Tag Archives: book review

“Two sisters” by Asne Seierstad

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This is the second book by Asne Seierstad I read. “Two Sisters” is her sixth book. Released in Norway in November 2016, it became the bestselling book of the year, and won the prestigious Brageprisen.

The book is about the journey of two Somali sisters from Norway into the jihad in Syria. The author did a tremendous job to reconstruct the scenes as accurately as possible, which is not at all an easy task. In literary journalism the accuracy depends almost entirely on sources and in this case there were scattered, plentiful and fragmented. If you are interested in the methodology the author applied, read the post-face.

The “entire world is trying to understand the reasons for radicalization among Muslim youth” and this is the impetus of the book. As the author herself puts it: “There is no single explanation, but one can point to several factors, including the search for identity, meaning, and status; the desire to belong; the influence of others; excitement; the need to rebel; and romantic notions.”

Imagine waking up one morning and reading an email from your daughters saying “We have decided to travel to Syria to help out down there the best we can … . It was painful to read about the struggles of the father who travelled to Syria to bring back his daughters and who gave it up failure after failure of rescuing them. It was even more painful to read about how judgmental or indifferent humans can be in the face of a family’s tragedy. This book is a must-read for parents and guardians. As children grow and start interacting more with circles outside the family the vigilance must increase.

“The Knight in the Panther Skin” by Shota Rustaveli

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Thanks to the translation by Lin Coffin and verbatim translation and editing by Prof. Dodona Kiziria I was able to savour the classics of classics of the Georgian literature.

A masterpiece of its time, written in what is known as the Golden era of the Georgian history, “The Knight in the Panther Skin” by Shota Rustaveli is a must read for everyone willing to understand the soul of Georgians, the kindest people on Earth, by me. I was happy to learn from my Georgian friends that it is still part of the schools curricula. I find it telling when societies keep their creative roots and pay tribute to the founders of beautiful things on earth.

The plot is described in many open sources so I will not do it here. There is love and jelousy, betrayal and brotherhood, wealth and poverty, war and peace and all other wordly things in “The Knight in the panther skin”. This is the third/forth attempt to translate it in English. Big kudos to the translators, who did the magic of teleporting the readers to the times of beauty of human relationships fueled by love, friendship, loyalty, courage and faith in God.

My list of favourite verses is very long. Here are only a few:

“She said: ‘Wise people say those who are prudent should never make haste. They act calmly when pressed by Fate, not raging against where they’re placed.”

“If a lover says he listened to a prayer for patience – he lies!”

“Patience is the fountainhead of wisdom, I feel.”

“Lying, we know, is the source of all things ignoble.”

‘Love exalts us’ they tell us, as if heaven’s bells a song would raise. If you cannot conceive this, how can I hope ignorance to raze?”

“Something that God doesn’t will doesn’t happen, and what He wills, stays.”

“The eyes long for all things lovely and beautiful on which to gaze.”

“Wherever I may be, nothing matters if I have my free will!”

“The sweetly discoursing tongue can lure the serpent out of its lair.”

“In the end, I am sure, everything that’s hidden shall come to light.”

“They didn’t say “We don’t have this”; to envy their hearts didn’t yield.”

“Who grieves the future wastes time and strives without reward.”

“This hidden truth was revealed to us by Dionysus, the wise: God creates only good; He lets no evil in the world arise.”

“Butterfly people” by Elda Moreno

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When my colleague Elda Moreno announced on Linkedin that she self-published a book, I immediately got it on my Kindle. I found the book touching. It permeates with sensitivity and gives a voice to those of us who become invisible not by their choice – the elderly. I loved that the author gave the reader a multi-generational view on seniority and even the view of a pet, who remain perhaps the most loyal family members as we grow old.

The book is a wonderful reminder that we do meet in our lives “Butterfly people”. As the author explains us herself: “Butterfly people conquer the sky because they embrace and generate change. They know and are true to their essence. They see opportunities where others only see risks. If the wind knocks them down, they learn from it and pick themselves up.”

“The bookseller of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad

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I loved the narrator’s style – it teleported me to the houses and streets of Kabul, and mountain paths in Afganistan. It was not a surprise as the author is a journalist, it nevertheless enchanted.

The author spent time with the bookseller’s family the story is about. She lived with them under one roof, shared their food and was present at small and big family events. She did not judge, she kept an unveiled perspective even when wearing a burka to venture outside with the women of the household.

The girls and women who lived through a kingdom, and communist, mujahedeen, taliban regimes have the toughest share of suffering. I valued that the author also wrote about boys and poor men and their suffering. How hard it is for unpriviledged men is often skipped in our Western gender narrative.

The degree and scope of distruction Afganistan went through does not cease to amaze. And its source does not really matter. The pain the patriarchical ruling inflicts on own members of the family, the bombings by foreign armies, the burning of books by communists, mujahedeens, taliban are all the same – they all require healing and rebuilding. There is no truth in suffering. As long as we become aware about it, including thanks to journalists and authors like Asne Seierstad, we stand a chance to heal as a humanity.

“I would rather eat a cactus…than run a project” by Lesley Elder-Aznar

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I found the title funny, even if I would rather not eat a cactus, in any event, unless it has been processed into agave syrup. Many of the aspects touched upon resonated with my project manager’s life in the corporate world: negotiations with other departments, the surprise of learning about costs recharging, change management…

The book covers the lifespan of a project from initiation to the business case, kicking of the project, executing, communication and training plans, to closing and monitoring of the project. Sections on project roles (who is who), agile project management and behaviour changes enrich the technicalities with insights.

As the author tells us herself: “The whole purpose of this book was to demystify project and project jargon, to make it less scary, to make it more accessible to everyone. Not just the people who are working in project world, but all of the people who are on the receiving end of change, or unwittingly seconded onto a project.” It is indeed a book largely for uninitiated. Yet, those who are more experienced can still find useful reminders. I also read it as an invitation for staying humble in interactions with more junior by experience colleagues. It also felt at times as reading through training materials or attending a training as on some pages the author “speaks” to you (“hold on..”, “humor me…”). There is nothing wrong with that and there are readers who prefer this way of presentation of information. It can also inspire you in you are preparing for a training delivery – forget not to give credit.

The lines that made me smile: “If you have a Finance team that can organise this without you promising to name your first-born child after the Finance Manager, then you are destined for success!”

“Your friendly Finance business partner will spend much time explaining to you about cost-centres and WBS (work breakdown structure) codes and how it’s all going to take place in the monthly cycle. Just nod along and ask them to email you when it’s done. Or you risk wasting years of your life trying to understand it.”

“Ali and Nino” by Kurban Said

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I rarely read Introductions, for they tend to give you certain perspectives right from the beginning. Yet, the Introduction to Ali and Nino is worth reading, while remembering that: “Ali and Nino would be well worth reading even if it were not the brilliantly achieved novel that it is. It takes us, as Western readers, into a world in which it is very good for us to be.” To me the novel gives voices to all engulfed in the turmoil of the first world war: Ali, a mohammedan in heart and deeds, Nino, a Georgian aristocrat staying true to herself even in a harem in Persia, an imam who can distinguish between love and senseless sacrifice, true friends who’ll put their friend’s best interest above their own… The novel takes the reader to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Dagestan, and Persia, and we learn about the morals reigning in all these places during those times, while Nino and Ali’s love between a christian and a mohammedan unfolds in spite of everything and everyone.

My favourite passages:

“The Orient’s dry intoxication comes from the desert, where hot wind and hot sand make men drunk, where the world is simple and without problems. The woods are full of questions. Only the desert does not ask, does not give, and does not promise anything. But the fire of the soul comes from the wood. The desert man—I can see him—has but one face, and knows but one truth, and that truth fulfils him. The woodman has many faces. The fanatic comes from the desert, the creator from the woods. Maybe that is the main difference between East and West.’”

“The wise man must not let himself be disturbed by either praise or blame.”

“The magic of this town lies in the mystical bond between its races and peoples”. – about Baku.

‘This wine is pure, for God is in it.” – Georgians about their wine.

Probably one of the most just description of Georgians: “Georgians seem to me like noble deer, strayed amongst the jungle mixtures of the Asiatics. No other Eastern race has this charm, these graceful movements, this fantastic lust for life and healthy enjoyment of leisure.”

“Maybe you should talk to someone” by Lori Gottlieb

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This is the kind of books I could read every day. It made me laugh and it brought tears to my eyes. I found it a touching, honest and humble ode to us, humans. The writing style is like a feather on a cheek, soft yet direct.

Lori Gottlieb arrived at therapy from the worlds of journalism and medicine. The stories of her clients, told with compassion, intertwine with solid references in the science of psychology. Lori’s personal story, with all its ups and downs, brings something many feel as missing in her profession – humanity.

I made a long list of take-away and come-back-to notes. Here are my favorite:

“In idiot compassion, you avoid rocking the boat to spare people’s feelings, even though the boat needs rocking and your compassion ends up being more harmful than your honesty. People do this with teenagers, spouses, addicts, even themselves. Its opposite is wise compassion, which means caring about the person but also giving him or her a loving truth bomb when needed.”

“People often mistake numbness for nothingness, but numbness isn’t the absence of feelings; it’s a response to being overwhelmed by too many feelings.”

“I once heard creativity described as being the ability to grasp the essence of one thing and the essence of some very different thing and smash them together to create some entirely new thing.”

“Not knowing is a good place to start,”…

“Most of us end up being the “good-enough” parents that Donald Winnicott, the influential English pediatrician and child psychiatrist, believed was sufficient to raise a well-adjusted child.”

“PEACE. IT DOES NOT MEAN TO BE IN A PLACE WHERE THERE IS NO NOISE, TROUBLE, OR HARD WORK. IT MEANS TO BE IN THE MIDST OF THOSE THINGS AND STILL BE CALM IN YOUR HEART.”

“…freedom involves responsibility, and there’s a part of most of us that finds responsibility frightening.”

“Talking can keep people in their heads and safely away from their emotions. Being silent is like emptying the trash.”

Flannery O’Connor quote: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

“The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm had made this point more than fifty years earlier: “Modern man thinks he loses something—time—when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains except kill it.”

“… ultracrepidarianism, which means “the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence.”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” – Viktor Frankl.

Frankl’s book: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

“Take the case of a mother who came from a household with little money and who now admonishes her child every time she gets a new pair of shoes or a new toy by saying, “Don’t you realize how lucky you are?” A gift wrapped in a criticism.”

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. —Ralph Waldo Emerson”

“The inability to say no is largely about approval-seeking—people imagine that if they say no, they won’t be loved by others. The inability to say yes, however—to intimacy, a job opportunity, an alcohol program—is more about lack of trust in oneself.”

“Just because she sends you guilt doesn’t mean you have to accept delivery.”

“I think of something else Wendell once said: “The nature of life is change and the nature of people is to resist change.””

“It’s one thing to talk about leaving behind a restrictive mindset. It’s another to stop being so restrictive.”

There will be an answer, let it be

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

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It is no news that history is selective and the greatest human stories are left unwritten. This is one of the reasons I am drawn to authors who bring to light, even through fiction, the stories of those we will not find in historical accounts.

Kristin Hannah tells us why she wrote “The Nightingale”: “In war, women’s stories are all too often forgotten or overlooked. Women tend to come home from the battlefield and say nothing and go on with their lives. The Nightingale is a novel about those women and the daring, dangerous choices they made to save their children and their way of life.”

“The Nightingale” – or rosignol in French – takes the reader to the German-occupied France in the second world war. Nightingale is a code name for a Resistance member who rescued downed airmen in France and took them on foot through Pyrenees mountains to the British consulate in Spain. The main characters’ stage is shared by two sisters – Vianne and Isabelle – who were estranged after their mother’s death and reconnected through unbelievable struggles of war. The characters seem to be opposites at the beginning. As the story unfolds, we see them more alike than apart, each brave in her own way.