Book Review – Last Train To Istanbul

Last Train to IstanbulLast Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picked up this book last year with the intention of exploring stories from the Middle East and European regions. The title sold me since I have been somewhat fascinated by the country of Turkey. And the backdrop of the second world war was an added bonus.

The story primarily revolves around two sisters, Sabiha and Selva and their families during the German occupation of France in the second world war. Sabiha is the wife of a Turkish diplomat living in the Turkish capital city of Ankara while Selva is living with her Jewish husband in Paris.

Separated due to a past and by conflicting national boundaries the eponymous train seems to be the only chance of the sisters and the families of reuniting and reconciling their differences. The train also provides hopes for many Jews trapped in German occupied France to return to neutral nation of Turkey and beyond to the promised land.

Apart from the poignant tale of the two sisters and their families, the book also touches a lot on the geo-political situation of the region during WW II. Turkey’s diplomatic situation with the allies and the Axis powers is well explained and that too on a un-boring fashion. We are introduced to a few other secondary characters that aren’t all that important( or required in some instances) but I presume these were fashioned out of the true accounts of Jewish people who undertook this arduous and treacherous journey from France to Turkey via German and German occupied nations.

The writing is very fluid and simple with each chapter flowing effortlessly. I found myself gobbling up numerous chapters in single sittings (A major achievement for me!!) Perhaps it’s the fact that the book is translated to English from Turkish and maybe some of the more “purple prose” passages got trimmed down.

At around 360 pages this is a short read and good one too. The only complaint I would state is the length being a tad too short for the scope of the story that is being told. Especially with the myriad characters that get introduced throughout the book. But the last chapter somewhat makes up for that with a rather touching revelation.

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Book Review – Shantaram

ShantaramShantaram by Gregory David Roberts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Almost everyone I know has read this book. And their reviews have been unanimously positive. Suffice to say that was enough to get me to read this pseudo-autobiographical account of an escaped Australian convict who called India (and specifically Bombay) his home.

Our protagonist (for lack of a better word), Lin, is on the run from the local authorities back home in the land down under and is just arriving at the Bombay International Airport in the early 80s as the story begins. From there begins his humorous, at times bizarre, uncanny and ultimately spiritual journey through Bombay, India and beyond.

Lin’s journey, as penned in the book, spans five parts with forty-two chapters across the slums of Bombay, a village in Maharashtra, shady hotels in Africa, the mountains of Afghanistan and finally comes full circle to an enlightened end at the slums. The experiences he narrates are often interlaced with philosophical teachings as well personal observational conclusions which at times do sound kinda as though he’s some sort of Guru. But if you remove the prejudicial thought from your mind, the experiences do provide some truly pearls of wisdom.

The author bases the anecdotes and stories based on personal experiences and his knowledge of the land is undeniably first hand. One of the elements of the book that really made me re-read certain chapters was the brilliantly detailed description of the geography of my home town of Bombay (Mumbai if you want to sound politically correct!)

Another aspect of the book that made it entertaining (and also run over 900 pages) was the author’s attempt to vividly describe every single character, minor or major, on every page. Barring a few descriptions that were completely uncalled for, this approach does provide a great visual interpretation of the characters you are reading.

At 933 pages, this is no simple read and took me a good amount of time to complete (but then I’m a slow reader!). But the long reading journey will reward you with the experience of an absolutely unprecedented journey into the life of Linbaba aka Shantaram. And who knows, his journey may inspire you to embark on one of your own!

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Book Review – The Wolf Of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall StreetThe Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


The book starts off like a Hollywood screenplay and does hold some promise in the first few pages. Alas this isn’t a book about Wall Street! What ensues is a repetition of a series of anecdotes about drugs, hookers and illegal money making schemes of a rather dysfunctional individual.

This is an autobiographical account of trader from the late 80s early 90s yuppie generation who believed the world was his playground and anything that made him more money and brought him pleasure was his for the taking. It’s a rather comical account of his life with some truly bizarre incidents that sound that they were totally written for a movie.

There are a few chapters that deal with really gritty financial dealings and probably only those well acquainted with that world would truly appreciate them. Yep, I did enjoy those portions of the book!

The author obviously is recounting his glory days which he later admits weren’t his noblest. Nonetheless the absolutely insane shenanigans and over the top experiences of the protagonist are kinda too much to handle.

The last few chapters provide a tad relief from the drug infused lifestyle of the protagonist, but not enough to rid you off the sour taste of the remaining book.

I chose to read this book after catching the trailer of the Martin Scorsese movie adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio. So obviously I pictured the talented actor as I was reading this book. However there are a number of chapters in the book where I find it hard to visualise Leo enacting them on screen, but then again he’s a great actor, so who knows!

Overall, I’m kinda disappointed with the book and wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re in the mood to learn how different drugs (prescription or otherwise) can be combined in a perfect balance while you are being given a blow job by a set of high priced hookers aboard a private jet headed to Zurich. On second thought, maybe you’d like reading about that kind of stuff!

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Book Review – Death On A High Floor

Death On a High FloorDeath On a High Floor by Charles Rosenberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Legal thrillers are my most cherished literary genre. You could blame John Grisham for that since my first real tryst with reading novels (yes I started quite late!) was with his brilliantly awesome books, the earlier, better ones. Not only did his stories whet my appetite for reading more books but also help define the legal thriller genre for me.

When I read the reviews for this particular title, the fact that it was penned by a former attorney and legal consultant to many legal TV dramas instantaneously sealed the deal for me!

The basic plot centers around, well, a death that takes place on the high floors of a reputable Los Angeles based law firm. The death is soon categorized as a murder and the story follows (or rather is narrated by) the senior partner at the law firm who becomes the prime suspect for the said murder.

Although our senior protagonist is a person of interest, there are numerous possible suspects and the narrator’s personal investigations and thoughts tend to point the needle on the guilty compass, rather convincingly, to a few of them. Among them are other senior members of the law firm, present and retired as well as the victim’s former lover! Throw in a counterfeit (potentially) ancient coin in the middle and the story also has something for fellow Numismatics

The first person narrative was quite refreshing and felt very comfortable (since I’ve kinda gotten used to that format reading GRRM’s A Song Of Ice And Fire Series). That, the author has been a consultant to prime time legal TV dramas is quite evident in the dialogues between the characters in the story. And this is a good thing since it keeps the story quite engaging even when legal jargon is being jutted out in huge blocks.

The plot, environment and characters are, or at least have been penned, in a way that makes them very lucid and realistic further enabling you to truly get absorbed into the story. The author cleverly peppers subtle breadcrumbs for a sleuth-in-training to begin piecing the puzzle together and derive at a conclusion on his own. Fret not, for if you’re without a background in investigatory studies because the plot is demystified and you do learn who is the true culprit.

The one tiny complaint that I would have the story would be the slightly late disclosure of the true murderer and the fashion in which the revelation is done. Apart from being slightly improbable it also forces the motive and opportunity of the said murder to be disclosed as an epilogue rather than as part of the actual story. Like I said it’s a very tiny complaint because it doesn’t really rob you of the satisfaction of the getting closure on the mystery.

I’d recommend this title to folks, who like me, enjoy devouring entertaining albeit slightly movie-style legal dramas. Give it a read!

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Bull Street: A Book Review (via goodreads)

Bull StreetBull Street by David Lender

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My interest in the financial sector, thanks to my Investment Banker father and Corporate Banker elder brother, was one of the prime reasons for my decision to begin reading this financial thriller. Comparisons to my other favorite author, John Grisham further piqued my interest in this author.

Bull Street is probably best described in one line as Grisham’s “The Firm” with a financial backdrop. The story, set in the global financial capital New York, starts a little before the infamous 2008 financial crisis and proceeds to get intertwined with the said crisis.

At the center of the story is an idealistic IB rookie, Richard Blum who aspires to greatness at his newly joined firm. His peers think highly of him, his attractive female colleague is crushing on him and he’s living his dream. But things quickly spiral away out of control when an unintended discovery of an insider trading ring by Richard threaten not only ruin his career, but even his own life.

Bull Street has all the elements for a fast paced thriller. Foreign locales, adrenaline pounding action, decent character development and a solid central plot. The only qualm I did have was the under utilization of the financial crisis in the central plot. Although that did not dampen the pace established by the author.

If you like a decent thriller and have a passion (hidden or otherwise) for the financial sector, Bull Street is a definite read.

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