Book review: Half the Sky

I am a massive fan of New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, a figure I deeply respect for his humanitarian efforts and high quality journalistic work. In his articles, he usually digs his heels deep into topics, such as poverty, global health and human rights, which are endemic and ongoing problems often underreported by mainstream media.

As a follower of Kristof on Twitter, when he tweeted about his book “Half the Sky” a few months back and I immediately jumped on it, only to find it a highly compelling book narrated mainly from his and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn’s, personal experiences and interviews they conducted.

“Half the Sky” is a book documenting the insufferable struggles of women with a very clear aim of encouraging the empowerment of women and their rights. Some of the stories recounted are absolutely heart wrenching and difficult to read.

One such example would be Simeesh Segaye, 21, from rural Ethiopia, who suffered from fistula, a condition where the tissues between the baby’s head and the woman’s pelvis lost circulation causing them to rot away, as a result of obstructed labor for more than four days. Not only did Segaye lose her baby, she was ostracized by her husband, in-laws and fellow villagers for her incontinences, a by-product of fistula, leaving her smelling like waste most of the time. For the subsequent two years, she laid permanently curled up in a discarded hut, trying to starve herself to death.

Below is a picture of how she looked like when she was rescued: Continue reading

My favorite childhood author: Herge

With Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn” hitting the silver screen, it gave me another reason to pick up Herge’s comics once again to re-read for them for the umpteen time.

“You kind of can’t grow up in New Zealand without having Tintin become a really important part of your life,” said Peter Jackson, director for the new Tintin movie in a TIME magazine interview. This was certainly true for my childhood too.

Georges Remi, or more commonly known by his pen name Herge, (left) creator of the Tintin series and also one of Belgian’s most famous comic artists that captured the imagination of readers through ages.

Strictly speaking, Herge is not an author per se but rather a comic writer and illustrator. Yet his absolute brilliance and creativity still warrants his inclusion in my top childhood authors list. I remembered adoring the entire Tintin series for the kick ass adventures where the journalist cum detective would embark on his journey to exotic new places such as Congo, Egypt and even to the moon.

(Side note: Tintin traveled to Southeast Asia, with mention of Singapore and Jakarta in the book “Flight 714 to Sydney.”)

As a child, I had no clue wheresoever he and Snowy, his super cute but fiercely loyal dog, traveled to in most of his books because they are places that do not register on my young mind. But it is precisely this element of novelty that makes these books a total hit with children.

Yet little did my childhood self know that Herge, as most authors of his time, wrote books for children that were inundated with ideas reflecting popular thoughts back then but is deemed unpalatable for today’s taste.
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My favorite childhood author: Caroline Keene

During our childhood years, I believe most people will go through an intense girly or boyish phase where if you watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you will not touch Polly Pocket toys. For me, that girlish phase was also reflected in the choice of books I read which included the Nancy Drew series and admittedly, the Sweet Valley series.

This blog post will be mainly dedicated to Caroline Keene, author of Nancy Drew. I was a huge fan of the teenage sleuth during my senior years in elementary school and went head over heels the entire series, making sure I read all that was available in the library.

So when I did my little research for this post, I realized that Caroline Keene was merely a pseudonym. In another words, this name never existed and she was technically not a real person. Instead, Keene represented a group of ghostwriters employed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate who published this series of books.

I must say I was honestly surprised by my finding because for many years, I have always imagined Keene as an American old lady, a bit like Agatha Christie. So my shock is best summarized by a 1999 interview done with the deceased Mildred Wirt Benson, who was one of the ghostwriters of the Nancy Drew series.

Reporter: I just talked to my mother and told her that there was no Carolyn Keene. She had never known.
Benson: That’s like saying there’s no Santa Claus.

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Book review: Between the assassinations

Title: Between the assassinations
Author: Aravind Adiga

Despite being an entertaining read, Between the Assassinations is overall a disappointing book for it felt more like an unfinished product that left me hanging in the air after completing it.

I confessed that I picked this book mainly because I was impressed by Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger, focusing on exploring the highs and lows of modern India’s economic prosperity and their impact, particularly on the poor in the society.

This book was and still remains a hit for me because of the seriousness and depth of topics discussed but written in a dark comical manner through a main protagonist Balram Halwi, leaving readers laughing albeit in a bittersweet way.

Perhaps The White Tiger raised the bar too high, Between the Assassinations, which was in fact penned before the former, appeared lackluster, lacking the links and connections necessary to string the bits and bobs together for a coherent piece.

The novel, as the title suggests, was set in between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and her son, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991, composed of multiple short stories taking place in the fictitious town of Kittur, Southwest India.

Through presenting story vignettes, Adiga cleverly leaves us with fragmented but diverse viewpoints about their struggles and hardships surviving in a town.
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My favorite childhood author: Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl’s books bring back a great deal of fantastic memories largely because he is such an animated and wicked storyteller whose stories appeal to large masses of audiences, rather than being primarily constrained to children per se.

I am not particularly certain which was my first Roald Dahl book, but if my remarkably limited memory does not fail me, it should be James and the Giant Peach.

Through James Trotter, who brought me on board his big peach with his six insect friends, I entered into the world of Roald Dahl where children and the weaker ones in the society are empowered to effect changes for themselves. Although Trotter suffered for years under his abusive aunts, his hard work, resourcefulness and camaraderie helped him successfully escape his unfortunate fate.

Such a similar theme resonates in his other books such as the highly popular Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Director Tim Burton said in a 2005 interview he responded to make the book into a movie because it respected the fact that children can be adults.

“It was one of the first times you had children’s literature that was a bit more sophisticated and dealt with darker issues and feelings,” he said. “Sinister things are a part of childhood.”

Apart from Charlie Bucket, the poor lad who lives with his parents, paternal and maternal grandparents in a rickety old house, the four other children who won the golden tickets were all warped characters. One is mad about TV, the other a glutton, another a gum addict and the last, a spoilt brat; but the most heartening part is to know that none of them had a good ending.

Watch the trailer for the movie below:

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