The Book Review Post – 6 Books You May Want to Read

Books are an escape into another reality, a chance to live and experience and enjoy what the limits of human imagination has to offer.

1. The Secret History of Vegas by Chris Abani

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this particular book by Chris Abani. I got to know about this book from James Murua’s literature blog. The book has been shortlisted and won several awards. See other glowing reviews here (The Washington Post) and here (The New York Times).

My copy of the book, The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani

My copy of the book, The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani

I read the book back in May and I am just reviewing it now, six months later. I have either become lazy or I am losing the blogging mojo or both. Anyway, this is not a conspiracy book about the current Las Vegas and its secret past; rather it is a story about twin brothers who are conjoined into adulthood. One is Fire and the other is Water. They are homeless “freaks”, Water is tall and handsome while Fire grows out from his side.. little more than a head with two arms projecting out of Water’s side. They are caught with a container of blood near Lake Mead where bodies of homeless have been dumped before. It is also a story about a certain South African called Dr. Sunil, who lives in Las Vegas and is conducting dubious experiments for the US government, reminiscent of other experiments he carried out for the apartheid government back in his home country. There are many other characters as well, such as detective Salazar. As the story unfolds, we get to see the backstory to the characters and realize just how much, in the words of the Washington Post review, “the world can be horrid on a grand scale, and we’re all at risk of being downwind of the worst that humanity has to offer.” This book will be worth your time.

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I am glad I hadn’t watched this movie because I could then realize why the book had to be made into a movie.

That is how I felt while reading the book. It was full of suspense from the beginning to the very end. There are two sides to every story has never been a truer statement.

The story starts when Amy, Nick Dune’s wife, has gone missing (she is the Gone Girl). From the journal entries from her past, she tells the story of how she and Nick met five years prior, their marriage that has been steadily disintegrating since then until she finally goes missing on their 5th anniversary. Nick starts looking for his wife and after reporting her missing to the cops and calling her parents, he quickly becomes a suspect in the case. Overwhelming evidence seems to pile up and Amy’s diary entries make us suspicious too. The question now is, is Amy still alive? Where was she? Is Nick innocent? The story has an interesting twist at the end that I don’t want to give away, but Amy could be lying in her journal, or Nick could be the one lying, or both are lying. You find out.

3. The Weight of Whispers by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Well, this isn’t exactly a novel but the award winning short story by Yvonne. You can get the pdf here. The story won the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing.

The weight of whispers by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

The weight of whispers by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

It’s a story about Rwandan genocide survivors. War robs people of their homes, their livelihoods, their security, the innocence, their status and material possessions, their lives and that of their kin, but most of all, war robs people of their DIGNITY. When you are alive and you are refugee, you lose your dignity as you try to jump over a fence other human beings erect to keep you out of “their country”, as you beg for bread and water so your children won’t starve, as you push other refugees to get into a train that’s going to destinations where no one wants to see you, where they don’t think of you as a fellow human being but as a REFUGEE.

It is in this state that a royal Rwandese family finds itself in Kenya, living in one room in Nairobi’s back streets, hoping to get out and go to Europe as some families were able to do. They must find their way out by any means necessary, sometimes ways that strip them of any little dignity left. The cost of their actions may be too high as they are about to find out. It was such a melancholic read for me. I think I shed a tear once or twice.

4. Call of the Wild by Jack London
If you have read White Fang by Jack London, then you might be familiar with his style of telling a story from a dog’s point of view.

 The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

It tells the story of a large dog stolen from his home and sold to gold prospectors in the mountains of Canada. Here, the domesticated dog’s true nature is awakened from torment by his new masters, and as soon as he is trained he is put to work hauling mail through the snow. The dog Buck, meets and makes friends with many among men and among the dogs. The ending is a little bit sad but the story is every bit involving. It’s also not as long and is perfect for a laid back indoor weekend. You could also watch the movie from which the book was adapted.

5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I read this book when I was young and when I found a free copy in my e-reader I decide it was worth re-reading it. The character is so famous there is no need to reintroduce him here. Dr. Watson, who is Sherlock Holmes’ best friend, is the narrator. There are twelve stories in the collection. One of my favorites because it was so funny was “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League”, in which there is a league recruiting men with red hair – but there is no such thing as it is merely a plot to lure a certain red-headed man from the scene of a would-be crime. “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” was also interesting in the many twists it had. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” was a little chilling, as was “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” but overall they were both entertaining reads. If you have never read Sir Arther Conan Doyle, you are doing yourself a great injustice. There is nothing as interesting as rediscovering your love for a good mystery and marveling at Sherlock’s brilliant ways of discovering the truth.

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This is another classic that I also hadn’t read previously. Here, I add that I also haven’t read Wuthering Heights by the sister, Emily Bronte. Saying it is a classic reminds me of the quip I read somewhere “a classic is a book that everyone praises but no one reads”. But pick up such a book, have a little patience and you will soon see why it is a classic.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is a little, plain but passionate girl. She is orphaned while very young and goes to live with her aunt and cousins, who make it obvious they don’t want her there and send her away to a boarding school for girls when she’s about 10. After a strict education, she stays on at the school for two more years teaching and then decides she is ready to face an adventure in the real world. She encounters friendships, love, and kinship; as well as loss. A bittersweet ending to the book is what you will find in the story of Jane Eyre, for whom I have boundless admiration. It is the book I read the most recent and it’s still fresh in my memory; so well written and the characters are so alive. When their memory is blurred by time, I am sure I shall then reread the book. Great stories are not about big, larger than life characters having an extra-ordinary adventure; great stories are about ordinary characters that we can relate to, but their story is told with such beauty and such elegance that their ordinary story becomes a fascinating adventure.

Those are the books I have read since May, including the children’s book, Matilda. I have hardly read in November but in December I must read at least one book and I am scouting my (e)library for an easy read.

Book Review: Matilda by Roald Dahl

It took a child’s book to make me laugh out loud while reading, the last book that evoked a similar response was Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. (The scene in church still makes me laugh every time I picture it!).

I never watched Matilda the movie as a child, it is just one of those things that passed me by. But it was definitely worth the wait reading this book as an adult.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda by Roald Dahl

The book is funny from the first page. It starts by describing those parents who think that their children are just geniuses and pay too much attention to them. However, Matilda’s parents do not seem to realize she exists. From a young age, she learns to take care of herself, and by age three teaches herself to read. When she finishes reading everything in the house, which is not much, she walks to the library and starts tackling the books there. Whenever her parents ever pay attention to her, it is only to unfairly scold her so she hatches her own clever plans to get back at them. Her father’s is a crooked car salesman and her mother is addicted to gambling. Her elder brother goes to school so Matilda is left alone at home on most days, until one day the parents realize she is about 6 and a half years old and should have been going to school already.

At school, the headmistress is a mean old hag but Matilda forms friendships with some of the girls in her class and finds comfort in her wonderful teacher, Miss Honey. With the cast of characters fully introduced, Roald Dahl then weaves a wonderful story of Matilda’s adventures that is full of suspense and humour. If you haven’t read it, please do yourself a favour and read it, whatever age you are. And then gift the book to the children in your life, your sons/daughters, nephews/nieces, friend’s children, grandchildren etc.. It is suitable from anyone 8-15 I guess, but anyone can read it.

I must add that the illustrations by Quentin Blake are simply wonderful, clever, just so appropriate and add to the humour and flow of the story.

I also looked up the movie and watched it, it was good, but of course the book is much better. There are just some things written in the book that could not be expressed in the movie, so you may still want to read the book even if you have watched the movie.

Book Review: Without Mercy by Lisa Jackson

Without Mercy by Lisa Jackson

Without Mercy by Lisa Jackson

I am one of those people who does whatever it takes to finish a book one has started. That is not to say I struggled with this book, I didn’t. The author clearly is a master at writing a flowing story line, even if the plot had a few gaping holes and the entire ensemble and its premise were as interesting as watching grass grow.

It starts well. Jules Farentino’s half sister, Shay, is a troubled teenager. When she commits some crime or other with her boyfriend, she ends up getting arrested and presented with the option of detention or a (correctional) boarding school that is fancy and up in the mountains. However, something is up with Blue Rock Academy and Jules has a bad feeling about it. A student disappeared and has not been found, 6 months later. So Jules applies to be a teacher in the school so she can watch out for Shay.

At the school, Jules starts to discover there is something weird going on in the school. Religious fanaticism? There is an allusion to a sex-crazed religious man prowling the campus in the shadows of the night. Could he be one of the teachers? Jules also gets surprised to meet her ex at the same school, he too is working undercover to try and find the lost girl. Jules reminds me of Sarah, a similarly lackluster main character in the book Broken by Karin Slaughter.

And then a snow storm arrives in the mountains, shutting out the school from outside communication for a while. This is when all the characters come out to play in a final showdown, with a surprising twist in the end that is as believable as the plot about religious fanatics. There are just too many things that don’t make sense, even if the book is an easy read so you end up flipping pages and can finish reading it quickly.

Only later when I finally looked up online did I find that the author has done over 50 novels, and is quite famous. How she ended up on New York’s Best Seller List is a reason you won’t find in this book. She is like Danielle Steele writing one of the weaker plotted novels but tries to squeeze every ounce of emotion out of each scene in the character’s lives (crying because the toast did or didn’t burn, for example) in order to fill the pages, send it to the publishers and it will sell anyway because of the name. Stephen King could publish his groceries list and it would still sell, but I like Stephen King because he puts effort into all his books, none has been a disappointment so far.

If you want to kill yourself with boredom, go for this book. Yawn. It was my companion during my local train ride that has me staring at rice fields and small town houses. This is when I wasn’t keeping my face down trying not to catch the gaze of the old Japanese people stealing glances at the strange black girl with purple hair wondering what I was doing in their sleepy little corner of Japan. The train ride is only 30 minutes long but it makes 15 stops. It feels like you’ve been riding it for 12 hours when you finally get out.

But not to worry guys, the next two books I am going to review will show once again that reading is an immensely enjoyable hobby. They are Matilda by Roald Dahl and The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

We have all asked ourselves the question of where the universe came from, and sometimes we also ask where it will end up. Then we decide to focus on just “ordinary” life on earth, forgetting that this very earth is spinning. It spins (rotates) at a speed of about 1,000 miles (1600 kilometers) per hour and orbits around the Sun at a speed of about 67,000 miles (107,000 kilometers) per hour. But we don’t feel it because the earth rotates and revolves  at a constant speed. We only feel motion when there is a change in speed.

Our Solar System

Our Solar System

Gravity

If we are a giant ball spinning so fast around in space, what is keeping us there? Why aren’t we drifting away from the sun, crashing into other planets etc? We can all thank the law of gravity for that. Although it is a “weak force”, it exerts itself across long distances and it is always attractive, that is objects with mass will always attract one another with the force of gravity. The planets in our solar system are all caught up in the sun’s gravity so they all orbit it. But they orbit it at such a speed as to balance the force of gravity that would otherwise cause them crash into the sun. If  the speed were any faster too, the planets would overcome the force of gravity and drift further away.

If we zoom out of our solar system, the milky way and other galaxies around us are also observed to be constantly moving, at this critical speed that balances gravity. But is the observable universe  drifting farther apart? So it seems. If the universe is drifting apart, could this imply that at some time in the past it was all “together” at a singularity, at the point of the big bang. What is a singularity, exactly? Well, Stephen Hawking tries to explain in his book. Can gravity be so strong that it attracts the matter in a body and condenses into such high density that nothing can escape from it?

A black hole in space

A black hole in space

 

This leads to the subject of black holes. There is matter out there in the universe that we cannot see, but we can see its effects because observable matter revolves around it. For example, if we see a star seemingly orbiting empty space, this “empty space” implies there is matter there but we cannot see it because gravity  is so strong nothing can escape from it, not even light. What is at the center of a black hole, if for example you fell into one? At the center of a black is a singularity, a point in which all the laws of physics break down and thus there is no telling what happens then.

The Strong Forces 

Over time, scientists have discovered the other forces in the universe. Physics was on “two levels”, the macro level observing the universe out there, and the micro level examining subatomic particles. In high school physics, we were taught that the smallest particles are electrons, protons and neutrons (these 3 make up an atom, which in turn make up a molecule). However, protons and neutrons are made up of even smaller particles called quarks! Are there even smaller particles than that? It does not seem so. But are there undiscovered subatomic particles? It seems so!

Higgs Boson, the origin of Universe Mass

The Higg’s Boson, the origin of the World’s Mass. Image from http://4.bp.blogspot.com/

Recently in the news, there was the news of the particle accelerator (the machine they use to break up protons into even smaller particles) in Switzerland receiving an upgrade so that the super smart scientists can observe a particle known as the Higg’s Boson. We were taught in school that protons and neutrons contain mass and so are much heavier than electrons, but it turns out that protons and neutrons too, don’t have any mass! They pick up the mass property when they interact with the Higg’s field. The particles that make up the Higg’s field are called the Higg’s Boson. (This part about Higg’s Boson is not in this book actually, because it was published in 1988 – the year I was born. Stephen Hawking also wrote The Grand Design in 2010, which is definitely more updated and which I hope to read next).

(I hope there is someone still reading this!)

Okay, there is the force that keeps protons and neutrons together in the nucleus of an atom. This is called the strong nuclear force and that is why we need a lot of energy, achievable via the particle accelerator (the size of the largest one is 175Km in circumfrence lying 175 meters below the ground) to break apart protons and neutrons.  There is the weak nuclear force that keeps the quarks stable (don’t ask me to elaborate!).

There is the electromagnetic force that is observable all around us. At first it was thought that electricity and magnetism were two different forces until an English Scientist known as John Maxwell showed that they are like two different forms of the same force. Light is an electromagnetic wave, for example.

Stephen Hawking explains these forces more in his book, but fear not, there is no single equation except  E=mc2  pioneered by Einstein, he who came up with the theory of relativity. I kind of wish the equations were there (I am not sure I will understand them!) but actually equations are just symbols to explain “complex” thought. Imagine saying “eight times five is equal to forty” instead of” 8 X 5 = 40. ” He has to explain the equations in simple words for us to understand the complex physics theories!

The Unification of the Forces

So at the current energies of the universe, we have all these sub-atomic particles, and all these forces (that are carried by subatomic, force-carrying particles). However, at some critical energy, all these particles will lose their uniqueness and act as the same particle, the same force. This is called the grand unified theory which occurs at this high energy which unifies the three forces: weak and strong nuclear forces, and the electromagnetic force.

But this leaves out gravity.

Unification of physics

Unification of physics

To incorporate gravity, the equations get extremely complex. The string theory is one of those theories trying to unify the 3 forces with gravity. Hence the “macro”  and “micro” physicists are now working together, it is the unification of physics. For the string theory to work however, it would mean that the universe is composed of up to 26 dimensions! We can barely process 3 let alone 4 or more dimensions!

There is so much more fascinating stuff in the book, such as warm holes, singularities, quantum mechanics, black holes, dark matter (and dark energy?), does God have any role at all in the creation of the universe (maybe he made the laws that govern the universe but so far he has had little interference since then), what role did Galileo Galilei, Aristotle, Sir Iscaac Newton, Einstein and many more others play in the development of physics up to the modern age?

The problem with science (and knowledge) today is that it has got so complex that to understand it, you have to dedicate your entire life to just one small part of it. But this book opens up the world of physics in a new and exciting way, makes me feel like computer science is boring in comparison! The book is “simplified” and quite exciting to read, just read through the parts you don’t understand and marvel at the ones you do!

As you will see, this book is not against God as the creator; on the contrary Stephen Hawking realizes that scientists are just answering the “what” questions. What makes the earth revolve around the sun? It does not answer “why”, why should the forces of gravity even exist in the first place? Why should a universe exist in the first place such that the laws that govern it then exist? However, that God created man literally? You may have to rethink that, given the overwhelming evolution theory and scientific facts. It is my belief that the Bible should be revised to reflect the new knowledge we have uncovered in recent times. After all, we do revise our textbooks whenever we discover something new!

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Anyway, this book is a recommended reading for all who can read!

Four Women, Four Books: The Book Review Post

It has been four books since I wrote the last book review on this blog. Coincidentally the four books I read were all by women: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Jazz by Toni Morrison, An Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid and The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa. By combining all four reviews into one, I am admitting my laziness; but by writing the reviews at all I hope I am doing justice to fellow book readers searching for their next read. It is quite random how I pick what I read, why do you read the books you do?

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

When Maya Angelou died, everyone was re-posting her famous quotes on every social network site you have ever heard of, yet if you had asked anyone to name any one of her books you would have been met with a blank stare or a blinking cursor on a pure white background, as it were. I quickly added “read Maya Angelou” to my hastily put together 30 Things to do Before 30 List. In December last year, I was in Tokyo at a bookshop in near Shinjuku Station that probably has the largest collection of English books in Japan. I browsed through many titles in many genres before I found Maya Angelou’s books and picked up this particular one because another friend was also reading it at the same time and I couldn’t borrow his book then.

Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The book is Maya’s childhood biography, I have since learned that she has 6 other biographies! She was brought up by her deeply religious grandmother in the South, and through it you get a glimpse of what life was for many black people in America then. Circumstances radically change in her lifetime duration; consider for instance her reading a poem on the inauguration of the first ever black American president. There is not much I can tell you about her life that you don’t already know; the suffering, the overcoming, her writing and activism career. But to read her story in her own words is to be offered a glimpse into her mind, to be let into her heart. I love it when famous people are also writers and therefore write their own stories in their own words and style. Her storytelling is captivating, her imagery brilliantly clear. She may be more famous for her poetry, but her writing is worth searching for the remaining 6 biographies to add some volumes to my fairly empty bookshelf. This book covers the ages of 3 to 16, when she becomes a teenage mother. What happens after that? I want to know too. But if you ask my why the caged bird sings, I have to reread this book again.

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Jazz is a portrait of New York in 1926. Jazz is the story of one woman who falls through the cracks of time and space, stubborn, determined Violet. Her husband Joe Trace had an affair with a young woman; Joe later kills her because he is jealous  and at her funeral Violet tries to disfigure the corpse’s face. But the story is so much more than the small but significant funeral incident, the background story of all the characters is provided to show how they eventually all end up in New York. The music to their story is naturally, jazz. Harlem in 1926 embodied freedom for workers coming from the South. The book is not an easy read, I must warn you but it is worth it. Long after I finished reading this book, I still remember Violet and Joe Trace, Dorcas who stood with toes pointed inwards and a not-so-smooth face, Golden Gray a boy with golden curls who believed he was white but grows up to the realization of his black father. It is a book about race, history, life in Harlem in the 1920s, and the undertones of jazz, which I get sometimes.

Toni Morrison's Jazz

Toni Morrison’s Jazz

I got this book from a classmate in my former Japanese class; she said it is her favorite Toni Morrison book. I exchanged with her the Maya Angelou Book for this one and it was a worthy read, thank you Chrissi!

An Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid

This book is also borrowed from a friend! My bookshelf now has about 5 novels, 3 of which are borrowed! I seem to have read Jamaica Kincaid before, but I can’t remember if I read a short story or a novel (whose title I cannot recall).

An autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid

An autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid

There is a melancholic tone underlying this book, a longing for a mother who died on the day the author of the book was born. Xuela is a deeply troubled young woman, and as one of the reviewers on google books said, “this book is emotionally exhausting”. I don’t think she ever experiences any happiness in her entire book, but it offers a rich insight into life in the Dominican Island. Kincaid has a beautiful style of writing, it is poetry weaved into prose and yet simple and flowing. You can easily read the book in a day or two. Xuela spends her life self-sabotaging potential happy moments, her life is high sensual and she emerges herself in it, she feels little but she hurts deeply, she is a solitary character who never lets anyone know what she is thinking. Her character is haunting.

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

What can I say about this book? I got it from a local bookshop and Yoko is the first Japanese author I am reading. At first I thought it was a novel with the three stories introduced on the back cover (The Diving Pool, Pregnancy Diary and The Dormitory) intersecting at some point, but it turned out to be 3 short stories sold together as one book.

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

In the Diving Pool, a lonely teenager is secretly in love with her adopted brother, who is a diver. She is growing up in an orphanage that her parents run, but she feels ignored by her parents because she is treated just like the rest of the kids. In the Pregnancy Diary, a young woman living with her sister keeps a diary of her sister’s pregnancy. She may appear loving on the outside but her true nature is revealed in her diary, just like the underlying cruel streak of the teenager in the first story is revealed in her interactions with the younger orphans. In the Dormitory story, a woman helps her younger cousin settle into her former dormitory, but the place is haunted by a disappearance of a student who lived there, a crippled caretaker and an unexplained decay.

The stories don’t dwell in the “normal” world, they push at the boundary of realism and yet they are not unbelievable. My favorite was The Dormitory, it is beautifully written (or should I say beautifully translated), the story never quite ends but just like in real life there are many unsolved mysteries. The Pregnancy Diary is also a good read, but the Diving Pool is downright weird, perhaps it is a better read in the original language. I hope I can master enough Japanese to read the book in the next 3 years.

Well, there you have it. Four diverse reads from four different women.

Book Review: Broken by Karin Slaughter

Sitting at the table in my room and eating fairly tasteless food I made, I have come to the realization that I cannot cook. Sure, I can put ingredients in a pot and stir them over a fire, but 90% of the time they come out tasting like what I am eating now, and I don’t like it. I don’t know where the magic went after I cooked my first meal in Japan.  Even Googling recipes and improvising didn’t work, I think cooking requires a level of patience that I am not capable of. Therefore I am now adding ‘good cook’ to the rather short list of qualities I am looking for in the future Mr. Savvy (it is not an actual list but if you must know it includes things such as kind, smart, financially stable – I know it is 2015 and I can make money for our family but er… – taller than me (I am only 5ft1inch), slim to average build, reads even if only sometimes, and a good cook.)

Broken by Karin Slaughter

Broken by Karin Slaughter

The above is not entirely related to the book I am about to review, but I borrowed this book from someone who is also a good cook (I have already said too much *cough *cough). Anyway I generally like to read books with haunting characters, books that leave the characters’ impression on your mind for days, even months after reading it. Books that let you reminisce about the characters, evoking nostalgia as if you were a part of the story. This is the reason why I mostly read fiction, and when I am not reading fiction I can only push myself as far as biographies (watch out for Maya Angelou’s book review soon). Although Broken isn’t one of these books, I enjoyed reading it very much.

Broken is about crime, and solving it. A young college girl of 21, Allison Spooner, is murdered, but who is the killer? The police swoop in and arrest a prime suspect, an almost retarded kid who later commits suicide in the cells. The detective in this case is Lena Adams, who is working with Frank Wallace the Chief of Police in the county, and they are in a hurry to close the case. However when Tommy the chief suspect commits suicide in police custody, the former coroner Dr. Sarah Linton is called in for the autopsy and gets involved in the case. She does not trust the police and calls the Georgia State Bureau of Investigation for reinforcement; she needs someone she can trust to work on the case. Enter Agent Will Trent, who then begins working with Sarah to unravel the case. Agent Will Trent is the typical smart, dark, handsome etc.. agent.

Sarah was a bit too weepy for my like, I didn’t like her character very much; Lena Adams was not quite defined, you like her one moment you hate her the next… I feel like the characters were not fully developed but while Googling the image used above I came across a review that stated this is the 7th book in a series of crime books. This explains it, the characters have been developed in earlier books. Nevertheless, there was the question of the two dead characters, what is the connection between them? Who killed them and why.. there is a third character who winds up dead, there is betrayal, there is even a hint of romance, a hint of mystery (there is so much we don’t know about Lena) and there is the story of how Sarah’s husband died, which we never quite learn in the book.

It was a good book to read in between tackling Kusadikika and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

P.S. Reading is not as important cooking in the case of Mr. Savvy 😉

Kusadikika by Shaaban Robert: Book Review

I am about to pull a first on this blog: Swahili. It will be weird to review a Swahili book in English. This will not be easy so I must first gather my wits, turn back my mind to some 10 years before when I last studied Swahili, open a Google translate tab, and take a sip of wine. Right, then, let’s start. Do not despair if you can’t read Swahili, I will do an English translation below the Swahili one, so you can skip to there.

My copy of Shaaban Robert's Kusadikika that I got from Amazon.

My copy of Shaaban Robert’s Kusadikika that I got from Amazon.

Kusadikika: Kimeandikwa na Shaaban Robert

Mwanzo kitabu hiki kukisoma ilikuwa darasa la sita au la saba. Nilikipata nyumbani, labda kulikwa na mwanafunzi wa shule ya upili aliyekisoma na akakiwacha kwetu. Nakumbuka kilikuwa kizuri mno mpaka hata sijawahi kukisahau muda huu wote. Kuna vitabu vitatu vya Kiswahili ambavyo nimevipenda mno: cha kwanza ni kiki hiki Kusadikika, cha pili ni riwaya ya Siku Njema (Ken Walibora) na cha tatu ni Kisima cha Giningi (je, wakumbuka Inspekta Musa?) ambacho kimeandikwa na Muhammed Said Abdulla. Kati ya vitabu hivi vitatu, ni Kisima cha Giningi tu kilichotafsiriwa kwenye Kiingereza. Ila, vitabu hivi ni nadra sana kuvipata kwenye internet, ni kusadikika tu ndicho nilipata na nikakinunua papo hapo kutoka Amazon, kikaletwa huku kwangu Japan kwa siku nne ama tano.

Kusadikika ni nchi ambayo inapatikana hewani. Katika nchi hii, wananchi wanadhulumiwa na viongozi wao, wanyonge hawana haki na mawazo ya maendeleo yametupiliwa mbali kwa mila na desturi zisizo na manufaa. Nchi hii ya Kusadikika, kwa vile iku juu hewani, imepakana chini na Ardhi; juu yake ni Mbingu, and kando yake kuna pepo za Kaskazini, Mashariki, Kusini na Magharibi. Basi kukaja kutokea katika nchi hii mtu mmoja aliyeitwa Karama, akataka kuanzisha Uanasheria katika nchi hiyo ambayo mahakama zake hazikuwa na haki. Lakini waziri wa nchi hii, aliyekuwa mwenya haiba (charm) kubwa na uhodari mwingi hadi akaitwa Majivuno, hakufurahishwa kamwe na jambo hili. Akaamua kumfungulia mashtaka mahakamani kwani alitaka mambo yaendelea kama yalivyokuwa kwa maana yaliwafaidi sana watawala na matajiri.

Yaliyofuata yanasimuliwa kwenye riwaya hii hivi: kwa mara ya kwanza kwenye nchi hiyo, mfungwa alipatiwa nafasi ya kujitetea, awalaeze wananchi na watawala vile vile maana ya uanasheria. Alichukua siku sita ili kueleza lengo lake, na kila baada ya siku, umati uliomsikiliza ulizidi kuimarika hadi ukajaa kortini. Aliwakumbusha visa vya wajumbe waliotumwa Mbinguni, Ardhini, Kaskazini, Mashariki, Kusini na Magharibi. Wajumbe hawa walileta habari mbali mbali kutoka maeneo hayo, lakini habari walizozileta  zilikuwa za kustaajabisha sana kuhusu nchi hizi zingine. Habari hizi zilieleza vile nchi hizo zilivyoendeleza maisha ya watu wake, yakazidi kunawiri ilhali maisha ya Kusadikika bado yaligadhabisha.

Baada ya kusimulia hadithi hizi za Wajumbe wale, Karama alingoja hukumu yake. Je, hadithi hizi zilihusu nini haswa? Na Karama alifungwa au aliachiliwa? Ukitaka kujua haya yote, basi kisome kitabu hiki. Link ya Amazon ndiyo hii hapa 🙂, ama kitafute kwenye duka la vitabu lililo karibu nawe.

Kitabu hiki kiliandikwa na Shaaban Robert katika enzi za Ukoloni; na kinaeleza nchi za Afrika zilivyokuwa hazina haki, sheria au hata utu. Shaaban Robert kwa ubunifu wake wa riwaya na mashairi ya Kiswahili analinganishwa na William Shakespeare. Sijapata kuyasoma maandishi yake mengine ila kitabu hiki, kwa hivyo enyi mnaosoma hii blog mnaweza kunipa kama zawadi siku ya kuzaliwa ikiwadia 🙂 . Anwani yangu nitawapa, na siku yenyewe ni Aprili 23. Au hata siku yoyote tu, zawadi nitaipokea.

English Review

The first time I read this book, I was in class six or seven. I think someone who was using it as a setbook in secondary school leftit behind. I have never forgotten it since; such was the impact. There are 3 Swahili books that I can call my favorite: this one, Siku Njema by Ken Walibora and Kisima Cha Giningi by Muhammed Said Abdulla (remember Inspector Musa?). These books are hard to find on the internet, but I was able to find Kusadikika and ordered it from Amazon. It arrived in 3-4 days. Of these three, only Kisima cha Giningi has been translated into English (at least as far as I know)

Kusadikika is a fictitious country that exists somewhere in the sky. In this country, injustices are perpetrated against all notions of justice, law and humanity. This country is bordered below by Earth, above by Heaven, and around it are countries of the North, East, South and West. One man wants to bring justice into this country by introducing law studies, his name is Karama. Of course, the leaders who benefit most from this status quo are not happy about this, and the (prime) minister of the country, a charming and competent man called Majivuno, brings charges of treason against Karama in the very same unjust courts.

What happens next is what is explained in the following pages: for the first time in the history of Kusadikika, the accused is given a chance to defend himself.It took him about six days to do so, and each new day the crowd that listened to him grew bigger and bigger, filling the courtyard. He began his tale by telling them about some 6 messengers who had been sent ages before by Kusadikika to Earth, Heaven, North, East, South and West. These messengers had gone and come back with unbelievable tales of how other countries were learning from their mistakes and starting on the path of development, improving the lives of their citizens. However, the leaders didn’t like what they heard and life in Kusadikika continued in the same vein.

After the 6 days of defense, Karama awaits judgement. Will he be convicted or acquitted? And what exactly was going on in the other countries? To find out, get a copy of this book from Amazon or your nearest bookshop 😉

This book was written during the colonial period and it allegorizes the injustice against the law and humanity that the countries suffered under colonial rule. It is claimed that Shaaban Robert is to the Swahili language what Shakespeare was to English. I have however, not read any other book of his apart from this one. Presents are highly welcome, I will share my address. My birthday is coming up in April 🙂

P.S. Typos are highly regretted, it is almost 2 am and I just did 3 blogposts tonight!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The movie adapted from the book was released in November of 2013. I am glad to say I haven’t watched the movie, but it is finally in my laptop and I plan to watch it soon. I am sure I will not enjoy it as much as the book, same as The Fault in Our Stars book/movie. The girl did an awesome job, the boy in the movie, Augustus, didn’t quite live up to the boy in the book. Just my opinion!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Anyway, The Book Thief is set in Germany during the second world war. It is narrated by death. Death has its way around words, I can tell you that. The words are beautifully woven to create scenes and images that stick around long after the book is finished, like warmth in a hearth long after the cooking is finished. The story’s timeliness might be confusing, as it goes back and forth from present to future, to past and back to present again. The chapters can also be brief and at the beginning of the chapter, there is a little introduction and for the obsessive like me, you will spend quite some time trying to decipher what is ahead.

For all that, it was a well written book about a girl called Liesel. She loves reading, even if at first she is not quite good at it. War being the terrible time that it is, and she being a poor girl living in foster care, books are a precious commodity. She didn’t so much steal her first book as she neglected to give it back to the owner who had dropped it. The story starts with her being in a carriage headed to Munich, with her brother and her mother. Her brother never makes it, and she never sees her mother again (at least not in the scope of the book). That is shortly before the war breaks out.

We get to watch the war unfold and its effects on ordinary Germans, including Liesel who is at the center of this story. I don’t want to give away too much, but I would re-read this book in perhaps another year. And as I said before, if I can re-read a book, then that’s my definition of a good book.

Book Reviews: Hong Kong, The Devil and Miss Pryn, & The Man Who Would Be King

Hong Kong by Stephen Coonts

It has been a long time since I read an action novel. I think it was before Jack Bauer in 24, and the last action novel I read was Robert Ludlum. I read the Bourne books one after another and after that, Sidney Sheldons seemed like child’s play. The complexity of the plots couldn’t match up and I got lost in the plots from time to time, to be honest. When I picked up Hong Kong, I had no expectations so the book didn’t disappoint so much.

Hong Kong by Stephen Koonts

Hong Kong by Stephen Koonts

There is a crisis in Hong Kong in the book, just like it is happening right now in Hong Kong. Protesters swarm into the central business district on the island, after the bank collapses. They want better leadership, they want democracy. And they will take it by force.

In all this one man, Jake Grafton, travels to Hong Kong to investigate the US Ambassador’s involvement in the rebel movement. He goes there with his wife, who is kidnapped by some bad guys. Working with CIA bad boy Tommy Carmellini, Jake Grafton is our Jack Bauer. He blows up bad guys left, right and center, and rescues his wife. The US Government is covertly involved in the rebels’ mission, supplying them with money, weapons and would you guess it, intelligent robots that learn from the environment and kill only the bad, aggressive guys. However, there is a traitor in the rebel movement, but who is it? The traitor reprograms one of the York robot soldiers, which then runs after Jake Grafton in the dying pages of the book, determined to exterminate him. Jack must use brains, brawn and macho bad assery to save himself and set everything alright.

Do the rebels take over Hong Kong? And even if they do, there is still a huge China with resources in terms of a huge military and weapons. What then? Read and find out.

It started out slow but I really enjoyed it towards the end. Wouldn’t mind a part two for those long train journeys, flights or boring Sunday afternoons.

The Devil and Miss Pryn by Paulo Coelho

This is the second book by Paulo Coelho that I am reading, after the Alchemist which I read back in high school. As I am now in my mid-twenties, that was 10 years ago! Coelho has an entire movement behind him now, including one of my best friends, Beautiful Rumi. (She is also into Rumi FYI, just Google, the search for spirituality should not end with Jesus Christ.)

The Devil and Miss Pryn

The Devil and Miss Pryn

Miss Pryn lives in a quiet village town and one day, the Devil arrives in the form of a lonely , middle aged male stranger. He has come to find answers about suffering, answers he will find by performing an experiment on the villagers themselves. He sets the experiment up, and only Miss Pryn knows what it’s all about. It’s a novel about discovering the true nature about ourselves, we are all cowards. We want change, but we are too afraid to get it. We are stuck in inertia etc etc.. you know there is an ambiguous lesson that every Coelho book tries to teach, and for everyone, it will be different. I could totally relate to the cowardice of leaving, I read this book in my last week in Kenya, when I thought that maybe I should never leave. But I had already handed in my resignation, and being jobless in Nairobi is not attractive. For every single day I live here though, I miss my son. Next year, he comes to join me here and maybe then life will be perfect? How do other mothers do this?

This book is a short read and worth the few hours you will spend on it. You might find yourself adding it to your library for future reference, even when you don’t agree with everything the author says. He’s not a god people. Or he is?

The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling

It is a free e-book that comes with the Moon+ Reader app. It is available on desktop/Android, I don’t know about the Apple Store. #teamAndroidForLife

The Man Who Would Be King Movie adapted from the book

The Man Who Would Be King Movie adapted from the book

I read this short story really, a while ago and realized I forgot to write a review. It is a book about two men who left India on an adventure journey to become Kings. You come to understand why Rudyard Kipling is famous for his storytelling ability, for it is not only about the story itself but also how the story is told. If you ever watched Mowgli, the boy in the Jungle, he wrote the book. He was an Englishman born in India and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

Two men who are friends decide to leave India to become kings in distant lands, which at first seem like fabled lands. However, after many dangerous travels, they come to the lands they first dreamed about and conquer, and become kings (sorry to give away the plot!). But first, how did they manage to make the dangerous journey? Their story is nothing short of amazing.. they were the men who would be kings alright. But like any top position, getting there might be hard but manageable, remaining there is near impossible. Things start going downhill sooner than later.

Highly recommended.

P.S.

I read both ebooks and hard copies. I seem to have discovered a middle ground where my love for printed books is balanced by my love for technology.

 

Book Review: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I got this book from BooksFirst at Nakumatt, for about 400 Kshs. I had finished reading another Wilkie Collins classic, The Woman in White (read the review here) and I waited for a while for the characters and the essence of the book to leave my mind so I don’t get prejudiced when reading the Moonstone.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone is a large, yellow diamond originally stolen in India and now in England. On the 21st birthday of Miss (Rachel) Verrinder, she is gifted the diamond. When the house wakes up on the following day, the diamond is missing.

There, the story starts to unravel the mystery of whoever took the diamond. The story is told through character narration and letters, as well as entry journals, told by the characters who were central to the story at the time. The writing style is similar to The Woman in White (WIW) one, but the characters are very different. This book is also funnier and I actually liked it better than WIW. If had to choose a book to re-read, it would be this one.

This book is hailed as the birth of the detective story, because a detective is hired (Sergent Cuff) to help trace the diamond. You are kept guessing the motives of the diamond thief because everyone who was in the house has a solid alibi on the night the diamond was stolen. Rachel knows something about the diamond, but she won’t tell. The person you suspect most, and who seems to suffer the most anguish, isn’t really the thief. At some point, suspense can be so drawn out that you lose your readers, but Wilkie Collins doesn’ do that. There is just enough suspense while shedding more light on the mystery, until the story comes together beautifully in the end.

The characters who tell the story (Franklin Blake ,  Gabriel Betteredge , Miss Drusilla)  are vain, self-important and offer various perspectives on the circumstances. “An influence of character on circumstance” as Wilkie Collins would say. In WIW, what’s at play is “an influence of circumstance on character”. You will mostly have an emotional connection and remember WIW characters fondly while in The Moonstone, you will remember the adventures (story) more than the emotional character connection. Hope I have not confused anyone.

Let me know if you enjoyed reading it!