Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Kids and Cubs by Olga Perovskaya - Book Review

This is a book written by the Russian author Olga Perovskaya describing her childhood experiences with animals along with her three sisters at their forest home in Almaty, Kazakhstan (then Russian Empire).

Her father, a forester, used to bring back young animals from the wild animals whenever he used to return from hunting and the stories feature the experiences of the sisters - Sonya, Olga (the author), Yulia and Natasha in feeding, taking care of the animals and watching them grow. The stories featured wolves (Dianka and Tomchik), a maral - Caspian stag (Mishka), a donkey (Ishka), a tiger (Vaska), a fox (Frantik) and a horse (Chubary).

The author had described the behaviour and mannerisms of the various animals really well and how the four girls played with these animals, the involvement of their parents; the ruckus caused by these animals and eventually, in some cases, the animal leaving the family after growing up (mainly the wild animals). The surroundings of their forest home, their yard, was also very well described and even though the edition I read had some illustrations, the description was good enough to make do without them. Considering that this is a book that is featuring real life childhood experiences, not all stories have a happy ending.

My main issue was probably the way in which the author chose to structure the novel; that is, as a collection of short stories featuring each animal; whereas, in each story, the girls started out at around the same age and yes, the subsequent story on the fox (Frantik), confirmed that they had the stag Mishka in their yard at the same time and I felt she could have presented them as a novella in a continuous sequence.

Apart from that, I am not sure as to what extent there is exaggeration and imagination from the author involved considering, some of the animals that she claims to have handled are the ones that are perceived to be really wild and predatory such as a wolf or a tiger. Moreover, the author seemed to describe what her sisters did; with such accurate details than what she did herself; which again makes me doubt the extent to which imagination was involved.

However, my problems with the book was more like mode of presentation or to what extent they were exaggerated but individually; looking at it as stories, it makes for an excellent light read and perhaps a very good read for children.

I read this book to take breaks while I was studying and it served the purpose of relaxing my mind and thus, on the whole, I would rate the book a seven on ten.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Mossad by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'For decades, Israel's renowned security arm, the Mossad, has been widely recognized as the best intelligence service in the world. In Mossad, authors Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal take us behind the closed curtain with riveting, eye-opening, boots-on-the-ground accounts of the most dangerous, most crucial missions in the agency's 60-year history. These are real, true Mission: Impossible stories brimming with high-octane action - right from the breath-taking capture of Nazi executioner Adolph Eichmann to the recent elimination of key Iranian nuclear scientists. If you are fascinated by the world of international espionage, intelligence, and covert "Black-Ops" warfare, then you will definitely find that the Mossad makes for some electrifying reading.'

This is a book on some of the most daring missions carried out by the Israeli secret service agency - Mossad. It was written by Michael Bar-Zohar, a former member of the Knesset and Nissim Mishal, a political reported based in Israel. Mossad is possibly one of those words we keep coming across while following international politics considering they are always in spotlight for; most incidents in Arab nations were always blamed on Mossad (in some cases, rightly so), especially post the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai in 2010.

This book covers 22 such missions of Mossad, starting from the days Israel's foundation till the assassination of the Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010. It covers some of the most famous operations of Mossad, such as abduction of the Nazi War Criminal Adolf Eichmann from Argentinaa full chapter on the acts of Elie Cohen; a Mossad spy who nearly became the Deputy Prime Minister of Syria, Operation Entebbe in Uganda, etc.

This book was fast paced; which seems quite a contradiction considering it was not a work of fiction but then, all the missions were narrated in a very interesting manner that it was almost like reading a real espionage novel, just without the dialogues. I felt the authors also had a good mix of certain very famous events such as the Israeli operation in Uganda in Entebbe Airport to neutralise the hijackers, the abduction of Adolf Eichmann, assasination of Al-Mahbhouh, the acts of Elie Cohen in Syria, etc.  along with certain less known events such as sabotaging the nuclear programmes of Syria and Iran, retrieving the young boy Yoselle Schumacher from ultra-orthodox Jews, the capture of Mordechai Vanunu - a former technician at Dimona (Israeli Nuclear Programme) who revealed the details of the reactor to the western media, etc.

The authors also brought out the personalities of the various Mossad heads very well, such as Isser Harel, Zvi Zamir or that of Meir Dagan and how a lot of decisions were influenced directly by the Prime Minister, from David Ben-Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, the authors tried too hard to make this book a fast paced one; which even turns out as a bit of a disadvantage for, when I pick up a non-fiction work, I know what to expect and there is no extra need to go beyond the ordinary to make it more interesting; for instance, I felt a lot of descriptions of the events were a way too far-fetched or exaggerated considering the detail that with which these two authors described while they weren't even the ones who carried out the operations nor are they ones who conducted interviews with all those people involved.

Moreover, they tried too hard to show that Israel was always right to the extent of fudging facts a little; for instance, in case of Mordechai Vanunu, the far-left anti-nuclear weapons activist; the authors made a remark that Vanunu was no crusader but merely someone who wanted to grab attention as, if he wasn't sacked from his job, till date he'd have been working there even though, in reality, Vanunu had actually resigned from his job.

This enjoyability of this book largely depends on an individual's political position, I believe; someone who has a pro-Arab position might feel enraged as to the extent the authors go on to portray vicious killings as acts of heroes whereas a person who has a pro-Israeli view might feel awed by the extent to which Mossad is willing to bend to ensure security of their country.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading the book; of course, I would have liked it if the authors had taken a relatively more neutral position but then, that is understandable, considering their background and on the whole, I would award the book a rating of seven.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The Middle Ages by Hourly History - Book Review

This is a short take on the Middle Ages by Hourly History, compiling most of the major events that took place during this era. The Middle Ages comprises the period from the fall of the Roman Empire till the European Renaissance.

This book is structured sequentially, going on from early Middle Ages, how Christianity was a unifying factor in Europe and the actions of the Charles Martel fending off the Moors at the Battle of Tours and the subsequent success of his grandson, Charlemagne. The book also focused on the other major events during the time, such as the Black Death.

I would say that this book was a noble attempt considering, the Middle Ages is not talked about and the book did pick up some of the major events, some of which has a whole book by Hourly History such as The Black Death and Charlemagne, eventually the Crusades and signing of the Magna Carta, during the later part of Middle ages.

However, the book seemed to focus more on the spread of Christianity in Europe than the society, governing structure (no word on serfdom, for instance) and the various internal squabbles that took place during the year. The Middle Ages is incomplete without a mention of the advent of Islam and how it reached Iberia and the advancement of Iberia scientifically and culturally under the Moors. Agreed, the book did touch upon the Spanish Moors and how Islam reached till Hungary through the Turks but that was about it. The crux of the problem was that the Middle Ages was too long a period, squeezing nearly ten centuries into one book was definitely going to compromise the quality and that was the problem with this book.

Based on the shortcomings, I would award the book a rating of three on ten.

Rating - 3/10

Have a nice day,
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