Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: One Night @ the Call Center by Chetan Bhagat

One Night at the Call CenterOne Night at the Call Center by Chetan Bhagat

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For its first three-quarters, this is a perfectly decent novel about a group of people working at a call centre. Shyam, the team leader and the main character, struggles to get over his old girlfriend, Priyanka, who works in his team. To add to his unhappiness, his boss Bakshi is an unprincipled moron who routinely takes credit for Shyam's ideas and work. Priyanka still has feelings for Shyam, but wants to make her mother happy, and her mother wants a "better match" for her. The other agents have their problems as well. Esha wants to be a model, but keeps getting told that she's too short. Radhika's mother-in-law is making her life miserable. The man known as Military Uncle says little, and suffers in silence with his secret pain. And finally, Vroom... well, Vroom is screwed up six ways from Sunday.

Their problems and interactions are told believably and engagingly through dialogue and flashbacks to dates between Priyanka and Shyam, which illustrate the deterioration of their relationship. Then comes the moment that they receive, on Shyam's cell phone, a call from God. Ironically enough, this is the moment when the story goes straight to Hell. Each thing they do to "fix" their situation is more inappropriate and implausible than the thing before it. There were scenes that I read while squinting and scanning because that was the only way I could stand them. After all, I didn't want to abandon a book 18 pages from the ending, even if it deserved that.

How did things go so badly wrong? I wonder. It's tempting to blame the phone call from God. After all, this was a completely realistic novel up to that point. One might argue that the author had no business turning it into a fantasy three-quarters of the way through. However, I was willing to accept the God call. After all, the author prepares us for it in the prologue.

In my view, the failing is a moral one. What kind of person thinks it's appropriate to meekly tolerate a boss's betrayals without a word, then all of a sudden blackmail him with a made-up email and physically abuse him? There are abundant options between these two extremes, and a moral adult would try one or two of them before resorting to violence. A moral adult would find a better way to save a call centre than by terrorizing Americans with lies. (By the way, Americans are abundantly and enthusiastically insulted in this book, so think twice before buying it if you are American. I'm actually amazed it got picked up by an American publisher.) Perhaps an author who has not managed to become a moral adult is the one most likely to resort to a literal Deus ex machina to fix his novel. There is a species of laziness here, which itself is a type of moral failing. Furthermore, if the thoroughly unbelievable turnaround of Priyanka followed by the thoroughly unbelievable rejection by Shyam followed by the thoroughly absurd and painful-to-read romantic car chase and reconciliation (thank you, squinting and scanning!) is any indication, the author has watched far too many Bollywood movies.

Yes, the previous paragraph has a lot of spoilers in it, but that's OK, because you don't want to read this book. Trust me. That would be several hours of your life you'd never get back.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review of Rule Zero by Laurence Timms

Rule ZeroRule Zero by Laurence Timms
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you love non-stop action, mayhem, explosions, wanton destruction and high body counts, with maybe a zombie thrown in for good measure, this is the book for you. Laurence Timms is a screenwriter, and it shows. If Rule Zero were made into a movie, it would be very much at home with the other Hollywood thrillers of the day, only perhaps even more so. Timms is what the genetically engineered offspring of Iain R. Banks and Douglas Adams would be like if he were also high on amphetamines.*

Towards the start of the story, when things are calmer, there are some humorous and even insightful moments, especially pertaining to Helen, the luckless fluff-piece-writing journalist who gets caught up in the dangerous game going on between the Ministry of Defense and its enemies. For example, "She was the kind of person who packed four kinds of nightwear for a weekend away on the basis that you just never knew. What it was you never knew she wasn’t sure, but in Helen’s book equipping oneself with a choice of nightwear went some way to mitigating the horror of the unknown." These felicitous observations last until the action gets underway in earnest (up until that point, several people have tried to kill Helen, but it turns out that's nothing compared to what's coming), and then things are rather grim for quite some time.

To my mind, the novel's biggest flaw is its length. There is so much of it, so many different characters and different things going on, that the problem is twofold; a great deal to remember, and plenty of time in which to forget it. So I often found myself thinking things like, "Who's that guy again?" "What is this SMILE company trying to achieve, anyway?" and finally, "Was that explained earlier? Because I didn't get that at all. Did I miss something?" I expect that won't be an uncommon experience for readers. It might be a good idea to keep notes. Failing that, you might have to read the book twice to fully understand it.

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* And yes, he is British. Why do Brits write so much better than North Americans, by and large? Is it the educational system? The canings? Tea with milk? Frequent rain? I don't know, but I must find out. Back

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Recipe: Kale Chips (Garlic Flavour)

Kale chips are a tasty, nutritious alternative to potato or tortilla chips—but they cost nine dollars a bag at the health food store. It makes more sense to make your own.


  • 1 bunch kale, washed and dried
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. garlic powder, depending on taste
  • Salt (optional)

What is a "bunch?" Not a very precise measurement I realize, but the quantities are not crucial here; tweak as desired. A bunch is about what you'd get wrapped up at the supermarket. If on the other hand, you buy a whole plant at a farmer's market, it will be a good deal bigger, maybe twice as big.


Preheat oven to 350F. You can use a toaster oven, but you might need to halve the recipe to get it to fit.

Place oil and garlic powder in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle in a little salt if you want. I don't think it's really necessary. Mix. Remove kale leaves from stems, tear into bite-sized pieces and add to bowl. Save the stems for something else. Add them to a soup or something.

Toss the leaves with the oil until well blended. I think the best way to do this is with your hands.

Spread the oiled leaves onto a baking tray and bake in oven for 10-15 minutes. You might want to flip them halfway through. Keep an eye on them so they don't overcook. They're done when they're crispy all the way through and brown at the edges but not right to the middle. Delicious!

I developed this recipe on my own. Then, when I decided to write it up and post it, I did a search online and discovered that there are already a bazillion kale recipes available. So, I'm not as original as I thought, and maybe my drop in the bucket is not really necessary. Still, here it is, for what it's worth, and I hope it's worth something.