crystal clear logical deductions by William of Baskerville and his able assistant Adso in the solving of the murder mystery, leave the reader so much smarter and so much more enlightened than when they flipped open the first page. It was the most memorable murder mystery I have ever come across.

5. Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

My experience with this novel is akin to that of a famous line from a popular movie, “ You had me at hello….”. I was in love with the title of this book at least a couple of years before I finally picked it up to read it. The story is woven around Nietzsche’s theories of eternal return or recurrence – the weightiest proposition – the recurring themes in our lives. It is demonstrated well in the following passage from the book:

“In Anna Karenina, Anna meets Vronsky in curious circumstances: they are at the railway station when someone is run over by a train. At the end of the novel, Anna throws herself under a train. At the end of the novel, Anna throws herself under a train. This symmetrical composition – the same motif appears at the beginning and the end – may seem quite “novelistic” to you, and I am willing to agree , but only on condition that you refrain from reading such notions as “fictive”, “fabricated”, and “untrue to life” into the word “novelistic”. Because human lives are composed in precisely such a fashion.

They are composed like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life. Anna could have chosen another way to take her life. But the motif of death and the railway station, unforgettably bound to the birth of love, enticed her in her hour of despair with its dark beauty. Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.

It is wrong, then, to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences (like the meeting of Anna, Vronsky, the railway station, and death), but it is the right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.”

The book is a masterfully composed tale of a young woman and her husband, an incorrigible womanizer, his mistress and the mistress’ faithful lover. It is a fine illustration of the shaping of our lives through irrevocable choices and fortuitous events, a world in which existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence, we feel “the unbearable lightness of being” not only as the consequence of our private actions, but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine.

1 Comment

  1. acha!!! meri billi aur mujhse hi miyaoon 😉 who tempted you to spill your beans on your best books in the first place… waise 'east of eden' is on top of my list when i visit the bookstore next 🙂 by the way i bought toni morrison's jazz and catcher in the rye when i was in mumbai 🙂


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