Monday, March 25, 2013

Fishing for Stars by Bryce Courtenay

The latest book that I read is Fishing for Stars by Bryce Courtenay. Goodreads link is located here: I am no longer going to put spoiler alerts in the title of my entries on books, from now on, if you want to read a book review by me, you are reading at your own risk. You have been warned.

When I took this book out of my cupboard (I had bought it last year and it had been lying in my cupboard collecting dust since then) and read the description, I was a bit hesitant to read the book thinking it would be really boring as the description sounded so boring. But then I thought to myself that I must’ve seen something in it if I bought it (I am very picky in choosing books) so I must give it a try with an open mind. It is a decision that I do not regret because this turned out to be an excellent book.

Unfortunately I had the exact same luck with this  book that I had with the previous two books that I read. This book is a freakin sequel!!!  It has a prequel and this book is its sequel. Its like sequels are coming after me or something, LOL. However, thankfully I did not experience the usual problem that one experiences with sequels. I did not feel as if this book has a prequel nor at any point did I experience the need to want to read the prequel. All the characters were so well introduced and well formed that you felt like you actually know these people, as if they are your friends or your relatives or your neighbours or somebody to you.

Bryce Courtenay is a South African author who has lived most of his life in Australia. I was reading his mini-biography on Goodreads and turns out that he has lived a very eventful and colourful life with quite unusual and unique experiences. I believe this is something that reflects in his work as even in this book the characters have lived colourful lives with unusual and unique experiences.

This happens to be one of those books that a person really learns from. Even though the book itself may be a work of fiction, it consists of many factual items in it. Reading this book taught a lot about the Yakuza, which is the Japanese mafia and how they operate. You get to learn about their hierarchy, their focus on extreme discipline and obedience, how extreme punishments are carried out for the most minor of mistakes and the decision making process. Japanese culture is really explored in detail, especially how complicated gender roles are in Japanese society and the complex rules and regulations surrounding honour.

We even learn about environmental efforts in Tasmania and how the war in East Timor really impacted the environment there due to underhand government dealings and what efforts were undertaken in order to preserve the environment and protect the natural habitat of varies species that live in the region.  

This book revolves around a guy, Nicolas Duncan who is an old guy and a former soldier who served during the Second World War who has made a lot of money in the shipping business and living a quiet and assuming life on a small island in Australia. This book is written in an autobiographical style as we are reading the memoirs that Nicolas Duncan has written about his life after the Second World War and the two ladies in his life and how they both, at the end had made an agreement with each other to share him yet the two ladies have their rivalries calling each other Princess Plunder and Green Bitch behind each other’s backs.

One of those ladies is Anna, whom Duncan met when she and her father were escaping the Japanese invasion illegally on a boat. The boat had shipwrecked with Anna being the sole survivor. Many years pass in between after which Anna and Duncan reunite where we learn that Anna is a heroin addict and a shrewd businesswoman with a very keen eye for business and an obsession for money, making her a multi billionaire many times over. And it is through Anna that we learn about Japan as Anna had lived part of her life in Japan plus she and Duncan went on a long trip to Japan where it turns out that Duncan’s friend since the past 25 years is actually the head of the Japanese Yakuza.

The second lady is Marg. Marg is a navy admiral’s widow with two children. Marg and Duncan first met when Duncan was in the armed forces and then separated when Marg got married. We learn about the Tasmanian environmental struggles through Marg as Marg is very passionate about the environment. She is a member of the Tasmanian Green Party and a member of parliament and a vocal advocate for protecting the natural habitats of frogs and orangutans.

In conclusion, it is a very interesting book. Written in memoir style, it follows the diverse and unique lives of three very interesting, diverse and unique individuals.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Appeal of Indian Dramas

When I initially started my blog back in December, I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing starting a blog, I have like no freakin’ thing to write about, what the hell am I getting myself into”, so it is with that feeling that I asked a friend of mine to suggest a topic for me to write on, and he suggested to me that I should write about why people like these Indian TV serials so much. Well that topic just got buried amongst my list of possible topics plus I just never came about to writing on this topic either. Well today the topic has been revived as it was dug out of its grave and subsequently resurrected. So here it is.

Indian TV serials are very popular in my country. They have declined in popularity since the past several years due to the arrival of good quality locally made television serials plus Turkish TV serials which are dubbed in Urdu. Indian TV serials are pure insanity. Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t have anything against India or Indian people, but I am sorry to say, these TV serials are insane. And Monday to Friday (or now Monday to Saturday and schedules have changed) I get a dose of them, whether I like them or not, so I would say that I do enough to spit out an article on it.

Firstly, they have so much jewellery, all the time dressed up in makeup and jewellery like it is nobody’s business. The people can be facing tough financial problems to the extent that they have had to sell off their furniture and their other personal belongings and have been forced to shift from their huge mansion which was spread over acres into a one room home, and yet the makeup and the jewellery will remain intact as it is. The clothes even remain as expensive. And what is even more interesting is that they even go to sleep with all that makeup and jewellery. I wonder how they do that, jewellery can be very uncomfortable in your sleep. Even when conducting the household chores the jewellery remains intact.

Money is a big issue in the shows too. Gives people a glimpse of how the elite class lives. The elite class, to many, appears to be very fascinating and very interesting. All of the individuals portrayed in the Indian TV serials belong to the elite class. Their homes are mansions with mega sized rooms. Nobody seems to be living in an apartment or a normal sized house at all. Nobody seems to have a job either. Everyone is running some kind of a mega super sized business which is worth millions upon billions upon trillions of rupees. And on top of it, the business keeps on expanding. They are always meetings, new contracts to sign, new projects to begin, sites to visit. And what exactly does their business deal with? That forever remains a mystery. Apparently mystery businesses bring in more money than a bank has.

They all have the same theme too, which is family politics. It is rare where a family will get along with each other, it has families riddled and plagued with politics. Personally if you ask me, if you stuff so many people under one roof to the extent that there is four generations of a crapton of people living under one roof, politics is ensured. Anyways, even in the politics, there is one conspirator whose job it is to plot and plan and poke their nose where it doesn’t belong and tries to make everyone’s lives impossible. And there will be someone who will behave like the “goody two shoes” so to speak, who is always trying to solve all the politics related issues that are going on.

This is my favourite part. How to be mean to your daughter in law. If you want to like be really mean to your daughter in law, exclude her from housework in the sense that ban her from carrying out any housework. Instead of being happy that they no longer work, they will cry and scream and beg you to let them do the housework to the extent that they’ll say they’ll take any punishment but this. Personally I don’t see how reducing a person’s duties and responsibilities are punishment. Well, I was discussing this very issue with someone and she told me that it signifies a lack of importance, so I don’t know. Maybe it is lack of importance, but this just never fails to amuse me. Mean mother in law is yelling at daughter in law, “from today you will not wash the dishes” or “from today you will not put the food on the table” and then the daughter in law is begging to be allowed to continue to wash the dishes or put the food on the dining table.

It must be for these reasons that these insane television serials manage to rake up so much appeal....   

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Paris Vendetta by Steve Berry (Spoiler Alert)

My latest read is called “The Paris Vendetta” by Steve Berry.  Goodreads link is here:

 Now with this book I ended up having the same bad luck that I had with the book that I read before this one, it happened to be part of a series of books, the book I picked up being part a sequel. The only difference is that the previous book I read happened to be Book 2 while this one happened to be Book 5. I will make the exact same rant that I made in my previous book review, will it kill the publisher to simply write on the cover that the book is part of a sequel or a series. I hate picking up books that are in the centre of the series. Again, I cannot say how accurate my review is going to be as when you unfortunately pick up a book which happens to be in the middle of the sequel you do not get any background information or introduction of any sort regarding the characters so it is only when you are half way through are you actually in a position to pinpoint who is who and recognize the relationships each character holds with the other characters involved.

Anyways, to the book. Steve Berry is a well known best selling number one author, international and New York Times, who writes thriller books. Even though he has a few stand alone books most of his books belong to the Cotton Malone series, a series out of which the book being discussed today happens to be the fifth installment.

Not only was this book a thriller, it was also historical fiction. Historical fiction is a genre that I really like and in the case of this book, the historical fiction of this book especially fascinated me as it revolved around Napoleon and I personally have been very fascinated by European history, having studied it in my O Levels. In the book I got to learn about Napoleon’s coding system of sending messages to people based on texts, his stance on war and debt, how he ended up selling Louisiana to the Americans and about his time in exile and possible causes of death. Unfortunately, as it happens to be the case with all books of historical fiction, the authenticity and the accuracy of the information given is unknown. It is very likely that everything I read on Napoleon just happened to be products of the author’s imagination, who knows.

Cotton Malone, an agent with the US State Department, is on assignment in Copenhagen, Denmark along with a special agent, Sam Collins. They are on the case of a mysterious organization called the Paris Club. It is like one of those Illuminati type organizations, having the top world financial “big guns” amongst their group of members. The belief of the Paris Club is that whenever a society is facing unrest in terms of a war or the threat of terrorism, financial transactions shall be carried out in such a way that if you have the knowhow, you easily end up in millions, if not billions. The leader of the Paris Club even tried to carry out a few 9/11 style attacks on some historical Parisian monuments in order to achieve this aim but the French air force managed to prevent that from happening, they acted at the right time.

A individual in the centre of this whole conspiracy is Lord Ashby. Everyone wants him, in the sense that everyone is like after this guy. Cotton Malone wants him because the American government thinks that he can lead them to a wanted terrorist. Cotton Malone’s friend Henrik wants him as Henrik thinks Lord Ashby hired the person who killed his son. Eliza, founder of the Paris club, thinks Lord Ashby is a trusted member but actually he was a traitor following his own agenda.

In conclusion, the only drawback that I found about this book is that it happens to be part five of a series of books. Other than that, it is excellent. Backstories to the characters are given about the characters in such a way that you can tell that this is why this person is like this today. And the book is loaded with so much conspiracy that is like one conspiracy appears to be coming to a close, three more appear. When I was done reading the book, I actually took time to think about all the conspiracy. This book really makes you think. And it is very well written. And if European history and/or Napoleon are areas of interest for you, then that is an added bonus.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Education is the Way Forward

Education is something that I feel very strongly about and yet, surprisingly, if my memory serves me correctly, this is the very first blog entry with regards to education. They might be many more blog entries on education in the future, so please bear with me.

Education is one cause that is very near and dear to me.  Basically education for all. Education is a cause that is very near and dear to my heart and a cause that I feel very strongly and passionately for. Education is a basic right of every human being, unfortunately education is instead taken as a privilege for the selected few. Or we think education is just “job skills” or something that is only done if you want a high flying job or it is something that is done for “time pass”. Yes, they are many many people who understand and realize the importance of education, but at the same time there are those who do not realize its importance and give it weird labels similar to the ones I just mentioned. And those who think education is a pointless privilege.

In my opinion, education is the best thing that a person can give another person. The best thing that a parent can give their kid. The best opportunity a human being can be provided with. Because education sets you up for life. Yes, education opens many doors for you employment/job wise. But education has many other hidden benefits also. It is a weapon, it is a tool. Your family will treat you differently if you have education, because they know you have something to fall back on. You are less likely to be abused or denied your basic rights if you have education, because your education can protect you. If you have fallen upon hard times, who is most likely to be employed, the educated or the uneducated? Education gives you credibility. Education means better healthcare hygiene practices. Education means more opportunities for the next generation.

Usually when I am asked what my dream is, I say it is to get a PhD and become a lecturer. But in fact, my very true dream is something else. It is to open an organization that provides free education to those who are denied this opportunity otherwise. I even thought of the slogan for the organization. Thought I'd steal, or should I say, borrow the Kuwait Fund's dialogue, "Helping people to help themselves", LOL. I realize that undertaking will be no easy task because you literally need like a crapton of resources in order to be in any position to undertake such a project, plus there is a huge planning process is quite intensive. Despite these hurdles, this is a project that I would simply love to undertake this project. It is very essential.

No country can survive without education. There are examples internationally where fixing an education system and making it accessible to every single citizen has turned around the future of not only of the country itself, but also improved the quality of life of every single citizen, and not just on the economic front, but otherwise also.

Why am I so passionate about education, you ask? It is because I myself was denied the opportunity to study despite having two university educated parents. I wanted to go to university, parents said no. Finances were not playing a role here, they could cough up the money to pay for it and it wasn't like they were being stingy with their money either. It was because they simply saw no point in it. My mom would say, “You learn nothing new after 10th grade” and, “So you spend a few years at university. Then what?” and, “Study study and go crazy”. I am a university graduate. It was a hard and difficult road for me. I had to fight lack of opportunity at every step. I had my going to university stopped even five times. And at one time my dream was to one day walk on a university campus, carrying my books walking to my first class. Lack of opportunity was so strong that this seemed like an impossible dream to fulfil. Literally impossible. This is the reason why education is a cause that is so near and dear to me.

They say that when something is denied to you or taken away from you, do you learn its true value and only then do you begin to appreciate it. That is exactly what happened to me. I used to be your typical school hating angry kid who wanted to grab a lighter and set fire to their textbooks. It was only until the opportunity to study was being denied to me did I realize its importance to the extent that I now strive to become an education activist.

Education is the way forward.  It is the thing of the future. The world cannot prosper or survive without education any longer.

There is a local news channel which is doing a strong campaign for education, highlighting people who have turned their lives around due to education and highlighting the improvements that are needed in the education system. Anyways, we have elections coming up in May, and with regards to that, I want to leave you with the dialogue that they say with regards to the elections, “Vote For Education!”

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Road Not Taken

As I have already mentioned a few blog posts ago, poetry is not my thing, however I still have two favourite poems that I enjoy and that I feel really “hit home”. I have already shared one of those poems a few blog posts ago. Today I thought I should share the second one of those two poems. This one is entitled, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

As credit should be given where credit is due, this is where I got the poem from:

This poem really shows conformity.  We all live our lives according to one set path. Everyone’s lives follow this one set path. And we just follow this set path instead of breaking away and doing our own thing because that is not what is usually done. Whether it is fear, or the possibility of failure, or the possibility of following victim to society’s ridicule or simply not wanting to be different; whatever the reason is, we just tend to shut up and look around us to see what the people around us are doing and we just do that. We loose ourselves and our own individuality in this process.

My most favourite line in this poem is the last one which says, “I took the one last travelled and that has made all the difference”. That is one of my most favourite quotations even and this is the main reason why this poem appeals to me. It represents a lot. Innovation. Dreaming. Thinking out of the box. Rebellion. So much. Breaking away and doing your own thing is always associated with rebellion and rebellion is always associated with bad things. But actually doing your own thing is a good thing. Look, if nobody took the road less travelled we’d still be in the stone ages. It is because some random cave dude innovated do we have fire. Or someone thought out of the box that we have the wheel. Or modern day things that we now consider a necessity without life can’t be spent, like the internet, the computer, the cell phone.  Taking the road less travelled is so essential.

The reason why this poem holds position of being my second favourite. It tells you to be yourself and do your own thing. And how that is very important and beneficial.