For a change, the silence on the blog is not because I haven’t been reading; rather because I have been reading with a frenzy, which is just how I like it. However, the disadvantage of reading books back-to-back is that you do not get enough time to reflect on the one you’ve just finished, before you’re on to the next. All I have the energy for here, is to list everything I’ve read since I finished the Ibn Batuta trilogy. So, to the beat of Tom Lehrer’s The Elements, here goes: Empires of the Indus – Alice Albinia, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star – Paul Theroux, The Elephanta Suite – Paul Theroux, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte, Layover at Dubai – Dan Fesperman, Grave Secrets in Goa – Katherine McCaul, A Regular Guy – Mona Simpson, Anywhere But Here– Mona Simpson, My Theodosia – Anya Seton, Crazy Salad – Nora Ephron…
Ok, the list sounded a lot longer and a lot more impressive in my head. And in my defense, I would’ve had a few more books in there, but for the fact that I struggled with Mona Simpson’s Anywhere But Here. The book was more than well written; I just found the characters difficult and depressing. I struggled much less with her A Regular Guy, but liked the protagonists no better.
In this list, the standout was, by far, Alice Albinia’s Empires of the Indus. The book traces the mighty river from its mouth in Sind province in Pakistan, to its source in Tibet. I also loved Ghost Train to The Eastern Star, particularly the bits in Turkmenistan and Vietnam, and Theroux’s encounters with Orhan Pamuk in Turkey and Pico Iyer and Haruki Murakami in Japan. The book added many places to my-must- see list, on top of which, now, is Hanoi. The three novellas in The Elephanta Suite, set in India, actually have themes that a reader of Ghost Train will instantly recognize. Many incidents and realizations from his travels through India resurface in it. The two murder mysteries set in Dubai and Goa were pure pulp fiction. Layover was decent, Grave Secrets, a miss. As for the two older books, I am ashamed that I never read The tenant.. until now. Anne Bronte is unusually perceptive and knowledgeable for her times about addiction, but I would’ve loved the story more if I had read it in my early teens, while I was discovering her sister Charlotte, and Jane Austen. My Theodosia, which is set in post-independence America, was a fast and interesting read, but in terms of literary style and historical accuracy, more Jean Plaidy than Hilary Mantel. Crazy Salad, was good fun and gave insights into America, particularly the women’s movement in the 70s, but some of it felt dated.
I am grateful for the stream of books that has kept me busy over the last few weeks. As someone who is