Book 168: The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell

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The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell
Finished reading on April 29th, 2015
Rating: 9/10

If you’re one of those people who might have heard of the Voyager missions in passing – maybe while reading up on planets on Wikipedia, or in an astronomy book, you’re most likely to think that the Voyagers are history – they were launched such a long time a go and they’re literally far gone.

However this book gives a different perspective to it. Yes, the probes were launched in 1977 – a long time ago for me, but the book brings to life the whole “feel” of the missions, as you read about the teams behind Voyagers. That is something that I very much appreciated while reading this book, that it gives it a human perspective. Does a spacecraft or telescope make discoveries? No, no matter how much we might anthropomorphize the spacecrafts in use, they are still just tools (Believe me, it’s difficult to write, I’m as likely as the next nerd to consider my telescope’s feelings or think that my computer is being moody when it’s not responding), that are used by people to do a job.

In The Interstellar Age you get to live through all the planetary encounters, and what’s fascinating is, that you see it through the eyes of the author who got a chance to be there when the data from those encounters reached Earth. That in itself isn’t maybe spectacular, but what is, is that you get the point of view of someone who appreciates the missions and the work and data, while not having a large hugely important role to play at the time.

I enjoyed this book a lot, having read S. J. Pyne’s “Voyager” a couple of years before, it wasn’t all new to me, but a lot of it was – maybe I’d forgotten a lot of what I’ve read about the missions before (there’s a tiny chance of that happening), but it was interesting to read. Especially reading about how the golden record came about and reaching termination shock. Also I liked the authors last points that he made in the book – that the Voyager spacecrafts are probably going to outlast humankind and as such are in a way a monument to it, and all the other spacecraft that leave the Solar system are as well, and it is a somewhat poignant realization.

Just to think that maybe it would eventually encounter life, and some kind of life form will hear the sounds of Earth and see the pictures, when maybe there’s been a runaway greenhouse effect on the planet and all life here has died – then the spacecraft are in a way a tiny blip of a description of an artwork that was destroyed….

Ok, but back to the book – you do find out what was discovered during the Voyager missions and learn more about the people who worked then and now with it.

Book 167: The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

 

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The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

Finished reading on April 26th, 2015

Rating: 8/10

This book continues the story that began in “A Golden Age” with the Bangladesh Liberation War and follows Maya, Rehana and Sohail Haque.

The story is presented in two timelines – one starts in 1982, when Maya, Rehana’s daughter returns home after having been away for seven years and working as a country doctor. The other is earlier, starting from the end of the war when Rehana’s son Sohail returns home from war.

Mostly everything is seen from the point of view of Maya – she returns to a home and family that have changed. Her brother has become a religious leader and lives in a hut on top of his mother’s bungalow. He has a son, Zaid, whose mother has just died a few days before Maya returns.

From the beginning there are several tales to be followed here. The timeline from just after the war that is weaved between the later 1980s one, follows how Sohail changes and becomes the man that Maya meets on her return and also gives an idea why she had left in the first place. The second timeline shows more of the everyday life of Maya and her mother and Zaid.

The book brings out several problems -one of them being how much should a relative influence the upbringing of a child that isn’t their own – as Maya is trying to give Zaid some education and tries to convince Sohail to put the kid into a school, but Sohail has his own plans for him.

The other and maybe a greater theme is a person finding religion for himself – we see how Sohail has changed and how Maya has tried to cope with it, and how she doesn’t understand why he changed and what had happened to him. We only find out later on something more about what happened to Sohail, and what might have pushed him to throw himself into religion, whether that’s enough or not, you can decide for yourself.

There are some troubling topics raised – mostly in violence against women who were taken captive during the war and used by the soldiers, and what happens to the women after the war is over.

It isn’t a happy read, but it does give a glimpse into a different kind of world.

Book 166: Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

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Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
Finished reading on April 24th, 2015
Rating: 7/10

Sudan, a village by the Nile. A young man returns home after having studied abroad and discovers a mysterious man has moved there. What makes this man mysterious? One evening when the man gets drunk, he recites a poem in English.

It is an interesting story, in several ways it reminded me of the story of the Bluebeard. At least by the end.

The book is quite short, and you mostly only learn about Mustafa, whose secret the narrator is trying to uncover, and he succeeds by the end, although lots of things happen before.

I liked how just one poem recital in English is what made Mustafa a curious character, although I didn’t like Mustafa after you find out more about him – he turns out to be a sort of Dorian Gray type character just without a portrait.

The part I enjoyed the most though – what the narrator discovers in the room where Mustafa never let anyone enter.

Otherwise the story is violent, a woman is forced to marry a man practically double her age, and it doesn’t end well at all, and there are plenty of other poor women as well…

Book 165: Ulysses by James Joyce

PIMG_9144“Ulysses” by James Joyce

Finished reading on April 22nd, 2015
Rating: R

I’ve read Ulysses, I feel like I should be able to say something profound, yet I’ve never been bothered more by the lack of logic than I was when reading this book.

Honestly it was a bumpy ride reading Ulysses in 8 days. I only really started enjoying it when a colleague asked whether I was enjoying the book I’m reading and I said “no” – after that it all got better.

I think I feel slightly angry at the book – I’ve loved reading Joyce’s shorter works, but this one left me confused and baffled and thinking that I might actually prefer to read a quantum mechanics textbook rather than delve into such a literary work next time. Though I think maybe that’s not a good idea as maybe that’s exactly what it’s about – it’s so different from our everyday experience that you have to reset your mind or die trying to adapt to a novel where one moment a character is forced to wear womens’ clothes at a brothel and the next they’re in a courtroom and then they become a mayor…

There certainly were enjoyable parts, but it’s mostly all way too difficult – as soon as you get used to it you’ll have to face fifty pages of stream-of-consciousness writing without any punctuation marks!

But then in the end it’s all quite sad, especially when you realize it’s been a week from when you started reading it, and it’s still the same day in the book…

I liked how Joyce mentions the night sky – I often wonder whether regular people who have no work-related reason to look at the night sky and know what’s there, whether they even notice it – do they see the planets, do they know that you can see planets and what about constellations? At least Joyce seems to have noticed. So that was good.

The important part is – I read it, and now I know it’s not made-up words throughout, only in some parts. In other parts it’s as if it were a (hideously long) play where there are new characters coming to the stage every five minutes and they’re not even doing the same play!

It’s interesting, but with one reading I wouldn’t even try to figure this one out even just a tiny little bit.

I’m hoping that reading “Ulysses” will make me value more writers whose works aren’t from an alien world in a parallel universe.

Book 164: A Fine Family by Gurcharan Das

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A Fine Family by Gurcharan Das

Finished reading on April 8th

Rating: 8/10

This book deals with the lives of several generations of a family beginning in the 1940s in Lyallpur, continuing through the troubled time of Partition and moving away from their ancestors’ home as staying there becomes too dangerous. The second part follows the recently married daughter Tara and her husband Seva Ram and their son Arjun as they make their life in Simla and the final part of the book follows a grown-up Arjun and his later life and marriage.

One of the most prominent themes in the book seems to be dissatisfaction and also as appropriate for the time – being carried along in the fast flowing current of history.

“Even the dogs trembled as they wandered in despair for a morsel of human neglect. Once or twice a door opened and the smell of fear spilled onto the street.”

The book is certainly worth a read – the characters are interesting, though I personally didn’t find them particularly agreeable, and it is a fast paced story, with the end being a little bit rushed compared to the rest of it. But it’s all a little unexpected – you think you know what will happen, and it will, but there’s always some kind of twist to it… It’s quite poetic.

Book 163: Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

Finished reading on April 5th, 2015

Rating: 9/10

The book was first published in Arabic in 1956 and the author was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1988. It’s the first part of The Cairo Trilogy.
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“Palace Walk” takes place in Cairo during the First World War, when Egypt had been under the British rule for a while, and it looks at the life of a family living in a house in Palace Walk.

The family is headed by a serious and apparently pious al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Jawad, who is served by his wife Amina. The book revolves around the various problems the children and Amina face under al-Sayyid Ahmad’s rule.

In the beginning the problems seem quite easy – hiding the youngest son Kamal’s mischief’s from the father, the two daughters Khadija’s and Aisha’s constant nagging, but then bigger ones ensue, when the reader finds out more about the nature of the father, who may appear like a good role-model, but probably is not,and about his eldest son Yasin, who is taking after his father in several ways…

I found the book interesting for several reasons- first off it’s the first book I’ve read where the women of the house have been confined there because of the man’s religiosity.
The second interesting part came later in the book as there are uprisings and demonstrations in Cairo and all across Egypt, in which one of the children secretly takes part in.

All in all it has many interesting themes and ofcourse as it was the first book I read that’s set in Egypt, it was fascinating.

In at least one way it reminded me of Jane Austen’s writing, as one of the big themes in the book is marriage – both daughters wish to get married – the eldest Khadija is over twenty and hasn’t had any marriage offers yet, while the younger Aisha has gotten offers before, but the father wouldn’t let Aisha marry before the older daughter has been settled – and ofcourse the reason for why one sister is more appealing than the other is because the younger one is blond and attractive, while the older daughter is darker and according to the whole family has a huge nose. Although there’s talk of marriage there’s no romance in the book 🙂 There’s lust and desire but barely any mention of love – all marriages are decided by the father.

There are certainly some unexpected twists or events in the book, where you couldn’t possibly guess what the outcome will be.

It was surprising to me how although there’s talk about the uprisings and shootings, the book doesn’t read as violent as I’ve gotten used to in case of books set in the Middle East or Asia…

I will certainly be continuing with this trilogy as Palace Walk leaves a lot of unanswered questions.