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Malaysia and The Ghost Bride

Ghosts! Romance! Spirit worlds! And…surprise dragons!

Enter the world of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo.

 

 

 

Li Lan is the only daughter of a once prominent merchant family living in 19th century Malaysia. Though her family used to be considered one of the elite, they have recently fallen into a state of decline. So when Li Lan’s father is asked if his daughter would like to be the ghost bride for a wealthy local family’s deceased son, it is a tempting – if terrible – offer to consider. Li Lan shuns the proposal, but then begins experiencing strange dreams about the would-be bridegroom. Terrified, she turns to a local spirit medium for answers – only to wish she had never done so.

Swept into the bizarre realm of ghosts and demons, Li Lan must journey through the mirror world of the dead if she wishes to free herself from her suitor’s hauntings. But in doing so, she may lose her life essence and become trapped forever…

My Conclusion:

this is a fun book! I learned a lot about Chinese/Malaysian death beliefs. The ending dragged on a bit, but overall I thought it was a good book!

What have you read from Malaysia?

 

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Japan and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea

Meet The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima!

So, basically, you have this group of Lost Boys-ish kids who run around and cause havoc in 1960’s Japan.

lost-boys

One of these boys has a single mom, who meets a sailor. The boys all think this sailor is Badass, because sailors get to travel all over the world and are free from being tied down. So they REALLY like this sailor. But then the sailor decided to retire from sailing and get married to this kid’s mom, and that pisses. Them. Off.

pissed

This is a slightly older novel, but it’s by one of Japan’s most well-known authors. Seriously, Mishima led kind of a crazy life. He died by committing seppuku, which is when you gut yourself with your sword and then have a friend cut off your head.

shock

So yeah. Interesting guy.

What have you read from Japan?

Bangladesh and The Good Muslim

So, again, this was definitely a book that I chose because the title grabbed me by the metaphoric balls. The good Muslim? Did they mean “good” in quotes? If so, why? Was this a book preaching that all Muslims are bad? Because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read that book 😦 I had to know what was going on!

And thus: to Bangladesh, and The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam:

This book touches on several big subjects: rape, abortion, religious fanaticism, political freedom, and the struggle to adjust that too many soldiers have when the return home. It’s actually the second in a series, and someday I will read the rest of the series…when I have time… *sighs wistfully*

wistful sigh

So, the first thing you should know is that Bangladesh, like so many other places in the world, has pretty much been ripped apart by war. The main part of this story takes place after the Bangladesh Liberation War that won Bangladesh it’s independence from Pakistan…but also devastated the country in many, many ways. The story focuses on a young doctor, Maya, and her relationship with her brother, Sohail, who fought as a soldier during the war. Sohail has never been the same since the war, and now spends his time as a deeply dedicated Muslim holy man.

What struck me the most about this novel were the similarities between super strict Muslims and super strict Christians. Like, at one point Maya is trying to convince Sohail to let his son go to school. The kid is more than old enough to have learned how to read and write by now, but instead he barely knows how to spell out his own name, and Sohail refuses to send him to school because “he can learn at home.” Ugh! It just reminds me of those hardcore Evangelical Christian parents who home school their kids and then their kids go off to college or to get a job and they’re like “Wtf. I know nothing.” Because parents are NOT better than teachers at teaching! What are you so afraid of your child learning – that you don’t know everything?! Or that there are other ideas out there besides yours?! Grrrrr. End rant.

The book isn’t really talking about the violent kind of fanaticism – more like the very, very frustrating kind. Not the scary, violent kind. Although it comes close sometimes, I admit. For example, at one point Sohail burns all of his books, because they’re “too worldly.” As a librarian, that scares the shit out of me – and it should scare the shit out of you, too! Book burning will lead you nowhere good, guys! Some very famous bad people have burned books! Famous good people do not burn books!

The ending is what really got me, though. There may or may not have been tears. Anam really does a good job of bringing several different characters and events together to form a satisfying ending.

What you have read from Bangladesh?

Sri Lanka and Island of a Thousand Mirrors

WARNING: I may gush about this book.

Sri Lanka! That really big island off the coast of India (no, it’s not part of India). It is to India what Madagascar is to Africa. At least geographically. I don’t know about any other similarities. Or lack thereof. I am literally just talking about how it looks on the map.

Anyway.

I got really excited to read my book from Sri Lanka, because I REALLY LOVE M.I.A. (who is Sri Lankan, in case you didn’t already know).

The book: Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. It is beautiful, and terrifying, and haunting.

The book takes place during the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted 3 decades, from the 1970s until 2009. Basically, there were two ethnic groups: the majority Sinhalese in the south, who were mostly Hindu, and the minority Tamils in the north, who were mostly Muslim. They really hated each other, with the Tamils claiming they were being repressed by the Sinhalese (not a completely unfounded statement), and eventually they just started killing and raping each other.

I wish I was being sarcastic.

The Tamils eventually resorted to terrorist tactics, and would use suicide bombers in crowded areas, taking out soldiers and civilians alike. The Sinhalese soldiers, for their part, were known to kidnap and rape young, unprotected Tamil girls – among other atrocities.

The book follows two teenage girls who grow up during the war – one a Sinhalese whose family flees the violence to live in the United States, and the other a Tamil, who is cannot escape the country, and thus grows up knowing the violence and danger of the civil war all her life.

I thought Munaweera, who is Sinhalese herself, did a really good job of staying impartial throughout the book. It would have been very easy to just Blame the Terrorists for the violence that happened – but it wouldn’t have told the whole story. How do people become terrorists, anyway? Or for that matter, how does someone decide to become a suicide bomber? Munaweera asks that very question in her book:

“…I dream of that head every night… I know it must have been the suicide bomber. Only an extremely close detonation would pop a head off a body like that. It makes me ponder this woman, girl really. What could have led her to this singularly terrible end? What secret wound bled until she chose this most public disassembly of herself?”

With all the recent terrorist violence in the world, I find myself wondering why more people aren’t asking that question. It has to take a really messed up person to become a suicide bomber – a person who has been messed up because of…what? Religious fanaticism? Loneliness? Lack of a homeland? Poverty? What messes up a person so bad that they decide that killing themselves, and killing as many people as they can in the process, is a good idea?

There are parts of this book that will probably haunt me forever. But this question that Munaweera asks – “What secret wound bled until she chose this most public disassembly of herself?” – I think is the most important question. Certainly it is central to the book itself. I find myself thinking of this scene whenever I hear of another terrorist attack somewhere in the world. I don’t have an answer yet – probably never will. But I think it’s important to keep asking.

What books have left you with questions that you find yourself still searching for answers for?

India and The Story of my Assassins

Last time, I started my post expressing my sadness over the shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. I also expressed my fear for the safety of the good cops that are out there that would be put more in harm’s way because of the actions of a few bad cops. Today, I’m starting my post in mourning over the massacre in Dallas, Texas Thursday night.

I don’t want to make this blog political, but I do want to say that I believe the majority of our police force are professional, honest, hard-working people who deserve our utmost respect for putting themselves in harm’s way every day. They are here to protect us. The sad thing is that this is happening because many people do not feel that they are protected. I think that is due to a small number of our nation’s police force, that DOES need dealt with, but it is most definitely not ALL cops, or even the majority. Killing each other isn’t going to solve anything. This quote has been thrown around a lot lately, but I think it rings true particularly now: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

OK, moving on. To the books!

India! The country that produced the zero, plastic surgery, and Gandi (who influenced Dr. King, btw). It is the country that Columbus was trying to reach in 1492 (he thought he made it…that’s why our Native Americans are called Indians to this day. Columbus really thought they were in India).

The book I chose for this country is called The Story of my Assassins by Tarun J. Tejpal. This was a REALLY fantastic book, you guys. Highly recommended.

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So, the book starts off following a journalist who is a complete and total ass. Like, you hate everything about him. He is just a total dick. And then you find out that there was apparently a plot to kill him, but the police found out about it in time, and arrested the would-be assassins and saved his life.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Apparently, there are some people in this journalist’s life that believe there was no plot against his life, and the police are just arresting random people because they want to make themselves look like heroes (apparently the police in India are known to be corrupt). One of these people is the journalist’s mistress, who takes it upon herself to interview each of the five men the police are accusing of attempted assassination. What follows is the life story of each of these young men, up to just before this moment in their lives.

I warn you: these stories are heartbreaking. They are told so matter-of-factly, so up-front, that you can’t help but be devastated by the lives of these young men. There’s no attempt in the writing to lay out emotions or emotional responses from the characters – just the simple facts of what happened to them. I won’t give you any spoilers, but suffice it to say that all of these stories are painful. The life stories of these young men are meant to draw the ugliest, most fucked-up picture of a country that you can imagine. I don’t think it was meant to be like “oh hey India is a terrible place, fyi,” but more of a “hey, these are some real problems in our country, can we please address them asap instead of sweeping them under the rug? Can we please make some changes?”

This whole book reads like the rebirth of an entire person. As the journalist is confronted with the stories of his would-be assassins, you start to see where he has doubts about himself, his work, and his life. I won’t spoil it for you, but if the ending – the VERY LAST PAGE – does not leave you in tears, you’re probably a robot.

Also, fun fact! Apparently swearing in Hindi or Punjabi is WAY more creative than anything we have in English. I learned so many new swear words! My copy of this book is full of my hand-written English translations of various Hindi and Punjabi swear words, phrases, and insults.

What do you guys think? Does a story about a character’s change of heart interest you? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter! Also, here’s a map, in case you don’t know where India is 0.o

india

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