HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week
The Himalayas, Hindustani classical music and a searing tale of Black America -- all that on the reading list this weekUpdated: Aug 10, 2019 10:01 IST
CHASING THE RAAG DREAM BY ANEESH PRADHAN
Hindustani music, one of India’s art music traditions, has evolved over several centuries into the complex ecosystem it is today. While many bemoan the loss of ‘purity’ in this musical system now, the truth is that it has always been in a state of flux – every generation absorbed elements from the past, reinterpreted them and passed them on to the next.
Presently, Hindustani music is poised at a critical juncture where traditions is being challenged by changing mindsets, new technology and an economic reality vastly different from that prevalent until the last decade of the twentieth century.
Chasing the Raag Dream traces the evolution of the Hindustan music world to its present context, with a view to finding possible pathways to ensure a healthier future for it.*
WILD HIMALAYA BY STEPHEN ALTER
The Himalaya span a distance of roughly 2300 kilometres in length and between 350 and 150 kilometres in breadth, rising to a maximum height of almost 9 kilometres above sea level. In Wild Himalaya, award-winning author Stephen Alter brings alive the greatest mountain range on earth in all its terrifying beauty, grandeur and complexity. Travelling to all the five countries that the Himalayan range traverses – India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal and China – Alter braids together on the ground reports with a deep understanding and study of the history, science, geology, environment, flora, fauna, myth, folklore, spirituality , climate and human settlements of the region to provide a nuanced and rich portrait of these legendary mountains. Adding colour to the narrative are riveting tales unearthed by the author of some of the range’s most storied peaks – Everest or Chomulungma, Kanchenjunga, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Nanga Parbat and others.
The book is divided into eight sections which delve deep into particular aspects of the Himalaya. “orogenesis ‘ explores the origin, evolution, geology, geography and other such core aspects of these mountains; ‘The Third Pole’ concerns itself with weather, glaciers, wetlands and rivers; ‘Flora Himalensis’ details extraordinary Himalayan plants and trees; ‘Winged Migrants’ goes deep into the world of Himalayan birds and insects; in ‘Mountain Mammals’ we cross high passes and go above the treeline in search of brown bears, blue sheep and snow leopards; ‘Ancestral Journeys’ takes a close look at human settlement in the Himalaya and stories of origin and migration, both ancient and contemporary; ‘At the Edge of Beyond’ recounts epic adventures and great mountaineering feats; and , finally, ‘In a Thousand Ages of the Gods’ the author examines the essence of Himalayan art, folklore and mythology as well as enigmatic mysteries such as the existence of the Yeti, along the key questions of conservation.
Although there have been hundreds of books, and some masterpieces, about one or the other aspect of the Himalaya, not one of them has come close to capturing the incredible complexity and majesty of these mountains; Until now. In Wild Himalaya, Stephen Alter, who considers himself an endemic species (having spent most of his life in these mountains) , gives us the definitive natural history of the greatest mountain range on earth.*
THE NICKEL BOYS BY COLSON WHITEHEAD
Elwood Curtis knows he is as good as anyone – growing up in 1960s Florida, he has taken the words of Dr Martin Luther King to heart. He is about to enroll in the local black college, determined to make something of himself. But given the time and the place, one innocent mistake is all it takes to destroy his future, and so instead of college, Elwood arrives at the Nickel Academy, a segregated reform school claiming to provide an education which will equip its inmates to become ‘honorable and honest men’.
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a nightmarish upside-down world, where any boy who resists the corrupt depravity of the authorities is likely to disappear ‘out back’. Elwood tries to hold on to Dr King’s ringing assertion’, ‘Throw us in jail, and we will still love you.’ But Elwood’s fellow inmate and new friend Turner thinks Elwood naïve and worse, the worlds is crooked and the only way to survive is to emulate the cruelty and cynicism of their oppressors.
When Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s scepticism collide, the result has decades-long repercussions. The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven novel by a great American writer whose clear sighted and humane storytelling continues to illuminate our current reality.*
*All copy from the book flap
First Published: Aug 09, 2019 18:51 IST