Friday, March 26, 2010

The Spice Route- John Keay

Through tracing the trade route of the spices, John Keay wrote a new history about the ancient world. Spices have played a prominent role in the construction of the modern world, without any healthy quotient spices attract world’s first explorers and travelers.

The resulting volume, culled from historical commentaries and records, is a colorful and detailed portrait of the astonishing impact man's love for flavor had on the earliest stages of globalization. The route by which Keay's narrative travels is seasoned with facts and anecdotes, ranging from ancient historians' fantastic reports of men with "pendulous upper lips" and the heads of dogs-or none at all-to the Muslim invasion of India and the Islamification of Malaysia.

There is a surprising mythology surrounding the spice trade, and Keay does this angle ample justice, citing figures such as Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta and Roman playwright Plautus. Although Keay ends his book with the grim conclusion that the forces of globalization are to blame for the demystification and downfall of "spice," the work itself is nothing short of zesty.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Girl with a Pearl Earring-Tracy Chevalier

Inspired from the renowned painting of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier wrote a beautiful novel, which comes under the same title. Vermeer is a 17 th century Dutch Baroque style painter, who lived and worked in Delft, a canal town in Holland.

Griet, a 16 year old girl was appointed by the renowned painter, Vermeer, to do domestic chores and clean his studio. Coming from a poor family surrounding, Griet was forced to take the hard job and eventually she became the second maid in the house. Apart from cleaning, washing and thousand other domestic duties, she has to run for the fish, meat stalls and fetch water from the nearby canal.

Amidst in the hectic household work, Griet showed a growing interest in Vermeer’s paintings, the painter realizes the talent of Griet, and he made her as a model for his painting titled as Girl With a Pearl Earring. This shocked the wife of the painter and thus began new problems in the household. Meanwhile Griet developed a romance with Peter, a young butcher in the market. Griet was forced to stay aloof from the house and later she married Peter out of her indebtness to him in many ways. . After a decade she heard that her former master died and family fell into the depths of soaring debts. And a few days later her former mistress called and gave her the pearl earrings as per the instruction in the painter’s will. The most touching in the novel would be the stage where, Griet sells the precious pearl earring to pay off all emotions towards Peter and to free herself completely from any worldly debt

Girl with a Pearl Earring, won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award. Nearly 4 million copies of the book has been worldwide and made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Nobel Prize Winning ( 2006), Turkish Writer Orhan Pamuk’s new novel The Museum of Innocence is a riveting story of love, longing and anguish. Set in the life of Istanbul elites, the story revolves around the love life of Kemal Bey, an elite class business man and Fusun, a village beauty. Span from 1975-2008, the novel traces everyday banalities of life in Istanbul society and the history in general.

Kemal Bey is engaged to Sibel, one of the wealthy, eligible young ladies of Istanbul high society. While the preparations for engagement were progressing, Kemal Bey fell into an amorous relationship with Fusun, his distant relative. Engagement breaks and Kemal’s love for Fusun had no bounds now. Shockingly before their love blossoms Kemal loses Fusun in the alleys of the city. After a long period and a long search in the cobble stone alleys of Istanbul, Kemal at last finds the house of Fusun. But by this Fusun had been married to Feridun, a would be film maker and scriptwriter, still Kemal frequented the house, with the hope of Fusun accepting his love. At last, Fusun get divorced with Feridun and after the incessant visit of 8 years to the house, Fusun joined with Kemal. But fate hit Kemal in a different way, in a drunken mood , Fusun drives the car to kill herself, from then Kemal gets lost in her thoughts and start to collect her things and start to build a museum to remember her. One of his visits to world museums, Kemal dies with heart attack.

The 531 page novel is absolutely a beautiful read. Published by Faber & Faber.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Hundred and One Days, a Baghdad Journal- Asne Seiesrstad

After the success of The Bookseller of Kabul, Asne Seierstad, Norwegian Journalist wrote a terrific wartime account of last decade’s famous battle ground, Baghdad. A Hundred and One Days, a Baghdad Journal told the story of the doomsday of Baghdad.

In January 2003 ├ůsne Seierstad entered Baghdad on a ten-day visa. Through bribery, pleading and begging she stayed for over three months, reporting on the war and its aftermath.

A Hundred and One Days is her account of life in Baghdad in the lead up to, during and aftermath of the American invasion. As a journalist Seierstad is used to reporting in a factual manner and through A Hundred and One Days she allows us a glimpse of what life for the locals was like during those terrifying months.

In the lead up to the war Seierstad found it nearly impossible to find anyone to talk to. Everyone was terrified of Saddam's regime and repeated a political spiel as if they were brainwashed. Seierstad did not give up though, and slowly but surely how the Iraqi people really felt about their illustrious leader began to emerge.

Through the assistance of a local interpreter Aliya, Seirestad gradually pieced together exactly what life was like in Baghdad during Saddam's reign. Although given the opportunity to leave before the American bombs began falling Seierstad chose to stay and continue to report on the city under siege.

Through her writing Seierstad brings us images of children mutilated by bombs, houses reduced to rubble, a children's graveyard where no markers are used, men who were victims of torture without fingernails - the list goes on.

Having read The Bookseller of Kabul and loved it I was looking forward to A Hundred and One Days and I was not disappointed. Seierstad's writing draws the reader in and allows you a firsthand glimpse of life in another country. Not the version we see on television, but how the real people live and cope.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

On Reading

For most of our history, reading has been done by just a few specialists, and aloud. In the fifth century, Saint Augustine was famously perplexed by the weird habits of Saint Ambrose: "When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud."