Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Island of Dr Moreau

--This review was written a few weeks ago. It is only published today because, well, it's me =)

Feels good to be able to walk again without hurting my joints. After 3 days of being bedridden following a very nasty fever, I managed to pick up a book and actually finished it. This time, it was a classic that used to scare the living daylight out of me, "The Island of Doctor Moreau" by H G Wells.

The story revolves around Edward Prendick, who, after surviving a shipwreck, chanced onto an island, with the help of a strange man called Montgomery. He later discovered that the inhabitants of the island are animals that unmistakably have human features, thanks to the laboratory vivisectional works of one Doctor Moreau. The doctor envisions a world where animals are as refined as humans and humans become a step closer to perfection. In order to achieve this, these "animals" are made to observe the Law, which includes among others, the prohibition to eat meat, the prohibition to walk on all fours, and the prohibition to kill.

Now, as I recall my first time reading it back in 2002, it surprises me that I was not more shocked back then. I was certainly terrified of the thought of what the main character, Edward Prendick must be going through, but I don't remember it to be quite as shocking as it is now. Perhaps age adds to my perceiving the whole situation in the light that it deserves.

Take for example, Prendick's horror at seeing the birth of a creature that is half pig and half human. I can't, for the life of me, imagine such an ugly spectacle. I am not just talking about the physical aspect of it, but even the idea is an abomination to me. Of course, the novel seeks to have the reader think of the moral implication of playing God. From my own reading, I find the whole text very damning of vivisection, and my stand on this issue is very similar. To be fair, Wells did not hide the fact that he is all against it as well. So, readers looking for an objective made up story revolving vivisection will probably not find what they are looking for in this book.

David Thewlis as Edward in the film adaptation of the book (1996)

But apart from that, there is another interesting angle that this book takes. Near the end of the book, a character observes that "to go on two legs is very hard." Being human is hard, which is why man is always so close to falling prey to his bestial instincts. What other explanations are there for the debasing acts that have been committed the world over? It's human capacity and divine order for restraint that make this world slightly more livable. And this book shows the possible calamities that might ensue when that fragile order is tampered with.

And in the end, one is left wondering if Dr Moreau's plan for the perfect human would have succeeded after all. I am still thinking about this, long after I am finished with the book. Now, what if we want to be a perfect human? Do we need to be biologically improved or would nurture suffice?

Again, to go on two legs is very hard.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It's All About the Bike - Robert Penn

I admit that I was intrigued by this book because I just recently learnt how to cycle. And because I like the cover design. A shallow move of no regret.

Part biography part history part engineering I don't know what people categorise this book in, non-fiction oh yes. The writer narrates his journey to the one bicycle, not a perfect one, but his perfect one (And very expensive too). He laced it up with facts and the history of the two-wheel; and he did it brilliantly: lightly funny, warmly personal, heavy with content yet accessible even with plenty of technical terms. Now I know the history of random household names, Michelin, Dunlop, Benz, Ford, all related to this one amazing machine. The amazing machine which shapes our society in its subtle ways, something so obvious that I overlooked it before.

I find the writing to be my favourite bit, it keeps me turning the pages for more, for the language and the wisdom between the lines. The melancholic reference to workmanship and community.

"Not long ago, much of what we owned was alive with the skill, and even the idealism, of the people who made it - the blacksmith who forged our tools, the cobbler, the wood-turner, the carpenter, the wheelwright, and the seamstress and tailor who made the clothes we wore."

“The big house in the suburbs with a fence around it, then driving ten miles to school and twenty miles to work every day – this destroys communities.”

I might not be able to relate on his love towards cycling but the passion is evident within the pages. The review stops here – am highly recommending it to bike lovers and not.

This review is the second review featured by Alia Salleh. A "Very short actually," review (according to her), nevertheless it never failed to tempt me (and I know you too) to get the book! On behalf of The Buku Project, I'd like to thank her for her sweet effort :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Fest Malaysia 2010

The biggest bookfest in South East Asia is here! It'll feature Chinese and English books published in several Asian countries, and also internationally.

For those of you who have started Raya holiday and have run out of books to read at home, you might wanna check out this link:

To sum up, the important details are as follows:

  • Book Fest Malaysia 2010
  • 4th - 12th September 2010
  • Conventions and Exhibition Site, KLCC

So, is anyone going? Jom! :D

Saturday, August 14, 2010

SNOW by Orhan Pamuk

I don’t normally write book reviews - I merely shove the books I like to people; forcing them to read em too. So here goes a first. A very short first.

I suppose I should state the bias before I press further - I personally like the writing and the story very much. Especially the snow bit. It’s the first Pamuk I tried (though I have had 2 of his others for ages collecting dust) and the style is nice. The book is, as usual, a translation from his Turkish one. And it’s part of the Revolutionary Series.

The background is Kars: a small town where gossips spread fast in coffee-shops and the entertainment is soap dramas and touring troupes. A Turkey downsized to a town - with clashes between the Islamists, the secularist, military and confusing others.

The protagonist is Ka: a poet who came posing as a journalist to investigate the town’s two issues - the murder of the mayor and the suicides. He’s believable as a person, I suppose that is why I increasingly like him as the story evolves. And why he at times reminds me of a friend. Or maybe I like him because he’s a poet - though the poems are never revealed in the story itself.

Ka went for interview rounds, fell in love with the friend from his past, wrote poems after a long drought of them, got involved with the messy political clashes, found friends and lost them, found love and risked losing it - with the background of a staged coup.

The thing that baffles me still when I close the last page is how Ka came at first posing as a journalist and as the story develops he was simply a poet - I don’t see the point of it. It is as if the journalist bit is a hasty addition to start the book. Maybe I missed the point.

It’s a historical fiction thus it does what fictions do, especially in terms of the characters portrayed, but it is a nice introduction to the undercurrent conflicts in a fresh post-Ottoman Turkey.

Read it for Pamuk’s writing. And the soothing description of the falling snow. It might surprisingly make you long for winter.

This review is written by Alia Salleh, another of the Friends of the Buku Project. She is now a third year engineering student at the University of Warwick and enjoys baking, and snapping pictures.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Malcolm X, who changed his name to Malik el-Shabbaz toward the end of his brief life, needs no introduction. Being first a crook, and then a radical black supremacist, and then an orthodox Sunni Muslim, and then a martyr, is quite overwhelming for just one person. Prior to reading this book, I knew very little about what Malcolm X stood for. The little that I did know, no doubt was due to his exceptional oratory skills that combine fiery speeches with very finely detailed and cohesive points.

The book starts out with a narration of what life was like for a black family in the first half of the 20th century. Malcolm Little (Little was his original surname before he decided to drop it) was not your average black boy. He had red hair and his complexion was fairer than usual. His grandmother had been raped by a white man, which made Malcolm's mother half white. Later in his life, after he joined the movement called "Nation of Islam", he would be sorely embarrassed by this 'fairer' complexion, but when he was a child he was a little proud that he was whiter than everyone else in the family. Malcolm said it revealed the general mentality of that age when being fairer meant you're better. (I can't help but to observe that this mentality has survived until today).

Life was tough for the Little family. After his father was killed by a group of white men for preaching 'rebellious things' to the blacks, the Little children learned to live like people of the streets, cheating their way to food, playing truant, and even compete among each other to geth their mother's attention. Being a middle child who was not particularly the darling of his parents, Malcolm soon learned that it is only by crying out loud that he could get what he wanted. This was one of the things that he carried all his life. To get something done for you, you gotta be loud enough.

The autobiography is full of anecdotes like that, of the lessons he learned from a life experience. As a reader, I was mesmerized by how well he utilised the things he learned as a crook during the time when he was already a preacher for the Nation of Islam. Speaking of that, Now there is a fascinating chapter of his life! I got to know how he became an ardent follower of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the cult, and how his loyalty would finally lead to his own demise within the organization. It was quite hard for me to fathom how an intelligent man like him could fall prey to a movement whose basic principle revolves around the fact that the white man is the devil, but I did not go through years of discrimination as Malcolm most certainly did. And to be able to dive into his mind as he did everything under the sun that a radical does is truly an experience I'll not soon forget.

It was around the time he spent in the Nation of Islam that he became to get international recognition. Along with moderates fighting for the same cause, like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X was starting to be synonymous to the fight to make the plight of the blacks a human right issue rather than a civil right issue. For those of you who cannot tell the difference, when something is a human rights issue, the UN can rightfully intervene. A civil rights issue can only remain within the domestic realms, therefore, the UN cannot justify any interference on its part. Malcolm travelled all over the world to reveal what it is actually like to be a black American in those days. It soon became apparent that his charisma alone was pushing his cause a step closer to success. The only problem is, there was so much disunity among the blacks that even Malcolm X, with all his intelligence and sage, could not find an effective solution to bring all the dfferent groups of black men together.

Malcolm X with his children and Muhammad Ali

As a Sunni Muslim, I have to admit that this book is particularly appealing to me because Malcolm X, toward the end of his life, became Malik El-Shabbaz. I cannot escape intellectual bias so from the start, I was looking forward to the chapter depicting the process of his conversion to orthodox Islam. His trip to Mecca was related in such a moving way that I felt I'd known Malcolm all my life. There was something he said that made me ponder about my responsibility in this world. The only reason people could have joined a cult like the Nation of Islam was that the true Muslims did not do anything to inform the Americans what Islam really is. In a way he had a point. There was not so much Islamic literature available to the masses at the time, and there was certainly no Wikipedia. Even today, most people are still quite ignorant toward Islam not because they have no access to Islamic literature, but the closest public relations tool that Islam has , the Muslims, is not doing a good job at selling it.

Of course, any book that can make the reader surprised because it was already the end, is a book worth reading. And this one definitely is one of those books. A person of Malcolm's charisma is hard to come by, and you see often in history that such people are done for by the very people they had wanted to save. This is a life that serve to teach us all the value of humanity.

I can't think of a better autobiography so far. 8.5 stars out of 10 =)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bumi Cinta- Habiburrahman El Shirazy

Sebenarnya saya tidak tahu di mana asalnya minat saya membaca novel ini. Semuanya satu kebetulan. Dalam mencari "benda" lain, saya terjumpa naskhah ini. Jadi saya kira saya bertuah kerana 'terjerumus" dalam kebetulan ini.

Jujur, saya tidak pernah membaca sebarang novel dari Habiburrahman El Shirazy. Mungkin kerana bertemu dengan filem- filem adaptasi novel beliau terlebih dahulu, maka saya hanya tertumpu kepada watak- watak dalam Ayat- Ayat Cinta dan Ketika Cinta Bertasbih. Ketiga-tiganya saya suka (ketiga- sebab KCB ada 2 siri) tetapi sekali lagi saya mesti jujur, kesemua filem beliau saya tonton berulang kali mungkin sebab untuk lebih memahami mesej beliau yang sarat dengan unsur ilmu dan dakwah.

Tetapi Bumi Cinta ini berbeza, sebab saya kenali naskhah ini terlebih dahulu dari filemnya (Mungkinkah ada? saya tidak tahu). Dan saya optimis dengan karya beliau yang lain daripada yang lain. Haruskah saya membandingkan dengan sebahagian novel-novel Melayu yang kitar plotnya saya kira sama sahaja? Mungkin tidak. (tetapi bukanlah saya menunding jari ke arah semua novel Melayu. Tidak ada generalisasi di sini. )

Bumi Cinta berkisar tentang pencarian Ayyas untuk melanjutkan ilmu di bumi Moscow. Pencarian yang membawa Ayyas kepada wanita-wanita yang digambarkan sebagai cantik dan menggoda iman beliau sebagai seorang yang berpegang teguh kepada ajaran agama. Yelena dan Linor, dua rakan serumah Ayyas yang tidak putus-putus menguji kesabaran Ayyas dan juga Dr Anastasia, pembimbing Ayyas bagi menggantikan Prof Abraham Tomskii

Keempat-empat watak ini saya kira boleh disimpulkan dalam satu persamaan. Iaitu mencari. Ayyas, seorang muda yang sederhana tetapi sudah melanjutkan pelajaran ke merata-rata tempat memilih Moscow dan tajuk "Sejarah Islam di Rusia." sebagai tajuk kajian beliau. Yelena, seorang "agen pelancongan" yang hilang dalam penafian beliau tentang kewujudan Tuhan. Linor, agen perisik Zionis yang cekap menukar identiti beliau hingga ke beberapa negara, tetapi sebenarnya masih lagi mencari siapa diri beliau sendiri. Dr Anastasia Palazzo, seorang wanita yang digambarkan sebagai sempurna dengan kebijakan dan keanggunan beliau, serta ketaatannya dalam beragama Kristian juga sentiasa mencari jawapan dalam setiap perilaku Ayyas.

Novel ini menarik, bukan kerana gambaran Ayyas sebagai lelaki yang "hampir sempurna", dan tiada juga babak babak cinta yang mendayu-dayu digambarkan, tetapi kerana ia sarat dengan pengetahuan. Pengetahuan tentang kajian sains dan kaitannya dengan kandungan Al-Quran, sejarah Rusia ketika penaklukan Stalin dan Lenin, keunikan bandar-bandar di Rusia dan sebagainya. Kebolehan Ayyas dalam menerangkan konsep kewujudan Tuhan dan agama Islam yang syumul nyata dalam dialog dialog beliau ketika berhujah dalam persidangan mahupun rancangan di televisyen. Kepetahan beliau dalam menjawab segala persoalan Dr Anastasia Palazzo yang pessimis terhadap dunia Islam jelas terbukti, dan segala keraguan Anastasia dijawab dengan hormat terhadap pembimbingnya yang berlainan agama itu.

Yang saya suka, novel ini tidak cliche jalan ceritanya. Walaupun tidak se"ekstrem" Fahri (ayat-ayat cinta) yang difitnah atau dipenjara, ataupun Furqan (KCB dan KCB2) yang hampir dianiaya virus HIV, jalan cerita tetap dikuasai sama rata dengan perjalanan hidup watak-watak utama seperti Ayyas, Yelena, Linor dan Dr Anastasia Palazzo. Mungkin sebab jalan ceritanya dibaca, bukan ditonton di skrin atau sebagainya (bila membaca, akan lebih menggunakan imaginasi untuk menggambarkan jalan cerita, bagi saya).

Tetapi, jawapan kepada akhir cerita yang tergantung (tentang Linor dan Ayyas) saya tetap nantikan, walaupun ada sedikit kekecewaan di situ.

Buku yang sangat menguntungkan pembacanya. Hanya RM25.90- Bumi Cinta, Habiburrahman El Shirazy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Be VERY Excited!

I'm currently in Terengganu on a one-week-vacation and guess what, I managed to finish three books in the span of 4 days here. Throw a person in an unfamiliar environment and he can accomplish great things. Great things!
The three books are:

1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As Told to Alex Haley)

2. My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk

3. Lady Chatterley's Lover, by DH Lawrence

But, as per usual, the reviews will be coming shortly (short, being an adjective, is subjective) since my holiday isn't over yet. In about a week, the review of Malcolm X's biography will be ready, inshaAllah. It's not like I have much to do anyway at home, apart from reunions and trips back to alma mater etc.

P/S: Aini, kau kena baca Orhan Pamuk. Seriously. Best gila!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

HAMLET by William Shakespeare

Okay, so this isn't strictly a book.

It's a play, meant to be enjoyed on stage, but I personally believe there is no harm in appreciating the beauty of the written word and let your imagination do the rest of the work.

I first knew about Hamlet in MRSM Muadzam Shah. I was a socially awkward kid and socially awkward kids go to the library. It's been that way for centuries. Anyway, there was this collection of illustrated books on famous stories and I remember reading one on a very moody prince who is upset about the fact that his mum married his uncle very soon after his dad died. Or something. I can't remember. The illustration wasn't that great.

So when I was properly introduced to Shakespeare in Form 4 (doing Sonnet 18), I remembered vaguely the story of the young prince and was really disturbed that I couldn't remember what happened to Hamlet at the end of the story. So I borrowed a Penguin copy of Hamlet (abridged, of course, haha..) and read it. This time I was really moved by the poignancy of the story, partly because I could relate to his feelings. I'm not referring to the father-died-and-then-mum-married-uncle thing. It's just the general sense of frustration at everything that goes wrong in the world and being in a situation that forces you to make decisions in light of that frustration. In short, it's a story for young people who are confused. Take away all that fancy language and the Shakespeare phobia and you're left with a story as sad and beautiful as life.

The reader first finds himself , not at the funeral of Hamlet Sr, who just died of suspicious circumstances (But is appears nobody thought foul play was involved), but instead at a royal wedding. Traditionally, Hamlet Jr would be king after the death of Hamlet Sr, but OMG! He came back from boarding school to find his uncle, Claudius, had married his mum and was appointed king. Double sorrow. No, make that triple because he couldn't believe that his mum had forgotten his dad so soon and married Claudius. We're talking two months after the death. And the marriage was as big as any royal event. It is ugly.

And then, with the help of his best friend Horatio, Hamlet came across the ghost of his dead father who told him that he had been murdered by Claudius, the uncle. So now, Hamlet has to decide whether or not the ghost was telling the truth (Because ghosts can lie, you know) before deciding whether or not to avenge his father.

(L to R) Hamlet and Horation in the film
version starring Kenneth Branagh 1996

Now, my favourite part is when Hamlet is contemplating his own mortality. The famous "to be or not to be" speech is basically a soliloquy (a speech by a character not addressed to anyone) that raises Hamlet's fear of death. Death is an unknown territory because to him, nobody has ever come back from death to tell him what exactly happens after life. So he's scared of the fact that he does not know what lies after. And he's increasingly frustrated by his inability to avenge his father. On top of that, he is pained by the fact that nobody seems to remember his dead father anymore. Everyone seems to be praising and flattering the new king, and nobody is mourning apart from Hamlet himself. Dead and forgotten. The tragic fact about mortality.

So we follow Hamlet as he tries to find himself amidst the question of mortality and what it means to live. Hamlet is a good person. He believes in undying love (which is why he was hurt by his mother's change of heart), he believes in justice (he wants to avenge his father's murder), and he believes in morality, especially when it comes to trust between friends. This story is about a young man's journey to keep his moral righteousness while trying to seek justice. And the sad part is, he lost the battle. Somewhere along the line, his quest for justice became an act of revenge. And in doing that, he sacrificed more than just his own morality; he sacrificed the very thing that makes him human: Love.

But even through all that, I think Hamlet did learn something good. There is a quote near the end of the play where Hamlet stops worrying about what would happen if he died. "Let be", he said. This reliance on the higher power ("the special providence")that decides people's destiny is sometimes the only thing we need to have courage to do what we're meant to do.

There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now;
if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.
Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is't
to leave betimes, let be.

A great story. I highly recommend this to people who take pleasure in good stories and even better language. The poetry blows me away. If you think you're not up to reading Shakespearean English just yet, don't worry. Penguin abridged versions are readily available everywhere. Perhaps in some time, you will on move on to the real thing and enjoy the beauty in its entirety. Happy reading! =)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Awesome combo

Tariq Ramadan: The Messenger; The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad.

I began to know this man from what rather to be an interesting review by Rashidah Abd Hamid. Then came the googling part, and I am smitten, by his words. I was trying, walking and wandering. A perfect reason to go into one bookshop from another, rest assured. Sadly, nothing went into the cart, but I'm thankful a good friend sent this book all the way across the continent(s). So, thank you!

When I flipped the very first page, I thought I was astounded, even by the acknowledgment section.One of the parts I seldom read, and then again I was wrong. Those are beautiful words by a man named Tariq Ramadan, an author, a scholar, an educator.

It is quite common for us to read the biography of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when we were kids, and even in the school syllabus. We were exposed to many of the stories right from the born of the last Prophet until the second of his last breath. Well, this time around, the book takes us to a whole new level.

What could I say? I personally think that the explanation by Mr Ramadan is interesting, precise, and somewhat what most of us forgot about this day- practicality. How, that certain events that could definitely be handy in handling issues in our society these days.

What I admire the most definitely is how Mr Ramadan is capable of interconnecting and putting the relationship from one event to another, and readers shall see that it is one concise and comprehensive text, and did I mention- practical?

Quoting Ramadan, "Whatever adversity one faces, one's strength and freedom on Earth consist in remaining constantly aware of dependence on the Creator".(p 58) Now, this is one of the issue being raised in this book- human dependence upon the Almighty God, which started from the usage of the word- in sha Allah (if God so wills)- something of what our society missed nowadays- and need to be reminded again. Indeed, human is born with humility- something that makes us all mortal and what beyond is in God's hand, after striving for hard work, dua' and tawakkal. And yes, little did we see that we are not the Best Planner of all- and Allah indeed knows best.

Roll down for some more insight view from Ede!

Paulo Coelho: Like The Flowing River.

These days, I think I am more likely to get involved with short stories. Yeap! Talking about commitment here. Needless to say that if you are opting for collection of short stories, please take a look on Coelho's Like The flowing River.

It is nowhere near the fiction- most of the stories are basically from the author's experience- of being on vacation, of meeting new faces, of going to strange places, of getting hopes crushed and built again, of moving on and so on.

While I am not a big fan of Coelho's By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Weep, I am surely positive that this book proved that Coelho's one of the greatest philosopher. Try one of the best stories- the story of the pencil; (the sneak peek)

"First quality: you are capable of great things, but you must never forget that there is a hand guiding your steps. We call that hand God, and He always guides us according to His will.’ ‘Second quality: now and then, I have to stop writing and use a sharpner. That makes the pencil suffer a little, but afterwards, he’s much sharper. So you, too, must learn to bear certain pains and sorrows, because they will make you a better person. ‘Third quality: the pencil always allows us to use an eraser to rub out any mistakes. This means that correcting something we did is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps to keep us on the road to justice.’ ‘Fourth quality: what really matters in a pencil is not its wooden exterior, but the graphite inside. So always pay attention to what is happening inside you.’ ‘Finally, the pencil’s fifth quality: it always leaves a mark. in just the same way, you should know that everything you do in life will leave a mark, so try to be conscious of that in your every action’

or even the stories on the pianist of the mall, and many more. Trust me, his reflections are beautiful and inspiring.

Now, hoping in the future i will have the chance to read Veronika Decides to Die. Heard that the book is good too.

Currently reading: Fitzgerald's The Diamond as Big as The Ritz (and other short stories). Have bought Grisham's The Associates the other day, hopefully will get the chance to start on that one soon!