Tag Archives: non fiction

Book Review: Prisoner of Tehran – Marina Nemat


Prisoner of Tehran: One Woman's Story of Survival Inside a Torture JailPrisoner of Tehran: One Woman’s Story of Survival Inside a Torture Jail by Marina Nemat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It amazes me to read stories from around the world that reveal how in the name of religion, power, politics, revolution…. innocent people who choose not to comply end up paying such heavy prices to maintain the most basic of liberties.

It is not that I live in an idealistic world, oblivious to the realities and sufferings that result from war and violent conflict – but when one reads in such detail, the ordeal of an individual who survived a conflict, the gravity of what he/she endured really hits home. From a statistic, this person turns into someone who you get to know almost as intimately as your own family and friends, and it is that connect that provides such perspective into the silent suffering and strength of millions trapped in conflict zones.
I think with war continuing to carry on in so many parts of the world for so many years, one dismisses it as an event beyond one’s control and in the process also loses sight of all the lives that are changing and getting lost everyday.

This is an important story, one that took so much courage to tell.

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Book Review – ONE CHILD by Mei Fong


5/5 STARS!!!!

An account of what may possibly be the world’s most extreme social experiment in modern times, ONE CHILD tells the story of China’s one-child-policy, that was enforced in 1980 as a drastic family planning initiative to arrest its exploding population. The policy was phased out last year, in 2015, and this book takes a look at what this policy has really meant for the people of China, how it was implemented, and how it will take a long time for the country to recover from its impact. 

Two of the most striking emotions that I have associated with China from whatever I have read and heard in the past, and more strongly through this book now, are fear and control. The way the Communist Party and government system control the country down to the last and remotest person is disturbing. Several instances in the book show how people were bound by the one-child rule, breaking which brought about a slew of fines and punishments, economically debilitating an already poor population and leaving them with nearly no choices of a fair recourse. It was non-negotiable. 

The book shows how the policy has affected not just the parents who were forced to adhere to it, but also its impact on the children who were born as the one-child generation. There are horrifying instances of in-human forced late-term abortions, and sad tales of parents losing their only child to natural disasters – like the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that claimed the lives of thousands of children, who were at school at the time, due to the poor quality of their school buildings. In the aftermath of such incidents, the desperation of parents scrambling to register themselves to have another child, as they would be eligible again, is heartbreaking. 

But there is also a very economic and pragmatic reason driving them to make such desperate scrambles to have children. As the author states, everything in Chinese society is geared towards marriage and family, and being unmarried or childless placed you very low on the societal totem pole. (There are labels like “leftover women” for those who remain unmarried after 25, and “bare branches” for men who are also unmarried after the designated ripe age. There are “bachelor villages” because of an extremely lopsided gender ratio, that was further exacerbated by the one-child policy, which encouraged people to be even more choosy about having their “one-child” as a boy.) 

People who broke the one-child rule or did not have any children, could not claim several of the benefits that the state offers – they simply became ineligible. Without any progeny, people found it difficult to buy even burial plots for themselves. Also, as the ratio of the older generation in China increased, and with expensive hospice care, having a child to look after you in old age became a critical requirement and investment. 

Other discriminating policies like hukou, which prevents migrant populations from overpopulating cities by making them ineligible to government benefits that a resident would normally get, show how difficult life is in China for the economically weaker class.  

There is a very interesting section early in the book, that talks about how the Olympics were also one area for the authorities to exercise population control to bring glory to the country – – where selective breeding to raise more talented humans was a central part of the elite sports program. 

Held very soon after the devastating Sichuan earthquake, the 2008 Beijing Olympics were China’s opportunity to dazzle the world, and they likely did. But some of the facts about how they did this has been an eye-opener – from spray painting the city’s dry grass an emerald green, to deploying 25 control stations to fend off rain clouds approaching the Bird’s Nest stadium, to the computer generated imagery of the fireworks one saw on TV – – it shows how China can and will go to any extent to paint a picture of perfection. 

Ironically, after three decades of making the one-child policy mandatory, the Communist Party is now having trouble making people choose to have two children – With such high parenting and child rearing costs, most middle-class Chinese now prefer to have only one child. 

There’s a lot more that the book covers that is interesting, insightful and informative and I would recommend everyone to read it, just to know a little bit more about this intriguing land of smoke and mirrors and the struggles of its people.

Featured Image Source: Amazon.in 

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The Blood Telegram – Book Review


***** 5 STARS

The Blood Telegram may possibly be one of the most important and well written books I’ve read on modern Indian history so far. As someone who is almost always incurious, indifferent and unenthusiastic about politics (national and world) in general, reading this book has been a revelation on international diplomacy as well as a completely new perspective on the maneuverings that take place in the highest offices of the world, and the decisions that set in motion a series of incidents that alter the future of generations to come.

I’ve read this book like the history student I never was, completely absorbed in the details, wanting to take down notes, watching simultaneous interviews on YouTube (bringing to life the pages of the book) and constantly resisting the urge to underline complete paragraphs on nearly every page in the book. In the end, I had to make an exception to my ‘no markings in books’ rule – to highlight passages that I knew I was going to want to refer to again.

 

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My interest in modern Indian history is a fairly recent development, sprouting in the last couple of years mostly because of the extensive research I did for a project at work. Before this, my world view was limited to what we studied (or were taught) in school, which was nothing short of propaganda that the ruling party wants to feed you, and therefore hardly worth basing lasting opinions on. And so for a long time, reading history was not even on my radar.

It is laughable that up until now, I did not even know that the major part of the 1971 conflict was actually on the eastern side! It is the western side of the war that I’ve always remembered hearing about and being born just over a decade after this war, it is appalling to realize how little I knew about ‘India’s greatest triumph’ and what led to it.

This is why ‘The Blood Telegram’ came as such an important lesson for me on not just the 1971 war and the history of the birth of Bangladesh, but also as a lesson in world politics, the Cold War context, international relations, foreign policy and the hidden motives that define the realms and repercussions of international conflict. 

Gary J Bass’ research is detailed and expansive, and while there is always the danger of the author’s opinion coloring the inferences in the narrative, I think he dealt with every aspect as objectively and un-biasedly as is possible, basing all his interpretations and conjectures on hard facts. This is one of the reasons I am so taken by the book, because every fact literally comes from the horse’s mouth.

The one thing this book would not have been possible without, is the Nixon White House Tapes. Another fact that was news to me. I find it hard to believe that in the era of the Cold War, when secrecy and confidentiality were paramount, a US President would decide to have his office bugged and all his conversations and confidential meetings recorded. A tradition that continues to be practiced even today. In the Indian context, I can totally picture the author and his researchers diving into archival records and microfilms at the Nehru Memorial Library – a place I think is frozen in time from the 70s… and one I have spent several blissful days doing my own historical research in. Oh what a pleasure it would have been to be a part of the research team for this book.

In the end, we are ruled by our personalities, our temperaments, identities and insecurities – and I think what hit me most from the book was the interface it provided with Nixon and Kissinger in their revealing closed door conversations. Ultimately, it was their convictions, preferences and personal opinions that largely affected the outcome of the events in 1971, which despite numerous warnings and evident indications did not waver – and set the stage for a continuing conflict between India and Pakistan.

A #highlyrecommended book for anyone who would like objective and detailed insight into one of the largest but forgotten conflicts of the Indian subcontinent.

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The 2016 Compulsive Collector’s Reading Challenge


I’ve already set myself a challenge to read 30 books this year (last year I managed 27). But the real challenge I’m setting for myself is to complete this target by reading from the books I already own.

Like most book lovers, I love to collect books – to be surrounded by books on my shelves, in my bag and in my iPad. I labor for hours online, reading several reviews and book lists to find the in best crime, thriller and contemporary fiction, and discover the most interesting true life, historical and autobiographical non-fiction. And while I keep hoarding this absolutely great stack of books (which I also fondly gaze at everyday), whenever I need to pick one to read, I almost always choose a completely new one, that was never even a part of this pile. I am greedy like that, yes. I only seem to want more and I never want to share! 😛

Having 10 unread books sitting in my book rack already, and 44 others in my iPad, did not stop me from bringing 15 more into my heart and home from the Delhi World Book Fair this weekend. Though I will say that I got these at throw away prices and at least I am not guilty about spending the month’s salary on them!

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So with that firm resolve, here’s my 2016 Reading the books I own Challenge.

Indian History

  • White Mughals
  • The Blood Telegram
  • Delhi: A Novel

Non Fiction

  • Geisha
  • Daughter of China
  • The Book of General Ignorance
  • Gangs
  • The Girl with 7 Names
  • Quest

Fiction

  • The Seventh Secret
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • That Thing Around Your Neck
  • Jailbird
  • 14 Stories that Inspired Satyajit Ray
  • Americanah
  • The Accidental Tourist
  • Snow Flower and the Secret fan
  • Kafka on the Shore

Crime / Thriller

  • American Assassin
  • Naoko
  • Salvation of a Saint
  • The Case of the Missing Servant
  • K is for Killer
  • The Beautiful Bureaucrat
  • Red Queen
  • Six of Crows

Classic / 18th Century

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • Wolf Hall
  • Bring Up the Bodies

Graphic Novel

  • Fun Home

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And that’s it!

I will be working really really hard to stick to this list. I’m sure I’ve missed a few interesting ones, but if I ever want to switch one around, I promise to switch it with one from my existing stack only. Wish me luck!

Do you have a compulsive book collection condition too? I’d love to hear how you deal with it. Until then, Happy Reading!

 

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