What to Read Next Issue 15
5 books on Russia Ukraine, a must read tech thriller & the IIM Women go to the Jaipur Lit Fest
It’s springtime everywhere & the apricot & cherry trees here in Manali are explosions of pink & white. Beautiful, but if only these were the sole explosions our world had to deal with.
As war stories flash fast and furious, here are 5 enthralling reads, each insightful in a different way. Historical fiction, memoirs, reportage & a short story use the lens of history, geography, economics & politics to understand the Russia Ukraine conflict.
If you enjoy going beyond newspaper reports and building up a world view on global matters, consider signing up for a Book Box. With specially curated books delivered to your doorstep every month, you will find you are absorbing experiences, stories & ideas in a way that would otherwise not be possible.
Must Reads : Book 1 of 5
An American born British fund manager sets up shop in Russia. The socialist state has splintered, state assets are for sale, often dirt cheap. There are millions to be made by the few foreigners like him who dare to venture into this lawless land. Of course it’s too good to last and soon enough our fund manager gets into conflict with the Russian oligarchs. And then with the biggest of them all - Vladimir Putin. Red Notice is a mesmerising story - Russia vs the West. A great audiobook too.
Must Reads : Book 2 of 5
The Eighth Life is historical fiction, set in Georgia, and traces the life of a chocolate makers clan over the last 100 years. This is Georgia but it tells us a great deal about Ukraine too. Because in many ways Georgia mirrors Ukraine in its history, its geography and its satellite state relationship with Russia. This troublesome history and its effects on the chocolate makers family is beautifully rendered. The book is long, but full of fascinating characters, many historical. Fabulous on audio too.
Must Reads : Book 3 of 5
Prisoners of Geography is about the intersection of politics and geography. It’s written by Tim Marshall, a journalist with years of reporting from the hotspots of the world. Read the chapter on Russia for geopolitical insights you will be unlikely to encounter anywhere else.
Must Reads : Book 4 of 5
A young boy finds himself alone in war torn Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. It’s freezing and the city is starving even as the Germans relentlessly advance. These are the horrors of war ordinary people must face - how do they survive it? David Benioff who is best known as co-creator & writer of Game of Thrones, explores the grim reality of war in the unforgettable City of Thieves .
Must Reads : Book 5 of 5
Nikolai Gogol’s short stories are not easy reads. Yet they are unique in their portrayal of small town Ukraine life, as peasants, landowners & Cossacks quarrel with each other and with dark spirits that seem to forever hover over them. Read the very first story in this collection, St.Ives - like many of Gogol’s stories it juxtaposes earthiness & superstition, moving between scenes of revelry and feasting to the dark shadows that lie beyond. The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol were written 200 years ago but have a particularly appropriate vibe in today’s fearful context.
Tech Thriller of the Month
New York Times journalists Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang have been following Facebook for years. In An Ugly Truth they investigate the unbelievable machinations at this tech giant. We’ve seen glimpses of these unscrupulous, engagement-at-all-costs strategies, with reports on Facebook’s complicity in the Russian interference in US elections, and in the Rohingya massacres in Burma, but to read it all in one go is revealing. And scary.
The IIM Women Alumni at the Jaipur Lit Fest
This year the IIM Women Alumni decided to go to the Jaipur Lit Fest. 18 members signed up, varying in age from their twenties to their sixties & including author & IIM Ahmedabad alumnus Rashmi Bansal. We speak to IIM Bangalore alumnus & finance professional Dhanashree Joglekar (DJ, second from the right in the picture above) and to IIM Calcutta alumnus Deepa Krishnan (DK, extreme right) whose Magic Tours of India organised the trip and ask them about their experience. Edited excerpts of the conversation.
1. What for you was the best part of the JLF trip ?
DK : The fact that we were a group of women alumni of IIMs, different ages, different backgrounds, all on a journey together to hear, read and explore ideas. People felt good to get away from routines (family, careers etc) and go back to being carefree girls again. Hanging out together in the tents, grabbing seats for each other, eating at the stalls, shopping at the bazaar, all of this is more fun when you are with friends.
DJ : The atmosphere around the sessions. Everything live. The exchange of ideas. The political discussions.The music evenings. It was relaxed and felt like a college girls trip.
2. What was your biggest learning from the trip?
DK : I realised that as a country, we need gatherings where people can meet and exchange ideas freely. The ability to conduct such events is one of the indicators of a well-functioning society.
DJ : Listening to the life journeys of the other people in our group, many of whom I didn’t know that well before.
3. Tell us about your 2 best sessions ?
DK: I enjoyed the geo-political discussions – there were several of them. Ira Mukhoty was a delight; I enjoyed Manu Pillai’s talk on the Maharajahs, but the talk that I found very engaging was Pranay Lal and Ambarish Satwik on the history of viruses.
DJ : The session on the changing axis of power with Vijay Gokhale, Bruno Maçães, Mahfuz Anam and Jyoti Malhotra was full of different perspectives. I related to Manoj Vajpayee’s session and how candid he was about how hard it is as one gets older, to bounce back from failure. The session on the sacred feminine with Arundhathi Subramaniam, Alka Pande and Malashri Lal was good even though I didn’t agree with a lot of what was said and found it exaggerated.
4. A session you walked out of ?
DK : Left mid-way through a Bollywood related book. Not my cup of tea.
DJ : There was a session on laughter I found boring so I left.
5. A session you felt bad you had to miss ?
DK : I missed Pavan Varma’s session as I chose to attend a session on viruses, Pranay Lal in conversation with Ambarish Satwik.
DJ : There was a session with Chinmay Tumhe I was looking out for, but there were so many things happening simultaneously I couldn’t spot it. I consoled myself that everything is available online.
6. Did you buy any books ? Which ones ?
DK : I bought Rana Safvi’s Where Stones Speak and Pavan Varma’s The Great Hindu Civilization.
DJ : I wanted to buy books so I could get them signed. But the author signings were all outdoors. They had long lines and the heat outside was very forbidding.
7. Was it all about the books or did you spend time doing other fun things too?
DK : We kept it flexible so that people could choose different activities and sessions – some of us stayed all-day long at the venue, some did half days, some went on sightseeing with our guide, some of us went shopping, some did two days of music stage, and we had some late night chats and parties too!
DJ : We attended sessions at the Lit Fest and also put aside time for other things. We had pyaaz kachoris and jalebis at Rawat Mishthan Bhandar, sipped the famous Sahu ki chai and one evening had a traditional meal at Johri at Lal Haveli restaurant. We visited the the Sanganer factory , bought blue pottery, handblock printed kurtis and other textiles.
8. Do you have to be a reader to enjoy JLF?
DK : Not in the least. But you will return a reader! Because you will hear all these fabulous authors, and then you’ll be tempted to buy their books!
March 25 at 6.30 pm IST on Zoom: The Juhu Book Club meets to discuss the story of an American Japanese woman who works as an interpreter in the International Court of Justice in Intimacies by Katie Kitamura. All readers welcome.
April 15 at 6.30 pm IST on Zoom : Author Sumedha Ojha joins an IIM Book Club to discuss her historical fiction story of a female spy, set in the court of Chandragupta Maurya in Urnabhih. All readers welcome.
Readers who would like to attend any of these events please write in to email@example.com for the zoom link.
Next month we are back with the long promised murder mysteries & with the best books on negotiation.
And in the meantime, if you would like to revamp your reading life, do consider subscribing to a Book Box - for yourself or as a very special gift for friends, colleagues and family. We promise you won’t regret it.
Till next month then, Happy Reading !
PS - For more regular book recommendations follow us on Instagram, Facebook , Twitter or our blog.