Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir

41z-wdxbkul-_sx325_bo1204203200_MALIK SAJAD

When India was divided into India and Pakistan, most of Kashmir went to India even though its population is mostly Muslim whereas India is mostly Hindu. Kashmir was occupied by the Indian army and became a hotspot for trouble between India and Pakistan. The Kashmiri want independence, their own country. Munnu grew up in this intense environment, never knowing when the government would raid the house, arrest his father or older brother and steal something valuable. His father was an artist who worked in wood block prints. As a child Munnu would help his father with his art. The illustrations in this graphic memoir look like wood block prints. The Kashmir are portrayed ashangul deer (the Kashmir stag) which are now endangered, since their habitat is being destroyed by the Indian  army. Other people are portrayed as humans. At the age of 15, Munnu starts a career as a political cartoonist.  Later a westerner introduces Sajad to the works of Joe Saacco, who has written many political graphic non-fiction books, and encourages Sajad to write one about Kashmir.

I enjoy reading graphic non-fiction books about hotspots around the world. They can give a good overview of the situation. This one on Kashmir is well done.munnu-sig

THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN: A Curious Account of Native People In North America

THOMAS KING

The story of Canada is the story of her relationship with native people. Despite the clamouring of history to pull us into the full sweep of accepted history – the one that starts with “discovery” segues into brave “explorers” and into the notion of “two founding nations” – the real history of Canada begins with native people. Similarly, the story of North America. In 1492, native people discovered Columbus. That’s the plain truth of it. Ever since that moment, the history of the continent has been interpreted and articulated through settler eyes. That there are gross inaccuracies and outright omissions is all too evident in the relative mainstream ignorance of all things indigenous circa 2012.

The truth, as it were, lies somewhere between what is taught and what is endured by indigenous people themselves. So it is that Cherokee/Greek author Thomas King offers us The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People In North America. Though it is built on a foundation of historical fact, King insists that the book is an “account,” resting more on storytelling technique than a true historian’s acumen.

We’re glad that it is. Because this accounting dredges up little-known facts that illuminate the lack of comprehension about the role of indigenous people on the national consciousness of both Canada and the United States. Then it lays them out in frequently hilarious, sagacious, down-to-earth language that anyone can understand. Reading it, you can hear minds being blown everywhere.

“Most of us think that history is the past. It’s not. It’s the stories we tell about the past. That’s all it is. Stories. Such a definition might make the enterprise of history seem neutral. Benign.

“Which, of course, it isn’t.”

From there, King leads us through accounts of the massacres of settlers that never happened to massacres of Indians that did, the true nature and intent of treaties and government apologies, the whole issue of land and a rollicking, gut-busting portrayal of Dead Indians, Live Indians and Legal Indians that perfectly outlines the whole issue of misperception.

It’s all couched in a plainspoken forthrightness that shocks as often as it demystifies. In an examination of treaties, and the perception of Canada and U.S. governments as benevolent and generous, King declares, “The idea that either country gave first nations something for free” is malarkey.

Later, in an examination of what Indians want, when King refocuses the question on what white people want, he lays it out without question: “Whites want land.

“The issue that came ashore with the French and the English and the Spanish, the issue that was theraison d’être for each of the colonies, the issue that has made its way from coast to coast to coast and is with us today, is the issue of land. The issue has always been land.”

With that understanding firmly stated, the whole nature and mechanics of history as inflicted on Indians in North America can be understood. It’s not an easy acceptance. It takes some grit and desire.

But the book is ultimately about healing. As much as he uncovers the dirt of history, King shines a light on what is possible in the advancement of Indians to an equal place in both countries. It is essential reading for everyone who cares about Canada and who seeks to understand native people, their issues and their dreams. We come to understand that Indians are inconvenient because, despite everything, we have not disappeared.

Thomas King is beyond being a great writer and storyteller, a lauded academic and educator. He is a towering intellectual. For native people in Canada, he is our Twain; wise, hilarious, incorrigible, with a keen eye for the inconsistencies that make us and our society flawed, enigmatic, but ultimately powerful symbols of freedom.

The Inconvenient Indian is less an indictment than a reassurance that we can create equality and harmony. A powerful, important book.

I borrowed this review from Richard Wagamese whose writing I admire.

 

 

 

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING

Ruth2

RUTH OZEKI

“Forget the clock. It has no power over time, but words do.”

This is a book everyone will love. Ozeki is am amazing writer, juggling themes of time, metaphysics, suicide, history, time travel, zen Buddhism,  Japanese history, computer science, 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as others. TIME also has an interesting structure. The author is a character in the novel though she is always referred to as Ruth, never as I.

Ruth lives on an island on the west coast of British Columbia. Out for a walk on the beach she discovers a Miss Kitty lunch box. Inside wrapped up in plastic to keep it safe is the diary of a sixteen year old Japanese girl, Nao,  an antique wristwatch and what turns out to be the diary, written in French, of her uncle, who died as a kamikaze pilot in the Second World War. Ruth and her husband Oliver begin to read the girls diary. She Ruthhad been born in Japan but moved to Silicon Valley for many years as her dad was a computer programer. When the dot com bubble burst they went back to Japan in poverty and shame. When Nao starts school in Japan, she is regarded as a foreigner is and is mercilessly bullied. Her only solace is writing about her grandmother, Jiko, a 104-year-old “anarchist feminist Zen Buddhist novelist nun,” with a long history of lovers, both male and female. Jiko helps Nao understand that  “time beings” are beings who understand that “everything in the universe is forever changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

“I have a pretty good memory, but memories are time beings too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves for a while they are beautiful, and they they fade and die.”

Run out right now and get this book!

MADDADDAM

maddMAGARET ATWOOD

Maddaddam is a story of myth making as Toby explains the past to the Crakers the bio-engenireered creatures created by Crake before he killed everything else in the first book of the trilogy Oryx and Crake. Thanks you to Atwood for providing a synopsis of the first two volumes. I found it a great way to start Maddaddam with a refresher course. Toby tells the story of Zeb and his harsh upbringing by the Rev of the Church of PetrOleum and his eventual escape into a life on the run, first to San Francisco’s “pleeblands,” then to a job as a magician’s assistant, to survival in the Canadian wilderness after a “Bearlift” mission goes wrong, to New New York (on the Jersey Shore) and at last into work at a HelthWyzer laboratory compound, where he meets characters familiar to us as members of an underground movement. Toby’s telling of Zeb’s story is interspersed with the present-day defense of the compound and the unusual partnership they develop for mutual protection. Toby teaches the Crakers to read, write and to tell their own stories.atwood

Maddaddam is a book of hope and healing and renewal.

Read this book but do read the trilogy in order. It is terrific.

 

THE WOEFIELD POULTRY COLLECTIVE

woefieldSUSAN JUBY

This is a great read: fun and funny yet poignant.

Ingrediants: Prudence Burns of Brooklyn, failed young adult novelist and a bit of a righteous cause-ist, inherits a farm on Vancouver Island; Seth, an alcoholic shut-in blogger who hadn’t been out of his mother’s house for over five years; Earl, a crotchety old farmhand who comes with the land and plays bluegrass and passes along nuggets of wisdom like “[it] don’t pay to ask questions about things that is none of your business”, Earl has an important secret; and Sara Spratt, an adorably plucky teen from a broken home, Sara is the one with the chickens and a lot of guts to put up with the likes of Seth and Earl. Put them all together and you end up with this wonderful book.juby

THE NO-NONSENSE GUIDE TO THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD

CHRIS BRAZIERhist2 history

The magazine New Internationalist publishes No-Nonsense guides on multiple topics. They are all brief, concise and easy to read. Brazier does an excellent job of summarizing the history of the world in 150 pages. And he covers the world’s history not just the western hemisphere’s.He has some interesting analysis I found this of particular interest: the Russian “revolution was highjacked by the ruthless dictator Stalin – blow from which the Left worldwide has still not recovered.”

It is a good quick read. It reminds me of

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn.

WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail

CHERYL STAYEDcheryl-strayed-10_2455457b

When  Cheryl Strayed loses her young mother to lung cancer, her life veers  into a downward spiral leading to the break up of her family, promiscuity and heroin addiction. Surveying the wreckage of her life at the age of 26, newly divorced, Strayed resolves to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, from California to Oregon. “I’d walk and think about my entire life. I’d find my strength again, far from everything that had made my life ridiculous.”

Strayed admits, the journey does not turn out as planned. Before she even begins the hike, hoisting her enormous backpack turns out to be nearly impossible, and her too-tight boots commence to destroy her feet. The money she has saved up from waitressing tips turns out to be just barely enough to sustain her.

Yet the journey also brings unexpected blessings, many involving the people – diverse, finely detailed and sometimes amusing – she meets on the trail. In the end, the journey does transform Strayed – and a central strength of Wild is that the reader viscerally experiences this transformation along with her. I appreciated her brutal honesty of her past and the trials of the trail.

Great read.

 

WOLVES UNLEASHED

 

WolvesUnleashed_still_1ANDREW SIMPSON

Simpson has penned a beautiful coffee table book of his work with wolves. Simpson is an animal trainer for the  film industry who specializes in wolves. He went to Siberia with his handlers and wolves to make a movie Loup. This book is a documentation of his work on the this feature, which will be one of the largest wolf movies ever made. He had raised these wolves from birth and new them intimately. Conditions were harsh. They lived in a remote camp in the siberian mountains of Russia in the extreme cold of winter and the hot and buggy summer.

“The day Digger fell into the ice hole was my hardest day on set. To walk on thin ice was not something we could train dogs to do – they are too smart for that. But when Digger began walking, he kept his focus on me as if he believed the ice would hold him because I was there.” Andrew actually went into the water to help the wolf out. “For the next three nights, digger slept in my room.” He truly is devoted to his wolves.

wolves2The photos are wonderful. It is well worth a peruse. In Darwin’s Ghost there is a long discussion of the evolution of wolves into all the breeds of dogs there are in the world. This seemed like a great way to follow the book on evolution.

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419

419WILL FERGUSON

419 is set in Calgary and Lagos and concerned with 419 scams where unsuspecting victims are promised riches for accepting a huge amount of money temporarily. When they agree there are suddenly multiple service charges that must be paid in order for the deal to go through. The victim here is a retired schoolteacher who trusted the scammers, lost everything and committed suicide. He left his wife and family nothing; even the family home was lost. The police are powerless in this situation. More interesting are the men on the other end of the emails, the insiders who work the fraud machine. Another character, Nnamdi, has the most exciting part of the book. We see the whole history of the Niger Delta play out through Nnamdi, with con after con laid on the land by slave traders, Shell Oil men, rampaging generals and corrupt officials. The entire area dying from the massive pollution of the oil industry.

A terrific read.

LONE WOLF

JODI PICOULT

WOLF is a interesting discussion on what constitutes life; when is a person alive, when the plug should be pulled. Famous wolf scientist and researcher Luke Warren is in a coma because of a serious vehicle accident. His daughter Cara (17) who has been living with her father and taking care of him the past few years, wants to keep him alive saying that there is a chance that he will recover. His son Edward (23), who has been living in Thailand since he had a intense fight with his father, wants to pull the plug saying that his father would not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state. Years earlier father had made his son his legal medical advocate. The mother Georgie has moved on to a new husband and started a second family because Luke’s continuing desertion of the family for his beloved wolves. Amid all the medical and legal drama are chapters of Luke’s story and what he has learned about wolf culture and society. That part is fascinating.

“The real power of a wolf isn’t in its fearsome jaws, which can clench with fifteen hundred pounds of pressure per square inch. The real power of a wolf is having that strength, and knowing when not to use it.”

“There’s an honesty to the wolf world that is liberating. There’s no diplomacy, no decorum. You tell your enemy you hate him; you show your admiration by confessing the truth. That directness doesn’t work with humans, who are masters of subterfuge. Does this dress make me look fat? Do you really love me? Did you miss me? When a person asks this, she doesn’t want to know the real answer. She wants you to lie to her. After two years of living with wolves, I had forgotten how many lies it takes to build a relationship.”

“From time to time you’ll see documentaries about low-ranked wolves who somehow rise to the top of the pack – an omega that earns a position as an alpha. Frankly, I don’t buy it. I think that, in actuality, those documentary makers have misidentified the wolf in the first place. For example, an alpha personality, to the man on the street, is usually considered bold and take-charge and forceful. In the wolf world, though that describes the beta rank. Likewise, an omega wolf – a bottom-ranking, timid, nervous animal – can often be confused with a wolf who hangs behind the others, wary, protecting himself, trying to figure out the Big Picture.

Or in other words: There are no fairy tales in the wild, no Cinderella stories. The lowly wolf that seems to rise to the top of the pack was really an alpha all along.”

Not a great work of literature but worth the read.

SCHOOLED

GORDON KORMAN

Schooled is a truly entertaining and moving novel written for the young adult market but can be enjoyed by all. Capricorn has been raised all his thirteen years on a back to the land, hippy commune called Garland. Completely isolated from the outside world, Cap has been home schooled by his Grandmother, Rain. Rain has taught Cap how full of evil the world is: competition, violence, capitalism, greed, hunger, cities etc. But when Rain falls and breaks her hip, Cap drives her to the hospital. Rain taught him to drive when he was eight. Rain needs to be hospitalized for several weeks for rehabilitation so social services needs to find a place for Cal. The social worker, Flora, had spent her formative years in Garland also so as soon as she saw Cap she knew what was going down. Flora elects to keep Cal in her home in order to better protect him.

At school, the students always pick the biggest looser to be the class president as a year long humiliation. This year it  was to be Hugh. That is until Cal showed up.

A definite must read despite its week ending. Also read Korman’s SON OF THE MOB. It is funnier than Schooled.

THE WILD LIFE OF OUR BODIES: Predators,Parasites and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today

ROB DUNN

Dunn writes that many human ills and behaviors reflect the evolutionary past where we put ourselves above nature and all other species. Our super sterile environment is hurting us all by unbalancing our immune systems, leading to attacks on our own tissues rather than invading organisms. His solution is to repopulate the gut with worms that the immune system tolerates or that may suppress the system’s hyperactivity. Dunn writes that Crohn’s and other such disorders are rare wherever gut parasites are common. There is actually a cottage industry selling worm eggs. Some people have even travelled to go barefoot in a primitive latrine in hopes that worms will infect them to cure their autoimmune disorders.  Other subjects he tackles is why some peoples can digest milk but the majority of the world cannot. What the appendix does and why is appendicitis rare in third world countries. How bugs lefts us hairless. Many interesting ideas are raised and discussed. Some parts of the book needs skimming but it’s still worth the read.

Habibi

Habibi (حَبيبي) is an Arabic word whose literal meaning is my beloved (for a male object of affection; the feminine form is habibti or habibati) and that originates from the adjective habib (beloved). In addition to its literal meaning, the term can denote any of several less formal relationships and can serve as a term of endearment at the corresponding level (e.g.friend or darling). From Wikipedia.

Dodola is sold into marriage at the age of 9 when her parents can no longer care for her because of drought. Her husband taught her to read and write and let her be a child, except at night. When her husband is killed she is taken to a slave market. From there she escapes with an infant who would have been killed if someone hadn’t claimed him. Dodola flees to the dessert where she finds a deserted boat where she lives with the boy she names Zam. She entertains him with stories she learned in her husband’s home. Most of these stories are from the Qur’an. Many stories are the Islam version of Old Testament stories. To get food in the middle of the dessert Dodola sells her body to men in passing caravans. Later the two become separated and Dodola becomes a favourite of the Sultan.

Wanatolia, where the story is set, is a strange, timeless place: both modern and ancient, as insatiable when it comes to water as any Gulf state, but presided over by a sultan who seems to belong to a more out of date time (his harem is guarded by eunuchs). There is a desert, on one of whose dunes is mysteriously stranded a boat, and there is a river, full to the brim with plastic bottles and old tyres.

There is a tremendous amount packed into this book. A must read.

 

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HOW BAD ARE BANANAS: The Carbon Footprint of Everything

MIKE BERNERS-LEE

Is it more environmentally friendly to ride the bus or drive a hybrid car? In a public washroom, should you dry your hands with paper towel or use the air dryer? And how bad is it really to eat bananas shipped from South America? Bananas  actually aren’t that bad! Oranges are only slightly worse.

Climate change is upon us whether we like it or not. Managing our carbon usage has become a part of everyday life and we have no choice but to live in a carbon-careful world. The seriousness of the challenge is getting stronger, demanding that we have a proper understanding of the carbon implications of our everyday lifestyle decisions. However most of us don’t have sufficient understanding of carbon emissions to be able to engage in this intelligently.

Part green-lifestyle guide, part popular science, How Bad Are Bananas? is the first book to provide the information we need to make carbon-savvy purchases and informed lifestyle choices, and to build carbon considerations into our everyday thinking. It also helps put our decisions into perspective with entries for the big things (the World Cup, volcanic eruptions, and the Iraq war) as well as the small (email, ironing a shirt, a glass of beer). And it covers the range from birth (the carbon footprint of having a child) to death (the carbon impact of cremation). Packed full of surprises-a plastic bag has the smallest footprint of any item listed, while a block of cheese is bad news-the book continuously informs, delights, and engages the reader.

Highly accessible and entertaining, solidly researched and referenced, packed full of easily digestible figures, catchy statistics, and informative charts and graphs, How Bad Are Bananas? is doesn’t tell people what to do, but it will raise awareness, encourage discussion, and help people to make up their own minds based on their own priorities. And it is fun and entertaining.

This book is a great skim.