Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book Review: Operation Lipstick by Pia Heikkila

Title: Operation Lipstick
Author: Pia Heikkila
Publisher: Random House India
Pages: 287
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Fiction 
Rating: 6/10
Format: Paperback

I am beginning to conclude that most of the books are good in parts, like this one. There I said it, I liked the book in parts; the second part, that is!

The cover page is tantalizing but it gives the feel of a spy-thriller, which may not be the right words to describe this book. And then the title - ‘Operation Lipstick’- and the by-line ‘mission for Mr Right’ seem more suitable for a chick lit.

In this interview, the author says that ‘she wanted to marry different genres – war writing, chick-lit and adventure’. It may be what some people would like about this book (I gather it has also made to the bestselling titles list for the month) but for me that was the key problem because where the first part was clearly chick-lit, the second part was majorly war journalism.

The protagonist, Anna Sanderson, is a 32 year old war journalist based in Kabul, working for London-based GNN, and in her own words “single and horny beyond belief”. She stays with Tim, her cameraman, who is in his late thirties; and Kim, an Australian print journalist, touching 30. The book begins like a classic chick lit, and for first several pages we follow the protagonist in her never-ending smoke and booze sessions, fantasies or confessions about men she would like to have sex with or have had, and meeting a man of her dreams Mr Delectable, Mark, at unlikeliest of places. Kelly finds out that her boyfriend Rich had been cheating on her, and she decides that this time she would not forgive him, and plans revenge. Anna, Kelly and Tim team up to pursue a big story that involves Rich in arms smuggling. The mission is christened ‘Operation Lipstick’. The mission eventually turns out to be life-threatening for all of them and clearly, much serious than they had imagined.

Anna also explores the barely there possibility of finding true love in war-torn Afghanistan where there are not enough opportunities to meet the right men. But she meets Mark and keeps bumping into him at unexpected places. She finds herself deeply drawn to him and eventually all works out well at the end.

As I mentioned, the first part of the book has a lot on sex which sometimes can make you cringe. Sample these:
“Nothing wrong with a bit of American beefcake after a main course. I was now imagining myself sucking his, what I hoped would be, huge cock.”
“But it seemed clear that I was arousing something else as there was a huge bulge in his jeans.”
But the crown should go to this piece which starts with “I decided to take a walk to think things through”. The next two pages dwell on Anna fantasizing about having sex with two twenty-somethings army men in detail and ends with Anna masturbating.

However, the book has several funny moments too.
“I fiddled with it, and it turned out that the camera was still working. Bloody mobile phones, no good for saving my life, but hey, don’t worry, it can still take scenic pictures en route! The voice recorder was also in good condition – good to record my will, I guess.”
“Stay calm. You have been in worse shit than this. Actually you haven’t. But keep telling yourself that.”
 “He held the rope, while I lowered myself down. The movies never show you how it happens in real life. My getaway wasn't really elegant or Catwoman like. I looked more like a sack of potatoes wobbling on some string.”

There are no detailed characterizations barring Anna’s. We get to know neither Mark nor Kelly or Tim.

Few other things which I would like to highlight:
  • The background or the setting was promising and I loved the part that deals in Anna’s experiences as a war-journalist and her adventures. That part was quite a page-turner.
  • I thought Operation Lipstick did not have a proper closure at the end. In fact, I thought it was preposterous to embark on such a dangerous mission to teach a cheating boyfriend lesson. 
  • The romantic angle between Anna and Mark needed more fleshing out. Mark – her Mr Delectable – kept popping up at every place Anna goes and eventually both proclaim love for each other. Anna, a self-confessed sex-maniac, was in love with this man was hard to digest when all she did was either fantasize about him or his good looks.
  • The angle on Tim was unnecessary.
  • Anna Sanderson’s adventures as a war journalist have potential of developing into series (except for the overdose of sex). The author can still marry the chick lit and war-reporting genres.
All said and done, I think, the author shines in the part where the story dwells into the challenges of war-journalism, adventure and the situation in Afghanistan. I would have loved the book much better if the book stuck to a charming yet gutsy heroine and her adventure in war-reporting.

Note: There are a lot of typo errors too. When you love a book, you overlook a few mistakes here and there, but when you have mixed feelings, such mistakes just become eyesores. Don’t they?

Image source: Amazon

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Book Review: Return To India by Shoba Narayan

Title: Return To India
Author: Shoba Narayan
Publisher: Rain Tree (Rupa Publications)
Pages: 269
Price: Rs 395
Genre: Non Fiction / Memoir
Rating: 9/10
Format: Hardbound

I read Mint Lounge, mostly because I love reading about culture, books, movies, urban life, etc. So I have read and enjoyed Shoba Narayan’s columns. When I first came across this book, I was completely charmed by its cover page. It evokes nostalgia. I noticed the author and the subject of the book, much later. And then, I just had to read it. Thanks to Blogadda, I did not have to wait for too long.

In ‘Return to India’, Shoba Narayan writes about her journey from being a young girl chasing American dream and better opportunities, to a mother caught in an emotional quagmire of how to provide the best of both countries (India and America) to her children. In the author’s words, ‘immigrant dilemma is at the heart of the book’.
The book begins with her pressing desire to escape from India and its many problems, to chase better opportunities in America, to live a better life and to become whatever she chooses to become. She had romantic notions about life and opportunities in America. And the book eventually tells us, they weren’t unfounded. Shoba achieves much more than she ever dreamt of and in fields she would have never explored in India.

However, the book is not so much about whether she gets the kind of opportunities she dreams of, rather it is about finding one’s identity. In that way, it also reminded me about ‘the Namesake’ by Jhumpa Lahiri. When she talks about her younger self, cajoling and convincing her parents and family to let her go abroad, she could be anyone of us. It mirrors the life of so many young people who leave their homes for education and better opportunities, whether for a different city or a different country [as she also mentions in the Prologue]. The angst of a parent is the same. The underlying fear that the child would never return, is the same.

America never fails her, with its wonderful people, myriad of opportunities, and a great lifestyle. For the 15 years of her life in America, first single and later married, she is never bothered by the weighty questions of identity and roots, culture and family. Only when she becomes a mother, she dreams of providing her daughter with the same kind of loving environment, familiar surroundings, loving grandparents, fussing relatives, as she had experienced while growing up. In India, people go out of their way to help relatives and friends even if it meant inconvenience for them. That is how we are raised and that is how we become.

Though she considered herself modern and adventurous, Shoba surprises herself by agreeing for arranged marriage. And later, as a mother, she is always consumed by thoughts of how to keep her children rooted in Indian culture while living in America. Life comes a full circle for her when she feels a similar kind of angst like her mother on the question of whether she would be okay if her daughter chooses to marry an American. She discovers that actually under the surface, she was quite traditional.

I loved the book. The author has a fresh voice, and her writing style is witty, particularly in the first half. She is a natural writer and draws the reader to the story well, never losing his attention. Although I did find the part on her dilemma of returning to India a bit long drawn but may be it actually was. Such decisions are not easy. For quite a long time, she goes back and forth on her decision, even till the last moment. The various conversations are interesting. Towards the first half of the book, she is particularly charming, adventurous and exciting, while toward the ending, perhaps because of the dilemma she was in, there is restlessness.

But all said and done, it is a fabulous book. There is something to which every reader would relate to whether it is the dreamy-eyed young girl or dynamic woman chasing opportunities, young students leaving home for education or those in 20s-and early 30s driven by ambition and passion, angst of a mother or the many challenges of parenthood! . Participate now to get free books!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Image source: Amazon