Browsing Tag

book review


7 Books to Read if You’re Headed to Vietnam

October 4, 2023
Book street, vietnam

[The above is one of my favorite pictures from Vietnam. Not only for its colors and huge red heart – but also because it’s at the Book Street in Hanoi – a surprise discovery we made while walking around the city.]

1. Faith of my Fathers by John McCain

Growing up the only thing I knew about Vietnam was the Vietnam War.  ‘Faith of my Fathers’, is about a soldier’s first hand experience as a PoW.  The book is an autobiography and the first half is about John McCain’s father and grandfather – both highly decorated officers in the US armed forces.  The book is well-written, but I’m not particularly interested in the US army and how it functions so the first half of the book was a bit dull for me.  It gets more interesting when McCain writes about the 6 long years as a PoW in the Hanoi Hilton.  The horrors he recounts make me recoil – and I feel the larger message of the book is about the strength of the human spirit and the value of courage and dignity.  McCain spends a lot of time making fun of his Vietnamese jailers and Ho Chi Minh, and a lot of time glorifying America – I think it’s justified and it in no way detracts from the book.

“…For I have learned the truth: there are greater pursuits than self-seeking.  Glory is not a conceit.  It is not a decoration for valor.  It is not a prize for being the most clever, the strongest, or the boldest.  Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely, and who rely on you in return.  No misfortune, no injury, no humiliation can destroy it.”


2. The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh

“If a cluster of napalm bombs were dropped, the jungle would turn into a sea of fire. Can you imagine a sea of fire?”

Bao Ninh joined the Vietnamese army at the age of 17.  He served in the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade.  In 1969 he joined the Vietnamese war against the Americans, and of the five hundred soldiers who went to war, Bao Ninh was one of the ten who survived.  ‘The Sorrow of War‘ is based on his experience of the war and was initially banned in Vietnam.  It contextualised history that was until now only facts and figures for me.  More than that, this book is about what happens when people are denied basic rights, and the cost of freedom.  The book is hard hitting, honest, brutal, depressing and frightening.  And I can’t recommend it enough.

3. Hanoi, adieu by Mandaley Perkins

It’s easy to find books about the Vietnam War (or the American War as it’s called in Vietnam), but it’s hard to come across books about the French colonial part of Vietnamese history.  This book bridges that gap.  It follows the coming of age of Michel L’Herpiniere (the writer’s grandfather) in French Indo-China.  Michel grows up in the rich and privileged French community of Vietnam and lived through the downfall of the French Empire.  He enlists in the army as a young man and fights in the various skirmishes and uprisings that occur during the last few year of the French rule in Vietnam.  The story is alive with descriptions of




Hanoi in the 40s, such as the markets and bazaars, daily life for the French and the Vietnamese, Michel’s deep friendship with the Vietnamese and French alike, along with his deep understanding of both cultures.  There are several themes that I found fascinating, the main one being that of identity and how the places we grow up in and call home form our identity, sometimes even more than our nationalities do.  The book covers the period between September 1940 to May 1954, which is when the French finally withdrew from Vietnam.  Because we hardly study Vietnamese history in school, what really helped me put the history in context was thinking in terms of what was happening in India during this time.

If you’re traveling to Hanoi you should definitely read this book for it’s vivid descriptions of the Old Quarter – which is where we stayed while in Hanoi.  When I look through photos my photos of Hanoi now, I don’t think only of what I saw and experienced, but also the rich, varied and decidedly bloody history of this quaint country.

I often go to local bookshops when I’m traveling to a new place to hunt for books by local authors.  Vietnam has a vibrant culture of literature (Hanoi even has a Temple of Literature!) and a Book Street (a serendipitous find).  While looking for a stall selling books in English we ran into a young book lover who told us he’s attended a lecture by Bao Ninh and then told us to head over to the Bookworm where we would have better luck finding books in English.  Sure enough, I found ‘Hanoi, adieu’ in their well-stocked racks.

Always happy exploring bookstores.


Temple of Literature Hanoi

At the temple of Literature in Hanoi, also known as the Confucius Temple.

4. In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason

‘In Country’ looks at what happened to American soldiers after their return from Vietnam.  It’s an honest look from the point of a view of a young girl called Samantha Hughes, whose father dies in the Vietnam War.  She’s trying to piece together what happened to him in Vietnam – and she’s just not satisfied with what she hears from others.  Her uncle Emmett has also been in the war and its changed him and all his friends.  The depiction of veterans and their struggle is raw and visceral.  In Ho Chi Minh City we spent some time at the War Remnants Museum and saw the destruction from the Vietnamese point of view.  Through ‘In Country’ we see that no one is spared the horrors of war.

This is another book I bought at the Book Worm bookstore in Hanoi.  I’m looking forward to watching the movie – unfortunately I haven’t found it on any of the streaming platforms in India.



5. She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran

Horror is my favorite genre and this book didn’t disappoint.  This is Tran’s debut novel, and I think the reason it’s so well written is because the author herself enjoys the horror genre.  The main character is a Vietnamese American girl and Tran undoubtedly uses her personal experiences to bring the character to life.

I will say though that it helps to be familiar with the landscape of Vietnam and a little of its history to really connect to the book.  A little familiarity with the Vietnamese culture would also help.  That said, I really liked the writing.  This is one living, breathing, pulsating book.  It has all the elements of the classic gothic novel and the rich, florid descriptions of man vs nature gives it a Guillermo Del Toro-ish feel.  I also appreciated that this book referred to the French colonial history of Vietnam, which is relatively lesser known but also very interesting.


6. The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs

This book is set in 1992 and is a sort of travelogue.  Dana Sachs lived in Vietnam on Dream Street in 1992 for six months.  This book chronicles her time trying to learn the language, make friends, eke out a living, fall recklessly in love and realise just how crazy that was and quickly fall out of love.  Although the book is well written and interesting, I found it  superficial at times.  I felt that for someone claiming to be in love and deeply interested in a country and its culture – the author seemed to at times look down on the culture and even come across as ignorant.  I think direct comparisons between her life in the US and life in Vietnam, or comparisons between the American thought process and the Vietnamese thought process happened a bit too much – maybe she was trying to contextualise her experience for American readers, but explaining the same thing without using comparison would have made her sound more well informed.  Also – the part where she visualises herself marrying the motorcycle mechanic she is in love with and actually living in his makeshift hut with the rest of his family was exasperating.  I think readers from South East Asian countries would understand why I was rolling my eyes during that bit.


7. Prison Diary by Ho Chi Minh

I bought this book at the gift shop in the Hỏa Lò Prison (the Hanoi Hilton).  It’s  published by The GIOI Publishers (of Hanoi) and is a collection of poetry by Ho Chi Minh.  The poetry was originally written in Chinese and has been translated into Vietnamese and English (all the translations are in the book).  It’s said that history is written by the victors.  But with access to information like never before, we have the luxury of exploring different sides of an issue.  Was Ho Chi Minh a despot who would use any and all means at his disposal to get what he wanted?  Or was he a patriot who sacrificed everything he had for a free and independent Vietnam?  This book gives an intimate insight into a man considered one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.  This collection contains poetry on his observation about the human condition, his beliefs about freedom and nationhood and also his experiences as a prisoner in various Chinese jails.

Thinking of a Friend

That day you went with me to the edge of the river.

“When will you be back?” – “When you see the rice ripen.”

But now that the fields have been ploughed for the next season,

In a foreign land I still remain a prisoner.

Hoa Lo - The Hanoi Hilton

Animesh claims I spent 5 hours here with the audio guide. I’d have to disagree (at least it didn’t feel that long).


It’s great to research travel blogs and forums whenever you’re about to travel to a new country.  But I find reading books about the place gives you a deeper understanding and contextualises the country a lot more for travellers.


Book Review: The Heart of the World

February 3, 2023
Heart of the World by Ian Baker

I read the pdf version of the book, but here’s the cover.


“How we view the world is a strange alchemy of cultural conditioning and personal choice.  One could cautiously avoid all geomorphic speculations or, like the Tibetans, allow the configurations of rock and water to guide one into more exalted thoughts and alternate ways of seeing.  As the Victorian poet Robert Browning wrote: “…a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.  Or what’s a heaven for?” – The Heart of the World by Ian Baker


I spent the last couple of days stealing bits of time here and there to finish reading ‘The Heart of the World’ by Ian Baker.  The book was on my radar for a while and was happy when my book club decided to read it.

‘The Heart of the World’ is really really long, but well written.  I felt the book took time to gain momentum.  It’s also challenging if you’re unfamiliar with the setting or the cultural context, because it makes it difficult to get immersed in the story.

I admit I hadn’t finished the book by the time the book club meeting happened.  But I’m glad I attended the meeting because I read the remainder of the book more intentionally.

Continue Reading

Books Travels Yoga

Rubbing (Book) Shoulders With My Favs

August 22, 2019

My sister spotted my book at the Delhi International Airport.

Over breakfast with my boyfriend today I mentioned I have my book club meeting tomorrow evening. It got me thinking about reading and those who read. I said to him, “Reading is a bit strange. We all know how to read, but very few actually read.” Those who aren’t bitten by the reading bug as soon as they learn how to read, can never catch the reading disease. For them reading a book will depend on literary awards and bestseller lists. They will never know the pure joy of a juicy historical Walflowers romance followed by the heartbreak of a volume on partition and its consequences. They will never relate to, and therefore never benefit from the existential crisis of a desperate vampire. They won’t know the thrill of hours spent digging through piles of dust motes to unearth treasure in a second-hand bookstore. Their shelves will forever be prey to awards, notable mentions, even popular opinion.

I read ‘God of Small Things’ in high school. The book was one long beautiful breath-taking poem. Last year the magic reappeared in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. To have my book next to hers is a little like being close to her energy.

I read a little known book called ‘The Gin Drinkers’ around the time I started college. I was smarting from culture shock, felt like a fish out of water on most days, wondered if things would ever get better and like most young people looked for familiarity that I never really found. (Have I found it now?). As clichèd as it sounds, I recognized a bit of myself in the characters of this book. When Sagarika Ghose spotted her book at the airport, I wonder if she registered the book next to her.

If you spot ‘Beyond Asanas‘ anywhere, do send me a picture!


Indian Superfoods by Rujuta Diwekar [Book Review]

September 7, 2016

Today was the first day I had an early morning session.  I’ve become used to waking up around 7, so 5 am was a challenge (funny how easy it is to get into the habit of waking up late).  I got ready quickly and hurried to the class.  As usual the class was full, even at that early hour.  Besides the yoga classes, I continue to read voraciously, and these days I’m reading Indian Superfoods by Rujuta Diwekar.

Rujuta’s books are relevant to our lives and times.  By advocating for local food she makes health and fitness accessible to the masses.  Most of us are so busy with the mundanity of life, that we don’t have time to hunt down the best quality goji berries or chia seeds.  So this book is a great resource for those who would like to eat well with the least hassle.  For me it was great because I believe in simple food and wholesome health.  To stay in  optimum health and shape is more a function of eating simple unadulterated food, instead of exotic produce and unpronounceable ingredients lists.

I believe if you focus on quality, then the most commonly available ingredients will have you glowing like a lightbulb.

In addition to this, Rujuta has also brought to light lots of fruits and vegetables from different regions in India.  It helps in us becoming curious and a bit more experimental with our food, and also inculcates a sense of awareness of the richness of what our land has to offer.  From ghee to something called the ambadi fruit, her book makes local produce come alive and become tempting.  This blog isn’t a summary of the book, but just a little bit of info.  The book has a lot more information to offer and I would really suggest that you read Indian Superfoods.  However, here is a little bit of information to pique your interest:

  1. Ghee – It’s a myth that ghee is fattening.  In fact, it is lipolytic, it breaks down fat.  So if you eat ghee you’re helping in breaking down stubborn fat.  Helpful advice that she gives for women:  If you get skin breakouts before or with every period eat ghee at least three times a day.  Plus she has a bonus recipe for how to make ghee.
  2. Kokum – this is a fruit I haven’t had, but I had a drink made out of this at Dastkaar.  Rub kokum butter on the soles of your feet right before you sleep and you will sleep deeply, regardless of how stressed and frazzled you are.  Definitely on my shopping list.
  3. Banana – here I have a banana before every class.  Actually, in Bangalore as well.  It’s a myth that bananas are fattening.  They are low in fat and  help in fat burning and in reducing cholesterol!
  4. Kaju – good to combat PCOD and hypothyroidism.  Prevents adult acne and improves fertility too!
  5. Ambadi – I’ve never had this plant nor heard about it.  Another item on my shopping list.  If you know how to pronounce this word, do let me know.  Interestingly, this local green (and other’s like it) are called ‘orphan crops’, crops that no one grows because there is no demand for them.  You can make it into a sabzi and get your iron, vit B and folic acid from it.  The stems of the Ambadi plant are used to make jhadoos and fabric.  I wonder if they make yoga mats out of this…
  6. Rice – prevents premature wrinkling and supports good hair growth.  Need I say more?
  7. Coconut – doesn’t contain cholesterol because it’s a plant based food.  Plus it actually helps in reducing ‘central adiposity’ (fat in the middle) and so helps in ensuring a slim waist.
  8. Aliv – used in laddoos!  Great for skin, it evens out skin tone, gets rid of patches and naturally brightens the complexion.  Wonder if Diwali laddoos contain this seed…
  9. Jackfruit – low in fat and rich in fibre, so it helps in reducing cholesterol levels.  Also, the fruit has a lot of anti-oxidants.
  10. Sugar – don’t replace with jaggery as both have different properties.  Jaggery adds heat to the body while sugar is a coolant.

If the above points were interesting, you should go out and get a copy of Indian Superfoods.  It does give you food for thought and even if you’re unable to apply everything she talks about into your life, it still helps to be aware of what we are eating and what are the food choices that are available to us.

My copy of the book.

My copy of Indian Superfoods by Rujuta Diwekar.

I’ve written about fenugreek or methi, another spice I consider a superfood in this blog.  Because it’s available readily in Indian kitchens, you might find the post useful.



1 Book Review, 5 Useful Health Tips

April 27, 2014

Maybe it’s just me, but Rujuta Diwekar’s tone has become progressively snide and condescending with each book. She sounds like a school teacher – and your least favourite one at that.  So I picked up Don’t Lose Out, Work Out with a little trepidation.  (After all, I felt that using the words ‘Women’ ‘Weight Loss’ and ‘Tamasha’ in the same line is kind of derogatory to the despair that a lot of women go through because of their weight issues.  Lumping up the despair, the depression, the hopelessness, the tears, the dejection, the bleakness, the distress, the discouragement etc as ‘tamasha’ just didn’t seem right to me.) 

And frankly the book reads like a science textbook. I guess Rujuta was trying to convince readers that she actually knows what she’s talking about, and giving her readers scientific proof to back her claims.  What she forgets is that readers are buying her books because they instinctively trust her and her work.  But what Rujuta seems to be doing is, shoving science (or ‘sports science’ as she is quick to point out) down our throats in an attempt to prove to us that we know nothing, and neither does our trainer.  And for that matter neither does your dietician (unless, and this is pure conjecture, she’s Rujuta Diwekar), and alas, neither does your doctor.  Does Rujuta say this in so many words?  No.  She implies it.  Towards the end of the book she writes, “The trainer here is the person who spends the maximum time with you, often waiting…But he is on the fringes of an upcoming profession, either belongs to the middle or the lower middle class, hasn’t really studied beyond 10th or 12th and can barely speak English.  So he/she may know why you should do weight training, why weights will help you…But ask them to put those things in words and they mess up!  And how!”  I have a fundamental problem with this description of trainers…and also with the belief that if I have a trainer then he/she will fit the above description.  The fitness/health/wellness industry that Rujuta herself is a part of has come a long way since she wrote her first book, and so have trainers and trainees.

And I don’t get me started on her Yoga chapter…

However, there are some lessons to be learned (and retained for the future) from the book. Here are five of them:

  1. Walking twice a day will not help you lose real weight or burn more calories.  What a workout which happens twice a day lacks is proper recovery time.  When you’ve walked for an hour, you’ve put a lot of strain your joints, muscles, body chemistry (hormones, oxygen, glycogen etc) and even your breathing.  Rest is important for your body to recover and bounce back.  If your body doesn’t get adequate rest your immunity decreases and you’re more likely to get injured.
  2. There is nothing such as spot reduction.  As a yoga trainer and fitness enthusiast, people have told me countless times that ‘everything else is fine, just my tummy’ or ‘I’m happy with the rest of my body, just my arms’ or ‘the rest of my body looks like me, but my legs look like they are a sumo wrestler’s legs’.  Usually people work out targeting specific ‘problem areas’.  So they’ll do squats to target their butt and leg lifts to target stubborn belly fat.  Repetitions in your workout just help you to utilize the readily available free fatty acid cells (which are a source of energy) in the blood stream instead of targeting the fat residing in the muscles.  And what’s more, this kind of workout has no after-burn, so any calorie burn is only during the repetitions and very little post your workout.  So, if you want to lose your belly fat you will need to balance a workout comprising cardio and a high intensity interval training.
  3. Only increase one parameter of your workout at a time.  So if you’re running on the treadmill, increase only the incline or the speed at one time.  Doing both puts unnecessary strain on your bones.
  4. Plan your workouts in such a way that they never exceed 60 minutes, including your warm-up and cool down.  Chemically the body only has the fuel reserves to work out for 60 minutes.  In fact, for most people the fuel reserves run out after 30 minutes.
  5. Plan your post workout meals well.  45 minutes post your workout is the best time to push more nutrients into your muscles and for your body to use the available nutrients well and to recover from stress and strain so that your immunity doesn’t go down.  So drink a glass of water and eat something which has carbs, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.  This sounds complicated, but a banana or potato sandwiches are good options.