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.
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.”
Yet another delight from Elif Shafak. I loved it. Shafak guides the reader through intricacies of humanity with wit and love, compassion and wisdom. Her Istanbul became mine.
“The Architect’s Apprentice” is to me a love story, a story of brotherhood, a story of creation, a story of jealousy, a story of grandiose failures and humble beginnings. In other words, it is fully human. I found her characters authentic to the core.
I rejoiced yet another time in the tides of Safak’s wisdom. Here are a few of favourite quotes:
‘When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’
“Little did he know, back then, that the worth of one’s faith depended not on how solid and strong it was, but on how many times one would lose it and still be able to get it back.”
“Centre of the universe was neither in the East nor in the West. It was where one surrendered to love.”
‘Truth is a butterfly: it lands on this flower and that. You run after it with a net. If you capture it, you are happy. But it won’t live long. Truth is a delicate thing.’
In her Autor’s Note, Shafak expresses “hope that this story, too, will flow like water in the hearts of its readers.” I definitely did in my heart.
Whenever I was in Tbilisi before, I had an urge to push doors open. «There must be magic to discover behind its enchanting doors », my inner nudge was saying. And so it is. .
The magic of stained glass by Italian masters, on doors crafted by Georgian carpenters, framed by unique patterns of metal shaped in laces by Armenian blacksmiths, leading to halls adorned by Renaissance or Moorish style paintings on walls and ceilings … all this beauty as a celebration of our diversity giving birth to something amazing.
There are so many wonderful buildings in Sololaki through which German, Italian, Georgian, Armenian and Russian architects expressed their love for the beauty of this city.
Realism is what Tyler is known for. This novel is infused with such a realism that I felt as if I was in the same room with its characters. So, if you a looking for a escapist reading, look somewhere else. Unless you want to escape to Baltimore of 1988, when the novel was published.
The story line has Maggie and Ira as main characters, whose marriage seems impossible yet lasting. In all they do, “Ira [is] forever so righteous and Maggie so willing to be wrong.” Other characters – their son, daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughter – seem all to come into play just to testify to that. Tyler manages to make you pissed of with Maggie’ constant intrusion in other people’s lives, just to redeem the character towards the end, by revealing her sweet vulnerability and pure desire to help. Maggie and Ira’s quarrels throughout the novel made me smile at the thought about how much energy we spend on minor things in life, at the expense of what’s important: love, respect, empathy, courage to speak up and courage to shut up, sometimes.
I absorbed the book. It’s my first book by Al-Shaykh and I bet it is not going to be the last. Her writing is as honest and truthful as the crystal water of a mountain river. Listening to and making public the story of one’s mother is brave because it requires introspection and forgiveness of all.
The story of Kamila, Hanan’s mother, is both unique and telling of an era and society dominated by religious patriarchs. Forced child marriage, an early pregnancy, abandonment, dependence and poverty marked Kamila’s life, yet it did not bend her free spirit. She was illiterate, yet her wisdom is deeper than the prescriptions of many scholars. She had no social security, yet her wit and survival instinct enabled her to see all her children into adulthood through the turmoil of war and social change of her country.
I am humbled by the story. And similar stories of million of women who remain anonymous, yet without which we would not be standing here and now.