Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Mongol and "Idol Lover and other stories from Pakistan"

# Category: History - Asia; Biography & Autobiography - Historical

# Format:
Hardcover, 352 pages

# On Sale: March 16, 2004

# Price:

Barbaric! savage! cruel! Those are the first, and probably only, adjectives that come to mind when I think of the Genghis Khan of my school history books.

Indeed, perhaps he was all of those, but for someone who had never been to school and belonged to an outcast family, to have conquered land twice that of Alexander the Great, he had to have had qualities of a leader, had to have been able to inspire loyalty, and here to make that case for him is a book and a movie - Jack Weatherford's revisionist history of Genghis Khan's empire titled
'Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" and Sergei Bodrov's Oscar- nominated movie "Mongol" which will have its North American release on 06June.

The movie essentially covers The Khan's formative years. These are important years because it can be argued that it was the adversities faced in his childhood (the killing of his father at enemy's hands when he was 9; having to live in dire poverty and as an outcast with his mother and siblings in an isolated part of the Steppes (because a widow with children was of no use to the clan); being forced into slavery etc. that made Genghis Khan the determined, fearless and resourceful warrior that be became.

The movie ends with The Khan having defeated all of the Mongolian tribes to become the Chief Warlord, but in some ways, Genghis Khan's story is only just beginning. To read about how this Mongol warlord and his family took over the world it is essential to pick up Jack Weatherford's beautifully written and immensely readable, "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" which shows Khan as a firm, cruel at times, but progressive ruler. He abolished the caste system that existed in the Mongolia of his childhood, the sale of women, torture and established free trade, international law. He also promoted literacy and championed social/religious tolerance (although the Mongols themselves were animists, many took Buddhist and Christian wives)

One of the most intriguing facts to have come out of Weatherford's book is that Genghis Khan was a spiritual man and never embarked on a conquest without first getting the blessings of the Lord of the Mountains.
Genghis Khan dies in the first half of the book but Weatherford goes on to tell us how his descendants went on to conquer Russia, Iran, China and Europe. All in all, this is a rollicking good read. I have been so wrapped up in this genius of a book - waking up to it, going to bed with it - I will find it quite hard to replace Genghis Khan!

For a great review and a wonderful write-up on revisionist history do visit Id's blog here

Also discovered some wonderful Pakistani authors this month...

"The Idol Lover and Other Stories from Pakistan" by Moazzam Sheikh is a slim little book but let that not fool you for these original and fresh stories pack a punch! The book is divided into two parts, the first is group of stories set in the continent of Asia and the other takes you to San Francisco.

"Monsoon Rains", set in Pakistan was probably my most favorite story in the book - what is it about the monsoon that makes you realize your loneliness like no other season? Is it the incessant rain dropping like heavy tear drops against the window panes? Is it the smell of the earth - fragrant like a woman's perfume? Or is it just that it keeps people indoors and out of circulation? Whatever it may be, in "Monsoon Rains" the loneliness, the hopelessness that the protagonist feels is palpable, evoking a deep sympathy, tinged with repugnance for how he goes about trying to fill his empty days.

Another memorable story was "The Cow", set in the years of the British Raj in which Sheikh beautifully describes an unlikely friendship between two boys - one, the son of an Indian caretaker of a Bungalow (house) and the other, the son of the British government official that occupied it.

"Kissing the Holy Land" features in part two of the book and is the story of a young man from Pakistan on his first visit to the USA.
The story is set in New York airport as the protagonist waits to transit to San Fransisco. Writing with poignancy and wit, Sheikh touches upon several tender and moving moments through the story making it one you want to go back and read again.

I am still reading the book hence an incomplete review. If you wish to read a longer review please go to the one at Desi Lit.

The Idol Lover is published by Ithurial's Spear and this is what the publishers say about the book:

Short stories by Moazzam Sheikh. These sexually-charged tales unfold against a backdrop of colonization and ethnic tensions in Pakistan and the Middle East, and they also explore the immigrant's dilemma in the United States. Sheikh "maps the ways in which South Asian identities cohere and threaten to disintegrate at the contradictory intersections of memory, desire, connection, and exploitation... Sheikh's voice too, is unique, bringing to the English short story the flavor and verve of the Urdu/Hindi tradition"--A. Chakladar.

I mentioned having discovered other authors from Pakistan and they are:

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif.

The Making Of Mr. Hai's Daughter : A Memoir by Yasmin Hai

I haven't read either one yet, but they are both on my "to be read quickly" list!


Booklogged said...

Hello Lotus! Look at me - the first to comment. Genghis Khan sounds like something I would like to read. Your review is very encouraging.

Hope you are all well and happy. Are you experiencing the pleasantness of spring? It's finally arrived here. The battle with winter was a fierce one, but spring won, finally.

Id it is said...

Thanks for sharing these writings out of Pakistan! I will go for the short stories first; they sound most intriguing!

Genghis Khan and ...World is indeed a riveting read in the revisionist genre! Weatherford's revisionism may have been at the cost of historical accuracy at some points in the book. For instance, the use of gunpowder for the invasion of Baghdad is a fact that could be challenged in that there is no proof in history to document that. Weatherford, set out to research Mongolia, and perhaps the charisma of Genghis Khan mesmerized him to such an extent that he couldn't but help romanticize the icon that was 'Chinggis Khan'. I haven't watched the movie as yet but I do plan to watch it this summer. How does the movie compare with Weatherford's book?

It's always rewarding to stop by your blog; it has so much to offer!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Booklogged!

So absolutely wonderful to see you here!!! How have you been? We've had a fairly cold and wet spring so, as you can imagine, I can't wait for summer to be here! You will love the book on "Genghis Khan", he's my new favorite hero! :)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Id!

It was your wonderful post on Jack Weatherford's "Genghis Khan" and then the movie "Mongol" that got me interested in reading about the great Khan! Which reminds me, may I link to your post on revisionist history? I think it was very interesting and well written!

Yes, I am sure there were more than a few historical inaccuracies in the book because all said and done, Weatherford is not a historian, also, I can see why he was smitten with The Khan, I have to admit I was too! ;) Also, for his research he may have been overly dependent on "The Secret History of the Mongols" from which he got most of the material for his book. What I did like about the book however, was that Weatherford, with his easy writing style, made the Mongol history so readable and accessible...also, I think he makes a very good case for Genghis Khan not being a cruel monster but a capable and able ruler, no?

What is sad is that not much remains of the Mongol great monuments or palaces, no scientific inventions, not much literature, no art to speak of - not even their language found a way into the language of the peoples they conquered.

I enjoyed "Mongol" the movie...the cinematography and the music are out of this world, but to fully appreciate and understand the story it might be helpful to read a little about Mongol history before delving into the movie because I found there lots of bits in there that were unexplained. The BBC has made a documentary on Genghis Khan which I also had the opportunity to view and that stays quite true to the records.

I think you will like Moazzam Sheikh's book of short stories, "Monsoon Stories" can be found online at "Another Subcontinent" on the web.

Thank you for your comment, Id!

Brown Paper said...

Hi Lotus! I saw the Hanif at my local Chapters yesterday--have been meaning to check it out since. Another Pakistani writer I really like Kamila Shamsie--have you read her work? She deals with Big Issues, but manages to remain accessible--a difficult feat IMO!

Id it is said...

You are most welcome to link it to my post. I can't agree with you more that Weatherford's book has put both Genghis and Mongolia onto the world map in a way that no history book has been able to do. He has also presented Genghis as a leader no less capable and fearless than an Alexander. Indeed credit is due to Weatherford for being able to look beyond the cold and barbaric Genghis of the History books and presenting him in his socio geographic context which helps the reader understand many of Genghis's acts which have in the past been termed 'barbaric'.

I'll try to view the BBC documentary before I watch the movie and then we'll discuss Genghis yet one more time!

Sanjay said...

Thank you for a most wonderful post my friend and for all these interesting facts about Genghis Khan. You truly have given us a good sense of both the Weatherford book and the movie "Mongol". I must now watch the movie as well. It also was in the running for an Oscar for best foreign film. Do you think it deserved that nomination, or deserved to win? I was pretty bummed that "4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days" was not nominated. It truly is a good movie.

I recall an excellent New Yorker article on Mongols in the New Yorker by Ian Frazier that you may be familiar with? link

Thanks to your excellent review and the one that Id wrote some time ago, I view GK completely differently. I will I hope find some time to read this excellent book.

Re: Pakistani authors.

You always amaze me with how you discover new authors and books. I should read this book soon too. I want to thank you for sending the link to Monsoon Rains which was available online. I think you crystallized what the story is about really well, as well as what the rains are all about. Rain always makes me want to go out and run.

I felt little sympathy for the protagonist. Can you tell me why you felt otherwise? He was exploiting the women who came from a poor background. In fact none of the men in the story came across as sympathetic. Whether it was the woman's old husband, sending her off for sex with the guy whose house she cleaned, or the neighboring barber who knew what was happening and new which women were available. The protagonist did not care for the women he had except for the sex. So yes I agree with the repugnance but I could not feel any sympathy except for the women.

Also based on this one story, I felt the writing was not very strong in parts so I may yet be wrong.

I hope to buy this book soon and read up on the other stories and also keep an eye out for the other books, or perhaps wait for your reviews which are always spot on.

Thank you again for a great review, have a most wonderful and joyous spring.

Nyssaneala said...

Genghis Khan is a person I would like to learn more about. so this is definitely going into the TBR list (which is more like a book, with the current slow pace I am reading books!)

I love the title The Case of Exploding Mangoes...have you read that one?

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Niranjana!

What an absolute thrill to see you here! You'll have to tell me what you thought of Hanif's talk and book. I have his book sitting here on the shelf, but I won't take it down until I hear what you have to say.

To answer your question, no I haven't read anything by Kamila Shamsie although I was given "Broken Verses" as a gift. Will have to give a whirl one of these days.

Radha said...

Hi Lotus,

I had heard about the movie, but not about the book on Genghis Khan; it sounds very interesting!!

Have you seen the movie already? I've read a lot of acclaim for the movie, but have been scared that its going to have a lot of blood & gore in it (which makes movie-watching very unpleasant to me!). So if you have seen it, pls let me know...on a scale of 1 to 10, how gory is it?

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Id!

Thanks so much for letting me link to your post on Genghis Khan and yes, I do look forward to discussing Genghis with you yet again after you view the movie or the BBC documentary!

Bookfool said...

I just got a copy of The Case of the Exploding Mangoes. I'm not sure where I heard about it, but I happened across a free ARC and snatched it up.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanjay!

I am sorry it's taken me so long to get back to everyone and to you! Thank you for your very nice and informative comment. I haven't watched the Romanian abortion movie but from what I read it certainly deserved to win the Oscar.

Thank you so very much for pointing me to the article in the New Yorker, I haven't read it, but I so look forward to doing so. Man, you are so well read! I hope you will get around to reading about GK...I think it's only fair we read about the positive things he did instead of forever believing that he was nothing but a barbarian.

Funny how rain does different things to different people. I'm glad you were able to look up "Monsoon Rains" and it's Ok that you didn't enjoy it as much as I did. Why did I feel sympathy for the protagonist? I guess it's because I felt his loneliness, the bleakness of his life...the emptiness. I don't think he used sex for pleasure but for filling a void.

Wishing you the most lovely spring too and hoping you will spring more visits on me here! :)

Lotus Reads said...

@Nyssaneala ~ Always happy to have a visit from you. Sorry for the tardy response but things have been a little busy here. Yes, I think you will enjoy Weatherford's gave me a new found appreciation for Genghis Khan and the Mongols.

No, I haven't read the Mohamad Hanif book yet. Just like you said, my TBR list reads like a book's becoming quite the job to decide on which book to pick from the huge pile.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Radha!!!

I have decided on Cambodia after all...will write and give you the details!

Yes, I have seen "Mongol" and enjoyed it so much,I would like to see it again. Re. blood and gore, while there is a fair bit, it's not anything that will make you so queasy you will want to get up and leave the theatre. It's done quite tastefully and one has to accept that this is how they fought in those days. Let me just put it this way...the director hasn't overplayed the violence. I think he used it only when it was required for the authenticity of the story. You'll have to tell me what you thought after you see it.

Many thanks for the visit!

Lotus Reads said...

Good job book fool, I can't wait to read what you think of it. I have my copy here but don't know when I will get to it.

Sorry I haven't visited your blog in such a long time, I will soon! I so do appreciate the visit here tho'!

Nanditha Prabhu said...

genghis khan till now was not considered as an admirable hero....but after reading your post i am tempted to learn more abt him....thank you for this wonderful review..

Sanjay said...

Hi Lotus! Thank you for your response and not to worry that it took you a while.
I felt his loneliness, the bleakness of his life...the emptiness. I don't think he used sex for pleasure but for filling a void.

I can see your point of view too. But I think the sex was the only thing giving him pleasure in his life. And this is exactly why it was something to fill his empty life with. Not to mention the sense of desperation he had when he could not have the women. So much so that he went looking for one of them at her house with her husband present.
That is why I thought it was about pleasure the few minutes of that act was all he was living for.

I hope I don't sound confused.

Have a terrific weekend!

Anonymous said...

hey :)
its been forever since i've commented or blogged. i have so much to blog about but been lazy lately.

i can't wait to read A Case of Exploding Mangoes. He was a journalist and worked for Newsline (same mag that I work for)..we're a tad apprehensive about the book's response here because of the book's sensitive topic! but i hear its a riot !
do let me know what you think of it :)

hope you're doing well..


The Pixy Princess said...

Just saw a review for Mongol in today's Metro on the ride in to work. Nice to be able to say "I saw it first on Lotus' blog!"

Lotus Reads said...

@Nanditha ~ You're so welcome! I hate to think that anyone is "all-bad", there are redeeming features in all the villains of history I am sure, it just takes people willing to research their lives to look for those redeeming qualities. How have you been?

Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay ~ Thank you for your response buddy! You don't sound confused, don't worry! :) There are people who would use sex as a balm for loneliness, I think the protagonist of "Monsoon Rains" was one of those.

HOw have you been? So glad to see you blogging again, even if it's just teensy-weensy posts for now!

Lotus Reads said...

@Amna ~ Come here you and let me give you a BIG hug! Where have you been? I have missed you so! I just read an article on Mohamed Hanif in Tehelka. He started reading seriously only after he turned 18 and only because he was banned from the TV room of the college he went to and the library was the only other recreation room they had! He sounds like so much fun, I am sure his book will reflect his wonderful sense of humor...I cannot wait to read it either!

Please, please blog when you get time, I really want to know how life is treating you there, what you've been up to and what you've been reading.

Take care!
*Much love*

Lotus Reads said...

Hey Pixy,

Thank you! :)

How was the review? Favorable I hope.

I was reading the one in the Globe and they say the movie portrays Genghis Khan as a cross between Barack Obama and Batman...I had to smile at that! :)

Are you going to any of the Luminato events?

Id it is said...

The Mongol is playing in Manhattan NY but the tickets are all sold out so it'd be a wasted trip to the city!
I'm told we'll get to watch it shortly on the Princeton campus!

Lotus Reads said...

Hey Id!

Yes! "The Mongol" is here, finally! I can't wait to find out what you think of it. I think it's a very well done, intelligently-made movie, also, it tickles me no end that this kinder, gentler portrayal of the great Khan should have been made by a Russian director (and we all know of the relationship the Russians have with the Mongols, especially, Genghis Khan).

Do let me know what you think once you've had the chance to see it.

traveler one said...

Wow! What a blog! You read so many fabulous books and have such a talent for sharing it all with your readers! I'm originally from Toronto but now live abroad in Albania (yes Albania!) I've linked to you so that I can come back again. Cheers!

Zibilee said...

I echo the previous poster, you have an amazing blog, and I have heard of books here I would have never discovered anywhere else. Thanks for your insightful posts, and keep them coming! I am also linking to your page.

Canary said...

As always, a wonderful reckoner!

Lotus Reads said...

@Traveler One and Zibilee ~ Thank you, thank you for your kind words! It's lovely to get such wonderful feedback. Traveler, Albania must be quite an experience...I was reading about it in Tony Wheeler's "Bad Lands" the other day.

Zibilee, I'm going to visit your blog soon....I so appreciate your visit here!

Lotus Reads said...

@Canary ~ Merci, merci! :)


Hai lotus,
I loved your reviews.I would like to see the movie.As far as conquerors/invaders are concerned there is no big difference between Chengiz khan or Alexander or the post world war modern inwaders.It is not only the idea of invasion makes them all united but the methods of exterminations that make them all members of the same family...
great blog.
me have some literary experiments
when you get time do visit.

david santos said...

Happy day

Kristin Dodge said...

Wonderful recommendations... I'm looking forward to sinking my brain into them.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across your blog...I am a big fan of South Asian lit so it was quite a happy stumble. (ahh the joys of Google!).

I was psyched to see your write ups of Pakistani authors/books as I am constantly on the look out for more books from/about that part of the planet.

Happy Reading!

kamla bhatt said...

I recently watched "Mongol," the movie and came away with mixed feelings because of the way the narrative unfolded, and the way in which Genghis Khan was depicted. Perhaps I need to re-read the new literature that is out there on Genghis Khan and help me understand him better.

What I liked about the movie was how they maintained a tight focus on the storyline and resisted the urge to stray. But, on the other hand it seemed to me that this was somewhat of a sanitized version of Genghis Khan. Here was a man, who showed no anger but bore all the curve balls that were thrown his way in a stoic manner. I have my doubts if any human being can remain unscathed from such experiences, esp one who went to become a well-known figure in military history.

And here is a historical footnote from a DNA perspective: Genghis Khan's whose DNA is supposed to be present in many people around the world :-)


The Gori Wife said...

Thanks a lot! I'm always looking for good Pakistani writing!