Book 229: The Guide by R. K. Narayan

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The Guide by R. K. Narayan

Rating: 8/10

“The Guide” follows Raju, who we meet at different times of his life, learning about how he becomes known as Railway Raju, how he works as a guide and meets various people, and how he ends up being called Swami and fasting in hope of bringing down rain on a drought-stricken area.

The characters in the book are fascinating and full of life and very well thought out. I really like how there’s barely any physical descriptions of people or places, but I could imagine the situations and people vividly.

What happens to Raju is all quite unexpected. To me the most interesting part was about Raju’s changing attitude throughout the book.

Sinec I’ve been a guide I found his attitudes towards that great -the excitement and enthusiasm and meeting new people who you only see once, and then there are the few exceptions that might stay in your life for a long time. And the eventual (though maybe not inevitable) decline into pessimism and boredom of having seen it all and talked about it to people who have been more interested in it.

Another bit that just made me chucklewas ofcourse the things that really do come up a lot when you’re a guide – someone’s asking about something you don’t know, you try and guess at the answer, and they obviously know better, or when they’re the one doing all the talking and you’re just learning about what you should have known before.

In general it’s a great Narayan book to read.

Book 195: Under The Banyan Tree by R.K. Narayan

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Under The Banyan Tree by R.K. Narayan

Rating: 9/10

This is a short story collection by the South-Indian writer R. K. Narayan (you can find more of my reviews of his works here).

The stories vary in length from a couple to more than twenty pages. They all have great characters in quite fascinating situations – in one you can find an old man looking out for his two goats by a clay statue meeting an American who wants to buy the statue – of course neither speaks the others’ language so the end result is quite funny. In this collection there is also a story of Swami that is also in “Swami and Friends”, but that was the only one that I had read before.

The stories are perfect length for a short reading brake and they leave you thinking of the characters.

Book 174: Talkative Man by R. K. Narayan

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Talkative Man by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading on May 23rd, 2015

Rating: 7/10

This is another one of Narayan’s stories taking place in the fictional city of Malgudi. This time the story is narrated by an aspiring journalist, whose family fortune enables him not to worry about his livelihood.

One day a man in a blue Oxford suit turns up in Malgudi and stays in the train station’s waiting room apparently working ‘on a project for the UN’.
To start off the stranger seems quite annoying, and the station master is trying to get rid of him, as the waiting room isn’t really meant for people to stay there for days on end. The journalist is trying to help and ends up inviting the stranger to stay at his home.

The story gets quite mysterious as one day a woman arrives and tells a part of the stranger’s story, and we hear more of it later on because the journalist goes snooping around in his letters…

All-in-all in this novel we’re dealing with a classical Don Juan – a charmer and a liar, who has many women chasing him for one reason or another.

It is interesting, although mostly I just felt bad for the townsfolk who were fooled by the stranger, and especially for the young girl that falls for him and the poor taxi-driver who hopes to be able to get a fancy car if he keeps driving around the generous stranger.

Book 117: The English Teacher by R. K. Narayan

PIMG_9613The English Teacher by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading on March 21st, 2014

Rating: 7/10

“The English Teacher” is the third novel in an autobiographical trilogy by the 20th century Indian writer R. K. Narayan.

As the previous books “Swami and Friends” and “The Bachelor of Arts” this book follows Krishnaswami’s life. Now he is working at a college as an English lecturer, is married to the beautiful Susila and has a daughter by the name of Leela.

As the story starts we find out more about Krishna’s work and his opinions about teaching literature.

But then the story continues with his in-laws wanting him to finally live together with his wife and child. First they rent a house and then they’re planning to buy a house, but unfortunately they never get that far, as Susila falls ill.

In order not to give any spoilers I can’t really say much more about what happens next.

This book is somewhat different from the other books by Narayan that I’ve read, as it delves into some-kind of mysticism, that is a little reminiscent of 19th century English writers like the Bronte sisters. The novel’s tone becomes dark and sad.

“Flames appear over the wall…. It leaves a curiously dull pain at heart. There are no more surprises and shocks in life, so that I watch the flame without agitation. For me the greatest reality is this and nothing else… Nothing else will worry or interest me in life hereafter.”

I enjoyed the first part of the trilogy more than the two later ones. However I liked how in the end of the book Narayan resigns from his work and says things that reminded me of J. D. Salinger as Krishnaswami want’s to start teaching children instead of being a part of the college in which, as he sees it, they don’t teach the students to think for themselves but rather produce simple civil servants.

 

Book 100: Swami and Friends by R. K. Narayan

PIMG_8424Swami and Friends by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading on January 14th, 2014

Rating: 9/10

“Swami and Friends” is another great work of the South-Indian author R. K. Narayan, it was his first published novel (1935). It was Narayan’s first semi-autobiographical novel in a trilogy (second is “The Bachelor of Arts” and third is “The English Teacher”).

It’s an interesting story about childhood and friendship from the perspective of a boy who’s about ten years old and constantly seems to get into trouble by being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or not being in the right one).

I really liked this novel, because it reminded me of the attitudes and thought of childhood – what exactly is important when you’re a child, and what isn’t – for example cricket is important, and drill is not. Also it showed the relationships between friends and ends with a friend leaving, and the ending was the reason why I liked it so much – although a good friend moving away is not as tragic as  someone dying, then for a child it is quite awful, and even for adults it’s not easy, so the final chapter is one of the sadder parts of this book.

I like how Narayan uses language and how Swami, the main character seems to think and feel, and why he does certain things – there’s never malice behind his actions that get him in trouble, it’s always his childish way of looking at things or not understanding what’s happening or just plainly imagining things that aren’t there.

Although it was written 80 years ago and about a fictional town in India, then it felt relevant to me, and I think it might be so for many people – despite being already in history, it feels modern.

“Twice he had gone up to the gate of Rajam’s house but had turned back, his courage and determination giving way at the last moment. He was in this state, hoping to see Rajam every tomorrow, […]” p180. R.K. Narayan “Swami and Friends”

“Every tomorrow” – doesn’t that just strike at you? Hoping of something that could happen tomorrow, and when it doesn’t then it will happen tomorrow…

In order not to spoil the book – here’s what it’s about – switching schools, making friends and keeping them, childhood, getting lost in your way, getting mixed up in greater things, and physical violence in school.

Book 84: The Vendor of Sweets by R. K. Narayan

PIMG_7034The Vendor of Sweets by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading on October 30th, 2013

Rating: 7/10

R. K. Narayan (1906 – 2001)  was an Indian author, who was one of the leading figures in early Indian literature in English.

“The Vendor of Sweets” is one of his short stories that was first published in 1967 and  was another one of the stories that was set in Narayan’s fictional town named Malgudi  in South-India. This short story follows a short period in the life of Jagan, a man who is about to turn 60 and owns a Sweet shop.

Jagan is a rather curious character as are many of the characters I’ve come across in previous works by Narayan I’ve read. Jagan follows a really strict diet and life philosophy and has over years accumulated quite a lot of money from his sweet shop, which he keeps at the best possible level. He’s life if filled with routine until one day his son Mali decides he doesn’t want to go to college any more. Instead Mali wants to become a writer and write a novel in about five months for a contest. Jagan is fine with that, as he can proudly say that instead of reading what other people write, his son is now giving other people something to read.

However for some reason or other Mali’s novel doesn’t seem to get anywhere and after the contest deadline has passed Mali suddenly wants to go to America to study how to write novels.

And that is where the everything else ensues. He studies in America and is sending back letters to his father about the life there, not mentioning much at all about what he is doing. Although in one part his letter did make me chuckle:

“I’ve taken to eating beef, and I don’t think I’m any worse for it. Steak is something quite tasty and juicy. Now I want to suggest why don’t you people start eating beef? It’ll solve the problem of useless cattle in our country and we won’t have to beg food from America.”

Oh, the young people!

So a little while later Mali arrives in his home town with a girl! Who his father thinks first is Chinese and thinks to himself:

“Don’t you know that one can’t marry a Chinese nowadays? They have invaded our borders…”

But that’s just the beginning of the story. Now having studied and gotten wiser Mali wants to start a business (and not take over his fathers sweet shop) and that’s something that is nothing but trouble as you can find out in the story as arguments and misunderstandings ensue about whether Mali is really married or not and why has Jagan suddenly dropped the prices of the sweets in his shop. And of-course someone has to go to jail and someone has to want to leave home.

What surprised me about this story is that Jagan goes through real growth in the stories scant pages. In the beginning he is really shy with his son, always wanting to please him and almost never even talking to him directly, but through some middle-man. But by the end Jagan has gained some kind of confidence, he doesn’t care anymore what his son thinks of what he says and while throughout Mali’s life Jagan has tried to make his life as comfortable as possible, in the end, when Mali ends up in a police lock-up Jagan won’t even take the time to go and see him, but instead is hurrying to a bus-station to get out of his old life, away from the sweet shop and to start something new with his life.

A really interesting story.

 

 

Book 53: The Bachelor of Arts by R. K. Narayan

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The Bachelor of Arts by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading June 23, 2013

Rating 7/10

This rather short piece is about Chandran, a history major whom we first meet being asked to be the Prime Mover in a debate ” The Historians should be slaughtered first”. So already the beginning of this novel is catchy.

It continues with Chandran’s life in and out of the university, for example establishing a History Association, trying to get a marriage arranged between himself and a girl he sees and follows on a beach, his depression when their horoscopes don’t match and hence they cannot marry…. And all this followed by months of him being a sanyasi, someone who renounces worldly and materialistic pursuits.

After around 9 months he returns home to his worried parents and has to decide what to do next – to go to England maybe…? or take up a venture into a newspaper venture? And all this while his mother is giving arranging a marriage for him another try.

It was a rather good read, it could just have been a lot longer…