Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Cypress Tree - #22

I will preface this post by saying I did check all the screws on my chair before starting.

I thought this book was a novel. It's not. It was a bit of a disappointment. Not the book as a whole. Just when you settle down to read a story and you know, you have a doona and a glass of wine and you've suspended your disbelief and are ready to be transported. Then 10 pages in you just go "Well, fuck." I don't dislike memoirs. I just prepare for them differently to novels. And as I have read a few lately I was ready for story land. While it wasn't the books fault, I felt like I had been slightly tricked into attending a function, and was then stuck up the front where it was just too awkward to leave.

Besides starting the book with the feeling that someone's great aunt has noticed my uncomfortableness and then daring me to leave with their crazy, judging, old lady eyes, it was not too bad. It was the story of the last hundred years or so of Iran through the stories of this woman and her family. She is an exile from Iran after the Islamic Revolution to the UK, and then tells the story of her family as she sort of rediscovers it,  as she shunned it as a teenager in London in the 80s.

It provided a good insight into the history of Iran. She's a journo and so it makes it an accessible read. It explains how Iran has ended up how it is. While she is not a sympathiser with the Islamic Revolution at all, she does explain sympathetically how the country ended up how it is, and points out the benefits and dichotomies of the laws and the actions of the country and especially it's people.

What astounded me was that once again the meddling West (those meddling kids) once again played god with a country that they had no claim over, but then the country decided to stand up to the two big powers in the world and say "Nope, our stuff. Give us a fair price you bastards!". And so they, the West, overthrew a government through CIA and MI6 funding. And what did that do? It gave a little known religious leader in a small town a taste of power and money and a little bit of fame. He also then got exiled himself from Iran by the reinstated Shah, growing his infamy and followers over time. This guy? Oh you know, only Ayatollah Khomeini. The guy who lead the Islamic Revolution and made the most liberal Middle Eastern country the most concerning one. Good work (morons).

The issue of women's rights was really interesting too though. Women had the same rights for divorce in Iran as the men before the Revolution. They could work, study and dress in "wonderful" 70s fashion, miniskirts and all. While it is true now they can still study and work, this was banned for a while, then reinstated and now has resulted in this bullshit.They also had the legal marrying age for women at 18. Then they all revolted and such, had to rebuild their country from scratch and engaged in a war with their neighbours (Iraq). So first thing they changed? First? Women's rights and reduced the marrying age for women to 9. I do not comprehend. I cannot fathom a world that women are so feared, so needed to be controlled. I mean, ours is still pretty bad, but what kind of man gets into power and has war, famine, no public services, and no government to deal with and goes, "You know what's wrong with this country? I can't marry a 12 year old girl." Seriously?

All of that aside, I could have strangled the author more than once when she was all blah blah this happened blah blah and then the revolution happened but my auntie such and such cooked this wonderful thing with rose petals and let me tell you about that. Really? I'm sure you family is fantastic, but you know. Revolution. Kinda trumps dinner. And she was really disjointed at the beginning. I just wanted her to stick with one family or one person instead of jumping around. And maybe it was because I had problems with the names and keeping everyone straight. But I just felt she was like a 3 year old full of red cordial until half way through.

All being said and done, 3.5. I learnt a fair bit, but also felt like I was dealing with a kid with ADD again for the first 100pp. She does calm down, and you get a better understanding of what is happening. But a lot of people wouldn't stick with her.

And now I am on to some fiction!! I think December I may get a little distracted away from my Around the World quest as I have a few other books for a couple of things calling me. But I will come back if I stray.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

In the Time of Butterflies - #21

I got distracted again by life. It really needs to stop getting in the way like that. Last book that was half read on the plane and half in a jet-lagged state was In the Time of Butterflies. This poor book got a bit more love than I would like, as I'm pretty meticulous with my books, as I had a mother of a cold on the plane and sneezed, causing me to wave my hands in the air like a numpty, which then collected my G&T and doused my lap and my book in too much tonic and not enough gin. At least I missed the two unfortunate women sitting next to me...

Besides the wiggly and alcoholic state of the book, I actually liked the book. I am hesitant when there are a few narrators and they they use diaries to describe their life events etc. But this book balances it beautifully. It has first person narration, scribbles in personal diaries as well as third person observations about the


This post was briefly interrupted by the fact that I tried to shift my weight on my computer chair by leaning on one arm and moving my body. At this stage all the screws holding the chair to the frame fell out on the left hand side of the chair, propelling me over the right hand arm rest I was leaning on and landing on my head on the floor. I have now spent 10 minutes finding the appropriate allen key to screw in all the screws again and am back in business.


dictatorship of the Dominican Republic under Trujillo, and the story of the 4 Mirabel sisters and their attempts through the Underground, where they were collectively known as the Las Mariposas (the butterflies), to overthrow him.

Who am I kidding? I am not going to recover this post!

Good book, well written, nice introduction albeit fictionally into the world of dictatorships in Central America.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What the Day Owes the Night - #20


Moving on from the wintry and chilling images of supernatural Muscovites, I picked up this novel of the Algerian revolution. The story starts with a boy called Younes, an Algerian boy, witnessing his family losing his family's lands. After a steep decline from that point onwards, his father ends up asking his uncle who has been educated in the West and married to a French woman, to look after Younes and raise him as his own. Younes then becomes Jonas, as he moves from a life of a poor Arab boy to one of wealth and privilege within the educated and colonial elite in Algeria.

We then follow Jonas as he then negotiates the world where his ethnic group is viewed as only servants and possessions, and while these downtrodden people are plotting to take Algeria back for the Algerians. He then has to deal with the consequences of teenage passion, as well as meeting a beautiful girl who drives his group of friends apart. Girls trump ethnic uprisings as deal breakers. Apparently.

I picked this book up now as it was the October read for a group on African Lit. But the benefit of reading it while I was travelling, was I ended up reading it while I was in Paris, and Algeria was colonised by the French. I think this helped the mood somewhat. Ignoring that the book was in the desert and it was 8 degrees in Paris, the Frenchness oozed through into the book.

Otherwise, as I know not everyone is as lucky to be able to read this in Paris, it was a wonderfully written book. But it was accessibly beautiful. Not like reading a book of poetry. It was able to transport you to feel like you were lying on an African Mediterranean beach, even if you were sitting in a freezing cold, open Parisian train station where the French do not believe in seats and so you have to perch on top of your suitcase for 2 hours... >.> ... /end rant.

Also, you could feel the split poor Jonas was feeling between his background and supporting his people (including his family) and maintaining the status quo. I wonder if I ended up feeling this more acutely than the character did in the end. As if I was projecting my own emotions, and ignoring his slightly. But to throw his lot in with the revolution could have separated Jonas from everything that was now his life. That must be heartbreaking.

What I did have a problem with was the romance. I didn't buy the dilemma. I'm sorry. I didn't get it. Therefore, sympathy for decisions made in this regard just wasn't there. And seeing it was what half the book was about, that just annoyed me. So due to that annoyance of the story, it took me down to a 3.5. I'm sure other people won't be as annoyed, but it just detracted from the rest of the book to be annoyed with half the story.

Night Watch - #19

I’m so behind on my reviews! I decided not to review all my overseas reading at once like I did in June, but this means I’m reading faster than I am reviewing and not catching up! So I think I need to throw that idea out the window.

So, Night Watch. This was going to be my Russian read. Then I had the brilliant idea of reading Anna Karenina as my Russian read (which I haven’t finished yet), and as Sergei Lukyanenko was born in a part of the USSR that is now Kazakhstan, this became my Kazakhstani read instead. Brilliant playing of the system, however confusing when all the stories are set in Moscow.

I say stories as the book is pretty much 3 stories of around 150pp each, featuring the same characters and building on the events of the story before it. I loved it. It was a play on the supernatural domains that I hadn’t read before, with a distinctly European twist. It had magic and wizards and such, but without the kitchness that the fantasy genre tends to fall into.

The basic premise is that there is light and dark magic. When one finds out they are a magic user, or Other, they have to make a choice between whether they are light or dark. But there is more to it than it seems, as a lot of the time it comes down to the circumstances that the person is in the first time they enter the Twilight (the magical realm). Ie, you’re in a bad mood, you may end up on the dark side because of that, not because you are inherently bad.

Light and Dark are in a permanent truce with each other. In order to police this truce, we have the Night Watch of light magicians who monitor the Dark, the Day Watch who are dark magicians who monitor the Light, and the Inquisition who monitor and police them both. This book was stories about, funnily enough, the Night Watch (the second in the series is conveniently called the Day Watch and confusingly the third is called Twilight Watch so not sure on that one).

I wanted to read this book badly after we had heard such good things about it in Aus, and then they released the movie before any of us had read the book. And the movie was shocking. Absolutely appalling. Which meant even more that we had to read the book. There is no way this acclaimed book could have been that bad.

It wasn’t, it was great. The movie it turns out is based just on the first of the three stories. This meant that the characters where pretty underdeveloped in the movie. Turns out, because you have another 350pp in the book to get to know them. The strange reasoning in the movie gets explained in the book. Another reason why some books are just better left as books.

The moral to this particular story is to pretend the movie doesn’t exist. It’s how we get on with our lives. So pretend the movie never happened and read the book. The book has a wonderful spin on light and dark, good and evil, highlighting the fact that they are sometimes blurred, incomprehensible and indistinguishable, even to those inside the system. 4 stars.

Friday, 2 November 2012

An African In Greenland - #18

I loved the thought of this book when I heard about it. The idea that a young African boy learns about a place like Greenland and then runs off to live there. It’s so ridiculous and yet so fantastical.

That’s the story of Michel. He grew up with his father’s family on the coast of Togo and starts with a lovely whimsical illustration of his life there, starting with an encounter with a snake up a coconut tree. There was something so jovial and carefree about the stories of him in Africa, first in Togo and then as he journeys to Greenland, through the entire north-west of Africa earning money, in to Europe and beyond.

The thing that starts being apparent during this journey is that Michel is a very privileged African boy. He has been schooled and knows a couple of languages (benefit of Togo being an ex-French colony of course). But this seems to have made his transition through Europe and ability to get jobs much easier.  Lucky him of course, but it starts to draw away from his “typical” African boy image.

I really liked the book and was recommending it to everyone, until I got to Greenland.

Now the book wasn't bad from Greenland on. However it began to take on this air of condescending judgement. Michel wasn't happy with the people he found in Greenland. He didn't approve of their lifestyle all that much. He had an idealised idea of what Intuits should be, without much knowledge of the background of the area (Denmark colonised Greenland and was very big on getting the Intuit’s to give up their traditional way of doing things, but without much consideration to what they should be doing instead). As like most people with uninformed, idealised points of view, he was a little disappointed.

 And not to mention had a huge heap of double standards. Alcohol and promiscuity wasn't his thing. Unless he was doing it. He even goes on to mention that he is happy to sleep around, but not happy when it’s “his” girl who does it. I am not sure if this is a result of his home polygamous culture, a result of being a product of the 1950s-1970s or just being a misogynist.

Otherwise it was a good introduction into the ways of the Greenlandic community, their culture and their activities. There is a lot of blood and slaughtering in this book. If you don’t like the thought of people eating meat or whale blubber raw, this probably isn't for you. But if you get over that slight turn of your stomach when he describes his meals there is a lot to learn.

I did enjoy it, don’t misunderstand me. I just am frustrated that a book that started out so well fell into the trap of the usual judgement of other cultures. “It’s not what I expected and therefore it’s not the right way to act”. And hypocrisy always annoys me. So it’s not one I’ll be running out and telling everyone to read any more. But it’s still worth a good 3 stars.