Roots by Alex Haley

My aunt had been asking me to read this book since ages. Considering that our literary tastes are not very similar, I was apprehensive about reading it. But when she asked me for the nth time if I got a chance to read that book, I figured I better read it and be done with it before she points a gun at me and screams, 'Read it now'.

Roots is about an African man, Kunta Kinte, who is forcefully brought to America to work as a slave. The book is about his early life in Juffure (now in Gambia), his eventual capture, his horrific travel to America and his life as a slave. The initial part where the author describes the native African life is very interesting. The book gives us a preview of the customs, beliefs of Africans and it is very intriguing. When Kinte is captured by whites to be brought to the US to work as a slave, the book takes a U-turn and the tragedy strikes. The part about Kinte's journey from Africa to America is lengthy and horrific. The state the slaves were kept in the ship, the way they were treated, the way women were used and abused - this needs a strong heart (and gut)! Kunta, who is in denial mode initially, finds himself accepting his fate and settling down in a foreign country. He gets married and has a daughter. The story continues about the daughter being sold to another American and what happens thereafter and this goes on for seven generations until Alex Haley, the author of this book, is born. The book is a mirror to the sufferings the African slaves were put through before they were accepted in the society as equals.

It is heart-warming to see that the author took the effort to trace down his ancestors and write a book about it, but one wonders how much of this is really true. Haley says his book is primarily a work of fiction, but also says that his ancestor is Kunta Kinte. He is said to have traveled to Jufure and talked to an elderly person there who vouched for the existence of Kunta Kinte, who was later captured and taken away. However, certain historians have challenged this claim. In fact, the elderly person from Juffure is said to have been 'coached' to lie about Kunta Kinte. When I finished reading the book, I was particularly impressed with Halley because he went to great lengths to unearth his ancestral lines, but when I read these allegations against his claim, I feel deceived. Why would one want to make up their ancestors? To make their book a bestseller? To gain sympathy from the world? As you can see, I am enraged!

As if these allegations were not enough to make me regret reading this book, Halley was even charged with plagiarism. Some of the portions of this book were directly picked from another book, which he denied initially, but later admitted it in writing. I wasted a part of my life, no matter how small, in reading a book which is completely unoriginal - both in content and in language.

Zero Percentile: Missed IIT, Kissed Russia by Neeraj Chhibba

When Neeraj Chhibba, the author of this book, contacted me to ask if I can review his book, I was not sure about it. It didn’t look like a book which I would pick up on my own. Still, since I didn’t have any compelling reason to decline his request, I agreed to review his book. The very first thing I noticed about the book is its striking similarity to Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone. For the records, I haven’t read Bhagat’s book and don’t plan to do so. Without reading it, I know I am not going to like it. This was not a great way to start Chhibba’s book, but I tried to be as unbiased and unprejudiced as possible.

Zero Percentile is about Pankaj, a young lad who is like any other typical boy. The book starts with his birth and gives us a detailed view of how his life turns out. The story of his birth is amusing. The author tries to turn the story into a humor cum sarcastic one, but it just didn’t work. Pankaj is the apple of the eye back home and gets a special treatment by being sent to a public school whereas his sisters have to be satisfied with going to government school. He is bright, intelligent and does well in school. He tells us about his best friends – Priya and Motu, who are with him through thick and thin. His fights in school, crush on teachers and friends, studies, election as a Head Boy and so on. His aim in life is to get into IIT and he works hard towards it. An accident quashes his hopes and he has to console himself with something else. His Dad decides to send him to Russia to study engineering. This is the reason for the title ‘Missed IIT, Kissed Russia’. The book goes on to tell us his experience in Russia, his financial struggle and his love life.

The writing is simple and straight. The book actually reads like a diary of a young man. Since the book is in first person POV, this is quite acceptable, but Chhibba could have added some more style to his writing. There are quite a few errors, as pointed by many other readers. Not only print errors, there are a few places where Pankaj contradicts himself. When he is traveling to Russia, he is clearly a non-vegetarian, but he mentions about converting from vegetarian to non-vegetarian after landing in Russia.

The characters are all shallow. You don’t feel anything towards them – be it the protagonist or his friends or his parents. Pankaj himself comes across as a two dimensional character. If you don’t bond with the protagonist, there is very little chance that you will like the book.

The book reads like a last minute attempt in writing something down and getting it published. Or more like take someone’s diary and publish it. The story appears disconnected and things are introduced just to create drama. Nitin’s HIV episode, Pankaj’s stint as a salesman and so on. At one point of time, Pankaj is struggling to get hold of a few hundreds dollars whereas after his salesman days, he is suddenly playing with millions. A little hard to digest, isn’t it?

In the end, it all boils down to what I took back from the book. No inspiration from the story, no memorable characters, no contemplating moments – in the end, there is nothing that I gained from this book. Chhibba’s debut book might not strike a chord with book lovers, so he has try harder next time.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Reading intellectually stimulating books is one thing, but there is nothing like reading a crime thriller. The former is like watching a documentary on Vietnam war. You need to be attentive, lest you miss some minor point. The latter, on the other hand, is like watching a thriller movie in which it is okay if you missed the initial few scenes because the most important thing is the climax fight or the chase. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a crime thriller but you would not want to miss any part of the book because there is not a single, dull moment in the book.

This book was originally written in Swedish and was named 'Män som hatar kvinnor', literal translation means 'Men who hate women'. What a lame title! Thank Heavens someone had the brains to change the title of the English version, otherwise I would definitely not have picked this book to read. This book is part of a trilogy called Millennium trilogy. The author had an unexpected death just before his work was published. His books went on to become best-sellers and he did not live to see it!

The first book in the trilogy is about Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, who is a freak in the social world. She keeps to herself and behaves in a way for the others to think she is mentally unwell. What the world does not know is that she is an investigator and a hacker par excellence. Mikhael Blomkvist loses his money and credibility in a libel case. When he decides to take a break from his role as publisher of the magazine, he gets hired for an unexpected but interesting task by Henrik Vanger. His assignment is to crack the murder mystery of Vanger's niece Harriet which occurred some forty years back. Harriet disappears one fine day and nobody has any trace of her after that day. Vanger is sure someone killed her and to mock him, the murderer sends him a birthday gift every year. Vanger's only aim in life is to track the murderer and make him pay for it. The book is about how Mikhael, along with Lisbeth, solves this mystery. The plot is set in a fictional place in Sweden.

The book has a very promising start. With the first word, you are bang in the middle of all the action. The plot is interesting, to say the least. The author builds up an air of mystery around Harriet's disappearance and the reader so badly wants to know what on earth really happened to that girl. The main characters are believable, the most mysterious and interesting being Lisbeth. She comes across as innocent, yet shrewd. Her thoughts about how the world functions and her way of getting things she wants and how relationships work makes a very good read. You can't help but want to reach out and give her a hug. Blomkvist, according to me, comes across as plain. The protagonist of murder mysteries is usually a handsome hunk, who every living woman finds attractive and falls for, but not Blomkvist, atleast I didn't fall for him.

Though the book is quite big, it moves really fast. The story is quick paced and the eagerness to solve the mystery will make you finish the book in one sitting. The plot, the way the mystery is solved and the twists involved are all great, but the reason for the crime is lame. Somehow, in the end when the mystery is solved, you will ask yourself 'What the heck!'. Larsson has a great story to tell but he should have made his murderer more believable. The motive is not strong enough. Nevertheless, a great book and a perfect one to pick up when you are done with something heavy and need a filler.