Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The crux of the book is the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze who grow up in Nigeria. They fall in love, but their life splits path when Ifemelu gets her student visa and leaves for America. Obinze ends up going to UK and lives the life of an undocumented immigrant.

The powerful parts in the book are the experiences of Ifemelu as a Non-American Black immigrant in America and struggles of Obinze as an undocumented immigrant in London. Ifemelu struggles in finding her way, navigating through the culture in America, while trying not to lose her identity. She starts a blog, writing about her experiences as a non-american black, feeling the weight of her race for the first time, which she didn't have to care about back home in Nigeria. Obinze meanwhile goes through perilous life of an undocumented, in London. The book has many characters across US, UK and Nigeria, adding depth and dimension. 

Ifemelu and Obinze eventually meet back in Nigeria and contemplate a future together, each changed by their own experiences, but still in love with each other.

Adichie's insights and her immense command in putting them to words, unapologetically and genuinely was brilliant. This is probably the most imposing contemporary immigrant story I have read.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Book - Gods, Kings and Slaves: Siege of Madurai by R. Venkatesh

This book is a historical fiction set in 14th century India. The story travels through the lives of Veera Pandyan in the south and of Chand Ram, a boy in northern province of Gujarat under Rai Karan's rule, who ends up an eunuch slave and rises as Malik Kafur, general under Alauddin Khilji, in the north.

It was an interesting read, the narration is short without elaborate descriptions. The story moves quickly through the years spanning the entire life time of Veera Pandyan and Malik Kafur. The author leading the story from the point of view of these two characters, given his account on how their love, tragedy, ambitions and failures led to shape history, highlighting historical events and sprinkling them with myths. As someone who enjoys this genre, I liked the book and it being South Indian history, was added bonus.

The book gives accounts of Alauddin Khilji and Malik Kafur's campaigns in the north and south. It also touches on their crushing the Mangolian invasions in the north. The following are some of their campaigns that are mentioned in the book which paved way for Malik Kafur to reach Madurai.
  • The conquering and plundering of Gujarat in 1299 by Alauddin's generals Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan. (Rai Karan escapes and his wife, Kamala Devi gets abducted)
  • The successful expedition to Deogiri (The Yadavas) in 1305. 
  • The siege of Warangal (The Kakatiyas) in 1311, where Pratap Rudra ultimately surrenders and gives up immense wealth including the famed Koh-i-noor diamond.
  • The fall of Dwarasamudra. The Hoysala King, Veera Ballala, gives up wealth and becomes a vassal.
In the south, after the fall of Chola empire, the Pandyans rule the Tamil country with Madurai as the seat of their power. The Cholas are reduced to vassals, the Hoysalas and Kakatiyas are kept at bay and Cheras are allies. There has been no war for years, having no major enemies, the war tarnished Pandyan empire under Kulasekhara Pandyan enjoys years of peace. Only trying to show their power, by invading parts of Lanka. Civil war brews as Veera Pandyan (the illegitimate older son of Kulasekhara Pandyan) and Sundara Pandyan (the legitimate younger son of Kulasekhara Pandyan) yearn for the throne. The civil war weakens the already complacent Pandyans further and makes way for Malik Kafur to weave through the Pandyan Kingdom using Dwarasamudra as the launch pad. His army traverses through Chidambaram, Srirangam and finally to Madurai plundering the temples on the way.

The book wraps up hurriedly in the end, with more historic accounts on events that followed after the first wave of invasion of Madurai by Malik Kafur in 1311. The Pandyan rule is reduced to shambles by two more waves of assault and leaves Madurai under Delhi Sultanate rule and later under independent Madurai Sultanate rule. In 1372, the Vijayanagar Kingdom led by the couple Kumara Kambana and Gangadevi, sweep the south under their control, which then lasts for three centuries.

I am glad that I read this book before I started reading 'காவல் கோட்டம்' (Kaval Kottam), the Tamil book that won the 'Sahitya Akademi' award in 2011, which picks up from the arrival of Vijayanagar Kingdom, and traverses the history of Madurai, up till the British rule. I have just started reading that book. It is dense and not a light read like this one and understanding this previous history has been enormously helpful.