MARCH 2016
Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida


Book Reviews By NITISH S. RELE,
[email protected]

When Breath Becomes Air bookWhen Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi; (238 pages; $25); published by Random House (

March 9 marks the first death anniversary of this book’s author. Nearly two years after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi died at just 37. A voracious reader always fascinated with the workings of the brain and thoughts, he studied English Literature and Philosophy before spending a decade to become a neurosurgeon (“People often ask me if neurosurgery is a calling, and is my answer is always yes. You can’t see it as a job, because if it’s a job, it’s one of the worst jobs there is”). A CT scan showed he had stage four  lung cancer, widely dispersed, spreading into his liver and deforming the spine. The doctor, who had dedicated himself to treat the dying, was now a patient struggling to live. “Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process,” writes Kalanithi as he and his internist wife Lucy decide to have a child as his life was coming to a close. While hopeful of living long enough to leave some memory with his daughter, Cady, he knows, “Words have a longevity I do not.” Not one to shy away from death but, in fact, face its reality with integrity, he struggles with the question of what is a meaningful life and how to live it. “Everyone succumbs to finitude … The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes (Hebrew Bible) described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed,” notes this remarkably gifted writer in the final chapter of a heartbreaking, compassionate and rousing memoir that will stir your senses and thoughts on the meaning of human existence.

The Tusk That Did the DamageThe Tusk That Did the Damage” (230 pages; $24.95) by Tania James; published by Alfred A. Knopf (

Though a work of fiction, you can tell the author of “Atlas of Unknowns” and “Aerogrammes” researched endless volumes about elephants and their behavior, as well as spoke to poachers in India to write this touching but lively book. It is because of these intense efforts that Tania James is able to give a voice to the poacher, the documentarian and mainly an orphaned homicidal elephant, the Gravedigger. Set in South India, you hear tales of how Manu, son of a rich farmer, is drawn into the disreputable, appealing world of poaching after the death of his cousin. Emma, an American documentarian, is making a film on a local veterinarian but in the process falls in love with her subject. And then our “hero” of sorts of our novel, the Gravedigger, who’s been terrorizing the countryside, killing and gently burying his human victims. His reaction on poachers killing his mother? “He went to her. He touched her warm trunk, stretched straight but slack. He touches its ridges and folds, and the very tip, a single, empty finger with which she had pinched him a gooseberry not two hours before. A charred sent from her wound. No air from her nostril, no light in the eye. All around: the stink of gunmetal and smoke.” The narrations by the three subjects, especially the Gravedigger, are touching, beautifully told, striking a note or two in the reader’s heart. And for that, James deserves a round of applause.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra” (320 pages; $16) by Vaseem Khan; published by Hachette Book Group (

It is said that one should always start a new endeavor by taking the blessing of Lord Ganesha. And that is what Vaseem Khan appears to have done in this debut novel. Inspector Ashwin Chopra of Mumbai is on the verge of retirement when two unforeseen mysteries hurl in his face: suspicious drowning of a young boy and a baby elephant who he rightly names Baby Ganesh. The death of the boy from a poor neighborhood is close to being written off as an accident before the determined policeman takes up the case. Of course, in an overcrowded city where desperate people commit despicable acts, Chopra runs into corrupt politicians, lawmakers and policemen. Before you know it, he has taken the help of the elephant to solve the case. In fact, the book ends with Chopra setting up the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency. Adding color and sometimes joy to the characters is Chopra’s wife Poppy, a meddlesome mother-in-law and the overbearing but rib-tickling Mrs. Subramanium, president of the Air Force Colony’s building committee. Author Khan, who works at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science, has written a gem of a crime mystery novel. And yes, he is obliging us with the second in a series of Inspector Ashwin Chopra novels. We cannot wait to get our hands on “The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown,” which will be released in August. Stay tuned!

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