Friday, 19 February 2016

East, West by Sir Salman Rushdie - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'In these nine stories Salman Rushdie looks at what happens when East meets West, at the forces that pull his characters in one direction, then the other. Fantasy and realism collide as a rickshaw driver writes letters describing his film star career in Bombay; a mispronunciation leads to romance and an unusual courtship in sixties London; two childhood friends turned diplomats live out fantasies hatched by Star Trek; and Christopher Columbus dreams of consummating his relationship with Queen Isabella. The stories in East, West show the extraordinary range and power of Salman Rushdie's writing.'

East, West is a collection of nine short stories, six of them published severally before this book was compiled. The book has three parts, the first being East with three short stories based in South Asia followed by West similarly set in the other hemisphere and the last portion being East, West where the stories feature Indians settled in UK.

This collection, as always, followed the typical Rushdie style of a strong theme delivered through an abstract story and from the first portion, East, I really loved the story The Prophet's Hair, where the author brings out how the lifestyle of a family changes when the head of the family, the local moneylender, ends up finding the sacred relic, a vial containing the hair of the Prophet and I interpreted it as  the author brought out his own views on literal interpretation of religion and how it impacts everyday lifestyle. While first portion followed a more narrative approach, the author begins to experiment with his style in West and here, the story Yorick was my favourite with author presenting a story on the childhood days of Prince Hamlet from Shakespeare's famous play by the same name, I particularly loved the way he started with a roundabout description on something as simple as the word paper and followed by the style of indulging in a conversation with the reader rather than plainly narrating it unlike the first portion. He also continually used this as a platform to bring out his own personal views on various ideas and I'd quote some of my favourites here:

'We have come to think of taking offence as a fundamental right. We value very little more highly than our rage, which gives us, in our opinion, the moral high ground.' - Page 89 (At the Auction of The Ruby Slippers)

'There is no doubt that a large majority of us opposes the free, unrestricted migration of imaginary beings into an already damaged relaity, whose resources diminish by the day.' - Page 94 (At the Auction of The Ruby Slippers)

With regard to this collection, I was really pleased with the style and the way it was delivered, but then, Rushdie is an author who has never failed to impress me with his writing; but then, I felt, in this case, some of the stories lacked the depth, especially the second portion West creating abstract stories out of an already existing story / incident as the base. I have been silent on the third portion of the book, East, West as it neither disappointed me, nor did I thoroughly enjoyed, it in fact, took the worst of both parts - East had a very good stories narrated in a simple way and West had average stories narrated in a brilliant unorthodox manner whereas, East, West was a collection of average stories narrated in a simple way.

But then, at the end of the day, I wanted a light read and the same time, ingrain the best of writing and I guess I got that satisfied in this book and on the whole, being a fan of Rushdie's works, I did enjoy reading the book, even the stories which I didn't particularly like, I loved the way it was narrated. So yeah, I'd say that it was a good read, but then, owing to the author's past, I guess I tend to set the standard as Midnight's Children and hence, that might probably pull down the rating to six.

Rating - 6/10

Have a nice day,

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Power of Compassion by The Dalai Lama - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'Many people have asked the Dalai Lama to address the current difficulties facing humanity. In these talks given in London, he speaks about a wide range of issues including Bosnia, racial hatred, gender and environmental protection.

Modern life is so full of confusion and suffering that people need the courage to face their anger and hatred in order to transform their lives and relationships.

The Dalai Lama describes in a clear and simple style how to love and die well and how to bring wisdom and compassion into our everyday lives.'

I bought this book at a place where it ought to be bought, a calm Buddhist temple as I've a habit of taking books as souvenirs to conclude my trip. Anyway, the Dalai Lama is one of the spiritual leaders whom I respect despite my own personal views on the subject; for his relentless struggle towards the Tibetan cause and more importantly, for being one of the more forward thinking people in his field and in this very book, he asserted that one can't reach too far in the path the enlightenment by means of blind faith, contrary to what I have heard from many in the same field.

This book is a collection of lectures, on how to show compassion, how to accept death gracefully, among other similar topics and the last part of the book is a Q&A session documented. To be very honest, I really wanted to like the book, but then, I was far from impressed with this book and in fact, I found his delivery to be rather dull. Moreover, this book cannot be read by someone who is not acquainted with Buddhist practices and philosophies, although I am not completely in the dark with regard to the same considering a lot of similarities with the religion I was raised in (being Hinduism, though, I quit religion long ago) but then, there were several instances where I was totally lost. I do appreciate that he tried to appeal to people like myself, adding a caveat after any reference to re-birth or other related religious concepts that 'even for non-believers...' but then, those arguments proposed weren't totally convincing.

Moreover, I guess my scepticism is also owing to my complete ideological differences with one of the strongest concepts that he was riding on, throughout the lecture, as to not show attachment but show compassion. While I agree with the latter part, I believe it is inherent human nature to show attachment to people whom you regard and love while you could still be compassionate towards the society at large and no convincing arguments were made as to how these two are mutually exclusive and moreover, I am of the very strong belief that a state of trance reached through detachment and giving up on desires is merely an illusionary happiness and I for one would prefer to be sad in the real world than exercising that option.

Anyway, enough with my own personal ideas because, whenever I get deeper into the same, I very frequently get a remark stating, 'you can't take such a narrow view on philosophy' - let me for argument's sake agree with this, but then, in this very book, one highly ridiculous statement was made:

'I find it a bit difficult to apply this principle of compassion to the field of economics. But economists are human beings and of course they also need human affection, without which they'd suffer. However, if you think only of profit, irrespective of the cause of consequences, then drug dealers are not wrong, because from the economic viewpoint, they are also making tremendous profits.'
- page 73 and 74

I don't know if he was just trying to be funny which I doubt considering the otherwise serious nature of his lecture, he has narrowed down an entire subject to ONE school of thought, being positive economics and as per his view, I guess Alfred Marshall was fine with money making through drugs; I mean, going by Voltaire, I do defend his right to believe in that idea and defend his right to profess that in a speech (and it'd apply for my thoughts on philosophy too) but then, nevertheless, this was a ridiculous remark to make and from that moment on, I stopped taking the contents of this book very seriously.

This could seriously be a case of a right book landing in the wrong hands and I still feel this could be enjoyed by those who wish to understand and learn about Buddhist philosophies but then, the review being typed by the same hands that held the right book, the review is inevitably going to be bad, and thus, my rating for the book shall be a four on ten.

Rating - 4/10

Have a nice day,

Monday, 15 February 2016

Vicious Vikings by Terry Deary - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'Why some vicious Vikings had names like Fat-thighs, Oaf and Stinking? How to build a vicious Viking longboat? Which vicious Viking god dressed up as a woman? Discover all the foul facts about the Vicious Vikings - all the gore and more!'

Vicious Vikings is an instalment in the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary. This novella contains the features of every other book in the series and I shall repeat them for the sake my readers who have either not read a horrible histories novella or a review of mine of a book from this series. The series aims at kindling interest in history by bringing out interesting facts about mundane topics that you've in your history textbooks in school through interesting illustrations and quizzes and the societal norms during the period covered.

Based on what I have said, this book was no different from the others and had every feature of a book in the series, with illustrations elaborating the lifestyle of the Vikings during the period, validating / invalidating the myths or stereotypes as the case may be (the horned helmets, for instance) and yes, at the end of the day, gives the reader an idea about the lifestyle of Vikings, their practices, their conquests and whether they were really as gory as they are portrayed to be.

While commenting on the book, I am really unsure as to whether I am being too harsh on my judgement because of the fact that I have grown up; considering how I used to love these books as a child, however, I wasn't all that impressed with this particular book in the series, mainly because, I read this book as a history enthusiast and not a school kid bored of reading his textbooks.

To start with, I felt that it was a lot less to do with facts and more to do with myths and legends regarding the Vikings and I really don't know the validity of some of the stories that are in the book considering how the author himself continually dismisses the authenticity of most Viking stories known to us, as most of them have been written based on vague sources post the Gutenberg era.

The second aspect I felt was the fact that I was really unsure whether the author was trying to write a book on the Vikings or on Vikings in Britain as most of it involved Viking lifestyle in Kent, Dublin, etc and the names of Harold Godwinson and Harold Hardrada, implying that the focus was largely on Britain, even though, I am not saying it was entirely so, but very clearly, the Nordic countries were mentioned far less number of times than Britain. Moreover, there was even a small chapter on Saxons and how gory the Saxons were, which left me wondering as to whether I am reading a book on Vikings.

However, at the end of the day, this book satisfies the objective of any Horrible Histories Book is normally expected to satisfy (I was satisfied to the extent that my long pending question on why someone was named 'Bluetooth' was resolved, after all), being, an illustrated light read of a serious topic and is still an excellent book to carry around to kill boredom in a short train journey or flight. So yeah, barring the excessive focus on Britain, I still feel it is a reasonable read, however, I shall not absolve the book of the same, and hence, I shall not give a rating of six (certifying it is good) and hence, restrict it to a fence sitting rating of five.

Rating - 5/10

Have a nice day,

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