The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

I picked up this book for two reasons: firstly, the previous book by Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, had left me awestruck with his exclusive writing style and storyline, it became an instant favourite. Secondly, this book too was highly recommended in the book clubs. I am happy I read this heart warming book.

The novel picks the pace from the very beginning. The 576 pages whizz past in no time at all. It is the story of two brothers who set out for California; each for their own reason. The younger one – Billy, wants to look for his mother who abandoned him when he was just 6 months. She sends them postcards on her way to begin a new life with her boyfriend but after that there is ‘silence’!

The other brother Emmett, an 18 year old, who just stepped out of the juvenile work farm, wants to go to California because he doesn’t want to break his brother’s heart and he is sure to find work and start a new life. After all what other option do the brothers have. Their mother is long gone, their father recently deceased, and their farm in Nebraska foreclosed by the bank.

Even before they begin their journey to California, the story takes a different turn. Emmett discovers that his two friends from the juvenile farm had sneaked into their house. The friends insist they accompany the brothers but just few hours into the journey, his friend Duchess runs away with Emmett’s car and they are left stranded. At every step the brothers face challenges and their life is in peril.

While reading the book, on numerous occasions I put away the book because I was scared…scared for the boys. Whenever they came face to face with danger, I kept the book away lest I have to read through to know about the evil befallen upon them. I know it is hilarious; putting away the book wouldn’t change the story! But I did not have the heart to read on…and within minutes the curiosity would get the better of me and I would pick up the novel…again!! But the beauty of Amor Towles is that he sees the brighter side of life. So any amount of challenges faced by Billy and Emmett did not leave them bitter nor could adversity touch them.

Though the story is gripping and kept me hooked but it wasn’t as magical or exclusive as ‘The Gentleman in Moscow’! So, I a little disappointed too!

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Chasing the Rainbow: The Growing Up in an Indian Village by Manoj Das

It is a book of short stories. They are light hearted and give a vivd description of the village life. The author paints an enchanting canvas of the sea and the village through this writings. He takes you alongwith him to the places he explores in his village Sankhari, District Balasore, bordering Medinpur districts in Bengal. Or the time spent at his uncles home in Koraput, bordering Andhra.

The author recounts amusing tales from his childhood. Most of the stories are from the time before India won freedom. The author claims that he lived in a village in Odisha, which was untouched from the stirrings of freedom struggle of the nation. A ‘gora’ had never set foot in the village and neither did they witness a vehicle being driven. The village administration was headed by the President, a person appointed by the British to govern twenty villages. And the author had the privilege of being the President’s son.

Even though his father was appointed as a President, they lived a humble life and the author wandered to every nook and cranny either alone or with his friends. Each stories narrates the escapades with charm and delight a child experiences while discovering new places and encountering new challenges.

“The sun was setting. Outlined on the opposite horizon was a range of hills. Over it had flashed a rainbow. A year ago, another rainbow spanning the eastern horizon in my own village had tempted me to try catch its end hidden behind a row of trees though it had eluded me rather treacherously. But who knew if the rainbows in this region were not more friendly.” What an innocent description of a rainbow! I have always been awestruck with a rainbow but never did I try to catch it but after reading this account, I am waiting for the rainbow to appearing so that I can be a child once again and look for its tail end!

All of the stories are also a homage to the rural life which has almost disappeared and with its disappearance it has taken away the innocence of the humble souls residing in them.

The book has 28 stories in 160 pages. You can read all of them together or pick this book while you read another one. A good read indeed! Go for it!

How To Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh or ‘Thay’ as he is lovingly known, spread Zen Buddhism far and wide. All through his life, Thay practiced ‘mindfulness’ and preached the same to his disciples to resolve internal and external conflicts.

In this short book, he reiterates the tenets of Zen Buddhism – compassion, mindfulness and self-reflection. Though most of the concepts were known to me but it is always refreshing to read and practice them. In our busy world, we tend to forget to concentrate on our ‘breathing’! It is the easiest and basic way to reslove conflicts, both internal and external. So, such a short book reminds of the technique of mindfulness and doesn’t seem overwhelming. The beautiful and heartwarming illustrations added to the charm of the book.

“When you feel upset or angry, it’s important not to do or say anything. We need to calm down first. Don’t speak or act with energy of anger in you. Just come back to your body and your breathing. Breathe in and out mindfully, releasing the tension in your body and mind, or go for a walk until you are calm enough.”

“Any peace talks should begin with making peace with ourselves. First we need to recognise our anger, embrace it, and make peace with it. You don’t fight your anger, because your anger is you. Your anger is the wounded child in you. Why should you fight your anger? The method is entirely non-violent: awareness, mindfulness, and tenderly holding your anger within you. Like this, your anger will transform naturally.”

Though it was a short book but I took over a month to read it because I wanted to make the most of it. As I read along, I highlighted few lines and jotted down a few more. Afterall, these books are not only to be read; they have to be put into practice. Thay’s books have been transformative for me and this one is equally good.

The only shortcoming I felt was that the title ‘How To Fight’ should have been connected to the writings either by Shantum Seth in the foreword or by Thay himself in the book. The books talks about peace, anger, self-reflection, argument, etc. but nowhere does it mention…How To Fight!!

Nonetheless, it is a delightful read packed with wisdom!

Awareness of Sorrow

Breathing mindfully, you generate the energy of mindfulness that you can use to recognise and embrace your pain and sorrow. This brings relief and joy, diminishes pain, and transforms suffering. We do not try to run away from our difficult feelings and emotions. Breathing mindfully, we embrace them. Mindful breathing calms and purifies body and mind. It helps us let go of any tension in the body, and of any worries we may have about the past or the future. Mindful breathing helps us see reality as it is, and helps us let go of our wrong views and afflictions. Breathing mindfully relieves suffering and restores balance and happiness. The practice of mindful breathing can bring well-being, solidity, and freedom.

Thich Nhat Hanh