Tag Archives: war

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman

We Crossed A Bridge and It Trembled Title: We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria
Author: Wendy Pearlman
Publisher: Custom House
ISBN: 978-0062654618
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It isn’t easy to write a book about ordinary people. It isn’t easy to make their voices heard, no matter what and when people who write such books and give us a chance to read it, it means a lot, to me. “We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria” by Wendy Pearlman is one such book which has impacted me a lot this year. It is definitely about the content, but it is also about rights – human rights that get violated and stories of ordinary Syrians that go unheard, which Pearlman has brought out in this fierce and poignant collection, basis her interviews with ordinary men and women over four years across the Middle East and Europe.

“We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled” is a collection of first-hand accounts. Like I said earlier, because it is of ordinary people – you empathize, cheer, and hope that life is kinder to them. It is also a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the tragedy that is the Syrian War. It is about the revolution and its aftermath, the war that began and how it has become political in every sphere of the ordinary Syrian’s life, sometimes way too sensitive because they weren’t expecting all of this to begin with.

Wendy serves it as is. There is nothing censored. The voices are raw and let the story teller and readers connect. In this case, then, the author distances herself and does not provide a point of view. She acts only but as a medium and yet that in itself is such a humongous task to undertake. The writing can be nothing but simple, from the heart and definitely the one you can connect with instantly.

“We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled” is a book that should be read. A must-read if you ask me. It is the book that demands to be read and will fill you with some hope and courage, just like the Syrians have for themselves, despite how things are.

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The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi Title: The Complete Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Random House USA
ISBN: 9780375714832
Genre: Graphic Novel, Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 341
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I always thought graphic novels were an easy read. At least, in my experience they always have been. Till I reread “The Complete Persepolis” and realized that it could get tough, rereading a graphic novel as well. “Persepolis” is a story which has so many layers to it.

“The Complete Persepolis” is the combination of two books – The story of a Childhood and the story of a Return. The story is of Marjane Satrapi (the author), growing up in war-torn Iran, from the Shah’s regime to the Ayatollah’s Iran, and finally living her life in Austria, till she returns home – only to see that things have only become worse.

The title of the book is taken from ancient Persia’s capital. “Persepolis” is autobiographical and hits the spot very hard. While it speaks of cultures and war and fundamentalism to a very large extent, it also draws on the concepts of alienation and the need to be home. I think this reread was in many ways most important for me, as I am away from home, so the connect was very strong. Perhaps not the same, given that I have not seen wars. But, nonetheless, one can empathize with Marjane and her family and her mental and emotional state.

The book doesn’t seek validation. Neither does it seek sympathy or empathy. It is just an honest account of life and how it goes through various stages and how sometimes in times of adversity, there is only humour and hope to live by. Marjane characterizes herself as an outsider, throughout the book. As a young girl, when her parents are revolting against the system to when she is an adult living in a different land, and when she is back in Iran to when she leaves for France for good.

The Islamic revolution in Iran is depicted truthfully through the black and white illustrations. My heart went out when people were executed for no fault and to think that people lived through all of that is something which you and I cannot even begin to imagine. The illustrations are stark and true, without any fluff or sugar-coating. “Persepolis” is a gem of a graphic novel – the kind that you do not forget at all and also the kind that you keep going back to time after time. Also, do watch the movie if you have not already. It is simply super.

Here is the trailer:

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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: The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam Title: The Blind Man’s Garden
Author: Nadeem Aslam
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-81-8400-109-9
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When you read a Nadeem Aslam novel, you mull over it. You take in his words and breathe what he has to say. You are aware of the political undertones in his books. At times, you also may not like what you read. You might also detest some parts. You will yell in happiness when something good happens to one of his characters. You want to keep the book aside and you will not be able to, because that is the power of his books. You will ignore everything else and read on, because Aslam has a story to tell and his characters will talk to you. They will make you believe and sometimes make you cry and live as well.

“The Blind Man’s Garden” according to me is one of the best books that Aslam has written. I have read all his books and while all his books have the much needed political angle; this one to me is most emotional and heart-wrenching in a lot of places. I interviewed Nadeem Aslam at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year (which will be a different post) and he was so passionate about the book and the way he spoke with me. The book almost came alive through him. All his characters and the situations he put them through almost seemed surreal and believable. For me that is the craft of a great storyteller. “The Blind Man’s Garden” makes you feel and think about humans and what does war do to them. He gets into the heart of his characters and makes them speak for themselves. He makes them tell their stories, their lives spread across the canvas of his landscape, of time unknown and sometimes time is of great essence. This is precisely why I cannot help myself but mark almost every other line on every other page of an Aslam novel.

Jeo and his foster-brother Mikal leave their home in a small Pakistani city not to fight with the Taliban but to help care for the wounded victims. The Western Armies have invaded Afghanistan and the brothers only want to help the wounded, whether Afghani or the Americans. They only want to help and yet they get embroiled deep into the war as its unwilling soldiers. At the same time left behind is Jeo’s wife and her superstitious mother, and their father Rohan, who is slowly but surely turning blind. The war is seen through from all perspectives and that is the crux of the story.

For me everything worked in the book. The writing is sharp and hits in places that you would not expect it to. The past and the present situations merge beautifully throughout the entire narrative. In fact, what I loved the most about the book was the way the structure was built and at the same time the prose seemed very fluid, as though it was waiting to flow through the reader’s mind and heart. The heart of the book is about everything surrounding the war – lost children, grieving parents, hopeful wives and children who are left behind wondering when their fathers will return. Despite all this, what strings the book together is hope, which is unending and everlasting.

There are a lot of sub-elements and plots to the book (which I will not spoil for you) that add to the beauty of this wonderfully written novel. There is beauty and at the same time there is this sharp ache and a prayer that all should go well for the characters that you have come to known while reading the book. As a reader, I found myself hoping that all went well. Such is the power of this magnificent read. It is for sure one of the best I will read this year.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“History is a third parent.”

“The logic is that there are no innocent people in a guilty nation.”

“No,” he said, “but before they lose, they harm the good people. That is what I am afraid of.”

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Book Review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

the yellow birds Title: The Yellow Birds
Author: Kevin Powers
Publisher: Sceptre, Hachette Books
ISBN: 978-1444756128
Genre: Literary Fiction, War Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that you read, books that you love, books that you admire, and ultimately books that stay with you. This year the book that will stay with me for a very long time and the one that I have cherished the most is, “The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers. I have never been so impacted by a book like I was with this one. I read it in a night and there were times that I just had to close the book and cry. I had to let it out and then go back to the book. Had I not done this, I would not have been able to finish this book.

“The Yellow Birds” is about war. There is something about war that attracts me to it – it has nothing to do with any government or political strategy or the pros and cons of it. What makes me want to read more about it or watch movies about the war condition, is what humans go through. The ones fighting the war and the ones impacted by it. The ones living it on a daily basis and the ones who pray for their children to come back home – safe and sound. That is War and its emotion and maybe more.

The book opens in 2005, Al Tafar in Iraq. Private John Bartle is the narrator and the protagonist of the book. He makes friends with a young private Daniel Murphy, and the friendship develops. Murph is eighteen years old and Bartle is twenty-one. They are fighting a war and at the same time trying to survive. Sergeant Sterling is the third character in the book whose nature and character is revealed only as the book goes along. The book is about Bartle’s experience in war and how it impacts him and the rest of the soldiers. He speaks of promises, betrayal and the ending will take the reader by shock. I am not going to reveal any significant sub-plot, because I really want the reader/s to experience this book, the way I did.

“The Yellow Birds” is not an easy book to read. The book moves across time – from the war, to how they enlisted to Bartle coming back home and how things change for him. There are passages and moments that will wrench your heart as you read along. What is also interesting to note is that Kevin Powers also served in the US Army, so it kind of also is scary for the reader to imagine which parts in the book are real and which aren’t.

The writing is stupendous. Kevin Powers deserves to win all the literary prizes on the circuit. He knows how to tell a story – in all its glory – with the way it is and the way it was. It is an engrossing read, which is quite short and at the same time does a lot more to your head and heart that you can imagine it to. There is pain, there is hope and at times there is the thin line of despair. There are places in the book when you just want to let the characters know that it will be all okay, but maybe they will not. War changes people I guess. “The Yellow Birds” is a book about hope and maybe the understanding that at the end of the day it is all about what it is to be human – in times of war and peace.

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