Review: God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems by Ishara Deen

 

Title: God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems

Author: Ishara Deen

Publisher: Deeya Publishing Inc.

Publication Date:  15 January, 2017

ISBN: 9780995833609

Setting: Canada

Synopsis: 

LIKE NANCY DREW, BUT NOT…

Craving a taste of teenage life, Asiya Haque defies her parents to go for a walk (really, it was just a walk!) in the woods with Michael, her kind-of-friend/crush/the guy with the sweetest smile she’s ever seen. Her tiny transgression goes completely off track when they stumble on a dead body. Michael covers for Asiya, then goes missing himself.

Despite what the police say, Asiya is almost sure Michael is innocent. But how will she, the sheltered girl with the strictest parents ever, prove anything? With Michael gone, a rabid police officer in desperate need of some sensitivity training, and the murderer out there, how much will Asiya risk to do what she believes is right?

 

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Review

A Brown girl on a cover? Raises eyebrows ~

Wait, the MC is muslim? Say what?!

A mystery novel too?  This is too good!

A Nancy Drew but not quite…? Need. right. now!

Yep, I was very excited to read this book and certainly didn’t need twice telling to know that it showed SO much promise. I had heard so many good things about it and was delighted to find that the book delivered, plentifully!

 

Asiya Haque, Bengali living in Canada, is your everyday highschooler who is busy making sure she is getting good grades,  working hard at her job, constantly being overshadowed by her seemingly picture perfect sister and most importantly staying out of trouble so as not to alert the Mutaweenies. To add to her already busy life is her growing crush on Michael, the hot new guy.  Well if that isn’t a recipe enough for trouble, let’s add that Michael might have some, secrets… One day she makes a fateful walk down the forest where she finds herself alone with Michael which set to motion a roller coaster of events that find her doing all sorts of interesting things. All bad, according to her mother. Overall, I found Asiya to be an instantly likeable character. She isn’t annoying and whiny. Instead she’s intelligent, smart and considerate. She also tries hard to make the best out of her sticky situations and takes responsibility for her duties.

Now Michael… I vowed to myself not to let another Michael wreck my fictional crushes list but I failed miserably (cue Thermopolis diary flashbacks~~). Though his character isn’t as well developed as Asiya’s and his actions quite questionable, I was moved by his actions towards her and am excited to know more about him in future sequels. Most of all I’m itching to tell him he’s a goondha’s son. Dammit, the ending. I was pulling my hair screaming.  Please don’t make the wait too long Ms. Deen!

Secrets are intriguing and all but then there’s Asiya’s parents. From the get go we are introduced to them as the kind who have a hands on approach to parenting, so much so that they keep an eye on their kids every movement. We see conservative family values in play, tight bonds between parent and child, and an almost all seeing hold on activities of the children within the household and in the community.  The comparison of the mother/child bond to a melon and bagel had me laughing for a good few minutes, but the message of being thankful and having complete obedience to parents was definitely gotten across to both Asiya and the readers. Well, I hope so.

This was my first Muslim MC YA book I’ve read and if I thought I understood the importance of having #ownvoices in print, now I appreciate it much more. The first person narrative was an excellent choice as this allows us to be inside Asiya’s head, reading her thoughts and ideas, hence giving us a more indepth understanding on things going on around her.  It also helps present muslim youth in a more normal and everyday image, showing that they feel the same things anyone else does thanks to the inner and outer commentary that ensues. I found interesting how effortlessly Islamic values, Quránic verses and stories from the life of the Prophet were interwoven into the characters thoughts and conversations and the narrative as a whole.

While religion plays a big part of the story and her life, so does culture and her environment. We are made aware of the trials muslim youth go through to try and find a compromised path between having to keep up and fit into two important circles of their life. I loved how easily the use of bengali words and customs were added into conversations and in Asiya’s inner monologue. I was giggling in delight at how Asiya and her friend work out having to deal with each others families, caz girl, same~~~

The mystery of the story does NOT take a back seat. The story was fast paced with every page leading on to new clues that moved the plot along. I found the supporting characters to be a bit lacking, nevertheless they played their part. The romance adds spice to the story with Asiya finding herself alone with Michael more and more, while I spent those moments internally screaming “look out for the Mutaweenies!!

As to the author, I hope the Mutaweenies aren’t after you too because in the end what you write especially as WoC and a Muslim will not please everyone. What’s important to remember is the importance of representation and #ownvoices narrative for readers in all genres of literature. As a muslim there isn’t many YA books out there that speak to me personally, so this book is an important one of many that are now entering print so we are eternally thankful for them. I was especially moved by the dedication for this book:  “For all the girls who were never told someone like them could, not even in books.”

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Note: I was sent a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review! Thank you so much! I loved the book, and I will definitely be recommending it.

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If you haven’t picked up God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems I suggest you do. Not only will you get an insight into the daily trials we girls go through,and how we try to escape the God smites (trust me, not often though!!), you have a mystery in your hands. Is Michael innocent? Will the police listen to Asiya? And most importantly, will they get together??

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If you have read this book, let me know what you loved most about it? What are your thoughts on Asiya’s inner monologue? Who do you think is the real culprit?

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Till next time..

 

 

 

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Review: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

 

Title: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Published: October 29th 2002 by Anchor

Original Title: Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse chinoise (first published 2000)

ISBN: 0385722206

Setting: China

 

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Synopsis

In this enchanting tale about the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening, two hapless city boys are exiled to a remote mountain village for reeducation during China’s infamous Cultural Revolution. There they meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation. As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, they find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined. – Goodreads

 

 

Review

I found this book while browsing around at a Costco when I was in America last year, and have finally gotten around to reviewing it. I picked it up because the cover beckoned to me from afar and was delighted to find that the blurb was also pretty intriguing. As I hadn’t read any books based in China I thought this might as well be a sign for me to start.

The story is set in the re-education era that took place under the Maoist regime in China. I recalled the Maoist regime and small parts of the re-education from history class in school but as this was ages ago, this book in a way served as my own re-education of the Chinese history due to the abundance of detail put into explaining how it worked and what its effects on the common people were. Sijie himself was re-educated and later moved to France where he wrote this book.

The story felt like a fleeting glimpse into this era, a microcosm of the change taking place nationwide. I love how poetic the story feels, and how beautifully the scenes are painted for our imagination. It gives off a magical feel to the actions of the characters, with the petite little seamstress spinning/ knitting away while the antics the boys get up to keep us entertained and on edge throughout the book.

Something that I loved about this story is the ode it gave to authors and stories from the West. Balzac clearly plays a vital role in the story as we see the characters being spellbound by his works. Interestingly the West now took the place of magic and awe, just like the East was the subject of “the Other/ The Orient ” in western literature. In addition, this book is also a translation from French to English.

I related much with the three young characters love for books, and was excited by their quest to unwind the tales and adventures that these books contained. These were outlets to another world that the government was trying to deprive them of, but they kept them hidden and read in them secrecy. Books for them were a sacred commodity that they smuggled for their own pleasure.  Just imagine someone taking away all the books you owned and BURNING them!! Yes burning.  The horror. Which is exactly why this book will be endearing to those of us who hold books near and dear to our hearts~~

Emotions are also high and volatile. Flirtation is abound, and the pangs of unrequited young love made me smile. Though the story builds up beautifully I felt like I was left hanging after all the trouble they had gone through. In a way though, the end is fittingly bittersweet and very far thinking on the part of the Little Seamstress.

 

 

 

If you have read this book please let me know how you liked it? If not, please do give it a try. I’d love to know of any similar recommendations as well!

 

 

Review: Stained by Abda Khan

 

I closed my eyes. I wanted to see nothing, I  wanted to feel nothing. I just wanted darkness, blackness, but my eyes kept dragging me back to it all. And still, all I could hear was the tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. I put my hands over my ears, desperately trying to banish the incessant noise that was on repeat in my head, to no effect. How was I ever going to get that sound out of my head? Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick tock….

 

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Stained is a story of a beautiful intelligent young British Pakistani woman whose life’s aspirations and dreams are put on hold due to the scandalous actions of a supposedly trusted member of society. This is only the surface summary of the story. The book delves into weighty and sensitive issues that those involved and those who look on, wish to sweep under the rug rather than face it head on, culling out the guilty and restoring justice and solace to the victim.

When I first read the premise of the book, what caught me was the social commentary that goes along with it. The story fit in to a category of books that we do not normally see in a library or a book store. The untold stories of victims of the rape culture we see simmering beneath the facade of what seems to be peaceful communities. What drives the actions of these misguided members of society and how the victims deal with the trauma is often unheard of. What is saddening, is to see that honour becomes more important than honesty, and the innocent in the face of society is disregarded.

Stained, no doubt, is a voice for women, loud and clear, from highlighting the unfair treatment of daughters, to disregarding of girls rights to education and most importantly to their consent in all its forms. Selina, goes on to achieve the unthinkable in this story by fighting for her name on her own, and in the end clearing her name of the dishonor that had befallen her.

On reading the story I must stress that this is a debut novel and the writing, though it could be better, doesn’t diminish the urgency and importance of Selina’s situation and the matter at hand. It is written in first person, and is an almost diary entry like narrative. This fits well with the story and her situation and it’s almost like Selina confides to the reader what she cannot confide in anyone around her. I don’t know if it was intentional but descriptions highlighted what was deemed important in these societies, and I felt very much immersed in the lifestyle Selina led.  In addition, the author peppers the book with symbolism,  tropes and metaphors at every turn which adds to the pathos of the story. We are left feeling overwhelmed at Selina’s unfortunate turn of events and the reactions she receives when she tries to be honest.

Ms. Khan also touches on issues of identity to children of migrant individuals. Is she British, or in this case is she Pakistani? Is her label otherwise, a Muslim? The diversity of Selina’s character is in these questions she’s seeking answers to. I’m pretty sure any individual in her shoes will have a similar questioning of identity and these are issues that are not often talked about, yet something numerous people are affected by this situation.

 

 

Many thanks to Adba Khan and Harvard Square Editions for sending me a copy in exchange of an honest review. I enjoyed the book very much 🙂

You can get your copy of Stained @ Amazon 

 

If you have read Stained, what are your thoughts on the story? Is justice restored to Selina and the other victims? Do they fully recover from such incidents?  What is the role that authors plays removing the stigma of rape culture victims? Is it more important than we think it to be?

 

 

 

 

Review: Saree by Su Dharmapala

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The key phrase to this book is ‘fatefully yet surprisingly interwoven lives’. The extracting of silk and human elements and artfully weaving them into intricate patterns. The title in fact, is gleefully fitting. When I saw it on the book shelf at my local book store, I just knew and my expectations rose immediately, but I’m happy to say it delivered, plentifully. The novel wasn’t beauty and smiles all around, in fact it it makes you sit back and think of how life in the end, does come full circle.

First things first.

 

Definition of a saree

A saree is a garment worn by women across south Asia (from my knowledge predominantly those of south Indian and Sri Lankan origin). It is a long piece of cloth usually woven in silk or cotton, varying from 6-9 yards in length and 2-4 feet in breadth, that is wrapped around the waist, pleated, tucked and draped over one shoulder. Of course today how you drape, the designs and material all vary given the advent of fashion, but the traditional hand woven silk sarees in its customary designs and drape are highly respected. And yes it is the dress the lady on the cover of the book is wearing and a real life specimen of one is what the book is pictured on 😛

 

The Synopsis

One thing truly made me happy about this book. I know opinions will vary, but I whole heartedly love the blurb of the book. It gives us just enough to be intrigued but not enough to give away the whole story. So here it is for you:

Nila wasn’t born beautiful and is destined to go through life unnoticed… until she becomes a saree maker. As she works, Nila weaves into the silk a pattern of love, hope and devotion, which will prove to be invaluable to more lives than her own.

From the lush beauty of Sri Lanka, ravaged by bloody civil war, to India and its eventual resting place in Australia, this is the story of a precious saree and the lives it changes forever. Nila must find peace, Mahinda yearns for his true calling, Pilar is haunted by a terrible choice, Sarojini doubts her ability to love, Madhav is a holy fraud and Marion’s understanding of the very meaning of love is challenged and transformed. Each teeters between joy and pain, and each is touched by the power and beauty of the saree.

A breathtaking story of beauty, oppression and freedom… and of an enduring love that can never be broken.

 

 

The Review

I believe life is an art. So it only makes sense that every act therefore in living has to be an art. Passion is key in attaining perfection, and in this story there is no end for passion. Whether it is for a person,  for a craft, skill or a dream, an undying fire from within will help one find opportunities in the most surprising of places.

The story in Saree, is predominantly set in Sri Lanka, during the Ealam War. There were rifts between races, and also within races. Life seemed to be a game of who is better than who. Innocents killed, brothers divided, friends turning their backs on each other. Among all this hatred and angst, were instances of purity, love, beauty and friendship. This is an aspect the writer has been successful in capturing in her story.

There’s many things to like in Saree. One aspect is the wonderful descriptions by the author. Be it the character building, the surroundings or even the conversation which are often peppered with the mother tongue of the speakers, the story seems to leap off the pages and one feels the anger of the mobs and the pitter patter of rain as one reads.

Character development was a pleasure to see. We are presented with six very different personalities, each with a different passion in life, and are touched by this one fateful saree. Each story is well planned and each in their own way unique. Each endearing, leaving us devastated at the end.  I especially liked Pilar and her story. I was awed by the courage Pilar showed when it came to the upbringing of her son and Raju’s life long memory of his wife.

I particularly enjoyed the factual weave into the fiction. A book from which you can take away something is always good. I learnt a lot about the saree making process from  acquiring the silk to spinning it, to weaving then finishing it draping it and the final look of it. You won’t need to take any saree spinning class in your life. Kudos to Ms Dharmapala for the extensive research you must have had to undertake for this 🙂

The book has a fragmented narrative, spanning time, religion, cities and continents and in my opinion, the writer, I’m so glad, didn’t disappoint. Every perspective of the story fit in and overall made for a delightful, page turning read. In saying this I must add that it is quite a long read as well, with a whopping 560 odd pages (in my copy at least). I didn’t actually read the book at a stretch. It felt right to reflect on each chapter after I was done with it for a few days before moving on to the next. Not only were the characters engaging, but the message the writer was inevitably conveying was too hard to ignore.

The initial literary reaction to the book aside, I must stress on the social commentary that has to be spoken of regarding the story. Directly or indirectly, the war touched on the lives of all people living in the country. How does one live with the knowledge of knowing that your best friend could turn his back on you, how could your own family set fire to your fiance just because  he was of another religion? Do the emotional scars ever go away, does one ever go back to living normally once the war was over? And yet there was society being cruel even in the face of the imminent death and one young woman worries for her future because her skin is darker.

The emotions in this story are very real, very raw and at every turn there is something holding our protagonists down. Does love conquer all, or do they need to resort to rebellion? I’d recommend this book for all ages, and I, myself will definitely be re-reading this book.

 

So go ahead pick up Saree some time soon, and lets get talking. If you have already read it, whose story resonated the most with you? What have you heard of the war in Sri Lanka? Lets talk about how wartime literature and how it helps bring out what really matters in life. Do scars heal once its over? Or does love heal all?

 

Su Dharmapala is a writer, social commentator and a blogger. She released her debut novel, Wedding Season in 2012 by Simon & Schuster, and this novel, Saree was released in 2014. 

Here’s a link to one of her interviews. I find it a great insight into how her books came to life.

 

 

 

Review: Street Girl by Rozana McGrattan

 

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“I hear the vibrations of the universe and I call it love.

I want to go to it; need to go to it, need to dissolve in it. It calls me home.

……

And real love is the shedding of old feelings, emotions, longings, wants.

And the knowledge that there will be no more turbulence.”

Rozana McGrattan

 

 

 

Street Girl is an autobiography of Ms. McGrattan. This book is her narration of the events of her life, one we see studded with trials and hardships, from the streets of Sao Paulo to the streets of London, from hunger and destitute poverty to owning her own business.

I received this book via a Goodreads Giveaway (YAY!!) a few weeks back. It is the first book that I’ve read that was based in Brazil and one written by a Brazilian author which gives me so many reasons to be excited about this review.

The book begins with a prologue of her narrating a story her father told her, and we are immediately taken in. The story begins with a simple yet vivid narration of Sao Paulo, where I reckon was the turning point of her life, the make it or break it stage, where her decisions were meant to be well thought out.  Thereafter she takes us back to the beginning, and then to where she is today.

I’ve never read literature from South America, so this was a first. I was excited, and as per usual the vibes that the book sent me when I signed up for the giveaway put me into high expectations. I didn’t know what sort of story it would be, but I wasn’t disappointed!  If anything I want more.  I was fascinated to learn about the workings of the country, a glimpse here and there, but that was enough to shine light onto life there.

It’s a quick read. The writing is easy flowing with no awkward breaks. The language is simple, direct, no beating round the bush, and each new chapter of the book is a new chapter of her life. A very straightforward telling of her life’s events thus far, and very compellingly told. You will read about her successes and her failures, her achievements hard earned yet admirable, her relationships; some appalling, which will leave you horror, while others endearing.

A easy read I did say, but I must stress on the contents. Some chapters are not for the lighthearted. Even the author herself warns the reader to skip ahead. I was repulsed by certain incidents she had to go through and in knowing her intentions and her strength of mind; I admire her courage to be able to free herself from these situations. We constantly find her in situations that are not in any way good, especially at her young age, but time and time again we find that she takes to good and leaves the bad aside.

I loved that she found camaraderie in those who have nothing to give her, or help her, the children from the slums. It was a warm feeling to know that kindness and humanness is not something one has to have material possession to embody.  Her position as a girl growing up, and later as a woman making her way toward bettering herself, is something to take note of. She manages to charter her way through the dangerous waters of exploitation and abuse, while keeping her sanity. She could easily have followed the route of many in her position, but she kept to her beliefs and followed her dreams.

I love how she never once blames anyone for the incidents in her life and how it began and the many shady paths it lead her to. I love that she took hold of her own destiny, in the sense that she didn’t expect from others, but worked hard to achieve her dreams.  I cannot imagine how she lived through some periods of her life, but she made it and it gave me hope! And I reckon this story will do so, even by a tiny bit, to anyone who reads it. I love that she shows you can go from poverty to living comfortably, from despair to happiness, if not ideal at least one where you are at peace with ones self if you dare to dream and keep at it.

She believes that a life without knowledge or education of any sort is to be blamed only on one’s self. We find that she snatched at every opportunity to better herself, and she firmly believes that no life experience goes to waste, but builds ones self.

Her poetry is a reflection of all her life’s experiences. Outbursts of a deeper understanding of different aspects of life. I was delighted to find that  I deeply related to a few of them.

 

“When I look towards the light,

do I see the glow of realization,

the purity of perception,

or just the glare of confusion,

without shadow or relief- ubiquitous and implacable?

If meaning is menacing,

If its hell,

Then is it a hell of my own making?”

 

 

 

Its hard to find a fault with the story. I was truly disappointed that the story ended. I would love to know more about the author, and took the liberty to do so. She is truly an incredible woman. Her endurance is admirable; her faith in painting the greater picture is inspirational. If anything this book is a humbling one, portraying not only a life of hardship but also one of holding on to hope.  From beginning to end, one thing was very clear. She always was master of her fate, not letting others tell her otherwise.

 

Street Girl was published on May 28th 2016 by Pen Works Media.

For more on the book or author, you can check out Goodreads and Amazon.

 

 

Lets get talking!

If you have read this book, what are your thoughts on it? Did you enjoy the read?

Do memoirs like this fare as well as works of fiction?

Do you have any recs for me based on this read? I’d love to know.

 

 

 

 

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

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Synopsis

In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most.

Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

(From Goodreads)

 

Review

“They tell me I must wade into waters, where I will soon drown. Before I march in, I leave this on the shore for you. I pray you find it, sister, so you will know what was in my heart as I went under.”

 

‘And the Mountains Echoed’ begins with a story a father tells his children and this is a premonition to them of things to come. How a brother and sister are separated in childhood. It turns out to be a tale of “the finger cut, to save the hand.” The rest of the story tells us how the hand reacts, and what happens to the finger. For me this book is more than the story of Abdullah and Pari . It is the story of how a twin has to live with the moral burden of hurting her prettier twin, it is the story of two cousins returning to their homeland now as adults, it is the story of a boy coming to an understanding of his father’s real reputation, it is the story of brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, lovers and even the bond of master and servant. It is, in simple words, the story of love and loyalty transcending borders and time.

 For a book that reached the top 10 even before its release based on pre publication reviews alone, and a book that sold approximately 3 million copies in its first 5 months after publication,  And the Mountains Echoed, lived up to all the complexity and magic it was expected to hold. It is the third book by acclaimed Afghan – American author, Khaled Hosseini and it without a doubt cements his name as being one of the most prolific storytellers in this century.

The fact that such simple language, be it the prose or the poetry, can bring to mind such vivid emotions and thoughts is wondrous. I must confess, I read through the last quarter of the book in a puddle of my own tears. No shame here. I was left contemplating thoroughly moved.

His poetry, as well as the stories within this story are compelling in their own right, his philosophy and thinking which we see and feel through his characters show us despite our differences in faith, culture and geography, the dynamics of relationships are universal and basic humanness and human emotion are the same. Our basic instincts and needs are one, regardless of whether we chose to enclose ourselves from the public eye or not. There were many moments when I had read a paragraph, a line or a string of words, when I just sat back and thought of how it affected me in my own story and those around me today.

 

“They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.”

 

The book consists of nine chapters, or in another light, nine sub-stories, each from the perspective of different characters who span many generations and from across the globe. The book’s fragmented narrations gives us an indepth look into the characters and we find them all to be surprisingly interconnected, only an arm’s length from each other. These narratives span the past, present and future, and we see the characters encounter each other in surprising and tragic ways.

The familial themes which Hosseini brings into even his third book, is further explored. Sibling relationships and sibling like relationships are put to the test.  I was impressed at his way of talking and showing us the complexity of sibling love, the purity of it, as well as the good, bad and ugly aspects often left unventured. We are left heartbroken on some and deeply conflicted on others. Siblings are reconnected, but not in how our hearts expect them to. In fact none of the endings are satisfactory, and Hosseini is clearly trying to tell us something. Is it that, in his words,

“Nothing good came free. Even love. You paid for all things. And if you were poor, suffering was your currency.

 

Afghanistan’s political situation plays a huge role in the story as a backdrop for events taking place. Hosseini has tread this path well, and I didn’t for once feel stifled by my lack of knowledge on the political aspects of the story. If not for the war, many of our characters wouldn’t have met the way they did, nor have moved across the globe as we see them do. What’s surprising is that though the presence of war is there, it is never about it. The human struggle is always above this and Hosseini shows us. Afghanistan to us is not presented as a war ridden country but as a country like any other. There is no ‘Other’ here, just one and all.

With the ending of war we see warlords, we see corruption, we see them taking advantage of the poor and we see how cleverly money and power can stifle even the loudest of yearnings. The troubling experience of having to flee one’s home and adopt to other cultures is portrayed, how living with the echoes of your roots is a trying experience.

We are constantly asking ourselves if memory is a curse or a blessing. Pari cannot remember her beloved brother, but she feels an emptiness. Abdullah lives his life with her memory on his sleeve. She never leaves him. Its heartbreaking to see the consequences of their separation. The need for answers is a continual theme throughout the book, and the latter narratives tie up the strings as to how the journey ends for our characters.

 

 

What I like about this book,  is the balance of male and female characters, in their colourful diversity. We have the humble Afghani man Saboor and the modest Afghani woman Parwana living by what they are duly required to do, haunted by their moral burden; the strong faithed Abdullah admirable in his life long memory of his baby sister; the determined Amra, Collette and Odie trying to live up to their standards of justice; Masooma and Thalia showing us two ends of the spectrum with regards to living with deformity in societies and how can one forget the likes of the dramatic and narcisstic set of Madeline, Timur and Nila; of different cultures yet fighting the same battle. The one true loves of Mr. Wahdati, Nabi and Abdullah are telling, each of a different nature yet complex and sadly ones that never see the light of day.

Be it the sheer will power of a woman, or the life long memory a boy held on to into his old age of a sister he was heartbreakingly separated away from, be it the unconditional love of a son, daughter, brother or sister, or the never ceasing loyalty of a friend and/or servant I loved the balance of how man and woman, and what each has to offer is seen as essential in the equation of love, stability and life in general.

I loved that Hosseini explored how sometimes we just have to give in, not because they we forced to but because there is no other way. We see the likes of Nila and Pari binti Abdullah, just give in to what is expected of them, leaving aside their need to work on their dreams and aspirations.

“The world didn’t see the inside of you, that it didn’t care about the hopes and dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked behind skin and bone. It was as simple, as absurd, and as cruel, as that.”

As we close up on this story and lives of these people, we realize that the title of the book stands true and fitting, for in the end the mountains did echo, of the voices that struggled to be heard, accepted and reconnected throughout multiple generations.

 

 

Clearly I loved the book and I recommend it to anyone.  You are never too old or young to read this story. Just go ahead! Pick it up, be transported and inspired.

 

 

 

Reading Lolita in Tehran : Azar Nafisi

 

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Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

~Summary from Goodreads~

 

 

This book weighs heavily on our prior reading of books the author entwines into her narration. This can be a good thing or not so good. For me it was weary, and I felt like it blocked out the flow she needed to bring about the urgency of her situation. I understand that her attempt was a to re read and retell Lolita and other classics with her situation in mind, but I felt it didn’t do the testimony of her oppression justice. I picked up the book based on the title, Reading Lolita in Tehran. The idea of mixing culture, classics and storytelling intrigued me, but I was a bit disappointed. Maybe it was different for other readers. It was nevertheless a memoir in books alright!

What I did learn was women like me, Muslims, hijabis or not, are reading, reading and comparing their societal segregation just like me with those in books. We find culture, society and religion fighting to be top priority, in a world where each is demanding attention and its tolling on the soul. There is always a need for escape to ease the journey. I know this to be true for marginalized groups, and in the end we are trying to find ourselves in the stories we devour and look for ways to find hope in these other worlds.

As for recommending it to another, I’d think twice. If you have a prior knowledge of these books mentioned, go ahead. Its not a book I’d recommend for those starting out on diverse reading as tempting as the title sounds. Sorry.

 

 

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie: Storytelling at possibly, it’s finest.

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This book needs no introduction. Most of you will remember seeing this title on all “Must read” book lists, and if you are in touch with the book awards sphere you will know that Midnight’s Children has been awarded the Booker of Bookers Prize in 1993 and 2008. It is also known to be one of the great books of the 20th century.  Since this book doesn’t need another serious book review, I’m going to say it like I felt it, and if its rambly, well you are only practicing for the read.

 

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The story is about Saleem Sinai, our protagonist born at the stroke of midnight on the day India gained her independence from British Rule. Simple enough? Well, add to the pot the magical element, that Saleem is but one of a 1001 children born at this precise moment. This turn of events means that he will now be able to be telepathically be linked to the rest of the 1000 children till the end of his life. A bit complicated yea? Well add a bit of clever story telling. This is Saleem’s story, therefore we must know every before him and everything after. Prepare yourself to be carried through a kaleidoscopic tale of the beginning of the beginning to the end of the end. Also, have it with some pickles. Look out for knees and noses. And perforated sheets.

 

Some people hate it,

some people love it,

While others sit on the fence, spell bound by this magical tale they just ingested.

I can surely say, I’m of the latter two varieties of people in the world. Yes, I loved the book, from the front cover to the back, and yes, months after my reading it, the book still continues to awe me.

 

What ties us all together is that we break down, dissect and ponder over each strand of story in this book. Each character, each event and each image formed by the author’s words, contributing to this melting pot of culture and colour, the story that is India. We are all, in short, speechless for its existence, unlike the protagonist Saleem Sinai, a character with a surplus of words more than enough to fill a 600 odd page book and more.

 

When I say ‘The Story that is India’ I need to stress how much this book represents the ultimate Indian experience. Your senses are teased left, right and forward, by not one but many impulses. There is the colour in the clothes women wear to the food they prepare, there is the smell in the umpteen number of spices they use to the exotic smell of the streets, there is the touch of soft cashmere to coarse coir rugs and there is the sound of the street wallahs marketing their products to the shouts of the boys playing cricket in the dusty grounds. The novel brings to life all these and more. It will tug your heart with emotion. It will make you roll around in fits of laughter for I must stress at Mr. Rushdie’s sense of humour. His talent at poking fun at what he finds nonsensical, is one I’ve not come across in all my reading. It’s something so addictive and at the same time very very clever. I can see why those who were poked at (predominantly the religious and political figures) would have and still do find Midnight’s Children very insulting. If there ever were an award for most digression in a piece of fiction, hands down, we have a winner!

India is a multicultural hot pot, and Rushdie walks us through every avenue of life in this subcontinent. Be it the political path, the glamorous celebrity life, the middle class dilemmas, the beggars woes and even the trials of religious missionaries.  The book is utter chaos and drama alongside intriguing characters, who are only short of crazy which will leave you bewildered sometimes. I must stress how much an understanding of the political situation at the time will help you immensely, else risk losing your sanity for a few days/weeks/months. (there’s no shame in how long you take, trust me.)

 

I must explain why I said that I was ‘on the fence’ regarding this book.

  • A good story it will continue to be, but it was  one of the most tiring reads I’ve ever attempted. In my process of reading, I have complained shamelessly on my posts at the time, as to how time consuming and physically and mentally demanding the book was. Talk about master of beating around the bush. I don’t know how anyone else who read it felt like but for me it was a mission accomplished once I was done. I felt that my reading goal for the year had been fulfilled!

 

  • On reading, I understood why some people, and in this I mean, whole communities, would have found this book insulting and belittling. It is true that all the drama surrounding this book is not without good reason. He does make fun of cultures and their customs, but then it’s not specifically of particular religions and ways of life. As a singular reader and especially one who knows and understands why he does this, it is possible to brush off these critical points, but when the book is presented to a wider audience with no previous knowledge of the context and what he implies, yes, I do agree that it is not fair on those he pulls along for a ragging.

 

An excerpt to get your mind boggling:

“I have become, it seems to me, the apex of an isosceles triangle, supported equally by twin deities, the wild god of memory and the lotus-goddess of the present… but must I now be reconciled to the narrow one-dimensionality of a straight line?”

 

Read at your own discretion, and if you ask yourself a few times as you read along “is this worth it?” I’m hands down saying YES, persevere! there is no story like this in the past present or future.

 

Note: it’s one of those books, where there’s a gracious mention of my lovely country, Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon. Lankan nationalists would have winced due to the context in which it was mentioned, but I must say I had a good old laugh!  Also, 90% of the movie was shot in Sri Lanka too!!

 

 

 

 

 

Madol Doova – Martin Wickramasinghe | Review

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Synopsis

Madol Doova translated as Mangrove Island, written and set in rural Sri Lanka, is a sequence of escapades of a young boy, Upali, accompanied with his friend Jinna.

 
Upali’s mother passes away, and his mischievous antics prove unbearable to his father and step mother. He is sent away to board at his headmaster’s house with hopes of being tamed, but creates further havoc. His ever flowing energy cannot be tolerated by anyone so he leaves home. His friend Jinna follows him to Madol Doova. The story is an account of the adventures they have there, and how Upali the prankster matures and shows heroic stature in both the eyes of the reader and those who couldn’t in his youth tolerate him.

 

 

Review

To stress just how much I love this book, I must let you know that I’ve been re reading it at least once a year ever since I first came into possession of it back in Year 4 and every time its as lively and engaging as the first time I read it!

 

The amazingly descriptive text leaves not one stone unturned about the Sri Lankan culture. There is promise of an all-round Sri Lankan experience and the reader will end this tale visibly more knowledgeable about the country. The language of the narration is simple but the story is at a lively pace and you will find yourself in an adventure with every turn of the page.

 
Though the book is a mere 130 pages long, Mr. Wickramasinghe has successfully painted the country in its true colours of yellow orange and green accompanied by scenes and anecdotes of paddy fields, fishermen, tea and often superstition. The magic of the book goes beyond the spirits Upali encounters, all the way to the readers. I feel regardless of where you live or where Upali comes from, his trials, his emotions and the pickles he gets himself into are surprisingly relatable and reaches beyond cultures. There is something for everyone.

 
We find how the two boys fend for themselves during a period when such a thing was unimaginable. Today this seems an almost prophetic calling. The resourcefulness they show is an outlet to their mischievous nature, with the experience maturing them beyond what the people expect of them. His boyish sense of adventure and curiosity that was once an untamed burden for his family and the villagers, makes for a lively story for us the readers. There is always his never ceasing energy and spirit making Madol Doova a delightful account of a prankster showing courage and quickness of spirit when faced with adversity.

 
The book has been read, re read and cherished by generations of Lankan readers in its original language Sinhala. Since its first publications in 1947, it has been quickly translated to many other languages including English, Chinese and Russian and been continued to be loved around the world.

 
To those who are unfamiliar with Sinhalese terminology and local customs, though everything is very well explained, I’d recommend reading with a dictionary. The true beauty of the writing is in the clever yet simple weaving in of its words. I’ll post the glossary of the book for those of you who are curious to give the book a try.

 

 

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About the Author

Martin Wickramasinghe is one of Sri Lanka’s greatest authors. He began his career at age 13 and continued until he was 86 years old. His works being penned in both the English and Sinhala languages and thereafter being translated to many others languages. His stories outline simple rural Sri Lankan lives yet with a powerful human understanding. In his works he explores and applies modern knowledge on natural and social sciences, literature, philosophy and religion.

 

 

I know that the above book may not be as mainstream and modern as the works of fiction one reads today, but I thought its time my blog gives exposure to some literature from where I come from. Please do let me know if you’d like to see more such reviews of Lankan literature 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

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~Synopsis~
Location: Massachusetts (Republic of Gilead), United States of America

 
Based in the Republic of Gilead, this is the story of Offred (Of Fred) and other female handmaids stripped of their previous identities, used for the purpose of breeding for those elite families who cannot conceive. We witness a monthly ritual of impregnation, daily walks to the shops, a routinely life style, serious boredom and deafening silence. Offred has visions of the past, the time when everyone had families, the time when she had rights, a body of her own, a real job, a real name; an identity.

 
There is a strict religious totalitarianist law. Women are oppressed to the point where they are not supposed to read, no books no magazines even no store names. Each one is categorized into a group, some for the chores, some for being the Masters, and others for breeding. The environmental situation has made many women sterile, hence the ones who aren’t (YAY?!) are made to be baby making factories against their will. The situation is very pathetic regardless of the proposed system of order, no one is truly satisfied, no one is feeling fulfilled, at least not this first generation of brain washed individuals, and as Aunt Lydia says, it would get easier as the generations go on.

 

 

 
~My thoughts…~
It’s a compelling book with a yes, cold and impersonal tone but given the subject matter at hand, it is suitable. Though it is often put into the category science fiction, it is far from it. There is nothing new about the practices we see, it is only a reversal of time almost. Written in 1985, this book touches on many issues be it gay rights, abortion or women’s rights that were being held in question at the time.

 
The story in retrospect is a warning that if we allow religious extremism to take over our lives, it will be unbearable. There will only be oppression and cruelty, going against the fundamental laws of nature. The book is almost a parody on the conservative positions held during the time it was written. From the notions of women, women’s rights, gay rights to abortion. The location of the story is ironic. It is based in Massachusetts, the state housing Harvard University, a renowned center of knowledge yet we find the law subjecting women to ignorance. We see religion being imposed on in a state that in recent years is one that apparently has been deemed one of the least religious in America.

 
Her dystopia is one where we see a reversal on all the rights women currently hold. It will be a disaster, a nightmare to womankind. I should say that the book is thought provoking and the feeling of oppression seeps through to you. It reminded me of  the current trilogies like the Hunger Games books where there too we find a form of totalitarianism.

 
What I don’t get is how quickly the change takes place. Is it possible from being a society where women have the freedom to rally about pornographic magazines to become one where women walk around in red veils barely talking to other women? The epilogue is something else, it doesn’t answer much, and I would have preferred something a bit more on Offred, or perhaps on the community as a whole.

 
The question is, 30 years on, is the novel still too extremist and radical to be imagined?

 

 

 

*There is just so much this book weighs in for, the discussion could go on and on…*