Solomon Northup was a free black man in New York till he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the southern state of Georgia. Thanks to a white carpeSolomon Northup was a free black man in New York till he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the southern state of Georgia. Thanks to a white carpenter who became his friend, Solomon returned to his family after 12 years.
The memoir describes in detail his own and the lives of the other slaves. The account is heart wrenching particularly where Solomon describes how he was beaten for even trivial matters, and even more when he was forced to beat other slaves. In one case he had to beat a slave girl named Patsey so hard that he declined to continue to beat her, following which his master Epps thrashed her so violently that she barely survived, and became a silent and sad person for the rest of her life.
The book is one of the few personal accounts of slavery in the United States whose Declaration of Independence in 1776 seems to mock the millions who continued to live as slaves till slavery was abolished in 1861.
PS: My comments are based on an audio version from the local library. I understand there is a free audio version on youtube as well....more
I read books on science to catch up with latest developments, remind myself of facts that I sometimes forget and to provide me with a perspective thanI read books on science to catch up with latest developments, remind myself of facts that I sometimes forget and to provide me with a perspective than I don't encounter in my normal course of living. This book delivers unevenly on these- perhaps fairly well on the last two and very little on the first one.
The book consists of four parts. The first consists of the preface and the title essay "The Accidental Universe". This is by far the most engrossing essay in the collection and I felt it addressed all the three motivations I had when I started reading it, extremely well. The rest were a bit of a let down.
Among the others, I found "The Gargantuan Universe" in Part 3 engrossing as it reminded me of many known, but often forgotten facts. The remaining essays are based less on facts and more, I felt, on the author's speculations on the meaning of existence, religion and spirituality. All of this is in good prose, and immensely easy to understand, but added very little to my knowledge. I might add that the writer teaches both physics and fiction writing at MIT and the writing is reflective of his dual interests. I just wish that it provided more depth on the topics that are discussed.
PS: The above review is based on the audio version of the book....more
A disappointing work by an outsider trying to understand one of the major cities of the world through the eyes of its rich, if not its richest. The woA disappointing work by an outsider trying to understand one of the major cities of the world through the eyes of its rich, if not its richest. The work is long, verbose and offers little that is not already known to most.
This is not to say that there are no occasional flashes of insight and interest. For example, in the middle of the book where the author has a long conversation with a social worker and residents of a slum within the city and in the last chapter where he beautifully describes the river Yamuna which flows across the city.
To the non- Indian reader, the book provides a dystopian view of one of the emerging centres of world capitalism, almost as a reassurance of the West's continued dominance.
The most fundamental flaw of the book is that it seeks to understand how the city's rich imagine their city. The rich do not lack the means to convert their imaginations into reality, whether these be opulent malls or gated communities. It is the poor and the dispossessed whose imaginations need words to be described....more
Arthur Koestler's essays in this collection were published in 1945, most of them having been written during World War II. A quick glance reveals thatArthur Koestler's essays in this collection were published in 1945, most of them having been written during World War II. A quick glance reveals that though the context has drastically changed since then, the book still has a large number of insights to offer. As someone who has worn his heart on the left for most of his life, this turned out to be doubly rewarding.
Koestler believes that human history has produced two kinds of responses to its condition. The Yogi believes that change can be brought about only by changing man from within, the revolutionary (or the "Commissar") believes that it can only be brought about from without. The French Revolution established the Commissar Age which culminated in the Russian Revolution. It's failure in the rest of Europe leads Koestler to believe that the pendulum had begun to the swerve towards the Yogic end since the 1930s.
He co-relates the perceived change with the new developments in physics that is prescient of New Age writers like Frijtof Capra and who became popular during the 1990s, the decade when the original Commissar State- the Soviet Union fell under its own weight.
Some of the essays in the collection are clearly dated. The ones that I found most engaging were in the first section of the book called "Meanderings", particularly the title essay "Yogi and the Commissar", "The Reader's Dilemma" and "The Intelligentsia." The others are more contextual and I skipped that held no interest for me. I would suggest any potential reader to do so, as reading it end to end might not be always easy or fruitful reading....more
The book is page turner. Consisting of two very different "movements" or novellas, it centers around a 100 year old Bulgarian man, whose life and imagThe book is page turner. Consisting of two very different "movements" or novellas, it centers around a 100 year old Bulgarian man, whose life and imaginations are also a peek into the former communist country's history.
The first "movement" is very much in the realist style which rich journey into the history of chemistry and music in Bulgaria in the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of its main protagonist Ulrich. The second "movement" is in a more contemporary, even post- modernist style and is based on the imaginary events in the mind of the now 100 year old man.
The book had me riveted throughout and one cannot complain about the quality of the writing. What I did find interesting is that the writer's skill is not only evident but also overpowers the story. The end result is that I could not feel anything for the characters while being in admiration of the Rana Dasgupta's command over the writing.
His effort in traversing a large chunk of history and a broad range of issues, comes at the expense of lack of insight into why things turned out the way they did. Ulrich, as well as his imaginary children are almost always at the mercy of forces that lie outside their control. Worse, none of them seem to be able to come out of it or make much of an attempt (and even when the attempt is made like in the case of Khatuna, it ends up going the wrong way).
Despite its post modernist ouvere, there is a sense of historical determinism in the novel.
Having said this, I look forward to reading the Rana Dasgupta's non- ficion work "Capital". ...more
Under a False Flag is an amazing first novel by Tom Gething, whose wonderful blog posts (at http://tomgething.wordpress.com) led me to this novel. ItUnder a False Flag is an amazing first novel by Tom Gething, whose wonderful blog posts (at http://tomgething.wordpress.com) led me to this novel. It brilliantly delves into the character of a young CIA operative who is posted in Chile and participates in his own small way to engineer the overthrow of the Allende regime. Tom Gething's writing is as easy to read as it is nuanced.
Highly recommended for for anyone seeking to read historical fiction, or understand the US foreign policy and the workings of the CIA. I just finished reading it, and easily rate it as one of the better novels I have come across recently....more
A quote from the book: "In 1962–63, when I (Kanshiram) got the opportunity to read Ambedkar’s book Annihilation of Caste I also felt that it was perhapA quote from the book: "In 1962–63, when I (Kanshiram) got the opportunity to read Ambedkar’s book Annihilation of Caste I also felt that it was perhaps possible to eradicate casteism from society. But later, when I studied the caste system and its behaviour in depth, there was a gradual modification in my thoughts. I have not only gained knowledge about caste from the books but from my personal life as well. Those people who migrate in large numbers from their villages to big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata take no possessions with them but their caste. They leave behind their small huts, land and cattle, etc. in the village and settle in slums, near sewers and railway tracks, with nothing else but their one and only possession—their caste. If people have so much affection for their caste then how can we think of annihilating it? That is why I have stopped thinking about the annihilation of caste."
I read only a few pages of the book and while it is a fascinating read, it is too descriptive and long for me to read now. Maybe a couple of decades aI read only a few pages of the book and while it is a fascinating read, it is too descriptive and long for me to read now. Maybe a couple of decades ago I had more patience for this sort of writing. Still, it was wonderful to discover the existence of this book and it came as a pleasant surprise that such a work even existed in Urdu and was widely read till a half a century or so back....more
A careful selection of one of the greatest thinkers of modern India and a messiah of the 'untouchable' castes, the Dalits. It includes his essay 'TheA careful selection of one of the greatest thinkers of modern India and a messiah of the 'untouchable' castes, the Dalits. It includes his essay 'The Annihilation of Caste' as well as his reply to Mahatma Gandhi's critical review of the essay....more
The following are some notes made while reading the novel:
"A quote that I liked on page 427: When I think back on that day, I see all those colourful umbrellas and raincoats, all the mud puddles on the street, and the dying fish and croaking frogs in some of the standing water. That torrential rainfall of the early 1990s exposed much of the corruption masked by the prosperity of the age."
Page 500 ------------ Fast moving events- Ximen Bao, the concubine whose two sons are the main protagonists, dies. Her funeral is a big affair with a numerous Party dignitaries attending it, the cavalcade consisting of 40 cars. Ximen Jiefang owns up his parentage by recognizing that his father's name was Ximen? and not Lan?. He is killed in a suicide attack by his former mentor and believer in Mao's collectivization pro Hang Taiyue?.
On page 488 ----------- As I inch towards the end, the novel becomes more interesting as layers of meaning are revealed. The novelist Mo Yan himself appears in the novel, as a "crafty writer". Yet he seems to have a soft corner for the Lan Jiefang, the county chief who falls for a girl 20 years his junior, and is portrayed as a hero because he renounces his powerful position for his new found love. It is tricky and difficult to make out if Mo Yan is playing tricks to circumvent the censors. Or perhaps, Mo Yan is trying to deliberately make a hero out of a much older man ditching his wife who supported him in his years of struggle. This is not clear and the reader is left to make his own judgement. I am inclined to assume that Mo Yan is playing it both ways and by retaining the ambiguity, he is also saving his own skin.
I am now on page 450. The novel has taken a turn for the better. After a very long middle that meandered through the years of the Cultural Revolution, collectivization of agriculture followed by de- collectivization during the early Den Xiaoping years, the novel now explores the 1990s that saw the definitive turn towards capitalism and its ideals- of making money. The party officials, descendants of Ximen, have now gotten rich. While one of them continues to mouth the slogans of the early CPC, he also plans to make the Ximen village a place of leisure and relaxation for the rich. Jinfang(?), now a county chief, is smitten by a young girl twenty years his junior- literally and metaphorically, symbolizing the emergence of the "gentrified" apparatchik. For the reader, the novel could not be more delightful than it is now. The dreadful middle, always a challenge for both the writer and the reader of a long novel, is over. To Mo Yan's credit, it might have been a deliberate ruse to bore and wear out the censors !
I have just begun reading Part III of Mo Yan's "Life and Death are wearing me out" (a little over one third of the book) and have mixed feelings about it. What works for me is the narrative of post- revolutionary China, particularly about the Cultural Revolution. What also works are the different points of view, a robust sense of humour amidst a tumultus period if China's post- Revolution history and a literary flourish that make the book a page turner.
What doesn't seem to be working is the quirkiness of the narrative, tangential diversions and exaggeration- much in the style of Garcia Marquez in "One Hundred Years of Solitude" which I liked the first time I read "One Hundred..." but found it irritating while reading the second time.
Mo Yan's style also contrasts with another book that I happened to be reading alongside- "Everything Flows" by Vasili Grossman.
The collectivization of the peasantry, among other changes in the post Revolutionary Soviet Union up to Stalin's death are very similar to those in China in the 1950s and 60s. Yet, the contrast between the two writers could not be more striking- Mo Yan is verbose and humourous while Grossman has used tight prose and is uniformly serious, digressing into long soliloquies on Lenin, Stalin and a grand sweep on Russia's thousand years of history. It was refreshing to read a simply written, straightforward novella that was no less - if not more, engaging than "Life and Death...". I finished the 200 page "Everything Flows" in a couple of weeks, much moved by its sparse but surgically precise prose.
I continue to plough through "Life and Death are wearing me out", and if I am not worn out by the time it is finished, will post a longer review....more
I hate to give a one star rating to anything by McLeod, who has made a rich and lifelong contribution to the study of Sikh religion. However, this booI hate to give a one star rating to anything by McLeod, who has made a rich and lifelong contribution to the study of Sikh religion. However, this book is disappointing, the style is archaic and overly academic to the point of being unreadable. The reason seems to be that it is practically a rehash of his PhD thesis in 1968. Much more information and analysis has been done on the subject since then, including by Mcleod himself, to make this book redundant....more