Family Planning Book Review

Unlike my previous rant about book covers, I wasn’t really attracted to the cover for this book. What caught my attention, was the fact that the author of Family Planning, Karan Mahajan, was apparently only 24 when he wrote the book and the reviews on the back of the book claimed that it was amazing that the author managed to write such a well-written and humorous book, considering his age. As a 20-something who is still wondering where her life is going, the fact that a 24 year old had his life so put together and had managed to write a best-selling book, was simultaneously awe-inspiring and bitter. Feeling a bit down and depressed, I attempted to walk past the book and shrug off the feelings it inspired, but I couldn’t and succumbed to the temptation to read. And as always, here’s the spoilery review.

The book is about the Ahuja family, situated in New Delhi, India. It runs through the life of three main characters and features only their POV’s. The father, Rakesh Ahuja, is the Minister of Urban Development and has over 13 kids with his wife. The mother, Sangita Ahuja is the perpetually pregnant, tv-obssessed, placid wife. And the oldest son, Arjun Ahuja is a 16 year old with a lot of feelings. Simply put, the book captures a slice of their normal life, between some monumental moments.

While the book goes through each POV in an alternating manner, for the purposes of this review, I’ve decided to separate the alternating POV and instead focus upon the individual stories of the characters. Hence, the book begins with Arjun walking-in on his parents having sex and begins fantasizing about having sex with his crush, a girl who rides the same bus as him, Aarti. In order to impress Aarti, he lies and says he has a band. He then quickly forms a band with his friends. After a particularly uninspiring band practise, his friends decide to find a new place to practise and accidentally hit a girl with their car. The boys are scared but Arjun’s father comes to the rescue and uses his clout as Minister to make sure that no charges are laid and that the girl is taken care of. Arjun tries to act out in attempts that his parents will notice him, but things don’t go exactly as he hoped. He finds out about his parent’s past and begins training under his father, presumably to enter politics (despite his young age). In other words, the typical sort of boyhood story mixed in with some different elements.

Rakesh’s story is a bit different. In addition to worrying about Arjun, Rakesh has to contend with idiotic Indian politics. It turns out that despite his civil engineering degree, his idea of constructing flyovers to deal with Delhi’s traffic backfired and the city’s traffic is worser than before. Within his political party itself, he has to deal with increasing isolation from of his party members along with an enmity with a fellow Minister, Yogiraj. Rakesh attempts to double-cross his party members and party leader (the two are at logger heads) and ends up resigning and ending his political career. Along the way, we’re also introduced to his past. Turns out, Arjun was bourn from his first wife, Rashmi, who died while the small family was living in America. Unable to handle her death alone, he moved back to India with his son and began his descent into the world of Indian politics. Feeling he needed a wife for his political career and wanting to exasperate his parents, he meets a beautiful, busty woman and decides to marry her. On the marriage day however, he ends up marrying a more plainer bride and decides to stay with her, in an attempt to spite his parents and rebel against their expectations. The catch is, he is only attracted to his wife when she’s pregnant, hence the 13 kids.

Coming to the wife Sangita. Unlike what Rakesh believed, Sangita herself was seeming ‘tricked’ into the marriage. Growing up with a mother who abhorred her skin colour/ looks, Sangita always wanted to impress her/ gain unconditional love from someone. Rakesh was always wrapped up in the memories of his previous wife and so in her sort of ‘revenge-ish/ placid’ manner, Sangita decides to become an impassive statue. She remains calm to all of Rakesh’s outbursts and refuses to react (aside from when giving birth). She adores Arjun but fears that he’ll separate from her once he learns that he isn’t her biological son. In addition to that, she also spends large amounts of time watching television and having her kids help her with the younger kids. The book ends with her giving birth.

From the summaries, it’s pretty evidential that there isn’t anything sort of ground-breaking in the story. I mean, you could totally imagine some boy lying to impress a girl. A father trying to keep it together/ failing and saying the wrong words instead. Or even a tv-obsessed mother who bottles things up and never mentions how she feels. The three are stories that are easily imaginable and seem quite typical. But I think that’s actually where the ingenuity of the book lies. Despite its seemingly simplistic content, it actually provides a really interesting look into the psyche of India and it’s citizens and highlights the contradictions that make it up.

For example, for a country where talking about sex and being a sexual being are abhorred, the characters spend a lot of time talking and thinking about it. In fact, the whole Mr. Ahuja having 13 kids also seeming calls attention to the insane population boom India is going through. Of course that issue also has to do with lack of available birth control, but sexual desire is still a huge factor. Similarly, politics is also made into a joke through the mixing of money and entertainment. In the book, one famous tv character dies and people begin rioting in the streets. In fact, the reason Mr. Ahuja’s party (at least one reason why) is feuding with their party leader is due to the tv character’s death. The MP’s, people elected into government in hopes that they would improve the lives of ordinary Indians, focus their time and efforts into reviving a stupid soap opera character. This apparent mixing of entertainment and politics also signals to how many Indian bollywood actors use the entertainment industry as a stepping stone for politics. In an ironic twist, the killed tv character (in the book) actor actually ends up becoming the a new Minister in the government. And going back to politics, it also signals to what a joke politics can be in general. Of course, a lot of this is hyperbole and satire, but it still works very well. And finally, I thought the bit about the traffic problems was pretty spot on too. Despite the city being plagued with traffic problems, the people remain content because they believe their suffering will end with traffic efficiency, despite evidence proclaiming the opposite. Again, the story is actually quite riveting for what it reveals about its motherland than its characters.

Diverging from the deeper analysis, technically speaking, the book is also written in an alright manner. The writing is simple and easy enough to read. That said, I actually didn’t find the book to be as comical as other writers did. I read a few reviews online and a lot of people stated that they found specific lines in the book funny. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the same. I think the book is funny in its satire and ironical content, but I didn’t find specific words or phrases funny. I don’t know, maybe I have a different sense of humour but I found a few of the jokes to be more gross than funny. However, I think its still important to point out, that this doesn’t mean that the book was bad. As far as things go, the book was decent. Not laugh-out-funny, but still light-hearted and enjoyable.

My ratingRead it if you’d like to learn a little bit about India and its people in a more simplistic, light-hearted manner and/or if would you’d like to take a break from reading heavy (literally and metaphorically) material.

Quote of the Week

“We’re sort of all insecure wrecks, aren’t we? The funny thing about me is that I want everyone to like me regardless if I actually like them back. It’s sick! I can seriously hate someone’s guts but I will freak out if they hate me back. “Wait, you don’t like me? Why not? What can I do to win your approval, Person I Hate Anyway!””     —Ryan O’Connell

The Secret of the Nagas Book Review

After finishing The Immortals of Meluha and ending with a cliffhanger, I was quite excited to begin this book and to my happiness, this book picks up right where the last book left off. For those who haven’t read my previous  The Immortals of Meluha reviewThe Secret of the Nagas is the second installment in the trilogy that deals with the mythological Hindu God Shiva. The trilogy imagines Shiva and his fellow God companions as humans and assumes that they became Gods through their actions as humans. The previous book introduced us to the immortal Meluhans, along with Shiva. And this book, like the title says, introduces us to the Naga’s and their secret(s). However, we don’t just meet the Nagas in this book. In fact, we’re introduced to a lot of other places in the Chandravanshi empire as well.

To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure how to begin or even write this review. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because a lot happens and I’d like readers to be surprised as they read. But on the other hand, I like writing out the story because I find it to be interesting to recap. So my solution for now, is to write the review but attempt to be a little more vague than usual and hence I apologize if the review below is kinda choppy.

Anyways, as I mentioned earlier, this book picks up right where the other book left off. It then moves onto Shiva taking a tour of the Chandravanshi Empire. He comes to the city of Kashi, a sort of haven. Basically, according to the book, Kashi functions as this very non-violent, open, accepting place where refugees from any place (even cast off Meluhans were inhabiting Kashi before the two Empires united through Shiva’s victory) could live. Shiva, of course, is extremely drawn to this place. However, Kashi’s peace is upset by the actions of Brangas, people from Branga who left their homeland to live in Kashi. The Brangas are thought to be this dark, weird race of people who commit horrible things and purposefully instigate fights with others. For example, as Kashi is a peaceful city accepting everyone, everyone is treated equally. However, the Brangas demanded that they be allowed to be build their own colony in which only Brangas are allowed, aka pursue discriminatory behaviour. They are aided in their demands by the great wealth they possess — in a strange twist, the Branga King willingly funds the Brangas living in Kashi and as Branga is an extremely rich country, the displaced Brangas in Kashi are able to access large amounts of money. Of course this money also causes them to receive ire from others groups living in Kashi. In reality, it turns out that the Brangas aren’t necessarily the weird, dark, twisted group of people that most people assume they are. In actuality, the Brangas are actually cursed with a disease (?) and only dark, twisted actions provide some relief from the curse, along with a medicine. This strange medicine is actually one of the key mysteries throughout the novel, as it can only be taken from a certain tree and supposedly has a shelf-life of 24 hrs. However, through the Branga conflict, it is discovered that someone actually figured out a way to make the medicine last longer than 24 hrs and be kept in facilities away from where the tree grows.

Coming back to Shiva, he doesn’t really involve himself in this conflict until one of his friends gets directly involved and injured. It is only then that he starts paying greater attention to it. In another twist, the medicine is allegedly linked to the Nagas and therefore comes to create even more suspicion regarding the Nagas in Shiva’s mind. Those who’ve read the previous book probably already know, but for those new to the series, the Nagas are a mysterious deformed race who are considered to be horrible people. Shiva has fought a few of them and comes to easily dislike them and the medicine and Branga curse just fosters more dislike for them.

However, on the flip side, we actually get an inside look at the Nagas and get to discover their backstory. It turns out that the Nagas are actually pretty good — they definitely do fight others, but they seem to represent a sort of Robinhood-esque role in the story as they attempt to help those less fortunate. Their story is actually really closely involved and directly related to Meluha, Sati, Daksha and the Somras.  I’m going to refrain from commenting too much on this (which is actually a pity and really hard for me to do because most of the novel is about it LOL) because I think it’s one of the more interesting features of the book. Much of the book actually deals with the Nagas, their perception, perceptions in general, good and evil, etc. Near the end of the book, we actually get an inside look at the Naga settlement and their secret is revealed (which you don’t see coming!) and then the book ends, leaving you with even more questions!

Throughout the book, Shiva also continually talks with and listens to the Vasudevas, priests who hold the secrets of the past and knowledge for Shiva. The priests are deliberately portrayed as these vague, occasionally omnipresent beings who attempt to help Shiva with his destiny/ journey but also attempt to refrain from helping him too much. It’s a little annoying and Shiva also gets annoyed with them (LOL). But these Vasudevs are the ones who bring up the philosophical talks/ questions/ discussions about good vs. bad. The discussions themselves are actually quite interesting, to be honest.  In some really abstract, vague way, they can also be seen as relating to real life (or actually I found it pretty reminiscent of general book plots about good vs evil).

Just like the previous installment, I found this one very interesting and nice to read. If anything, I actually found myself more absorbed within the story-world in this book rather than the former and I think it’s because this time around, I actually understood more things and was more deeply invested. As The Immortals of Meluha was a great starting point, this book was a good mid-point; answering some questions but leaving and creating more questions. On a more technical point, I read some reviews that criticized the book for its writing. More specifically, awkward and weird words were used to create clunky sentences, and I think that while I agree with that, I also don’t think it’s that big of a deal? I think, over time, you get used to Amish’s awkward wording and you don’t notice it as much. At least that’s what happened with me. I’m the type of person who appreciates detailed world building over literal writing (as is the case with Harry Potter — excellent world-building but writing could’ve been better) and I find that Amish is pretty good at etching out this Meluhan/ Swadeepan/ Brangan/ Nagan world. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a well written book like any other person. But at the same time, I’m not a stickler for extremely well-written books. Amish definitely has his problems. His book bio stated that he was formerly a financial executive and I think it sort of displays in his writing. It is clunky and awkward. But as I mentioned, a) not only have I gotten used to it, but b) I like good story-building/ telling and he delivered there. His writing could’ve improved, but it wasn’t horrible, like third grade level. It was readable and he was able to get his points across. My only complaint would be that I wish he wrote more of his side characters. We get introduced to more side characters in this book and I wish we had more time to get to know them. On that note, the book also reduces the focus it had on Shiva earlier. It’s strange but it echoes my previous complaint from The Immortals of Meluha, wherein I wished that there was less laser-focus on Shiva and more focus on other characters (LOL). While I definitely did get my wish, I now wish we had more time with the characters. Maybe a longer book would’ve sufficed? Or reducing the number of character and increasing focus upon them? Not quite sure.

My ratingRead it to continue on the Shiva adventure (if you were on it on the first place) and familiarizing yourself with Hindu mythology (it is quite fascinating!).

The Weird Sisters Book Review

I’m more of a book person than movie person tbh so I’m going back to book reviews for now. I’ve decided that I’ll probably stick mainly to book reviews with the occasional peppering of a movie review or other review. So without further ado, let’s get into this.

When I came across the cover for The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, I was immediately drawn in by the green writing and vines on the cover page (my favourite colour!). And the blurb on the cover pages was interesting as well, explaining that the book was about a family of readers (me!) whose father spoke in Shakespearean quotes (wait wut?) and mother was diagnosed with cancer, causing the three sisters to come back home all at once (uhhhh). To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember too much about this book, aside from a few key things as I read it a few months ago. As a result, this review will not be as detailed and spoiler-filled as all my other reviews. That said, as I mentioned in my About Me page, I love to write about anything and so I figured, why not write about this book I barely remember? So behold, let’s review!

So…I’m not really sure how the book begins. I’m pretty sure it begins with one of the sister’s narrating? But I’m not sure? Well actually, on the question of narrating, it was interesting because the book rapidly switched from character to character and past and present, while remaining the same. And often times, it wouldn’t even be initially explicitly clear that the narrative had switched. There would be no page break or anything, just a switch of story (after a sort of connecting sentence or two). I found the ‘voices’ of the sisters to be quite similar and the narrative used a plural ‘we,’ so I tended to differentiate between narratives by seeing what was going on, as each sister had a different story (well technically, when simplified, their stories were quite similar). If I’m not being clear, this book involves three sisters (all named after Shakespeare characters) and their lives and was narrated as a group (think stuff like, “our father…” “we thought…”).

The oldest sister, Rose, is a math professor at the same college where her father taught (teaches?) and she attended. We aren’t really told what she looks like, but its implied that she’s not really skinny. She tends to wear baggy clothes, with a lot of tunics and wide pant legs. And she isn’t described as being very athletic, as she struggles to hike up a mountain/ hillside but she’s really drawn to tai chi. Unlike her sisters, she actually still lived in her hometown, albeit with her boyfriend turned fiance. He also teaches at the same college (that’s actually where they met). However, he gets an offer to work/ study in England and would like Rose to come with him. She’s initially very unhappy with this and refuses to join him, citing her mother’s illness. As such, she uses her mother’s cancer as a way to escape, by literally going back to live with her parents, despite the fact that the two insist that they can cope on their own (LOL). The biggest issues with Rose seem to stem from her aversion to change and need to be needed. This manifests with her being a controlling, boring, den mother who refuses to give up her ways and obstinately sticks to what she knows, even at the expense of others’s annoyance.

The middle sister, named Bianca but called Bean, worked in HR for a large law firm in New York. All she wanted, as she continually laments, was to escape her small town to live a glamourous cosmopolitan life, but she ends up squandering that opportunity away. Caught up in the world of the elite, being a shopaholic, and bored of her job, she ends up embezzling a lot of money from the law firm. Miraculously, she doesn’t get arrested, just fired. She then takes her sorry-ass home, leaving her roommates with her pending rents and officers (the deal was that the company would compensate by taking her stuff + her paying in return for no jail). She returns home and cribs about the lack of a night life instead of thinking about her huge debt. She goes and attempts to seduce some men in a bar, only to find herself outmaneuvered by younger girls. Frustrated with her life, she meets an old acquaintance and becomes an adulterer. In other words, she sort of hits rock bottom.

But then again, that title could also perhaps go to the youngest sister, Cordelia, called Cordy. Unlike her older sisters, the baby of the family drops out of college to pursue the life of a hippie. She lives on the road, travels daily, barely showers or has enough money to eat proper food, and has many, many lovers. It is through one of her random one-night trysts that she becomes pregnant. Having no idea what to do, she also runs back home. With no money or any sort of degree to help her get a job, she ends up waitressing for a friend’s cafe as a way to ‘secure’ a life for the child she’s determined to have. Where Rose is the dutiful, controlling sister and Bean is the flighty, risk-taking sister, Cordy is the spoiled one, with no real sense of responsibility.

And so with all three sisters home, the story commences. Without revealing the real reason they came home, each sister manages to find the faults in her own sisters but fails to recognize her own faults. Their mother is too sick to really deal with anything. And their father ‘attempts’ to help by quoting Shakespearean verses (*insert face palm*). The sister’s read voraciously and the story flashes from past to present, showing how the once close sisters drifted apart, how each sister came to be where she is now, and how their lives are currently going. Like most Shakespearean stories, things seem to wrap up and get better in the end (which I mean, I always appreciate a happy ending so I was glad).

Rose’s secret (engagement and potential England visit) comes to light and with a little pushing from her sisters, she finally goes. She finds that she really enjoys life there and can totally see herself living there with her fiance. And so she and her fiance return home to get married and then leave to live in England. Basically, Rose finally accepts that she doesn’t need to take care of everyone, doesn’t need to be so controlling all the time, and that change can be good and fun.

Bean’s secret (embezzlement, firing, adultery) comes to light. Through the nudging of a pastor, her sisters encouragement, and the lucky retirement of the current librarian, she gets over her shit and gets a job as the librarian despite no real credentials (networking in a nut shell tbh). Basically, Bean stops victimizing herself and chasing false dreams and instead steps up. She ends the affair, starts getting her finances in order, and begins going to church/ connecting with people on more than just a superficial level.

And finally, Cordy’s secret (accidental pregnancy) comes to light. Although her parents, especially her father, are upset with her, she decides to keep the baby and be more responsible. But luckily for her, her friend, the owner of the cafe where she works, turns out to have a life-long crush on her and and asks to marry her and adopt her to-be-born baby. She supposedly stops being spoiled and becomes responsible and adult-ish.

So if you haven’t been able to glean from my review yet, I’m not the biggest fan of the book. I mean, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read. It terms of writing, I actually found that I enjoyed reading it and even though the narrative was confusing, it wasn’t a bad experience. It was an okay book. But at the same time, it’s not my favourite book either. I just, not much happens in the book. The sisters come together after failing and then end up kick starting their lives again. I mean, if only it was that easy. And on a similar note, it was so difficult to place when exactly this story took place. Like, I don’t really remember any mention of any year/date or device or anything, save for like phones and television. There was just such a small, sleepy town sort of feeling throughout the entire book. Everything was really simplistic. Which I guess is great if you love that sort of thing. And I think people who really love Shakespeare might get it more, but most of the Shakespeare quotes just flew over my head. I just did not get it; things could’ve been easily explained in normal english. It didn’t seem all that witty or whimsical to me (which is what I assumed the author was going for). It just seemed tedious.

And the sisters seemed to be really stereotyped as well. As the oldest sister, I could definitely relate to Rose on some things, but on others, it was just like BLAH. I especially hated her aversion to move. She acted like it was the biggest thing in the world. I mean, what could a simple trip do? I don’t understand why she struggled with it so much. And Bean was the pretty, flirty and flighty middle sister who felt the need to act out in order to get noticed. I found myself so incredibly dumbstruck by her inability to grasp that she committed a CRIMINAL act and her constant self-victimizing. How can your sense of preservation be that low and high at the same time? And Cordy was the completely spoiled and coddled baby of the family. I actually found her story to be so unsatisfying. She gets pregnant, comes home, finds a job through a friend, and then gets a partner who can take care of her in the package. How lucky can you be? How little character growth can you go through? It felt like everything was still being handed down for her to take. I felt like she didn’t grow that much or really become that responsible.

I just, I don’t know. I did enjoy reading the strange narrative and the story was okay. I found myself drawn in by the family scenes rather than the sisters personal lives. But the sisters themselves were quite flawed and unlikeable. Not much character growth happened and yet the book contained a significant amount of pages. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that while it was okay in some parts, it definitely could’ve been much better in others.

My rating: read it for the interesting narrative and family dynamics but skip it otherwise as there are more unique dramas out there.