Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Six Weird Things About Me - Meme

Yeay! I've been tagged by Bookfool. Thanks, Bookfool, this is a fun meme!

The Rules: Each player of this game starts with the “6 weird things about you”. People who get tagged need to write a blog of their own 6 weird things as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave a comment that says “you are tagged” in their comments and tell them to read your blog.

6 weird things about me:
(since this is mostly a book blog, I'm going to restrict my weirdness to books/rading material)

1.I cannot read a book that has a torn or stained cover - I just cannot do it.

2.I don't read the preface of a book until I am almost halfway through the book.

3.I generally read magazines backwards, starting with the last article first.

4.When I am about to start a new read, I take great pleasure in creating the right mood for the book. For instance, if it's a book set in Morocco, I will play Moroccan music, visit a Moroccan restaurant a couple of times, read a few Moroccan blogs, light some frankencense in the study...I love immersing myself in the culture that the book is going to take me to.

5.When onboard a train, bus or plane, I have to look at the titles of books that fellow-commuters are reading even if it means staring. I can't seem to help myself!

6. I love bookstores, but I can't spend too long in one or I get claustrophobic - guess that rules out ever working in one! ;)

I know I'm supposed to tag 6 people, but it's a busy time so I'll say, if you like this meme, consider yourself tagged!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

An Indian Christmas Card

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Everyone!
Have a wonderful,wonderful time and see you after Christmas!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Poets and Pahlevans: A Journey into the Heart of Iran

Category: Travel - Middle East; Non-Fiction
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Publisher: Knopf Canada

"Here with a little Bread beneath the Bough,

A Flask of Wine, A Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Omar Khayyam in The Rubaiyat

Blending travelogue, stories of Iranian poets and poetry, bits of Iranian history, trips to sacred mosques, zurkhanes (where wrestlers practice their art) and anecdotes about people he meets as he travels through Iran, author and former wrestler, Marcello Di Cintio attempts to find out if in Iran there is an emotional link between poetry and another central aspect of Persian culture: wrestling. As he travels through the interiors of Iran we see, through Di Cintio's eyes, an Iran of startlingly beautiful,friendly and hospitable people who contrary to what the media will tell us, love Westerners (yes, even George Bush). THis is a land where poets are revered (where else in the world is a poet's tomb a popular picnic spot?) and where everybody, rich, poor, old, young can recite poetry, even daunting epics like the Shahnomeh or "Book of Kings" which recalls a thousand years of Persian history. The Iranians are a very social people; they love to eat in groups and socialize hence Tea houses where people gather to discuss politics while smoking qalyuns (Iranian water pipes with sweet, fruit-flavored tobacco) are very popular, and yet, for all this bustling activity there is a melancholy about the place that he can't quite put his finger on.

"...Sadness was as Persian as swirling poetry and spinning pahlevans. I was back among a people who bemoaned what happened to their country, its highjacking by severe men in robes, and longed for what once was. For too many Iranians, their nation had the taste of Qalyun (water pipe) once the sweetness has charred away and all that is left is cinders."

Liz Gilbert says in her travel memoir "Eat,Pray,Love" that every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. According to her SEX was Rome's word and for the Vatican it is POWER. In New York City the word is ACHIEVE, in Stockholm it's CONFORM, in Naples it is FIGHT etc., and so, according to di Cintio, it would appear that MELANCHOLY and POETRY are synonymous with Iran.

I think it's safe to presume that the melancholy comes from being held so tight in the mullahs' grip and poetry is the antidote - only in poetry can Persians exchange kisses with their lovers in rose-scented gardens. Only in the Divan of Hafez does ruby wine flow free. So much sweetness has been lost in Iran, and it is only found in the rhymes of ancient measured lines.

So, coming back to the premise of the novel, does Di Cintio find that emotional link between poetry and wrestling?

The Iranians have a word "fotovat" which is the combination of unabashed masculinity with chivalry and kindness. Iranian wrestling champions— called pahlevans—embody this concept. Di Cintio wishes he could strive for fotovat but realizes it is not his to have, it is the birthright of the Iranian people, the inheritance of poets and pahlevans. Despite the wars, the sorrow, the revolution, the oppression, the crown and the turban the Iranian men hold within themselves a poetic civility. Noble verses are inscribed on their hearts like tattoos on muscle, and ancient verses direct them towards kindness.


Perhaps we all need more poetry in our lives.

What more can I say about this book? I can only suggest that if
you have time to sit quietly and ponder you will benefit much from this read.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

It took me a while this year, but finally, I'm in the Christmas mood and to celebrate that, here's a Christmas book my kids and I discovered last year. This is a repost from Dec 2005.

Some other Christmas book recommendations that I've seen on other blogs and which I intend buying, include:

Les' The Gift of the Magi

Booklogged's The Forgotten Carols

Jenclair's The TALL book of Christmas

Joy's The Autobiography of Santa Claus

Nessie's The Christmas Carol

Repost from Dec 2005

It's the First of December and in our house that means we get to open the first window of the chocolate advent calender! (The kids and I love the idea of having a piece of chocolate first thing in the morning)! This year, along with the advent calender, we have decided to read Jostein Gaarder's book, "The Christmas Mystery" which is the story of a boy and the mystery he encounters as he opens the windows on his magical advent calender.

This review has been taken from the South Ayrshire Library reviews:

(sorry for not being able to provide one of my own - so rushed for time)

This is a fascinating story within a story. Set in present-day Norway, this is the story of Joachim, a young boy who finds a faded, handmade Advent calendar. He begs to be allowed to take it home. The next morning, when he opens the calendar's first door, Joachim discovers not just the expected picture but also a tightly folded piece of paper, the first instalment of the fantastic tale of Elisabet who has been missing for over 50 years. Soon the girl's story is making unexpected intrusions into Joachim's own life, and he races to solve the mystery of the calendar before Christmas Eve. The book is about peace and love and tolerance and is perfect for reading aloud. Like an advent calendar there is 24 'doors' to open, you could read one a day to savour the story in the run up to Christmas. (Suitable for 9 - 12 years)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

TBR 2007 and Chunkster Challenge

Tired of those TBR piles threatening to collapse? Fed up with having your view obstructed by huge mounds of books? Miz Books has the solution. She has set up a challenge which asks the participant to read 12 books (one a month) for the year 2007. Imagine, taking 12 books off your TBR by the time 2008 rolls along. Along with the TBR 2007 challenge I will also be doing booklogged's "Classics Challenge" and bookfool's "Chunkster Challenge".

But first, come with me on a virtual journey through the TBR 2007 Challenge:

In January I plan to leave the Canadian winter behind and travel to the villages of China where I will make friends with a farmer and his family in 1. "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck. This book fits in neatly with my Classics Challenge as well.
I cannot dream of returning to Canada in the coldest month of the year so I travel from China onto Singapore (so that I can visit Bibliobibuli in Malaysia) where I intend learning about a young man's coming of age during the fall of Singapore in World War II in Vyvyane Loh's 2.
"Breaking The Tongue"

From Singapore and Malaysia I will travel to Sri Lanka, where I'll have the opportunity to meet this really sweet boy who everyone calls 3."Funny Boy", I'll tell you why after I meet him. After Sri Lanka I will have to stop in India or my mom won't forgive me.
In India I am going to encourage Australian gangster-turned-author Gregory Roberts or 4.
"Shantaram" to tell me how he happend to end up in an Indian jail and what happened to him after he was released.

Whilst in India I know I won't be able to resist visiting Kerala to see and meet a Kathakali dancer in Anita Nair's 5.

It will be sad to leave India, but I have to head back to Canada. Enroute, I know Africa will beckon so I'll stop for a while in Somalia to meet 6. "Aman:Story of a Somali Girl" who will tell me what it's like to be young woman in 20th-century Somalia.

Africa is a huge continent and I see myself wanting to visit another country before I head for Europe, so I'll probably travel for Cairo to meet three generations of an Egyptian family in Naguib Mahfouz's 7.
"Palace Walk" from the" Cairo Trilogy".

I've booked my trip on Air Iberia so my plane will stop in Spain; whilst there I might as well learn some flamenco dancing with Jason Webster in 8. "Duende; A Journey into the Heart of Flamenco".

It's impossible to be so close to France and not visit - I find the French fascinating and I'm going to learn all I can about them with the aid of Jean-Benoit Nadeau's 9.
"Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't be Wrong:Why we Love France but not the French".

Just before I leave Europe altogether I will make a quick visit to the country of my birth (UK) to meet Najwa in Leila Aboulela's 10. "Minaret" who is in exile in London due to a political coup in Sudan which forced her family to move away. I want to ask her how her life has changed, if at all.

Before I touch Canada, I'd like to make a quick trip to New York where I will meet Barak Obama and his family in 11. "Dreams From My Father". I find Barack Obama to be such a fascinating person, I can't wait to find out more about him.

I hope to be back in Canada for Christmas and I'm going to celebrate it with the doyenne of Canadian literature, Margaret Atwood and her latest novel 12."Moral Disorders"

So, there you have it, my 12 TBR reads for the TBR 2007 Challenge.

For bookfool's beautiful and flexible" Chunkster Challenge" I have picked 5 books of which I hope to read atleast 3 (please follow the link to Bookfool's blog for the guidelines)

Naghoub Mafouz's "Palace Walk" (512 pages)

Gregory David Robert's "Shantaram" (944 pages)
(recommended by Holly Dolly Books)

Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (560 pages)
(How could I resist reading about the city I grew up in?)

Zusak's "The Book Thief" (560 pages)
(Led by Les, Bookfool and Booklogged, this book has been raved about by every book blogger that has read it)

Jared Diamond's "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" (592 pages)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood

# Paperback: 162 pages

# Publisher: Penguin Books (India)

The fabulous MYTH series, which includes Margaret Atwood's "Penelopiad" , was launched last October intending to give fresh life to some of the most timeless tales ( myths and epic poems) ever told.

Twelve high profile authors were invited by
Canon Gate to revisit and re-write these epics with a contemporary pen. Along with "Penelopiad" you can expect to find "Lion's Honey" (based on the myth of Samson) by David Grossman, "Weight" (The Myth of Atlas and Heracles) by Jeanette Winterson and "Dream Angus" (the Celtic God of Dreams) by Alexander McCall Smith. There are more, but these are the books I'm most interested in.

According to Homer's "The Odyssey" When the wily Greek hero Odysseus sailed for the Trojan war (after Paris of Troy stole Helen from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta) he left behind his wife Penelope and young son. When when he returned after 20 odd years away, he immediately killed the suitors vying for his faithful wife's affections and fortunes and also hung her twelve maids.

In her introduction Atwood states that the maids' executions have never been satisfactorily explained in the Odyssey, and admits that the image of the twelve lynched girls has always haunted her, she therefore has chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the
twelve hanged Maids. The Maids form a chanting and singing Chorus (like a Greek chorus) which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: what led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? To solve the mystery she (Atwood) has drawn on material other than the Odyssey, especially for the details of Penelope's parentage, her early life and marriage, and the scandalous rumours circulating about her.

When I think of Homer's Odyssey the three characters that first spring to mind are the lovely
Helen of Troy, Paris her besotted suitor and Odysseus (ofcourse). Penelope hardly ever comes to mind, after all, who would remember a clever but rather dull person when one can have someone like Helen who is beautiful and dangerous. Also,being the paragon of virtue that Penelope was (she is supposed to have waited faithfully for Odysseus for nearly 20 years) she is a difficult role model for most women to aspire to. However, Margaret Atwood has taken her story, polished it up and guess what, I love the new Penelope!

She may be a strong woman, a clever woman and a faithful one, but through Atwood's pen you also see a vulnerable Penelope - one that couldn't trust her immediate family (her father, the King of Sparta, tried to drown her when she was a child) and one who was constantly overshadowed by her cousin Helen's beauty, but you also see a woman determined to be a faithful wife and a determined ruler and mother.

I found Atwood's retelling of the Odyssey to be highly imaginative, witty, clever, happily irreverant in parts and very colourful - she has given Penelope a voice that is both, sad and funny, but always engaging - I drank up the 160 pages in about as many minutes!

Reading this book, has made me crave for more of the books in the Myth Series, so if anyone wishes to trade some other book in the series for "The Penelopiad", please let me know! (I have Karen Armstrong's "A Short History of Myth", so I won't be needing that one)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Daaku by Ranj Dhaliwal

# Paperback: 312 pages
# Publisher: New Star Books (October 23, 2006)
# Language: English
#Genre: Fiction

"Sounds Like Canada" interviews Ranj Dhaliwal

Synopsis: A story of betrayal, cold-blooded murder and the rise and eventual fall of one gangster, "Daaku" is a bullet-riddled grand tour of Indo-Canadian gangland.

Daaku, in Punjabi, is another term for outlaw. A Daaku is a person who has no regard for life and is an outcast in society. This person believes that whatever he does is right, even though it is against all laws of his country. The Daaku can be found in every culture across the globe and has been around since the birth of mankind.

The Daaku referred to in Ranj Dhaliwal's book is Ruby Pandher, an Indo-Canadian gangster. We meet Ruby when he is 7 years old or thereabouts and realize right away that he's a trouble-maker, he loves danger and seeing how far he can go before he's caught - it started with childish pranks like stealing a dime from his teacher's desk, pasting "kick me" signs on his teacher's chair, but he soon grows bored and moves on to arson "I wasn't a pyro, but I loved the power it(fire) had over items and their demise" to stealing cars and to beating up people for just giving him "the look" . Soon he graduates to carrying guns, selling cocaine, making collections for Indo-Canadian drug dealers, organizing a jailhouse smuggling ring whilst in prison ... eventually we see him betraying his closest friends and taking out anyone he perceives as a threat - 19-year old Ruby is determined to be the fiercest gangster in Western Canada.

This is a hard book to read because of its very graphic subject matter. You hate Ruby's attitude to life, his blatant disregard for the law and for human life. You cringe at how easily he will pick a fight and beat another human being to pulp for the littlest grievances, and yet, when he talks about his "poor mom" and how he loves her daal roti (lentils and Indian bread) and how he demands that his friends and girlfriends respect her, or when he holds off having intimate relations with a girl who is coming onto him because he wants to lose his virginity with his girlfriend whom he loves, or even when he beats up a bully for calling his younger brother a "bun head" you realize that somewhere inside that hard exterior there is a heart and you want so much to believe he is more than a hardcore gangster.

THe question I kept asking myself as I read the book was 'why'? Why do kids opt to live on the edge, when they could have stability and security? Why do they knowingly hurt the people that love and care for them? In Ruby's case, a hard drinking, brutal father who ruled his home with violence and a community that appears to respect maschismo and bravado, could have contributed to making Ruby the tough guy that he was, but at some point the lure of fast money, power and the adoration of the female sex as well as the admiration and fear of his peers was mainly instrumental in keeping him in the business.

I was curious why Ranj Dhaliwal, a first-time author, would choose this subject (Indo-Canadian gang warfare) as a topic for his first novel for as far as I know topics like these tend to be very controversial. Apparently, growing up in Surrey (home to the largest population of East Indians in Vancouver) Ranj Dhaliwal was exposed to the Indo-Canadian underworld and saw many young men joining gangs and losing their lives in the process (In the past 10 years in Greater Vancouver, atleast 60 men have died in an Indo-Canadian gang war over drugs, money and women).

Despite losing so many of their young men to gang violence the Punjabi community remains tight-lipped about this ugly phenomenon because of the stigma associated with it. I think Ranj Dhaliwal aims to break the code of silence in Surrey’s Indo-Canadian community and is hoping that his novel will raise awareness of gang culture and will prompt some sort of dialogue about gang violence and the effect of it has on a community. I commend him for that and I commend New Star for publishing his book. I can't predict the effect it's going to have on other readers, but it sure opened my eyes.

Related links:For more about the roots of gang warfare in the Sikh community in BC, Canada read this piece by Renu BakshiThe Roots of Gang Warfare
I'll leave you with this very thought-provoking statement from a letter by the author on his site:

“When you open this novel you enter the daaku’s world, and
when you close it you leave it—unlike the life of a real daaku whose only exit is death.”

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Booklogged's "Winter Classics Challenge"

I cannot wait to get started on Booklogged's, from the wonderful "A Reader's Journal", Winter Classics Challenge. The rules are simple - all you need to do is to read 5 classics in the months of January and February.

In keeping with the theme (World and South-Asian Literature) of this blog, I've decided to pick 5 Classics from different parts of the World. I will also be doing Miz Books' TBR 2007 and Bookfool's "Chunkster Challenge" and as a result some of my book choices may overlap.

For now, here's my list of books for the Winter Classics Challenge:

1."The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck. 1932 Pulitzer Prize winning novel (American)
(overlaps with the TBR 2007 Jan Read)

2. "Palace Walk" by Naguib Mahfouz (1957) . Book one of "The Cairo Trilogy" . A Landmark of postcolonial Arabic literature that traces three generations of a family in 20th-century Cairo in vivid, realistic detail. At 512 pages it qualifies as a tome so this will be on my Chunkster Challenge as well.(Egypt)

3. "Kim" by Rudyard Kipling (1901). Set in India, this book is about the adventures of an Irish orphan who passes with ease as an Indian native. (Britain)

4."Some Prefer Nettles" by Junichiro Tanizaki (1928-29), exploring conflicts in everyday life between Japanese tradition and Western modernity. (Japan)

5. Umrao Jaan Ada by Mirza Hadi Ruswa(1905). An integral part of Urdu literature, Mirza Haadi Ruswa's 'Umrao Jaan Ada' is an Urdu classic not to be missed. (India)

Based on the 19th century Lucknow Nawab culture, this is the story of a courtesan who was kidnapped by the village baddie during her childhood and sold to the ladies at the kotha. The innocent Ameeran (Umrao) grows up to relish and admire the power she possesses to control men's hearts with her beautiful voice and her dances. This is the story of the loss of innocence as a child turns into a woman and then a courtesan.


"Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe (1958). A classic work of postcolonial African Literature that vivdly portrays traditional Nigerian culture and the destructiveness on that culture by colonialism. (Nigeria)

THis is my list for now - I may change titles as I go along, depending upon the availability of the books (for instance, Umrao Jaan is being ordered from India) and my mood, ofcourse!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A message

To all my blogger friends:

A big thank you to all of you who wrote in to tell me my blog wasn't loading properly. I apologize for my blog's bad behavior :) Apparently this is happening when the browser used is Internet Explorer...not sure why that is, I can only think I may have inadvertently tampered with the template causing the incompatibility. However, as far as I know, it can be viewed well with Mozilla Firefox, so while my blog is being redesigned (yes, I am hoping to have a subtle makeover!) I would request all of you to try accessing my blog through Mozilla. I so appreciate all the feedback you give me so please continue to let me know how the blog is doing!

Thanks so much (and sorry for the inconvenience)!