Where the Streets Had a Name, Randa Abdel-Fattah

Every political situation has human face: often unseen or unnoticed, expediently pushed aside and ignored. Decisions made by rulers affect voiceless, everyday people who are prevented from determining their own path in life.

In Where the Streets Had a Name,  an elderly character describes this to her granddaughter.

 

“My life has been all politics,” she whispers as she touches the pile of photographs of my aunts and uncles on her bedside table. “I do not watch the television for politics because it is in every breath I take. It is here in this apartment, in the empty chairs that should hold my children who were forced to scatter around the world. It is here in the mint leaves floating in this cup of tea beside my bed. Mint leaves that should have been picked from the garden bed in my home, not bought from Abo Yusuf’s store. It is in the olives I eat from someone else’s tree and the patch of sky I am told I must not live under”.

This grandmother was made a victim of circumstances beyond her control, when national borders shifted, separating her and her family from their home and land, being moved from refugee camp to small apartments, prevented from returning to her former home by both political and physical barriers.

When a health scare sends her to hospital, her granddaughter, 13 year old Hayaat decides to aid her recovery by collecting a jar full of soil from her home village (now a part of Jerusalem). The seven kilometre journey between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is made into a major expedition, taking several hours in a variety of vehicles, held up by multiple check points, with seemingly pointless delays, dependant on the whim of checkpoint guards. On arrival in Jerusalem before she reaches her intended destination, Hayaat gets inadvertently caught up in a demonstration, bringing her face to face with tragedy from her past.

As a supporter of Israel I tentatively moved through the first few chapters wondering how biased the story would seem – but I started to realise that the fear came out of MY biased expectations and not the story.

I said I’m a supporter of Israel, and I could have qualified that statement by saying I’m not a supporter of everything that Israel does. I think reading this book has shown me the extent that my qualification was probably more of a self-justifying platitude than a reflection of a well-considered stance, because I’d never given much thought to the day to day experience of those affected adversely by unjust Israeli government policy.

 

I am thirteen years old and I know what blood is. I know what loss is. I know the smell of a corpse. I know the sound of people screaming in terror as they run from a tank. I know the dusty clouds left behind a frenzied bulldozer. The wall will soon be finished. Parts of Bethlehem will be fully deserted. Businesses closed, houses abandoned, streets emptied, schools sliced in half. I’m living in an open-air prison.

 

Reading this book hasn’t changed my support of Israel.

That support is based on my faith as a Christian and informed by my understanding of land ownership promises made by God to the people of Israel (as recorded in the Bible).

However, the benefits of those promises come with responsibilities of justice that aren’t always upheld by the current nation of Israel. But that ongoing story has some way to go…

 

 

 

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And peoples shall flow to it.

Many nations shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion the law shall go forth,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between many peoples,
And rebuke strong nations afar off;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.

But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree,
And no one shall make them afraid;
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Micah 4:1-4

But in the meantime, support for Israel should not mean support of oppressive policies and actions directed towards any people living within borders under Israel’s control.

And neither should support of those experiencing injustice under Israel’s government mean holding a hostile attitude towards Israel as a nation and as a people.

Posted in politics, Randa Abdel-Fattah | Tagged | 1 Comment

Half Girlfriend, by Chetan Bhagat

Half Girlfriend follows the complicated relationship between Madhav Jha and Riya Somani, who meet at college in Delhi.

Madhav is heir of  a faded “royal” family from a poor Indian town where his mother manages and teaches at the local impoverished school. Riya’s family is ultra-rich, a fact she finds limiting, as family and class expectations hinder her personal dreams.

Madhav falls for Riya at first sight and a shared interest in basketball gives him the hope of initiating and furthering a relationship with her; but while Riya encourages close friendship, she makes it clear that she doesn’t want a full “girlfriend-boyfriend” relationship, a situation Madhav finds hard to accept. What does Riya mean by “half girlfriend” anyway?

Through breakup, forgiveness, reconciliation and heartbreak the relationship between the two is never easy when each seems to want something different. What would it take for their situation to be resolved?

And what roles do the book’s  author (Chetan Bhagat himself) and Bill Gates play in the couple’s attempt to maintain their relationship despite their differing desires and expectations?

 

This is another book I found while trawling through the shelves of  a local charity shop. I’ve been looking for books by authors of non-western backgrounds because I find they give a different perspective to “western” writers.

Half Girlfriend could be included in the same kind of  category as Mike Gayle’s books: stories I can always rely on to help me overcome “reader’s block” – when I need to read a book I know I won’t be able to put down until its finished. Mike Gayle is someone I turn to when I’ve read one too many “worthy” novels and need to rediscover a love of reading for reading’s sake, when story is given priority over the author’s clever wordplay. I found this book had  a similar appeal to Gayle’s work, the main differences being its setting and the cultural background of the characters, both of which play a significant part of the story.

As evidence of how much I enjoyed the book, I chose to order a boxed set of 8 of Bhagat’s books (which includes a new copy of this one). He’s someone whose work I’d like to read beyond this one story.

In trying to find out more about his writing, I found that some of his books have been adapted into Bollywood films. Half Girlfriend seems to be the most recent adaptation. After watching the trailer (see below), I hope it’s a film that will eventually be released on DVD.

According to what I’ve read about Bhagat, his first language isn’t English, but he writes in English for a mainly Indian readership and sells far fewer copies outside of India than he does in his homeland. After reading half way through my charity-store copy I came across the receipt from the original book purchase: at an airport shop in Mumbai (for 176 Indian Rupees).

The following description of Bhagat was in the Guardian:

…the 39-year-old Punjabi is one of India’s most successful English-language novelists currently at work. Unlike Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Aravind Adiga, however, he has not been adopted by London’s literati, anointed the “authentic” voice of the subcontinent and exported back to a fawning welcome by India’s anglophone elite. Nor is Bhagat’s phenomenal success (with six novels shifting 7 million copies) due to foreign sales and profile – of which he has very little. It’s more to do with his intimacy with lower-born Indians, whose restricted hopes, humdrum work, romantic dramas, family tensions and sense of humour he has shared and sympathises with.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/24/chetan-bhagat-interview-bollywood-favourite-author-india

The article also notes that his work has been described as “Hornby-lite”, a reference to Nick Hornby, another writer I enjoy whose work, along with Mike Gayle, has been pejoratively described as lad-lit. A term used as a comparison to “chick-lit”.

Lad Lit is a fictional genre of male-authored novels about young men and their emotional and personal lives, often characterized by a confessional and humorous writing style. The term combines the word “lad,” which refers to a boy or young man and “lit,” which is short for “literature.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lad%E2%80%93lit

 

 

 

_____________

 

 

Posted in Chetan Bhagat, Mike Gayle | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Lord of the Rings Meets Donald trump

Posted in LOTR, politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

In His Strength, by Noriko Dethlefs

Letters from Afghanistan 2005-2009.

A journal-like record of life in Afghanistan as observed and experienced by a Japanese-Australian teacher.

Noriko Dethlefs’ husband was posted to Afghanistan to serve with the Christian Blind Mission.

This account of her life in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2009 gives an insight into the different cultural attitudes and religious beliefs she encountered as well as the daily dangers faced by both locals and foreigners.

She also writes about the lack of comforts that we in the “west” take for granted that Afghans do without throughout their lives.

The book shows that despite all of those differences, there is a shared, vulnerable humanity.

That’s something too often forgotten or purposely avoided when it becomes politically expedient.

Read more here:
https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/across-the-cultures-a-shared-need-of-god/

Posted in Afghanistan, Christian, Noriko Dethlefs | Tagged ,

No Is Not Enough 2, Naomi Klein

Posted in Climate Change, Economics, Naomi Klein, politics | Tagged

No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein

I’m waiting on the delivery of my copy of this and this morning watched an interview with Klein related to the book.

Click on the link to access the interview.

 

https://publish.dvlabs.com/democracynow/360/dn2017-0613.mp4?start=1029.0&end=1716.0

 

 

Posted in Naomi Klein, politics | Tagged , ,

Nadeem Aslam: The Golden Legend

Nadeem Aslam is at the top of the list of my favourite authors. This interview has just been posted on the ABC Radio website.

“If you don’t like my books, you won’t like me. I am my books”.
Nadeem Aslam on his latest novel The Golden Legend, inspired by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.


 

Nadeem Aslam on blasphemy laws in Pakistan:

If you go to the police and say, this person who lives next to me, or a friend of mine, or just this stranger has said something rude about Mohammed. You’re not allowed to repeat what it was. Because then you too would have committed blasphemy. This is such a Kafkaesque situation.

So the people are on death row and nobody’s allowed to say what they actually did.

________________________________

Interview is from here:
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/nadeem-aslams-the-golden-legend/8472170

Posted in Nadeem Aslam | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Enemy Coast Ahead by Guy Gibson VC DSO DFC

Guy Gibson was my childhood hero.

I don’t know how I heard of him and his involvement in the “Dam Busters” raid, or why I came to idolise him; but as a pre-teen I developed a brief obsession with the man and the “Dam Busters”.

I don’t recall seeing the 1955 film of the raid before my interest began, so that doesn’t seem to have been the spark, but I did read Paul Brickhill’s book on which the film was based; borrowing it from the local library on several occasions.

A few months ago I found a hard cover copy of the Brickhill book in a Canberra second hand book shop and couldn’t resist spending a few dollars to get it. As I was paying for it, the shop assistant told me he had a copy of Guy Gibson’s own account of the raid, Enemy Coast Ahead, somewhere at the back of the shop. It was a book I vaguely knew about, but had never seen before.

I happily added it to the Brickhill book purchase.

This week was Anzac Day, one of the most significant Australian commemorative holidays, when the war service of Australian and New Zealand military men and women is remembered. Around this time TV channels dust off their war movies and documentaries so they can broadcast relevant programs.

A day or two before Anzac Day, the Dam Busters film was screened, and for the first time in many years I was able to see it, and was surprised to find how good it was for a war film of its the time.

Straight away I picked up Gibson’s book and started reading. Again I was surprised. For a book written so long ago by someone not primarily a writer, it presents a very readable, uncompromising insight into the day to day life of a bomber pilot, from the first days after his call-up, through weeks of tense inactivity, to his early experiences as a bomber pilot and on to the famed dam raids a few years later.

Gibson doesn’t hold back the more “human” aspects of a bomber crew’s life, and its off-duty hours of drinking, partying and womanising. But as he makes clear, they were men who were not expecting to live long. They didn’t know when they’d be called upon to fly out on what could be their last mission, and their last day of life.

In the early days of September [1939] I had an appointment with the dentist but didn’t turn up. He had seen me in the Mess afterwards. “I did not come along” I explained, ” because I didn’t see any point in having my teeth fixed and going through agony in the process, when I was likely to die within the next few days”

Although this incident preceded any of Gibson’s serious missions, for evidence [in hindsight] that there was no flippancy in his remarks to the dentist, the reader only needs to look through the list of 100 former crew members to whom Gibson dedicates his book, all of whom were killed, or missing presumed killed, at the time of the book’s writing. Gibson himself could later be added to that list after not returning from a mission over Germany in September 1944.

Posted in Guy Gibson, Memoir, War | Tagged | 1 Comment

Blood on my Hands, a Surgeon at War by Craig Jurisevic


This is another book related to military medicine, but this one has a slight difference. Jurisevic was an Australian volunteer doctor who chose to help refugees who were fleeing from Kosovo to get away from a murderous campaign waged by Serbia under the government of Slobodan Milosevic.

What started out as a “simple” aim to serve in a surgical capacity for a volunteer organisation became complicated when Jurisevic exposed corruption at the main hospital in the town he was stationed, where severely wounded and sick refugees were being forced to pay for treatment or left to die.

He became a likely target for the organised crime group behind the extortion, so was encouraged by the Kosovan resistance to join them at their front line camp where they offered protection. He then found himself in situations far outside of his intended surgical role; seeing the need to train eager but woefully unprepared fighters from around the world in the essential basics of military competency.
Serving previously in a medical capacity under combat conditions in Gaza was helpful to him in ways he couldn’t have anticipated.

 

_________________

 

“They killed fourteen from my village. Three were children. They shot the children first so that their fathers and mothers could see. They shot the parents of these children with some others of my village”
( from a survivor of Sapuzane, Serbia, as told to Craig Jurisevic after fleeing across the border to Albania).

Posted in Craig Jurisevic, refugees, War | Tagged ,

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

Trigger MortisI read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books in my early teens and later tried some of those written by other authors after Fleming’s death. To me those post-Fleming books lacked authenticity, particularly the “novelisations” spun off from 1980s films. I especially never warmed to John Gardner’s ventures into the Bond world.

Last year I returned to Bond through Jeffrey Deaver’s Carte Blanche, and again, like the earlier attempts to follow in Fleming’s footsteps, I found it didn’t quite hit the mark, but things are different with Anthony Horowitz and Trigger Mortis.

Horowitz returns to the settings of the original Bond books, keeping Bond in the Fleming time period, and placing his story immediately after the events of Fleming’s Goldfinger.

The first part of Trigger Mortis adapts a previously unpublished Fleming short story in which Bond enters the extreme world of 1950s car racing (the equivalent of formula one with minimal safety restrictions). Suspicions raised during that introduction lead Bond into the heart of a Russian plot to destabilise the infant US space program.

I found the book’s tone and characterisation were more consistent with Fleming’s Bond than any of those by other writers who attempted Bond.

As with Horowitz’s TV series Foyle’s War, the writer adapts and weaves real historical events into the background of his story. Apart from aspects of America’s fledgling space programme, Horowitz also referenced events from the Korean War, where southern Korean refugees trying to flee to safety ahead of the advancing North Korean army, were massacred by US forces, fearful of North Koreans infiltrating their territory hidden among the escaping masses. While Horowitz offers little explanation for the atrocity, I found more detail in another book I’ve been reading recently: The Korean War by Cameron Forbes.

Posted in Anthony Horowitz, spy fiction | Tagged