Category Archives: The Book Show

Reviews and discussion from a purely personal perspective. Accounts of books that have kept me up, thrilled and shocked me, made me explode with belly-laughter, impacted me deeply and have shaped me as a reader, a writer and an individual.

Indiano? No Indiano!

Sophia B- SueWhen mentioning to my buddies that my last name resembles an Italian name, I used to get scoffed at. While reading Shantaram today, I came upon a curious cultural comparison that left me feeling somewhat vindicated.

“There is so much Italian in Indians, and so much Indian in Italians. They are both people of the Madonna – they demand a Goddess, even if the religion does not provide one. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy; and every woman is a dancer when she walks to the shop corner .For them food is music inside the body and music is food inside the heart. The language of India and the language Italy , they make every man a poet and make something beautiful from every banalite. These are nations where love –amore, pyaar- makes a cavalier of a Borsalino on a street corner, and makes a princess of a peasant girl , if only for the second that her eyes meet yours .”

I know, it’s not really related to my claim. No matter.

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Tintin: Billions of billious barbecued blue blistering barnacles!

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80 years. 50 languages. 200 million copies. A 3D movie with Spielberg & Peter Jackson in the works. The creator of Tintin, Georges Remi alias Herge, must be a happy ghost.

The babyfaced reporter and his Shabaab (crew) captured the imagination of Europe and subsequently the entire Commonwealth. Herge relied on a  potent formula: Meticulous research into the geopolitical climate , mischievous illustration, good vs. evil, consistent rib-tickling and satire, and above all, glorious disregard for political correctness. Or, to be precise (a la Thompson and Thomson :)), “a political correctness that disregards glory.”

All sorts of stereotypes are supremely exaggerated; from a naked fakir sitting on a bed of nails to a wild Arab sheikh with a tiger as a pet and a penchant for whipping blondes. We’ve got the savant professor, the foul-mouthed drunken sailor with the heart of gold, and the opera diva.The illustrations play along- African slaves are drawn coal-black, the Asians have no eyes…These comics would never get past the back room if published today, but they are bloody brilliant, and I’m glad that they’re around.

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One more thing, the abuses in the book are….wait for it…..legendary! To make the book children-friendly but still stay true to his characters, Herge invented innovative non-swearwords used luxuriously by Captain Haddock. These include “ectoplasm!”, “Bashi-Bazouk!” “Patagonian Petticoat!“, and the most famous phrase of them all “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles (Mille Millions de mille milliards de mille sabords!)”. Wit combined with alliterative allure make Haddock’s abuses among the most famous comic book expressions of all time, right up there with Mr. Lodge’s “Egad!” and Obelix’s “These Romans are crazy!“.

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*The download link to the entire Tintin series, in PDF, here.

Enjoy the magic of the comics that inspired the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and so many others. Jump into the world of the boy-wonder reporter who became a global icon, so much so  that General Charles de Gaulle once quipped that his “only international rival is Tintin”.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Khaled Hosseini follows up the soul-tingling The Kite Runner with A Thousand Splendid Suns, a tale revolving around 2 Afghani women before, during and after the Soviet occupation.

The author does a stellar job of analyzing Afghanistan’s social fabric during a period of intense turmoil in Afghanistan. The Soviet occupation, the Mujahideen and the Taliban serve as catalysts for many major events in the characters’ lives, but these groups are not subjected to the same scrutiny as the Taliban were in The Kite Runner. Hosseini‘s passionate love for his country and the grief that he feels at its destruction come alive, in equal measure, when he describes places such as the Bamiyan Valley and its Giant Buddhas.

Excerpt:

“It’s so quiet,” Laila breathed. She could see tiny sheep and horses but couldn’t hear their bleating and whinnying.

“It’s what I always remember about being up here,” Babi said. The silence. The peace of it. I wanted you to experience it. But I also wanted you to see your country’s heritage, children, to learn of its rich past. You se, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well you just have to see and feel.”

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+++:First, the pluses. A complex plot holds together well throughout the book, one never spots cracks in the way characters develop and events occur. This in itself is quite an accomplishment for a work of such intricacy. More importanly, Hosseini conveys a sense that he ‘gets it’. It is worth reading the novel on this basis alone; you might even start believing in reincarnation, because God, does Hosseini understand women. He  is able to give credence to their dreams and their pain in a manner I’ve never come across before.

The lighter moments in this book are fabulous, a man’s love for his wife is touchingly summed up in two lines:

Excerpt: She had this laugh. I swear it’s why I married her Laila, for that laugh. It bulldozed you. You stood no chance against it.”

That being said, this book is primarily about suffering. We are given more than an in-depth glance into what these women go through, we are made to live their metamorphosis from creatures of joy and hope into victims of dark cruelty and circumstance. One opportunity after another is wrenched away from them, one pleasure after another is seized, ruthlessly and efficiently. Every harsh word, every sneer, every kick, every cracked rib will resonate with the reader for an uncomfortably long time after the book is finished.

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So does A Thousand Splendid Suns match up to Hosseini’s previous masterpiece? Not quite. And the reason is, this time, unlike in The Kite Runner, Hosseini has got the balance wrong. Pain is nothing without pleasure. Agony is not quite as powerful without ecstasy. Sobs of despair don’t strike the same chord in the reader if he/she has not exploded into raucous laughter with the character in better times. The protagonist Mariam is not endowed with this fine balance;there are moments of hope and of joy, but they are few and far between and not…not quite pure.

A lovely follow-up to The Kite Runner, but prepare to feel at least a little wanting at the end.

Dubai- The Forbidden Book

Dubai. The Hot Spot…Where Adventurers play the world’s most dangerous games…Gold, Sex, Oil- and War

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With a tagline like that, it’s easy to see why this book was hushed up…Conspiracy theories fly up whenever this book is mentioned. The expats who have been around for a while, my dad included, always wonder what happened…It’s said that the rights of the book were bought off by the Sheikh, and all copies were destroyed.

He couldn’t account for Amazon and eBay though 🙂

I got my hands on a copy a week ago. Fascinating stuff. Admittedly, it is written as an out-and-out thriller, and hyperbole is definitely in the mix, but my word. Moore goes in-depth into the environment that existed before Dubai became Dubai…he pens fascinating descriptions of an Emirate so ruthlessly devoted to commerce & expansion that many cultural concerns (wine, women, song, human rights) were buried (no pun intended). He paints a far more telling picture of Rashid than anyone has before- As a compassionate ruler, the true Father of his people, but also as a merchant at heart- a wily genius who understood that for the long-term prosperity of Dubai, certain compromises would have to be made. Smuggling, that most elusive of trades, is scrutinised; the industry of gold ‘re-export’ is depicted with such titillating detail that it rings of truth. An excerpt talking about gold smuggling to India follows:

He was venturing into a most dangerous international area in arming and acting as a combat funner for a gold-smuggling syndicate. If he, an American, should be captured in the act of firing on the Indian Coast Guard on the high seas, an international incident would be provoked and disavowed by the Ruler and all his advisers. Majid Jabir had made this clear to him. Up to now, the Dubai gold re-exporters had dropped their gold overboard when menaced by Indian Coast Guard patrol launches and tbhus no charges could be preferred against them. A new tactic was no being attempted. Only when it had been succesfully employed and Fitz excused from further personal participation in the area of smuggling could the Ruler afford to officially receive him again.

Moore tells of the British hand in shaping the destiny of the Gulf, and revels in their power struggle with the Americans. Sex is no bit player either, there is a continuous plot of exotic women and madcap romps through the ‘Creek’.

For anyone raised in the Middle East, or anyone fascinated with Dubai’s status as a powerhouse of commerce and trade, this book is a must-read. There is a certain pride in it as well, Moore does not take the hackneyed approach of a Westerner deriding the Arab way; there is always an undercurrent of deep admiration and marvel at the enterprise and daring of the Emiratis.

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Robin Moore- Dubai

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/robin-moore/dubai.htm

http://www.amazon.com/Dubai-Robin-Moore/dp/0553100998