Just young not adult

Before the City of Bones, Vampire Academies, Hunger Games and Harry Potters…there was Enid Blyton- Famous Five, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys-at least for me! Only in those days it was called teenage fiction and not young adult or YA; as it is more popularly known to many.

That was when the teenage books were written about adventures at school or with friends at your family island. Teenage books were about finding lost treasure or solving a small town mystery not about falling in love at age of 14 with vampires and saving the world! I remember reading my first Nancy Drew called Password in Larkspur Lane at age 10 and being so fascinated with this 18-year old girl detective. I admit Nancy had a boy-friend, but that didn’t come until later books and it was always so subtle. It was so much fun being 13 and discussing the handsome Ned Nickerson with your friends. A little later I started reading Hardy Boys which none of my girlfriends liked but I loved them, especially Frank Hardy.

I could probably not re-read Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys again, but I could re-read Enid Blyton any time at any age. My favourite Enid Blyton series were Malory Towers and Five-find outers. Malory Towers follows a group of girls at a girls’ school called St. Clare’s and has six books in the series. It follows the main heroine Darrell Rivers from age 12-18. The book consists of her friendships, pranks and journey through school. It is something that any teenage girl could relate to, but I especially found it fun because I went to a convent school just like Darrell Rivers. Five-find outers was another favorite series consisting of a group of kids who solve small-town mysteries.

These books had fun, mystery, characters and above all innocence found only in a 14-year old. These books were not of a 16-year old trying to kill kids like in Hunger Games. The series which was closest to the old style was Harry Potter. It was full of fun, adventure, magic and still innocence on so many levels. These days everywhere you turn there is a new young adult urban fantasy book coming out next month! Urban fantasy genre is a lot of fun to read, but not with a teenage kid trying to behave like a 30-year old and saving the world. There are good coming of age books out there like “Tell the wolves I’m home”, but they are few and far in between. How about we leave the world saving and falling seriously in love to adults and let the young adults be just young!

Yuganta-Iravati Karve

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This is a second book in recent times that I have read about Mahabharata, and each one is diametrically opposite to the other. While the Palace of Illusions reads like a novel written by an amateur, Yuganta is disturbing and thought-provoking compilation by an expert.  Yuganta literally means End of an Epoch/Age. Yuganta is an analysis of Mahabharata by Dr. Iravati Karve. She was an anthropologist by education and in Yuganta she presented a complete analytical picture of the characters and personalities in Mahabharata.

Dr. Karve has analyzed the main characters of Mahabharata namely Bhishma, Dhritrashtra, Vidur, Kunti, Gandhari, Duryodhan, Arjun, Yudhishtir, Karna and Draupadi and of course Krishna. Surprisingly her analysis on Krishna is everything but reverent.  At the same time she explains the various Sanskrit terms, the caste system during the time of Mahabharata, the Kshatriya philosophies and code of conduct, and also draws parallels to the Greek philosophy.

In her analysis all the characters have shades of grey with none of them being completely bad nor fully good and right. While Duryodhana has always been considered villain, he has his good moments. And Arjun and Krishna while always being considered on the side of justice and good, have done some completely inhumane and unethical deeds. Her character analysis makes one think that Mahabharata actually did happen in 1000BC instead of being a mythical epic.  

I especially liked her analysis on concept of Hinduism, and Lord Krishna.  According to Dr. Karve, Krishna wasn’t considered God in those times, instead he was an incredibly clever statesman and a dear friend to Arjun. The relationship between him and Arjun wasn’t one of a devotee and God, but more like that between intimate close friends.  Krishna in those days drank, made merry, ate meat (including beef) and probably had women followers. Especially interesting are her musings on how and when Krishna became a God like figure and when did people start considering cow a scared holy being! Considering that Krishna was a Kshatriya and liked to hunt, it probably isn’t a stretch of imagination that his clan (Yadavs) did eat part of what hunted including cattle. 

As Hindus we have been raised thinking that Krishna is an all encompassing god and that cow was his favoured animal and is holy and not to be eaten. I will not deny that reading about him being a mere human and mortal did not disturb me, didn’t matter that rationally I know God is obviously a figment of our imagination. We invented a superior being who holds our fates in his hands, thus giving someone higher up the power to right our wrongs and someone to hold on when the world starts to go horribly wrong. Inspite of rationally knowing everything most of us hold on to the concept of religion and higher being. 

But all in all, it is a very thought provoking essay. It makes one think about how the society which was so culturally and morally forward could end up being what Indian society is today.

The Hangman’s Daughter

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Oliver Pötzsch’s ,” The Hangman’s Daughter” is a historical thriller set in small Bavarian town. It starts with Jakob Kuisl being a young boy assisting his father with an execution. The story then begins with murder of children in the Alpine town where Jakob Kuisl is now a hangman. The murder suspect is a midwife who is accused of practicing witchcraft. In the mean time more children are killed and the citizens of our good town start whispering about witches, sorcerers and devils. Amidst the mounting hysteria and fear of witchcraft the hangman races against time to save the children from being killed and midwife from being staked alive. Helping him in his deduction are his head-strong beautiful daughter Magdalena and a young physician Simon who is smitten with his daughter.

While the murder plot is somewhat loose, the atmosphere and history surrounding the story are described genuinely and brilliantly. The author has perfectly captured the 17th century mindset about witch craft and women. The cruel society where a hangman is necessary to do all the dirty work but talking or socializing with him brought bad luck and where any woman with slightest knowledge about herbs and health was looked on with suspicion, has been described well by the author. The best part for me was the location of the story which was set in a small Bavarian town in 17th century. Historical fiction very often gets based in Elizabethan England and it gets a tad boring for me. Since Pötzsch himself descends from line of Kuisl executioners from Bavaria, he knows what he is writing about. The characters could use a little more fleshing out, especially the villains but he has done a good job of characterizing Jakob Kuisl, an executioner with unusual compassionate nature.

Overall it is a well-written historical fiction which will not disappoint if read with an open mind. I am looking forward to reading more books by Pötzsch.