64. Five books that changed my life – Bartika Rai


Bartika Rai

Here’s the second part in my attempt to make people write about their favourite five books. Bartika Rai is currently in the US, studying to complete her undergraduate degree in accounting, music and finance at Wesleyan college. As a writer, she has worked with ECS Media and Navyaata magazine. She loves reading and writing fiction. She says she will not stop spending on books and will not replace them with kindle or used books.

So, in her own words, here are the five books that changed her life. Thank you Bartika for doing this.

The following list is my top 5 for the years that I have existed so far. I am definite that there are only an infinite number of books out there that are as engaging or more, which I have not yet laid my hands on which is a very scary thought to be aware of. For it is scary that people die without reading every book there is, unable to decipher every language there is and without seeing everything there is that exists. I am a huge Murakami follower at this point of time and am extensively reading all of him. A processing existentialist, I am fascinated with Albert Camus and am reading his notebooks (of course the Paperback version), and I like storytellers in The New Yorker, some, Yes. My line of writing is fiction and I have forever sucked at book reviews because of my extreme lengthy emphasis on details. But sharing good reads is important to me, for these books have made an impact in my life. I cannot for sure tell you how it changed me but it did enough to make me carry them everywhere I go, past immigration offices, oceans, and a changing me; it has made me strong enough to trade off some of my dresses and noodles away to carry them in my luggage with me. Well you know how important dresses are for girls, to be girls, to stay girls. This said, these books are more important than my identity to me right now, to a changing me.

1. The Little Prince by Antonie De Saint-Exupery


I first read The Little Prince when I was 13 with my Reading class at school. My teacher, Mrs. HiraGurung, explained most of the book, and I never saw the book with fascination. The Little Prince to me back then, was to me like Captain Underpants, Tintin, and of less significance than Nancy Drew. With time though, as I struggled with growing up, The Little Prince happened to me again. A pilot who crashes in a desert meets an interesting, almost weird prince which is the beginning of their friendship. The story begins with the pilot reflecting on his childhood dream of becoming an artist and how the adults who surrounded him persuaded him to take another career path when he was just 7. Antoine De Saint-Exupery very wisely uses humor and innocence of his character to explicitly state the realities of the society, the process of adulthood and how we trade off what we love to do with what we should do. Adults love to complicate their already complicated lives by trying to make practical decisions they actually are very confused about. Real artists will then become engineers, real musicians will become bankers and real photographers will become doctors. The amazing thing about The Little Prince is the simplicity of language, the truth and the strange clarity that will leave you questioning what you are doing in your life and have you respect a child’s opinion.

2. The Outsider/ The Stranger by Albert Camus


My friend Irina first gave me The Outsider to read during a vacation when I was in Grade 9, she, being the amazing person she is, would recommend books to me. I never got past the first paragraph because Sidney Sheldon was in my top charts at that point of time. I never opened the book again until a good number of years later; it lay quietly under my Sheldon book stack. The Outsider is a scary book. It is scary in the sense that it is boldly real. Meursault, the main character of the book, is not a hypocrite, he is honest, he will not pretend because he does not understand why he should. He does not behave in the socially accepted ways and is terribly ordinary. When his mother dies, he does not grieve. In fact, the sun moves him more than his mother’s death, with its occasional irritation and warmth. Returning to his ordinary life after the funeral, he gets involved in a confusing murder and is charged with the crime. His entire life is brought to light following the charge in the trial and he is sentenced to death for being indifferent and for not being a hypocrite. Camus’s writing is unconventional, simple, and threateningly real. This society is a sham for treating hypocrites with so much respect.

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte


I read Wuthering Heights at a time when I was doing my own small research on classics, and also because classics were always so cheap I could afford it with my pay. Yes, Wuthering Heights is a love story. But it is not a love story written by outsourced writers for a commercial publishing company which are almost like porn books. Wuthering Heights is passionate, sad, compelling and beautifully written. The characters are flawed, jealousy is evident and so is greed. There is pride, foolishness, and complications because the characters do not behave as they rationally should. But then again, whoever behaves in a rational manner every day in their lives. Do you? What makes Wuthering Heights different is the passionate style of writing, the scandalous affair and the time of when it was written, the time in history when it was forbidden for the dark arts to be expressed, especially by a she writer.

4. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka


There are plenty of characters in Otsuka’s novel; Shizuma, Shiki, Toshiko, Tora, Futaye, Mitsuyo, and many more, but there is no I. Otsuka begins the story addressing ‘we’ and ends it with the same protagonist ‘we’ beautifully sticking to it throughout. A fiction inspired by the life stories of Japanese immigrants who came to The US in early 1900s, this novel is a wonderfully told story of how Japanese women came all the way to San Francisco in coach class ship cabins after looking at their husband-to-be’s photographs and letters that stated of lives way more than just rice balls or being a geisha to find out that they were scams. It is a strikingly moving narration of realities draped in fiction of the fragility and strength in being a woman, and of narratives of the Japanese who were in The US dealing with the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Written in conversational tone that is intimate, this book seems like a forbidden account of which the reader can be a part of. Almost a poem, this book is a good read.

5. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami


Murakami is a ridiculous writer. His readers are insane. Murakami creates people with weak shadows who can talk to cats and make fish fall from the sky and his readers will believe the character. I was first introduced to Murakami by Pranav, my very talented friend, with Norwegian Wood and became instantly drawn to the author. Kafka on the Shore is a strange tale following the lives of two main characters. Murakami has an odd way of writing, in riddles that readers interpret in infinite ways, some own, some borrowed. Kafka on the Shore is engaging, arousing, addictive and surreal. A lot of things happen in this novel but the one that stays forever are the surreal ideas, the fleeting philosophies of life and the suspended metaphors Murakami uses in his fiction. Murakami is a storyteller, that is for definite but what he is more, is a philosopher. As Albert Camus writes in his notebook, “If you want to be a philosopher, write novels.” And more strangely than not, all my writers on the list seem to be doing just that.


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