Friday, 18 January 2013

Anil's Ghost - #27

In another lifetime, I probably would have been a forensic anthropologist or scientist. If I had known I could study that before I went to uni. And didn't have a sense of smell. And didn't loose my temper when I think something is unfair. And maybe a bit smarter. If all these things were different, I would have become a forensic scientist.

I did what I dubbed a CSI semester at uni. I took 'Law and Social Control' as my Sociology course, 'Advanced Issues in Psychology: Forensic Psychology' as one of my Psych courses, and for my Arts elective (I had my major in Sociology for that degree (I have a BA and a BPsych) but viewed my Arts degree elective as "Do the most interesting thing you can find!") I took 'Forensic Anthropology and Archaeology'. (My other Psych course was so boring and mundane I can't even remember what it was, probably something cognitive or neurobiological. Piffle.). That semester was fantastic. Yes, I sobbed like a little girl while I was writing an essay on the issues with identification of bodies in mass graves in war zones. Yes, I spent a lot of time looking at decomposing bodies. But I got to dig up a "murder" site, and work out what had happened. I learnt how to find occupational markers on bones. There were far too many Yorrick jokes made in labs. It was awesome!

It kinda ties into my love of mysteries I guess. My relaxing zone out TV shows are detective shows, with my guilty pleasures of Bones and Silent Witness. So once I realised that Anil was a forensic scientist, I knew we were going to get along.

The book actually deals with the issues of recent Sri Lanka. The book was published in 2000, so rather contemporary. Sri Lanka has been in a state of civil war for a rather long time, with the Tamils, the Government and another group from the south (can't remember their names, so bad) fighting each other. However it's not soldiers fighting soldiers. This war has involved a lot of kidnapping, torture, maiming, murder and psychological warfare of the civilians of Sri Lanka. And that is by *every* side, which makes it all the more terrifying.

Anil is a Sri Lankan who has run away from Sri Lanka to go to university and then for her career (not because of this war) and this is her first time coming back to her home country. We have the story here of her feeling like a foreigner in her own country, unable to speak the language any more for example, then slowly morphing to embrace the country again. Subtle changes from talking about Sri Lankans as "you" to "us". The reason Anil has coming home is she is working for a human rights organisation and has been sent to investigate the killings of the civilians and to see who is doing the killings, particularly if the Government is involved.

We follow her and her archaeologist she has been assigned too, as well as a couple of other characters we meet along the way, through their investigation of a body. Both trying to work out who killed them, but importantly who the body was. All the while trying to hide their investigation away from the three groups who are possibilities and are more than happy to kill for a cover up.

The story is beautifully written. I got recommended this book by a friend, and another friend who is Sri Lankan recommended other books written by Michael Ondaatje, so it's great when you read a recommended book and author and they live up to the expectation. I will be definitely chasing up his other works.

Monday, 14 January 2013

January Challenge - Hood

I'm running a challenge again this month for our Goodreads group You'll Love This One. This will happen now and then this year, and will just mean my Around the World reading gets pushed aside sometimes during the year if they don't fit certain challenges or themes (there are a lot of them, and I should be able to fit in my AtW reading for most of them). I think I have learnt in 2012, that while it is great to have a plan and stick to it, it is just as important to be flexible and have fun with your reading as well. I went from one extreme to the other, and 2013 I hope will be a lovely happy medium.

So this month's challenge had me reading Hood as a retelling of a myth or legend. Which I really enjoyed as I'm a complete sucker for mythology of all shapes and sizes (Rusalkas anyone?). The problem with this book is that it got the 1950s TV show theme stuck in my head. Although, within one bar morphs into this:

Right, so got that out of the way (dum de dum dum dum).

This story of Robin Hood takes Robin out of Sherwood into Wales. And his name isn't Robin, it's Bran. Also, forget about the Crusades and Richard the Lionheart. It's set in the 11th Century when William the Conqueror was swanning about. So really, forget most of what you knew about Robin Hood for this book.

Young Bran is the Prince in his part of Wales. The Normans have taken England, and are looking towards Wales with a not very nice intent. Bran's Dad has decided he should go to London and swear his allegiance to the King, however he has come to this conclusion too late. On the road to London, quite close to home, he and all his men are slaughtered by Normans. Besides Bran, who missed the leaving time of the convoy, as he was in the next Welsh kingdom over trying to get into the Princess Mérian's bed and another things. Bran's mate, Iwan, the King's Champion also escapes to tell everyone what has happened (convenient plot device!) and that the King is dead and the Normans are coming to take over everything.

Other stuff happens, Bran runs off to London with Iwan and a monk to try and get his kingdom back. Along the way, they stay with another monk, an Englishman, who can't pronounce Iwan so he calls him "Little John" and Iwan can't pronounce his name either, so calls him "Friar Tuck". Things don't go so well in London, and they go home, things get very messy and Bran is believed to be killed. But he gets nursed back to health, convinced of his rightful path and starts getting to what we have all been waiting for. The Robbing and the Hooding.

My complaint with the book is there is an awful lot of back story. I mean a ton. I don't think we even see Robin Hooding until around chapter 30. And when you're reading a book about Robin Hood, that seems like an very long time to wait. I do realise the book is a part of a series. But the point of the first book in a series is to draw people in. Get them excited to read the second and third (or if you're Robert Jordan, the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, you get my point) books. This book got there at the end, but I'm grumpy I read two thirds of the book before I got to what I was waiting for.

Luckily the book was well written and easy to read. Which was a blessing when you wanted to get to the story you picked up the book for. Stephen Lawhead obviously did a lot of research about the time and the area as well, and that shines through the book. It is a good book, it is just worth the disclaimer that it may not launch right into what you think the book is about. But it's an enjoyable journey to get there. I may pick up the other two books in the series at some stage, seeing as it just started getting interesting, but we will have to see.

(dum de dum dum dum)

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Old Man and His Sons - #26

This was one of those books that leapt out of the huge list of the books people had already found for their own Around the World list. Scrolling down the page: Estonia, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Faroe Islands, Fiji…. Hold on what? The Faroes? There are books written about or in the Faroes? I have to read it!

So on I went, and ordered the book and it arrived in the giant shopping spree of parcels I had delivered to work (the postman was very grateful I was solely keeping him in a job). And then it sat patiently waiting until I managed to get to it.

I will state first of all, this is one of the nicest covers on any of the books I own. It’s gorgeous. I frequently took it off the shelf over the last 9 months just to look at it. Not only I think this, but Lexx in his grumpy, judging, Graphic Designer way even said it was a really nice cover. Get it for the cover. Make it a coffee table book. It’s pretty!

Story wise though, I didn’t love it. It was another story of a country fighting with modernisation and the problems with loosing ones own culture while developing as a country. And that is sad. It must have been heartbreaking for these old Faroe people to see their children doing what they deemed as rejecting their heritage and culture. I am sympathetic to that. I think it is important while developing and modernising to still keep your identity and culture in check. Those are the things that make you and your country different and interesting. For example, while not the same in any way shape or form, it annoys me that Aus is getting more and more Americanised. So I am sure these people felt this annoyance and then sadness a thousand times more than my feelings.

However, I feel that if their children, all of them, are that big a jerks that they insinuate, then maybe, just maybe, they may need to work on their parenting skills. They just went on and on about how ungrateful, and rude, and horrible, and whatnot their children were. And how their grandchildren were always begging from them. Well maybe, one of the reasons ALL of your MANY children are horrible may come down to the common factor with all those children? And you can say “No! Go home!” to your grandchildren once in a while. I couldn’t sympathise with that. It bugged me.

But as much as that annoyed me, this did not even compare to the son who was still living at home, Kálvur. Dear god I wanted to slap him upside his face and tell him to get the hell over himself. He was a complete and utter drip. 24ish years old and crying all the time because things were scary. Seriously boy! Grow a pair! Living at home (in a 2 room house) with his parents, and then lying in his bed yelling at his mum to bring him food because he couldn’t be bother getting up. They getting pissed off as she wasn't there as she had gone out. Once. Ever. I’d tell you what would happen if I ever tried that with my Mum, there is very little chance I would still be here writing this.

Whinging aside, both mine and sniveling boy’s, the book was very well written. I wanted to keep reading it, even though I found the people not overly engaging. The way of storytelling was, and the culture and customs were intriguing. And it was only a short book, so you knew that even though the snotty-nosed boy was crying again, you only had another 50 pages with him.

The whale hunt at the beginning of the book, and the premise for the whole book was really interesting and eye opening. I had always thought that if people could hunt whales traditionally with a spear and a wooden boat, good on them. I had the idea that these cultures only kill as much as they need, therefore being much more sustainable than the horrible commercial whaling that has just started up in the oceans below me as we speak.

This book changed that way of thinking though. It was so real and evocative. I was so upset for the whales, and I am not sure if I was supposed to be. I have a feeling that is a product of reading the book with my background and in my time. 70 years ago I may have identified with the hunters more, been on their side. Not now, I was so drawn in to the book, hoping a whale would get away or take someone with them. It almost made me cry this hunt.

Also there wasn’t that idea of sustainability I thought went with it. They killed as much as they possibly could, which allowed Ketil to get into the mess he did by accidentally buying some obscene tonnage of whale meat. It really opened my eyes.

So with saga-esq storytelling, a rare insight for me into the lives of another place in the North and Norwegian Seas, another story of the struggle of traditional vs modern ways of living, and an eye opening account of traditional hunting methods, that I will admit has changed my thinking immensely, I felt outweighed the frustration with annoying characters. One day, one day I will read a book with characters I like. Or I’ve just become a cantankerous old lady who hates everyone already… oh dear…

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Pounamu Pounamu - #25

Image by me.
So behind. And I haven't even been doing anything. I've been on holidays in the 40 degree heat. That's it, blame the insane heatwave. Ignoring the fact I read this book before it started...

But all this aside, this was the perfect time to read this book in this challenge. It turns out I was almost experiencing an element of Aussie literary homesickness. As much as I have loved some of the places I have been taken, and the stories I have been told, I longed for a familiar voice.

This book sated me while still opening my eyes to new experiences. Let me explain.

First and foremost, I love Kiwis and New Zealand. I find New Zealanders (or Kiwis to us Aussies) to be some of the most lovely people on the planet. They seem to have most of the qualities I love about Australians but with a slightly gentler spirit. Maybe that's what happens when you have nothing poisonous on your islands and all you native creatures are birds. But it was an eerily familiar voice in a different culture. And it helps when you read all the vowels the wrong way round so it sounds like a Kiwi accent. And I understood most of the English slang (not the Maori to begin with, but more on that later). It was home after being away so long. And that's leaving out the fact that New Zealand is one of the most beautiful parts of the world, which I was lucky enough to rely on my imagination for (although I have only been to the wrong island for this book).

My Mum picked up this book last time she was in NZ, and when I said I was doing this challenge and asked her and her husband for suggestions, they both recommended this book. I said "But Kiwi books would be the same as Aussie books though. I'm looking for something different". They assured me I was wrong and to read it. And I will admit they were right.

The short stories are written about traditional-ish Maori communities in the North Island of NZ around the 1960s. The kids are feeling the pull of Western culture and to the cities, where as the adults are concerned about the continuation of their communities and the cultural and religious traditions that are so completely intertwined to the communities. I find Maori culture fascinating (and I admit I have quite a few tikis in my ownership) and therefore wanted to know more about what was important and sacred to these communities. And Ihimaera does this in a way that is accessible for us. He also mingles Maori into the text, so before long you have picked up words in Maori and they no longer need to be explained.

It's brilliant writing. I'm not a huge fan of short stories, I get frustrated as I either don't find out enough so I don't engage with the story, or I engage and then feel cheated. But this didn't happen too often in this book. And the stories are heartbreaking and so, so funny. One story about the Maori Hockey Tournament had me laughing so hard, even when I was rather sick. These warrior peoples, with the gentleness and politeness of not only their own culture but the general New Zealand-ness, competing with each other and their own little problems, was so hysterically well balanced and told it was a marvel.

I highly recommend it. I understand not everyone will be able to jump in with both feet like I was without the knowledge of us down in the Antipodes as well as the Kiwi's own interesting version of slang (which I will admit we mock them for. Jandles? Really?), but it is a wonderful introduction to one of my favourite places on earth, Maori culture and the problems that have faced Indigenous cultures all around the world, especially by those who have been invaded/colonised (choose your own term) by White Europeans.

For those wondering, that is one of my favourite pictures I took in NZ. It's in Queenstown, looking over Lake Wakatipu at the Remarkables. I have always giggled at the name of those mountains. So British! "Have you seen those mountains? They are remarkable."