Friday, June 24, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: June 2016

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Samskara
Author: U.R. Anantha Murthy
Translator: A.K. Ramanujan
via goodreads
I've had this Indian novel on my shelves for 21 years.  I was assigned to read it in college but never did.  I've kept it with me through several moves and a brutal household book purge.  At 138 pages, it never took up much space.  Surely I'd read it one day, finally making my old Eastern Religions prof proud.  It took 21 years.  And now it's done.

So good, too.  Samskara packs a lot of punch into what is really a simple story.  A man, Naranappa, dies and his neighbors are at a loss as to how to properly dispose of the body.  According to Hindu law, he must be cremated.  But who should do the job?  Naranappa is a Brahmin so only another Brahmin can perform the necessary rites.  But Naranappa was not a good Brahmin.  He openly lived with his low caste concubine, Chandri, out of wedlock.  But he was never excommunicated for fear he would convert to Islam, poisoning the entire community beyond repair.  But Chandri offers a heap of gold jewelry to anyone who will claim responsibility and do the deed.  Such a dilemma...

While perspective switches between characters, most of the tale is told through Praneshacharya, the community's religious scholar.  His neighbors come to him for guidance but he is at a loss.  To his credit, though, while the others are motivated by self-interest, Praneshacharya (Acharya for short) genuinely wants to do the right thing.  For this man of pious virtue, life gets complicated when he is unexpectedly confronted with his own humanity.  Everything he has ever understood about himself and his world is thrown into confusion.

Samskara paints a richly detailed picture of India and the important role religion still plays in people's daily lives there.  Interestingly, it is only because of the mention of things like buses, flashlights and the Great Communicator (Nehru) that the story can reliably be placed in the 20th century.  One can easily imagine the same moral dilemmas playing out a thousand years before.

So yes, I finally read it and genuinely enjoyed it.  Prof got the last laugh.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post July's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last  Friday of each month.  Next gathering is July 29th.


20 comments:

  1. Hi, please can you add the link.

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  2. What an interesting concept - I don't know much about the different religions in India so that would broaden my knowledge.

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  3. This sounds interesting. Another good novel that explores religion in India is Manil Suri' "The Death of Vishna"

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  4. I have one of those books from high school, Last of the Mohicans, which I was really enjoying, but we got to the test before I got to the end of the book (but I still aced the test), and I just never got around to finishing it. I've kept it all of these years with every intention of going back to it, yet I never have.

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  5. I must confess that my own prejudice about literature from Eastern Countries has held me back. This sounds like an excellent book. But, it is time to ditch that thought.

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    1. Now that's just silly! Want some recommendations?

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  6. Better late than never, right? I always like books that provide insight into other cultures.

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  7. How fun to check that one off your list. Nothing like a stimulating moral and ethical dilemma. Sounds a bit like the movie, Waking Ned Devine. You ever catch that one?

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    1. I have seen it! Interesting comparison. Ned is a more comical version of a similar story. There are enough connections that I wonder if there was some influence of one on the other. Couldn't find anything.

      We're talking about India so, of course, there is a film version of Samskara, released in 1970. Interestingly, there was a Bollywood film inspired by Waking Ned Devine: Malamaal Weekly, released in 2006.

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  8. I'm going to write my blog tomorrow. :)

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    1. I will head over to check it out shortly.

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  9. I love the fact you held on th it for all these years and you enjoyed
    reading it !

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish

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  10. Well done on finally reading this book! I have heaps on my shelf that have been gathering dust for years. Some I definitely bought during my studies between 1999 - 2002, and still haven't read them.

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    1. It's good to have such books around. It would be a sad day if my TBR shelf should ever be empty.

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