A combination of unusual circumstances at work and home ensured there was more writing than reading for me this year. I reviewed some of the books I read besides writing two review essays based on blog posts written over the last decade. Several more — on subjects of caste, Indian politics and Marxism remain to be written.
Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams had been long on my list of to-read books and I finally managed to ‘read’ the audio version, and no disappointments all. Freud makes the book engrossing by including his own and some of his patients’ dreams to illustrate his method of analysis. It is a fascinating subject and helped me immediately to begin interpreting my own dreams using some of the concepts explained in this work. The book is long and sometimes long-winded, not unlike some other works written over a century ago. I was daunted by its sheer size and even though the audio version is lengthy as well, the journey is not without its rewards.
Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup, based on which a film was recently made, is the story of the author who was a free black man in New York until he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the southern state of Georgia. Thanks to a white carpenter who became his friend, Solomon returned to his family after 12 years. The memoir describes in detail his own and the lives of the other slaves. The account is heart-wrenching, particularly when Northup describes how he was beaten for trivial matters and becomes even more heartrending when he talks about being forced to beat other slaves. In one case he had to beat a slave girl so hard that he declined to continue to beat her, following which his master thrashed her so violently that she barely survived and became a silent and sad person for the rest of her life.
The book is one of the few personal accounts of slavery in the United States whose Declaration of Independence in 1776 seemed to mock the millions who continued to live as slaves until slavery was abolished in 1861.
The Accidental Universe was a disappointing treatise on the universe and the human existence. Except for the title chapter, much of the rest of the book was a meandering recant of the author’s views on the meaning of existence, religion and spirituality.
Arthur Koestler’s essays in Yogi and the Commissar were published in 1945, most of them having been written in the preceding years of the Second World War. As someone who has worn his heart on the left for most of his life, reading this book turned out to be amply rewarding. Koestler believes that human history has produced two kinds of responses to its condition. The Yogi believes that change can be brought about only by changing man from within, the revolutionary (or the “Commissar”) believes that it can only be brought about from without.
The French Revolution established the Commissar Age, culminating in the Russian Revolution. It’s failure in the rest of Europe leads Koestler to believe that the pendulum had begun to the swerve towards the Yogic end since the 1930s. He co-relates the perceived change with new developments in physics that is prescient of New Age writers like Fritjof Capra and who became popular during the 1990s, the decade when the great Commissar State of the 20th century — the Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight.
Some of the essays in the collection are clearly dated. The ones that I found the most engaging were in the first section of the book called “Meanderings”, particularly the title essay “Yogi and the Commissar”, “The Reader’s Dilemma” and “The Intelligentsia.”
It is easy to understand why Boris Akunin (The Winter Queen) is a best selling author in post- communist Russia. His key character, Erast Fandorin is young and unburdened by the big questions of life. As a 20-year old sleuth with the Tsarist police, his escapades owe as much to his quick thinking and intelligence as to chance and practical choice. When in a situation from where there is no escape, he does not hesitate to strike a bargain with his captor, Lady Astair, promising not to persecute the remaining members of her cult, in lieu of sparing his life.
I found the book to be an easy and fun read, despite a macabre end.
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz took up a lot of time as reading this meticulously-researched, yet heartbreaking account of injustices inflicted on the indigenous people was difficult.
The Inconvenient Indian and Main Pakistan main Bharat ka jasoos tha (“I was an Indian Spy in Pakistan”) are still not completely finished.
Perhaps a look at “The Year Gone By” in the past ten years is in order.
This year end post, whose title is borrowed from the British TV serial “As Time Goes By”, was intended to sum up what I read during the year, particularly books that I had not been able to review individually.
It was also a reaction to the “Best Books of the Year” published by various newspapers that focus on books published in the year. One does sometimes read books published in the past year, but a lot more of what has been previously published. The dialogue that any reader carries out with books spans years and centuries and isn’t necessarily restricted to books published in the recent past.
Besides books, my year-end posts have occasionally commented on films and contemporary political events. The underlying thread seems to me to be an unrelenting urge to read, and via reading, experience the unknown, travel to lands and times that I haven’t and perhaps never will visit.
A cynical person once asked me, “What is your motivation to read?” I have often speculated on that question, and it seems the closest answer is that I read fiction to understand the world within and non- fiction to understand the world around me.
In the initial years of blogging, it was sheer joy to discover other bloggers with similar interests. Some of them have gone on to become published authors, some gave up blogging on the way, others like me are not so prolific any longer — Twitter and Facebook seem to have become the preferred platforms for many things that one earlier used blogging for.
Blogging, and the annual “The Year Gone By” post still provides me the same satisfaction that it did a decade ago. Like a festival that comes annually, one continues to write here as a ritual and as yet another celebration. Sometimes it seems that the year may not end, and worse, the New Year may not arrive, until I finish writing and publish this “The Year Gone By” post.