Category Archives: Books

“Dream big. Heroes who dared to be bold” by Sally Morgan

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7:00 am. I am reading out loud. It is my kid’s wake up routine. It works better than the alarm clock, for both of us.

My latest morning reading is “Dream big. Heroes who dared to be bold” by Sally Morgan. The book contains brief stories of 100 people of all ages and backgrounds from many different parts of the globe who made a difference and brought change. They come from different walks of life: mayors, actors and actresses, inventors, dancers, refugees, bloggers, conductors, boxers, rappers, and many others. They each had a voice and used it. Each story has a “call for action”, an invitation to reflect on one’s talents and abilities, which could be put to good use.

To me, the narrative and some terms are perhaps more fit for an American culture and understanding, so the book may not speak to some who were less influenced by/ are less familiar with a western way of thinking. The personalities in the book do come mostly from the Northern hemisphere. And its title hints to the proverbial “American dream”, at least to me. In fairness though, the author also pays tribute to much less known stories of heroes from China, Agentina, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world.

Would I recommend the book? Yes, wholeheartedly. Would just suggest to read it with an open mind and use it for discussions with your kid over a cup of tea or hot chocolate.

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“ The words in my hand” by Guinevere Glasfurd

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Imagine wanting to learn to write and your palm and finger your only “paper and pen”… Inimaginable, right?

From the gaps and holes in history of women mentioned in archives, the author built the story of Helena, a maid in Netherlands, who knew René Descartes for more than a decade. Some say this is the story of Helena’s strugle to learn. For me, it was equally the story of Descartes’s strugle to learn. It was the time before his first publication, which is considerate to date as the basis of modern science and which required numerous explorations from him.

It is also the story of a woman’s aspiration to be independent and free from social expectations and bounds.

It is the story of a loving mother, who passed on to her daughter the love of letters and thirst of knowledge. It is the story of a mother’s grief for her child and her rebirth as a mother through the birth of her second child.

It is the story of a children book writer and her belief that all children – boys and girls – need to learn to write and read.

It is the story of female sisterhood and friendship.

It is a story of love, as impossible as it seemed in that century.

And, it is beatifully narrated.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Lee Harper

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In the July 13, 1960 The New York Times, reviewer Herbert Mitgang dubs Mockingbird “a winning first novel by a fresh writer with something significant to say.”

I read the novel in 2019. This book made me laugh. It also filled my eyes with tears. I tend to think its effects on me as a reader had to do with the author’s choice to narrate the story through a child’s eyes:

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” “If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time . . . it’s because he wants to stay inside.”

The above is a dialogue between two siblings, a brother and a sister. The story unwinds in a small fictional Southern town in the USA in mid 30s. The kids characters make sense of the world around them through friendships, time at school, peculiar relations with neighbours and other white and non-white communities. The story gains intensity as their father becomes a defense lawyer of an afro-american accused of a white woman rape he has not committed. The father becomes a “nigro-lover” in the eyes of the community and his kids are verbally and psysically attacked. The displays of courage and compassion in the face of racism, prejudice, violence and hypocrisy were admirable back then, and, perhaps, even to a greater extent – now.

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Hguyen

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Writing a review for this book was difficult. I found it so profound that could not believe it that it ended, when I read its last sentence. In spite of its 384 pages.

The main character – the Captain – is a very complex character. He was a child of a French priest and poor Vietnamese, born out of wedlock, to become an assistant to a Vietnamese general, a spy for Americans, a killer, a devoted friend, a follower, a master and slave of words, and finally – a survivor.

The plot develops on Vietnamese and USA soil in 70s. There are different interpretations of the historical events of those times. I did not perceive the book as an account of those precise events. I felt that the author wants us to reflect and to learn. He asks very tough questions, from the depth of the human vulnerability in birth, love, camradry and torture: “What is more precious than independence and freedom?”, “how a revolution fought for independence and freedom could make those things worth less than nothing” and many more.

The writing style impressed me – the power of words is striking, compeling, edifying. There is so much pain and hope combined that I could not read some pages, in particular those on what a human can do to another human. At the same time, I savoured the fine sarcasm of some lines: ” I had an abiding respect for the professionalism of career prostitutes, who wore their dishonesty more openly than lawyers, both of whom bill by the hour”. Or “Cognac made everything better, the equivalent of a mother’s kiss for a grown man”. Or “I liked my scotch undiluted, like I liked my truth.” And this last one, is to me the essence of this novel.

“The tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris

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THE-TATTOOIST-OF-AUSCHWITZI visited Auschwitz in 2000. I could not go beyond the first barracks … The atmosphere was painfully overwhelming, even after half a century.

I read “The tattooist of Auschwitz” basically in one go. It is the power of love described throughout the novel that makes it the focus of the attention. The ordeal of the daily life in most horrific times is somehow in the background. That’s the author’s merit.

The novel is based on a true story of Lale Sokolov and Gita who survived Auschwitz and reunited to live a long life together, in spite of all circumstances. It is a work of fiction based on the first-hand testimony of Lale, born Ludwig Eisenberg.

Questions like why did some survive and others not are answered by the qualities Lale had and used while in Auschwitz. His first promise to himself when he entered Auschwitz was “I will live to leave this place”. And he did so 3 years later, having overcome hunger, beatings, ice-cold winters, torture. He also saved lives of as many as he could, with a bit of bread here, a smuggled piece of chocolate there, a piece of information here, a word of wisdom there.

When you feel down, read the book. It works as an instantaneous reminder of the blessings we have.

 

“Lonesome dove” by Larry McMurtry

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It started on such an idle note that I almost abandoned it. Glad I haven’t, encouraged by reviews saying “if you read only one Western novel in your life, read this one” (USA Today). It had also the promise of a Pulitzer award winning novel.

“Lonesome dove” has the classic of the genre, good guys – the rangers Call and Augustus – and the bad guys. Characters are also nuanced, in fairness to human nature. The bravest ranger could be a coward father to a son, to whom he gave his horse and gun but not his name. The evil characters are of all colors. So are the noble ones.

This Western depicts through two female characters the choices women had during the times of land claiming by Europeans. They had to choose between whorehouses or settling to a married life on farms lost in solitude, childbearing, death and harshness. Some kept their sanity, others – not. It explains many societal attitudes centuries latter.

The story mingled with epic description of nature and evolving landscapes under the influence of humans, like the disappearing buffaloes. The author also pais his respects to the natives threatened by the dramatic change to their livelihoods.

Some dialogues are full of humour, while some – abound with sorrow and regret. All in one, almost 1000 pages of human nature during an important part of the US history.

“Little leaders. Visionary women around the world” by Vashti Harrison

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I do not know if I bought the book for my kid or for myself. Never mind, we both loved it.

The stories of little leaders are well documented. The bios of are filled with factual information in an easily accessible language. A glossary helps understanding some concepts, which could be new for young readers.

We learned a lot about women and girls who had the courage to go beyond and above what was considered “normal” for the times and societies they lived in. Like the story of Fatima Al-Fihri who funded and created in year 859 in Morocco the first degree granting institution in the world, as a precursor for universities. Or Peggy Guggenheim, the art collector who saved modern art pieces, which would have been otherwise destroyed by the nazi regime. Or the work of Sister Corita Kent who used serigraphs to spread bold messages of love and peace.