Thursday, 5 November 2015

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - Book Review



Publisher's write-up:

'The God Delusion caused a sensation when it was published in 2006. Within weeks it became the most hotly debated topic, with Dawkins himself branded as either saint or sinner for presenting his hard-hitting, impassioned rebuttal of religion of all types.

His argument could hardly be more topical. While Europe is becoming increasingly secularized, the rise of religious fundamentalism, whether in the Middle East or Middle America, is dramatically and dangerously dividing opinion around the world. In America, and elsewhere, a vigorous dispute between 'intelligent design' and Darwinism is seriously undermining and restricting the teaching of science. In many countries religious dogma from medieval times still serves to abuse basic human rights such as women's and gay rights. And all from a belief in a God whose existence lacks evidence of any kind.

Dawkins attacks God in all his forms. He eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He shows how religion fuels war, foments bigotry and abuses children.

The God Delusion is a brilliantly argued, fascinating polemic that will be required reading for anyone interested in this most emotional and important subject.'

The God Delusion is a non-fiction work by the British evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins. This book is often termed as a book which every atheist should read, and by that, I was 'bound by my duty' to read it. I have listened to a lot of speeches delivered by Dawkins in the past, when I was maturing as an atheist and I had never read a book of his and the prospect of reading one, made me really excited.

In this book, Dawkins nearly covers every aspect, to make his case against god and religion starting from explaining the hypothesis of god, validating the arguments for existence, then moving on to arguments against god based on science, the undue respect given by the society to religion, etc. Throughout this book, I found a lot of his thoughts very interesting and the pencil in my hand had a lot of work while reading this book, making notes.

For starters, I believe the book was very well structured, making a very elaborate case as to why god is a delusion, starting with explaining the hypothesis of god, root of religion, how it is harming the society and the children, among various others. It followed a proper structure, always, starting with the hypothesis and then moving on to the argument against the same. Moreover, this not being a literary work, the writing was in very simple English, which is ideal considering he is trying to appeal to the masses than literature enthusiasts and I would considering it very well written, considering the target and the content. The book was filled with witty quotes supporting his case, across various eminent thinkers among various others, to quote one of them from George Bernard Shaw  - 'the fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life.'

Moreover, some of the concepts he brought out in defence of his case was very interesting, such as how the concept of god is a worship of gaps, wherein it is merely used as a gap to the answers which science is yet to find an answer which we tend to worship. However, the most interesting concept he brought out, in my opinion was that of moral zeitgeist (intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time) wherein, he brings out how what was considered liberal back then maybe considered cruel by today's standards (based on what I read in the book, Lincoln would've passed off as a hardcore racist in today's world) and how people overlook the zeitgeist for the sake of religion. For elaborating this, he brings out the story from a religious book where characters were replaced with a Chinese setting, a majority who approved of the actions of the one in the religious book, rejected those of the Chinese General (the alternate for Joshua in the survey) thereby bringing out the harm of religion, where people are willing to overlook what they'd otherwise reject if it has the backing of a religion. I'd stop my spoilers here, if I reveal any further, I'd take the essence of reading off the reader defeating the purpose of the review.

But there is one particular idea of Dawkins that I reject, where he states that atheist should proudly state that they're atheists and congregate; well, in my opinion, that is downright absurd as it just ends up forming another cult in a name other than that of religion, which otherwise isn't different from what you're making a case against. Personally, I have no hesitation in admitting my atheism but I am not a big fan of forming clubs for this and buying key chains to show my allegiance as, if I do that, I am just becoming a part of another cult. For instance, there is no congregation of people who dislike golf and similarly, there is no reason for there to be a congregation of people who reject god or religion or both. Moreover, I am not a person with a science background and yes, I can understand Darwin's theory and the theory of the selfish gene in a nutshell but there were segments where he went too deep into it, which is where I found it difficult to understand.

That apart, I'd however reject other criticism I normally find about this book that he ignores various other religions and focuses mainly on Christianity as, the reason for him quitting religion was because he couldn't agree with Christianity and at the same time, it is absurd to expect someone to read books of a hundred odd religions to reject the hypothesis.

On the whole, I would say that it was a very worthy read, worth the time, worth the length of the book, this book could be recommended to everyone even though I guess, nobody is going to change their belief because of reading a book; it is only a conscious decision that comes from within out of convictions, at the most, an atheist can get her / his conviction stronger and a religious person would be thinking of more ways to hit out at this book.

Coming to the issue of rating the book, I'd give the book a rating of eight on ten, upon consideration of whatever I have stated, weighing the way the author has brilliantly put forth the scientific and logical arguments he has put forth towards his case, making it a worthy read.

Rating - 8/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Hamlet by William Shakespeare - Book Review



Publisher's write-up:

'Hamlet, one of the great tragedies of William Shakespeare, is woven around a simple plot of murder and revenge. It tells the story of Prince Hamlet's vengeance against his uncle Claudius, who had not only murdered his father, the previous king, but also had succeeded his throne and married Hamlet's mother, Gertrude.

Set in Denmark, the play captures the mixed feelings of grief and sense of rage in Hamlet as he goes about his mission. What really forms the centre of the plot is the real and feigned madness that Hamlet exhibits when he's overwhelmed by a dilemma whether to kill or not to kill his uncle'

Hamlet, a book that I had always wanted to read, since a lot of movies and books that I love claim to draw its inspiration from Hamlet and I had always wanted to read the original work. Hamlet is a story featuring the Prince of Denmark, whose father has been killed by his own uncle to take the throne and to make matters worse, has married the widowed queen, his mother. Hamlet comes to know from the ghost of his father that the murder was carried out by his uncle and the prince is desperate to get his revenge.

I felt that Shakespeare had a very deep story, running along multiple lines, a prince in dilemma, a romantic sub plot, a kingdom under threat, a family feud among others, the story had several aspects to it and I liked the diversity to it. And I have this to say that Shakespeare had a very good story for a play to be enacted and considering the various stories that have come subsequent to the play that have drawn inspiration have been so pleasurable to watch / read.

With that said, I felt that the script is worthy of being a play but certainly not being read and in my opinion, the unabridged version that I read had very poor delivery of content (judge me a philistine, I don't care). I am not going to get into the intelligibility part of it, the author is hardly to be blamed for having lived in the sixteenth century but what I had a problem was the fact that all I had with me was a dump of dialogues with no description as to how they were delivering them, what was the setting or the background on which they were doing, which makes me come back to the point that I was making, that it was a script made brilliant by the actors and the director of the play and not by Shakespeare himself.

Moreover, when you're just given a bunch of dialogues with nothing to fill in between, it also becomes a little difficult to comprehend for the reader and what really helped me understand it was only because of my exposure to stories that came subsequently inspired by this play. Another problem I faced as a reader by just having a dump of dialogues was that I was attached to no character in particular and could barely connect with any of them, except for Hamlet to an extent; while a tragic play such as this is meant to trigger the emotions of the reader, this script to the play did nothing of that sort to me.

To conclude, I would say that it was a brilliant story, but it is not meant to be read as a book, at least in the totally unabridged form that I read it in. I'd sit on the fence when it comes to rating this book, with a five on ten, only because of the good story, but for which I would have given only a three.

Rating - 5/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘At a Lahore café, a bearded man converses with an American stranger. He recounts his unusual tale: of how he once embraced the Western dream – and a Western woman – and how both betrayed him. And as dusk deepens to dark, the significance of this seemingly chance meeting becomes abundantly clear…’

Lately, I’ve wanted to read some good Pakistani writing (the previous being The Death of Sheherzad) since most of modern Indian writing seems to be of the same genre (editing ancient works and presenting the same in a different way). So, I stumbled upon this book while randomly browsing in a bookstore and I found the synopsis to be quite interesting and also, till I saw the cover of this book, I had no idea that there was a film based on this. Anyway, this is the background as to how I picked up this book and I’d come to the review without any further digression.

The story features Changez, a young Pakistani graduate from Princeton, who is narrating his experiences in US to an American stranger at a café in Lahore. The protagonist is from a well off family in Pakistan and gets into a well-paying job in a Wall Street firm. He falls in love with one of his college mates, Erica, and is also considered a high performer in his job. It looked like nothing could go wrong in his American dream and looked well set to assimilate into the American society, but just then, 9/11 happens, his lover goes mentally unstable over her dead ex-boyfriend and Changez is in full dilemma – he is part of the same society that is likely to invade his home any time.

The best part about this book, in my opinion was the narration; it felt as though Changez was talking to me, the reader. It is literally narrated in the perspective that someone is actively talking to you and not like how they show in movies, where somebody starts an old story and it comes back to reality only when the story is over. Moreover, the protagonist’s dilemma was brought out very well, by the author where at one end, he is fully defending the American actions as to how the flaw of an innocent being persecuted can happen in any country and at the other end, he is unable to let go off the fact that people at home are worried that they could be invaded anytime. Moreover, I felt the balance was really good, between his professional life, personal life and also how the events unfolded after 9/11 and the 2001 Indian Parliament attack leading to the eventual stand-off between the two countries. Also, if you’re imaginative enough and you have an eye for finding imagery, you can find a lot in this like how the relationship between Erica and Changez could be seen like the shaky relationship between US and Pakistan, where, US does love Pakistan, for various reasons, but has its own expectations and won’t budge till it is satisfied (similar to how she expected him to be like her ex). There are several others apart from these in this novel and I don’t wish to spoil them in my review.

However, my problem with this book is, there were two things that attracted me into buying this book, the first being the title and the second being the synopsis. Yes, I agree that he was reluctant and was caught in a dilemma but he was anything but a fundamentalist. In fact, he was highly secular and had actually fit into the American society perfectly and nobody would’ve noticed the difference if not for the colour of his skin and his name. When I first read 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', I expected someone with the personality of Maajid Nawaz but then, as aforementioned, Changez was altogether different. Moreover, the number of times the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’ is mentioned in the book I believe is countable with your ten fingers and thereby, the cover page with the crescent, yet again is very highly misleading. The second part is, that it talked about the betrayal by both, the West and the Western Woman whereas, if at all there was anything, he betrayed himself, owing to his dilemma and he already knew what he was getting into, when he got into the relationship, that despite the death of her boyfriend, she still loves him and eventually plunges into depression because of that – she never left him owing to some selfish pursuits. I agree that the latter is something the author could hardly be blamed for, giving the benefit of doubt that it is from the publisher, but the title, the author certainly is responsible.

I liked the way the author ended the novel leaving it open ended and the reader can imagine it in anyway it suits them and yeah, Changez was a really lovable character so, I naturally assumed an ending suiting how I saw the characters in the novel but you, as a reader, can end it in any way you want to. Moreover, for someone from the larger side of the Radcliffe line, it would be interesting to notice how there is little difference between the two sides, how someone who goes abroad from either sides behave the same way, how both sides feel threatened at home by the other side and of course, the fact that the only difference between the two sides is in fact, just the Radcliffe line.

While I would have really liked to give this book a better rating, I would have to say that the title deceived me too much and I’d stop with saying that it was a good story and give a standard rating of six.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Friday, 7 August 2015

The Death of Sheherzad by Intizar Husain – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘A man scours the town he left fifty years ago for some little evidence of past joys. Javed, who’s returned to Lahore from East Pakistan, won’t speak of what he witnessed ‘there’. An old woman boards a train full of dead ancestors in her dreams. A sage who cannot control his anger must seek out a butcher for redemption. Mahaban, home of the monkeys once, is now a city full of human beings. Sheherzad, who once told Emperor Shaharyar a thousand-and-one stories, is now an old woman who has forgotten her yarns of fantasy.’

The book, titled as The Death of Sheherzad is a collection of fifteen short stories (with the title being one such short story in the book) written in Urdu by Intizar Husain, translated by Rakshanda Jalil. We’re always told never to judge a book by its cover, but that is exactly what I did in this case, I wanted to explore the literature of the neighbouring Pakistan, the write-up of the publisher seemed interesting and of course, the cover of the book looked pretty and I couldn’t resist buying the book after coming to know that this nominated for the Man Booker International Prize, 2013. But the question would always arise; did my risk of merely judging a book by its cover pay off?

Without a second thought, I’d answer yes, although, the very fact that I’m answering yes to this question only indicates that I’ve changed a lot, as a reader for one, the stories in the book are very, very abstract and at the same time, were on some very deep topics, like the partition, the idea of destiny and one of the stories really had a very interesting take on the India-Pakistan ‘nuclear powered state’ race. However, I really enjoyed the space provided by the author to the author to the reader to arrive at conclusions on the stories and the message he tries to convey, because, as much as they’re abstract, the endings are also at times, abrupt. The imagery, the subtlety in his writing, allowed me to create interesting visuals in my mind especially in some of the stories like Reserved Seat, Dream and Reality and of course, The Death of Sheherzad. The collection of stories also displayed the diverse interests of Intizar Husain, writing on topics such as the partition, the Bangladesh Liberation War, then moving on to philosophical topics such as destiny, certain stories based on Koranic anecdotes, such as The Wall (tongue of Yajooj and Majooj) and Dream and Reality(Ubayd’s governorship of Kufa and Basra) and also one from the Jataka Tales even though I’d score that down on originality as I had the exact same story in my 9th class Sanskrit book during school.

The only drawback I felt was that every story had the same macabre setting, despite the diversity of topics and eventually, it became very predictable as to how the story was going to end and what the author was coming to. Moreover, this book certainly is not meant for readers across all genres, including my own self two years back who loved to read only fast paced mysteries or thrillers.

However, I’d say in the end that this is an excellent book with a very nice collection of short stories; this has made me even more interested in a lot of other, longer works of Husain. If you are someone who enjoys drawing your own conclusions out of stories, this book is meant for you.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Friday, 10 July 2015

Animal Farm by George Orwell - Book Review



George Orwell, for me was quite a household name considering how, I've always taken a very active interest in politics from a very young age, especially the politics during cold war and had particular interest in Soviet Union and the politics former Soviet States and hence, this was a name that I kept coming across, especially the two books, 1984 and Animal Farm. So, I was going on a short trip and I thought I could take a nice book for a journey and a 'light political satire' seemed very appealing and hence, I packed Animal Farm into my bag without any second thoughts.

It starts with an old pig in the farm of an English farmer named Jones, called Major, inspiring the other animals to start a revolution to come out his clutches and establish a kingdom where all animals are equal, all resources are shared equally, etc. Akin to the Bolshevik revolution, they could overthrow Jones very easily, however, the problems started after driving out Jones. Major had passed away and the same was led by two pigs named Snowball and Napoleon, both of whom had significant ideological differences, however, came together to draft the seven commandments of the newly founded Animal Farm. However, Napoleon eventually taking control driving Snowball out of the farm (similar to the murder of Leon Trotsky and the eventual rise of Stalin). 

Napoleon, in my opinion, fit into the role of Stalin very well and the eventual changes in the Animal Farm was brought out very well, similar to the gradual decay of Soviet Union in the real world. However, I felt Snowball could hardly fit into Trotsky's role nor could Mrs. Jones fit into the role of Alexandra. Moreover, I felt that the writing was too flat and when you're alluding to a historic / political incident through a supposed fairy tale, I believe the writing should be filled sarcasm or at least, some blunt humour. A serious, political novel with a fairy tale involved along with animals as characters seems to be a wrong combination in every way. 

I guess, my fault was that I expected too much out of this book, considering how, this had been a book that I had heard of, a lot, as a classic and was in my shelf for quite a long time. The author was alluding to the Russian revolution and the eventual running of the Soviet Union along with the oppression by Stalin but then, while I could understand that, the author gave no hints towards the same in time, without this sense of immortality, this, in my opinion could well become a very sad fairy tale. However, I'd say one thing that it served my purpose of being a light read during travel, and I'd certainly try out 1984, his more popular work (well, it is on my shelf, so duty bound to read it some day). 

As for the rating, I would not say that the story individually was unreadable as I make it sound, but it certainly wasn't the political satire that you'd normally expect. I'd sit on the fence regarding rating this and give it a five on ten. 

Rating - 5/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Luxor: Book of Past Lives by Julie Bettendorf – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up: 

‘Set against the rich tapestry of ancient Egypt, Luxor: Book of Past Lives is the story of Nebamun and Iramen, two brothers who are embalmers in Egypt during the era of the boy king, Tutankhamun. It is their duty to prepare the many bodies of the dead who land on their embalming table a journey into the afterlife. Paralleling this ancient tale is the story of two different brothers, Abdul and Karim, who make their living by robbing the ancient tombs of Egypt in the late 1800’s, when the theft and sale of artifacts was at its peak. Woven throughout the novel are the mysterious intersections of the brothers’ lives, though separated by thousands of years.’

Luxor: Book of Past Lives is a story that moves across two timelines – one covering a group of priests embalming dead bodies in ancient Egypt and the other being two brothers, Karim and Abdul robbing the tombs in the 19th century embalmed by these priests centuries ago.

The story constantly fluctuates between the two timelines, in one chapter; it’d start with the high priest Nebamun carrying out an embalming with his renegade brother Iramen and junior priest, Padi. The highlight of this timeline is that, it is the only book that I’ve read till date on ancient Egypt which covers the life of an Egyptian commoner rather than the royalty. Moreover, we all knew about the fact that the ancient Egyptians used the process of ‘mummification’ to preserve their dead but this book brought out the process very well and also brought out the life in the Egyptian society way back in their glory days, be it the domination of the royals or the authority of the bureaucracy in the rural areas.

The next chapter would immediately move to the 19th century, where the brothers are busy robbing tombs, Karim being the aggressive one whereas Abdul is scared of authority and is always worried about curses that’d affect them owing to their trade. They sell their loot to an enterprising antique seller named Rahmad who has reasonable knowledge on ancient Egypt and makes a lot of money by overcharging British tourists. Yet again, akin to the earlier timeline, here also, the lives of the poor in the Egyptian society of the 19th century and how over time, nobody in the society is really bothered about their history except for making monetary gains out of it.

On the whole, this was quite an enjoyable read, for a history enthusiast such as myself; with the process of embalming and the politics of ancient Egypt covered in such depth. The 19th century Egypt was equally enjoyable, bringing out the interests of foreign tourists in Egypt and the life that grave robbers led during those times (not as luxurious as what has been perceived, for sure). The writing was also quite simple, making it easy for anybody to read and not just linguistic enthusiasts. However, the only thing I’d say I was a little disappointed with, was that it being termed as ‘fiction’, the story during both the timelines didn’t have much role and it was in fact, a non-fiction book narrated through a story but then, I guess this is an effective way to reach out to all sorts of readers and I’m in no way suggesting that the story was boring.

To conclude, I’d say that I learnt a lot from this book and it was a good reading experience and I’m looking forward to more from the author on the subject, maybe on Hittites or the Sumerians or Babylonians. I’d give the book a rating of seven based on whatever I’ve stated so far. 

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Friday, 1 May 2015

Chanakya’s Chant – A plunge into a Legend





In a twisted tale of history and modern fiction, Ashwin Sanghi meshes the intricacies of a past event with the deranged effect it may hold in a future happenstance. Starting with the life of a legend many of us have read about or at least heard about, the author manages to engage the reader with a situation, resultant from the past exploits of the legend, leading to a milestone in the fabric of Indian Politics. As disclaimed by the author, if you are looking for historical accuracy with the life of Chanakya, the fabled genius who gave birth to the rebellion against ancient invaders, the likes of Alexander III of Macedonia, you are not in luck here. The story mixes fiction with facts to create something that a writer can be proud of.

The story begins in a world not many can imagine with such picturesque accuracy. The world in description is Ancient India. A divided world, India is described as a war ground where disunity strays rampant, leaving the doors of the ancient world open to invasion. Amongst this chaos, a little child is shown to possess intelligence that is not to be taken lightly by any means. This child is none but the fabled Chankya. Stories have been told of the unison of Chanakya’s brains with the brawn of another figure in history, the first emperor of a kingdom which spans much of today’s India. The kingdom, Magadha, is known as one of the first kingdoms to have united the subcontinent. With the might to rival the armies of divinity, this kingdom boasts of one of the best remembered reigns belonging to the times in question. This is where the author stakes his claim on the history. The famed king of the Maurya Dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya, is depicted as the son of the commander-in-chief of Magadha’s army and not the child of the wandering Maurya Clan. History is used by the author to describe the point of story till which Chanakya loosens his tuft of hair, and vows not to tie it back till the Nanda Empire falls and from its ashes, raises the platform for a united Bharat. Then on, it’s a play on words to enrapture the already enraptured minds.

As the point in chronology shifts, the sights are set upon a modern India. A adolescent boy is shown, discovering  an ancient plate, etched upon it, the chant of Chanakya. At this point of the story, it is not shown where the chant originates from. The sad story of the incantation’s roots in a curse is revealed much later. This boy, Gangasagar Mishra, is then shown to become a political kingmaker, akin to Chanakya’s ability in the past .Though note realising that his actions are resultant from the events of the past, the man goes on to weave his destiny in the modern day politics. Where political leverage is key to success, the man decides at the beginning of his life, the course of his life. He selects a girl, one who has a humble beginning, and moves her life in his desired direction. Though the girl believes that her life is her own, little does she realise that it is one that is plotted by Gangasagar till such a point that he succumbs to death, and beyond. Her simple upbringing is chastised into a sophisticated outlook, still maintaining her core values. He gives her dreams of power and position, and ensures he fulfills them.

The society’s greed and unquenched thirst for power is shown as the problems of ancient India. The same is counteracted by the desire of position, religious divides and corruption of modern India. In the fashion that Chanakya manipulates vanity and greed of the mighty, yet fallible kings of the past, Gangasagar exploits the disunity of a modern India to create political unity to serve his needs.
However, the darker sides of the characters are also in play here. Chanakya’s alter ego is shown to be the benefactor for assailants and mercenaries and also poison maidens. With elaborate plans, and a future insight, Chanakya utilises the personality of men and the predictability in their behavior, to scheme his plots and execute them to perfection. He and his aides carry out the various courses of decided actions with textbook perfection. Chanakya anticipates every possible outcome with precision. Had he played a game of chess, it would have been checkmate with the minimum possible moves. Or rather, in this case, it would be moves after moves to deplete the opponent’s pieces with nothing put pawns and a one higher piece, rendering the opponent useless at every stage of the match. On the modern side, Gangasagar schemes things with nothing lesser. He carries out killings, decides what course a person’s life takes, how it moves, what debt a person should owe to whom, and at what time, moves pieces of his chessboard to and against his designated king at his will, and what not. Both times end with the desired results of the gentlemen behind the scenes. Chandragupta reaches his pinnacle and the girl reaches the top of the upper echelons of the nation. Both the conspirators end up losing their personalities and values all in the name of the greater good. Their lose their loved ones, one resulting in the curse/chant that incites the other into the raising of the girl to supreme power, losing his life and the end of the road.

The writing is profound and keeps a reader in an anticipatory and a receptive state till the author concludes his diction. Individually, the plots are known to the readers beforehand as both the stories are repeated in the history of politics. Where this book creates a difference is the connection between the two stories. How one story is connected to the other by a plate and a chant inscribed on the plate, is truly intriguing and infatuating to read. The obvious reference to the highly regarded political drama, “Yes Minister”, is welcome and tingles those fantastic memories one has of the series. The author pays proper and an untainted homage to the series. If there is a snag in the execution, it is the use of the quotes in the series as intermittent fillers. When one disregards the lines copied from the erstwhile “Yes Minister”, one can still enjoy this good read.


Final Rating – 3.7/5

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Gorgeous Georgians by Terry Deary – Book Review


Publisher’s write-up:

‘Want to know:
v    If you would make a good bodysnatcher?
v  What the Georgians did with squashed fish eyes?
v  Who wore false eyebrows made from mouse skin?
Discover all the foul facts about the Gorgeous Georgians – all the gore and more!’

Well, I picked up this book solely because I wanted to know something about an interesting race from the Caucasus Ranges but then, little did I expect that this book was going to be about Britain during the era of Hanover monarchs (before William IV and Victoria). However, with that said, I wasn’t disappointed with this book.

The uniqueness about horrible histories always is that, the author runs the reader through the selected era in a way in which that the reader is never bored, does not have to remember the dates and still gets a picture of how the society was, during the time.  The Georgian addiction towards make-up, the high demand for corpses for the purpose of research, the Luddite wars, and their love for gory sports was all portrayed well, through the usual witty caricatures which are used across all the books of this series. Although, this era didn’t have many interesting battles to cover, following the fall of Napoleon, the author still managed to keep the book interesting, in my opinion.

Like any other Horrible Histories book, this too, I believe, has maintained the standard and would be good for light reading while travelling or even when you’re looking for a break after having done some real heavy reading.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Sultana’s Dream by Begum Rokheya Sakhawat Hossain – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

Sultana’s Dream first appeared in 1905, ten years before the American feminist and novelist, Charlotte P. Gilman, published her feminist utopia Herland. Sultana’s Dream is an appealing story of reversed purdah – the secularism of women – in Ladyland, where peace-loving women overpower aggressive men through the power of their brains.’

Sultana’s Dream is a sci-fi pro feminism novella written during the early years of the previous century by the Bengali feminist writer Begum Rokheya. This review is solely based on the edition with illustrations from Durga Bai; and I don’t even know whether this edition is the full story or it has been abridged.

The story is straightforward, a woman by the name Sultana is led by another woman whom she presumes to be her friend Sara, takes her to a faraway land, which is far more advanced than what she has seen in India – with solar powered kitchens, devices up in the air which stops rainfall and in turn provides endless supply of water, irrigation fully carried out using electricity, etc. This is a land completely ruled by women and where men are confined inside the houses, the converse of what used to happen in early 20th century India.




I really loved the imagination of the author in this book; to think of solar powered kitchens back in 1905, flying machines three decades before it was invented and for putting forth feminist thoughts at a time when subjugation was considered normal and that too, hailing from one of the most conservative regions of the country (which it till date is); is something commendable. I also liked the illustrations of Durga Bai in traditional Bengali art, especially, that of the solar powered kitchen (as shown above) and I guess that makes the book adorable across all age groups. Also, the book didn’t drag on pointlessly and ended when it had to, making it the perfect novella.

However, what I totally loathed was that the author is such a militant feminist, she is not a feminist who is fighting for the equality of women in the society, but represents that extreme brand of feminism (I don’t even consider that as feminism, would prefer using the term that is circulated in the internet – feminazism) which merely promotes hatred towards more than anything else. All that this book tries to portray is that men are absolutely good for nothing, in their seven hours of working life; they work for an hour and spend the rest of the time smoking, and several other absolutely preposterous remarks. Had a man written a novel, merely portraying the society as it was in those days, would’ve been condemned as a chauvinist but it is rather unfortunate that media houses and several other feminazis support these kind of women. Personally, I consider myself a feminist who supports equality and stops at equality. 

Leaving my personal opinions apart, purely seeing it as a story, I feel it is a decent work and could be a really good read to keep yourself occupied during a short travel. While I might have given this book a rating of seven, I can’t ignore her rather radical opinions and hence, I award this book a rating of six.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,
Andy


Hatufim (חטופים) (Prisoners of War) by Gideon Zaff – Season 2 – Review



Synopsis:

‘Gideon Raff's critically-acclaimed series returns. Nimrod and Uri find clues suggesting their fellow soldier and POW Amiel may have survived their 17 years in captivity.’

This is the continuation of the Israeli TV Series, Hatufim. This is effectively the same story split across two seasons and picks up where it exactly left off, in the first season. Hence, in case you’ve not watched the first season, do not proceed with reading this review – you may read the review of the first season by clicking here.

The plot is simple – Amiel Ben-Horin is still alive, just that he has switched sides, having converted to Islam, living as Yussuf, with a Syrian wife – the daughter of the spiritual head of Sons of Jihad, the organisation which held the three soldiers captive. Their captor, Jamal has passed away, and the organisation is now led by Amiel and Abdallah, a terrorist released by Israel as part of the exchange. Meanwhile, Nimrod has separated from Talia; Uri now lives with Nurit and is keen on bringing Amiel back to Israel. The crux of the second season is finding out who really is Amiel / Yussuf and this time, Haim Cohen is on the same side as Uri and Nimrod.

The good thing about the second season was, it was action packed, and it concentrated more on the investigation and I liked the way in which the perspectives kept changing – how on one scene, they’d be brainstorming the investigation in Israel and on the other end, you have Amiel and Abdallah plotting against Israel. I also liked the twists and turns that were there throughout the course of the second season, and some of them, if I may say so, was totally unexpected. Another thing I liked was that some of the irritating characters of the first season like Nimrod’s daughter, Dana, had a much improved role in the second season and her positive influence was unexpected and good. Moreover, in the Uri was also a little less cynical, was determined, which added to the pace that the story required, which was slightly lacking in the first season. But more than anything else, I felt the other side was portrayed very well – all the meetings of Sons of Jihad, the personal life of Amiel and his dilemma, how he carried out his responsibilities was brought out well.

However, I also felt that, this time, the concentration on the personal lives of Nimrod and Uri was boring, seemed a mere digression from the main plot, which was the investigation into what is the cover-up going on behind Amiel’s death. Also, I felt that yet again, the soldiers recalling their captivity was repetitive and one of the reasons why I was done with the series faster than I was supposed to have was because I could forward those scenes and not lose track of anything.

With all that said, I felt that the end was good, may not exactly be fitting, considering a lot of red herrings – whether they were to be considered red herrings or loose ends is up to the viewer’s interpretation. However, I feel it is better than any standard thriller and considering the longevity of its English remake, I may consider watching Homeland in future. I felt that this was slightly better than the first season, in terms of focus and the pace and hence, I’m awarding it a slightly better rating.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Hatufim (חטופים) (Prisoners of War) by Gideon Zaff – Season 1 – Review

(failed to find a good picture of it in Hebrew)

Synopsis:

‘The negotiations for the release of the Israeli soldiers, has ended successfully. Nimrod Klien, Uri Zach and Amiel ben horin are coming home. The first two are alive, Amiel was killed while being a prisoner of war. The soldiers reunite with their loved ones. Nimrod meets Talia, who waited for him for all those years, and conducted the campaign for his release.’

Hatufim is an Israeli TV drama known as Prisoners of War in the English speaking world. I came to know about this through a friend who suggested me to watch Homeland and when I visited the Wikipedia page of the same, I realised that it was inspired by an Israeli TV show and hence, I wanted to watch the original. Whatever I’ve said in my erstwhile reviews of TV shows hold good for this one too, that I see this purely as a story and I’m not going to comment on acting, screenplay, background music or any other aspects of a TV show, for I’m not competent enough to comment on them.

The story starts with a mediator striking a deal in Germany for the return of three Israeli POWs – Nimrod Klein, Uri Zach and Amiel Ben-Horin who had been held by terrorists for seventeen years. While Nimrod and Uri returned safe, Amiel returned in a casket. The focus of the first season is on two things: one, the reintegration of Nimrod and Uri into the mainstream society and into their own family, considering a lot has happened over the years - Nimrod now has a son whom he had never even met and also, sees himself as a burden considering he is not competent to carry out any tasks in the modern world whereas Uri’s fiancé has eventually married his brother; two, IDF psychologist Haim Cohen is under the impression after preliminary investigations that the two of them are hiding something and the same needs to unravelled.

What I liked about this was the setting and the very concept – while it involves the often touched upon subjects of POWs and the effects of torture post release, it also has an element of investigation and mystery in it. Moreover, the writer didn’t rush into the plot and instead, took it step by step – starting with their struggles to reintegrate with their family, into this new world, also the trauma faced by the sister of the deceased; and then moving on to the investigation by Haim Cohen and finally, on to the investigation personally undertaken by Uri and Nimrod, with them knowing that there is a lot more surrounding their captivity than what they know. By gradually stepping things up, the interest of the viewer never went down and it was gripping, to say the least. On the whole, I felt that the balance was right, between all aspects of the story – one, the personal life of the soldiers and the other being the matters surrounding their captivity.

The only thing that disappointed me about the first season was the repeated recalling of the past, which is very often repetitive and also, for someone like me whose one of the many reasons for preferring the written word over visuals is that I can’t bear to watch gory scenes and scenes of torture.

The first season has laid a solid foundation for the series to continue and I feel it is a gift for all those who enjoy thrillers and are also knowledgeable on the Arab-Israeli conflict (though, the knowledge on the latter isn’t mandatory, just helps you enjoy it better) and yes, I’m looking forward to the second season.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,
Andy



Sunday, 22 March 2015

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Sir Salman Rusdhie – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘In a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it has forgotten its name, a professional storyteller named Rashid lives with his son Haroun.

Rashid is the Shah of Blah, with oceans of notions and the Gift of the Gab. Ask the Shah of Blah for a story and you won’t get any old story. Nor will you get just one. You’ll get many stories, hundreds of stories, funny and sad stories, all of them juggled at once, complete with bits of sorcery and bits of love, princesses, wicket uncles and fat aunts, moustachioed gangsters in yellow checked pants and galf a dozen catchy tunes.

But one day things – many things – go terribly wrong. Rashid is left by his wife. Then, when Rashid opens his mouth, no story comes out: only a horrid barking sound. The Shah of Blah has lost his Gift of the Gab because, unknown to him, something very bad has occurred: somewhere, somehow, the wellspring of all stories is slowly being contaminated. Khattam-Shud – the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech – has secretly set out to pollute the very Sea of Stories itself.’

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a Rushdie novel meant for younger readers and is dedicated to his elder son, Zafar (whose middle name happens to be Haroun). I read the Midnight’s Children and I wanted to read a lighter work of Rushdie after that and this seemed an obvious choice.

The story starts at a city, the saddest of all cities, where lives one happy family, of the storyteller Rashid Khalifa with his singing wife and son Haroun. However, there comes a day, when, his wife leaves him and Rashid loses his ability to tell stories, and eventually is forced to leave the city on to the valley of K to support the campaigns of a cynical politician named Buttoo. Haroun, determined to bring back the ability of his father, happens to meet a Water Genie from the world of stories, steals his magic wrench and tricks the genie to take him to the world of stories, called Kahani so that he can bring back his father’s abilities and the story is about Haroun’s adventures in this world.

To start with, I felt I got what I wanted – a novel for light reading, written by Rushdie and I guess there couldn’t have been a better choice than this. It was short, simple, but at the same time, wasn’t free from his exquisite imagination and imagery. I really loved his imagination and the way he described the world of stories – Kahani and the characteristics of the protectors of stories and the opponents of the same. It was very much an ordinary princess rescuing story (often told bed time stories) however, what made this special was the element of magic realism and the same happening in this new world (the unseen moon of earth, according to the story) – Kahani. I liked the way how Rushdie brought about the organisational structure of the army in Kahani – split into chapters served by pages (soldiers) and how, in spite of including a romantic sub-plot between Haroun and the page Blabbermouth, it didn’t affect the flow of the story in anyway and there was absolutely no digression. I also liked the names that Rushdie had chosen for the characters in the book but as I’m someone who can speak Hindustani (Hindi / Urdu), there was no element of surprise and the last page of the novel was unnecessary but for someone who doesn’t, it would’ve certainly been a good element in the novel.  Of course, like any other bed time story meant for younger readers, it has a happy ending.

The only two problems I had with this book was – some pointless imagery, especially inside the boat at the Valley of K and I felt Rushdie didn’t give enough room for the reader to interpret, either. Also, I felt the publisher gave away too many details in the write-up and also claimed this novel to be ageless which I’d disagree, for I certainly couldn’t appreciate this book as much as Midnight’s Children and I also believe that I would’ve appreciated this book a lot more had I been ten years younger.

I felt this is a very good book for anybody start their foray into books and reading considering the quality of writing you’re exposed to at a young age; and I believe, had I stumbled upon this earlier, I would’ve got into this much earlier than I did, which happened to be at the age of thirteen. If any young reader asks me a suggestion for a book to read, this would certainly make it to the top of the list that I’d be suggesting. Kudos to Rusdhie and I shall soon be reading Luka and the Land of Fire (I already have it in my shelf).

Rating 7 / 10 (I’m deducting one, probably because I’ve read it ten years too late).

Have a nice day,

Andy

Chosen by Howard Barber – Book review




Publisher’s write-up:

The End Times are almost here, inevitable and predicted by astrology, numerology, and ancient wisdom. Humanity needs a savior…but who will it be? As civilization begins to crumble, senior citizens from around the world unite to promote peace, and to help ensure that all people around the world unite to promote peace, and to help ensure that all people have water, food, and shelter. Their calling, and their sincerity, lead them to be anointed by God to identify and train the next Avatar, the next Messiah, a new Lama. Like the Essenes of old, they accept, but their quest threatens religious leaders worldwide, who try to stop them…as is another mysterious individual who will stop at nothing to destroy them. Into this whirlwind of intrigue and danger step Howard and Bonnie, who have embraced their destiny to identify the next great spiritual leader. Will they succeed in finding and protecting the child who must lead the world, or will the forced arrayed against them win in the end? The future of humanity is at stake… who will be chosen?’

Chosen is a spiritual novella with a good mixture of elements of normal science fiction. The story is presumably happening at a time in the future where a group of senior citizens (SASCs) led by Howard and Bonnie and they’ve a very important task; choosing the next great person who could set things right in the world and bring them in line with the will of god.

However, their task is not that easy and their mission isn’t well conceived by established religious institutions and one of the identified candidates of Howard – Emily, that is, comes under attack. The story revolves around the recovery of Emily – who is taken care of by SASCs and a part of her body is replaced by a robot and subsequent to that; her self-realisation and then, moving towards the mission of attaining enlightenment.

I did like the concept of this book – of merging science fiction and spirituality in the same story, which is rather unusual and I felt the author didn’t drag it too long and came straight to the point. I really liked the parts of the book, where Emily was still recovering from the accident, how she had to learn to use her abilities and use it towards her mission and it was brought out very well. Moreover, unlike other stories surrounding spirituality, the mission of the protagonist was rather unambiguous and there was no digression from the author and last but not the least, the story was short and sweet.

However, with that being said, I’m someone who personally believes that it is nearly impossible to bring science and religion in line with each other and most often, are contradictory to each other and I found the idea of a scientist believing in a chosen one to be … rather unusual and illogical. Moreover, I felt the, book required some consistency – for a while, the entire story was in third person and after the departure of Howard, it shifted to first person from Emily’s perspective and eventually, towards the end of the book, it became a first person from her brother, Curly’s perspective. Moreover, there were a lot of editing issues – such as using spellings such as ‘genious’ or phrases like ‘principle mission’ but I’m willing to overlook all those as those are errors for which, I'd always give the benefit of doubt to the author of possible oversight. Moreover, I felt the references to Christianity are difficult for someone from other backgrounds to appreciate, including myself.

On the whole, I felt this novella is good for light reading on a short journey and could be enjoyed by those who do believe that science and religion can get along with each other. On the whole, I had a satisfying experience reading this book.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Andy
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