Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: Infinity: An Anonymous Biography by Nico Laeser- Fiction

Nico Laeser in his work of fiction entitled Infinity – An Anonymous Biography narrates an unusual life of a young man from childhood to young adult.  The salient points capture the ill-health of the boy for a span of twenty years. His parents cannot cope with his illness. Cleverly the author does not mention the type of illness but creatively expresses how the boy is being treated in a hospital and stays there for two years where he undergoes psychotherapy sessions until he is ready to be checked out.  The boy returns to a home where his parents appear different and sort of ignore him. He eventually leaves home and finds himself living with three other teenagers who look after him as best they can; he is not even a teenager at this point.

Laeser deftly takes the reader into the world of being homeless out of choice that leads the main character to becoming an addict through association and friendship of the three older teenage boys. Yet, amid this personal turmoil there is a ray of sunshine—this boy is a natural artist; on his fourteenth birthday, his room-mates buy him an easel, paint brushes and paint. He moves from doing drugs to painting works of art. There is a juxtaposition of sanity versus insanity. It is a gripping tale that illustrates how this boy becomes destitute and is able to survive through drug trafficking and creating works of art.

The author introduces an art gallery owner who befriends the young teenager, accepts his fine paintings, sells them, and is a force majeure in his re-habilitation from doing drugs to only painting beautiful art. For a while they become firm friends but eventually they go their separate ways. By this time, the young artist is in his mid-twenties and ready for a renewed life as an artist. But Laeser turns the story around to a very different ending.

Infinity – An Anonymous Biography is a story about life under unfortunate circumstances yet has layers of great accomplishment coupled with deep disappointment. It uncovers truths that keeps the reader on edge throughout.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: Lunatics, Lovers and Poets: Twelve Stories after Cervantes and Shakespeare - Short Stories

In his introduction, Salmon Rushdie describes the historical significance of the iconic writers, Cervantes and Shakespeare on their 400-year anniversary.  Both these men never met each other but individually inspired the citizens of their era and continue to do so today. Rushdie gives the reader a glimpse of the impact of their writings in the sphere of literature.

Six of the stories are translated from Spanish writers who portray their influence of Shakespeare in the form of their six stories; the authors are Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Yuri Herrera, Marcos Giralt Torrente, Soledad Puertolas, Vicente Molina Foix, and Valeria Luriselli. The other six stories are from English writers who shape their stories from their understanding of the work of Cervantes; the authors are Ben Okri, Kamila Shamsie, Nell Leyshon, Hisham Fatar, Doborah Levy, and Rhidian Brook.

Each story is different and includes fantasy, imagination, drama and a sense of reality within the many spheres of today’s world that encompass the writing style of each of these twelve authors. Their stories bring forth their individual enthusiasm of Shakespeare and Cervantes. Some are implicitly an inspiration from Cervantes or Shakespeare while others are subtle and lets the reader reflect on how the story came from the impact of one of these two iconic writers.

The short story collection entitled Lunatics, Lovers and Poets: Twelve Stories after Cervantes and Shakespeare is a treasure trove.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: The Joyous Cosmology by Alan Watts - Non-fiction

This review is sourced from My comments follow at the end of this review.

The Joyous Cosmology is Alan Watts’s exploration of the insight that the consciousness-changing drugs LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin can facilitate when accompanied with sustained philosophical reflection by a person who is in search, not of kicks, but of understanding.” More than an artifact, it is both a riveting memoir of Watts’s personal experiments and a profound meditation on our perennial questions about the nature of existence and the existence of the sacred.

The Joyous Cosmology is a verbal arrangement describing experiences for which our language hasn’t vocabulary. To understand this wonderfully difficult book it’s useful to make the artificial distinction between external & internal. This is exactly the distinction it wants to transcend. But Watts plays the verbal game in Western language. Readers can be excused for following along with conventional dichotomous models.

External & internal. Behavior & consciousness. Changing the external world is the genius & obsession of our civilization. In the last two centuries Western monotheistic cultures have faced outward & moved objects about with astonishing efficiency. More recently our culture has become aware of a disturbing imbalance. We’ve become aware of the undiscovered universe within, of uncharted regions of consciousness.

This trend isn’t new. The cycle has occurred in many cultures & individuals. Material success is followed by disillusion, basic why” questions & then by the discovery of the world within—a world infinitely more richly complex than the artifactual structures of the outer world, which are, in origin, projections of human imagination. Eventually, the logical conceptual mind turns on itself, recognizes the foolish inadequacy of the systems it imposes on the world, suspends its control & overthrows the domination of cognitive experience.

 My Comments: Joyous Cosmology was an interesting read that left me curious. It was technical at times but the images were profound and opened up a new trend of thought for me. The Epilogue and Appendix added to the understanding of what was portrayed in this book.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood - Fiction

The author, Margaret Atwood describes this novel as fiction based on reality. It is a story about Grace Marks who was convicted of murder in the mid 1800s in Toronto and was sent to the Kingston Penitentiary for almost three decades. 

The novel is set in Toronto and Richmond Hill where Grace Marks is a servant in these two households of well-to-do families. The author describes the lifestyle of being a servant within a household. Grace and her servant colleagues become friends, and treat each other in a typical manner in a work environment—sometimes with deep affection while other times with spite and animosity.

The novel commences with Grace’s parents moving to Canada from England for a better life. Tragedy unfolds while at sea but the family starts a new life in Canada. Through further mishaps, Grace leaves her family and works as a servant for a family in Toronto. Further tragedy occurs while in this household and eventually Grace settles with a family in Richmond Hill.  Mr. Thomas Kinnear the master of the household is murdered as well as his mistress, Nancy Montgomery who is also the head servant of this household.  Grace and her servant colleague James McDermott are accused of these murders.

The story unfolds with detailed descriptive settings of these two households and the personalities involved in the story which makes it a tedious read. The story is told from Grace’s perspective and during her time in the penitentiary. It has a happy ending of sorts. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Book Review: City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence: Non-fiction

Ben Rawlence in City of Thorns portrays the lives of nine refugees living in the largest UN refugee camp in Dadaab in the northern part of Kenya. Rawlence describes how these individuals escaped from mainly war-torn Somalia and Sudan to seek safety and security. 

Once in Dadaab, they are assessed and accordingly provided with the appropriate shelter in make-shift tents and are provided with food ration cards by the UN staff. There are markets and a variety of shops operating at a very basic level and health care is provided to those who need it. There is a police force as well as security guards to watch over the rows and rows of the housing complex It is meagre living under deplorable conditions. But on the surface it appears to be better than what they left behind. Over time, some return to their homeland but others continue living in Dadaab. Rawlence describes the relationships among the refugees; love and marriage, separation and divorce, mixed religious marriages and the taboo that ensues in these marriages. Watching soccer on the TV provides some sort of relief from the chaos of no sense of belonging anywhere.

Rawlence exposes the deficiencies of the UN and the Kenya Government. Children have been born in this camp and are now adults. The resilience of the human spirit is well documented through the eyes of the author. At times there is gang violence and episodes of Somali captors seeking Somalis who escaped their homeland. It is a troubled way of living in Dadaab.

City of Thorns is a heart-breaking rendition of nine lives in the largest refugee camp in the world.