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.