Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

I picked up this book at the landmark as it was kept under the 'recommended' section along with Paulo Coelho's book. Written by a Pakistan born US based author and the recommendation made me buy this book.
Written at the backdrop of the 9/11 bombing and the changes in the world order there after is the backdrop of this very ordinary novel. Written as a first person narration by young Changez, who is from Lahore, Pakistan, studied at the Princeton University ( the author himself is studied there) and get a lucrative job at a financial consulting firm. The story of his relationship with beautiful but melancholic Erica, and the typical corporate life takes a definitive turn after the eventful attack on US. The personal trauma of what is happening at his home town ( this is when the terrorists made an unsuccessful attempt on Indian Parliament House and the followed up military concentration and movement towards the Indo-Pak border ) and his demanding job makes him to abandon his job and the relative financial fortune in the US , to return to him home town.
It is written as it being told to a US stranger in Lahore and he try to bring in some kind of twist to the story at the end ( there is no reason or justification). Overall I find this very ordinary read and not worthy of recommendation.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Written by Mohsin Hamid ( English , Pakistan born)
Penguin Books
187 Pages
Rs 295/-

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Long way gone - memoirs of a boy soldier by Ishmael Beah

"It is not your fault" , Esther the nurse tells him, so does the others at the rehabilitation center. The world ask "whose mistake is it"? "Who stole their childhoods" ? Why is it, that even in the 21st Century, the world is at war, why does the innocent had to suffer for the gain of a few ? Why is that millions and millions of people homeless and starving ?

Ishmael Beah, a former boy soldier in the war trodden Sierra Leone , brings out a memoir of his troublesome period of his life to tell the world of the gruesome events unfolds in front of him as he witnessed, participated and recovered from. Written as a first person narrative, the story takes us to the villages of Sierra Leone, where the rebel forces of Revolutionary United Front , popularly known as RUF , is on a decade long civil war with the armed forces in a rich country destroyed by war, corruption and many coup attempts to topple the elected government.

His memoirs starts with his childhood days with his family, brother and friends. His fascination to the new generation Rap music and dance. One day, Ishmael with his brother and friends leaves for the nearby town to see the rap music event and participate. Little did they know that they are on a journey , never to return.

While returning , they comes to know that the rebels have attacked their village and destroyed the houses and killed the people. The run for safety and food starts from then. The vast part of the book is dedicated to this task of running away from the rebels, the people they meet whose fate is no better than theirs, few unexpected helps from survived villagers. Being chased and caught by village protection team suspecting them as rebels... and the gruesome incidents and stories experienced by survivors. In one of the skirmishes he also loose his brother, never to see him again. The fate takes him to the army camp and being trained to hold the AK-47s, the machine guns, the RPGs Ishmael becomes one of the hard core military man at the age of 13. Multiple encounters with the rebels, the bullet shots, death of colleagues, slitting of the throat , setting fire, looting the food and valuables etc are described in detail, looks very familiar as from a hollywood movie scene. Marijuana, cocaine and "brown brown" overdoses keeps away the tender feelings away, to give them the mental strength to carry out these gruesome acts.

The efforts of UNICEF and other Peace keeping Missions, gets Ishmael and few of his friends to the rehabilitation center at Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. I liked the pages describing the effects of "withdrawal syndrome" to the group and his reaction of the "civilians" commanding the "military"men. Gradually, he comes to senses and after a successful rehabilitation, he is re-instated to the normal society , adopted by his paternal uncle as a member of his family. Everything is not normal as events unfolds. A successful coup attempt and the control of Freetown by the new regime, makes the life worse for all. Ishmael fears that he will eventually get back to the killing ways, by forcefully joining the army. He plans his escape from the country which once was his home. The book is written by Ishmael after his escape to the US and after his successful graduation.

This is a war memoir, and not to be called a literary revolution. It brings about the true story of every single boy soldiers fighting the civil war at every part of the world. We are used to the "selective" reporting of the war journalists and here is a story by someone who has seen it all , done it all. It is difficult to write such a memoirs without the emotions taking the first seat. However, Ishmael Beah has done a fantastic job in getting the facts first in a very touching and moving ( at many places) narrative. Language is apt and crisp and it is written as told by a young boy.

Sierra Leone was recently in news in the movie "Blood Diamond" . The RUF rebels which controls the majority of the diamond mines uses innocent child laborers in the mining of diamonds. The book also gives us the chronological events that shaped (?) the current state of the country Sierra Leone.

A Long Way Gone - memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Written by Ishmael Beah ( Sierra Leone / US )
Published by Harper Perennial
229 Pages ( Paperback)
Rs 295/-
PS : Erstwhile dictator of Liberia , Charles Taylor has been under custody of International Crime Beaureau for his alleged involvement in the Sierra Leon civil war. he is being investigated for his support ( financially and arms) of RUF in return of Diamonds.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Witch of Portobello - Paulo Coelho

The new book from the 'most popular' South American writer was released in India last month. I say most popular because, I think he is currently the most discussed or sought after author in India , more that Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I have read all the books released of Paulo Coelho in English, I have decided to get this book as well. He is not my most liked South American author.He has a very European way of writing and is very deliberate in his words.
The story of Athena, a gypsy parental girl adopted by Lebanese couple and grew up in Beirut and London. The mystical path inherited in her blood gives her visions of the Holy Angels during her childhood. The family moves into England following the disrupt and war in Lebanon and like everyone Athena too gets to the normal life of love, wedding , child and job routine . Multiple events with mystical backgrounds ( the house owner who plays the Siberian music to a team into trance , the Arabian calligraphy teacher ) awaken her quest for knowing the truth and "filling the spaces" of her life. She takes a tour to her native(?) Romania in search of her real mother and the meeting with the mysterious spiritual teacher, her gypsy mother and others takes a different turn in her life. Athena now become the protagonist of the "the Mother" and slowly develop a cult like following. During the ceremonies she become the incarnation of Hagia Sofia ( the name she invent for herself when she is in touch with "the mother" ) and gives sermon to the followers curing illness, helping in love lif and other miracles . And as it turns out she became the object of a modern-day witch hunt in England and a topic of discussion in the divided society.
As the case of his earlier fictions, Paulo Coelho, mixes Philosophy , mysticism and religion with his acute style of writing. This novel is also uses a new method of story telling; first person re-collection of people who are in some way associated or related to Athena. Each chapter is written as narrated by one of the participant to the author. The only other novel I remember to use a similar style is Life A user's manual by George Perec ( I read this book 10 years ago and writing from memory: I could be wrong).
And finally, it is a well written book and will go well with people who like his style of writing. However, this is not a COMPELLING BOOK ( as the critics say ) in anyway.

The Witch of Portobello
Author : Paulo Coelho
Harper Collins
322 pages ( paperback)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Road to Guantanamo : Movie

Just finished watching this movie about 3 British citizen's true story about being detained at the (in)famous Guantanamo bay.
This movie caught my attention after it was adjudged as the best film in last years Berlin International film festival. Directed by Michael Witherbottom and Mat White cross, this movie follows the three young Muslim Britishers from Tipton , Birmingham to Pakistan to attend the wedding of one of their friend and their entry into Afghan for more of a curiosity factor ( to help people is too hard to believe). This was at the time when US started their campaign in Afghan after the 9/11. Story, partially told as documentary , partially as the drama in the cinema faction and partially as commentary ( by the real victims in discussion, I presume) does get one's attention to the happening and branding of innocent people as the members of Taliban or Al-Qaida by the captors. After holding them prisoners without any charges for more than 2 years , they were released from detention.
There are sufficient scenes of tortures and abuses by the soldiers , as it is already known to the world. These days Guantanamo bay is used similar to Auschwitz or Buchenwald.
From a cinematic view , this movie disappointed me. Lie Fahrenheit 9/11 , I would put this as another political movie and it shows the sufferings from the hands of the Allied Army ( than the Internal struggle or any personal side of the story) and nothing more.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Curtain - Milan Kundera

By writing the story of Don Quixote, Cervantes tore open the curtain that represented the perceived world and revealed the world untold to the people says Milan Kundera in his new book called The Curtain. Cervantes' Don Quixote, and Francois Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, considered as the starting of this new form of literature and he says the novel has to reveal ( remove the curtain ) some previously unrecognised human life.

This book I would consider a sequel to his earlier book called "The Art of Novel". He takes of from where he left us in the art of novel. Kundera discusses history , continuity of the art form, the progress and history of this art form. As in the case of the art of novel he rely on the older generation of European novelists from Cervantes , Kafka , Tolstoy , Musil etc etc for his explanations.

Novel defined by one of its early protagonist ( Fielding) is "a quick and sagacious penetration into the true essence of all the objects of our contemplation". "A novelist is born out of the ruins of his lyrical world" . "The writer's work isonly a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader's recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book's truth", as stated by Marcel Proust defines the meaning of the very art of novel.

Art has a continuity. To understand and relish an artform you will also need to understand its transformation and continuity. As Kundera put it, Every modern writers have taken inspiration from their earlier generation of writers. James Joyce from Flaubert , Feilding from Cervantes , Stendhal from Fielding, Marquez from Kafka. A novel is never confines within the state or countries boundary and it has a wider reach among all the people of the world. National Literature has no meaning these days, we are in the era of World Literature.

Milan Kundera is one of the few authors, I would not miss any books , whether it is his fiction or his non-fiction writings. And I prefer his non-fiction these days as his recent fictions books , ignorance or slowness did not impress me much. I have been seeing the arrival of this book from Amazon for a while and it is not available in India yet. Hence I had to shell out some extra money to buy this on my travel.

I found this book very interesting and easy reading. It was a little hard to understand when I was reading the "art of novel" and comparing to the earlier experience I found this reading much easier. Of cource, Ar of the novel was read about 12 years back and I have definitely read much more and have aged ( may be a little wiser). If you are a seriour reader of literature ( especially world literature) , this book is a must read and will enhance your own understanding of this form of art.

Before I end, I found this statement made by one of his friend to him after the fall of the communist regime in Czeckoslovakia and they have embarked the capitalist economy. It summarises the fate of every developing nations "Commercial stupidity has replaced the ideological stupidity".

If you like a more detailed review ( which I find the best ) click here