Never judge a book by its first 100 pages


The opening line of Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the most exquisite sentence I have read. It’s magical in a way only Roy’s sentences can be. She writes:

At magic hour, when the sun is gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke.


But from there it kind of goes downhill. Anjum and her troupe don’t seem real enough. The old Delhi, meanwhile, feels too real, with sentences so edgy that you could feel them scrap against your hand if you tried. I find it trite, even unimaginative, which is a rather peculiar word to use for anything that Roy writes.

It lasts until around 100 pages. And then the book transforms itself. The Landowner enters the picture. And Tilo comes on board. Suddenly, Roy is talking not about old Delhi but people like Tilo and Musa, and it is with these fictional people, no doubt more familiar to her than Anjum and others, that she again writes the exquisite lines only she can write. These lines may occasionally pay the homage to that world of Macondo but they are characteristically Roy.

Just like the God of Small Things, the Ministry of Utmost Happiness is not an easy read. And it seems that it might have been quite difficult to write for Roy because it is a very political book, talking of the time and moments about which she obviously feels strongly. Yet, such is her mastery that her fury rarely breaks the surface that her words cast. She constructs her characters with a tenderness that makes this an achingly beautiful book about people, a few extraordinary and a few ordinary people. And then there are the lines like this:

The steel bubble floated on, past shanty towns and industrial swamps where the air was a pale mauve haze, past railway tracks packed thick with trash and lined with slums. Finally they arrived at their destination. The Edge. Where the countryside was trying, quickly, clumsily and tragically, to turn itself into the city.

Beautiful. And a proof that Roy, when she gets going, writes some of the best lines among contemporary writers.

Never judge a book by its first 100 pages


Kazuo Ishiguro writes in the Remains of the Day:

Perhaps it is indeed time I began to look at this whole matter of bantering more enthusiastically. After all, when one thinks about it, it is not such a foolish thing to indulge in – particularly if it is the case that in bantering lies the key to human warmth.



Homo Deus vs Homo Sapiens

Homo Deus

Homo Sapiens A Brief History was more of a pop culture summary of humans so far. But the Homo Deus by Yuval Harari is a different beast. It is more interesting, although with the same sweeping generalisations. It feels closer, more insightful, also in parts because I read it without the 20:20 hindsight that accompanies the books on history. This one is about future. And not necessarily a glorious future that awaits humans. It’s about the future where algorithms are going to rule.

In the twenty-first century we might witness the creation of a massive new unworking class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society. This ‘useless class’ will not be merely unemployed – it will be unemployable.

Homo Deus vs Homo Sapiens

From The Sense of an Ending

The best books are the ones that are bite-size, the books that can be crunched through in one sitting. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is one such book. And it helps that Barnes has written it with some love. A few lines:

Because just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood. So does life. Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

From The Sense of an Ending

From Kafka On The Shore

And Haruki Murakami turns the Greek tragedy upside down.

And the sense of tragedy – according to Aristotle – comes, ironically enough, not from the protagonist’s weak points but from his good qualities. Do you know what I’m getting at? People are driven into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues… Oedipus is drawn into tragedy not because of laziness or stupidity, but because of his courage and honesty.


J M Coetzee at his raw best

From Waiting For The Barbarians.

My torturers were not interested in degrees of pain. They were interested only in demonstrating to me what it meant to live in a body, as a body, a body which can entertain notions of justice only as long as it is whole and well, which very soon forgets them when its head is gripped and a pipe is pushed down its gullet and pints of salt water are poured into it… They came to my cell to show me the meaning of humanity, and in the space of an hour they showed me a great deal