I just finished reading Shadow Princess, the third book in Sundaresan's series about the women of Mughal India. Unlike the Feast of Roses (which shoul...moreI just finished reading Shadow Princess, the third book in Sundaresan's series about the women of Mughal India. Unlike the Feast of Roses (which should be preceded in reading by the Twentieth Wife), this one stands on its own.
It begins with the death of Mumtaz Mahal, the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built, and ends with her husband's death. In between, the life of their eldest daughter, Jahanara, is told with love and historical accuracy. Part history, part travelogue, and part fiction, Sundaresan weaves the smells, sights, and sounds of India into the human stories of larger-than-life historical characters.
When I read Sundaresan's novels, I feel the heat on my skin, the cool breeze wafting through marble halls, and smell the cool smell of apples or the warm scent of naan. She writes a fairytale world of jewels and elephants, wars and stone monuments—but it's not a fairytale. The best part about getting lost in this world is that it's real.
Inlaid into this world, like precious jewels into a marble slab, are the women of the imperial zenana (the Persian word for a harem). Clad in wisps of silk and heavy jewels of all kinds, they move history with a soft word and a strong will. Women in Mughal India (according to the history I've learned from Sundaresan's books) were not allowed in public; but women in the imperial zenana, who had the ear of the most powerful men in the empire—the emperor himself and his sons—had the power to have their presence felt beyond the walls of the zenana. Sundaresan's series is about these amazing historical women and the changes they made to their country.
Jahanara, after her mother's death, finds herself at the head of her father's zenana. He had other wives, true, and one ought to have taken Mumtaz Mahal's place. But because of his love for both Mumtaz and Jahanara, it is his daughter who becomes the most powerful woman in the greatest empire in the world. And she is equal to the task. Though she is seen by few men in her life (besides the eunuchs who are her servants and guards), her presence is felt by nobleman and commoner alike. To find out in just what kinds of ways, you'll have to read for yourself.
Throughout the book, which is chiefly her story, are little chapters on the building of the Taj Mahal. From its birth in the imagination of Jahanara's father (and in the shape of the tomb built by the star of the other two novels, Mehrunnisa, Jahanara's great aunt), as the site is leveled in preparation, as it slowly begins to rise, gleaming white, from the ground, to its completion.
The relationships the women have are why I read these books. At a time when women had little to no power, Jahanara (in Shadow Princess) and Mehrunnisa (in the Twentieth Wife and the Feast of Roses) stand out as intelligent women who use their power to get things done. The men in their lives—fathers, husbands, lovers, and sons—have great love and respect for them because they defy convention, rather than in spite of that fact. Here are women (women!) who are their intellectual equals (sometimes betters), a welcome rarity. These are not coddled women who live only for the feel of silk on their skin and the weight of jewels in their hands, but real people who participate actively in the politics of their country.
It's a great read and a great ride. It makes me want to travel to India, to buy a copy for every woman I know, and to act to change my world for the better. These are not books filled with happily-ever-afters; they are books filled with the real humanity of their characters—the joys and sadnesses alike. Perhaps that is what attracts me the most: these books tell the Truth without having to sugarcoat it.
- - Obligatory fine print:cmp.ly/1 and cmp.ly/2 (because legally, I can't distinguish between them): Indu sent me a copy of the book through her publisher with the express request that I review it but without any request about what the contents of that review might be.(less)
Berlinski starts by assuaging the fear of his atheist readers. He is not a theist! He proclaims, he is rather, "a secular Jew". From that description one might assume that he is of Jewish heritage and descent but does not believe in a (specifically Jewish) deity. However, this quickly is disproved as, through his arguments, Berlinski states that a deity must necessarily exist.
Contrary to most debates in internet fora, Berlinski's arguments start with ad Hitlerum arguments, broken up briefly by ad hominem attacks. Beginning with calling Harris (and his ilk, by association) a terrorist, he continues by calling them anti-Semites.
The first chapter asserts that science is a god, like any other, whose adherents refuse to admit to the existence of other deities. As evidence for this, he sites the fact that Dawkins/Harris are scientists. If this is the case, it is surely news to Harris, a philosopher.
Continuing this argument into the second chapter, Berlinski asserts that science was the cause of the Holocaust. Once again, this must surely be news to many Germans and Historians alike. Citing the fact that the world is still a horrible place (and listing the number of deaths caused by wars in the 20th century), Berlinski concludes that a deity must exist. (The argument goes something like this: since atheism is wrong, &c.) One wonders just what kind of "secular Jew" it is who argues for but does not worship a deity—perhaps there is no hell for him to go to for his lack of faith. We heretics have no such luxury.
In the third chapter, he delves into physics, a subject about which I understand admittedly little, but about which he seems to understand even less. Somewhere in there is a flying horse, but I was left unsure whether its existence was proven or disproven by neutrinos with fingers.
He continues in such baffling manner, creating "atheistic" arguments for him to refute with both theology and physics. By the end, the reader is left wondering if Berlinski believes in anything at all, a failing he notes in atheistic arguments. It seems to me that Berlinski is, in fact, an atheist. He is simply not a militant atheist, an epithet he despises and wishes so much to distance himself from that he talks himself into a theistic/atheistic corner, wanting to have it both ways, and calling all atheists who speak up fundamentalists with no grasp of logic, history, or physics.
All in all, Berlinski comes across as someone I'd love to have to dinner and who really does have some wonderful arguments against the evils of fundamentalism—be it religious or atheistic. However, his disgust of atheistic fundamentalism manifests in bizarre and, yes, entertaining ways. The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions is a great book to hone an atheist's analytical skills.(less)
**spoiler alert** This is one of two books I found during the move that my mother had sent me years ago. When we lived in Germany, anything in English...more**spoiler alert** This is one of two books I found during the move that my mother had sent me years ago. When we lived in Germany, anything in English was fair game for reading material (I've read some real pieces of crap because of it) and we both got addicted to J. A. Jance's mysteries. She's got two series: J. P. Beaumont, of Seattle, and Joanna Brady, of Cochise County, AZ.
This was just like any other Joanna Brady (or JAJ) novel: a quick read, impossible to put down, and follows the same general story arc.
After reading through about a third of it, I realized I'd already read it, but couldn't remember exactly what happens, so I kept reading. It's not as good as it was the first time through. Joanna Brady is one of my first feminist role models, though I certainly didn't know it at the time, and I'm not sure what my mom might think of that. When I wanted to be an FBI agent, I knew that it would never be like the X-Files, but somehow, I thought it might be like one of Jance's mysteries.
Brady is a classic feminist stereotype: a single mom thrust into the man's world of law enforcement. At the beginning of this book, she cleans out other local sheriffs in a poker tournament and donates the proceeds to her daughter's Girl Scout troop.
All in all, not bad for trashy fiction, but not worth the reread.(less)
The tagline says it best, "SEX. DRUGS. REVOLUTION. CROSSBOWS.", all things I'd've done well to have kept in mind throughout.
It was hard for me to star...moreThe tagline says it best, "SEX. DRUGS. REVOLUTION. CROSSBOWS.", all things I'd've done well to have kept in mind throughout.
It was hard for me to start, for some reason—perhaps, it was too good of a description of what happens in mental institutions. I wouldn't know, but it was uncomfortably…uncomfortable. Grime and sweat and blood and mental instability are not things I generally seek out—and perhaps my reaction to it is more telling than I'd like it to be.
There's a lot of drugs in this book. But they fall distinctly into two categories: the pharmaceuticals used to keep people in line, to close their minds and turn things grey; and the illicit drugs that open people's minds, trigger their imaginations and set them free in a new world of color and dimension. It causes this reader to wonder why one set is legal and the other illegal; why one set is used on our children while the other set was used by our parents, in times gone by, to imagine a better world.
There's also a strong current of religion—the opiate of the masses?—but not any one religion. There are no abbesses or bishops telling people what and how to believe: only gods and goddesses walking among us, shaping our world. Or are they us shaping their world? Religion in "Fallen Nation" is not something that happens on Holy Days of Obligation, taught to children before they know better, or governmentally forced upon the unbelievers, but something that just simply is.
At the end of the day, this is a book about gods—whether the Jesuses and Dionysiuses of legends, the Liliths and Lokis of curses, or simply us in our day-to-day sanctity.(less)
This should be called How to Talk to a Religionist if You Must. It lays out great arguments against religion that we should all have in our quivers. E...moreThis should be called How to Talk to a Religionist if You Must. It lays out great arguments against religion that we should all have in our quivers. Every atheist and agnostic should read it. Religionists who are questioning might benefit from it as well, since the arguments are eased into—the really hard core stuff doesn't come until the end.
There seems to be an emphasis on how horrible Islam is, which is concerning because of the volatile political climate right now. I think that much of the arguments against Islam today are simply issues that Christianity and Judaism have grown out of.
He discusses the three main monotheistic faiths but goes beyond that and also discusses various Eastern religions as well. This pluralism is called for because many seeking a way out of Western religion find themselves in Eastern religion, which is often no better but seems new and different.
This book has a lot of information that most Americans should take to heart; of that there can be no denial. However, the author's agenda and bias see...moreThis book has a lot of information that most Americans should take to heart; of that there can be no denial. However, the author's agenda and bias seeped through the pages and got all over my hands.
His basic thesis is that US foreign policy is about oil, oil, oil, and oil. Oh, and let's not forget oil. But it's not all about oil. It's also about oil.
And while this is true to some extent, I find it difficult to believe that, since WWI, the US has barely made a move that was not explicitly designed to bring us into a war in Iraq for (say it with me, now) oil.
As much as I would love to believe in a vast oil-based conspiracy, our government cannot balance the budget, fix social security, or pass a resolution agreeing that maybe something might either have been good or bad (except mothers' day, which was voted to be good, and slavery, which was just voted to be bad...in 2008). I hardly think them capable of the kinds of machinations that explicitly lead to the war in Iraq.
Do I think that situations were taken advantage of? Absofuckinglutely. Do I think that information was downplayed (or upplayed) to make the public more amenable to a war? Without a doubt. But do I think that every president since before Eisenhower has been purposely leading us on a course that would inevitably lead to this war? No. Way. One president and the next can barely agree whether the decision to pardon last year's Presidential Thanksgiving Turkey was a good idea. As similarly minded as Dems and Reps are, I find it difficult to believe that they agreed on this. (By the way, certain peace activists were plants to make us despise the war for all the wrong reasons? I'm sorry, but that may fly in a James Bond movie, but our government just isn't that with it.)
So: definitely worth a read! It's got info that is necessary for every voting American (and maybe more so for those who don't). But it ought to be taken with a desertful of salt.(less)
This is a great story about two super-people; a hero and a villain. Every other chapter is written in their own point of view, and the general plot is...moreThis is a great story about two super-people; a hero and a villain. Every other chapter is written in their own point of view, and the general plot is predictable. Villain escapes from jail, threatens world, and is recaptured. There are some twists that make it a little more complicated than that, but the major reason I enjoyed it was the glimpse into the superhero and supervillain psyche. Their fears, their doubts, their inner most thoughts as they meet and battle, plot and plan, search and hide.
We love our heroes not because they are perfect but because they are imperfect. And this book perfectly exploits that desire. The ending is anti-climactic (I expected more than just a recapture), but again, I'm not reading this for the plot. I'm reading for the astonishing character development, the insight into mere mortals who just happen to be stronger, faster, smarter, or flamier than I.
A must-read for any fan of heroes, whether comic or mythic.(less)
I thoroughly enjoyed this! It reminded me of exactly why I love reading fantasy: the creation of new worlds that are different from our own. Sometimes...moreI thoroughly enjoyed this! It reminded me of exactly why I love reading fantasy: the creation of new worlds that are different from our own. Sometimes I read fantasy to believe in a world with magic; sometimes, a world of aliens; I read this book to believe in a world filled with bad ass women!
From the royal guardswomen whose metal bras get taxed (not for long, though), to the captive warrior who teaches a harem how to fight, and including the modern-day half-fairy who rescues her kidnapped son from Under the Hill with squirt guns, each of these chicks became my heroes.
I had been planning on passing this book on to another who might enjoy it, but now I'm thinking I may have to hang on to it, for my rereading pleasure :)(less)