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Frankenstein in Baghdad – Ahmed Saadawi

From the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Baghdad, the scavenger Hadi collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and give them a proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realises he has created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive – first from the guilty, and then from anyone who crosses its path.

To the backdrop of post Iraq war Baghdad, with all its daily acts of terrorism and political sects vying for power; life goes on as usual for the inhabitants. To this perilous way of life, is added a modern take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

With a strong start I was looking forward to following the lives of the various inhabitants of Baghdad.  Sadly, after the initial forty or so pages, the story soon started to wane and, although it kept me entertained – especially with the role superstition plays in people’s lives – it never really hit the heights which the early pages promised.

On a basic level it’s an easy read but below the surface – should you wish to delve into it – there is the strong sense of chaos of infrastructure and the political (and by extent religious) failures (and upheavels) both inept and corrupt which show through. The tone of the book is one of a sense of needing to believe things will get better without much evidence to support it happening anytime soon.

There is a diverse range of characters from all walks of life, a good mix of likeable and odious but all are well written with a decent amount of depth for such a big cast, in relation to the size of the book. The structure of the story overlaps events, keeping the story compact and allowing the reader to see a range of reactions to the same circumstances.  Although this firmly sets characters and details into the mind, the overall time frame of the book is harder to pin down and makes the story feel a bit nebulous as the relation of events to each other wasn’t too clearly defined. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on 22/05/2018 in Fiction

 

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Basic Ideas For Living

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It needs to be reiterated everyday.  Always listen to all sides of an argument, base your opinions on the facts, not the hearsay and seek out what may be being censored (for those who censor are surely losing the argument).  Never react to the headline, always call out those that base their politics on them, and constantly question what you think you know.

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Intraterrestrial – Nicholas Conley

Adam Helios is a bully magnet without many friends. When he starts hearing a voice that claims to come from the stars, he fears he’s losing his mind, so he withdraws even further. On the way home from a meeting at the school, he and his parents are involved in a horrible car crash. With his skull cracked open, Adam’s consciousness is abducted by the alien who has been speaking to him for months.

After surviving the wreck with only minor scratches, Camille Helios must deal with her guilt over the accident that left her husband badly injured and her son in a coma. When the doctor suggests letting Adam go, Camille refuses to stop fighting for her son’s life.

Lost among galaxies, Adam must use his imagination to forge a path home before his body dies on the operating table. But even if he does return to Earth, he may end up locked inside a damaged brain forever.

Inveterate coffee drinking author and fellow blogger Nicholas Conley is back again with another fine offering which treads the fine line between what is real and what may not be.  He also comes up with such prose as this, which makes me happy:

The coffee was too hot and too grainy.  The fiery grounds jabbed at Camille’s tongue like a tattoo gun.

Conley’s fourth novel is yet again a very good piece of writing and just like his other novel Pale Highway, draws on his experiences working in the understaffed healthcare system to reinforce the plight of Adam and family with solidly realistic emotional reactions.  The strong start brings in the challenging themes straight from the off:  Bullying, being orphaned, belonging, puberty, guilt, and family problems, all before the main story of a terrible and all too easy to imagine car accident really kicks off.

I’m glad that the decision to focus on both Adam and his parents separately was chosen, this help balance out the physical and psychological effects of the real world whilst making room for the retention of the feeling of tangible and unfettered imagination in Adam’s story.  Both parts work well together, allowing the realistic edge of the hospital to give way to the extravagance of imagination, ensuring for an easier but no less challenging read. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/02/2018 in Fiction, Sci-Fi

 

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Inside the Pintô Art Museum

First of all, apologies for my poor photograph taking, hopefully some will do justice to the pieces and also  for not being able to tell you what artist did what. Due to the short nature of battery life over here, it’s take as many photos as you can and hope you get everything you want.  With that out of the way, welcome to eclectic creations of Filipino artists.

After yesterday’s post about exterior shots, it was time to enter the building.  Pintô means door in Tagalog, which is a fitting name for this place. As everything is subjective to the viewer’s perspective, it could mean a whole host of things both in the philosophical and artistic sense.

There are six spacious galleries – and assorted outside art pieces which are dedicated to showing off the talents and direction of Philippine art and it is a fascinating study.  It was well worth the hours we spent there, especially seeing the enthusiasm of our fellow explorers. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 22/02/2018 in Art, Photography, The Philippines, Travel

 

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Next Year in Jerusalem – John Kolchak

A brutal re-imagining of the Gospel story, Next Year in Jerusalem follows the footsteps of Yeshua Bar-Yosif–an illiterate, epileptic, bastard son of a Roman soldier on his ill-fated life journey through a land racked by terror.

As first century Judea bleeds from the oppression of Roman rule and the violent uprisings against it, Yeshua, tormented by familial guilt for abandoning his mother, eventually forms his own family of travelers who preach for peace and compassion in the face of internecine savagery. Their wanderings lead to encounters with false prophets, assassins, and a rapidly growing movement of extremist rebels whose leader Bar-Abbas’ mission is to expel the Romans and establish an ethnocentric theocracy. Chance sends both Yeshua and Bar-Abbas to the court of Pontius Pilate–the dipsomaniac Governor obsessed with leaving a name for himself in the scrolls of history–and the outcome of that meeting seals the fate of the world for the next two millennia.

With urgent parallels to contemporary issues of religious war, this book is both a lament and a warning. It is also a story about the passage of time, the nature of memory, and of mankind’s inherent yearning for life everlasting.

When a HBO researcher gets in touch and asks if you want to review his book, it’s a no brainer so this week I have been spending my time back in Biblical days, enjoying an interesting alternative and to some controversial version of the Gospels which has plenty of interesting theories about those accounts and will certainly inspire plenty of debate.

There is much to intrigue the reader about this book, including plenty of subversion to the original biblical stories as well as a solid depiction of the brutal world of the time, a land torn with rival beliefs which will resonate with readers today as we still see the effects of those ripples all around us.

The main characters of Yeshua and Pilate get plenty of backstory, their memories, philosophies and motivations are established quickly and explored in-depth.  Yeshua is seen as vulnerable, conflicted and frequently unsure of himself and his beliefs, whilst Pilate – the more intriguing of the two character for me – is lost,all alone in his own existential nightmare. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 07/04/2017 in Fiction, Philosophy

 

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Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexievich

chernobylprayerThere is no blurb for this one, partly because this copy didn’t come with one – just excerpts from newspaper reviews – and partly because it needs no blurb.  The book speaks for itself and with Alexievich’s Nobel Prize in Literature award, it means it will thankfully never be forgotten.

After a short historical background on the explosion of reactor no. 4 (whose radioactive particles reached as far as China and Africa), the reader is introduced to A lone human voice. This  truly shocking and saddening account sets the scene for this outstanding and powerful chronicle of eyewitness recollections  from those that were involved with the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Often forgotten in the face of overwhelming statistics are the real human lives who have suffered, those forgotten get a voice here.  The cost is not just in lives lost but dreams and hopes shattered, health ruined and families torn apart.  This book focuses on the Belarusians who bore the brunt of the disaster and of those who helped try to contain it and the risks they took.

The beauty of this series of monologues is that Alexievich didn’t ask questions, instead she did the one thing that the people had been wanting for years, she listened. Apart from an essay of her own the author merely adds only the briefest additions to the text such as ‘he looks pensive’, ‘she cries’ and so on.

This allows the people to talk about whatever they need to and follow the direction of their thoughts and there is a surprising amount of philosophical views that come out.  Especially as many still don’t accept the subtle devastation that hit their lands and destroyed them,  who were then shunned by an uneducated public.  What shines through is that they loved their land and animals, most of those living there knew little else and the passion for their lost place is ever present.
Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 13/02/2017 in History, Modern Classics, Politics

 

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Stowaway to Mars – John Wyndham

extraweightFor British pilot Dale Curtance the Keuntz Prize – to be awarded to the first person to take a spaceship to another planet and back – is the ultimate challenge. Not only has he to build a ship to survive the journey, assemble a top-notch crew and choose a destination, he’s also got to beat the Russians and Americans.

Soon the GLORIA MUNDI blasts off from Salisbury Plain, bound for Mars. There’s only one problem – a stowaway called Joan. Not only does her presence wreck calculations and threaten the mission, but her tale suggests that Mars may be a more dangerous destination than they ever expected.

Written in the 30s, this is an early effort by John Wyndham and it shows.  This is not a bad thing though as the book is a fun read and despite its flaws there is plenty here to enjoy.

The story feels like a solid B-movie effort, of which I like to term ‘B-Literature’ and not the Wyndham that I am used to.  This a more speculative effort rather than the ‘logical fantasy’ he later wrote, with much success.  In this case, Britain is Great again at the forefront of exploration and a major contender in the space race and in particular to reach Mars first.

The story flows well, action is mixed up with speculation on the mysteries of the universe and the boredom of floating about in space, as well as the anticipations surrounding arrival to Mars and take off are captured well. The satire of the Press, especially the British is remarkably spot on now as it no doubt was back in the day; as is the Cold War feel he almost presciently managed to summon up a decade before the term was even used.

There are enough signs of the writer the author would become scattered throughout the pages especially when the astronauts speculate on the big questions.  Space always brings out the pertinent existential questions of our place in the universe and what precisely life is and there are some fascinating conversations set up throughout. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 07/01/2017 in Sci-Fi

 

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