Here are some brief book reviews since my last blog post. Have been short on time for posting detailed reviews, So here is just a quick update. In general, recommend most of these. Pick based on your mood.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – A chilling story of an 8 year old girl who loves to read in Nazi Germany, of her family that adopted her and of the jew hidden in their home. Story of war and of life. No matter how many WWII books or movies you may have read/seen, add this one to your list. One of my favorite books, I received the book as a gift, and I would surely pass it along as a gift to a friend.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Slow, detailed, epic story based in a hot, sweaty Caribbean land. Be prepared to be pained, to laugh at our own society, to fall in love with and to dislike characters who are a reflection of our own selves. A very big book indeed.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – A story on racism that made my blood boil, made me reflect on my own biases. Not very impressed with the writing style, but still a story to be told and read. Some Jodi Picoult fans may find that the book is not written in her usual style. Another long book.
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – Story of dreamy, romantic author who unexpectedly finds herself in Guersney to discover a blend of stories of friendship and World War II. Light read although carries a heavy underlying theme. I loved this one and would like to own the book.
Tiny Beautiful Things – Advise on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed – Just what the title suggests, take it or leave it but surely read it kind of advise on love and life, touching, shocking, tear jerking stories.
This book is a rare gem and a must read. It is a window into her special life. It offers rare glimpses into her day to day life, her struggles and victories, her childhood recollections of various trips, people she met and her loving supportive family. It sheds light on the important role of her instructor Anne Sullivan in her success. Her command over the language impeccable and vivid. Her narratives are paintings made with words. This makes the book pleasurable to read. The book was delightful and high spirited for the most part.
One can not help but read her life’s story with rapt attention as the intrigue for her remarkable experiences keeps growing with every chapter – how can someone who can not see or hear describe intangibles like love, art or nature? How do they learn advanced mathematics or experience museums? or read countless books in Greek, German, French and English? The books aids in making sense of it all and much more.
“Even as the roots, shut in the darksome earth,
Share in the tree-tops joyance and conceive,
Of sunshine and wide air and winged things,
By sympathy of nature, so do I.”
I felt great admiration for her exceptional abilities, unshaken will power and extra-ordinary intelligence. The journey of not only how she overcame but triumphed over her deafness and blindness is incredibly fantastic. I felt my imagination of innumerable possibilities broaden through her journey.
The short book is written in the style of an earnest, poetic, forthright letter to his 15 year old. Never before have I read a book about someone’s life so much different than mine and it was an eye opening, enlightening and humane experience. I don’t know of anyone’s life to be as unfortunate in a developed nation as is the life of a person of color in America. (although I could see strong similarities in the challenges faced by the lower caste people and minorities in India). The letter is a narrative of his personal background and experiences, interesting and insightful stories from his own childhood, upbringing and youth, lessons he learnt from his life and the ones he wants his son to have the knowledge of.
There was no assuaging of emotions or mincing of words, he has written straight from the heart, a practical advice, that his son must learn how to live in this white-centric world where everyone is going after ‘the dream’. I personally agreed with his idea of of the dream as described in the book. (I myself came to the US seeking the same dream.) Racism exists and it has been institutionalized in front of our eyes. Ta-Nehisi initiates that perception for me, helping me see it in the slightest of behavior, action and words.
He points out similarities in the experiences of the black people from the time of his parents, to himself, to his son’s, and this helped me grasp the frustration and anger. I understood much better the oppression and helplessness that his community deals with.
I liked his poetic ramblings. He derailed a bit into trivial details a few times in the beginning not adding value to the main topic but I found it entertaining. I was pleased that he extended the idea of ‘the dream’ to not only resulting in unfair conduct to a race of color but also to how we have started taking nature for granted and accelerated the destruction of it.
The book requires keeping an open, imaginative and non judgmental mind every time he talks about ‘the Dream’ or ‘the white-skinned people’. That was the only way to empathize and genuinely comprehend their angst and fear.
If there was one important thing that I had to share that I learnt from the book, it is that they are asking for justice, and justice equal to all those pursuing ‘the dream’ and to the ‘white-skinned people’.
It is a beautiful book and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to understand the life of an African American from their point of view.
“I am Malala” paints a stunning, heavenly visual of Swat Valley (See pictures here, comparable to the beauty of Canada’s Banff National Park). It also describes blow by blow, incident by incident, the downward spiral of this beautiful place which ends up in complete havoc and destruction with Taliban’s encroachment.
Malala’s personal story is woven with multiple threads about the history of her family, of the Pashto community, of Swat Valley, of Pakistan and of Afghanistan. The stories of her friendships and squabbles in school and at home and their routine life under constant death threats is written with the backdrop of Jinnah’s vision, stories of various political leaders, the burgeoning power of Taliban, and inability of Pakistan’s leaders to tackle it all. The book gives a perspective of how their society transitions and deals with new kind of unforeseen and unprecedented challenges that they are unprepared to cope with.
Christina Lamb, a renowned foreign correspondent, has relayed informative facts about America-Pakistan love-hate political relationship, various barbarous acts carried out under Hudud law and jihadi movements, and the callousness of it all.
Malala’s story is also as much about her father’s as her own. His resolute desire to run a model school, educate students, and eradicate religious extremism has visibly had an influence on Malala’s personality. It also made him as much of a potential target as herself.
There are several conspiracy theories about Malala which reflect the dire state of mistrust in Pakistan. I felt like the book also helped clear those (for those who want to believe), although that was not the purpose of the book of course. Her contribution is difficult to grasp because it is immeasurable in tangible terms and unusual beyond belief for those of us who live a normal life. The book allows us a chance to empathize with the exceedingly uncommon and enormously fear-filled life situations that she and her family (also her countrymen) deal with. We know about the presence of religious extremism in Afghanistan/Pakistan through news/media, but hearing her story first hand is eye-opening and appalling.
If there is anyone who has lived up to her name, it is Malala as she is named after Malalai of Maiwand, a national folk hero of Afghanistan. Amongst all the millions of people and children in Pakistan, she was the only 11-15 year old who has repeatedly/loudly/clearly expressed the need for girls’ education and peace in the face of death and war with Taliban. (Note: Nobel Peace Prize has generally been full of controversies due to its political nature and it is awarded to qualified nominees from a limited pool of applicants) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_Peace_Prize).
Discussions of gender equality and War and development in the western world are very advanced where we take education and peace for granted. However, in her world, to even ask for Education and peace means putting one’s life on the line. It requires extraordinary courage and conviction, which she demonstrated at a very young age.
The last section of the book talks about her family’s journey from the time she was shot to their life in London. It was very intriguing to learn how and which political leaders got involved, who played what role in giving her a new life and all the extra-ordinary politics that went on behind the scenes. Highly recommend the book “I am Malala“ and also watch the documentary “He named me Malala“ (which complements the book).
“Memoirs provide a record not so much of the memoirist as of the memoirists world.” How can a rabbit hopping through the grass accurately tell how it is looking, it can only tell how the grass around it is looking from its own eyes. With these lines in the book’s introduction, I excitedly took on the enchanting journey of the Memoirs of a Geisha. I already knew in my heart that I would enjoy the book and I thoroughly did.
It is a drama story told in first person by the lead Geisha – Chiyo or Sayuri – herself. It is stirringly self-reflective, quite shocking sometimes and makes you want to believe in fate or fortune. I really enjoyed the book because it gives very vivid and colorful descriptions of the traditions, customs and code of conduct which is new and unknown to the outsiders. This fascinating history and culture is neatly woven into the story of a lead Geisha, her ties with her abjectly poor fisherman’s family, the story of being sold by a seemingly kind man, her older sister, the politics of an Okiya, the competitions and jealousy that has no rules or boundaries, broken friendships, the journey of becoming a Geisha and then making one’s own future. It is a life full of struggle.
It occured to me only after reading the book that the story was also as much about the intertwined lives of characters around her like Mameha, Hatsumomo, Pumpkin, even her older sister Satsu (who failed to become a Geisha), as Sayuri herself, because every Geisha is unique and so are her experiences. By bringing those other Geisha’s into the story in such great detail, the author has very smartly presented the different directions a Geisha’s life could take.
The book breaks the myth that Geisha’s are prostitutes. It also gives very engrossing account of their lives and what makes a Geisha, a Geisha. A Geisha is a summation of the various roles she plays of an entertainer, an artist, a lover, a secret keeper, even a maid or a waitress in some sense, her surroundings, past, present, her Dona and admirers, her stylish complicated Kimonos and hairstyles, her parties, her Okiyas amongst many other things.
This line summed up for me how a Geisha thinks of her life- “Nowadays many people seem to believe their lives are entirely a matter of choice; but in my day we viewed ourselves as pieces of clay that forever show the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them.”
I repeatedly questioned whether she would be suffering more or less as a free but poverty stricken girl or as a sold child forced to become a Geisha. The way the story ended, I got my answer, but I also understood that the answer would likely vary depending on the circumstances. However, I support free choice any given day. But coming from India where social circumstances play a heavy role in one’s life, I have seen and personally experienced how other people could end up strongly influencing the direction of one’s life for better or for worse.
I thought bringing in the World War gave an interesting twist, in that, it not only gave an insight into how the common peoples lives were affected but also presented an opportunity to Sayuri to make her own choice – whether to end her Geisha career or to continue, a choice she did not have before. Sometimes she appears to be naive (even foolish at times in her circumstances) and stubborn, someone who is willing to risk everything she had in order to get what she wanted (which was usually not too much but in her situation, one would think she would know better than to demand anything.) . But this was also why she was different and daring; she didn’t see the value of things in the worldly sense, but followed her heart. Reminds me of this line from the book – “This is why dreams can be such dangerous things: they smolder on like a fire does, and sometimes they consume us completely.”
The book is full of drama, tension and mystery. It is very well written. The characters were colorful, the city and the world of Geisha were entertaining (and almost exotic for a while!), the war was dreadful and the love story carried the book for me.
This book’s claim to fame is the 1921 Pulitzer price for Fiction making Edith Wharton the first woman author to receive this prestigious award.
Skeletal plot is that Newland Archer, the protagonist, is eagerly wooing May Welland, but gets distracted by May’s cousin – Ellen Olenska. It is a love triangle set in the upper class New York society in 1870s.
I like the way the book ends. But the story is predictable. This is the first time ever that I did not enjoy the way the book is written. This was such an unfamiliar feeling that for a long time I was puzzled about what was bothersome about it.
I felt that the author kept yo-yo-ing frequently from the main story to the home décor to the landscape gardening, going into the details, often times arbitrarily without furthering the main storyline.
The greatness of some authors is their ability to weave the circumstances and the story in a manner that you gradually come to understand the characters the way they want you to. But Edith Wharton just laid bare the soul of the characters, depriving us of any such imagination.
Having said that, there were good moments too. The introspective and contemplative dialogues were appealing and kept me engaged. For example:
“…the difference is that these young people take it for granted that they are going to get whatever they want and that we almost always took it for granted that we shouldn’t. Only I wonder – the thing one’s so certain of in advance, can it ever make one’s heart beat as wildly?”
“…there were moments when we felt as if he were being buried alive under his future…”
I have met people like May who are beautiful and guileless but predictable and disinterested about world in general. They find comfort getting into a rut, tend to see things as black and white, victory or loss, their way or not. The author has described this character pretty well-
“…he said to himself with a secret dismay that he would always know the thoughts behind it, that never in all the years to come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea a weakness, a cruelty or an emotion. She had spent her petry and romance on their short courting; the function was exhausted because the need was past. Now she was simply ripening into a copy of her mother…”
“…he did not want May to have that kind of innocence, the innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience…”
The depiction of the aristocratic New York society was interesting…rich people with boring lives who are caught up in a monotonous social cycle, with the highest excitement in their life being the scandalous incidents in someone else’s. But this story is not new.
I had great expectations from the book but was left with mixed emotions. I give it 3 out of 5
One would suppose that I would have already read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy long time ago given that I am an avid reader. After all it has received Booker Prize for fiction in 1997.
Friends had warned me against reading the book as they found it boring and too slow. Who wants to read that kind of a book? So I had never picked it up. But until then I had neither read anything else written by Arundhati Roy nor was I interested in the social/political issues.
Having said that, I changed over time and began following current affairs. With this new interest I had developed, I looked for alternate reading sources which were far and few in India. Arundhati Roy presented herself as a vehement critic of the neo-imperialism, and published collections of essays such as Listening to Grasshoppers: Field notes on Democracy and others with a poetic, hard hitting style of writing. I found myself swept away in love with her. She was the testimony of freedom of speech. I was instantly under the influence of her rhythmic style of writing, using repetitive phrases to give an echo-like effect to drive the point home. For a woman in India to be like Arundhati Roy aka forthright and articulate takes a lot of courage.
She is a polarizing figure and there were those who claimed that it would do better if she brushed up her knowledge of history, thus implying that hence her opinions should not be taken very seriously. But every time I read her articles, she did not come across as someone who had became a patron of the marginalized people overnight. Then I started having second thoughts about my decision; how could I have not read the only book written by someone I admire so greatly? And so I did. My conviction was right. The book speaks volumes of her understanding of the political realities in India, possibly through first hand experiences. Clearly, she has seen a lot more than the critics give her credit for.
My imagination raced wild as she opened the book with these stunning lines… “May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun…”
She started the novel with the end, went all the way to the start and ended in the hot, sweaty, controversial and courageous middle (for which she was first sued and then case was dismissed). Summarizing the plot will take everything away from it, so I won’t. I can only offer some glimpses into the story. Highlight of the book is in the small things. Journey through life of the characters was natural and surreal. The melodic narrative shattered the invisible door between the reader, the author and the character; before I knew it I had transitioned from feeling for the character to becoming the character. Her lyrical style at once took control of my pace. Rhythm and repetition prevailed throughout the book as a way to emphasize the intensity of the emotions. Her unique use of grammar and punctuation was highly forceful in creating a reminiscent effect of personal experiences.
She has written several proses with a child’s imagination, at least like the one I had as a child and sometimes do even now where thoughts begin with a significant event, somehow trail off into utmost trivial but precise observations and then wander off into a recollection of something similar or exact opposite…a rollercoaster ride that makes you forget where it had all started from.
Arundhati Roy’s keen awareness of the highly complex and shameful social constructs of Indian society is reflected. To name a few – rampant unaddressed issue of pedophilia, prevailing caste issues, abuse of power by authorities like the police, social discrimination, betrayal on the grounds of higher morality, insults bore by divorced wives (not husbands) and the taboo affiliated with single mothers and their chastised children.
The story is full of suffering and its reality will stay with me forever. It reflects a great tragedy of Indian society. It is about the brave characters who dare to follow their heart and to stay free-spirited. It is about loss and longing. It is about the children whose inner quirky world is beyond the reach of the world and who see the world through an innocent lens. It is about injustice and hypocrisy. It is about love…Familial love, romantic love, unrequited love, forbidden love, desperate terrible poignant restless love (as someone put in their review).
It is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. I wept for long after finishing it.
“But what was there to say? Only that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons. Only that there was a snuffling in the hollows at the base of a lovely throat. Only that a hard honey-colored shoulder had a semicircle of teethmarks on it. Only that they held each other close, long after it was over. Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief.
Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”
“Walking with the Comrades” is an engrossing account of the under currents of social, political and economic direction of India. Arundhati Roy’s unassuming question sums up the book, “Can you leave the water in the rivers? The trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain?”
The book questions the accepted ideas of what constitutes progress, development and indeed civilization itself. It condemns both the Indian State and the Maoists for their war over power, land, ideology, mineral riches, rights and ecology. Contrary to popular belief about A Roy’s inclinations, the militant behavior of the Maoists has no sympathy or support in the book. She expresses clear skepticism whether these Naxalites would do anything different if in power than those currently in power. She draws a picture for us to understand the conundrum of the extreme circumstances under which these people live, the boundaries to which they are pushed, and why and how the resistance movements have come about. She aptly states, “If you pay attention to many of the struggles taking place in India, people are demanding no more than their constitutional rights”.
Beneath the forests of India lies billions of dollars worth of minerals. Approximately 24 types of minerals including iron, bauxite, copper, chromium, gold, lead, manganese, zinc and coal, are found in nearly 50 percent of India’s total landmass of 3.20 million sq km. India’s considerable mineral resources are being coveted not just by the Indian industry, but increasingly by foreign capital. There is international demand for these natural resources and pressure on the Administration. Roy exposes the conflict of interest of various top level Politicians with the exponential growth in the mining industry.
Fueled by the furious pace of development in foreign countries, the production of iron ore, bauxite, chromium, coal and natural gas has doubled and even tripled from mid-1990s to mid-2000 in India. But this huge spiraling production has contributed a measly 2.5% to the country’s GDP in the last ten years. In southern mineral-rich Karnataka state, for instance, royalties from mining have remained a static 0.7 to 0.8 percent of total revenues even while the value of these minerals have shot up manifold.
Of 1.2 billion people in India, 700 million continue to live under $2 a day while 50 Indian billionaires top the Forbes wealthiest people charts. On one hand, we are the fastest growing nations, but on the other hand less than 6% employment comes from the industrialization, 40% of students drop out by secondary school, 230 million Indians are suffering from malnutrition and 6 lakh villages are in desperate poverty with access to limited or simply no water, electricity, hospitals, etc.
According to the 2001 census, there are more than 90 million tribal people in India, with large concentrations in the eastern and central Indian states, such as Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. The human development report of the eastern Orissa state, the country’s richest mineral-bearing State, is an abysmal low of 0.404.
To make matters worse, almost all of these minerals are exported; thus not benefitting India even indirectly in terms of our own infrastructural growth. The gross ecological damage, health degradation, uncontrolled pollution and scale of social irresponsibility are horrendous. In the meanwhile, the industrialists across the globe are trading Futures in the stock market waiting on the secretly signed MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding) to materialize, over the dead bodies of the tribals & police.
Here is a disarming account that I want to share from the book. The Maoists invite A.Roy to spend time with them. In order for them to recognize each other, she had to arrive at a given location with camera, tika and coconut and look for the person with a cap, Outlook magazine and bananas. Upon reaching the destination, she met a young boy with a cap, but he was carrying neither the magazine nor the bananas. He said, he couldn’t find the magazine and he ate the bananas since he got very hungry on the way. And from here she began her journey with the Naxalites whom the government portrays as the “Internal Security Threat” (an over simplified and exaggerated term for a very complex issue).
In an earlier blog, I have captured some other excerpts from the book: http://ourglobaldiary.weebly.com/chandnis-blog/excerpts-walking-with-the-comrades-by-arundhati-roy
She covers intriguing personal accounts of various tribal people, that was made possible only because she spent one on one time spent with them over several days by living, eating, and experiencing their way of life. Their life’s tragic stories start to feel like getting to know of the losses in a friend’s life.
She exposes the human rights violation performed at catastrophic levels in the name of “Operation Green Hunt” by the State. It is typical of the Government to kill the key liaison for peace-talks between the Maoists and the State while holding make-believe peace talks. (Alongside the urban Indian asks rather naively, “but why don’t they hold peace talks”?) The oppressive government is becoming more and more hostile towards its own marginalized citizens that suffer poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, and caste and gender discrimination.
Legalizing of unfair practices via new laws and policies is brought to light. The Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution provides protection to the Adivasi (indigenous) people living in the Scheduled Areas. This constitutional right is under threat of being amended to effect transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals and corporate bodies. Since 2000, India has begun liberalizing the mining industry; there are laws and amendments being passed to even allow 100% Foreign Direct investment with almost no controls and nil accountability. India ranks among the five largest markets in the world for coal, steel and aluminum. But we fail to ask the critical question…at what cost?
Committees set up by the Government acknowledged (but this information was intentionally dropped from the final released reports) that facts are being misrepresented for the purpose of forcibly acquiring land for private industry. The media is working hand in glove with the establishment, twisting and faking stories in favor of the powerful & the influential, eroding one’s belief in the daily news headlines.The author also covers women’s issues and rural health problems in the book. She has written at great length about the need for “personal integrity” in our leaders and decries the extent of killing of people in this internal combat.
Reading this collection of essays requires one to keep an open mind to a different point of view. I really appreciate her voice and this book despite the highly acerbic remarks, especially in the last essay. After all, someone has to say it. It exposes us to other people’s reality. That someone can still write such essays reinforces that Indians continue to live in democracy and there is still hope.
Arundhati Roy is a Booker Prize winner and has written a screenplay for a TV film that won 2 National awards. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundhati_Roy
This book has 3 essays all of which can also be read online:
Mr. Chidambaram’s War – http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?262519
Walking with the Comrades – http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?264738
The Trickledown Revolution – http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?267040
The Introduction of the book ‘Walking with the Comrades’ is so compelling that I wanted to share a snippet of it here:
“The Minister says that for India’s sake, people should leave their villages and move to the cities. He’s a harvard man. He wants speed. And the numbers. Five hundred million migrants, he thinks, would make a good business model.
Not everybody likes the idea of their cities filling up with the poor. A judge in Mumbai called the slum dwellers pickpockets of urban land. Another said, while ordering the bulldozing of unauthorized colonies that people who couldn’t afford it shouldn’t live in cities.
When those who had been evicted went back to where they came from, they found their villages had disappeared under great dams and quarries. Their homes were occupied by hunger and policemen. Their forests were filling up with armed guerillas. War had migrated too. From the edges of India, in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, to its heart. So the people returned to the crowded city streets and pavements. They crammed into the hovels on dusty construction sites, wondering which corner of this huge country was meant for them.”
Another excerpt from the first page of the first chapter of the book “Chidambaram’s War” –
“The low flat topped hills of south Orissa have been the home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the Bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it’s as though god has been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It’s one of the biggest mining corporation in the world and is owned by Anil Agarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.
If the flat topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, whose homeland is similarly under attack.
In our smoky crowded cities, some people say, “So what? Someone has to pay the price of progress.’ Some even say, ‘Lets face it, these are people whose time has come. Look at any developed country. Europe, the United States, Australia – they all have a ‘past’. Indeed they do. So why shouldn’t “we”?
I am a huge Rafa fan. The first time I saw him play was in the 2009 Australian Open. Thereafter, this book sealed the deal for me. I haven't updated my review since I wrote it in 2012 as I wanted to maintain the purity of my feelings from back then. 💙 💚 However, memories came rushing when Roger Federer won his 18th Grand Slam title last night at the Australian Open against Rafa Nadal in the finals.
Rafa’s book is an account of a human turned into a super-hero (joking ofcourse). It is, however, a story of how Rafa Nadal came to being a prodigious athlete. It reveals the enormity of mental, physical and emotional strength needed to have 9 Grand Slam victories at the age of 24 in what has been called the Golden age for Tennis. He is already acclaimed as one of the greatest tennis players of all times. (Update: As of 8 June 2014, he has now won 14 Grand Slam Titles with the 9th French Open title in his bag, matching the record of Pete Sampras.)
I felt that every lesson from Rafa’s tennis life could be applied to my non-tennis life; infact the extent to which he keeps trying, makes me feel ashamed and very self conscious of how less I try for anything!
Rafa is reaping the fruits of his sacrifices and perseverance since his childhood. It is no wonder that he plays on the court as if he were out in a war. He appears almost as if he is in trance, he is no longer himself. He does not care who is on the other side of the net, he is relentless. He has only one goal, to play his best game and not to lose a single point. With this fire in his belly, he shouts at himself in the mirror VAMOS VAMOS VAMOS in his dressing room before the game begins. He contrasts this (in the book) with Federer who is there with him in that same dressing room, lying on the bench in a meditative mode in accordance with his permanent calm demeanor.
He describes how his life is not perfect and hunky-dory as it may appear at the surface. Rafa is aware that he is not naturally gifted or a beautiful player like Roger Federer is. He faces every day challenges & dilemmas as any of us do of depression, sadness, boredom, exhaustion. But his determination only makes him emerge out to be stronger than before. His parents separation left him devastated. He carries his own bag of weaknesses, a gentle reminder that he is after all a human only. He has suffered several career-threatening injuries that could have easily allowed him to slide on tennis rankings with the world’s sympathy on his side. Instead, time and again, he valiantly emerged out of the situation and continued to play to win.
His doggedness to give his heart and soul into each point has been ingrained in his genes thanks to Uncle Toni who never tolerated a single excuse for not playing well. This included feeling sick, bad weather, old tennis balls, broken racquets. Just when one thought that Rafa had tried hard enough, Uncle Toni would push even harder and very commonly Rafa would return home crying after practice. However it is for the same reason that family members often had an altercation with Uncle Toni. Even Rafa is often found saying…Uncle Toni is Uncle Toni after all. This reinforces something that I personally apply in my own life – to take criticism with an open mind and low ego in order to keep improving. Uncle Toni is the pillar behind Nadal’s conquests.
Nadal’s exceptionally tightly knit family more than made up for the hardships he has faced through their immense love, affection and presence. Nadal’s father presented an unswervingly calm demeanor at all times, especially during his injuries willing to find alternatives that would make him happier. His mother gave him a normal home to come back to. In this glitzy world of celebrities, Rafa received no distinctive treatment or celebrations at home for his victories. They have repeatedly taught him that to be a good person is more important than to be a winner.
Saints have spoken about living in the present, and Rafa lives it so. He is almost spiritual in nature without thinking about it so. I did a recount of all my life’s regrets and realized how much I am left behind crying over those rather than moving on. If you compare every point he plays to every incident in my life (since every point he plays has as much story and pouring of everything he has in himself as I did in these incidents of my life), I now recognize that I did not do as much as I could have if I really badly wanted something.
An example that will stay with me for the rest of my life is that the night when he won US Open 2010 championship, he slept for only 3-4 hours, the same suite followed the 2nd night and he still went to practice on the 3rd morning with Uncle Toni as per their regular schedule as if it was just another day. There were no celebrations at home and, no paparazzi, no fans, and no excuses not to practice.
This story of Rafa’s life is told in between the running account of some of the well-known matches starting with the Finals of Wimbledon 2008 that Rafa won against then world number 1 Roger Federer and ending with the Finals at the US Open 2010 against the unstoppable Novak Djokovic. Inspite of having seen many of these matches, reading about them from Nadal’s perspective was a thrill and pure joy.