Review: Gun Island

If you want a scathing indictment of the realities of climate change, read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. If you want excellent climate fiction, read Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, or Jemisin’s Hugo-winning Broken Earth trilogy. If you want magical realism done right, read Allende’s The House of the Sprits or Toni Morrison’s Beloved. 

If you want a confused mishmash of a book that could have been so much better, read Gun Island.

The premise of the book is interesting enough – a book dealer tries to get to the bottom of an old Bengali folk tale, and on the way finds his beliefs tested as the world goes to hell in a handbasket, thanks to what is either a series of increasingly unlikely climate-related coincidences or a vengeful Earth wreaking havoc on her tormentors. 

And truly, Gun Island is at its best when it talks about the legend of the Gun Merchant and his travels, and would have been a stellar work of creeping atmospheric horror and magical realism if only Mr Ghosh hadn’t felt the need to frequently bludgeon his audience with heavy-handed examples of the realities of climate change, the terrible fate of migrants to Europe, and the brutality of human smuggling and organ harvesting, to boot. Really, it’s a wonder that this book clocks in at 280 pages rather than thrice that. 

Although it may have been a better book if it had, because as it stands, the plot is paper thin and the characters flatter than the best crepes in Paris. The worst offender by far is the narrator, Deen, who can best be summed up by the fact that he thinks that the fact that he is a rare book dealer is why he is single. Sir. It’s not your job. It is 100% you, because you are a stodgy, stuck-up bloviating old fart who has no business helming a popsicle stand let alone a book. Really, I have no idea what either Cinta or Pia see in you except that you seem to be an authorial stand-in. 

And that is the fundamental problem with Gun Island. Mr Ghosh seems so hellbent on spreading the Gospel Of Climate Change that pretty much everything else – logic, continuity, believability – fly out the window. Add to that that Mr Ghosh seems to be under the mistaken impression that he needs to constantly prove his intelligence, his research chops, and the depth and breadth of his vocabulary, and I soon wished the snake that bit Tipu early on in the book had gotten Deen instead. 

Review: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead




When my mom gave me Lean In as a birthday present, I have to admit, I was a little nonplussed. Lean In was supposed to be for women in the upper echelons of the corporate world who struggled to balance work and family life; how much relevance would it have to a twenty-something creative freelancer with absolutely no interest in either a corner office or the ‘mommy track’?


A lot, to my pleasant surprise. 


For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sheryl Sandberg, she is the COO of Facebook, and her 2010 TED talk, ‘Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders,’ about how women unintentionally hold themselves back at the table, and what they can do to change that, is the basis of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.


Although Sandberg does touch on the endemic institutionalised sexism and discrimination faced by women- a running theme through the book is the Heidi/Howard study, a 2003 Columbia showed that people’s impressions of two entrepreneurs with the exact same qualifications and personal characteristics varied vastly depending on whether they were told that the entrepreneur was male or female- she focuses mostly on the internal barriers holding women back. 


Some of the sections, although excellent advice (Make Your Partner A Real Partner, about splitting childcare responsibilities, and The Myth Of Having It All, about the dangerous, damaging quest to be a perfect mother and a perfect worker) weren’t really relevant to me, but there were two that really resonated- Your Career is a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder, and Are You My Mentor. Sandberg’s advice about there not being one way to the top, and about mentoring and both asking older, senior people for advice and helping others out is worth the price of the book, in my opinion. 


The real value of the book, though, is in the later pages. In one of the strongest sections of the book, she places the burden of achieving equality on the shoulders of both sexes, pointing out that both men and women have an interest in breaking strict gender roles and barriers, both in the workplace and the home. After all, men should no more be penalised for wanting to sit at the kitchen table than women for wanting the corner office.


Lean In is not without its flaws- for one thing- and Sandberg makes this clear in the opening chapters- it is targeted to educated professional women with some amount of privilege, and does not really speak to the needs of working-class women. Second, I wasn’t a fan of the random India-based statistics, since the issues affecting Indian women do not always match those faced by their Western counterparts. Perhaps Sandberg thought to give her book an international flavour, but she would have been better served by omitting it completely.


Finally… those of you expecting Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead to be another Second Sex or Feminine Mystique will be disappointed; it is by no means a feminist manifesto, although Sandberg herself claims the title. What it is is a smart, solid business book that should be read by everyone. 



Book Review: Young Turks

Young Turks by Krishan Partap Singh

So after Chetan Bhagat and Soma Das, I had resolved to never subject myself to Indian popular fiction again. Thanks to the boredom that comes with a rainy day, however, I decided to pick up Young Turks by Krishan Partap Singh, and found myself pleasantly surprised.

Young Turks is the story of two childhood friends, Karan Nehru and Azim Khan, who by some chance of fate and luck end up the two biggest political powers in UP. The book details their enduring friendship- and sometimes the lack of it- as they become more and more embroiled in Indian politics. Sounds Archer-esque? Absolutely. Thankfully, Mr. Singh has also taken a leaf out of Mr. Archer’s book (no pun intended) in terms of readability. Don’t go expecting a literary feast; Mr. Singh’s work is more like a mid-afternoon snack, to be eaten quickly and without fuss.

It’s obvious that Mr. Singh intends the book for a global audience, as evidenced by asides like ‘The IB is India’s internal intelligence agency like the UK’s MI5,’, and two-page explanations of the socio-political climate in India. These inserts, while no doubt well-intentioned, aren’t really necessary for most Indians (or perhaps that is my upper-middle-class-intellectual privilege speaking?) and are remarkably clunky to boot, slowing down an otherwise scorchingly paced book. Mr. Singh would have done better to have omitted them altogether, or, failing that, gotten himself a decent editor.

Still, faults aside, Young Turks is a good book to while away a rainy day with; lucid and decently written, and not too taxing on the brain cells. The Displaced Desi approves.

Book Review: Jack Straight From The Gut

Jack: Straight From The GutI picked this book up from the library because I love biographies and       because I know very little about GE save for that they make eco-friendly lighting.

Jack: Straight From The Gut chronicles Dr. Welch’s life, from his           childhood up until his retirement from GE. It’s not among my favourite books, mostly because (a) it’s geared more toward MBA types than laypeople (b) he’s a little full of himself and (c) the overly detailed golf anecdotes and the near-constant name-dropping got old after a       while.

That said, I did get some good things out of it.

— Passion. Have it, or get out of the business.

— You have to always keep growing. Static companies are failing companies.

— Quality happens when great people are given the freedom to innovate.

— Results matter. Integrity matters even more.

Reading this book taught me a lot about GE, albeit from a rather biased point of view. But it’s interesting that in many companies that are widely recognized as among the best in the world — Apple, GE, Google — it’s focusing on people (whether consumers or employees) that gets the job done.

Overall, I quite liked this book, even it was in rather drastic need of an editor. Not one that’s going in my permanent collection, but an enjoyable read nevertheless.