Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review - All And Nothing by Raksha Bharadia

In my book, it’s a good sign if a book gets me engaged enough to finish it in one reading. It is not the only parameter of course and not necessary either for a book to be good. But if it has managed to make me finish it off in one reading, it’s a good sign.

All And Nothing did that. 6 hours and I kept flipping the pages. Every chance I could get in office and then at one stretch once back home. I could not put the book down! And what a worthwhile 6 hours they were! For more reasons than one.

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Let’s give you the blurb just to warm things up here:

All and Nothing tells the tale of five individuals. Tina is a talented artist, desperately in love with Aditya. But he cannot let go of his past. Their marriage sours and Tina teeters on the edge. Kriya is a fashion designer, chic and successful – but tormented; Poorvi, is a socialite and feminist – but discontented; Manas is a struggling copy writer, besotted with Gayatri – but plagued; Upasna is a willing victim of domestic violence.

Then one day, Tina summons her friends to share their stories from the beginning.

All and Nothing is a story of relationships. And scorn as we may at the word and its complications as much as we like, we cannot deny that they are the core of our lives. The foundation that defines our personality, our character. Some relationships go to the extent of defining our dynamics in many other relationships. Such is their power and presence. And the way Raksha has used this premise to weave five beautiful stories together is commendable. The fabric of her book is just as complex yet beautiful as relationships themselves.

There are these five individuals with five different backgrounds and moving in five different directions. Yet there lives are tied somehow. And that knot is where Raksha’s book remains, giving us a glimpse of the universes that lie behind or beyond. But each of them stuck in the present and unable to move forward.

A man who’s most cherished relationship in life was destroyed and who walks with its shadow every minute, his wife who can never become the body that casts that shadow; how they will never meet in the middle. A woman walking in the shadow of her father’s fame and never being able to cast the same shadow due to a lack of talent that she, and worse her father, is painfully aware of; how it makes a monster out of her. A woman disillusioned with her wealth but unable to crossover the class divide, her struggle for status in her then chosen life and the issue of female foeticide. A relationship that is struggling with the threats that marriage brings along; how its strength is tested. A woman lying to herself that all’s well with her world even as she hides bruises and black eyes; how she has an epiphany and finds her voice. All and Nothing is a story of all these and more.

What is beautiful about the book is that despite having a few social issues as inseparable parts of some of her characters, the issues never ever become bigger than the story. The people remain real and the story immensely realistic and possible so that the reader’s primary concern is always the character – Will he be ok? Will she go through with this? Yet, the reader cannot but think about his stand on these issues, just so he can side better with the characters. That’s good storytelling at work.

The language used throughout remains simple. Notice the use of simple and not shabby/incorrect/callous like most books in the Indian Fiction sport these days. It was delightful to read an Indian author who’s managed to keep her book simple to read and yet one that upholds the dignity of the English language, and one with influence from Bengal at that! There is some use of vernacular (not restricted to Hindi) which I thought wasn’t exactly necessary to bring in a bigger connect. It doesn’t hurt exactly but somehow for me it didn’t flow either. But it doesn’t come in the way. I could continue with the pace I had picked up and get back right into the story. 

The characters have been sketched well and the structure adopted for narration was quite interesting. The back and forth between the past, present and the future is done without letting the reader feel the shift. If I were to draw an analogy I would pick the hourglass – the five seemingly individual stories, like scattered grains of sand, start to slide towards each other rapidly until they all reach a bottleneck of sorts and meet, almost stopping for a bit before picking pace again and going their own way, beginning to look disconnected again. Indeed, the pace of the book is rapid in the first two parts; you’re almost racing on until the third part when it comes to a standstill and only a day transpires. Medium pace resumes in the last part as the author sets out to provide appropriate closure to each person. But at no point does the book let you go.

Raksha has a gift for narration and good description, almost to the point of getting into so much detail that you start thinking she has forgotten the book and has started talking about that event alone; but she catches you at that exact moment, zooms right back out to the story and you see the relevance of it all. I really liked that about the book.

I can’t really point out too many negatives about the book except for one or two technical details here or there ( the first light of the morning sun bathed the Gateway and the statelt façade of the Taj…I can’t imagine the façade of the Taj on the West Coast being bathed by morning sunlight…I could be wrong but that’s all I can think of when I read this and reading is all about imagination). Raksha seems to have chosen her settings very carefully - Kolkata, Mumbai, Kathak…things she is more than familiar with and hence cannot go wrong with. Overall the impression that this book leaves on the mind is very positive.

My only concern is that such a beautiful book that brings out the psychological ramifications of relationships so well as to seem the work of a psychologist or someone who’s observed people a lot, might just be lost in the high quantity-low quality Indian Fiction section (the mass category) and not get its due. God forbid if that happens, this will go down as one of the most underrated works of our times for sure.

5 Thinkers Pondered:

Urmi Pakalpati said...

Beautifully written, Anupama ...
I just finished reading the book myself ... amidst all the chaos going on in my life at the moment.
And as Raksha had very rightly pointed out, i was able to identify with most of the characters. Of course, i have let her know as well ... there was something strikingly similar in the story which happened to me as well ... & the funny thing is that i've never met Raksha before ... strange quirk of fate or coincidence ... it also seems to me that all of us were meant to come together that evening ... Lets hook up soon!! How about doing a book review on 'All & Nothing' ... Get a few people together & lets discuss the book & our lives !!

Anupama said...

Hey Urmi!

Thank you so much for the warm words :) I, too, felt that I had seen streaks of those characters in people around me more often than I was willing to admit...and I loved the way it was all weaved together. It was such a serendipitous evening, frankly...I am glad I came by...let us meet soon for sure :)

Looking forward to catching up!

Mandar K said...

Well, must say , u hv written like a pro (Critic/Reviewer) ....
Congrats for that !! :)
The analogy with Hourglass is really cool..
Well done..Keep the passion for writing going..

Suja said...

Anupama a well written review of a very well-written book. I loved the book too and couldn't put it down until I finished reading it. A realistic portrayal of all the characters in there. Life size!

BTW it was great meeting you there and connecting!


bhawna said...

Hey Anupama
though the review of the book is quite satisfying but don't you think the story is just any other read by another new breed indian writer?...i find every new book by these authors written on the same movie screenplay formula. put some light on the matter.
i also write a blog