Book 215: Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali

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Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali

Finished reading on May 31st, 2016
Rating: 10/10

A small village near Granada, Spain around the year 1500. A Muslim family living happily in peace with everything despite some secrets in their past. Now their peace and for some of them, their lives are at an end. Although several years before the setting of the book, there was a understanding between the Catholics and the Muslims about their future – the Muslims could keep their religion, their feasts and traditions, but now Cardinal Ximenes de Cisneros has arrived and deals with the problem of Moors swiftly and cruelly, having Arabic books burnt, keeping only some dealing with medicine, converting some, but having many of the Moors killed.

The first book in Tariq Ali’s Islamic Quintet follows a family is it is torn apart, you can follow the short love-story of the eldest daughter Hind, the beginning of the eldest son’s “political” career etc. The family is fascinating and characters are very vivid, and the events in this book remind me ultimately of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” – without magic to be sure, but all the other components are there – lovely characters and awful ones, food and other pleasures, heads on pikes and books and villages on fire.

The book took me about three days to finish and I’ll be starting the next book in the quintet soon enough.

I think it would be beneficial for many people to read this book.

The book’s author is a British Pakistani writer. Go watch an interesting talk by him on youtube, where he talks about Cervantes and don Quixote and Spain of the time of Cervantes (and of his own Islamic Quintet) .

Book 214: My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad

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My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad

Finished reading on May 27th, 2016

Rating: 10/10

Tehran, 1940s, a young boy falls in love with his uncle’s daughter, who lives in the same area with a large extended family. For the girl however, a better suitor has been found.

The story of the girl and the boy go through the book as a sort of foreground, as it’s narrated by the boy.

Most of the book is taken up by various humorous incidents and quarrels between the family members and their servants etc, with one of the running jokes being the patriarch of the family, who is called Dear Uncle Napoleon by everyone behind his back.

The nickname comes from the uncle’s tales of his time fighting the English, that remind everyone of Napoleon’s achievements. Now however, Dear Uncle Napoleon seems to be getting more and more paranoid by the day, being certain that the English are out to get him. That causes trouble for the boy, since Dear Uncle wants to leave with his family, and the boy and his other uncle – Asadollah Mirza, come up with ways to keep Uncle Napoleon around. That seems to agitate Uncle Napoleon even more.

And then there is the relationship between the boy’s father and Dear Uncle Napoleon, the first keeps fighting with him and causing problems between them (apparently just for fun).

The book has very colourful characters and unexpected situations that are almost tragic, but are more funny at the same time. There are also some unexpected twists in the story.

I enjoyed the book a lot, it is in a way a situation comedy, where the characters have access to guns and firecrackers and one might be threatened by a leg of mutton.
Also it’s interesting to see the family’s behavior towards Indians, the English and Arabs – the latter seem to be in the roles of ‘the guy who gets the girl’, the English are a threat and the Indians are probably spies.

What’s interesting in comparison to some other books that I’ve read (that is partly probably because of the time-period) is almost total absence of religion.
Also, although there are some female characters named, they have very minor parts, even the narrators love interest, Layli doesn’t seem to be really that much part of the story.

Book 213: The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson

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The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson

Finished reading on May 27th, 2016

Rating: 5/10

I had never heard of this book or the writer when someone I’d only met once before handed me this book and said I should read it and give it back to him when I’m done.

The cover caught my attention first because it had Europa on it and I had just mentioned Europa in a presentation half an hour earlier. After the initial reaction of ‘oh, that’s cool’ the thought in my head was that it didn’t look like a book I would pick up if there hadn’t been Europa on the cover.

So obviously, Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has a part to play in this book – there’re teams of people working on Europa after they’ve discovered life there.

Initially I found the plot quite difficult to follow, because of how it begins out (in order not to give any spoilers I’ll be general) – something happens and then you kind of return to the past and after you get to the point with what the book began with, you continue on with the story.

In the book artificial intelligence has quite a big role to play, it’s 22nd century, nanotechnology can heal people etc.

The main problem in the book is the lifeforms – are they intelligent or not and how to prove it one way or another and how people on Earth might benefit from either option. So it kind of goes into ethics.

It’s very much a plot-driven novel, you find out minimal information about the characters, but it didn’t really bother me, as all I really wanted to find out was whether the life there is intelligent or not.

I do think I would have liked to have more details – just in general, because I found only being able to imagine what was going on with the alien life under the ice, bot not what went on with the people, what their landers looked like etc, and I also didn’t imagine any generic people around, so in that sense the book could have been better (or I could have just imagined the details myself – duh!).

So was it even necessary to have everything happen on Europa? It could have been on any icy moon that could have an ocean under the ice – you don’t learn anything more about Europa, the characters never mention having a good view of Jupiter or the other moons or anything (I do get that they’re all really interested in what’s under their feet, but seriously? ) Nothing really wrong though, the smaller gravity was mentioned, but didn’t seem to play much of a part in anything the humans did.

In a way I feel now that it was good that I knew nothing at all about the book and I just read it in a bit over a week, I feel that now anything I read where the setting is Europa, I have high expectations.

It’s not a funny book, it’s not really too dramatic either, not romantic, although there seems to be a couple forming, and the sci-fi aspects are being set in the future and on Europa, a bit more advanced computers,and alien life. I’d classify it as a bit of light reading (light gravitation wise 🙂 ).

Book 212: Spooky Action at A Distance by George Musser

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Spooky Action at A Distance by George Musser

Published by Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2015

Finished reading on May 21st, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Have you ever heard of nonlocality? I’m pretty sure that I should have heard it mentioned in one or another class, but I’ve no recollection of it, so maybe it wasn’t mentioned.

This book is about the concept of nonlocality and what it has to do with quantum mechanics and relativity.

I bought this book since it seemed to be everywhere (I mean as much as a book classified as Space and Time – Philosophy and Relativity could be expected to appear in places).

So as much as I gathered locality, the opposite of nonlocality, means that an object or matter is influenced only by the matter in it’s immediate vicinity, so that (basically) you can try as much as you want but you can’t influence someone to bring you an icecream on a hot day just by thinking about it. So nonlocality – the exact opposite in a way, means that matter can be influenced by something that is quite a distance from it – think of an entangled pair of photons that appear to send/receive information faster than at the speed of light.

The book deals with a rather philosophical side of physics, which is great in a way because it doesn’t require higher mathematics, but it’s also quite a difficult book because it requires the reader to use logic to go from one concept to another without feeling like you’re missing a couple thousand of entangled neurons or so in your brain.

It is fascinating – you get a decent amount of background information on the history of the idea of locality and nonlocality and a bit of relativity and quantum physics. There are also some interesting theories that one might not come across normally – like how tiny black holes might be to blame for the entangled photons faster than light speed information exchange.

I feel like I might have to read it again at a slower pace with more coffee.

If you’re looking for more information about this book before diving into reading it visit the book’s webpage.