Book Review – A Gentleman in Moscow

book cover of a gentleman standing in the balcony of Hotel Metropol in Moscow
Image credit: Goodreads

Some books come in your life like a ray of sunshine during incessant rains.

Well, this book has been one of that kind. On one hand, you don’t want to put the book down and on the other you don’t want it to end. Huh!!


In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to spend his life under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. The book narrates the story through the eyes of the Count for the next thirty years as he makes the most of his life despite its limitations. He meets interesting characters; some stay with him till the end, some part ways very early, some become his friends, while some antagonize him. But all in all, the Count lives an eventful life!!


Before reading this book, I had a hazy picture of Russia from what little history I had read in the school and from the books of Leo Tolstoy. Though this book is more of a fictional account of the times during the Bolshevik’s reign over the newly formed Soviet Union, it still gives a good view of the life during the times of Stalin.

The character of Count Rostov is finely and thoughtfully built. The Count not only amuses you with his wit and impresses you with his charm, but also makes you want to emulate him for his wisdom. A character that you want to tip your hat to, if you had been wearing one and wish good luck to for the rest of his journey.

Frankly speaking, when in the beginning the Count is sentenced to house arrest in a hotel, I was a little skeptical about how the book would pan out if the protagonist could not even step out. But nowhere during the story I felt that the Count was restricted; a patient, satisfied, but resourceful fellow he enjoys his life in his limited means. That doesn’t mean he lives a dreary or boring life; far from it, he has his adventures which will amaze you, make you laugh and at places teary-eyed too.

He becomes a waiter at the hotel restaurant and does his work with charm and panache. He is well read, identifies any piece of music, can speak many languages and knows his liquor well. He is a real asset to the Hotel though many might not agree with it.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a book that will make you fall in love with Russia, which even the combined brilliance of Leo Tolstoy and Chekhov couldn’t do. A book that will make you pick up Pushkin, Gogol and Dosteovysky. It’s a book that will make you want to visit Russia and book your stay in Hotel Metropol.

It’s a brilliant book given that it has everything that would appeal to a reader – romance, politics and espionage. The tremendous events of the great depression and the World War II are only mentioned in passing, it is because the main focus is on the Count and how he survives in the hotel.

Here are some of the quotes or observations from the book:

“That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.”

“By the smallest of one’s actions, one can restore some sense of order to the world.”

A Gentleman in Moscow is a book that you must read in this lifetime, even if you are not a Russophile.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to one of them. Seriously, only one!!

5. A book from WWII time period

10. A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit

18. A book with four words in title

19. A book written by an author who is new to you


Book Review – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

You pick some books either because the fancy cover catches your eye or because you find the title intriguing. For me, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street exhibited both these characteristics; not only was the three dimensional book cover eye catching but the title was quite intriguing too. And I am happy I chose this book because it was one of the warmest reads of the recent times.

Book cover of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Pic –

In the year 1883, in the thick of the Irish War of Independence, Thaniel Steepleton, a telegraphist, returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the same watch saves his life by setting off an ear-piercing alarm that draws him away from the blast that destroys Scotland Yard. Realizing it was not an ordinary timepiece, Thaniel goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, an old but kind immigrant from Japan who stays in the Show Village.

Scotland Yard suspects Mori of being the brain behind the bombings. On Scotland Yard’s insistence, Thaniel rents a room in Mori’s house to dig more about him. But very soon he comes to realize that there is more to Mori than meets the eye. Mori is a clairvoyant who can predict certain future events, but he is not a wicked person. Mori, considers himself Thaniel’s friend and guardian, and tries to protect his ward as best as he can, though Thaniel doesn’t always understand Mori’s intentions.

Thaniel meets Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist and decides to marry her, though he knows Mori and Grace don’t like each other. But then certain events unfold which make Thaniel realize who he wants to spend his entire life with.

It is a very unusual book. Set in Victorian London, it takes us on a nostalgic walk through the cobbled streets of London, Victoria station, the West Minister Abbey, the filthy banks of the Thames and the up-market Belgravia. It also gives us a satisfying peek into Japan and how its civil war affects its aristocracy and traditions.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street has many heroes for me. Obviously, Mori outshines them all, with his kindness, his stoicism and his loyalty above all. He is an interesting character as he lives in the heart of London, talks in an almost faultles English accent and has his hair dyed so he doesn’t stand out too much in the crowd. On the other hand, Thaniel is a simple person from Edinburgh who gets drawn in by people’s kindness. However, he makes a just decision at the end of the story.

Grace Carrow might come out as the villain in the story, but she is driven by hurt and jealousy, and might be excused. She is a feminist of her day and age without her knowing about it; she is intelligent and bold. She defies all customs and traditions and walks about in men’s clothes so as not to be stopped in gentlemen’s gatherings. She is also obstinate – she plans to spend the night with Thaniel walking on the streets of London, so that she would be disgraced and forced to marry Thaniel. Though Matsumoto, Grace’s friend from Oxford, has a short role in the story, it is quite an important one.

This book appealed to me on various levels. It’s a story about friendship between Mori and Thaniel and between Grace and Matsumoto. It’s also a love story which you will realize at the end (no, it’s not a spoiler). Mori’s clairvoyance and his clever if strange watchmaking make you feel as if you are reading a fantasy. There are times when you get confused between the flitting from real to fantasy and back, but they are far and few in between. Also, I found the end to be too fortunate, but the romantic in me appreciated the happy ending (again not a spoiler).

This book has several colors – while I was reading it, I passed the narrow black streets of London, I felt the gray overcast skies, touched the warm oranges and reds from the Chinese lanterns in Filigree Street and saw the golden timepieces and green pears.

The story has all the right ingredients that keep you hooked – bombs, suspense, reality and magic. And so for all the above reasons, Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is not to be missed.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to one of them. Seriously, only one!!

2. A book written by a Female author

10. A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit

19. A book written by an author who is new to you

23. A book you bought just because of its cover/a book with a beautiful cover


European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman

Book cover of European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
Image Credit:

Apart from Harry Potter which I absolutely loved, I haven’t enjoyed the genre of fantasy much. So, when my librarian showed me this book, my first instinct was to say NO. But then I read the excerpt – it talked about Mary Jekyll and Diana Hyde (we have all read the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in our childhood), and also about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. That’s what intrigued me. I knew I had to give this book a try.

The story goes like this – At the end of the nineteenth century, must be the year 1898 AD, when Mary Jekyll receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped. Being a member of the Athena Club along with other women like Beatrice, Catherine, Justine and Diana, she must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue this young girl who has gone through torturous scientific experimentation.

Before I go further, let me tell you, about the members of Athena Club who Mary met in her previous adventure and who now stay with her in her house at 11 Park Terrace, London. All these women are basically monsters created by scientists in order to better the human race through Artificial Selection as opposed to Natural Selection, the theory proposed by Charles Darwin. Mary Jekyll is Dr. Jekyll’s daughter, an eminent scientist and a member of the S.A (a secretive Alchemical Society). Dr. Jekyll experimented on himself and turned into Dr. Hyde and sired Diana Hyde through another woman. Beatrice is Dr. Rappaccini’s daughter who has purposely raised her a garden of poisonous flowers so that she would be poisonous to other living beings. Justine Frankenstein nee Moritz is reanimated by her mentor Viktor Frankenstein after she is dead. So basically, Justine is a dead person living. Catherine Moreau is the half-finished puma woman from the island of Dr. Moreau, a science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells.

All these 5 women are both powerful and weak in their own respective ways, however, when each of their individual qualities are combined it gives them a definite edge over many others.

Mary along with Justine decide to travel to first Vienna, where Lucinda has been kept in a mental asylum. Diana tags along with them. Their mission is to rescue her from the asylum and take her to Budapest, where the next meeting of the Alchemical Society is held and her father Prof. Van Helsing would be proposing to allow human transfiguration/mutation. Sherlock Holmes aids them financially and introduces these girls to Mrs. Irene Norton, who stays in Vienna. With the help of Mrs. Norton and her clever network of spies, they are able to rescue Lucinda from the asylum and are on their way to Budapest when they get kidnapped.

On the other hand, Holmes disappears too without a word. Now, it’s up to Catherine and Beatrice to find out what happened to their club members and they too embark on a journey to Vienna and then to Budapest.

What follows is an interesting journey where the girls meet spies, vampires and a lot of unexpected benefactors. You really have to read the book to understand the mishmash of characters, the travel, the history and the places.

I liked the title of the book and it was also a factor for me to pick up the book – European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Travels in the continent I love and oxymoron-ic monstrous gentlewoman.

The story takes you on a historical ride on the Orient Express, the iconic train journey from Paris to Istanbul has suspended its operations, and then through the beautiful and colorful streets of Vienna and Budapest and shows you some curious delights. It has Sherlock Holmes in the beginning and Count Dracula at the end and so many colorful characters in between that your mind does get overwhelmed for a bit – but it’s a happy overwhelm because you still feel like going on and on to find out who are you going meet next – a spy, a vampire or a monster created in a laboratory by power hungry scientists.

The book is a 700-page story and not once did I feel bored or have the urge to put the book down. It was interesting and gripping from the very first word. All the characters are interesting, and the narration of the story is witty. Be prepared to let out more than a few chuckles. However, there are a few drawbacks.

Sherlock Holmes has a very brief appearance and then disappears for the entire length of the book. I found it strange given that he funded the travel of Mary, Justine and Diana to Vienna and had instructed them to keep him informed of their findings. For a person who likes to be on the top of the things, his mysterious absence disconcerted me. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it’s a story of female protagonists, there are male characters too, but they are more to help than to lead.

Secondly, whenever the chief characters find themselves in a soup, they are marvelously rescued by a team of their well wishers whom they don’t even know. It happens every time in the story due to which my heart, which would start beating faster every time the protagonists got in trouble initially, stopped getting excited later on.

The story has a medley of characters, all of which have been written upon by various writers – Sherlock Holmes, Justine Moritz aka Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Catherine Moreau, Beatrice Rappacini, Count Dracula, Ayesha – the Queen of Kor, a vanished African city. The author, Theodora Goss has done extremely well to bring all these characters together in an interesting manner in her story.

This is the second book in the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club. I would recommend you to pick up the first book – The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, to understand the depth of the characters.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to one of them. Seriously, only one!!

2. A book written by a Female author

6. A retelling of your favorite fairytale/classic

10. A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit

22. A book that has a mythical/imaginary creature

Book Review – The Signature of All Things

Book Cover of The Signature of Small Things
Image credit Amazon Uk


I haven’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s most popular book Eat, Pray and Love. I watched the movie first, and once I watch a movie, I don’t feel like reading the book. It ruins my imagination. Anyway, I loved the movie so much, that I thought if the movie was even 10% authentic, the book should be a marvel. And I picked up her first book that I came across – The Signature of Small Things. Though it was a huge 500-page book, the excerpt was interesting which made the decision for me.

Alma Whitaker is raised in 19th century Philadelphia in a world of luxury. Her curiosity and unquenchable thirst to explore the nature are fuelled by her father, a botanical explorer and mother, a botanist in her own right. Alma’s father encourages her to speak her mind, while her mother ingrains into her the values of a good human being. But, after all she is a human and there are times when she falls short.

Alma grows up into a practical woman who is neither blinded by the wealth around her, nor who shies away from the realities of life. She invests her time wisely into digging the mysteries of evolution. At the prime of her life, she encounters a man whom she finds both her equal and comes to love, but little does she know that her affection for him would draw her into the world of divinity and spiritualism.

Leaving behind all her worldly goods, she embarks on a momentous journey from Philadelphia to Tahiti and then to Amsterdam. She meets some wonderful people in Tahiti and also finds the truth for which she had undertaken the journey. She decides to visit Amsterdam, the land of her mother and settle there. Not to sit idle, she takes up work and makes a name for herself in the world of bryology.

The book started on an interesting note. It talks about the humble origins of Henry Whitaker (Alma’s father) and how he made his fortune and a name for himself as a botanist. Then the book focuses on Alma’s childhood, her adulthood and her marriage. The later part of the story focuses on Alma’s voyage to Tahiti, her discovery and her last years in Amsterdam.

The characters in the story are very well built; even the characters who played a small role are well defined and leave a lasting impression. For example, the unpredictable but ever bubbly Retta who ends up in an asylum, the beautiful but cold Prudence, who surprises everyone by marrying her tutor, Beatrice – the stern but practical mother of Alma, who doesn’t think twice before adopting Prudence, a maid’s daughter and treating her as the child of her womb or Hanneke de Groot, the handmaid who follows her mistress, Beatrice from Amsterdam to Philadelphia and runs the Whitaker household single-handedly.

However, for me, there are three heroes in the story. Alma Whitaker, Henry Whitaker and Ambrose. Alma is the protagonist, but she is not your regular spoilt rich kid. Even surrounded by wealth, her only passion is knowledge. However, she has her own faults. She is shown beseeched by jealousy when she finds Prudence in her home. She is upset when her friend Retta marries Georges, her first crush. She is overcome by anger and hatred when her husband, Ambrose disappoints her in their marriage. However, I found Alma to be boring. She lives a life sans adventure except for the last part when she undertakes a journey to Tahiti and then to Amsterdam. Also, I didn’t feel Alma endearing or engaging, and maybe that’s the reason I couldn’t feel the personal loss of Alma.

Ambrose is the husband of Alma, but only in name. Alma could never understand her husband – the strange but always happy man who talks about divinity and spiritualism. Though Ambrose plays a small role in the book, he overshadows a major part of the story.

I found Henry Whitaker to be the most interesting of the lot. He is an uneducated man who makes it big in life, both in terms of money and name. He is quirky and unapologetic, and that what makes him endearing to the reader. One never knows what to expect with him around.

Enough about the characters, let me talk about the writing style of Gilbert. Gilbert’s narrative is simple and witty. However, the plot slows down in the middle and there are times when exasperated you feel like putting the book down. A reader comes up with a lot of questions which sadly get answered a little too late, by the time which the reader has already moved onto the next plot and raised another set of questions.

The book is undoubtedly well researched, but I found an overabundance of historical facts and scientific research which intrigues the reader initially, but ends up frustrating him. At the end of the book, Alma is shown to be a contemporary of Darwin and anticipates Darwin’s work. I mean I am already exhausted by the many plots and subplots and didn’t want another one opening right at the end of the book which served no other purpose than to show one more failure, this time professional, that Alma went through.

Gilbert is a brilliant and talented writer, and she has put a lot of time and research into the novel, but a surplus of facts and details might have just killed the book.

I wouldn’t recommend the book unless you like big fat books with history, facts and details.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to one of them. Seriously, only one!!

2. A book written by a Female author


Book Review – A Murder on Malabar Hill

It is no secret that I love reading murder mysteries and that Dame Agatha Christie is my favorite author in the genre. Last week, as I was picking up a book of Sophie Hannah in the Agatha Christie series, my librarian recommended to me this book – A Murder on Malabar Hill. The synopsis of the book was quite intriguing and I didn’t hesitate to borrow the book.

Book cover of a Murder on Malabar Hill
Book cover of a Murder on Malabar Hill

Written by Sujata Massey, an Indo-German, A Murder on Malabar Hill rolls in Mumbai in 1921 pre-Independent India. Parveen Mistry, a young and intelligent Zoroastrian, joins her father’s prestigious law firm to become one of India’s first female lawyers.

In her very first case, she is appointed to execute the will of Omar Farid, a wealthy mill owner who dies intestate leaving behind three widows and four kids. He also appoints a guardian/caretaker for his estate, mill and family. Parveen’s suspicions are aroused by the anomaly in the will and she is suspicious of the guardian of duping the unworldly wise widows who live in a strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to men, until she finds him murdered in his own house.

Who killed him? One of the widows of Omar Farid, one of the servants or someone from the outside? Parveen makes it her business to find out in order to protect the family of Omar Farid.

I like this book on various levels.

Firstly, I fell in love with the protagonist. Parveen Mistry is a feisty young woman who though is bound by the strict rules of society in early 20th century doesn’t give it up easily without a fight. As per the author, Parveen’s character was inspired by India’s earliest women lawyers, Cornelia Sorabji of Poona, the first woman to read law at Oxford and the first woman to sit the British law exam and to be admitted to the Bombay Bar.

Parveen has a disturbing past, but she rises above it, owns up her mistakes and moves on. Also, the author has dealt with the subject of Parveen’s tumultuous past with great sensitivity and respect.

I didn’t know about Purdanashins, the females of the Muslim community who choose to stay in seclusion all their life in zenanas (female rooms) and not to interact with men, except their husbands and sons. The book throws light on them and gives a good insight into their family structure and mental make-up of such women. The book talks not only about the women in seclusion in the Muslim community, but also some of the sordid practices of orthodox Parsi families.

Sujata Massey paints a nostalgic picture of Mumbai of a 100 years ago. The pretty sprawling Anglo-Indian bungalows on Malabar Hill, the Queen’s Necklace, Zaveri Bazaar, Dadar Parsi Colony and the jewel of Colaba – The Taj Mahal Palace. The tongas and man-pulled rickshaws, the stevedores at the Ballard Pier and Irani bakeries like Yazdani serving melt-in-your-mouth Irani confectionery all add to the old-world charm of this majestic city. Mumbai would not have been Mumbai without the generous contribution of the Zoroastrian community, and this book gives a just ode to them.

There are a few nail-biting moments in the book, however, for a murder mystery, I would have expected some more. The mystery was not mysterious enough and even I could see through the killer (I have never been able to crack the murderer in Agatha Christie’s books). So, yes, that was a bit disappointing there, however, the motive for murder was intelligent enough.

The book is more than just a murder mystery, but an introduction to the social life of elite Mumbai in the early 1900s and the stand of women in the society. The book is well researched and the characters are complex and believable.

If you are looking for a finely detailed and tightly woven crime novel like Agatha Christie’s, then you might be disappointed in this book, but if you are looking for an engaging and cozy read with one of its aspects being a murder mystery, you will definitely like this book.

I definitely would want to read all future offerings of Parveen Mistry Investigates.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to three of them:

2. A book written by a Female author

16. A book on crime-solving

23. A book you bought just because of its cover/a book with a beautiful cover

Book Review – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to three of them:

8. A book with a name in the title

9. A book with orange cover (I finally got it 🙂 )

10. A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit

Image credit: Amazon

I must confess that I finished reading this book in 4 months, though I read 95% of the book only in the last 4 days.

It’s my good fortune that of late, I have been coming across beautiful books. The credit goes to my blogger friends who read and recommend these books.

So, without further ado, let me write about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry


One morning, Harold Fry, a former brewery manager recently retired, finds a letter from an acquaintance, Queenie Hennessy, he hadn’t heard for over 20 years. The letter said Queenie was dying of a terminal cancer in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Harold Fry was shaken. He wrote her a reply and started out to post the letter. However, when the post box cropped up, he didn’t feel like posting the letter so soon, so he decided to walk till the next box. But he still didn’t post and walked till the next one. He even walked past the post office and didn’t post the letter. A chance meeting with a girl in a garage shop who said how keeping faith and being positive helped her aunt (who had cancer), showed him the light. He decided to walk the length of the United Kingdom (from Kingsbridge at the south of England to Berwick-upon-Tweed, the most northern town in England) to meet Queenie, the woman who had once saved Harold’s life and had got nothing in return.

It didn’t matter to him that he was wearing yachting shoes and not walking shoes, he was not carrying any change of clothes and that he was not even carrying his mobile phone. He didn’t think of much except putting one foot before the other. Even when his feet developed blisters and were bleeding, he continued walking. Initially, Harold was too shy to ask for help. However, he met some very kind people on his journey and started believing in the genuineness of humanity.

Soon, he realized that it was not right on his part to squander his retirement fund on guest houses and daily meals. He decided to reach Berwick upon the largesse of the nature and people. He drank spring water, fruits from the fields and wild mushrooms foraged from the forest. He humbly accepted whatever people offered him and made sure he never took more than required.

Harold’s journey became a sensation in England and people in every city and town that he visited came forward to help Harold. In his journey, joined a motley of characters; all had a different purpose, but they made Harold’s journey their own.

At the end of 87 days after walking 627 miles, Harold reached Berwick to meet Queenie.


If you start reading the book, you will find it very ordinary. A retired old man starting a journey to meet a long-lost friend – what’s so extraordinary about it?

Well, the extraordinary is not in the man – but in the faith of the man that prompts him to make a tediously long journey. The extraordinary is in the humanity that picks up the old man whenever he falters. The extraordinary is in the learning that the man receives during his journey.

The title of the book is apt – it may be journey for some, but for Harold Fry it was a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage he needed to make to atone for his past sins, to be free of the guilt and burden of them and make peace with his present.

I liked Harold Fry for who he is – an honest man who doesn’t like to break his promise. But I also like the other characters in the story who are as lovable as Harold – Rex, who has recently lost his wife and is very helpful to Maureen deal with the absence of Harold and Kate – the only sane person who joins, albeit briefly, Harold in his journey.

I liked the book because of its simple writing, unassuming humor and not-over-the-top emotional drama.

Book Review – Ikigai

Blue book with sakura flowers and Ikigai written on it
Ikigai – A book review

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to three of them:

3) A book written by someone of a different nationality/color/ethnic group than you

1o) A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit

23) A book you bought just because of its cover/a book with a beautiful cover


For a few months now, I have been thinking this and thinking a lot –

Why am I put on this earth? What is the reason behind my living? What is the purpose of my life?

We all have been told since childhood that we come to this earth for a purpose and as soon as we finish it, we go back to where we come from.

Well, I am approaching midlife and it is extremely painful to admit that I have not realized the purpose of my life. So, when I came across this book, which came with high recommendations, I thought let me give it a try and see for myself.

You must be wondering how a book could have helped me find the answers to my questions. Well, the book is called Ikigai – The Japanese Secret To A Long and Happy Life.

With a title like that, I thought I had stumbled upon the philosopher’s stone. So I started this book on a high note and with high expectations.

About the book:

Ikigai is a Japanese term which is French for raison d’etre – the reason for being. It is written by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles.

It talks about the Japanese island of Okinawa, which is known for residents who live longer than anywhere else in the world. They have found their Ikigai, their reason to live or the reason to jump out of bed in the morning. And that is their key to longevity and bliss. The Okinawans are simple people who work in their kitchen gardens/farms, eat fresh produce from their farms, move a lot, socialize in their community and keep themselves busy with one thing or the other.

The book gives out 5 secrets to longevity:

  • Don’t worry. The secret to a long life is not to worry and to keep your heart young.
  • Cultivate good habits like waking up early, exercising a little, working in the vegetable garden.
  • Nurture your friendships every day. Get together with friends and neighbours.
  • Live an unhurried life. The secret to a long life is to slow down.
  • Be optimistic. Consider yourself young and stay positive.

What I like about the book

The book is written in a simple language that can be understood by all. The content of the book is well explained with the help of diagrams, charts, scientific research and well researched examples.

The book talks about simple but valuable life lessons that every person should follow to live a happy life. For example, it asks people to

  • focus on the present and enjoy each moment that life brings us,
  • not eat to the heart’s content, but practice the 80 percent rule, which is when you notice you’re almost full but could have a little more, stop eating.
  • smile, give thanks and reconnect with nature.

We have learnt these lessons while growing up, however we have lost touch with them.

One thing in particular made me stop and think. It was the chapter on Multitasking. Most of us are proud of our multitasking skills and don’t leave an opportunity to boast about it.

The book busts some myths.

“We often think that combining tasks will save us time, but scientific evidence shows that it has the opposite effect.”

Multitasking is not very productive. In fact, people who claim to be good at multitasking are some of the least productive people. Our brains can take in millions of bits of information, but can actually process only a few out of them at a single time. Hence, we end up switching back and forth between tasks. The end result – instead of focusing on one job and doing it well, we spend all our energy alternating between tasks.

Where I feel it lacks

While Ikigai has some very important life lessons to give, I was still not satisfied when the book ended. Because for me the book didn’t achieve its purpose.

The book says that we need to find Ikigai to live a long happy life. True! But that’s where I started, right. How to find my Ikigai and what are the ways to find one. The book doesn’t answer that.

Also, the book talks about the people of Okinawa who live a long life by tending to their vegetable gardens and eating fresh produce. But it’s not practical for city dwellers. I would have loved to know how people living in a city can still live a long life. Yes, quitting stressful jobs and going back to the village and farms would be lovely, but it is hardly practical for all.


Ikigai is an inspiring book, it will help you to leave the stress and slow down. While it may not help you find the purpose of your life, it will help you to nurture relationships and motivate you to follow your passion.

It will teach you to live your everyday life more joyfully.


Book cover of a soldier with a rifle bowing down to a tomb with a cross

Book Review – Birdsong

Birdsong, written by Sebastien Faulks is a World War I novel. This is my second war novel of the month and makes me wonder, for a person who has shied away from reading tragic war dramas all her life, why this sudden interest in war books. The only answer I could find, after hours of searching myself, is that the human depravity that I witness in my day to day life has made me curious to know to what level man could have sunk during the war. And it never fails to shock me as I unearth new layers of decadence in the human soul.

Recently, I read a few war books, The English Patient, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and What the Day owes the Night, but they were World War II books. Hence, when I read the excerpt and came to know Birdsong was based on WWI, I picked it up without giving it a second thought. I think I had read somewhere that WWII has monopolized the war of 14-18 because we find movies, literature and documentaries in abundance on the last world war, but little is known to the general public about the first one which had the direct consequence on the second.


So, let me now tell you more about the book.

The book is divided into 3 different time periods – before, during and post war. In the first (1910), Stephen Wraysford is a young and passionate Englishman who visits Amiens, France on business. He stays with a wealthy man – Rene Azaire and his family. Stephen comes to know that Rene beats his young wife, Isabelle as they are not able to produce a child together. Stephen falls in love with Isabelle and begins an affair with her. They quit Amiens and stay in Plombieres where Isabelle discovers she is pregnant. She leaves Stephen and goes back to Azaire without telling him that she was carrying his baby.

In the second time period (1916-1918), Stephen enlists himself into the war against Germany. He is a lieutenant of a platoon of infantrymen in the war. He is cold and unemotional and doesn’t fear death.

In the third time frame (1978-79), Elisabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter seeks information about her grandfather’s life during the war.


The first part is a clandestine love story and 100 pages into it, I almost felt like giving it up. The description was long and couldn’t hold my interest much. However, when the war started, that’s when the drama began too.

Stephen the protagonist, a 20-something love-torn man, proves to be cold, strong and resilient in the war. Over time, Stephen comes to care about the men he fights with and develops a form of friendship with two men; Captain Weir and Jack Firebrace, a middle aged tunneller. Stephen finds solace in their innocence and in their quest for survival.

Trench life

I cannot write a review of this book without mentioning about the description of the trench. Trenches in this book have a character of their own.

The only things I knew about trenches before I read this book were Burberry trench coats and trench foot. However, reading this book gave me a clearer idea what it was like to live in the trenches thirty feet under the earth. Sebastien Faulks has spared no detail and narrated the warfare at its most honest, cruel and gruesome.

The tunnel rats who dig claustrophobic trenches and soldiers who live in them and carry out warfare against the enemy. The underground explosions that make the soil give away and bury the soldiers alive making the trenches living coffins.

The description is honest, clinical and unemotional making it more vivid and impactful. As I read through the pages where tunnel rats dig tunnels underground and lay mines under enemy lines, I could feel the fine hair on my arms standing up, when the loose earth falls on the soldiers and they find earth in their nose, eyes and mouth, I felt suffocated and had trouble breathing, when soldiers feel lice crawling on their clothes and hair, I scratched myself and when the enemy shelling bursts open someone’s brains, legs or guts, I sensed warm blood all over me. I have never read a narration more powerful and gut-wrenchingly real.

These words from the book got my heart racing and gave me some sleepless nights –

“He had to crawl over Evan’s body, then haul Jack off the cross and flatten himself on the tunnel floor so Jack could get over him and go back down the tunnel. Even twenty yards back they could not stand up, but they could crouch and stretch each limb in turn.”

“He was close to choking on Douglas’s blood. By the time the stretcher-bearers reached them Douglas had lost consciousness. They levered the inert body up, trying not to make the wound worse.”

“He was aware of earth in his eyes and nose, and of weight.”

“He tried to swallow, but could not gather enough saliva in his dry, earth-filled mouth.”

The last chapter about the war is truly remarkable as Faulks portrays man’s fear and hopelessness, endurance and struggle for survival, and then humanity springing in the most unimaginable way.

What didn’t work for me

The style of narration changes in all three time periods. The powerful narration of the war, unfortunately doesn’t stretch itself to pre-war and post-war stories, which is a sore point of the book. However, on the other hand, it helps provide respite from the overwhelming war description. Also, the female characters lack dimension. Why Isabelle leaves Stephen and then finds love in Max is not very clear? Even Elisabeth’s character could have been more developed. Only Jeanne comes out as the sane one and a breath of fresh air in the story.


The war is prominent throughout the book, it rules over the characters, emotions and drama.

The beauty of the book is not in its plot or story, but in reading the narrative of the war, in knowing how tunnellers and infantrymen lived in the trenches, engaged in trench warfare and formed a brotherhood with fellow survivors as only they know what it is to survive in cold and inhuman conditions, and in understanding how innocence and humanity are snuffed out little by little in the face of gruesome horrors.

If you like reading about war stories, I’d say pick up this one.

A few lines that will stay with me –

“I am driven by a greater force than I can resist. I believe that force has its own reason and it’s own morality even if they may never be clear to me while I am alive.”

“He’s frightened that it doesn’t make sense, that there is no purpose. He’s afraid that he has somehow strayed into the wrong life.”

“I saw the great void in your soul, and you saw mine.”

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to three of them:

1) A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit


#BookReview of war book - What the day owes the night

Book Review – What the day owes the night

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to three of them:

1) A book that is a Translation

3) A book written by someone of a different nationality/color/ethnic group than you

21) A book made into a movie

I will be the first one to admit that I do not enjoy war books. They unsettle me for days on end. And then I reason that wars are a part of our legacy, it has made us what we are. I cannot just turn away from it all. Yes, wars have pain, suffering and loss, but they also have hope, love and courage. And these books show us all. So, taking courage in my hand, I read the English Patient. And I tell you, it was a beautiful book. I found a kind of ethereal beauty in suffering. Emboldened by my read, I picked up What the day owes the night by Yasmina Khadra.

Yasmina Khadra is the female pseudonym of Mohammed Moulessehoul, an Algerian army officer who wanted to avoid submitting his manuscripts to the army for approval. The book was originally written in French “Ce que le jour doit à la nuit” and translated by Frank Wynne.


A debt-ridden farmer, Issa moves to a poor neighbourhood of Oran with is wife and two kids, Younes, a 9 year old son and Zahra, a 6 year old daughter. The dirty slum area of Jenane Jato is not for the faint-hearted. While the farmer goes at the break of dawn to search for work and comes home only once the moon is at its peak, young Younes comes across a strange medley of anti-social characters in the neighbourhood. From the orphaned Ouari who catches goldfinches in the scrublands to the war veteran peg-leg who molests young boys and Bliss, the landlord of the slum who later resorts to pimping.

Bad luck doesn’t leave Issa’s side and the obstinately proud farmer decides to give away his son to his brother, Mahi who is a chemist and lives in the affluent European quarter of Oran. The childless couple, Mahi and his French wife, Germaine accepts Younes as their own flesh and blood. Renamed Jonas, the boy gradually loses touch with his old life. Owing to an unfortunate incident involving his uncle, Mahi, the family moves to Rio Salado, a quaint little colonial town just 60 kms away from Oran, known for its vineyards, orange groves and happy boisterous inhabitants. In Rio Salado, Jonas forges a unique friendship with a group of boys that stands the test of time – World War II, love and break ups and the most frightening of them all – the Algerian war for freedom. He meets Emilie, a beautiful girl and falls in love with her, but destiny has something else written for him.

The book is about Younes’s journey from the slum to the countryside, from a young body to an adult, and from past to present and back, which builds his beliefs and reinforces them.


It is a book about a simple boy who is a hero in his own unassuming way. The book is divided into segments each marking an important milestone in Younes’ life. As you move from one segment into another, you feel the ominous change in the young boy’s life.

The first half of the book talks about the transformation of the young blue-eyed boy from Younes to Jonas, his coming to Rio Salado and finding life-long friendship. In the second half of the book, the story picks up pace. With the internal war as the backdrop, it touches on Jonas finding love, losing friends and his surprising stoicism in face of all odds.

Younes or Jonas is a very well-etched out character. The character is so relatable that it could be you, me or the boy next door. A Muslim bought up by a French catholic mother, Jonas has never paid much importance to religion or race. However, time and again, it is thrown in his face and his loyalty is questioned – whether it is by his own friends, the people of his race or the mother of his only true love, Emilie. A quiet loving person and a loyal friend, Jonas is misunderstood by the people he loves the most. A man of his word, he loses more into the bargain than he thought was possible owing to his silence. You can feel his dilemma when he fails to choose sides between the rebels and the France and you can feel his horror at the mindless violence. Your heart constantly reaches out to the young fellow who gives it all but asks for little in return except acceptance.

The author has a way with words especially when it comes to describing the human suffering. If you find the description of the underbelly of Oran beautiful, you will be moved upon reading the suffering from the aftermath of the war.

In Rio Salado, houses stood empty, shutters banging, windows dark, and great piles of clothes and chattels lay piled up in the street. …People rain about, confused, their eyes glazed, forsaken by their saints, their guardian angels. Madness, fear, grief, ruin, tragedy had but one face : it was theirs.

Families searched for each other in the crowds, children wept, old men slept on their suitcases, praying in their sleep that they might never wake.

It reminds me of this famous line from the poem Barbara by French Poet Jacques Prévert – “Oh Barbara, quelle connerie la guerre” (Oh Barbara, what madness is this war?).

Because be it any war, for right or for wrong – it is the humanity that comes out as the biggest loser each time.

Another thing that appealed to my romantic nerve is the way the author has talked about seasons without being lavish about them.

Winter tiptoed away one night.

The winter of 1960 was so harsh that even our prayers froze, we could almost hear them dropping from heaven and shattering on the hard ground.

If you have read and enjoyed Camus’ insights as an outsider, this book shows you the colonized Algeria of 70 years ago from within. Read this book to know the true meaning of love and friendship, and loyalty and promise.

Finishing a good book is like parting with an old friend. What the day owes the night is one such book.


Write Tribe Reading Challenge 2019

2018 was a good year in terms of reading. I read a lot, more than I had thought, all thanks to the library that opened near my place with a beautiful collection of books and also because of the wonderful bloggers I met this year who recommended some lovely books of diverse genres.

I want to continue my reading spree and what better way than to enrol myself in a reading challenge. Corinne Rodrigues of Write Tribe came up with this lovely reading challenge and needless to say I hopped on to it.

What is the challenge?

The reading challenge is divided in three parts.

1. Commit to read a minimum of 24 books in 2019. (2 books a month – that’s simply doable!)

2. Read a minimum of 12 books based on the prompts given. (Find the prompts on the below link)

3. Review one book a month. (I know, I know – but if you really put your heart into it, it’s not that tough!)

You need not be a blogger to participate to click on this link and join the party.

And paste this badge in the sidebar of your site to help you motivate and let people know you have taken up this challenge.

Write Tribe Reading Challenge 2019