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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Fine Web of Suspense

Sunday, December 25, 2005

False Impression
by Jeffrey Archer.
Macmillan. Pages 385. £ 2.99.

It’s not often that one gets an audience with a Lord—Lord Jeffrey Archer to be precise. His reputation is legendary. I have been warned: ‘he has a temper’, ‘he can be nasty’—in short expect the worst. The questions for the (for the TV interview I am meeting him for in Singapore)are to be sent in advance and he won’t get into the bits about his jail term.

So here I am all prepared. He has, unlike some others, willingly made the trip to the studio, instead of asking the cameras to be lugged out. So, that’s the first surprise. When I go out to meet and greet him, he is sweetness personified.

"I am Deepika," I go and he’s "Great to meet you. I’m Jeffrey Archer"—as if the man needs an introduction!

Needless to say, I am stumped….

"Does that mean we can drop the Lord?" I ask, puzzled.

"Of course, we can. Jeffrey’s fine."

It’s a whirlwind promotional book tour he’s making and we’ve just made the start we need. I am almost grinning from ear to ear till he pops the next question:

"You’ve read the book of course."

The book in question being False Impression.

I explained that I only got the proof, which was printed in an unreadable 8-point font. Even with perfect vision, I was almost close to giving up. However, I persisted and just when the story was taking off with the plane crashing into the Twin Towers, an entire chapter disappeared, so I gave up.

The next thing I know is that I’ve been gifted a signed copy by the Lord himself, with a ‘Happy Reading’ etched into it.

With a beginning like that, how can I not get cracking on False Impression? That’s precisely what I did this weekend. It is Archer’s first novel after his (in)famous prison term. Just don’t ask him about it, "read my prison diaries instead—that was a terrible time," he admits.

But I digress; we are here to talk about his latest offering, which is just in time for Christmas, in some parts of the world—a guaranteed way to move up the bestseller charts. It’s often said that no one can weave the web of suspense, deliver a jolt of surprise or teach a lesson in living like Archer.

And he lives up to all of that with another bestselling novel on the cards. It’s one long story, which begins on the night before 9/11. The setting, Archer admits, had made him a bundle of nerves because he wasn’t sure how it would go down. But the publishers loved it and the rest, as they say, is history. The inspiration came from a couple of news reports that he had read that talked about the people who were believed to be dead/presumed missing in the aftermath of the dreadful terror attacks.

Full marks to Archer the storyteller for using that as the backdrop, but not going into the blood and gory of 9/11. We’ve all seen it unfold on the television, print and the net, so it’s time to move on. And the author sums up the pathos of this human tragedy, beyond our imagination brilliantly:

"For the first time, she thought about the firemen who had passed her on the stairwell, and of Tina and Rebecca, who must be dead. It’s only when you know someone that a tragedy becomes more than a news item."

With that solemn remembrance, this action packed thriller that begins in New York, moves to London, Romania, Hong Kong, Tokyo and even Russia.

It’s quite a roller coaster ride that starts when an aristocratic old lady, Lady Victoria Wentworth, is brutally murdered in her mansion outside London. Dr Anna Petrescu, an art expert who works in a bank after being fired from a leading art auction house, knows something is amiss, but she is yet to make the connection between the death and the precious Van Gogh ‘Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear’.

If you are an art lover, in addition to the ride across the world, you will also enjoy all the references to the great masters and their styles that flow seamlessly through the book. There is the FBI, the Interpol, a former lover and a killer on the loose—all the makings of a great adventure, which will keep you at the edge of the seat in addition to keeping you awake through the night. The ‘Master of Thrillers’ is truly back. In addition, if you are looking for a great yarn to end this year or begin another, you definitely couldn’t ask for more.

Friday, December 02, 2005



(Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Translated from Turkish by Maureen Freely. Vintage Books. 2004. Pages 425. Price US $14.95)

Orhan Pamuk is a literary genius, a phenomenon, actually. His books have won several awards. His sixth novel "My Name is Red" walked away with the 2003 Impac Dublin Literary Award, his latest book 'Snow' walked away with the prestigious French Foreign Literature Prize - the Prix Medicis this year. That happens to be yet another useful addition to a long, long list of richly deserved awards. In fact, the New York Times picked it as their 'Best Book of the Year.'

It's a pity I discovered Pamuk's work so late. It was a column in Newsweek, brilliantly written in true Pamuk style that triggered my interest. 'Snow' happened to be my first Pamuk experience, one which marks the deepening of my love of all things Turkish - including the charming evil eye.

Though at the outset, let me admit, 'Snow' is not for the faint-hearted. That's something the novelist clearly states at the start of the book itself. Quoting Stendhal from 'The Charterhouse of Parma' he writes, "We are about to speak of very ugly matters" and politics just happens to be one of them. With that begins an emotionally charged tale with flashes of black comedy that's bound to appeal to readers universally.

This work of fiction, that more often than not, reads like fact turns on the conflict between the forces of 'Westernisation' and the 'Islamists'. It all starts with the soul-searching of a washed up poet, Ka. He returns to Kars, an impoverished city in Anatolia just as a severe snowstorm sets in. This journey marks the beginning of a mystifying journey into the heart and soul of Turkey.

And what a journey it is. The year is 1992 and Ka, the poet returns to the land he grew up in after a long exile in Frankfurt. He makes the journey to the desolate, snow-bound town for two reasons: to track a former lover and to write an investigative newspaper article about the growing number of suicides among young women who have chosen to wear the headscarf.

The narrative unravels slowly, so if you are looking for an action packed adventure, I can tell you it's not for you. For if you are one for metaphors, that swirl through the turbulence of this little town of Turkey, this would be just the book for you.

That's also because at one level, while the book is seemingly obsessed with Ka and Kars, at a deeper level it deal with some of the themes that are constantly addressed in not just Turkey but the broader Middle East as well. There is the way of governance pitting itself against the rise of secular forces, the voice of the youth as opposed to that of the old, the oppressor and the oppressed, the authorities and the uninhibited power that they wield and beyond all of that a look at a way of life that many of us just haven't known before.

It is not just a window to a new land, in a bold voice, rather 'Snow' is above everything a window to the human soul. It scores on both content and style. Little wonder then that, none other than the celebrated Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has called it "essential reading for our times." Need I say more?