Book Review : Then the Doorbell Rang by Capri Jalota

Click to buy, or read on Kindle Unlimited.

WHY I READ THE BOOK

I had seen the book on Kindle Unlimited, and dismissed it as – not my type – as I was on a thriller reading spree of late. At this point, I must also admit that I have begun looking at Indian authors with a biased angle. (Judge me for being judgemental all you want!) For this one, I made an exception and read the blurb, and put it on the ‘could be read’ list whenever I felt like reading a non-thriller.

Today, my friend Anita posted a short review about it and the name rang a bell. (Pun very much intended.) As I had just finished the rather long Dead Lawyers Don’t Lie (also a debut, incidentally), I downloaded it immediately.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ THE BOOK

If you are anything like me, you are a cynic when it comes to the quality of writing of the recent crop of debut Indian authors. You do want to read authentic India-based stories but can’t seem to find a lot of read-worthy books.

This one is a welcome addition to the read-worthy section and falls under romance/drama/contemporary fiction genre.

(I should mention that the author Mr. Capri Jalota is a Bahrain based Indian expat, so he can also be termed as a Bahraini author.)

The quality of writing bit sorted, this book is a definite page turner despite not being a suspense novel.

Case in point : I finished it in 4 hours since I downloaded it, today!

If you like the current crop of woman-centric movies in Bollywood (Do I see you cringe at my comparing movies and books? Sorry! Let me give you book examples – All and Nothing by Raksha Bharadia, A Woman of My Age by Nina Bawden), you’ll like this emotional roller-coaster ride that the flawed but gumptious protagonist sets out on.

Top 3 reasons for you to read the book :

1) It is backed by Leadstart Publishing, which has established itself as a publisher of quality books over the last few years.
2) The narration is not pretentious (which is my biggest grudge against many debutants) at any point.
3) The characters and happenings are completely relatable. If you’re tired of reading over-the-top plots which lack believability, then this one is so rooted in ordinary life that you’ll be surprised why you’re wanting to know more about the happenings in such a routine setting.

THE PLOT

The story revolves around the Anglo-Indian lead Jane, who is a highly successful Dubai-based real estate manager plagued by personal issues that threaten to bring a standstill to her ability to handle her job efficiently unless she resolves them. She sets out to find the person who has all the answers that will supposedly help her achieve emotional closure, but ends up in deeper problems due to the decisions she takes during the ‘search’. She tries to bring her life back on track after the unfruitful and disastrous ‘search’ trip and is on the brink of finding love again when things go wrong again.

Utterly dejected and unhopeful, she resolves to put an end to her suffering on the day the whole world celebrates; and then the doorbell rings! It is for you to find out what happens next. Does Jane find solace after all?

 

THE CHARACTERS

Since the characters are the essence of this beautifully written book, I will not go into deeper details of each of their traits. I do want to write about them though, so it would be better if you come back to this section after you read the book.

Jane

You have an Indian Doctor married to a British citizen and Jane is their only offspring. Constantly conflicted about her identity, she decides to identify more with her mother’s side just because she is never introduced formally to her Indian side. She is very decisive, often acting on instinct and regretting in hindsight. She discovers her empathetic side a little later in life when she starts looking at things from others’ perspective.

Uday

You get to know him from Jane’s reminiscing and his own journal entries. I loved how the author gives us the glimpses of a man who cannot give up his past and is trying to come to terms with a life-changing decision he has made under somebody else’s influence while maintaining his basic nature that others define as easy-going and selfless. It is difficult to decide whether you feel sorry for him or hate him outright.

Mahesh (and family)

The quintessentially helpful Marathi manus who has managed to rise to an upper middle-class lifestyle from humble beginnings through sheer hard work. He is a happy family man with a doting wife who singlehandedly brings up their daughters and rightfully nags him sometimes to take out some time for their own selves. The purpose of this whole family is to show what a perfectly happy household looks like (and what life could’ve been for Jane according to her ‘thoughts to self’. I don’t think Jane could have had that life considering the kind of man Uday was.) and how fragile the illusion of the ‘perfectly happy household’ is…

Rahul

He’s apparently a selfless fellow who has dedicated his life to social service. I’d say he’s one of the most selfish people in matters of the heart. He advises his best friend to ‘come out clean’ to his fiancée while he himself doesn’t communicate his reservations for shunning the advances of the girl he loves. The flamboyant techie turned dedicated NGO worker ‘with a heart of gold’ is in fact a manipulator who thinks he knows best when it comes to other people’s romantic choices.

*spoiler alert*

I don’t know why this Rahul reminds me of quite a few leads played by Hrithik Roshan where he romances the heroine for somebody else, falls in love in the process, and then selflessly steps aside because it would be wrong to marry the one who’s claimed by his best friend (or boss). I have no sympathy for such losers. (Sorry for the outburst. The credit for this goes to the author’s incredible character etching.)

*spoiler over*

The supporting characters – Jane’s dad and mom, Mahesh’s wife, their pre-teen and toddler daughters, Jane’s physiotherapist, Jane’s boss, her in-laws, and her dad’s extended family are all expanded just enough to help the reader get to know them and still not get distracted from the main plot.

WRITING STYLE

The language is refined, the flow is smooth, timeframes are defined, and the dialogues are engaging. I found only 1 typo in the book.

Most of the narrative is in flashback, and proceeds from Jane’s point of view. The reader thinks with her, explores with her, contemplates a dilemma with her, and unwittingly and unwillingly flees from conflicting situations with her, and regrets and hopes with her.

Such is the grasp of the author on the subject matter of female emotions that the reader lets go of superficial things like where the story is heading and drifts with the cluelessly or otherwise drifting protagonist.

WHAT I LIKED

  1. There are no black and white characters. Everybody is flawed, and still almost everybody is likeable.
  2. There are no loopholes (good) or loose ends (not that good**). The motives of everyone’s behaviour gets clear towards the end. (There’s a writing rule to let somethings be for the reader to figure out. The author has broken it and the result is actually good. The book offers closure to the reader too along with the lead.)
  3. Thankfully, very thankfully in fact, there are no proofreading mistakes (except one). It makes the book highly readable.
  4. The settings (Dubai, Mumbai, Delhi, Agra, London) and happening are familiar to most readers who’ll pick up this book. It is a real skill to write about fictional people whose life is turned around by real-life mishaps or milestone events.
  5. The conflicts (I get a bit technical here) are well-timed and do not seem forced. It helps that the author seems to have a deep understanding of the psychology of toddlers, pre-teens, middle-aged and old aged people of either gender.

WHAT I DID NOT LIKE

  1. Let’s address the elephant in the room. The book is not lengthy still the narrative goes into too much detail in places.*spoiler alert* Mostly in Uday’s journal and then towards the end of the book. *spoiler over*

    While it is very tempting for the author to put down everything that is unfolding in his mind, it is a harsh fact that readers generally skim over the parts where they think they’ve known everything there is to know on the page at that moment to move forward in their reading; especially in times when the attention span is too low.(Like you – my reader – have probably skipped to point 2 after the bold spoiler alert font. See what I mean? But I am not writing a book, so I can afford ‘skimming readers’ to illustrate a point to the author who will surely read this review. 🙂 )

  2. The book does not wrap up in time.This is slightly different than lengthy detailing. This is where the plot refuses to stop after the end goal of the story is seemingly achieved.(**This happens because the author has broken the writing rule mentioned above.)

    Have you ever watched a movie where you thought it is brilliant in places, dragging in parts, but in the end you’re happy you’ll take back some good memories when suddenly the director inserts a 10-min sequence? Baahubali-2 anyone?

    (I know I am contradicting myself by adding these lines. I seem to be very intent on irritating my readers. Thanks for bearing with me so far. If you’re skimming, all is well.)

IN A NUTSHELL

I enjoyed it because I have lived in Dubai – the place where it all begins and ends. And also because I genuinely liked the narrative voice that is honest. The story shows and doesn’t tell (if you know what I mean). You’ll probably enjoy it for the latter reason.

Pick it up if you’re anybody who reads. Really, this one is not the run of the mill romances, or crusader stories just because it happens to be a woman centric book.

My rating is 4.0 on 5.

(It should be counted as highly biased (in a good way), because I’ve not been reading the real ‘quality’ stuff of late. This is a whiff of fragrance for my mediocrity clogged reading nose. Eww…I know the metaphor stinks! But looks as if I’ve found my writing wit. 😛 So many buts in this post, can you count? )

Day 13 : Book Review – The Peshwa

 

Paperback: 356 pages Publisher: Westland Ltd. (5 January 2016) Language: English ISBN-10: 9385724215 ISBN-13: 978-9385724213
Paperback: 356 pages
Publisher: Westland Ltd. (5 January 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9385724215
ISBN-13: 978-9385724213

WHY I READ THE BOOK

I had applied for a review copy from Writersmelon (they send out a newsletter about books up for review) on finding the book interesting.

The cover is captivating. It lends a mystical air to the Peshwa’s character.

I had read a Gujrati book titled ‘Fadnavisi’ based on Nanasaheb Fadnavis’ life. The Peshwa made a brief appearance in it. I was always curious about him since then. Also, the fact that I have visited Mrityunjayeshwar Mandir (near which Mastani lived), Parvati (which is associated with the Peshwa) and Shaniwar Wada makes it near impossible to miss any literature which claims to narrate the life and times of the Peshwa. Add to all this, I did not quite like the version of the tale as shown in Bajirao-Mastani – so I wanted to know if there really is someone who can tell an authentic tale?

WHY YOU SHOULD READ THE BOOK

If you are a History fan, like the Marathi culture or want to know more about it, and above all else – like to hear a story told like the ones you heard in childhood, this book is for you.

THE BOOK

The book is fast-paced and unputdownable because of the beauty of Ram Sivasankaran‘s language. Marathi warriors speaking chaste English is hard to adapt to at first, but after a few pages, the language barrier no longer applies. It helps if you have read Amish’s books though they are of different genres. I may go as far as saying that that Ram Sivasankaran‘s language surpasses the linguistic quality of the narrative in the Shiva Trilogy by huge margins, because even though he uses English, he keeps the voice archaic and graceful enough to suit the time frame, whereas Amish goes entirely colloquial in his books. (I have no idea why I am comparing the two – apples and oranges. I think it is because I keep on seeing the pinned tweet on Ram Sivasankaran’s Twitter timeline where Amish endorses The Peshwa.)

THE PLOT

It is very difficult to write an oft told story such that it will hold the interest of readers who already know the story as well as those who are new to it. The Author has managed to pull that off by narrating the present day (1800s) events along with flashbacks from the 1700s.

The plot is about how Bajirao I established himself as a warrior Peshwa. His coming of age, his romantic side, and initiation into the office of Peshwa. This book sets the tone for the sequel, which I think is named The Princess of Bundelkhand.

I would not spoil the start and the end for you. So I just say that the start is hair raising, even though you might have heard of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj’s valour time and again.

THE CHARACTERS

*spoiler alert*

Again, in a true historical account, it can be difficult to select characters to expand. The author manages to pick a handful and elaborate only the key influencers in the events.

The Chhatrapati

As we all know Chhatrapati Shahu was a benevolent King, more interested in the upliftment and education of his citizens than waging a territorial war against the Mughals. Ram Sivasankaran’s Chhatrapati comes across as more affable than he might be in real life. However, this brings about the fact that the Confederacy was primarily governed from the seat of the Peshwa rather than the throne of the Chhatrapati, subtly to the front.

The Mughal Emperor

Mentioned only in passing, Ram Sivasankaran succeeds in etching the Mughal Emperor Farookhsiyar’s character – which is in stark contrast to that of the Chhatrapati. Though both have been rendered titular, the Chhatrapati inspires respect for the throne of the Confederacy while the Mughal Emperor denotes instability in the Kingdom.

The Nizam

I like the fact that Ram Sivasankaran gives a humane side to the Nizam, who is otherwise known only for his cunning and ruthlessness. For students who have paid attention to their history classes, the real name of the Nizam will  bring back memories from the syllabus. The Nizam, if I were to speak the language of literature, is a perfect foil for our hero, The Peshwa. His character drills one point deep – loyalty, strength, justness are the qualities of an ideal citizen. A man can be a hero or an anti-hero depending on the side you are viewing the events from. For a Mughal citizen, the Nizam is a hero and a saviour. For the Maratha Confederacy, he is a villain and devil incarnate.

Of course, The Peshwa

The Peshwa’s character has been given a say from his teen years. This lets the reader know how the great Bajirao was conditioned to be a warrior and an able heir to his father’s seat. The reader can see directly into his vulnerability when he is thrown unprepared into an early succession and a full blown battle. Ram Sivasankaran succeeds in giving a likeable hero who matures from a self-doubting young man to a seasoned warrior.

Kashi Bai

Although Ranveer Singh creeped in as The Peshwa, he didn’t as much as Priyanka Chopra did as Kashi Bai, when I was reading the book. The Author has clearly mentioned that he had finished the draft well before the movie came out, but it is difficult to let go of its influence while reading the book. So Kashi for me, was a young Priyanka Chopra (she’s done the role so convincingly in the movie). As far as the narration goes, it is difficult to place her psyche – is she childish? is she well-learned and mature? She seems to show both traits as she dotes on her Rao and defends him vocally in the Royal Court. Well, teenage is such an age, isn’t it?

The Peshwa’s father

Bajirao inherits his statesmanship from his father. The Peshwa, when the book starts, is Balaji Rao, whom Bajirao succeeds. It is inevitable that the biggest influence in Bajirao’s life will be shown larger than life. It is fascinating to read anecdotes about his diplomacy and his conduct with his arch rival (The Nizam, who wasn’t the Nizam yet).

The Confederate Senapati

A traitor who was once a loyal soldier. With Dabhade’s character, the author proves that History can be written as the people in power at that time want it to be written. The Peshwa could very well have made an example of how a traitor can corrupt a whole batch of the army, but he chose to honour his previous valour. A one-off incidence, however grave, could not wipe off the years of selfless service that Dabhade spent with the Confederacy. Loved the whole track!

The Spies

With the Mughals, it was the Order of the Scorpians and with the Marathas, it was well-trained soldiers who doubled up as spies. When this sub-track, which is mentioned more in the offing than as a part of the story, becomes the main track, it hits you – wham! So this is what the author has been doing with the spy track and the flashbacks?! And this has been done so well, in a story already known, that it leaves you wondering – was this part fiction or it really happened?

*spoiler over*

WHAT I LIKED

  1. The oscillation between the flashbacks and the present day.
  2. The book picks an event – the first battle in Bajirao’s life and makes it come alive.
  3. Even a major character like Nanasaheb Fadnavis has been sidelined where it was not needed. This makes the story tightly told.
  4. The pace of the book does not slack for a minute, even with the romantic interludes and the heart-to-heart conversations.
  5. A historical story like this holds interest till the last page. Who would have thought?
  6. The fact that this book is in English, and relies less on local jargon, would make this interesting for readers all over India and even International English readers.

WHAT I DID NOT LIKE

  1. The extra chapter at the end is too fairy-taleish.
    *SPOILER ALERT*
  2. The romance seems too far-fetched to believe. I doubt Kashi Bai’s father and Balaji Rao would be this lenient.
  3. Kashi Bai talking to herself is irritating.
  4. According to me, in royal families, the rooms for the husband and the wife would be different. There would be no ‘their’ chamber.  This seems a factual error. I am not sure…
  5. I thought the emotional scenes too over done. Especially those with the Chhatrapati. Would the Chhatrapati embrace his mother and the Peshwa at once? Never! Would it be acceptable for Kashi Bai to drop a Puja thali to embrace Bajirao? The news would spread like wild-fire! It would be considered a dreadful omen and Kashi Bai would be held responsible for being careless.
    *SPOILER ALERT*

IN A NUTSHELL

I was hoping for a good read and mainly to compare versions with the movie Bajirao Mastani. But this was a complete surprise. The language, the flow and the characters take you into their era and you wake up into reality only when you finish the book.

You can buy the paperback from Amazon or read it for free on Kindle Unlimited.

Reviewer’s rating   3.5/5

Note : I was sent a review copy by Writersmelon. The views are completely unbiased. I would have criticised the book, or not posted a review if I had felt otherwise. I genuinely liked it and I think you would too. Especially tweens.

NaBloPoMo November 2016