Friday, January 20, 2012

Review of Dork: The Incredible Adventures Of Robin 'Einstein' Varghese

Author : Sidin Vadakut,  a former management consulting guy from IIMA,turned writer.The author has an interesting humorous blog called  Domain Maximuswhich you might like to check out.
Genre: satire
Themes: office culture,IIM,management consulting,mallu networking,dorks
Formats available: Paperback
My Rating: 3.5/5

I picked up Dork for some light holiday reading during my trip to YelagiriIt turned out to be a good random pick,and I spent  an enjoyable evening with this book,sitting on my park swing in Zeenat Taj Resorts in Yelagiri.

Robin 'Einstein' Varghese is a naive graduate from IIM A,who joins this mid-market  management consulting firm called Dufresne. The book follows his  comic misadventures at the firm,while he tries to learn management consulting  and make Senior Associate within the same year. 

Einstein is an obvious caricature,a naive and blundering mallu guy  who believes that companies completely follow the rules in their manifestos. But he's endearing,and I think some of the author's sympathies lie with the character,despite the many jokes made at his expense.The full force of the author's  rage and sarcasm actually falls on the myriad smaller smaller characters -the ego-centric boss,the ass kissing colleague,the supercilious colleague and on the generally incompetent and un-ethical ways that management consulting business is run at some companies.

There is also an amusing one-sided romance with Gowri,a former classmate from IIM,who surprisingly doesn't screw over 'Einstein' like I expected her to do.

This book is a marriage of sorts with Dilbert,satire and Indian corporate office culture.I enjoyed  the many jokes in this book(especially Einstein's  adventures which end up as viral videos),and also felt the full force of Sidin' s  harsh critism of his former colleagues and they way they managed their client's interests.

Intrigued enough to want to read the sequel 'God Save the Dork' and the next.Apparently this is a trilogy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review of ‘The Hunger Games’ Trilogy

Books: The Hunger Games,Catching Fire,MockingJay
Genre: Young Adult fiction
Themes: reality television, love triangle,poverty,war,self-preservation,alpha heroine
Formats available: Paperback,Hardcover,audiobook,ebook,kindle editions
My Rating: 4/5

I always consciously try to prevent myself from reading a book from a book series.
I normally read books from start to scratch in a go, filled with an obsessive need to know the ending.  So if I end up getting hooked on a series like I did with Harry Potter, I remain in that state of single-minded desperation, till I manage to read the complete series. And, that’s exactly what happened to me with ‘The Hunger Games’, but in this case it was totally worth it.

The books are set in the future in the nation of ‘Panem’, where the controlling district ‘The Capitol’ enslaves the remaining twelve districts and suppresses dissent with an iron hand. The districts rebelled against the Capitol several years ago, and lost the war. As a punishment, every year each district has to send in two children by a system of lottery, between the ages of twelve and eighteen to fight to death in a  survival skills based reality show called’ The Hunger Games’. This cruel ‘reality show’ is the highlight of year for the Capitol citizens, who cheer and send in gifts for their favorite tributes.

Enter our very own kickass alpha heroine – Katniss Everdeen from District 12. She’s tough, manipulative and no stranger to hardship, poverty and the struggle for survival. She’s no passive Bella Swan*, and is used to being the sole provider in her family. And right from the age of twelve, when her father died in a coal mine explosion. An expert with a bow and arrow, she hunts and kills animals for money, with her friend and hunting partner Gale Hawthorne.

In Book 1 “The Hunger Games’ Katniss volunteers in place of her younger sister Prim for the games. Peeta Mellark (an obvious reference to ‘pita’ bread), the other tribute from her district is a baker’s son, physically strong and courageous, but not really used to hunger and poverty like Katniss is. And he’s also been in love with Katniss right from childhood, though she’s unaware of this. Peeta declares his love for Katniss in front of the Capitol audience, and she goes along with it, thinking it’s a ploy for audience approval. It ends up being successful, and Peeta and her end up being the final two survivors in the game. In a calculated move, Katniss suggests that they both commit suicide together. She realizes there must at least be one surviving winner as per the rules, and the Gamemakers would be forced to intervene. Her ultimatum forces the Gamemakers to declare them both winners. She eventually discovers that Peeta was not faking being in love with her, and he ends ups being hurt when he discovers Katniss had just been pretending. This book is definitely the best book in the series, which will have you cheering for Katniss as she clears the obstacles in the hunger games and wins over her opponents with a good amount of violence and skill.

In Book 2 ‘Catching Fire’ Katniss faces the repercussions of her act of dissent in the Hunger Games. Some of the districts have started rebelling against the Capitol emboldened by her defiance. She is warned by the psychopathic Capitol President Coriolanus Snow to keep up the star crossed lovers act, so that the act can be passed off as the act of a lovesick girl. Peeta and Katniss are forced back into the arena for a special edition of the Hunger Games, where they have to compete with other past winners. The love triangle between Peeta, Katniss and Gale is a predominant theme in the series. Katniss identifies more with Gale, since he is similar to her, and is used to hardship like she is. But her need for Peeta’s gentle comfort intensify in this book, leaving her confused and vulnerable. Peeta and Katniss survive the games, by teaming up with the other tributes. But Peeta gets captured by the Capitol, while Katniss and her family get transported by the rebel alliance to District 13, the district that was supposedly destroyed during the district wars with the Capitol.

In 'Mockingjay', the third and final book, the districts' rebellion against the Capitol is up in a full swing, with Katniss being the symbolic ‘Mockingjay’ of the rebellion. She struggles with being a rebel propaganda symbol, similar to Harry Potter* struggle with being ‘The boy who lived’ and ‘The boy with the scar’. She’s also troubled by the fact, that there are lots of similarities between the Capitol and District 13, with the ruthlessness and element of control. Gale, her love interest and former hunting partner fits in well though, and identifies with ‘the end justifies the means’ philosophy that runs in District 13, which troubles Katniss a lot.Peeta ends up being rescued by the rebel alliance, but he’s been brainwashed against Katniss and tries to kill her.
Eventually a group including Katniss, Gale, and a still somewhat unstable Peeta go off on their own on a mission to assassinate President Snow. Before the mission is completed, Prim is killed in a bombing targeting Capitol children and rebel rescuers. A captive Snow tells Katniss that Coin, the president of District 13, was behind the bombing, which she initially doesn’t believe. When asked to carry out Snow's execution, Katniss kills Coin instead, realizing that she is identical to Snow, and Snow was telling the truth. Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch eventually return to a ruined District 12 after Katniss is exonerated of the death of Coin, on account of her mental instability. Katniss slowly begins to recover from her many mental scars. Katniss' mother and Gale both take jobs in different districts, wanting to forget and move on. Katniss eventually realizes that she loves Peeta, marries him, needing his gentleness and love, and not Gale’s fire and need for revenge, so similar to her own personality.

The most fascinating part of the Hunger games is the way the fights in the arena are described, with an almost poetic description of violence and bloodshed. The overdose of violence is surprisingly matched with a minimal amount of physical affection. Katniss shares only a few innocent kisses and hugs with either Peeta or Gale, and even those seem almost ‘brotherly’. :)

Peeta Mellark is an obvious beta hero while Gale Hawthorne is an alpha hero, like Katniss. However Peeta is obviously more likeable and totally in love with our heroine, and I could understand why Katniss eventually falls for him. Gale and Peeta are not totally fleshed out characters, but Katniss more than makes up for them. Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor is my second favorite character in the series.  He’s flawed and ruthless, but he has his heart in the right place. Sarcastic, manipulative and a compulsive alcoholic, he’s a master strategizer who actually identifies with Katniss, and tries his maximum to keep her alive in the games. Katniss herself is definitely a role model for teen audience she’s aimed at, with her self-reliance and strength. But just like any other girl, she has her moments of vulnerability and confusion, despite the backdrop of war. Katniss matures through the series with the books growing darker, a strong heroine who has the capacity to inspire Harry Potter like/Lizbeth Salander* like fan craziness.

* References to Bella Swan, female protagonist from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series
* References to Harry Potter, male protagonist of J.K Rowling popular fantasy series.
* References to Lizbeth Salander, female super heroine of Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon tattoo’ series.

Love,Romance and Heartbreak in two movies

I'm not really sure under what category this article really falls under. I've just tried to put into the words,the ramblings of my mind after watching two movies. Two slightly bittersweet romantic comedies - 'He's Just Not That Into You' and '500 Days of Summer’, which have a slight common thread running between them.

He's Just Not That Into You' has nine characters and deals with their romantic troubles. I’m going to skip all of them except for the central character Gigi. You may ask why. I guess she's the only one who captured my interest.Gigi has a long history of mis-interpreting signals from the men she dates. Any casual act by one of her love interests  always sends her into fits of obsessing over if this means  that they're interested in her. She meets Alex, a canny bar-manager, who is able to point out all her past mistakes of mis-reading signals. He tells her that if a guy is really interested in a woman, he would make no excuses and would definitely pursue her. It’s when he isn't, that he offers lame excuses. She starts following his advice, but also ends up falling for him. When he learns of her interest, he tells her that he is not interested in her, and that she has ended up misreading his motives once again.

I guess this movie just set me off to think a bit. I guess I'm addressing this question to everybody. How many times have you done this? Misunderstood some casual expression of interest by your crush/love interest and ended up obsessing over it. Will he ever call? Because she smiled at me, does this mean she interested in me? And the best part is, we end up discussing this with our friends, who confuse us even further. They assure us that our assumptions are true, and throw in a few stories where some similar couple got together. Rarely, would your friends(or in many cases. ourselves) be willing to point out the bald truth that 'He Just Not That Into You’. Isn’t it just as important to admit to yourself when your love interest is not interested in you, as it is to get the inkling that somebody is falling for you?
'500 Days of Summer' declares that it's a 'boy meets girl story’. But it adds a warning 'That this is no love story'. Tom, a writer in a greeting card company falls heavily for his  beautiful and quirky co-worker Summer. They start getting romantically involved with each other, despite Summer warning Tom that she does not want a serious relationship and does not believe in love. Summer splits up with Tom eventually. This sends Tom in a sinking depression and he is desperate to get her back. He meets Summer some days later at a friend's wedding party and she invites him to a party at her house. Tom has a lot of expectations from this invite, as he thinks the romance is getting re-kindled. At Summer's party however, he discovers that Summer is engaged to be married. He runs out of the party and enters into a deep depression. He eventually recovers, and meets Summer a few weeks later. She explain that she had  unexpectedly ended up falling in love with somebody. And that she actually now believed in love. She had just been too unsure of her feelings when she had been with him, to return his love. Tom accepts this, and moves on with his life.

There comes a point in many relationships, where things may start to cool off .One person might not be into the relationship, while the other could be. And sometimes relationships just end up dying a natural death, without any big event to cause the breakup. Beautiful while they last, but with an expiry date nevertheless. In today's lingo, this translates to a facebook relationship status of 'It's complicated'.

So why do you think people still want to fall in love? Well, I think because it's an amazing feeling. Nothing else can really compare to it. And, that's perfectly OK in my book. Because making a fool of yourself over love, is just one of the paths to self-discovery. If you don't let yourself ever take risks, what kind of  a life would you ever have? Safe and boring. That will definitely stop appealing to you at some time in your life. So what am I really rambling about. Well. ..Go and fall in love ...experience it's magic. It’s alright to get your heart broken. You can pick yourself up and heal again.If he/she's not into you? Well…just try again :)

P.S: In case you wanted to know. Gigi and Alex get together finally. Alex realizes he loves her, after she rejects him. Dumb ending in my opinion.