Saturday, July 30, 2011
Blog: Hallucinations of a Kitten
Fawad, an 11 year old Afghan boy who goes through a lot of life-changing situations from his early years. The Taliban break in his house, taking away his elder sister Mina and killing Bilal, his older brother who was the man of the house after the death of his Dad. His mother survived the beating and came crawling out of the wreckage.
Fawad & mother Mariya live in the house of the aunt who hates them with a passion, that one day, she tries to kill her and when the suffering becomes unbearable they find another place to live in. Mariya is invited to stay and work at a forigner's house along with her son and both of them pack and go to their new home.
There, Fawad's learns English and practices it with Georgie, May and James who instantly become best friends. The story tells us more of the hard life the Afghans have, through the eyes of this little kid Fawad and his journey towards knowing the facts about his country.
Personal opinion: This is a very light read, the writer's style is so simple yet detailed but you could finish this book in a few hours if you assed the time for it.
Rating: 6.5/10 and even though it might sound like Hosseini's The Kite Runner, it's not. One way to find out is to read it.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Blog: Spreading My Wings
Kafka on the Shore deals with a lot of issues, and the one issue that really struck a cord with me is emptiness. How your soul can be empty, why and how far will you go to fill that emptiness. One character said he had only half of a shadow. Being empty inside. How many of us felt this way at one time or another? Some of us have lived for a long time now feeling empty inside. What is it that makes us feel whole? Is it what we go through in life, if it is then it's no fault of yours that you feel empty. Life and time are the only things that control this feeling. You do what you can, but at the end you're not the one who decides what things you go through and feel.
It's about a 15 year old boy, who gives himself the name Kafka. He travels, meets new people and sees the world for the first time. Strange things happen. Strange is a understatement. We follow his self-discovery journey as well as the journey of Nakata, who's not very bright, but can talk to cats. He undergoes a journey as well.
Personal opinion: Murakami's love of music can be felt throughout this novel, I'm clueless when it comes to classical music but I enjoyed reading about it. I also love that he mentions books and reading a lot. His style of writing makes you keep you reading. He has a very unique way of describing things. Take the following couple of quotes as an example:
"Her smile steps offstage for a moment, then does an encore, and all the while I'm dealing with my blushing face."
"Her tone of voice is rough and unyielding, like a loaf of bread someone forgot on the back of a shelf."
Those take you off your guard, and you start wondering how does he come up with such phrases? That's one of the reasons I enjoyed reading Kafka. There was a lot that the book was trying to say. Sometimes it got too much, Murakami is impatient sometimes to get his point across and you're trying to catch up with him. The story itself feels like a full circle somehow. Every single thing leads to another, until you understand the whole picture. I took a break from Kafka, because it became too intense for me. How much could I accept and how much should I reject? That was something that I thought a lot about. The book needs a lot of imagination, and I have that. It's just that he goes far and beyond anything else, and that is a bit unnerving. You can relate to some of the characters, while what some go through is just something weird and new. That's exciting though sometimes. I think that's why I rated it 3/5. On the whole, I enjoyed it a lot but The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is better for me.
Some beautiful quotes:
I'm the lonely voyager standing on the deck, and she's the sea. The sky is a blanket of grey, merging with the grey sea on the horizon. It's hard to tell the difference between sea and sky. Between voyager and sea. Between reality and the workings of the heart.
I go back to the reading room, where I sink down in the sofa and into the world of The Arabian Nights. Slowly, like a film fade-out, the real world evaporates. I'm alone, inside the world of the story. My favourite feeling in the world.
A dense artistic imperfection stimulates your consciousness, keeps you alert. If I listen to some utterly perfect performance of an utterly perfect piece while I'm driving, I might want to close my eyes and die right then and there. But listening to the D major, I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of - that certain type of perfection can only be realised through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect. And personally, I find that encouraging.
After cooking and eating a simple meal I go out on the porch and gaze up at stars. Even in a planetarium you wouldn't find this many. Some of them look really big and distinct, almost as if you could reach out and touch them. The whole thing is breathtaking.
Not just beautiful, though - the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they're watching me. What I've done up till now, what I'm going to do - they know it all. Nothing gets past their watchful eyes. As I sit there under the shining night sky, again a violent fear takes hold of me. My heart's pounding a mile a minute, and I can barely breathe. All these millions of stars looking down on me, and I've never given them more than a passing thought before. Not only the stars - how many other things haven't I noticed in the world, things I know nothing about? I suddenly feel helpless, completely powerless, and I know I'll never outrun that awful feeling.
Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear.
Things change everyday, Mr. Nakata. With each new dawn it's not the same world as the day before. And you're not the same person you were, either.
Time expands, then contracts, all in tune with the stirrings of the heart.
Love can rebuild the world, they say, so everything's possible when it comes to love.
"We're all dreaming, aren't we?" She says. All of us are dreaming.
You know you should say something, but don't have any idea what. Words have all died in the hollow of time, piling soundlessly at the dark bottom of a volcanic lake.
Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.
I recommend it to anyone who's never read anything by Murakami, and wants to read something that stimulates him, and to enjoy a book that is written with passion.
My Rating: 7/10
Monday, July 25, 2011
Our team and with the help of the US embassy have chosen To Kill a Mockingbird out of a list but we'd like to hear your thoughts, would you like to read the chosen book with us or do you have other suggestions in mind? Leave at least 2 titles and those mentioned most frequently shall make it to the voting poll. By Wednesday, we'd announce which book and we'd immediately start reading on Thursday, making Saturday our first live discussion of our second book club read.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
"Traditional Omani Musical Instruments", published by the Omani Centre for Traditional Music in 2004, is an illustrated elaboration of a survey carried out by the Ministry of Information to document the Sultanate's musical heritage in 1983/198.
Drawn by the beautiful coloured illustrations of Omani men and women in traditional dress and their instruments at various cultural functions across the different regions of the country, I picked the book up, choosing its English translation (also available in Arabic) from the Ministry of Information.
As a reference work, the guide summarizes different types of instruments by their structure, how they are played, and the material and methods of their design and construction. It also gives information as to their origin, evolution, what occasions and types of music they are favoured for, and what regions of the Sultanate they are commonly found in.
Myself, virtually being a musical-ignorant, I found that while this is not a heavily detailed account of individual instruments, the book is a great introduction to them, and the pictures generally communicate anything that the compilers of the endeavour neglected.
For more information about how to attain the book visit http://www.octm-folk.gov.om/ or visit the Ministry of Information's "Oman Centre for Traditional Music".
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Eddie is a maintenance guy at Ruby Pier, an amusement park he'd visited every weekend as a child, and worked in almost all his adult life. Having outlived everyone he'd ever cared about, Eddie is killed on his 83rd birthday trying to save a little girl from a deadly accident. The first 20 pages or so track Eddie's last hour alive. He then proceeds to heaven, where he consecutively meets five different people who have been long dead, but have once-upon-a-time impacted his life, one way or another. Through flashbacks and stories entwined in stories, viewed from different angles, they one by one help him reflect on his life and understand certain events that were always a source of confusion and constant nuisance for him. After all Eddie's emotions are drained and doubts cleared, he finally drifts into a setting of his choice- his very own heaven. He there rests in peace, awaiting the death of an earthly being, whom he would, in time, be one of "its" five people, sharing with "it" a lesson on life and finally getting his closure.
Personal opinion: Writing this review, I realised how gloomy this book must sound. However, it was surprisingly fresh and colourful for a book about death and dying. It has its dark moments of course; war, child abuse, sacrifice and cancer, but it is also full of ferris wheels and birthday cakes and wedding celebrations. The idea of this book is quite interesting. I continue to be fascinated by the different unorthodox interpretations of heaven different books and movies have to offer, and The Five People you Meet in Heaven is not an exception. Having said that, however, I'm not sure the story itself has lived up to my expectations. Although simply told and easy to follow, the story wasn't well-developed. I found it to be rather slow-paced and lacking in depth and substance, and it did not have a distinct identity. It just wasn't sad enough, or funny enough, or frustrating enough. It felt like I was reading one of those inspirational Chicken-Soup-like self-help books, only it failed to inspire, or, for the most part, touch me.
Rating: 4/10. A plot with good potential but a lot more could have been done to develop it.
Recommendation: Someone looking for a quick read and a book that is often featured as one of the top 100 most popular novels. Only a couple of hundred pages long, it shouldn't take you more than a few hours to go through and cross off that list.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
This book revolves around the character of Alice Butler. She works in a massive toy corporation, the third largest one in the world, and works as a ‘creative’, thinking up new, cool toys for pre-teen kids, most of which revolve around code-breaking and spy-kits, etc. Her company, PopCo, sends off a select group of the employees to a secluded sprawling residence owned by their enigmatic CEO, Mac. Their mission is to remain at the residence until they come up with a brand new blockbuster product. As time goes by, we begin to learn a lot about Alice’s past, about her fascinating grandparents’ history as cryptanalyst (code-maker) and mathematician, and events at the residence start to unfold which show that PopCo’s shiny, colorful exterior belies the darker machinations that lie beneath.
Personal Opinion: I absolutely love this book. As I got towards the final part of the book, I found myself reading faster and more frequently, whilst at the same time making a conscious effort to slow down because I didn’t want the book to end! That to me is always the sign of a great book. This is my third book by the Scarlett Thomas, and she has definitely not failed my expectations.
There are so many layers to this book it’s very difficult to pinpoint just one thing I love about it: the flashbacks to Butler’s childhood are poignant and explain a lot about what has shaped her personality; there is a lot to learn in this book about mathematics, code-breaking and code-making, obscure information about WWII,
and so much more, there’s a sub-plot involving buried pirate treasure, there’s some romance thrown in. I mean really, this book has it all! I still have one or two unanswered questions regarding some of the storyline, but that is more than compensated for by the author’s brilliant story-telling and all the wonderful twists and turns. As well as being highly entertaining, it is equally thought-provoking.
My rating: 10/10
Recommendation: Since the main character is a woman (and a fascinating one at that), I would think that the book would resonate more with women, especially young girls, as this book can almost be described as a coming of age story of a modern woman. It’s a good way of explaining morality to young teenage girls without being too preachy. But on the other hand, all the code-breaking, espionage, and pirate tales are stereotypically masculine hobbies. Basically, I’d give this to teens or young adults. If you like a good mystery, and food for thought, this is for you!
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Like countless others, Neki Brar moves from her quiet hometown, Amritsar to the big bustling city – Mumbai, to turn her dreams into a reality. Her dream is a simple one really, to be a top film-maker in the city that made many stars. Till one day it’s all too much for her, and she decides to throw it all away, right off her fifth floor apartment window.
Neki takes us through days of her life as penned in her diary, Nano. As she stumbles through the days, on the set and off, she discovers that truly all that glitters is not gold. And that behind every charming face is someone trying to step up the ladder while crushing you underfoot.
Her story is one of love and hate, roommates and colleagues, friendship and betrayal, success and failure. Neki discovers the single-most important truth of life - that to move ahead in life, you must be able to move on from life’s challenges.
Personal Opinion: As I read the synopsis on the back of the cover at the airport store, the book immediately struck a chord with me, on two distinct yet intertwined notes.
Five years ago, my beautiful confident sister hung herself in her apartment in Mumbai, shattering all my misconceptions that she had finally figured it out, finding the job and the life she was looking for. Rocking my world on the way out, she made me re-think everything I think and feel and reorganise what my life should be like. This book is as close to getting inside her head as I will ever be, and for that I am grateful, for now I can begin to understand some of the turmoil.
Five years after that tragic moment, I stand on the threshold of a new beginning. Planning to move to Mumbai to find the life that I believe is out there for me. Nervous about the future, but confident that I have what it takes to find a footing and keep my sanity, this book is like a sign. Tread carefully in the days ahead, and remember that you need to believe in yourself above everyone else to stay happy.
As daunting as the realisation that the Bombay Duck is a fish, the book paints the true picture of life in Mumbai, though I belive this can be extended to life almost anywhere in the world. At the same time as sending a chill down your spine, Kanika's rendition of life in Mumbai will leave a glimmer of hope somewhere admist the chaos.
My rating: 10/10
I recommend this book to those who are looking for change, to better their lives. It’s not a heartwarming story, but the sadness and depth of it makes you see a new meaning in life. I don’t recommend it to children below 18 who are too innocent to understand the dark undertones of the story. And better that way, that they stay protected by the bitter realities of life for as long as possible.
By: Andrew Leber, U.S State Department
In The Eyre Affair, author Jason Fforde draws on the entirety of Western literary history to create a fantastic mixture: part detective novel, part adventure story, part romance and part alternate history. Thursday Next is a Spec-Ops Literary Detective in London, England, charged with protecting the public from literary forgeries and manuscript theft. Throughout the novel, she is tasked with trying to outwit master criminal Acheron Hades while fighting vampires, navigating Shakespearian gang wars, and dealing with the effects of the still-ongoing Crimean war. The heart of the novel, though, is when Thursday Next gains the ability to travel inside great works of fiction such as Jane Eyre – only to find that Hades is already there and waiting for her.
Personal Opinion: This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting books I have read in years, and I barely set it down until I had finished with it. Despite the confusion caused by the novel’s alternative-reality setting, Jason Fforde manages to create an entirely believable world without loading the chapters with too much detail. Fforde does, however, draw on British and American literary references for everything from character names to insider jokes, which can make the book a bit hard to follow if you are not that familiar with the right names or book titles. Still, if you take the time to look up what you don’t understand then The Eyre Affair makes a wonderful and humorous introduction to Western literary history.
Recommended for: Anybody familiar with or looking to be familiar with British and American literature, anybody who has ever wanted to travel inside the books they’ve read, and all fans of science fiction
My Rating: 8/10
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Harry left the Hall as the staff, members of the Order and students started to form a battle plan. He was still thinking about the Horcrux. It was in Hogwarts, that, he was sure of. But what and where it is, he didn’t know. The only thing that is connected to Ravenclaw was the Lost Diadem. No one had ever seen it “in living memory”. This gave Harry an idea, with the help of Nearly Headless Nick, Harry found The Gray Lady, the Ravenclaw Tower ghost. After questioning her, Harry found out that she is Ravenclaw’s daughter and she stole her mother’s diadem and hid it in a forest in Albania. It took Harry a minute to make the connection, Voldemort must have went there and retrieved the diadem and hid it in the room of Hidden Things. Exactly in the same place where Harry have hidden the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book.
Harry started to run towards the Room of Requirement, and from the sounds he heard it was obvious that the battle has started. He found Ron and Hermione on the way. They had curved, yellowish and dirty objects in their arms. They explained that they have gone to the Chamber of Secrets to get the Basilisk fangs, which they will use to finish off the Horcruxes. Hermione had destroyed the cup using it.
Harry explains to the other two what he just found out and they all went to the Room of Requirement. They walk inside of the Room of Hidden Things and start searching for the diadem. Each of them goes to separate ways to search faster. Crabbe, Goyle and Malfoy stop Harry when he locates the diadem. A fight starts between them and Goyle sets the room on fire. Harry manages to get the tiara before it gets buried in that pile of junk. Harry, Ron and Hermione leave the room on broomsticks assisting Malfoy and Goyle. The fire killed Crabbe. Once they are out of the room Harry realizes that the Horcrux was destroyed by the magical fire.
As they leave the place, Fred and Percy come into view. Both are dueling hooded figures. One of the figures appears to be the Minister, Percy declares to him that he quits. Fred laughed at this, taking what Percy had said as a joke. In a second, the wall seemed to have fallen on them all. Harry heard somone saying "No! Fred! No!". As Harry struggled to stand up, he saw Ron and Percy kneeling beside Fred. His body motionless, his eyes were blank with the ghost of his last joke.
They all leave the castle beneath the Invisibility Cloak heading towards the Whomping Willow, keeping their heads down to avoid curses that flew all over the place. They go inside the tunnel that leads into the Shrieking Shack, stopping at the very end of the tunnel. From where he sat, Harry could clearly see Nagini in an enchanted sphere. Snape was inside with Voldemort. Voldemort was telling him how the Elder Wand, the greatest wand of all, wasn’t working as it was supposed to work, as it had promised. All the magic he could do with it was rather ordinary, nothing extraordinary. He thinks it's Snape’s fault. He thinks that Snape was the true owner of the wand because he was the one who killed its last owner, Dumbledore. That is why Voldemort must kill Snape for the wand to work properly. Voldemort orders Nagini to kill Snape. Voldemort left the Shrieking Shack leaving Snape to die.
Harry, Ron and Hermione stepped inside. As Harry kneeled down beside Snape, something bluish was gushing out of Snape’s wounds, it was neither gas nor liquid. Harry recognized it as a memory. Harry gathered the memory into a flask that Hermione had just conjured. “Look… at…. Me..” Snape whispered to Harry as his hold on Harry loosened. Their eyes met for a moment, then Snape’s hand fell on the floor, his body moved no more.
The trio head back to the castle. The place is unnaturally silent. They go up to the Great Hall where everyone has gathered. The hurt were being taken care of by Madam Pomfrey and some helpers. The dead bodies were in the middle of the hall with family and friends surrounding them. The Weasleys stood around Fred and next to Fred lay Lupin and Tonks.
Ron and Hermione joined the Weasleys, but Harry couldn’t stand seeing all the people who died for him. He left the Great Hal and ran with all his might till he found himself in front of the stone gargoyle that guards the headmaster’s office. He enters the office and empties Snape’s memories in the pensive to look at them.
What Harry sees in the pensive shocked him. Snape loved Harry’s mother, Lily, since he was a boy. He was the first one to tell her that she was a witch. They were best friends for a long time, till their fifth year at Hogwarts. Lily never talked to Snape after he insulted her and called her a Mudblood. Even though Snape tried to apologise, Lily didn't accept it.
The next memory was after both left Hogwarts. Snape was waiting for Dumbledore. He told Dumbledore that Voldemort knew about the prophecy and he thinks it refers to Lily Potter’s son, Harry. Voldemort will kill them all and Dumbledore must hide her and her family, and he, Snape, will do anything in return. Another memory unfolds with Snape in Dumbledore’s office. Dumbledore tells Snape that Lily is dead and her son survived. He asks Snape to keep Harry safe. Snape consented only after Dumbledore swore that he would never tell Harry that he loved Lily.
Everything starts to get clearer with every memory Harry sees; another one shows Dumbledore after getting hurt in his hand. The curse that hurt his hand was very old and incurable. Snape helped slow down the effect of the curse, but it will spread eventually and kill Dumbledore. After this Dumbledore makes Snape swear to kill him, and not let Draco Malfoy do it. Which was a job Voldemort assigned for Malfoy.
Another memory unfolds where Dumbledore tells Snape that Harry should surrender himself to Voldemort and let him kill him when Voldemort starts keeping his snake safe with him. Because when Voldemort tried killing Harry, the curse rebounded on him because of the protection Lily gave Harry. A part of Voldemort’s soul was blasted and lives in Harry’s body. This shocked and angered Snape, thinking that what he did to save and protect Harry was useless.
More memories revealed themselves to Harry. One was with Dumbledore’s portrait giving instructions to Snape on what to do on Harry’s departure from the Dursley's house. Another one was in Sirius’s bedroom in Grimauld Place. A crying Snape had taken the remaining of Lily’s letter, the page that was signed with Lily’s love. He also tore half of the picture; he took the part that shows Lily laughing. The last one was when Snape discovered the trio’s hiding place and he took Gryffindor’s sword to them.
With every step Harry took towards the Forest, he realized how precious life was. Suddenly, he remembered the Snitch, he kissed it and whispered “I am about to die”. The Snitch opened, the Resurrection Stone fell into Harry’s hand. When he turned it in his hand, the figures of his parents, Sirius and Lupin appear by his side. The all walk together till Harry reaches the clearing where Voldemort and his Death Eaters all sat in silence. Harry walks into the clearing without even taking out his wand. It takes Voldemort a minute to send the green flash towards Harry.
Dumbledore explains about the Hallows. He told Harry that the Cloak he inherited from his father was the same one the old legend referred to. He explains about his past, his family, his brief friendship with Grindelwald, and his duel with him so many years ago. He is ashamed of what had happened and the fact he didn’t stop it before things get out of his hands.
At the end Harry wonders if he must go back. Dumbledore tells it’s his choice to stay or go. Harry decides to go back.
Once they reach the entrance to the castle, the Hogwarts fighters come out and are shocked to see Harry dead. Harry, still pretending to be dead, is hurt as he hears their grief for him. Neville breaks free from the group fighter, his wand pointed to Voldemort, but Voldemort disarms him and tortures him. Suddenly many things happen at once. The centaurs shoot arrows at the Death Eaters, someone threw the Sorting Hat from a window above, and Grawp bursts from the Forest. The sorting hat fell in front of Neville, who pulled the Sword of Gryffindor from it and cut Nagini’s head off.
Harry slips beneath the cloak, and follows everyone as they go into the castle again. Voldemort and his Death Eaters battle fiercely. Harry follows Voldemort all the time to finish him off. Mrs. Weasley kills Bellatrix in a fierce duel. Voldemort turns to kill Mrs. Weasley but Harry manages to place a shield charm in front her and reveals himself to Voldemort.
The room grows quite as Harry and Voldemort circle each other. Harry explains to him the true character of Severus Snape, saying that his death didn’t make Voldemort the true master of the Elder Wand. Voldemort does not believe anything Harry tells him. When Voldemort cast the Killing Curse, Harry sent a disarming charm that made the killing curse rebound on its caster, Voldemort dies.
Everyone is happy and they all keep asking Harry for more details on what had happened. After a long time, Harry wants nothing more than to be alone and to sleep. With the help of Luna, he, Ron and Hermione leave the Great Hall. Harry explains everything to them. Then they go up to the Headmaster’s office, and talks to Dumbledore’s portrait. Harry tells him that he left the Resurrection Stone in the Forest, and that he decided not to keep the Elder Wand. Dumbledore agrees with Harry’s choice. Before leaving the Elder Wand, Harry uses it to repair his old wand, the one he bought on his eleventh birthday.
Harry has a word with his son, Albus, before he leaves, assuring him that it’s not so bad to be in Slytherin, and that if he was sure he wants to be in Gryffindor, he could tell the Sorting Hat. It all ends well.
1. When Harry, Ron and Hermione were trying to escape from the burning Room of Requirements, they saved Malfoy and Goyle. Over their years at Hogwarts, the trio always received bad treatment from Malfoy and Goyle. Do you think saving thing them was the right thing to do? Or they should have left them behind?
2. Severus Snape loved Lily all her life and after her death. How would Harry's attitude change towards Snape if he knew it all along?
3. If Ron and Hermione were with Harry when he saw Snape's memories do you think they would have let him accept the fact that he must die and everything would happen the way it did?
4. What was the ending you expected for the trio? (The Epilogue)