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Other worlds: 10 must-reads this summer

Rrishi Raote  |  New Delhi 

A comic take on the CIA, a story of greed and comeuppance, a much-hyped debut, the unsavoury underbelly of medical research....this season is a mixed platter. Rrishi Raote samples and recommends

The Losers, 
Andy Diggle
This comic is so thrilling that it’s been made into a Hollywood movie, releasing this month. But the comic may be more fun, with its hard-bitten, tough-talking, military-cool characters, its savage pace and superb graphics. are an American black-ops unit which unwittingly discovered a secret. So the tried to assassinate them. They survived, returned and hit back with a series of attacks, wreaking havoc on the US military-industrial complex. The plot combines espionage and revenge with hardware and tactics, and shifts from location to dangerous location around the world. Old ingredients, to be sure, but a killer new dish.

This Bleeding City 

Alex Preston
And when we moved down to London, I had but one desire — to become swiftly, splendidly rich.” After university, that’s just what small-towner Charlie Wales did. He found his way into the ruthless environment of high finance. He made friends with the people he wanted to be, was introduced to a world of women, art, drugs, champagne, and high living in the City. But this is a post-crisis novel, and surface gloss does not obscure the awful choices Charlie was driven to make. When the crash happens, it takes everything with it. Written by a 30-year-old London hedge fund manager, this is a love story and a moral tale — a story of materialism gone mad. It is palpably a first book, but it is gripping and moving from the very first page.

Parrot and Olivier in America 
Peter Carey
Two-time Booker winner Peter Carey thinks big. This time he has taken on Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century Frenchman who travelled to America and then wrote the classic Democracy in America. The narrative is tossed back and forth between Olivier de Garmont, out-of-favour French aristocrat (loosely based on Tocqueville), and Parrot Larrit, son of an English journeyman printer. They go to America as master and servant. They dislike each other from the start — which provides Carey with some brilliant situations and lines — yet their relationship is only the chief thread in a highly entertaining, often picaresque weave of person, place and moment. You might wonder “What is this book about?” but not for a second will you be bored.

Tiger Hills, 
Sarita Mandanna
It’s not out yet but this book has already made news because of the Rs 35 lakh advance it got its first-time author, NRI Sarita Mandanna. Opening in the late 1800s among the coffee plantations of Coorg (where Mandanna herself grew up), this book tells the story of Devi, the first girl born to her clan in many years. By the time she becomes a young woman it is understood that she will marry Devanna, her friend since childhood. But at a traditional “tiger wedding” ceremony in the jungle she sees and is smitten by Machu, a famous hunter and a much older man. Cue the tragic love story. Judging from an excerpt, Mandanna is a vivid and elegant, if slightly portentous, writer.

Perennial Forbidden Classics, 
various authors
Victorian England, Edwardian England, Spanish Galicia, colonial Hindustan, pre-Revolution Paris — what were the gentlefolk there thinking about? Ten titillating titles will tell you.

A series of Western erotic classics is now available from HarperCollins, each one presented between new, tastefully muted covers. But the contents retain their power to shock (Venus in Furs, Sadopaideia, The Autobiography of a Flea...) and amuse (Fanny Hill, Venus in India, My Secret Life...). These classics will also tickle your linguistic pleasure centres, because they are nobly written, and your brain, because, satisfyingly, they also deal with ideas, ideals and stereotypes.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, 
Rebecca Skloot
She has been dead 60 years, but her cells live on. Henrietta Lacks was a black American woman, a mother of five, who died of cervical cancer aged 31. Before she died, and without asking her, doctors took cells from her cancerous cervix to study. These founded a cell line called HeLa, which researchers have used ever since, to come up with “some of the most important advances in medicine: the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization”. Rebecca Skloot tells a moving story — of Lacks’s life, of medicine and racism, medical ethics, the complicated legacy left to her family, and of the weird and memorable characters who played a role in this tale.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 
Bill Bryson
Yet another short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson — nearly everything to do with the home, that is. “Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up,” says the blurb of this yet-to-be-released book. Walking about the Bryson family abode in an old Victorian parsonage, the author saw many familiar things about which he knew very little. So he did the research, and this book tells some of the stories behind “the evolution of private life”. The bathroom, for instance, inspires a history of hygiene; the bedroom, an investigation of “sex, death and sleep”; the kitchen, food and spices...As fans will know, Bryson can spin apparently disconnected facts and encounters into a single scintillating story.

Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, 
Shrabani Basu
The Queen’s handwriting is appalling,” Shrabani Basu has said. She should know; she spent many hours reading Queen Victoria’s letters, notes and diaries in order to reconstruct her 13-year relationship with her Indian “munshi” Abdul Karim. Despite strict protocol, the two appear to have become friends of a kind, worrying and angering many in her household and government. There’s an obvious echo of the Queen’s earlier closeness to her Scots servant John Brown, who died before Abdul was imported from India. After the Queen died, Abdul was kicked out of Windsor and his private papers burnt to forestall embarrassment. Basu’s painstaking research throws light on a still-shadowy and not entirely likeable character.

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, 
James Shapiro
You may not have touched Shakespeare since high school, but you probably know that there are people who doubt he wrote the plays which bear his name. How, these doubters say, could the son of a glovemaker write these plays brimming with classical references and quotations? Why is there so little historical evidence of Shakespeare the man? Conspiracy theories are alleged, alternate authors proposed, there are cries of imposture and fraud. In this book, James Shapiro writes about the debate and the debaters, showing us not only a cast of often peculiar characters, but also how their ideas frequently reflect snobbery and ignorance on the one hand and a romantic near-deification, on the other.

Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash 
Fred Pearce
Back at the end of the 18th century Robert Malthus did some logical thinking and deduced that humanity was on course for disaster. As the population grew exponentially and food production (he said) arithmetically, soon there would be more mouths to feed than food to feed them with. The idea that our needs will outstrip our capacities has been behind all the thinking about population control for half a century. But now comes Fred Pearce, a fine science writer, who tots up the latest thinking and says that we need not panic because our population will stabilise at 9 billion by 2050 — and we already have the capacity to feed that many. It’s an optimistic story — but is it too upbeat?

Book One (Vols 1 & 2)
by Andy Diggle
Illustrated by Jock
pp 304

by Rebecca Skloot
pp 369
by Alex Preston
Faber and Faber
pp 304
A Short History 
of Private Life
by Bill Bryson
pp 512
in May
by Peter Carey
Faber and Faber
pp 464
Rs 550
by Shrabani Basu
pp 229
Rs 395
Sarita Mandanna
Penguin India
on April 29
by James Shapiro
Faber and Faber
pp 384
by various authors
Rs 299 each
by Fred Pearce
Eden Project
pp 352


Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, James McManus
(Souvenir Press, pp 512, £14.99)
The story, not history, of poker, well written and full of fact and anecdote.
Striker, Stopper, Moti Nandy
(Hachette India, Rs 250)
Two 1970s football novellas by an award-winning sports journalist.
Serious Men, Manu Joseph
(HarperCollins, pp 336, forthcoming)
Science, love, humour, ambition and microscopic aliens.
Jangalnama: Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone, Satnam
(Penguin, pp 216, Rs 250)
An account of two months spent with guerrillas in the tribal forests of Bastar.
Quarantine, Rahul Mehta
(Random House, pp 264, Rs 399)
Nine extraordinarily fine short stories. Gay writing without the stereotypes.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba
(HarperCollins, pp 336, Rs 399)
African boy brings power to his village.

First Published: Sat, April 24 2010. 00:23 IST