I've written a post on the movies that I watched while on a career break. Mind you, I didn't just watch movies; I also read a few novels. It's such a pleasure to simply park your bicycle by the river side and read an engaging novel while sipping on a cup of coffee - there's no room for worries! In today's cut-throat, highly competitive and materialistic world, it is indeed a luxury to be able to do this. I consider myself lucky to have done such a thing along Southeast Asia's mighty Mekong River in the summer of 2009.
Here's a brief review on each of the novels that I read during my break:
By Arthur Hailey
The plot revolves around the intricate workings of an American airport operating in the 1970s and the problems caused by the lax security measures. Clearly, the author had researched the workings of an airport before writing this novel. However, in today's post-9/11 world, the details are no longer relevant, but are entertaining to read nonetheless. It was also interesting to read about the promiscuous lifestyle of airline pilots and air-hostesses. This, I'm sure, hasn't changed with time!
By George Orwell
This book is special to me because it's about Burma and I read it while I was in Burma. I probably wouldn't have read it otherwise. A lot of patience is required to read this book due to the incredible amount of detail. The story moves at a slow pace. Everything is described in minute detail. Surprisingly, I did not necessarily mind the details or find it boring. The language is beautiful. For example, I liked how stars were described as hanging lanterns in the sky.
The story takes place at a time when Burma was still a British colony. A word of warning to the reader: this book will make you hate the British! The treatment the British meted out to the "natives" is simply despicable; the British were in the country to rob them. Orwell wrote this book during his extended stay in Burma and is based on his observations and real events. I personally observed many of the customs and traditions that were described in this book (e.g. local people bowing their heads while passing by foreigners).
If it wasn't for an Englishman that I was traveling with in Burma (and many others whom I came across), who were the exact opposite of the British people described in the novel, my image of them would forever have been ruined.
By Arthur Hailey
This novel and Airport are probably the best by this author. The story describes roughly three and a half days of events in an independently-run New Orleans hotel. The inner workings of a major hotel are described in detailed and are fun to read. Everything from the workings of the kitchen, garbage disposal, professional thieves stealing from hotel rooms, managing the whims of VIP guests, prostitution rings operating within the hotel and an impending takeover are described in detail and woven in the plot.
Because the changes in the inner workings of the hospitality industry are less obvious to the casual reader (as opposed to the changes in airport security), I would rate this the best book by Hailey, followed by Airport.
KILL BIN LADEN: A DELTA FORCE COMMANDER'S ACCOUNT OF THE HUNT FOR THE WORLD'S MOST WANTED MAN
By Dalton Fury
This book is clearly written with a Hollywood movie adaptation in mind. The book is about the author's (a retired Commander from the elite Delta Force) experiences in Afghanistan following 9/11. The mission: to kill Osama Bin Laden. It's no secret that they don't succeed in killing Bin Laden, but do manage to kill a large multiple of Afghanis than Americans killed in 9/11 attacks. It seems that the "rules of engagement" allow American soldiers to act like James Bond 007. They pretty much have a license to kill.
In spite of the rigorous training and high-tech weaponry and gadgets, the reader gets the impression that even America's elite Delta Force guys are cowards. The Americans always put their Afghan "allies" on the front-lines to fight al qaeda because it is too dangerous for them. Delta's only job was to radio the enemy co-ordinates to bomber planes who dropped bombs from 20,000 feet. It's no wonder they couldn't get Bin Laden.
The Afghan culture is also interesting. It seems everyone in the country has an AK-47! One thing I didn't like about the book was how the author shamelessly promotes books written by other military guys - book on Delta selection process, book on this Delta mission, book on that Delta mission, book on Navy Seals etc. It seems these people are only in the military to write books!
Don't waste your money and time on this one as we all know the ending even before the starting. Bin Laden is in Pakistan. End of story.
By C. Rajagopalachari
This is probably as good as an English translation of a great Indian epic, originally written in Sanskrit, gets. The language is rich and descriptive, yet easy to understand. The author's analysis of certain events in the epic that may not necessarily make sense to everyone adds meaning and is insightful. The epic quite cleverly and seamlessly integrates everything - politics, drama, family feuds, suspense, love, adventure and war. The lessons learned from this epic are relevant even in the 21st century. It is indeed a masterpiece and should not be seen as a religious text; it is also very entertaining to read. Forget Harry Potter, and get your children a copy of the Mahabharata today!
I never felt that I was reading a poor translation of the original and enjoyed it thoroughly. Highly recommended!
By C. Rajagopalachari
After reading the Mahabharata, I was in love with Rajagopalachari's writing; so I started reading the Ramayana, another great Indian epic. I read most of it while traveling in Laos and Vietnam. It was such a pleasure to read this while sitting along the Mekong River in Laos and sipping on a cup of coffee. Oh, the bygone days...
Like in the Mahabharata, the author's analysis of certain aspects of the story is meaningful and insightful. The author attempts to answers some questions such as why Rama forces Sita to go through agni-pariksha (fire-test) after he rescues her from the clutches of the evil Ravana, or why it is incorrect to assume that Rama, Laxmana and Sita were vegetarians?
Ramayana is a gripping epic story of love, passion, dedication, friendship and dharma. Also highly recommended!
By Arthur Hailey
After Airport and Hotel, I had become a sort of fan of Hailey's books. My expectations from this author were set high. Hailey's books are famous for the detailed research on the industry his novels are based upon. As the name suggests, this book is on Detroit's auto industry, and is not as good as the other two. In spite of the well-researched details of the workings of an auto manufacturing plant - the monotonous jobs of assembly line workers, the stressful job of a plant manager, the criminal rings operating within plants - it fails to capture the reader's attention as much as the other two books did. It's not a bad book on its own, but fails to live up to the standards of Airport and Hotel. Therefore, I would recommend reading this before the other two.