Book Review - I
Sir, you asked me who I am. What shall I say? I have been asking myself this question for quite some time and reached nowhere. After all I am no saint to throw away everything that I have and go in search of an answer. If I had, I would have been a saint. Don’t you agree? Well I have a name, but what’s in a name? You may call me an Ordinary Man.
The narrator in a series of conversations with a friend who he says is his alter ego and through his own introspections, unfolds the process of growing up and aging through an exploration of all that had brought joy in living to serious questions regarding God, religion, destiny, freewill, compassion and to whether we have been really honest in our relationships; the relationships that have affected us at various stages in our life and continue to influence even our present living. They are all locked up somewhere within our private world and which we release and relish in our solitude.
Though ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ is an autobiographical novel, it is only in parts that real events have been narrated to build a base for addressing the questions and the existential angst which arise in the mind of any person during the process of living and that the first step towards resolution is in acceptance of the reality of existence and the finality of death.
1. Cover: One word to describe the cover – alluring! It is so enticing that it makes you want to know what is there inside.
2. Presentation: The presentation of the book is very easy going, like a conversation with a friend that has been captured within those few pages. The topics on which the conversations have happened aren't so easy going though. They are hard hitting facts of life, oft ignored.
3. Narration: Narration is simple, straight from the heart and yet manages to create an impact on the reader.
4. Characters: The lead character, the narrator definitely steals the show. He is the one who makes you sit up and take notice of many things.
5. Plot: The plot is very straight forward with no major twists and turns but that is what makes it the main highlight of the story. It is more on a conversational fashion which gives it a very endearing feel to the reader.
6. Storyline: There is no story line so to speak but whatever narration has been connected has been done in a very splendid way making it a definite page turner as you want to know what the ordinary man is talking about next.
7. Story flow: The lucid story flow makes this book one that has a lot of aesthetic appeal. The topic on which the book has been written life and its lessons don’t need much of beautifications around to add to its grace.
8. Language: The language is austere making it an easy going read for readers across all age groups.
9. Pros: The biggest pro about this book would be its unique narrative style and the topics the author has managed to cover through this book. It is simple yet hard hitting, touching yet one that makes you want to ponder over a lot of things and most importantly it is subtle yet one that manages to leave an impact on you for long.
10. Cons: The only con in this book is the few places where the narrative gets a big dragged leaving the reader wanting to flip pages and move over to the next chapter.
WE team would like to thank the author for sending across this book for review and would also like to wish him all the best for all their future endeavours.
Author Interview - I
GS.Subbu (Gopalasamudram Subramanian) is an avid blogger and writes regularly on his blog ‘Sublimation’ at subbusg.blogspot.com. His posts are a reflection of his deep passion for the arts, philosophy, religion and relationships. His writings depict a search for a meaning in life and how little things which appear inconsequential can contribute to a greater understanding and help us discover the joy of living. He has been a member of book clubs and done book reviews. Apart from writing on art in his blog he has given talks on ‘Appreciation of Art’ in some forums. Though ‘I am just an Ordinary Man’ is his first completed book, he has a compilation of his poems and other writings which he intends to publish subsequently.
An engineer from IIT Kharagpur, India by qualification and a Banker by profession, he now pursues his passion for writing after retirement. When not writing, he can be found trying to finish a painting in water colors or improving his singing skills.
In conversation with Mr. G S Subbu,
‘I Am Just An Ordinary man’ is my debut novel. It is a novel that takes you through the process of growing, living, aging and tackling the questions that arise regarding the purpose of living and finding a meaning.The novel is written in the form of a conversation with a friend interspersed with monologues. The narration does not follow a pattern but keeps shifting from thepast to the present and back to the past, similar to the way our brain works, more by way of association with those small events that keep happening every day and those small things we hold dear to our heart.2. How this whole idea got conceptualized? Was it something you always wanted or write and felt THIS was the time?
I always wanted to be an author. Since my interests were varied I never really got down to deciding on the subject matter. It was after my retirement and subsequent heart surgery that it began to crystallize. Looking back at my life I had to admit to myself that there had not been anything extraordinary about it, I had led a normal ordinary life. But I had a story to tell, my angst was real – an existential crisis, something that I believed everyone faces at some point in their lives. I can say that the entire concept fell into place during my recuperation after the surgery. To quote a few lines from my book –3. Can this book be called as your autobiography?
“Like us all ordinary people, I have lived an ordinary life. I have done all that the others have done and at the end of the day when I evaluate my life, I find I have not made any lasting contribution that will make me live beyond my death.
People will remember that there was one such who existed; a memory that would fade away in course of time into nonexistence. Don’t you think that is the way to go? It would be so difficult to go, leaving behind a trail of achievements. How does it matter when you have gone? You will be talked about as a memory and may be every year there will be a function to remember and honor you. May be you take with you the satisfaction of achievements to your grave. May be you shall die in peace. Nothing prevents the ordinary man to also die in peace. That shall happen when he realizes that ‘ordinary’ is also a satisfactory state of existence.”
Not really, it is only in parts that it is autobiographical. I talk to a friend who is a fictional character, though I do admit that he may be my alter ego and represents that portion of myself which could have been a possibility. The questions raised and the answers I seek are true for any person during the course of living. Again the last chapters of the book are all projections into the future and that is how I imagined it would be when one approaches the end. In the entire book no character is named, I leave it at that for I want my readers to identify themselves with the book and feel they are reading their own story. Moreover I state early in the beginning that I believe an autobiography can never be a complete story and can never be an honest submission.4. Do we see a sequel coming up to it soon, given the responses that it has garnered till now?
I am happy that I have connected with a lot of people and that has validated my assumption that it is every person’s story. Yes a sequel is in the offing, but not in the way of further explorations of my own world. Your own world becomes clearer to you only when it is complemented by your awareness of the external world. You can say that I move from the subjective to the objective world. Slices of life, you may say.5. The book though has an autobiographical tone; it surely comes across more as a journey into one’s inner self, knowing the real meaning of life and a true awakening in every sense. Your thoughts on this.
Any journey into one’s inner self has to have the autobiographical element in it, so yes that is the path I took. I do not know if there is any real meaning to life in a general sense, each person searches and perhaps finds his own answer to the riddle that is life. When we talk of awakening, you can ask yourself when does it really happen? The ultimate awakening is when man is confronted by the temporality of his existence. It is the fear of termination that makes him seek ways and means to eternalize himself. This is when he moves towards God and religion and seeks solace and hope, or rebels against the situation, seeking an authenticity in his living. Though grounded in Hindu Philosophy, I recognize that the existential angst is very real and is present in every individual. How he tackles it, is a personal choice. Not everyone can be Buddha or a Ramana Maharishi. Whether it is the theistic Existentialism of Kierkegaard or the Atheism of Sartre both tackle the same question. While one offers hope the other points towards authenticity in living. Albert Camus’s ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ and ‘The Rebel’ has influenced me a great deal. In this context I wish to quote Albert Camus in his monumental work ‘The Rebel’ – “An Awakening of conscience, no matter how confused it may be, develops from any act of rebellion and is represented by the sudden realization that something exists with which the rebel can identify himself – even if only for a moment.” I have tried to tackle these questions in my book, especially in the section on letters to God and in the concluding chapters of the book.6. How difficult or easy it is to separate yourself from the author you – especially when you are narrating your own life and you don’t want to sound prejudiced or judgmental. How has been your experience in writing this book? Any particular chapters or instances you would like to discuss with us?
I found this portion from one of the reviews of my book to be very profound and did convey what I wanted to get across – “This is the life story of a person who through the fever and fret of life never ceases the search for the deep inner silence. He seems to understand that the search for meaning of life is ultimately pointless as it is left to oneself to give a meaning to it.”
Like I said before, this is not a narration of my life story, though it does contain a part of my life. When I started writing, I wrote as myself, it was only later the author took over. I did not find it difficult for I wrote what I felt. I have learnt my lessons in life and it has not been easy. I have learnt to be less prejudicial and avoid being judgmental. I have, I think succeeded in doing that exactly in my book. I leave it open ended for the reader to find his own answers.7. It is said, you are born twice on this earth. One when you are born and second time when you understand why. What do you think about these lines?
Writing the book has been like a journey to the roots of my consciousness. It has been most satisfying and has lent an authenticity to my existence. Every sentence I wrote brought me a step closer to that elusive ‘the meaning of life’.
The most important portion in the book is ‘Sublimation’, in fact the last sentence in that chapter sums it up – “There is no private world any longer as there is nothing inside now. I feel merged in an all-encompassing consciousness and realize that this is ‘Sublimation’”. Well you may interpret it as the end of a search for a meaning in life. The other portion which to me is very important is when I talk about the death of my father. That perhaps was the first transformation moment in my life.
I do not agree with that, for I am not sure that anyone has really understood ‘Why’. Once you are born, your life becomes one long search for the ‘Why’. Once the search is over and the ‘Why’ becomes clear, you are freed from the bondage of living. Well that is what I personally believe. But I will supplement your statement with another quote “You only live twice – once when you are born and once when you stare death in the face” – an old quote from Ian Fleming’s ‘You only live twice’.8. How much of fiction has been mixed with reality to make this book what it is right now?
This is a real book about a person’s journey within himself though a portion of the events narrated are fictional, especially the role of the friend and the later chapters. This is only to enhance the import of what I want to convey and I wanted the reader to feel it is his story. In that sense I would call it fictional reality if I may be allowed to use that word.9. Can you take our readers through your journey of being a published author? Has anything changed post that, something like the before and after phenomenon?
Writing has been easy for me and I found that I evolved as a writer after I started getting active on my blog. I learnt to connect with readers in course of time and I can now say that I do have a dedicated readership. When I decided to write the book it began as a journey and only later did the thought of getting it published occur.10. What is the message that you want to convey through your this book?
My own experience could well highlight the travails of aspiring authors. I first experimented with self-publishing with one of the major houses and left it midway as I thought pitching to a traditional publishing house would help me evaluate the value of my manuscript better. I did submit it to five of them. There was no reply from three even after a lapse of four months. The fourth was courteous enough to say that they will not be able to fit it due to constraints in their existing calendar.The fifth publisher did accept the manuscript for publication and placed it as ‘Projects under consideration’ stating it would be taken up when the commissioning editor deems fit. They were also very courteous enough to add that a book under consideration with them could get published within weeks or in a few years. I did wait till my patience wore out. Then I decided to go back to where I started from – Self-Publishing. But in the entire process I have learnt a lot not only from my own experience, but also from the hurdles faced by some of my friends when they published their books. The constraints of finance does make you compromise on some issues like editing and marketing. Professional editing is costly and how much reach can you really expect through your friends and social media contacts for selling your book. I was also awake to the fact that there would be more number of likes on Face book than the number of books sold.
Still in the end there is a sense of satisfaction that I have actually made my dream in to a reality. The entire process has now made me a more confident writer and I feel happy when people tell me that they liked the book
It is very simple. There cannot be a general formula to tackle the questions and the existential angst which arise in the mind of any person during the process of living, as the problems faced are ultimately subjective and the answers are within each individual. The first step towards resolution is in acceptance of the reality of existence and the finality of death. It is only when a person comes face to face with nothingness that he searches for ways to immortality, either through a belief in God, reincarnation and religion or through leading an authentic life.11. We would like to know about any future projects you are currently working on.
I am already half way through my next book and as I said before this is more in the nature of an exploration of the external world. Each chapter is a ‘Slice of life’ and narrates my encounters with different lives. I may again dub it as a fictional reality.12. Some words for your readers.
I will only say that this is your book, written for you with the hope that you will be able to recognize and identify with the events that take place in your life.Thank you very much for your time