Monday, September 29, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I think this is my week of banned books/authors. I started with Taslima Nasrin’s Shame which is banned in
Anyways, getting to the book now:
I knew I was going to pick this book up the minute I read the review on Natasha’s blog. The cover totally totally appealed to me… I don’t know why though. A simple pair of old shoes with quaint looking buckles. But there was something about the picture that made me feel that the book might be a good read and I wasn’t disappointed.
Balzac and the little Chinese Seamstress is a semi-autobiographical novel. Like most kids from educated middle class families, Dai was also sent to rural china for “Re-education”. This was during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I guess during the revolution, schools and colleges were shut down and any child having intellectual parents was sent to the villages to live the life of peasants and learn from them. Similarly, in the book, the narrator and his friend Luo are sent to a village near a fictional mountain called “phoenix of the sky” for re-education. There, they meet a pretty little girl – the tailor’s daughter and hence, she is called the little seamstress. Luo and the little seamstress soon fall in love but it seem pretty obvious throughout the book that the narrator himself was in love with her though he never openly admits it. During this period, no one is allowed to read or own any other book apart from the little red book of sayings written by Chairman Mao. Luo and the narrator come by some translations of classic english novels and reading those books turns out to be a life changing experience for them and the little seamstress. I can’t imagine having a restriction on my reading! That would be the worst thing ever.
The novel was pretty humorous in many areas. I loved the story of the alarm clock. Luo and the narrator bring with them a little rooster alarm clock. A clock is an unknown item in the village and soon, it assumes the position of an idol. Little anecdotes about the alarm clock and the story telling prowess of Luo and the narrator lighten the mood of the book. What could have been a rather heavy book about oppression of freedom during Mao’s rule becomes light and easy to read.
I really think that this was a charming book. If you ever get a chance, do pick this book up! I guess there is a movie that’s based on this book that came out in 2002. I am planning to watch that one as well.
Here’s a link to Natasha’s review that made me want to read this book - Natasha.
If you have read this one as well, please do leave me a link in the comments section and I’ll add it to my post!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
On December 2, 1992 – A Mosque in
Well, you can guess what would have happened next. Riots broke out all over
What is surprising though is the fact that the reaction to this event was not just in
About the Book
Shame was a very controversial book written by Taslima Nasrin documenting the occurrences in
The book was published in 1993 in Bengali under the name “Lajja”. It was immediately banned in
Shame is divided into 13 chapters – one for each day following the demolition of Babri Masjid in
Well, the book surrounds the happenings in life of the Dutta family. The Duttas were Hindus living in
Anyways, the riots start and initially, the severity of the riots doesn’t really hit them. Slowly, they are pulled into it. They keep hearing about everything happening around them. People who they know are moving to
** Warning – Spoiler Ahead.
What is sad is the way the book ends. It is not intended to be a fairy tale and hence the ending is really sad. Sudhamay is finally driven to agree to leave the country. He does this for the sake of the happiness of his wife and son. Maya doesn’t come back though I kept hoping and praying that she would. I so desperately wanted it to end happily but I guess that’s not life. It is sad to see how a relatively happy family, is reduced to a bunch of scared, devastated individuals in a span of less than 2 weeks.
I have always wanted to read Shame and I am glad I finally got to read it. I am not too clear about the happening in
Until I read books like Riot (By Shashi Tharoor) and Shame, the Babri Masjid incident was only a vague memory for me. I was 10 years old when it happened and what stuck to me was just the fact that the mosque was torn down and the aftermath was horrible - riots all over the country. It was interesting to get the perspective of someone who witnessed the events; someone who was on the protected side in
First, the positives:
The book comes across as a very strong and powerful piece of writing. Through the depiction of the life of one Hindu family, Taslima manages to capture the essence of the happenings in
The book definitely makes you think. It is sad how people change in times like this. Taslima highlights so many incidences where Muslims change their attitudes and behaviors towards Hindus they have been friends with all their lives after incidents like this. I think that is so sad. How can we let some action taken by crazy fundamentalists in other parts of the country (or in a completely different country) influence the way we behave with friends we’ve known all our lives and who actually had nothing to do with the action! I felt sad when Maya and Suranjan reach out to their Muslim friends only to feel awkward in the process. I hated the way it affected young children. In one part, Suranjan’s friend Pulak talks about his little son. The boy used to play with his friends before the riots started. Suddenly they stopped playing with him because their fathers had asked them not to play with Hindu boys. I mean, can you imagine the little 5 year old?? He doesn’t even know what it means to be a Hindu or a Muslim!
The overall impact is very upsetting. Innocent people losing their lives, innocent girls getting gang raped and left to die. I can’t even begin to imagine the mental status of those who managed to survive after such an ordeal!
Now, coming to the negatives:
The book was a tedious read – not because of the language, but because of the details. Every few pages, Taslima gives us an update about the temples that have been demolished, the people who have been driven out of their homes/businesses, women/kids who were abducted/raped, etc. Frankly, after a point, the lists just got to me. I know that she was trying to highlight the damages done but I am thinking the same impact could have been achieved by just giving us summary numbers instead of individual cases – at least that is my personal opinion. And then of course, there’s the political part. Pages and pages citing the constitutions and the amendments that seemed to favor Muslims living in the country. If Taslima’s aim was to increase the awareness of people regarding the supposed ill-treatment of Hindus in
After reading all this, you must have decided for yourself by now if you want to read this book or not. But if I was given the choice, I would ask you to read it. Read it to get a realistic picture of things happening around the world.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I received Melanie Wells's My Soul to Keep from Camy Tang. Thanks Camy!I must start this review by saying that this is not the kind of book I usually read. But thanks to the book blogging community, I have become adventurous in my reading selections and I must accept that I have been surprised quite a few times.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Swahili for Beginners by Lisa Joyal - A Young Adult Novel
If I had to describe the book in two words, I would say – sweet and simple.
Through the innocent letter exchange between Georgie and Ellie, Lisa Joyal brings out the complex lives of people in developing nations. Kids in developed countries take so many things for granted – things that are a luxury for kids in many countries around the world. Through Ellie’s letters, Lisa shows us the actual lives of people in countries like
Swahili for beginners starts out being the simple story of Georgie and her friends but turns out to be very deep. I think it brings out complex issues of pre-teens and teens around the world in a very simple way. The book teaches to you work hard to get things that you want and not to take things for granted. It makes you realize that the world outside is very different from what you see around your own home in developed countries. And the best part is that the morals and the lessons are all well intertwined in an interesting story and hence, makes for an interesting read as well!
I think it is a perfect book for young girls to read. There’s so much to learn from this book. I would definitely recommend this book for young adults!
Check out this link to find out more about the book!
Thanks to minibookexpo for giving me a chance to read such a nice book!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
As a slight deviation from my initial plan, I read Mrs. Dalloway as the fourth book for my classics challenge. I got Mrs. Dalloway from
Mrs. Dalloway is set in
Through Clarissa’s thoughts and actions, Virginia Woolf brings out the complexity of the social structure in post war
During the course of the day, she thinks about her past and her present and contemplates on how her life has turned out. She picked the stable and successful Richard Dalloway over the enigmatic Peter Walsh to marry and she wonders if she made the right choice in life. Peter Walsh confuses her more by paying her a visit in the afternoon after having just returned from
Towards the end of the novel you see how both the stories tie together. After having spent the entire day thinking about her life and her decisions, Clarissa hears about Septimus and his suicide during the evening party. She thinks about it and eventually decides that she actually understands what it is that he does and eventually comes to admire the act. Somehow the parts just fit right in together!
Virginia Woolf beautifully brings out the status of women in
Reading Mrs. Dalloway was a tough task for me. The language wasn’t simple and a lot of the sentences went on for more than 10 lines. A sentence contained many different thoughts and it took me a while to actually get into the book and understand Virginia Woolf’s writing style. Evidently, this is my first Woolf book. While I glanced at the book initially, it looked short and easy to read... I was totally mistaken. But I must say that I actually started liking the book halfway through it. I realized that Woolf must have been so forward in thought to write a book like in 1925. It definitely paved the way for modern writing.
Mrs. Dalloway is an interesting read and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for something different and has the time and the patience to sit through Virginia Woolf’s complex web of thoughts and words.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
.. And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament
I have a confession to make. In addition to liking all these novels that i read from around the world, i secretly like books that deal with neuro-science...and actually anything related to human biology..(phew! its finally out!)..:) I guess having a masters degree in Biological Sciences does point toward that predilection of mine..
One of my good friends, who also happens to be a professor of psychology feeds my interest with awesome books that totally enthrall me.. One book that I totally enjoyed reading and re-reading was this book by Robert Sapolsky. Robert Sapolsky is a professor of Biological Sciences and a Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University and he writes books!(So, I guess in a way, I was predestined to like anything he wrote!).
A small technical interlude in case there is a kindred soul who likes Biological Sciences and loves reading books enough to visit my blog - Sapolsky's main work focuses on Stress and Neuron Degeneration (and on a related note - gene therapy mechanisms to protect susceptible neurons). When he's not in the lab in Stanford, I guess he likes "vacationing" in Kenya annually where he studies a population of wild baboons to identify patterns of relationship between personalities and stress among these animals. He's written some other books along the same lines and you know it as well as I do - I am definitely going to read them!
Did you know???
- In August of 1992, an article published in the prestigious Science journal, finally demonstrated a biological difference between homosexual and heterosexual men. Homosexual men tend to have a smaller "third interstitial nucleus" in the hypothalamus ( the part of the brain that is central to sexual behavior) when compared to heterosexual men.. can you even imagine the implications of this discovery?? I guess that would be a whole post in itself. Of course, it is yet to be determined if the small "Third interstitial nucleus" is the cause of effect of being homosexual..
- A researcher of Chimps in Tanzania discovered a strange eating pattern among the Chimps. On waking, some of the chimps ate the leaves of the Aspilia plant..well, they didn't actually eat it but just kept it under their tongues for a few minutes before swallowing it whole. The strange thing was that these leaves weren't even tasty and the primates grimaced as they ate it.. Why would they want to put themselves through such an ordeal?? Well, looks like the leaves are rich in an antibacterial substance that helps in cleaning the digestive tracts of unwanted bacteria! I guess they have thir own little primate pharmacies with prescriptions as well!:))
- All primates tend to live in groups. One interesting phenomenon observed in these groups is the mechanism of adolescent emigration (i.e., adolescent primates moving permanently from one group to another). I guess that is nature's way of preventing inbreeding among the primate population. The coming together of two groups and the emigration of an adolescent from one group to another seems random but it sure isn't.
Well, i guess you get the general hang of the book from this. I loved reading all the essays in this book and I got too carried away by the subject matter to actually analyze and see how a lay person (with absolutely no biology background whatsoever) would understand and like the book. If you are looking for a different kind of a read, i would totally recommend this book to you.
If you have already read it, i would love to hear your views on this one.
Friday, September 5, 2008
No matter how many versions of it you read, some stories always tend to have the effect on you. One such story is the gruesome story of the Holocaust and the states of
Night of Flames is a historical fiction about a young couple in
Through Anna and Jan, we get to know the happenings of the Polish and Belgian resistances. They meet a lot of people in their journeys (Polish, German and Belgian) and we get to know about the holocaust from personal experiences of the people they meet. One part that I really liked was the part about Otto. When Anna is taken by a German officer, Otto (The officer’s chauffer) saves her from him. Otto was a guard at the
And somehow, throughout the book, one message is really clear. In the middle of the war and executions and everything – people still survived. I think it is just two things that kept them going on – hope and trust. The trust that they had in each other is amazing. Especially at a time where one wrong word could kill you and all those around you, people trusted each other and friends and worked together for the resistance. And this was brought out over and over again in the book.
Many characters, many little stories embedded throughout the novel. The novel is not about Anna and Jan. It could have centered on Justyn, or Willy, or any of the other characters that we came across… because what
I really enjoyed reading the book. If I had to, I would give it 3 stars out of five. It definitely wouldn’t come in the best books of the year list… but nevertheless, it was a good book and the fact that
If you have read this book, do let me know what you thought of it. If you have a review online then just send me the link and I’ll add it to this post!