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Author: Viktor Frankl

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945, Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory--known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")--holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

At the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaninghad sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a "book that made a difference in your life" found Man's Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.
Publisher: Fingerprint Publications
Author: Majid Rafizadeh

Majid Rafizadeh, the author of A God Who Hates Women, has a very important story to tell. While the world appears to focus on contemporary life in Syria and Iran, the stories of ordinary civilians that speak volumes on the abuse, atrocities and human rights violations that prevail, go back a long time down Syria’s history – especially for women.

For women in most of the world’s male-dominated societies, the concept of choice is non-existent. In most such contexts, women face lives filled with inequality, violence, injustice, abuse, and discrimination on a daily basis. Through his book, Majid Rafizadeh looks at the journey of his mother, primarily. The book is an emotional journey, talking about a labyrinth of violence and civil war.

The narrative also touches upon the harsh and unspoken reality that was true of life in Maqnon, a town in Syria. Rape, sexual violence and constant sexual violation of children – boys and girls alike, is seen to be a regular occurrence, and even a strategic tool to amass and wield power in the community.

Majid Rafizadeh explains the journey through a battlefield riddled with archaic cultural demands and explosive emotions. where a mother and her son struggle to navigate through a cruel patriarchal society in an attempt to survive, and to live.

Will endurance and courage overcome daily abuse? Will a crumbling homeland deprive a young boy of his right to identity? Will it wipe away all dreams of a future? A myriad of memories and experiences are woven together in this riveting true tale of one family’s heartbreaking struggle through the mire of religion, politics, war and their unwavering hope for peace.
Title: How to stop your grownup from making bad decisions.
Publisher: Harper Collins
Judy Balan's latest is a series that starts with Book 1: "How to stop your grownup from making bad decisions." The first in the Nina Series is a beautiful exercise in looking at the world through the eyes of an inquisitive teenager - one whose influences are well within her own domain to determine and shape. Judy's book is a breath of fresh air amidst a diet of fiction for children and YA that hinged on goblins, elves, pixies, giants and all those strange creatures.  
I come from a place where I've been called out for overthinking: the regular presupposition of the notion that overthinking is bad, yada yada yada. But here's Nina, all of eleven, ready to set my perspective right where that goes. Each page is a delightful read, and on occasion, you find yourself astounded at how much you share with Nina - that's how real, nuanced and sincere she is, and that's how brilliant Judy's writing is. 

I'm not going into the plot, but here are all the things I absolutely love about this book:
1. The Characters: From a benevolent uncle to a ridiculous mother's-boyfriend, every character comes with so many layers. You don't find yourself judging anyone, even if you're reading lines that make you want to judge them. The way Nina talks about everyone - right from her mad English teacher to her confused mother, you only see the kind of flawed thought processes we are being conditioned into following, as adults. Amazing work.

2. The casual language that evokes the most poignant thoughts. This is SO Judy's style - she can write something that can leave you in splits for a bit, and then leave you in the lap of deep thought for a long time. 

3. Nina. Nothing says REAL more than the anthropomorphism that this eleven-year-old is. Exceptional character - she's your inner child, she is your overthinking mind, and she is your rational voice. Nina makes you wake up to something most people have spent years ignoring: the voice in the head.

Why does Nina make an effective Peace Read? Because she is the perfect example of the kind of rawness that children and teenagers present to us. They are incredibly impressionable and have every idea of what's going on even if they don't have the vocabulary to articulate it. Nina makes a compelling case for being the perfect ambassador for peace education and the dismantling of stereotypes. 
Written by Deepika Ramesh (originally carried here)
RK Narayan is one of my most favourite Indian writers. I have read a few more Indian authors, but nobody’s work reminded me of RK Narayan, or Ruskin Bond. Not that the others were not good — I love quite a few Indian authors — but the warm feelings that RK Narayan’s, and Ruskin Bond’s books evoke in me are special. When I was reading Radhika Swarup’s Where The River Parts, I couldn’t dismiss the thought that her writing was reminiscent of the gentlemen I adore. Of course, minus the violence that Swarup had to explore.

Quite incidentally, as my father was relishing the India-Pakistan cricket match yesterday, I read Where the River Parts, which offers a distressing, yet poetic account of the shadow that the partition of India and Pakistan cast.

With his gaze fixed on the TV, my father went, “Ouch. Another wicket. Bad India. Bad!” and muttered fervent prayers under his breath for India to win. Having been born and brought up in a family that passionately discussed the cricket match, and nuclear weapons test, all pertaining to India and Pakistan, I could relate to Where the River Parts effortlessly.

I loved the way the book begins. The school-goers, best friends, neighbours, Asha (the Hindu girl), and Nargis (the Muslim one) exchange delicacies, spend all their days in each others’s houses, and Asha fasts for Ramzan, while Nargis observes Karva Chauth. Asha falls in love with her best friend’s brother — Firoze, who advocates for a separate country for Muslims. The young lovers meet by the river Ravi (which plays a significant role in the book), steal memorable moments, and because of their overwhelming love, Asha is made to bear a secret that she chooses not to share with anybody.
It’s 1947; India and Pakistan would become free. Suhanpur, their hometown, would become a part of Pakistan, jeopardising the security of Asha’s family. And that’s when Nargis’s wedding is also about to take place. Asha, after being almost abused by her domestic help, spends her last few hours with Nargis and her family, before fleeing their beloved Suhanpur. Firoze himself drops them off at a bus station for the family to reach Delhi. Those parts are heartbreaking.

Swarup doesn’t falter there. Her descriptions of the summer romance between Firoze and Asha, the extraordinary friendship between the Hindu-Muslim families, the savagery that makes Asha an orphan and a refugee, and the myriad ironies (of a Muslim rescuing a Hindu, as she runs to save her life from Muslims themselves), are charged with powerful emotions.

It was too quiet for hope, and then too loud for safety.She thought of the people she had lost, of the affection, the smiles, the belonging she could never again take for granted. It was the end of a life, and as she stood there, shivering in the brief night-time chill, it dawned on her that it was the end of her childhood.

Life could have been unkind to Asha during the partition, but her marital life gives her the much needed solace. After marrying Om (a man from Suhanpur, whom she used to detest), she leads a happy life; however the harrowing memories visit her like uninvited guests. How can one eliminate those demons, despite choosing to live like a river! Perhaps, going with the flow is the only way out, and that’s how Asha lives.

Where the River Parts features women, who take everything in their stride, whose spirits are indomitable, and men, who are remarkably progressive and considerate.

50 years after the partition, life brings Firoze back to Asha. I squirmed a bit, when I read that part. The coincidence made me incredulous, for it seemed way bigger than life. However, in a while, I wanted Firoze, and Asha to rekindle their love. I wanted them to live like Fermina, and Florentino from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. Swarup didn’t let me revel in my hope. She carefully negotiates another sharp turn there. It made me sad; however it’s a fitting end all the same.

Many thanks to Sandstone Press, and NetGalley for sending me a copy.

Title: Munnu
Author: Malik Sajad
Publisher: Harper Collins
A compelling graphic novel, Munnu is a glimpse at the history of Indian-administered Kashmir, specifically pivoting around Srinagar. The book comprises the author’s own story – told in the form of his protagonist, which is modeled after himself. From the first frame to the last, the graphic novel has you hooked. Munnu and his story are compelling. The likening the Kashmiri to the Hangul, or the Kashmiri stag is a slap in the face – what with the species slowly becoming endangered.
Talking about life as he knew it, growing up in the little spaces that militarisation and resistance offered to being a human. Art and drawing comics remains the source of pleasure for the young lad, who grows into living a life in an occupation-ridden Kashmir – one that he knows is not going to change. He sketches the photos of the unrecognised and disfigured faces he sees in the newspapers – and it remains a sordid reminder of the truth that gets repackaged for distant public consumption in the form of statistics. 
Munnu mentions Joe Sacco – and yet, it is on par, if not better, than Sacco’s works. Becoming the first official graphic novel to chronicle an Indian conflict, and the Kashmiri conflict no less, Munnu brings a catena of historical events alive in his narrative, and the images with their powerful strokes – even if only in black and white, find a way to remain locked inside your eyelids long after you close the book.
It explores the little world that Munnu has created for himself – one that he uses to communicate with the world outside. In effortless authenticity, Munnu portrays the global apathy that the issue has often been met with, much less the arrogance, privilege and sense of entitlement characteristic of some that profess a sense of intellectual styling in their approach towards the Kashmir issue.  The end leaves you smarting, as it examines the uncontained continuation of a brazen sense of injustice. And no one questions, no one asks.
Munnu is easily a peace read – not only for the truths it brings to fore, but also because of the beautiful use of art to communicate, to re-present a truth that has seldom been given importance in print in the way  that it should be told.

Title: The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author(s): Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publisher: Bloomsburry
One of the ways to tell a war story is to build a retrospective narrative that shows life as it was, in sharp contrast with life as it is. When this is retold in the format of an epistolary writing structure, the power of the art of storytelling through letter writing situates you effortlessly in the heart of those very times. The novel starts off in 1946 London, and tells the story with experiences from the life and times of the author herself. Her book was a result of the encouraging ways of the members of a book club she belonged to, and the end product emerged in the form of this book.

Guernsey was occupied during the Second World War, and this provides a lingering backdrop for the book. Amidst tales of great courage and strength, there was also a shadow of terrible cruelty and heartlessness that existed. German soldiers stole food from the islanders - mere meals of turnip soup and parboiled potatoes that were cooked by being scorched on an iron.

The protagonist is a young writer from London, who falls in love with Guernsey. In the storyline, Elizabeth McKenna is a character told through the voices of other characters - and she develops a relationship with a German captain. The London-based writer, Juliet Ashton, falls in love with Guernsey - and so is, therefore, a young English version of Shaffer. Juliet is a funny and intriguing young woman, very self-aware and fully conscious of her right to equality. She receives a letter from an islander named Dawsey Adams who has, by chance, acquired her old copy of Charles Lamb's essays - and with their exchange of letters, she finds out about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The society began as an on-the-spot invention, when Elizabeth offered it as a story to the Germans as an explanation for why a group of her friends had broken curfew when they were really feasting on a secret pig.

Slowly, the society gains strength. They read and discuss books, and doing so becomes a refuge from their grimly ambiguous situation. What touches you most about the portrayal is the humanisation of the other - the enemy. Living alongside the enemy is treated as a norm, as an ordinary element in a lifestyle. The narrative looks  at enemies from an individual to a communal level - and that's ultimately shown not as an us-versus-them story, but as a realistic essay of human choices, and how these choices and matters of the heart transcend man-made boundaries in the form of enmity. 

Title: Defiant Dreams
Author: Varied / Anthology / Editors: Rhiti Bose and Lopamudra Banerjee
Publisher: Readomania

When the book is titled Defiant Dreams, you just know that you're finding yourself in a world where there is something to be stood up to, to be stood up against, and to question. Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas does that, and more. The anthology comprises twenty-four stories, putting together not just stories set in different contexts, but creating a tapestry of love and patience, courage and determination. Between the lines, arise the inherent strength of humanity, peppered with the resilience quintessential of a woman. Each story is a tribute to dreams that refuse to be crushed by the heel a range of social injustices.

Each tale makes a hero out of the ordinary. Mothers. Daughters. Wives. Brides to be. Women defy, question, shake up the norm, and rise. The shades are myriad: marrying a girl child off trumps educating her, a single woman is persecuted for her choices, a woman is viewed as chattel in the hands of her family, a woman fights violence, a woman fights deprivation. While these are by no means new terrain, it is the handling of each subject that makes all the difference. None of the authors' protagonists fall in line with being the "victim". In some of the stories, the gender quotient blends and structures the story into a story of a human - and these are the best of portrayals, for nothing is more powerful than the truth that women are human.

At the end of the day, Defiant Dreams leaves you with a powerful note. It is not who you are for someone else or what you are perceived to be by someone else who has only a window into your life that counts. It is who you choose to be. It is the questions you choose to answer, it is the way you choose to answer them. Life is in the choice of staying in the status quo, or shaking it up - and of bearing the consequences either way. In any of the 24 stories, you don't want to ask "WHY" the protagonists didn't do this or that earlier - you don't want to question their choices. The reason? The exemplary sense of conviction they exhibit in making and following through with those very choices.