Book Review | Beyond Desire by Asghar Abbas

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One helll of a ride!

I’m going to try and be totally unbiased, sure the author gave me the book for free, but he didn’t ask anything in turn, it’s all me. I got the book because I expressed real interest in reading it (but I couldn’t afford it) and to encourage the amateur aspiring writer that I am, but that’s no reason to not be just to his work.

I had great hopes but I was also scared. I wanted to read it at the perfect time, perfect day, perfect moment (don’t I, with every book). I had left the book for last, I had been reading the author’s blog for some days past so as to better the experience of the book, to get a general feel of the writing, and most of all to learn and just amuse myself. I have to say that the author’s writing has ripened and drastically evolved over time. Anyhoo, I knew I was gonna like this book (I mostly know) but I had no idea I was gonna enjoy it like I did.

I’m awestruck. It started so sweet, so smooth, so vulnerable, I read with reverence.

Beyond Desire is a mystery thriller 24-hours into the life of the smart, beautiful and ambitious Iva Gyongy. Iva moves from France to the Promised Land of NYC but her dreams take a turn for the worse when she finds herself in a gambling debt to a loan shark on someone else’s behalf. Iva is a naïve small town girl but what will happen when she’s pushed to her limits.

I would have loved to stay and enjoy Paris because I read about it all the time but never got the chance to see it before. I knew a lot about Paris;….I know my mother won’t go to these places by herself, not without me.

It’s very plot-driven. I can’t say much because the plot is so complicated and mysterious. I don’t want to spoil anyone and I don’t want to give anything away, believe me, you don’t want that. Also, because that’s how I enjoy going in, knowing almost nothing, and it’s one of those kinds of novels.

The novel is short but it doesn’t matter, IT DOES NOT MATTER, it’s complete, it has everything, I didn’t even feel that it was short while reading it. The author attacked the main character from almost every angle. It has a lot of elements, so many facets, dimensions, all your mystery desires and beyond!
Nothing felt amiss. The most the author could have done was add in a few more descriptions and internal monologue but that’s just me, I like longer descriptions and thoughts when people tend to get annoyed.

(People, don’t read the spoiler if you haven’t read the book because you WILL regret it. Read it once you’re done with the book and tell me what’d you think?)

But, there’s a catch which I can’t tell because it might be spoilery.

The author had finished writing this novel when he was just 18, astounding, especially when you read the novel, I CAN’T EVEN!

Even though I had been writing full time since I was 18, it was at that time I finished what would become my first novel.

Thoughts about my first novel. OK. Four years into this acute madness, I thought I was ready to do things on book level and actually finish one. After all I had put in enough hours, spent enough time at the abattoir I felt I was ready, when no one is ever ready. But spend enough time and you can hone any skill. I thrust my gingerly titled stillborn fawn called Wave of a Dark Ocean (re titled from Testament Deal Gone South via Wave of a Dark Ocean; yeah like I was Alan Bradley (heck, Bradley wasn’t Bradley at that time or Ethan Hawkes’s character from Before Midnight ) ) so I shoved my nascent but completed work (I cannot stress this enough) into the thresher and what came out from the fog and smoke wrapped up in trellis of wet leaden smog was Beyond Desire, thanks a lot Florida! And yet they weren’t done, they dealt another kindness, a brutal blow; our poor protagonist had went into the promised land a flaxen maudlin golden with promise and she was spat out the other end as a raven haired tempest. I had sent Iva Gyongy to the slaughter and Eva Green was reborn. Such treachery, such a travesty ! So so many other things had gone wrong but that’s another ghost story for some other campfire storytelling.

So, Iva’s raven hair was a publishing decision.

I loved the cover, I was so enraptured by it, I couldn’t take my eyes off, it’s art, because it so captures the essence of the novel. I LOVE the dedication and how the title of the novel came to be.

You can’t study creativity, it comes from imagination, from being inspired all the time. It’s about being awake when you are asleep and sleeping when you are awake. It’s about seeing what dreams show you. It’s about the power of imagination, something you can’t learn. It’s something that comes naturally from within. It’s about today. It’s about work, desire—no, it’s beyond desire and most of all, hope. Because, in the end, it is the only thing that is worth anything, and keeping in mind the void called death. It’s about the power of making a statement…..

One of the very poetic elements about the novel is that Iva has lucid dreams.

Dreams may seem illogical but they are very important. This image in my sub-consciousness is so real that I’m totally awestruck. Not only am I the artist—now I have become the viewer. Yet the picture is beautiful as it is powerful, so magnificent that it seems as if it is the embodiment of God.

I loved the Pay attention guys!, haha, and when Iva gets angry, too fiery for her own damn good. The novel has little endearing bits of French (mostly translated) here and there and loved the book and TV references.

I liked the information about NYU but maybe that’s because I didn’t know much. I couldn’t help wondering if everyone would enjoy all that.

Republicans and Democrats, Yankees and Southerners, homophobia, anti-Semitism, stereotypes, so racist, so American.

A story unlike ours—another catch the American-Dream story that entices a bunch of people from around the world to come here. And what the fuck is the fucking American-Dream? Just another clever, white, businesshead doing well. Maybe that’s unfair but it’s okay, because I’m white too in that sense, but yet not successful.

The writing is great, the story is great, the protagonist is believable and lovable and has a rich backstory. The novel has no obvious plot holes. The mystery thrives and builds up till the last. The writing is fast-paced, you don’t want to stop because you want to KNOW. Sometimes you’re wondering where is this all going, even the characters don’t seem to know. Beyond Desire is a jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered here and there, haphazardly, and the picture doesn’t form until the last piece is in place.

The novel has a little content of sexual nature, mentions of menstruation, sexual assault, rape, and homosexuality but not unnecessarily. If someone’s bothered by that, what I always say is: do these things not happen in real life? are the writers making it up? should they just not talk about it because it isn’t all nice?

People don’t like heroes and they just love to destroy them even if these heroes are trying to save them, risking and sacrificing everything for the ungrateful fuckers.

Best explains the novel.

I continually oscillated between 4 stars and 5 stars so 4.5 stars it is.

So, to conclude, I had so much fun with the roller coaster that is Beyond Desire.

Forget all I just said, just GO AND READ THE BOOK!

(This is a spoiler-free review but if you have read the book there is a little spoiler included in the Goodreads review.)

Book Review | Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid

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An easy, enjoyable read. I sat back and relaxed, reading it slowly, savoring the beautiful, almost lyrical prose.

“A breeze tastes my sweat and I shiver, shutting my eyes and raising my arms with it, wanting to fly. I walk in circles, tracing the ripples that would radiate if the stars fell from the sky through the lake of this lawn, one by one, like a rainstorm moving slowly into the breeze, toward the tree, each splash, each circle, closer.
And with a last stardrop, a last circle, I arrive, and she’s there, chemical wonder in her eyes.”

The writing is short, precise and witty. The novel starts and ends with a reference to the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and the war of succession amongst his sons. The characters names are symbolic as they are the same as Shah Jahan; Khurram, his sons; Dara Shikoh, Shuja, Murad, Aurangzeb, wife; Mumtaz and grandson from Aurangzeb; Muazzam, and Manucci, who worked in the service of Dara Shikoh and somewhat suffer the same fate as their historical counterparts.

Set in the bustling city of Lahore, called the Heart of Pakistan, during the summer of 1998 when Pakistan was testing for Nuclear bombs, it is a more liberal than a true portrayal of the corrupt and decadent elite class of Lahore which only a few of Pakistanis will identify with. At the same time, the occasional vernacular and Pakistani slang, a bit of Pakistani culture and the names of the streets of Lahore are very reaffirming to the Pakistani reader.

Moth Smoke revolves around three people: Darashikoh “Daru” Shezad; the orphan anti-hero, Mumtaz Kashmiri; the wife of his best friend, Murad Badshah; his drug supplier, while Aurangzeb “Ozi” Shah, Daru’s best friend is a secondary character.

The book is mostly a monologue coming from Daru but other chapters are a series of flashbacks narrated by different characters giving great insight into them, and one even putting you in the shoes of an overworked judge in session at court.

Daru’s childhood best friend Ozi has come back from the States after many years with an attractive wife on one arm and a child in the other. Ozi is the son of a corrupt wealthy man, who was Daru’s patron, a typical by-product of a politically corrupt society.

“…bigger cars have the right of way.”

Daru loses his job, and with that his self-esteem and his shaky position on the fringes of Lahore’s elite society.

Mumtaz and Daru are drawn to each other from the moment they meet, both like a moth to a flame, torn between desire and the people they hold dear and feel obligated to.

It is the story of a man unable to deal with his circumstances and his social status, and whose sense of entitlement, envy, disdain and haughtiness leads him to his own inevitable destruction.

The novel is about social hierarchy, lust, depravity, drugs, unemployment, addiction, obsession and the corruption in third world countries where the rich feed on poor like vultures.

What I can definitely say about this novel is less is more. One very interesting and simple but witty part of the novel was using air conditioning as the control factor between the elites and the masses. The characters were very raw, well-thought and deftly constructed. The writing was not only arresting but thought-provoking.

The end of the novel was poetically just in my opinion but still, it leaves you hanging, unable to decide.
“When the uncertain future becomes the past, the past, in turn, becomes uncertain.”

My Review of Vanity Fair

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Maybe I’ve matured as a reader now but I think I haven’t enjoyed any classic as much as I did this one. It was thicker and longer than many a novel, but I enjoyed it the better for it. By the end, I understood why it was so long, the ending justified it. I was so daunted by its iconic title to read it before, but it was easier to read than most classics. The experience was complete, there wasn’t anything missing, it had everything and so so much more.

Published in 1847-1848, Vanity Fair is a Victorian satire and covers the English era during and after the Napoleonic Wars. The novel is about two women, totally opposite to each other, who after completing their education set out into the world. One an orphan, alone and friendless in the world except for her companion who is charming, witty, satirical, poised, manipulative, and striving to make her way into the world while the other, good-natured but passive and naïve, engaged from early childhood and belonging to a prosperous family. Thus the adventure begins, of love and loss, death and tragedy, trickery and deceit, innocence and naiveté, war and conflict.

Thackeray talks about British Raj of those times and the Battle of Waterloo which changes the course of the lives of the protagonists. The writing is rich with historical, Biblical, and literary allusions and references. The omniscient narration is most endearing.

The title of the novel, Vanity Fair, has been iconic to this day. Turns out it comes from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a Christian allegory published in 1678. The author explains his title again and again in the novel bringing its significance to light.

The author declares the heroine of the novel in the very beginning but subtitled his novel “A novel without a hero” which I don’t agree with, by the way. I recognized a hero in William Dobbin by the latter part of the novel.

Thackeray’s writing portrayed a realism unfound among the writers of his time. Thackeray discusses the human nature, explores the hypocrisy of society, and takes the curtain off the mysteries of life for a moment and lets us take a peek in.

The novel is about sticking to the idols we make, ourselves, of people we think we love but which are nothing like the reality, our need to believe in our ideals no matter how false they may be, the egotism and of course the vanity of the innocent and the cunning, the rich and the poor alike, the human infidelity, the brutal reality of being poor, human greed, of closing our eyes to what is right in front of us, the truth, the frailty of relations, of friendship and opportunism.

Thackeray shows us and believes that love triumphs in the end, but so does villainy, it doesn’t get retribution enough, but I had the underlying sense that depravity is a punishment in itself.

“All is vanity”. Ecclesiastes 1.2.