The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

The Golden Legend is another exquisitely written novel by Nadeem Aslam.

An enthralling view into a world of politics, religion, persecution, corruption, love, loyalty, and extremism. A story of  violence and tenderness, love and fear, hope and despair, in a nation wracked by political and religious inconsistencies.

There are times throughout my reading year when I need to sit down with a “page-turner”, a book impossible to put down. A book I can finish in a couple of sittings.

This book is not one of those – it can’t be rushed. It needs to be savoured, not only to enjoy the richness of the writing, but to absorb the realities it explores. It takes us into a world contrasting significantly from the familiar western reality most of us take for granted, a place where political and religious allegiances, no matter loosely held, can make daily life precarious depending upon the opportunistic agendas of others .

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number9dream, David Mitchell

number9dreamI’ve liked most of what I’ve read of David Mitchell’s work.

He writes in interesting ways – never satisfied in telling a story in the most straight forward way, he experiments with genres, styles and, writing forms; even in the same novel, and somehow manages to keep it all coherent.

In number9dream, 19 year old Eiji Miyake has moved to Tokyo to search for the father he’s never known. Every step taken leads him to a disappointing, often dangerous  detour, sometimes real, other times not. Alternating between actual experience and various imagined scenarios.

Mitchell seems to have a talent for incorporating incidents and dialogue with potential to offend or disgust; yet not gratuitous offence for the sake of it.

Those occasions are used sparingly to spotlight the deep moral corruption of a character’s make-up. In this book there are some scenes of gruesome, brutal violence, effectively showing the world of the Yakuza, (powerful Japanese organised crime figures) into which Eiji stumbles.

I enjoyed a lot of this book but it definitely isn’t my favourite example of Mitchell’s work.  One section in particular didn’t work for me, more or less a story within the story, where the protagonist is hiding away for a time and discovers a writer’s manuscripts. The content of the manuscript stories is alternated with the main narrative of the book, but I haven’t got a clue why. To me it seemed like padding and lacked the coherence I mentioned above.

The end of the book was also a disappointment. For those who’ve seen David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive: I felt the book’s concluding section took a surrealist bent like the end of that movie… and then it just

New Salman Rushdie novel depicts Obama and Trump’s US

According to publisher Jonathan Cape, The Golden House, Rushdie’s 13th novel, follows “a young American filmmaker whose involvement with a secretive, tragedy-haunted family teaches him how to become a man”.

Starting with the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2008, the book will include current and recent political and social events, including the rise of the ultra-conservative Tea Party; the Gamergate scandal, which saw the widespread online harassment of female gaming journalists framed as a debate about media ethics; the debate over identity politics; and, perhaps most urgently, “the insurgence of a ruthlessly ambitious, narcissistic, media-savvy villain sporting makeup and coloured hair”.

Publishing director at Jonathan Cape, Michal Shavit called it “the ultimate novel about identity, truth, terror and lies” for “a new world order of alternate truths”.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/07/new-salman-rushdie-novel-depicts-obama-trump-us-golden-house

Now waiting for Trump to issue a fatwah sending Rushdie back into hiding again.

A book definitely on my “to buy” list.

Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loc

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte, is one of several books I’ve read over the past couple of years about WWI, its origins and its ongoing effects.

What it says about the spiritual conditions leading into (and through) the First World War seems disturbingly familiar. The specifics may have changed, but the general spirit of those conditions is unmistakably in the world again today; disguised to a degree – but with a flimsy mask.

“The alliance of church and state allowed the secular goals of government to get mixed up with the spiritual goals of Christianity.”
“Add to this the rise of the most potent political ideology of the hour: nationalism. The nation-state was replacing religion as a powerful source of meaning and identity in people’s lives…

…For devoted nationalists, their patriotic faith was equivalent to membership in an alternative church. For religious believers, nationalism offered a grandiose political outlet for their faith commitments. The result was the birth of Christian nationalism, the near sanctification of the modern state.”

That hybrid of nationalism and religion may have worked well at first for the recruitment of willing soldiers (“for God, King and country”) but it later had a detrimental impact on the faith of many. Christianity and God had been portrayed as being aligned with the cultural, political and philosophical systems of the age leading up to WWI, so:

Since Christianity was considered integral to Europe’s political and economic system, the perceived failure of that system was a spiritual failure as well.

…the Great War had defamed the values of the Old World, along with the religious doctrines that helped underwrite them.

Loconte writes about the despair and disbelief affecting the generation that lived through the War, and how it was reflected in post-war literary expression.

Postwar writers seemed to have no mental category for the nature of the conflict, no set of beliefs to understand it.

However he observes a difference in the work of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis who “rejected the sense of futility and agnosticism that infected so much [literary] output of their era”.

The dark horrors of their experience such as the scale of death and destruction informed their writings”

Central to their experience was an encounter with the presence of evil: the deep corruption of the human heart that makes it capable of hunting down and destroying millions of lives in a remorseless war of attrition.
A conviction emerged in both of these authors, however, that the problem of evil was not explainable only in natural terms. Rather, evil existed as a darkness in the soul of every human being and as a tangible spiritual force in the world.

But they also drew on aspects of “light”, things like the strong and often sacrificial relationships that sustained men through their time in the trenches. That close interdependent bond is the strength that, despite setbacks, ultimately leads the authors’ characters through the obstacles they face, looking ahead for the hope and promise of victory. But that hope wasn’t based on mere, vague wishfullness.

After returning to England from the front, Tolkien and Lewis might easily have joined the ranks of the rootless and disbelieving. Instead they became convinced there was only one truth, one singular event that could help the weary and the broken hearted find their way home: the Return of the King

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…the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess 4)

[All quotations, apart from the last are from A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte

Schindler’s Ark, by Thomas Keneally

Schindler's ArkThis is my 300th book read, since starting this blog in November 2009.

I wanted to mark my triple century with something of significance and worth, and thought this book met those conditions.

As a Booker prize winner it has literary recognition. As the inspiration for an Oscar winning film it gained a wider appreciation and appeal.

And the book’s topic and themes make it worthwhile representative of many of the books preceding it on my reading list.

Literature, war, Jewish history and the extremes of human nature;  some of the significant characteristics of the other books I’ve read in the past (almost) 7 years.

Schindler's ark 2

I’ve had this book for a long time, firstly in a paperback released as a movie tie-in, with of course the changed title of Schindler’s List. And then I came across the first (Australian) hardcover edition illustrated above. I bought it and gave the other one to my mum.

The book then sat on my bookshelf for a few years unread – until now.

In the beginning Keneally makes it clear that his book is not a history book, but a novel based on historical research and personal interviews with many of the people who appear in it as “characters”. I’m not entirely sure of the distinction he tries to make. It doesn’t seem any different to many of the military histories I’ve read over the past year. Maybe he wanted to distance his book from potential readers’ assumptions about the dryness of history telling.

Now that I’ve committed myself to making this my 300th book – it’s restricting me from starting something else alongside it, just in case I forget myself and finish that “something else” first.

 

 

 

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300!!!

Since I started my “books read” list in November 2009, I’ve read 298 books (as of today).

That means I’m only 2 books away from the triple century milestone and have read an average of 40+ books per year for the past 6-7 years.

Now, what do I do?

Just continue reading and ignore the “significance” of my 300th book? Or do I make sure I hit that target with a book of significance? But what would be a suitably significant book to read as my 300th?

I don’t have much time to make the choice. I’ll be starting book 299 today.

 

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A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

golden ageI read this over two days during my Christmas break and I’d love to write something that could express how much I enjoyed it. But I wouldn’t want my own expressive shortcomings to diminish anyone’s impression of the book through any “review” I wrote.

The story is set in the early 1970s during the civil war that led to Bangladesh winning independence from Pakistan. A brief glimpse of that time and its human cost is given through the experiences of the Haque family (mother, daughter and son) and their neighbours.
It’s a period of history that I knew nothing about before reading this book, apart from remembering that George Harrison had arranged a benefit concert and album on behalf of Bangladesh when I was a young teen.

I found the book had a slight similarity to the work of Nadeem Aslam, one of my favourite writers, exploring political ambiguities and occasional brutality in a vividly poetic way through an intimate human story.

My disappointment at coming to the end of the book and leaving the lives of the Haques has been tempered by the knowledge that the family story continues in another book The Good Moslem.

The final part of what I’ve heard is intended to be a trilogy has yet to be released.