Tag Archives: Non-fiction

London in books #atozchallenge

Dear Reader,

By now you should know that I love books. I eat and sleep with them, gaze at them with adoration and mostly read them too. I am lucky enough to live in a city entrenched in history and popularity. So, as a tribute to London during my A to Z blog challenge, I’ve decided to list my top favourite books about London. These may not be the best, but are books that I’ve enjoyed reading, browsing and gifting friends and family, who have visited me in London.

London’165242_LondonStrangeTales_jkts Strangest Tales by Tom Quinn is a delightful and quirky book which I always gift the bookworms. It pleases, amuses and informs. You need not visit London to read it and that is why it is a wonderful book to gift, when you return home after a visit to London.

I remember spending two hours in a bookshop reading it before buying it for a friend.

 Bizarre London by David Long, on the other hand, is written for the ‘curious Londoner’. Youdo need to know London a bit to get the humour or the oh-

6436846I-know-where-that-is moments. At the most read it on the train or flight while you are travelling to London. Or, buy it once you’ve done the top 10 things to do in London. This book  will take you on a truly bizarre tour of London. Some of the curious facts mentioned here might make you jump of your seat and run off to check whether the facts were true.

160080_Inever_jktI Never Knew That About London by Christopher Winn does not have any shocking surprises or dirty little secrets but, it is treasure trove of history for the amateur historian. Real historians might turn up their noses but since I am not one of them I am happy to learn about London’s historical past in an easily digestible and amusing book.

I Never Knew That About London unearths the hidden gems of legends, firsts, inventions, adventures and birthplaces that shape the city’s compelling, and at times, turbulent past.

While parents rush from sight to site children need something to amuse themselves. Alsothis is London young travellers need to know more about what they see around them. So my favourite recommendation is an illustrated picture book. Although quite retro, Miroslav Sasek’s This is London will amuse and inform everyone.

Last but one of the greatest books on London. London a Biography by Peter Ackroyd. This is for the serious Londoner, the historian, the London obsessive, who wants to know moreLondon Petr ackroyd about this massive city-like living organism.

One of my recent finds at Waterstones is a gem and worth a mention. It’s unique and a window into London’s current situation with high rates of immigration. Not all immigrants are here for a chance of a better life. There are some who will always remain awestruck bystanders, or talented people who’ll look at London a little differently than most.

Reading Bhajju Shyam’s The London Junglejunglebook Book changes your perspective of the world and its people completely.

About the Author: Bhajju Shyam, of the acclaimed The Night Life of Trees, is the finest living artist of the Gond tribe in India. Intricate and colourful, Bhajju’s work is well-known throughout India and has been exhibited in the UK, Germany, Holland and Russia. From the walls of his tribal village home to international acclaim, Bhajju’s has been an incredible creative journey.

I hope you enjoy reading and discovering books like I do.

All the very best for your next trip to London.

Amrita

Kolkata or Calcutta is always a dilemma #atozchallenge

Review: Calcutta by Amit Chaudhuri

Summary: Although it appears to be a travelogue or an autobiography, it does not fit perfectly into either of the two genres. Chaudhuri’s succinct and elegiac account of a global city, that tries very hard to hold on to its identity, amidst the rapid globalization of a rising economic power is a mesmeric read as diverse as Calcutta itself.

calcutta-amit-chaudhuri1(1)

This is the cover of the book in the Indian Sub-continent. The one I own was bought in London, UK and has a garish orange cover, which is very unlike Calcutta. Kolkata or Calcutta has moments of flamboyance and high drama but never garish!

Main review text:
To a non-resident Calcutta-n this book will evoke extremes of emotions. Some, like me, will be taken on a nostalgic trip through Calcutta, a city that was British India’s capital until 1911, the dilapidated metropolis, which had once defined India’s future and national identity. Without its freedom fighters, social-reformers, philosophers, scientists and artists, the India as we know today would have been a different place.

Amit Chaudhuri’s social commentary and economic history of Calcutta are interspersed with character sketches of a derelict city and its inhabitants, who are still clinging on to its colonial past. The Ingabanga community, as coined by Chaudhuri, is the remnants of a culturally elite class that after much intellectual turmoil chose the communist ideals and was then crushed mercilessly by India’s government. Bengalis built their history during their relationship with the British Empire. With the departure of British and the decline of its industries, all its connections with the world were severed.

However, politics is not the book’s major concern. Chaudhuri speaks of the aftermath of politics in Calcutta, commenting on the costs incurred in its battle to preserve the connection with the world outside.  On reading Calcutta, I realized that Chaudhuri wants to impress upon us that we are not living in a world very different from Calcutta. Calcutta is just a case study of the aftermath of globalization. Towns and cities culturally destroyed by commercialization – chains of supermarkets and technological highways are all that connect us – just like in Calcutta.

The other cover

The other cover

Chaudhuri discusses the disconnection that Globalization has to offer. An Italian chef in Calcutta expresses his frustration, that people in Calcutta don’t want his fresh olives and tomatoes. Why would they? I wonder, Italian food is what globalization brought to Calcutta, which already had a mature and developed cuisine, which transforms tomatoes into chutneys!
This book is going to enrage a lot of people. However, it is a kind of book that India truly needs. A book sans the glamour of Bollywood, the mysticism of snake charmers, spices and forgotten villages is not quite the usual fare for literature from the sub-continent. Devastating, it may be, but reading Calcutta will give you an insight of the real India that travelogues will not.

Further reading suggestionA Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta by Paul Theroux, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

Disclaimer for reading suggestions: I haven’t read all of these, but I will read them at some point of time. After careful research they looked like books that are similar in theme or style to Calcutta by Amit Chaudhuri.