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.”
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.”
I saw the book on a friend’s instagram account. It clicked immediately with my needs at that moment in time. I read it in one go. It’s truly a gift. I probably used the highlights more often than in any of the books I read so far. It’s humane, genuine, and humble.
A few of my favorite quotes:
“If you’re perfectionistic, you’re going to procrastinate, because perfect means never.”
“Power has nothing to do with brawn or domination. It means you have the strength to respond instead of react, to take charge of your life, to have total ownership of your choices.”
“If you take back your power and still want to be right, then choose to be kind, because kindness is always right.”
“We aren’t born with fear. Somewhere along the way, we learn it.”
“The most toxic, obnoxious people in our lives can be your best teachers. The next time you’re in the presence of someone who irks or offends you, soften your eyes and tell yourself, “Human, no more, no less. Human, like me. Then ask, “What are you here to teach me? “
A painfully beautiful and beautifully painful story of love and division, commitment and betrayal, brotherhood and hate crimes, fear and renewal, hope and abyss, science and superstitions, and all – in couple of decades on one island. As Shafak herself puts it, this work of fictions is “a mixture of wonder, dreams, love, sorrow and imagination.”
Each character is a delight to get to know. The fig tree and the gentle way it narrates about what humans do not see and how it communicates with all living things around it. The Greek families and the Turkish families, and the impossible love between Kostas and Defne in 1974, separated overnight by war and reunited decades later, to become parents to Ada on British soil in London. I loved Ada’s superstitious aunt – Meryem and all her womanly advice to her niece. Yusuf and Yiorgos and their love. The Happy Fig tavern and its changing role for the characters. …
After having read the novel, I will never look the same way at trees and all those who re-planted their “roots” in foreign soil. I also wonder how much does humanity need to go through to finally learn. There is nothing to win in a war or from a division. There is no need to attack.
My favorite quotes:
“A map is a two-dimensional representation with arbitrary symbols and incised lines that decide who is to be our enemy and who is to be our friend, who deserves our love and who deserves our hatred and who, our sheer indifference. Cartography is another name for stories told by winners. For stories told by those who have lost, there isn’t one.”
“The bear knows seven songs and they are all about honey.”
“You must understand, whenever something terrible happens to a country – or an island – a chasm opens between those who go away and those who stay. I’m not saying it’s easy for the people who left, I’m sure they have their own hardships, but they have no idea what it was like for the ones who stayed.”
“I have never understood why humans regard butterflies as fragile. Optimists they may be, but fragile, never!”
“Knowledge is nobody’s property. You receive it, you give it back.”
“There was something childlike in the way grown-ups had a need for stories. They held a naive belief that by telling an inspiring anecdote – the right fable at the right time – they could lift their children’s moods, motivate them to great achievements and simply change reality.”