Friday, May 19, 2017

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant: Non-fiction

Authors Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant collaborated in writing Option B, a notable non-fiction resource on facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy.  In the introduction, Sandberg indicates that the pieces written in the first person are to be attributed to her and anything written in the third person are Grant's contributions.

Sandberg portrays a profound picture of the sudden death of her spouse while on a trip in Mexico.  She explains how it happened and the immediate aftermath of her discovery of her spouse dying and what happens next. Sandberg delves into the reality of her spouse being no more and returning home to tell her young children this heartbreaking fact of their father gone forever. Sandberg's contributions are a powerful depiction of grappling with loss and that after the emotional survival there is sunshine with a difference.

Whereas Grant's contributions focuses on a variety of losses originating from divorce and other forces of life.  As a reader these juxtaposition situations cause a re-focus of moving from one situation to another with very different emotional impacts and yet resolving the issues to assist in advancing with day-to-day living despite the loss one encounters.

Option B serves different audiences; it is difficult to determine how to rate this resource.  If you are seeking to identify with Sandberg's situation then focus on her pieces. But if you have other issues stemming from a different kind of loss then focus on Grant's contributions. It was a puzzling read to move from one situation to another.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book Review: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen - A Memoir

Out of Africa is a memoir of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke written under the pen name Isak Dinesen. The author reflects on the seventeen years of her life in Kenya beginning in 1913 which was then known as British East Africa and later became a colony of Great Britain. It is a commentary from a European perspective of that era.

Dinesen describes the day-to-day living on a coffee plantation that she owns and operates. Her vivid accounts of interacting with the Kikuyu, Masai and Somali are almost startling in her depiction of the natives as being almost animal like. They understand the wild animals and know how to act in their presence and accordingly live in harmony with these wild animals. She engages in shooting these animals if they interfere with her lifestyle on the plantation and that of her squatters who live on plots of land on the periphery of this plantation. They are all her employees. There are various stories of some specific employees who have the greatest impact on her lifestyle. In each of these stories Dinesen distinguishes these employees by character and personality and in so doing favours one group over the other.

She has African trails in her courtyard; decisions are made about a variety of disagreements, arguments and even payment methods for loss of life that occur as a result of accidents. Through her portrayal of these events, the reader is put in a juxtaposition of being in praise of Karen Blixen while at the same time observing the power structure of the white settler over the local African people.

There are no descriptions of her marriage partner, her first husband, Swedish Baron Bror van Blixen-Finecke. But Dinesen does sketch her second partner, a British nobleman, Denys Finch-Htton who appears to be mostly on safaris within the country and does drop by for short stays with her at the plantation. Her fond descriptions of his demise in Kenya are notable. It is evident her life in Kenya was one of isolation with occasional visits from other white settlers and her few necessary trips into Nairobi.

Throughout the reading of this memoir, it is clearly evident that it is written during the time of the white colonial era by a white settler. It aptly captures the frame of mind of these white inhabitants of Kenya. There is no mention that the land was confiscated by the white settlers and accordingly apportioned to the Europeans; in return these Europeans employed the Africans to work on the land that belonged to them and not to the colonists.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Book Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood - Fiction

Review: Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed is an insightful retelling of The Tempest
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 10:55AM EDT

Illusions, even when we know they are illusions, have an awesome power. They entice, transform, avenge, torment, restore. The complex power of illusion-building is a central preoccupation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, one of the Bard’s most wondrous and enigmatic plays. In The Tempest, magic – though illusory – is still potently seductive, dangerous, cathartic and restorative, like theatre itself.

So it is in Margaret Atwood’s contemporary retelling of the play, Hag-Seed.

The story takes place in a small town in present day Ontario. Felix Phillips is the edgy and unorthodox artistic director of the Makeshiweg Festival. He’s getting ready to direct The Tempest, starring himself as the play’s infamous magician, Prospero. He hopes the production will help him reconnect with his dead daughter, Miranda, tragically gone from illness at the age of three. Just before the play goes into rehearsal, he is fired and replaced by scheming nemesis Tony (Antonio, anyone?).

Felix goes into hiding for 12 years, living in a cave-esque dwelling, brooding upon revenge and talking to the imaginary ghost of his daughter, Miranda. Though Felix is cognizant of the complex illusion he creates in Miranda, he continues to indulge himself and cultivate her image, allowing her to age as a child.

Following nine years of shifty solitude, Felix – now going by the pseudonym F. Duke – gets a job offer to teach literacy to the prisoners in the Fletcher County Correctional Institute. He decides to have his prisoners put on productions of Shakespeare’s plays. When the program faces cuts by evil Tony and his ilk of ministers, Felix decides to put on a special, interactive production of The Tempest. His production, which forces the real world and the theatrical world to conflate, seeks revenge on his enemies and stars Felix as the enigmatic, vengeful and ever complex sorcerer, Prospero. This play inside the play is, itself, a brilliant intermingling of the world of Hag-Seed and The Tempest.

If The Tempest is Shakespeare’s most wondrous play, Atwood’s Hag-Seed is, in every way, a wonder. Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series – in which A-list writers were commissioned to rewrite the plays as novels in honour of Shakespeare’s 400-year anniversary – Hag-Seed recasts Shakespeare’s timeless appeal. As an adaptation, Hag-Seed is a work of genius. Atwood doesn’t shy away from any of the play’s ambiguities and complexities, but embraces them fully, performing and interrogating them into the novel’s Matryoshka doll of a plot. Her reimagined characters each add their own shade of meaning, their unique understanding of freedom and imprisonment. Atwood makes room in her novel for all of these voices, all of these possibilities. One of the many pleasures of the novel is reading a prisoner’s speculation on Caliban’s origin story as well as his rap-like chant rant. The Bard, I think, would approve.

Like The Tempest, in Atwood’s Hag-Seed one thing is never just one thing. Felix, a.k.a. Prospero, is both the victim of one plot and the master manipulator of another. The actors are also prisoners – dangerous but vulnerable. The means of vengeance – the theatre – are also the means of forgiveness and grace. Illusion is also truth. Atwood’s choice to stage The Tempest in a prison exposes these conflicting roles and the many kinds of imprisonment that the play engages. The play after all, as she so rightly observes, is about prisons. But here, prisoners are performers, just as Felix is acting out of his own prison of grief and desire for vengeance. And even though we have been backstage all along, watching Felix assemble the tools and mechanisms of his revenge, he hides from us as any good magician would. The climax is still a wondrous surprise.

The novel, of course, sparkles with Atwood’s characteristic wit and play with language. She deftly weaves the language of Shakespeare into her taut and ever shimmering prose, making the lines sing. And there is the pleasure, too, of Shakespeare’s curses – the only curse words the prisoners are allowed to use. A joyful celebration of Shakespeare’s high and low language, from insults like “whoreson” and “hagseed” to enigmatic lines like “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”

For readers familiar with The Tempest, Atwood’s deeply insightful and complex engagement with the play will delight and awe. For Atwood fans new and old, Hag-Seed is sheer delight – wonderful in every sense. Reading it will no doubt spark a desire to return to the play. As with theatre, its illusions seduce and we willingly allow ourselves to be seduced. Felix says of the Bard, “Shakespeare has something for everyone, because that’s who his audience was: everyone.” These are apt words for Hag-Seed too. In this shimmering tale that celebrates Shakespeare’s tricky genius, his immortal reach, Atwood has given us something for everyone.

My Comments: It is a tale that brings to the surface the human emotions of sadness and sorrow with a masterful illustration of a strong desire to rise up in times of despair through a subtle but revengeful manner.  Atwood's language prowess is clearly evident throughout the novel. It is an excellent read.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Book Review - The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks by Joshua Cooper Ramo - Non-Fiction

Joshua Cooper Ramo in his non-fiction book entitled The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks takes the reader on a fascinating journey of human adjustment to changing times over the past few generations. As a preamble to each change, Ramo describes the cause of the change and takes the reader back in history to illustrate how and why the change occurred and draws the analogy to what is happening in today’s Age of Networks.

The author beautifully incorporates history and philosophical thoughts from a variety of philosophers to validate his portrayal of human behavior when transforming to living in a different era. Ramo outlines the natural inclination for humans to innovate and create new ways thereby giving rise to the power struggles between those who easily adapt and those who cannot adapt. This is the common thread through the generational changes that have transpired over time and continues in the Age of Networks of today.

The Age of Networks is about being continually connected with the many gadgets that are available on the market. Any form of data is immediately transmitted by everyone and anyone for consumption and reaction. It is instant. Everyone is linked through a mass of wired meshes, known as networks created by those who know how to do it; they design gatelands and are the gatekeepers whereas the users of this connectivity are the gatekept. Here is where Ramo highlights the power shifts of today’s world. The gatekeepers decide who will enter through the gateland. This connectivity can be a source of immense benefit while at the same time be a source of great disruption. The author does not specifically delineate the need for a balance between the benefits and disruptions. Perhaps those in governance will figure it out.

The Seventh Sense is enlightening; it informs, explains and educates the reader on the status of today’s times—the Age of Networks. We’d be advised to join in or be left out in the dark.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Video: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A classic story that reminds us of those who give and those who do not. Those who are optimistic and those who are pessimistic. Need I add those who see the glass half full while some see it half empty.

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.