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Saturday, 25 July 2015

The King

The Back of the Turtle by Thomas King opens with a man trying to commit suicide, but who loses the moment, while rescuing people from the ocean.

I loved the book. I liked the sense of humour and enjoyed the ridiculousness with which King has painted the CEO of a large company and his absorption with making money and spending money. The dialogue is great, giving each character a distinct voice, and even though the book is longish, you never feel the weight of the pages. The chapters are short, the paragraphs, at times, just a sentence long and the writing whizzes along, carrying you with it.

I won't tell you what happens in the book, because I don't like those kind of reviews. If someone wants to know what happens in a book, they should read it. The book is about the environment, difficult relationships, materialism, and the disregard, with which the original inhabitants of this continent, are treated.

The Inconvenient Indian was another book of his, which I enjoyed. I don't usually read nonfiction, same way he doesn't usually write it, but his mixture of wit and fact, make it a good read for anyone interested in North American history.

"Helen was concerned that the word "property" might imply that I was suggesting that Indians were slaves. That's not accurate. We were more like
Moving Indians around the continent was like redecorating a very large house. The Cherokee can no longer stay in the living room. Put them in the second bedroom. The Mi'kmaq are taking up too much space in the kitchen. Move them to the laundry. The Seminoles can go from the master bedroom into the sunroom, and lean the Songhees against the wall in the upstairs hallway. We'll see if that works. For the time being, the Ojibway, the Seneca, the Metis, and the Inuit can be stored in the shed behind the garage. And what the hell are we going to do with the Blackfoot, the Mohawk, the Arapaho, and the Piaute?
Do we have any garbage bags left?
This idea, that Native people were waiting for Europeans to lead us to civilization, is just a variation on the old savagism versus civilization dichotomy, but it is a dichotomy that North America trusts without question. It is so powerful a toxin that it contaminates all of our major institutions. Under its influence, democracy becomes not simply a form a representative government, Christianity, and capitalism into a marketable product carrying with it the unexamined promise of wealth and prosperity. It suggests that anything else , by default, is savage and bankrupt."

And another one from the same book, which I feel is very relevant in today's world, and not just for "Indians", but also for Blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Korean, and Muslims. Too many people view such groups as  monolithic. Here's the thing, though, that while all the others are races, Muslims belong to many different races, yet they are, far too often, lumped together as a homogeneous group. There is an excellent piece by Mohsin Hamid about this strange mind set.

"They get to make their mistakes as individuals and not as representatives of an entire race."

The Inconvenient Indian, A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King.

Monday, 20 July 2015

The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

Movies, tv shows, anything really that involves sitting down and watching a screen, sets me off into the land of nods. Yes, even in movie theaters. Yes, even through the gory violence and sex of the Game of Thrones episodes. I prefer reading because reading requires engagement on my part, which keeps me from snoozing.
For me to stay awake, the movie has to grab hold of me. It has to have a good story. It should be visually compelling, and it has to touch my heart strings. A good movie doesn't just keep me up while it's playing, it leaves me with something to think about afterwards.
We watched A Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared yesterday evening. And no, I did not fall asleep. The humour was dark, at times, bordering on the absurd, but it had all three of us laughing out loud again and again.
The movie begins with a hundred year old man running away from a retirement home on his hundredth birthday and the adventure that ensues as he simply rolls along from situation to situation, accumulating friends and living life as his mother prescribed without thinking too much.
 The "Don't think too much" message was a bit overworked; first the mother's words and then a character who was almost completely paralyzed by his own constant overthinking. It seemed that the writer wrote up that particular character just to drive home the point. Someone should have had a word with the author, but who am I to say, the book and the movie are both grand successes.
I preferred the present day scenes of the movie, his past memories were too Forest Gumpish for my liking. Still, it was a laugh out loud, feel good movie of the kind I can see my father enjoying. And my mother, brother, sister, and their spouses. Some of my cousins would enjoy it as well. Okay fine, my entire extended family, and my four friends.
It's a movie that will keep everyone awake.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Enjoy the View

It was a balmy 30*C yesterday and the four of us, went kayaking down the Grand River, an hour and a half's drive from Toronto. We have been canoeing a few times but yaking was a first for us. When we canoe, we always get one for the four of us, with Nasir at the back doing all the heavy lifting, the kids in the middle, and me at the front, paddling from time to time and pretending to be Super Woman.

This time, we got two kayaks; Nasir and Zara in one, and Ali and me in the other. As soon as we shoved off, we hit mini-rapids. Ali and I both paddled furiously, and went in circles. Being a good parent, I did what all good parents do, I screamed at my 13-year-old, of course, it was all his fault. "Stop leaning to the right." "Stop leaning to the left." "Sit up straight." "Row in this direction" - while sitting behind him and by the way, the person at the back is responsible for steering. Then smartening up - "Row to the left" - meaning right. "No, no, the other left." Everyone knows that there are two lefts.

Forty-five minutes into it, we got finally got it, and the rest of the two hour ride was amazing. We saw a heron fishing, a black snake snoozing on a rock, a dead cray fish, clouds floating by, their reflection rippling across the water, and two teenage girls whose canoe overturned, screaming hysterically while standing in 3 inches of water on the side of the river. Funny, how quickly you become smug once you learn a bit of control.

Learning to kayak, minus the benefit of lessons, seemed like much in life; you start something new, you struggle, and grope around feeling like a fool, and then when you are ready to give up, but can't because you are just stuck (in a boat),  you finally get the hang of it and are glad for hanging in there (even though you didn't actually have a choice) and sit back and enjoy the view.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Travelling through books - Moscow and Karachi

I got a subscription for two books a year from And Other Stories ( Even though, the subscription is just for two books, the publisher immediately sent me a digital copy of Happiness is Possible by Oleg Zaionchkovsky. The book was a breath of fresh air; light like a conversation with a neighbour, a series of linked stories about a writer, his dog and his relationship with his ex-wife and her husband. I have never visited Moscow, except for a six hour stopover on route to London once, but reading this book I felt like I was walking through the Moscow with the protagonist. And what a lovely, meandering walk through rain, sleet, snow, and the heat of long, summer days. I have to confess that I was a bit offended at the chapter, Dance, Lelik! and the "Halfwit" but I know that different cultures have different sensibilities and I remember on a trip back to Pakistan being asked by an elderly relative, why I worked with children with special needs and her hurried, whispered warning that "these things can be contagious" and my own silent fury at this discrimination. It's not an excuse but in places where resources are scarce, generosity, at times, is even skimpier.

Just as Moscow was present throughout Happiness is Possible; Karachi is present in Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Muhammad Hanif. Perhaps, because Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is not a translation, the language is crisper, more efficient, and while both books are darkly humorous, Muhammad Hanif's humour is much darker. Perhaps, it's because the spaces they occupy are so different. Present day Karachi is a city of sharp contrasts; the rich - the poor, the clean spaces of Defence and the dirt of the rest of the city, the vastness of the desert and the sea cradling the congested metropolis, the generosity of citizens like Sattar Edhi versus the armed robberies, the cell phone snatchings, and kidnappings, which are daily part of life in the city.

The subscription is interesting. It gives me a free ebook from their backlist, I get thanked by name in the books I subscribe to, and can contribute to their choice of future books.