Incognegro

Read the graphic novel Incognegro written by Mat Johnson, illustrated by Warren Pleece. "Incognegro" was a term Mat Johnson had invented for himself during his childhood, as his skin color didn't give any indication that he is an African-American, and he imagined himself taking up secret assignments in disguise, in some earlier timelines. Zane, the hero of Incognegro, too has similar characteristics and hence he is able to freely mingle with white people in heavily racist South states of America in early 20th century. Zane is a reporter by profession and he specifically takes effort to report about the mob lynchings of black people that were happening in those states.

Incognegro narrates one of the adventures of Zane. The illustrations are decent and the dialogues are interesting, but I felt that the story thread was very average. Even though the book is termed as a "graphical mystery", I didn't find the mystery as that much engaging.

Pacha Manja Chuvappu

I have read almost all of TD Ramakrishnan's novels - Alpha, Francis Ittykkora, Sugandhi Enna Andal Devanayaki and Mama Africa, all of which are very engaging novels telling complex stories set in large canvasses spanning multiple geographies and timelines, and often involving many real historical figures appearing in fictitious premises as characters in the novel.

Pacha Manja Chuvappu, his latest novel, has Indian Railways as main point of focus. Since TD Ramakrishnan himself worked as an officer in the Railways, from the name of the book, I was guessing that this novel may be some sort of a Service Story. Indeed, the book includes around 150 page long portion presented as an extract from the diary of a station master in the Railways, which describes the corruption and lethargy in the system and the professional jealousy, attitudes and criminal mindset of some of the employees. However, the rest of the novel follows a pattern similar to the author's earlier novels, involving mystery and investigation.

The novel starts with narrating the events on the last day in the life of Ramachandran, a station master who was held responsible for a train accident that had happened in 1994, and dismissed from his job after the official investigation. 25 years later, the incident is being re-investigated by a group of people whose lives are in some ways connected with the incident (with a bit too many coincidences to digest, though). The book remains well-written and interesting for most of the part, but I felt that the last 100+ pages were rather routine and mediocre affair with a typical good-versus-evil narrative reminding of masala thriller movies and it appeared like written in a rush.

My Husband and Other Animals

My Husband and Other Animals is a collection of around 90 short articles by Janaki Lenin. The articles are all short, mostly just 3-4 pages long, and they are very fast and easy read. Many of the articles narrate the author's amusing experiences while traveling to various parts of the world, many times with her husband, wildlife conservationist Romulus Whitaker. There are many articles that describe her days in their farmhouse adjacent to forests at Chengalpattu, while there are a few general articles on random thoughts, memoirs and tidbits of information on animals and their behavior.

I enjoyed reading this book for the gentle humor that's there in all articles.

Apu Trilogy in Color

I happened to view some Youtube videos where people have used image processing algorithms to colorize Pather Panchali and Apur Sansar. It was interesting to see how the great films would look like in color. The algorithms seem to have done a decent job most of the time, except for some color fluctuations that are continuously seen in objects - especially on dress people wear, whenever they move even slightly. It appeared like the variations in gray tones in the images got incorrectly translated to different color values, which may need more fine tuning. Occasionally some glows are seen in the edges between different colored objects, which was distracting. Still it was amusing to see what Technology can achieve.

We are used to watching the Apu Trilogy in Black and White, and they look amazing as they are. Would Satyajit Ray have used color film if he could afford to do that while making the films in 1950s? Would colors appear as distractions in the narrative, or would they add another dimension to it and the viewer just has to figure it out himself? Apart from the technology aspects and the curiosity associated with that, Is it really a good idea to make colored versions of such all time classics? I think that's a different discussion altogether.

Ya Ilahi Times

Read Ya Ilahi Times, a Malayalam novel written by Anil Devassy. The novel tells the story of Alteb, a Syrian refugee living in Dubai. Through a series of memoirs and messages coming to him, Alteb's past in Syria and the plight of his relatives in various other parts of the World is also described. A few other migrant workers - from Sri Lanka, India and Philippines, also come into Alteb's life and play some important roles.

It is mostly a plain narrative telling the tragic and grim story of the hardships of refugees. It's probably one of the first Malayalam novels to take this up as a main subject, but apart from this aspect I didn't find anything memorable in the book from the perspective of literature or narration style.

Puzhameenukale Kollunna Vidham

Malayalam novel Puzhameenukale Kollunna Vidham published by DC Books looked intriguing from its back-cover description. The murder mystery is written by Benyamin along with twelve other writers. The first chapter is written by Benyamin himself, where he starts the initial thread of the mystery. Following that, the other twelve writers write one chapter each, taking the thread further and adding new perspectives to it. Benyamin has written the concluding chapter trying to connect some of the points from the previous twelve chapters. But that's not all - There is one more chapter, a "police diary", the pages of which are closed together with a sticker, and the readers have to tear off the sticker to read on the final resolution of the mystery!

Though the concept looked interesting, I was disappointed with this book. Benyamin's first chapter was good and it captured my attention. But the subsequent twelve chapters were taking the story here and there randomly and some of the chapters were very dull reads that I had to quickly scroll through them. There was a lack of structural integrity in the story thread which made the whole thing look like a half-baked attempt. It seemed like Benyamin was struggling to somehow tie these twelve chapters in his concluding chapter, as he left some aspects open to interpretation indicating that these could have been dreams or hallucinations. And the so called "sealed chapter" I found as just a gimmick, as it leaves more open questions and by then anyways I was in a state where I was thoroughly bored and had absolutely no interest in knowing the identity of the murderer.

Sareerasaasthram

Benyamin's novel Sareerasaasthram tells the story of four friends living in Delhi. They are youngsters coming from different parts of India, and the connecting link between them is that they are all members of a "Fellowship", an evangelical mission (apparently, two of them had introduced the other two into the Fellowship). The novel starts with describing the death of one of them following a road accident. The narrative interleaves flashback stories and present day incidents to unravel the mysteries surrounding the incident.

Sareerasaasthram is a readable and interesting mystery novel, but it doesn't rise to the levels of Benyamin's earlier mystery thrillers like Manjaveyil Maranangal or Al Arabian Novel Factory (the latter was not exactly a mystery thriller, though). The primary reason is that a reader who has seen any of the numerous Indian movies surrounding organ trafficking (Malayalam films starting from the 1995 Nirnayam to recent Joseph, and several Tamil thrillers in between) and a few on spirituality business (like Trance, for example) would be able to connect the dots and solve the mystery within a few chapters of the novel. While reading the novel, I could almost visualize actor V Jayaprakash in the role of a pious pastor, only to be revealed as the key villain in the climax :) The youngsters in the novel are portrayed as very well-read and intelligent folks, so it looked very silly to see them ask naive questions like "who might be behind all this?" repeatedly even till the last chapter of the book.

Saajan Bakery Since 1962

Malayalam film Saajan Bakery Since 1962 directed by debutant Arun Chandu tells a story of human relationships. There are mainly four characters - Siblings Betsy and Bobin, their uncle, and Merlin, with whom Bobin falls in love, and the story revolves around these four people and Saajan Bakery, the bakery founded by Saajan, father of Betsy and Bobin.

I liked the narration style in the film which has a touch of freshness. There were many scenes which I enjoyed watching - the scene of Bobin's dream in which he sits with a mixer grinder in cinema hall, or the one in which a rival bakery owner is taken to the memories of his childhood days instantaneously after taking a bite of a cream bun (which reminded of a scene from Ratatouille (2007) though) - there were many such examples which I felt had the signature of a talented director. I also liked the way some of the short flashback scenes from Saajan's and his wife's life were interleaved with the present day's scenes in the climax.

Performances by all the actors were good, and I especially liked Lena in the role of Betsy, who I think had the meatiest role in the film.

Burma Chronicles

Read Burma Chronicles, graphic novel by Guy Delisle on his year-long stay in Burma as a "house-dad" cum explorer, when his wife worked for the MSF-France organization there.

Among the four travel related graphic novels by Guy (the other three being Jerusalem, Shenzhen and Pyongyang) I liked this one on Burma the most. The book starts in a very light note, narrating his adventures while adjusting with life in Rangoon, which are very humorous with his trademark funny illustrations. Towards the end, the book goes through more poignant notes, as he describes his interactions with a few old Burmese cartoonists and a few young artists who aspire to enter the field of animation, his visits to some of the remote Northern areas of Burma where people live in perpetual drug addiction, and finally an episode on his 3-day experiment with Vipassana Meditation. It appeared like Guy got more chances to interact with local people and experience the culture in Burma compared to his visits to countries depicted in his other graphic novels, and that added a special extra touch to this book.

I am sad that there are no more travel graphic novels by Guy Delisle to read now. I hope he would some day write a book on India!

Pyongyang

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is a graphic novel by Guy Delisle on his two month stay at Pyongyang, North Korea as a reviewer/supervisor for a French animation studio that had outsourced some of its work to North Korea. The author's stay and activities in the place were fully controlled and monitored by his guide and translators who accompanied him most of the time. They decided on which all places he should visit in the city, under the strictly totalitarian regime. The graphic novel gives a unique glimpse of what it would be like to be a foreigner visiting North Korea.

Guy Delisle's brilliant humor and sarcastic observations on the regime are hilarious. While reading the book, I could not help wondering, like the author, whether the few North Korean people he meets - his guides and translators - really believe in all what they say. Their actions and lives look as if they are all being under an effect of hypnotism by the regime all the time. Though the author is very strong on commenting on the propaganda of the regime which goes to unbelievable extremes, these few Korean acquaintances (like "Captain" Sin, the translator) come out as very likable personalities and we would feel sympathy for them while reading the book.