Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Sirens of Baghdad

Title: The Sirens of Baghdad
Author: Yasmina Khadra
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 320
Edition: Hardcover

2003 ~ American Invasion of Iraq. Missiles Dropped. Gunshots Fired. Bombs Exploded. Thick plumes of smoke blanket the sky. It's the end of Saddam's regime. The political repression and the growing insurgency results in hundreds of fatalities. The entire city of Baghdad is burning...

An unnamed young man, the protagonist of the novel, returns to his village Kafr Kafram, as the university of Baghdad shuts down due to the American Invasion. His hopes crushed; his future bleak; his dreams thwarted. His family pride torn apart.

In Kafr Karam, the young man, taciturn by nature, lived on the roof in a remodeled laundry room. He whiles away his time listening to his "tinny radio". The local men meet up at the café to engage themselves in heated arguments about the invasion which may end up in an occasional brawl. However, our young man sticks to his own; He wants no violence, no blood, no fight.

Though Baghdad is going up in flames, the little village of Kafr Karam offers a safe haven to its people. Until one day, When the American troops set foot in their muddy grounds. The village men witness the atrocities of the war first hand. For our young man, a Bedouin, three disturbing events transform his life forever. First, A local village idiot gets killed accidentally by the American troops at a checkpoint. Second, An American missile dropped over a wedding party on the outskirts of the village. But, What pushes him over the edge? When the American troops ransack the young man's home for terrorists and humiliate his father in front of everyone in the family. The young man takes it as an assault on his family honor. In his own words, he says "For Bedouin, honor is no joking matter. An offense must be washed away in blood, which is the sole authorized detergent when it's a question of keeping one's self-respect." and he swears to himself that he should avenge the American troops for their despicable act. He leaves for Baghdad and undertakes several small undercover operations before chosen for the most dangerous mission of all times. Will he accomplish his mission?

The novel offers a chilling look at the life of an ordinary young man who is lured into the world of terrorism and why he chooses to become a martyr. Life altering events happen. But, What makes one choose death over life? The story left me with many questions to ponder over. Like, when people shed blood and lose their dear ones in the name of war, what does it do to them? How does it affect them? And, How do they seek revenge? What lures them into becoming a terrorist or a suicide bomber? Why must anger be washed away with blood and gore? For God's sake, Why wage war? What do you gain after losing thousands of lives?

Yasmina Khadra is a master story teller and I devoured his novel 'The swallows of Kabul'. Here comes his latest work offering a great insight into the Middle eastern culture and the World of Islam. I was so captivated by his writing style that I found it really hard to put down. He narrates the story with such ferocity that it was hard to believe its a work of fiction after all. Highly Recommended!

My Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Peony In Love

Title: Peony in Love
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 304
Edition: Hardcover

Not too long ago, I attended the Book Club Event hosted by Sacramento Bee. Lisa See was the speaker. See's enticing speech about her latest book 'Peony In Love' made me want to read the book right away. When I read it I was in for a delightful treat!

'Peony in Love' is based on a true story about three young women who were married to the same man. They were part of a category known as 'Lovesick Maidens,' women who would catch a case of love sickness, waste away and die. Obsessed with the opera 'Peony Pavilion', the lovesick maidens made copious notes which were later published into a book called 'Three Wives Collaborative Commentary on The Peony Pavilion' - the first book of its kind to be published anywhere in the world.

Peony Chen, the protagonist of the novel, is a young 16-year-old girl who grows up in a wealthy family. Confined to the house, Peony's only view of the outside world is through the lookout pavilion in her garden villa. Peony's marriage is arranged with a man she has never seen. On her 16th birthday, her father brings in a small theatrical troupe for a screening of Peony's much beloved opera. Despite her mother's disapproval of the idea, selected scenes from the opera were staged in the garden of the Chen's Family Villa.

In those days, unmarried women should not be seen in public. Hence, Peony watches the opera from behind the screen. Through the little opening she catches the glimpse of a handsome man whom she falls in love with. As Peony suffers from love sickness, she is drawn to the opera and spends all her time poring over it. Eventually, like all the 'love sick maiden', she wastes away and dies. Peony reaches the after world and wanders as a hungry ghost. The story then follows the footsteps of Peony and her quest to unite with the love of her life.

Not having read many Chinese based novels, 'Peony In Love' offered me a wonderful insight into the Chinese traditions and customs. The intricate realm of Chinese after world, Ghost Weddings, Feast for Hungry Ghosts and ancestral worship were some of the fascinating segments of the book. A few pages were devoted to the excruciatingly painful foot-binding custom practiced in ancient China. I really enjoyed reading this novel, even though it was a bit of a drag towards the end. I look forward to reading her bestseller 'The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan'.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The GraveDigger's Daughter

Title: The Gravedigger's Daughter
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 582
Edition: Hardcover

Joyce Carol Oates is quite a prolific writer and touted for her works on rural poverty, sexual abuse, violence, female childhood and adulthood. She has churned out 36 novels so far, averaging two books a year. She has won numerous book awards and nominated for pulitzer prize thrice. 'The GraveDigger's Daughter' is her latest work.

Prologue ~ 1959, Chatauqua Falls, New York ~ Rebecca Schwart on her way back from her factory job was troubled by a stalker who mistakes her as 'Hazel Jones'.

1936, Milburn, New York ~ Rebecca's parents Jacob and Anna Schwart along with their two sons flee Nazis Germany in 1936 to immigrate to the United States and settle in upstate NewYork. Rebecca Schwart, the protagonist of the novel, is born in the boat crossing over. Jacob, a former school teacher in Munich, works as the gravedigger and the cemetery caretaker in Milburn. The Schwarts family were tormented by their past memories and they find no peace in Milburn either. The local townsmen taunt them for being Jews and Jacob despises every single one of them. An unprecedented event upends the family once and for all. Jacob kills Anna and commits suicide not before attempting to kill Rebecca.

Rebecca flees home and marries Niles Tignor and gives birth to Niles Jr. Apparently, Rebecca was not destined for happiness in life. She flees once again from her philandering husband Niles Tignor, when he brutally beats her and attempts to kill her. Rebecca adopts the identity of Hazel Jones and Niles Jr. the alias of Zacharias. As hope and happiness eludes her, she finds herself constantly on the run. Rebecca finds solace in the arms of Niles Jr, who grows up to be pianist.

Rebecca moves on to seek a new beginning, a promising life with happiness and hope. Will she ever find it?

Even after the epilogue, some questions do remain at the end, as some parts of the story were left dangling for the readers to comprehend. An emotional and touching story turned out to be rather a boring read because of the writing style. The prose was very exhaustive, slack and repetitive. I couldn't help myself stifling a yawn now and then. Having won so many accolades, I was curious to discover more of her books. Now, I am skeptical if I would ever pick up her book again! Quite Boring...

My Rating: 2/5