Tag Archives: Non-fiction

Book Review: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert

The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert Title: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders
Authors: Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre, Frederic Lemercier
Publisher: First Second Books
ISBN: 978-1596433755
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoirs
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always been a fan of Graphic novels. From the time I started figuring them out or rather discovering them. It was with Sandman I think and what a place to begin. At that time, I used to think that graphic novels only felt good when narrating a fictitious tale. I was so wrong and so mistaken. Over the last couple of years, I have read some brilliant non-fiction graphic novels – from Joe Sacco’s Palestine to Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle, these guys know how to wrench your heart through the form of drawings and words in blurbs.

The Photographer - Image 1

This is what intrigued me about the first book in the “A Year of Reading the World” challenge which I have undertaken (inspired from the blog of the same name, started by Ann Morgan) – and the country to start with was Afghanistan. I did not want to start with the usual Khaled Hosseini (I love the guy’s writing but I wanted to discover something new). I had already read, “The Patience Stone” by Atiq Rahimi and loved it and yet I wanted something new. I then saw a title which intrigued me and that was “The Photographer” by Emmanuel Guibert.

Now let me tell you something about the book. This is not your regular graphic novel. It is definitely more and in the way that a reader would love to explore more books of this nature (if they exist). The book is a graphic novel mixed with pictures as taken by the said photographer in the title – Didier Lefevre.

The Photographer - Image 2

Didier left Paris at the end of July 1986 to go to Afghanistan. It was his first project as a photojournalist, documenting the journey of Doctors without Borders into war-torn Afghanistan. That was the time; the Soviets were fighting the Afghan Mujahedeen. This was the time the US of A was supporting Afghanistan, unaware of how it would backfire years later. The book though is not about that. The book is about the war and help and moments of respite as seen through Lefevre’s lens.

“The Photographer” is all about the perception and unbiased (mostly) perspective of a man with a camera and the need to capture it all. The book is created and compiled by Guibert along with Didier’s photographs. The war-torn Afghanistan as seen by Didier makes a perfect setting alongside its history. The people, the places, and their stories are beautifully captured and Guibert does justice to every single word and illustration – to go with the photograph. This book is a great beginning to how it all started – to how a country was ravaged, torn and how some selfless doctors also tried to save it. Most of all, it is about a photographer and how is life changed completely.

Next Up in this Challenge: Albania: The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

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Book Review: Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family by Najla Said

Looking for Palestine Title: Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family
Author: Najla Said
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
ISBN: 9781594487088
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It must not be easy being torn between cultures. To also live through them and find an identity of your own cannot be easy. Najla Said, the daughter of a prominent Palestinian Father and a Lebanese mother did not have it easy. I somehow love stories about conflicts when it comes to identity and culture. I like the revelation and how did it all end for the person narrating his or her life.

“Looking for Palestine” is Najla’s account of her life – growing up in Manhattan, living with strong parents – not to forget Edward Said and his opinions on she should be brought up. She then decided to see her identity for herself and what she stood for besides being a Jew and living in times which are volatile and ever-changing.

The book is about Najla’s experiences – growing up in her father’s shadow and for the longest time trying to find her own voice. She did not want to be just another Jew. She took marked steps to separate herself from her heritage and in the end she ended up finding herself in her culture and roots.

Najla Said’s writing is marvellous. It is full of irony, heartfelt moments and about how life is conflicting at almost every single step. The book is about her personal struggles and bittersweet to a very large extent, which I love in a memoir. It cannot all be sugary. Nor it can be all bitter and dark. There has to be a balance in it, which Najla provides very well.

There is a lot of complexity to the book. In fact, at most points, I had to go and read up on Palestinian history to make sense of what Najla had to say. But all said and done, it is a great memoir – of discovery, loss and finding oneself all over again.

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Book Review: A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel

A Reading  Diary by Alberto Manguel Title: A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books
Author: Alberto Manguel
Publisher: Canongate
ISBN: 978-1841958217
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Books, Reading
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

We all must keep a reading diary. Something that chronicles what we read and its impact on our lives or what lives we lead and its impact on what we read. Basically, the idea is to make notes, and not on a laptop or any other electronic device, but handwritten notes, which are so important in today’s time and age.

“A Reading Diary” by Alberto Manguel is one such book. It is about the twelve books that Alberto read or rather reread in a year. Those are his favourite books or at least some of his favourites. He makes the reader sees ways in which time can be spent with a book and good quality time. He makes us see how the mind wanders with one reference made in the book to several made or recollected from memory in other books. That to me is pure genius when it comes to his writing.

There are lists as well in the book – random and some not quite random. There are snatches from Manguel’s life which is a treat to someone who is an ardent fan like me. He speaks of his favourite books and with great passion he tells the reader what he likes and perhaps even does not like about them.

There are so many possibilities in this one for the reader. To take a chance and read all the twelve books listed by him and more that you would come across. He treats his favourite books with great care and could talk endlessly about them and to me that is the beauty of this book. He attaches memory to books, which most readers, should do. He takes memories and conjures them to something magical in front of readers.

“A Reading Diary” is highly recommended by me to most book lovers and people who know the value of life and reading and its true integration.

List of Books read by Manguel:

1. The Invention of Morel (Adolfo Bioy Casares)
2. The Island of Dr. Moreau (Wells)
3. Kim (Kipling)
4. Memoirs From Beyond the Grave (Chateaubriand)
5. The Sign of Four (Doyle)
6. Elective Affinities (Goethe)
7. The Wind in the Willows(Graham)
8. Don Quixote (Cervantes)
9. The Tartar Steppe (Dino Buzzati)
10. The Pillow Book (Sei Shonagon)
11. Surfacing (Margaret Atwood)
12. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (Joaquim Maria Machado De Assis)

Book Review: Suki by Suniti Namjoshi

Suki by Suniti Namjoshi Title: Suki
Author: Suniti Namjoshi
Publisher: Zubaan/Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9789383074105
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 132
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A new year should always ring in with a new book – read and cherished and thought after for a very long time. Books that start the year on a great note are the ones that are fondly remembered as the year ends. For me, the year began with Suniti Namjoshi’s latest book, “Suki”.

Suki was the name of Suniti’s beloved cat and this is what the book is about – her memories with her cat – dear ones and sometimes the irritable ones, but memories nonetheless. The book is about Suki’s 4803 days and how each one mattered to Suniti. The book is structured in the form of conversations that Suniti has with Suki – on love, life, meditation, their relationship, other animals, morals, philosophy and a varied range of topics. The character sketch of Suki is so strong that at times, while reading the book, I actually wished she were a talking cat. To also be fair, maybe she did speak with Suniti in her own manner.

Why did the book interest me and why did I like it?

To begin with, the way the book is written. There is no linear narrative and that I loved. I mean, for how long should one read the same old style of writing? Something new is always welcome. The way Namjoshi speaks of her life in England and integrates with that of her cat’s is quite charming. The book then veered to the loss of Suki and how the writer came to cope with the loss of a loved one, through meditation.

“Suki” in my opinion celebrates life and its moments. It is not soppy. It is not preachy. It is not even sentimental. It is just an honest book – full of tenderness, of energy, of biting dialogues and more than anything else of relationships of every kind and nature.

Next Up: The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

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Book Review: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East by Benjamin Law

Gaysia by Benjamin Law Title: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East
Author: Benjamin Law
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184004779
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travelogue, Humour
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It is funny how in the wake of Section 377 and LGBT rights, I finished reading, “Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East” by Benjamin Law – a book on gays in the East and more importantly on their culture and lifestyle. The reason I find it funny is that I find the judgment quite a farce and love how Law speaks of gay men and women (sometimes) in an account that is hilarious, emotional and mostly a travelogue in search of identity across Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Burma, China, Malaysia and India, each with its own peculiarities and quirks.

The book as you delve further in is not really a travelogue; it is more of an insight to a troubled world. It is a world where two men cannot love each other – though the rules of lust are very different. There is humour and a lot of angst to the people and stories that Law documents. The social patterns from where he comes, which is Australia are very different in Asia. The world when it comes to rights of men and women is not the same. The Eastern world when it comes to same sex love or lust as Benjamin sees it is quite an eye-opener and it is for this, I would urge people to read, “Gaysia”.

It is funny how things are in different countries. For instance, in China, there are self-flagellation techniques, when a “bad” or “homosexual” thought occurs. Of how in China again, lesbians fake marry just to keep their parents happy. In Malaysia, people – Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, whom the author encounters, thinks homosexuality can be cured. In India, a certain yogi (should not be too hard to guess who this one is) thinks that it stems from bad thoughts and that it can also be cured.

“Gaysia” was released in our country without raising any eyebrows. I think it did so also because the so-called law holders, could not care less about a book – may be they would not understand this type of non-fiction or any book for that matter. The writing is sharp and humorous (the trans-gendered beauty pageant in Thailand, pride parades in these countries) in parts and in some, Law reflects on his sexuality and his relationship with his boyfriend. To me, including something personal in a book speaks a lot about the writer. It somehow makes him more accessible to readers, which is most needed in a book of this nature.

“Gaysia” is an eye-opener – for most people out there. I think it is written with a lot of eloquence and at the same time, Benjamin does not shy away from writing what he witnessed. The writing is honest and that is hands down one of the strongest features of the book. I want to gift this book to every friend of mine – straight or gay, just to understand if nothing else, about orientation and the fact that people are different and entitled to living their lives, the way they want to. Free love does not come with a section or with a judgment. It is just there, for all.

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Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East