Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

A long time ago, when I was fairly in middle school, I was up late at night flipping channels while working on a project. Some local cable channel had a rather sketchy movie on. My mum and I settled down to watch it. It had Sean Connery, mum’s favourite actor. Soon the title of the movie came up, The Name of the Rose. My mum’s immediate reaction – change the channel. I protested, but she was adamant. I relented. But since then, this name was stored carefully at the back of the head.

Years later, when I realized it was the debut novel of Umberto Eco, a name that does wonders to a mind at an impressionable age, I knew I had to get a copy of my own. The best part about reading this book is not just the story, its setting and enjoying the shenanigans of its characters, but the author. Eco was a learned novelist, a professor who managed to combine the likes of biblical stories with semiotics – that includes the study of signs and symbols – and literary theory, medieval history and more. The takeaway in reading this book is beyond imagination, all the while enriching us in some aspect or the other.

Essentially a murder mystery wrapped with a lot of meaningful issues and clash of ideologies that plague society and religious groups, the book centres on a learned Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk, are sent to the Benedictines’ monastery to solve the mysterious deaths of almost six monks. It also depicts in many ways how religious orders are often resistant to change and refuse to accept science.  This book also introduced me to a host of Latin phrases, in fact I found myself looking up a lot of things while reading this book.

The story starts with Adso, an old man, who recounts his tale as a young novice to William in 1327. The Benedictine abbey in northern Italy is said to have a renowned scriptorium where many scribes copy, translate and illuminate books. When a young illuminator dies in mysterious circumstances, the abbot reaches out to William of Baskerville to use his powers of persuasion and reasoning to bring the shed some light on the event.

Being a typical murder mystery at its core, I do not wish to get into the details, but Eco masterfully managed to string in a lot of elements. There is one scene that irritates me to the core, when the young Adso had sex with a village girl. I just don’t buy into how he managed to partake in that? Why did he not stop himself or even her? What is the point in taking the oath of chastity, poverty and celibacy, wherein at some point one has broken each and every one of them? Yes, we’re all human, but then why do some have to lord over others? Anyway, these were just some of the passing questions that popped in my head. All in all, this book is a treasure trove in terms of content, stories and characters, and I can’t wait to start my second book by Umberto Eco soon.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Tragic ending

There are not many times I reach out for books with tragic endings, but sometimes they spring up on me, like A Fine Balance. I generally skirt around books with tragic endings or even a sad storyline, because, I tend to take those emotions to a whole new level. That’s just me. And this is also the reason why I haven’t been able to see In Pursuit of Happiness, because I don’t seem to be able to handle such situations too well.

I saw The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas way back in college, huddled with a friend till late at night, and while she cried, I was stunned. I hadn’t thought I would ever buy the book by John Boyne, but when my good friend M. did, I did too. What surprised me was the perspective of the author, to see things through the eyes of a child. Or even the ability to see issues and events through their perspective. I mean, they obviously don’t overthink as much as we adults do, or at least as much as I do. They have simpler minds, sometimes bordering on devious, but generally simple with their approach being likewise. And it made for quite a refreshing and easy read, barring the storyline.

The story is set during the Second World War, and the central character is the nine-year-old Bruno who stays with his parents and sister in Berlin. When his father is promoted to a top position by Adolf Hitler, the family move out of their urban dwelling and shift to the ‘Out-With’. Phrases such as the ‘out-with’ and the ‘fury’ gave a sense of childlike thinking, that clearly implied the family were staying near Auschwitz camp and had the Fuhrer over at their place, if we go by the story.

At their new residence, like any child, Bruno goes out exploring and comes upon a wire fence that seems to go on. As he walks on, he chances upon a boy of the same age as his, Shmuel. As they talk, the reader gets bits and pieces of the life in the camp, how Shmuel has been separated from his mother and is now with his grandfather, father and brother. As their bond grows stronger, Bruno develops lice on his head, leading him to get his head shaved as a result. When Shmuel sees him, he comments on how alike they seem. Well, one thing leads to another, but the ending is as horrifying as it may seem.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Shantaram

“The truth is a bully we all pretend to like”

Sometimes, I don’t believe in fate. But then again, sometimes, I’m left quite stumped with how certain things work out. It was in December 2008, when my new found college friend and I were busy with internships. She was in the public relations department of a reputed NGO and I was with the digital division of a newspaper. She had invited me to cover an event, my very first, and boy, was I excited. Who knew that years later we’d end up being really close friends and that she would invite me for so many other events, and sometimes, even fam trips. It was quite a jugalbandi.

At that event, I met Gregory David Roberts. There was a lot of hoo-ha around him, and me being a novice, I stuck to the corner, slowly inching my way forward. Even though I hadn’t read Shantaram, who hadn’t heard of the great GDR and the armed robber and heroin addict from Australia who escaped prison and landed in Mumbai. And so, begins his tryst with Shantaram.

And exactly seven years later, in December 2015, the same friend M. bought me Shantaram, because she had read and loved it, and knew I would to. Could this be a mere coincidence?

“One of the reasons I remember those early Bombay months so well is that, whenever I was alone, I wrote about those new friends and the conversations we shared. And writing was one of the things that saved me: the discipline and abstraction of putting my life into words, every day, helped me to cope with shame and its first cousin, despair.”

The narrative is scattered with pearls of wisdom, and sometimes, I could just not stop underlining quotes for posterity. When you see enough of the world and its people, your thinking becomes so astute, that reasoning is as sharp as a chef’s knife.

“A man trusts another man when he sees enough of himself in him.”

I read somewhere that Gregory had written the book three times, because the first two times he wrote, the prison guards had torn his manuscript. This fact left me stunned. The one time I had to write an article again from scratch, because the fancy MAC at work suddenly bailed on me, I had gone on a tirade and nearly broke down. How did this man do it? Such perseverance and determination were astounding.

Last year, on March 25th, I put up a picture of the book on my Instagram with the following caption:

“Never have I ever wanted so badly to pack my bags and hoist myself to another city as during the time I was reading Shantaram. Bombay or Mumbai always seems like a distant dream, an illusion conjured in the mind’s eye, only so close, but ever so far. Someday, when the time is right, I’ll set foot on your dusty, serene shores and let you claim me for yourself.”

And lo and behold, within seven odd months, I found myself a new job and in my city of dreams for a six-week training period. Would this too be just a coincidence? I know not, but the time spent at Marine Drive enjoying the sea breeze and walking around the Fort area, brought back snatches of the book. And my heart felt so full, it hurt. Sometimes, you may not get exactly what you wish for, but you get something.

“Fate always gives you two choices and the one you should take and the one you do.”

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Rude Awakening

In what seems like eons ago, a dear friend got me Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber. It was a lovely second hand book and the description at the back left me nothing short of stunned. I was crazy happy to have been gifted this book and no doubt, started reading it almost immediately.

The story revolves around Sybil Dorsett (not her real name) and her treatment for dissociative identity disorder, and not multiple personality disorder as it was popularly known then. And Sybil was known to manifest almost sixteen different personalities. This fact in itself was quite jaw-dropping, but the devil lay in the details. It’s quite horrifying to get to know that one is not really alone in one’s head, and especially when one doesn’t know ‘which personality’ is really dormant, and which is active. It’s a severely serious situation and very scary, and Sybil could not trust herself. One minute she’s walking down towards her university, another minute, the ‘same personality’ wonders how she reached a completely different place. What memories could she rely on, if at all.

The main personality was Sybil Dorsett, and what is interesting is that her personalities were not of the same age. Apart from Sybil, there was a chirpy teenager, two male personalities—one a builder, the other a carpenter—and the like.

As one progresses with the painful details of the story, we are introduced to her parents. While her father was a well-respected and religious businessman, her mother was a strong-willed woman who in turn suffered from untreated schizophrenia. Sybil’s father lived his life in denial, but Sybil bore the brunt of her mother’s abuse. Her mother would often punish her for bad behavior and some of the punishments are nothing short of horror stories. They sent shivers down my spine. Yes, not all mothers are caring and lovable. To be honest, in a way, reading this book opened me to a lot of harsh realities. I’m not saying I’ve got blinders on, but it’s quite natural for parents to often shelter their children from disturbing things. I hate it. I remember showing my mother the book, and she said she had read it in college. I wish she had introduced this book to me earlier in my life. This book put a lot of perspective into place.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

​Queer Literature

For once, I’m not exactly sure how I came across this author, probably while scrawling through the deep recesses of Goodreads, but a quick search left me completely in awe of Patricia Highsmith. The American writer is renowned for her psychological thrillers, chief among them Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr Ripley. Her stories have been adapted onto the silver screen, including Alfred Hitchcock.

Known to have been sexually attracted to women, Patricia wrote a number of lesbian novels, however, The Price of Salt was published in 1952 under the pseudonym, Claire Morgan. It was thirty-eight years later when The Price of Salt was republished under Patricia’s name as Carol, which is also the name of the movie based on the book, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

The story revolves around a lonely young woman, Therese Belivet who lives in Manhattan and works as a theatre set designer. Though she has a boyfriend, Richard, Therese is not completely satisfied in her relationship with him, and is not satisfied sexually. It is said the story is inherently based on the author’s own life, who worked in a departmental store much like Therese. The main protagonist, a brunette, chances upon a rather regal customer, with blonde hair that seemed to make her shine and a remarkable coat. While Therese is smitten by her, Carol Aird purchases a toy for her daughter and has Therese to send them across to her house. With Carol’s address in hand, Therese is unable to prevent herself from sending a Christmas card to her and gradually, the two form a deep friendship.

Carol, though quite taken up by Therese, has problems of her own, as she is in the midst of a bitter divorce and is fighting for the custody for her daughter. As Carol and Therese take off for a holiday, a journey where their love and relationship solidifies, Carol realises to her horror that her husband had a private detective wire tap their room. The story depicts the tug of a woman stuck between her love for her daughter and the desire to be with someone she loves.

The book is said to one of the few in lesbian literature of that era to have a ‘happy ending’ and I suppose, while we may say times are different, sometimes it’s quite just the same. It’s sad people can’t choose whom they want to love and have to force themselves to bend to society’s dogmatic notions. The more we read about this, the more it will make our mindsets flexible and enable us to question things we take for granted.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.