Hell! No Saints in Paradise by A.K. Asif

Do you often smirk at the existence of Hell and Heaven? Do you completely disregard the existence of other worlds? Then you are not too different from the protagonist of Asif’s latest novel, Hell! No Saints in Paradise. Ismael, a young lad pursuing higher academics, is all set to write his thesis- a paper highlighting the concepts of Heaven and Hell. Ironically, he does not believe in the existence of any of the two worlds. It was at this juncture of life that he meets a beautiful lady at a café who guides him to sign up for an Ayahuasca- a session conducted to know one’s inner self. Little did Ismael know that this session and what happens after would change his way towards life and push him on a rollercoaster journey of a (few) lifetime.

Ismael is seen to be in a constant fight with himself, to prove his theories right. What is noticed is that his stubbornness of having an opinion on something as crucial and sensitive as religion does not leave him space to consider other possibilities. Moreover, the fact that his father was a staunch follower of his religion and he had a strained relationship with his father; also pointed towards his need to prove himself correct over his father’s belief.

The father-son relationship is explored well through the novel. It is often said that the way parents behave in front of their children affects their beliefs and personalities to a great extent. But it is seen, that Ismael hardly shares a bond with his father who is portrayed as a Casanova having taken more than one wife. In fact, his father’s seventh wife was his lover at one point in time. This further strained their relationship, to an extent that Ismael left home for the US and had never been back for a good twelve years. His father too had been very callous about Ismael as a young motherless boy who needed to be guided and often displayed him as an object. Ismael, being the strong boy that he was refused to be thus and ran away from the shackles of this bondage. However, a strange turn of events makes him go back to his homeland to clear up and ‘unwanted’ and ‘unknown’ mess.

Ismael finds himself entering an almost unknown country when he visits his homeland after a sabbatical of twelve years. With strange rules and stranger beliefs, Ismael finds himself baffled as the people blindly follow irrational principles or superstitions just because they have been made a rule, by the Khalifa. However, by trying to uniform the behavior of all the citizens in a similar pattern, the Khalifa is brewing something even more sinister up his sleeves. And as Divine Intervention has it, it is for Ismael to prevent this world from going any further down to the dogs, (well maybe cats here!).

Hell! No Saints in Paradise gives its readers a tour of Hell and Heaven and it is definitely not what one might have had in mind. From mythical creatures like Ababeels, Nakir and Munkar to beautiful palaces and ponds all draw a pen picture of Hell and Heaven. It holds special significance for Ismael to be brought to both the dimensions so as to restore his faith in his religion. His experience in both the places reminds the readers of the old adage- No Pain no Gain. In order to reach one’s destination, one has to endure a lot of struggles and emerge victoriously. Interestingly, it is pointed out, that failing in a given task is acceptable but what is required is the emotion of self-acceptance and the desire to better oneself then onwards. This is often referred to as the idea of Purification. But only a few know that real purification of the soul happens on Earth itself. One need not go mad with the desire of having a son or going to Heaven to be blessed with a pure soul.

Throughout his journey between the different realms, Ismael rediscovers himself. In fact, it is almost seen that he starts to understand his father. Unable to control his baser instincts, Ismael succumbed to several vices. It is then that he realized how low a pawn his father was to his baser instincts that he was not able to control himself. Ismael, after understanding that he had almost trodden on the same path as his father, reduced his hardness for him. Though still distanced from each other, Father and Son were seen bonding once or twice.

A.K. Asif adds to his vibrant portrayal of Hell and Heaven, his charmingly witty anecdotes through the comments made by Ismael. Some of the customs and traditions that were ridiculed by him find his mocking comments through moments of sarcasm and wit. Hell! No Saints in Paradise is definitely a book that I recommend- no matter you are an atheist or a believer- just for the sheer brilliance with which it has been penned down and its immense audience attracting power.

The book is available at your nearest bookstores or can be purchased online through Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon.

*Disclaimer: I was given a Review Copy of the Book by @Writersmelon in exchange for an honest review.

The Fifth Mountain by Paulo Coelho

The Fifth Mountain is one of Paulo Coelho’s finest works that I have read so far. It traces the journey of a young prophet who is forced to flee from his homeland and take refuge in another country. Coelho has dealt with several philosophical themes throughout the novel. Further, if you find an uncanny resemblance with the life and times of Ben Hur and Mozes; then you would probably be absorbing the book the same way as I have.

Conflict is recurring theme. It is seen how conflict plays a major part in deciding on the destiny of Elijah- the protagonist. It was a conflict that drove him away from his homeland. It was a conflict that forbade people to listen to him, ultimately ushering in a disaster. It was his inner conflict that made him choose between people and the Lord whom he served. Coelho, through his choice of words and creation of situations explains the various types of conflicts man faces and how he deals with them.

The Fifth Mountain also portrays how pure love can be- Beautiful, Serene, Selfless, Rational and most importantly Pure. It is not through physical proximity that love can be attained. It is also through the sharing of similar intellects that one can redefine love. It need not be the union of bodies, instead it may well be the union of the mind, soul and heart; which leaves a greater impact on the minds of the readers and those of the characters involved.

A very important facet of life is depicted through the story- that destruction is always followed by the zeal of constructing something mightier and re-establishing equilibrium. Destruction and Re-construction is a continuous vicious cycle which has to go on in this world. Both are like the two sides of the same coin.

Fear plays a tragic role in our lives. Fear has somehow become the basis of making decisions for humans in contemporary times. In fact, this has also carved ways for parents to exert pressure on their children, based on their fear values. Elijah, as a young boy faces a similar situation in his life when is parents in fear of societal ostracization pushes him towards a career in carpentry which engulfs him in a curtain of self-doubt.

The Fifth Mountain due to its contemplative nature can often be misinterpreted as a slow, boring or non-relatable novel. However, I believe it just takes the correct frame of mind and a correct age and wisdom to understand the depth and complexity of the situation. The density of inner conflicts and its actionable consequences have been dealt with very maturely in the two hundred and fifty pages of this novel, by master storyteller Coelho. Otherwise, the theme being such, it could have well become a well-researched history book instead of a well-researched fictional novel. Hence, The Fifth Mountain definitely needs a certain level of maturity from the readers to understand the crux of the matter. I would suggest if you had read it earlier and did not like it, you might want to try reading it once more after one or two years. Maybe you would find a fresh perspective to the storyline- one which you had missed out on earlier.

The Fifth Mountain is available in all leading bookstores and can also be ordered online through Amazon and Snapdeal. If you like my reviews then please do subscribe. You can also catch me on  Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this review or opine otherwise, I would love to hear about it, so please leave your valuable comments below. Happy Diwali and Happy Reading!