Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Power of Breath - Swami Sharadananda

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A good book for those looking for alternative therapy for better mental health. 

Disclaimer: I received this book as part of goodreads giveway in return for an honest review.

I studied reiki years ago and practised it for a brief period.  I therefore understand the importance of controlling the breath and as a practitioner of yoga and pranayama, I value and acknowledge the impact it has on our emotional happiness and physical well being. 

Breathing is such a natural thing that we are not aware of it most of the time. However, what we also don't know, is the way we breathe can have an impact on our body too. The book offers an interesting insight into the process of breathing and why is it important to breathe well.

Since I have been taught by someone and not learnt it from books, I was curious how the book could substitute for a instructor.


The book explains in neatly divided chapters the various aspects of breathing. It outlines the way we breathe, the technical aspect of it. The subsequent chapters offer various forms of breathing exercises and its effects on your mental state of mind.

What works:

  • Interesting theory with some easy to follow exercises.
  • Simple explanation of the life energy force and how it can help you.
  • There is also background information on regular practice how affects your mental health.
  • You do not have to be in a great physical shape to be able to do these exercises.
  • Most of the yoga exercises are familiar to me, having done them at some point. However, even if someone is not familiar with the practice, there are helpful pictures and easy to read instructions that allow the reader to understand and practice them. 
  • This book works for beginners as well as out of date practitioners like me. The tone is clear, motivating and encouraging. 
What doesn't:
  • It will not give you instant results. If you are looking for something more immediate then you are better off looking for a physically exerting exercise.
  • It is a gradual process, the benefits of which will be felt over a period.
I wanted to be sure that the exercises worked and therefore put them into practice before doing the review. Though I cannot claim any superb benefits, but the fact that I did upto 5 minutes of concentration on my breath made me feel good. For me this was a starting point and I am sure it will only get better from here. My mother has been practicising pranayama for years and swears by its benefits. She claims her asthma is under control thanks to the breathing exercises.

In our fast paced life, even when we take breaks we are not mentally taking one. A lot is being talked about mental health and how it is affecting people in hordes. Pressures of modern life are a big contributor and therefore we need strategies to take care of our mental health equally, if not more than physical health. It is also a well known fact, that mental states translates into physical symptoms and ailments. So taking care of mental health is the first step towards good physical health too. 

This book helps you to pause and look into within for the various answers to questions. It makes you self aware and conscious of what is happening within in. 

For that reason alone, I think this is a great book. A great tool for someone looking into alternative therapy for physical and mental well being.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Family Life - Akhil Sharma

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A story about emigration laced with family tragedy.

I love diasporia stories and Lahiri and Divakaruni are big favourites. But where these writes have glamourised the idea of moving and living in a different country, Sharma explores the dark side of what happens when things don't go to plan.

Family Life with its low profile almost banal title tells a very poignant story of an ambitious family caught in a vortex of unfortunate circumstances. The long term effects as a result of those "three minutes" on the family members, is what the author explores in the book.

Ajay is eight when he moves to New York with his mother and older brother Birju. Proud of his ability to get his family over, his father is looking forward to a better life in the states. They have set their hopes on fifteen-year- old Birju who is sitting a test that will get him into a top university. He does make it, but then a family tragedy turns their life upside down. Family life takes a look at what happened to the various members of the Mishra family as absorb the turn of events, making their way in a new culture.

What works:
  • The subject matter is quite sad. But Sharma looks at things very dispassionately yet manages to convey the seriousness and the desolate nature of the situation.
  • The fact that he is a creative writing professor comes as no surprise. He explains how he is fascinated by Hemingway and tries to study his style. There is another article in the New Yorker wherein he outlines the creative process. Reading it made me understand how the author must have stuggled with the book, writing a personal story yet distancing oneself to make it palatable for others. You can find the article here.
  • The killer is the ending. Just when you think he has finished telling his story, he drops a bomb that leaves you stunned, shocked that there isn't more!
  • He has an amazing style. Instead of delving on the emotional side of it, he has refrained from overindulgence and has maintained a detached demeanour. His strength lies in allowing the reader to figure how tough it must have been instead of laying it out. He has an implicit faith in the reader's intelligence and that works well for him. 
What doesn't:
  • It is a depressing story as guardian review rightly calls it "unhappy  emigration". So if sad depressing stories are not your thing, maybe you will feel let down. But having said that, it offers an interesting perspective into an average emigrant family's tough life in the Capitalist States. 
  • The title is boring. I actually stayed away from the book because the title did not intrigue me enough. It was only the rave reviews that drew me towards it.
But then this book has won the Folio Prize and also the Dublin International Literary prize. Although such prizes do not mean it is a good book (I have picked up prize winning books only to be sorely disappointed) this one is really worth the prizes it has won. I read through it in one sitting on a early night in bed. You just cannot put it down.

I love reading the acknowledgements. I have always believed writing though a solitary pursuit, always shines with a good support system. Sharma mentions about how long it took him to write the book (so does the article) and the pain and the struggle that went into it.

For me, a story based on personal experience makes it a lot more genuine. It brings to mind, Sanghera's Boy with a Topknot yet another story with the author's family riding at the heart of it. Like Family life, it draws on an unpleasant family secret that comes to fore years later and how the family copes with it.

If the review has made you curious, you can check out an excerpt of the novel, that appeared as a short story in The New Yorker. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Kissed a Sad Goodbye - Deborah Crombie

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A melancholic yet absorbing story

This is one of the earlier books in the Duncan and James series. The duo are still grappling with issues in their personal lives, their relationship still fresh and new to bear the brunt of distractions and priorities.

Crombie has such interesting characters in Kincaid and James both single parents, both producing great results as a team.


The body of a beautiful woman is found on an estate. However, when someone reports her missing, the trail takes them to a famous tea makers - Hammonds. James and Kincaid together with the local inspector Janice Coppins get inside the world of tea blending, its exotic flavours and its painful connection to the World War II.

What works:

  • Loved the tea company setting. James does a great job of setting the story in the backdrop of a company, embellishing it with details that is fascinating and shows off her good research.
  • Loved the parallel narrative. I remember the use of the device in another of her later novels and love the way she uses it. However, the world war narrative was a bit disorientating in the beginning, almost boring at times, but then it makes more sense as the story moves on and finally blends into the present. 
  • The suspense was a bit predictable but the run up to it was not. It built the suspense well, while throwing light on different suspects before zooming on THE ONE.
  • The characters are great. The jealous, posh lover, the loyal, insecure assistant, the underrated sibling and the doting, secretive father are great personas. 
What doesn't:
  • Too much detail in the world war story. To me, it sort of weighed down the pace an felt a bit unnecessary.
But then it is always great to see how there is always more, to a whodunnit. The personal lives of the protagnists as they move on from one case to the next keeps on evolving, making for a very interesting side plot.