Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace

Hi everyone, it's been such a long time. I had just purchased the Kindle version of this book last night after watching a Bollywood film, 'Fanaa' (I hope it doesn't surprise anyone that I love Hindi films). The second part of the film had piqued my interest in the Kashmir conflict so much that I began doing some online research on it, and voila! I came across this book and immediately bought it on Kindle.

Before I jump into the actual review of the book, I would like to first put it on record that I did not know that the Kashmir conflict is as old as the Israel-Palestine one. The circumstances under which the two conflicts developed may be different, but they share something in common: being the oldest and as yet unsettled international agenda of the United Nations Security Council. It really stunned me, after reading this book, that this conflict is not getting similar attention in Malaysia compared to the one received by the Palestinian issue. I guess maybe the politicians do not see anything to be gained by championing peace in Kashmir. If I am right, it is a real shame, because this conflict shows just how potentially dangerous strict adherence to national ideologies can become, and in light of recent revival of nationalism in some South East Asian countries, that is something states like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia can take lessons from.

To begin with, Sumantra Bose's clear and straightforward style of writing gives a very easy-to-follow narrative history of the Kashmir conflict, a huge plus point for anyone who is not particularly well-versed in this particular topic. This is so especially since Kashmir as a geographical entity is a very complex one. Even though Bose is an academic writer, the language he employed has very minimal jargon and of course, that is never a bad thing, right? But it really read like a detached account of the history and the whole time, I cannot say I was that emotionally invested in the conflict, not as much as much as I hope to be, anyway. But, what the book lacks in personal attachment, it makes up in stylish presentation.

The book itself is divided into 5 parts, the first 4 of which deal with the history and the last part deals with Bose's proposed answer to the issues faced in trying to bring about peace. So the reader is properly introduced to the roots of the conflict in the first 2 chapters, before the author starts getting to what the book really is about; the current situation in Kashmir (chapters 3 and 4) and a possible solution to the conflict. And this 5-part presentation of the subject matter is such a nice way to go about it. When I was reading, it really did feel like an incremental momentum is physically building up.

The only thing I can say against this book, and it's a very minor thing, is that the solution offered does not seem very practical. The author started the book by acknowledging that India and Pakistan have shown little real interest to concede control of Kashmir, and this reluctance is very much due to the ideological stubbornness that is almost inherent in the conception of both states. The deep-rooted rivalry between the two has manifested itself in several outright physical confrontations since 1947. Even though there is now a large degree of participation (and it is increasing at an alarming rate) by the Kashmiris themselves, the Indian and Pakistani governments are still central to any peace efforts that wish to succeed. Until this ideological opposition between India and Pakistan is significantly removed, I do not see how Bose's proposal of a 'more subtle self-determination' can ever be realistically exercised by all the regions within Kashmir.

Having said that, it is still a very fantastic read, especially if you enjoy history as much as I do. I have ordered another book that deals with Kashmir and unfortunately the title is not available in kindle format, so it may be a few more days before it arrives. But that is how interested in this issue I am after reading Bose's book. I highly recommend it to history fans and the politically interested. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Game of Thrones

Here's another short review by a long time friend of the Project's, Meor Muslih*.

“I warned you not to trust me” - Little Finger

I like this book. Why?

  • The characters. No two characters are alike. There are one or two or three that stands out. But mostly because they are either : too honorable and bordering stupid, or they are a dwarf (not the one with beard and a battle axe, but the one with achondroplasia). And there are Little Finger, Varys and Syrio Forel. Little characters that made all the difference.
  • The storytelling. I like the way Mr. Martin divides each chapter according to point-of-view of one character. It works for me, since there are basically three major plots in this book. It makes sense to tell the reader “Ok, this part is from this person’s point of view.”
  • The plot. Honestly I don’t read Tolkien’s, Paolini’s, or Eddings’. So I may not judge correctly. Basically I don’t hate the plot. That’s alright for me. The twists are also exciting. But if I have to be honest, I can’t read Daenerys.
  • The world. It’s quite new for me. Of course there are knights and big palaces and princess and battles and death. But there are no elf and dwarf. There are very long winters and very long summers. There is a wall of ice at the north, guarding the realm of man from ‘the others’. There are traces ad mentions religions and some form of magic, but so far it’s not a big part of the saga.
Again. I like this book. Will I recommend it to anyone? Yes.

*Meor is a medical student who enjoys books and has just bought himself a Kindle. Congratulations. He keeps a blog here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Revolutionary Doctors

It's been a while since this blog was last updated. While reading up on the effects of the Cuban Revolution on healthcare this morning, I found an interesting review on a book that discusses how healthcare has been transformed by the idea of revolutionary medicine, as first proposed by Che Guevara. Have a look:

“Often we need to change our concepts, not only the general concepts, the social or philosophical ones, but also sometimes our medical concepts.” - Ernesto Che Guevara.

Modelled on Che Guevara’s principles and keeping in line with the Cuban revolution, Steve Brouwer’s assessment of Cuba’s health care system in his book Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba Are Changing the World’s Conception of Health Care (Monthly Review Press, July 2011) stands as a testimony to answer anyone claiming that socialism cannot function. Cuban doctors have regaled people in Latin America and around the world with medical opportunities which, in capitalist ideology and implementation, remain remote. While Cubans are provided free health care provided by medics who are dedicated to science and society, the United States has created a scheme based on profits, which marginalizes a major segment of the population who cannot afford costly treatment.

Che Guevara, himself a doctor, always reiterated the responsibility of helping the oppressed. Having observed the effects of poverty and social class during his travels in Latin America, his revolutionary consciousness stemmed from the concept of restoring dignity to the poor who were oppressed and neglected by dictatorships. Reaffirming Che’s philosophy, at the ELAM (Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina) medical school in Cuba, an inscription of Fidel Castro’s words greets the students. “This will be a battle of solidarity against selfishness.” Striving against the reluctance of the minority who view a career medicine as an opportunity to achieve higher social status, ELAM’s philosophy is “transforming the doctor’s privilege into a doctor’s responsibility.”

Immediately after the triumph of the revolution, the health care system in Cuba underwent major changes. Despite a shortage of doctors, many of them having left to practice in the US and thereby retain prestige and social status, Cuba invested heavily in social welfare. Health care services were nationalized, medicine prices were reduced and treatment fees were gradually eliminated. By the end of 1960, Cuban doctors were employed in a system that provided free health care to all Cubans.

Aspiring doctors in Cuba were able to study medicine for free. In return for free education, doctors were required to relinquish the notion of medicine as an elitist career and work in close contact with the people, travel to rural areas, conduct home visits, and research in rural communities. In 1970, the Ministry of Health pointed out the mistake of valuing specialization over primary health care, given that many medical problems could have been solved by paying special attention to the environment. The study of primary health care and environmental problems proved successful when in Venezuela, it was discovered that apart from the effects of damp weather during rainy seasons, the wood fires which women lighted in their houses were causing lung congestion. The problem was lack of proper ventilation in houses. In 1984, a program of comprehensive general medicine was formulated, enabling medical students to study different areas of medicine in a continuous sequence, rather than separate subjects. The new curriculum was discussed with medics from Canada, Venezuela, Australia and the Philippines, with the director of ELAM stating that comprehensive general medicine allowed students to progress in scientific training whilst at the same time providing the opportunity for students to 'understand the patient as a whole'.

Cuba has become a key player in responding to humanitarian aid around the world. Medical help was provided for countries ravaged by natural disasters such as Haiti, where Cuban doctors performed 6449 surgeries and stayed on long after the seven weeks of humanitarian aid offered to the Haitians by the US were over. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the US, Cuban doctors were forbidden by then- President Bush to assist in humanitarian aid. While Bush dismissed the Cuban offer as ‘propaganda’ by Fidel Castro, the brigade of doctors proved otherwise as they were dispatched to Pakistan, where an earthquake had left thousands of people in dire need of medical and humanitarian assistance. Indeed, the disposition and ethics of Cuban doctors is a source of pride to Fidel Castro who, in his column Reflections of Fidel, contrasted Cuba’s contribution to that of the US. “We are sending doctors, not soldiers!”

Combining medical care, research and ethics, Cuban doctors continue to export the revolutionary struggle on an international level. Cuba provided medical and humanitarian aid to countries whose politics were hostile to the Cuban revolution, such as the Nicaragua under the Somoza dictatorship. South Africa was aided by Cuban doctors in developing healthcare programs for combating HIV. Tanzania now boasts a medical school set up by Cuban doctors. And in Venezuela, the successful Barrio Adentro mission, as well as the free health care system has been modelled after the Cuban project, with doctors assisting and training Venezuelan medics in revolutionizing health care as a model of social responsibility.

The reluctance of Venezuela doctors to work and live in rural areas made it necessary for President Hugo Chavez to call in the expertise of Cuban doctors. The constitution drawn up by Chavez in 1999 granted all Venezuelans the right to accessible health care. Social missions were set up to monitor and ensure health care improvement in working class and poverty stricken areas. Cuban doctors made up for the lack of Venezuelan doctors willing to live in rural areas, reporting health problems that would have been common in countries with a very low GDP, such as Ethiopia and Angola.

The first phase of Barrio Adentro created over six thousand facilities throughout Venezuela which dealt with primary healthcare. The project was furthered to include diagnostic clinics and intensive care for people who were unable to be transferred to larger hospitals. Later the public hospital system was improved by technology updates, as well as improving communication with other health networks. Chavez’s government also ordered the construction of research laboratories and specialized hospitals offering advanced forms of treatment. By the end of August 2010, 83% of Venezuelans had benefited from Barrio Adentro – a far cry from the situation in the 1980’s where 17 million out of 24 million Venezuelans had no access to medical care.

Brouwer points out the benefits of health care as social responsibility. Apart from educating students and offering free courses to aspiring doctors, Cuba has also strived to educate and encourage Venezuelan people to assume responsibility for safeguarding the free health care system. Poor people were offered two meals a day prepared by volunteers, thus combating the effects of malnutrition. In order to avoid street crimes, Venezuelans volunteered as bodyguards for Cuban doctors. Committees of volunteers were set up, supplying Cuban doctors with food, housing and help in data collection, research and public health campaigns.

Financed by Venezuela, Cuban doctors in Bolivia treated over 300,000 Bolivians for eye surgery between 2006 and 2008. In an echo of history, it later became known that one of the patients treated for eye surgery was Mario Teran, the soldier singled out as Che Guevara’s executioner. Cuban doctors in Bolivia are perceived as emulating Che’s internationalist example.

Despite the obvious positive impact and social transformation which Cuban and Venezuelan health care had in Latin America, the US State Department and the CIA expressed concerns that Cuba and Venezuela were having a negative effect on Latin America. Counter-revolutionary efforts to thwart the socialist mission were staged, with a group of Cuban and Venezuelan exiles in Miami stating that doctors were exploited and coerced into servitude by the Cuban government. The only doctor to take part in this conspiracy was later found to be part of an anti-government group. President Bush also offered Cuban and Venezuelan doctors a safe and quick entry to the US, with the hope of disrupting the medical progress achieved in the continent. The US alternative was USAID, a program which promised financial aid in return for US approved “democratic” transition in Latin American socialist countries.

However, the sabotage program failed, highlighting instead capitalism’s failure to deliver what socialist revolutions are achieving in Latin America. Cuban doctors prided themselves on their role as teachers, imparting the necessity of education and community awareness to rural areas which would have otherwise been marginalized by unjust political systems. Within two years of adapting Cuba’s literacy program in Bolivia, UNESCO declared Bolivia free of illiteracy.

Almost every chapter in Revolutionary Doctors starts, befittingly, with a quote from Che Guevara. However, greater prominence might have been given to Fidel Castro's continuous exhortation, even after Che's death, that the West acknowledges and acts upon the injustices riddling Third World countries. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, Castro denounced the inequalities which triggered poverty and ill health:

"There is often talk of human rights, but it is also necessary to speak of the rights of humanity. Why should some people walk around barefoot so that others can travel in luxurious automobiles? Why should some live for 35 years so that others can live for 70? Why should some be miserably poor so that others can be overly rich? I speak in the name of the children in the world who do not have a piece of bread. I speak in the name of the sick who do not have medicine. I speak on behalf of those whose right to life and human dignity have been denied... Of what use, then, is civilization? What is the use of man's conscience? Of what use is the United Nations? [applause] Of what use is the world? It is not possible to speak of peace in the name of tens of millions of human beings who die yearly of hunger, of curable disease throughout the world."

By implementing education on a national level and ensuring its distribution to all echelons of society, Cuba and Venezuela have managed to create a system which embraces and values humanity, and revolutionized medical practice as an ethical and moral responsibility, thus restoring dignity to the people by creating a new social consciousness. The 'conscientious internationalist' embodied by Che Guevara has been transformed into a regenerating reality and, far from the distorted spectrum ranging from prestigious career to saviors, Cuba and Venezuela have managed to transform socialism from an ideology into a humanitarian practice.

Ramona Wadi is a freelance writer living in Malta. Visit her blog at

Original article here.

Another review on the same title here

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Khairulnizam Bakeri: Pecah

Expect the unexpected.

Dari mula ia dihebahkan dalam 140 karakter sampailah buku habis dibaca. Karya sulung Khairulnizam Bakeri ini dibaca dari satu halaman ke satu halaman, bagaikan membaca karya Sidney Sheldon. Sekurang-kurangnya untuk saya. Kisahnya tiada berkisar tentang klise sebuah cinta seorang cantik berpurdah bertemu kacak lalu bertemu jalan bahagia, maaf kalau ada yang berputus harap.

Bermula dari babak di bank, sampailah di hospital dan di rumah perlindungan orang tua. Mula mula ingatkan hanya tentang rompakan biasa, ternyata saya silap. Ada kisah di sebalik tabir yang penulis garap dan bagaikan sebuah misteri, satu demi satu soalan terjawab di akhir halaman.

Kelebihannya novel ini tertumpu kepada plotnya yang menarik. Barangkali hasil kajian penulis yang mendalam tentang watak dan latar belakang yang terdapat dalam novel ini. Seterusnya saya tertarik dengan gaya bahasa penulis. Mungkin sebab beliau seorang pendebat menjadikan beliau menitikberat tentang penyampaian novel ini dalam bait yang paling cantik, tersusun dan terperinci, biarpun ada perkataan Melayu yang jarang digunakan. Tapi sekurang-kurangnya pembaca belajar sesuatu yang baru. Persetankan typo. Bersangka baik, mungkin kesalahan teknikal semata-mata. Tapi harap dalam novel seterusnya kesilapan ini tidak berulang.

Mungkin kelemahan novel ini disebabkan terlalu banyak watak. Mungkin. Mungkin juga sebab plot tidak disusun secara kronologi. Kata mereka, serabut. Ala Time Traveler’s Wife (Eh, tetiba pula) dan novel lain. Sebab satu kelemahan di mata sendiri mungkin keistimewaan di mata orang lain, maka tak adil kalau menilai sebelum mencuba. RM20 di Kinokuniya dan MPH.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Orhan Pamuk: Part I

All of the installments in this "Orhan Pamuk" series of reviews are written by Alia Salleh*, a friend of the Buku project's. Part II will be posted in a few days. Have fun =)

Review 1: Istanbul: Memoirs and The City

I know I love a book when halfway through I’d be itchy to write a review (a newfound urgent side thing I hope I do more). So yes, bits of this was written halfway. I hope that’s legal.

Of the book, to use a clich├ęd phrase, the author succeeded in “painting a poignant picture” of a city he loves. It is indeed a very mournful book - discussing “huzun” (sadness) in a major chunk, and bits of if throughout the book. It was a slow start for me (being undecided as to which book I should give due read), but once I got past the first chapter, as with other Pamuks, it flowed quickly. That is actually one very nice thing about this writing, how he makes the chapters flow by linking the end of each chapter with the next. Petty but that made an impression on me, of how structured he made his writing: making it hard for me to put the book down.

He has an amazing mind: I find my own incompetent in catching up. Often would I read a passage, get lost in it and stop myself, wait, what is this thing he’s saying again? and reread the whole stuff. Complex mighty interesting thoughts I thoroughly enjoy (even those I never understand still).

The content is a mix of personal memoirs and stories of the amazing city, which are inseparable; him in his city. Thus the apt name. It is a wonderful insight on Istanbul, whether you’ve been there or not; and a very deep insight into the author’s life. As with all dreamers that had to put down their sails, it makes me want to return there (here goes the slight remorse for not reading this before going), but anyhow, it is a good read into their culture, their modern history. I love the accompanying black and white photos and paintings - how they quietly complement the writing, helping to set the background; at times stopping me in my track with their humble awesomeness.

My favourite bit would naturally be the anecdotes from the city columns - an amusing insight on Istanbul’s media which had to resort to reporting and discussing daily social going-ons due to the very restrictive political pressure on newspapers. And the fact that the author used to paint, and studied architecture.

Upon reading through, I am constantly wondering on the idea of memoirs: dare you face yourself and put down your life on paper? Would that make you understand yourself more? Would thoughts your never knew you posses flow out? I find that dizzying.

I have to admit the apparent bias, with him being a current favourite author and Istanbul being the current favourite city. Of that I heartily apologise. But they don’t become favourites for nothing, thus my humble recommendation.

*Alia Salleh is a final year engineering student who has amassed quite an impressive collection of books. She resides in Coventry and is still learning to ride a bike.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell

This review is written by a friend of the Buku Project's, Nazri Awang*

I heard about this book from a friend of mine, who mentioned it to be quite a simple introduction to philosophy and philosophical thinking. I was planning to do this review two weeks ago, but instead I decided to spend some more time on reading it again, to have a clearer picture and understanding of the whole thing.

I had read one book each from the likes of Immanuel Kant, Francis Bacon and David Hume. It was not surprising that this literature, by Bertrand Russel is more accessible to any average Joe's, and easier to be understood and related to, as its author was of a fairly recent period of time in history (1872-1970). Its language style is not as archaic as Bacon's, as I
could hardly understand anything that Bacon had written in The Advancement Of Learning.

The book was relatively thin, about 200 pages long and was divided into 15 chapters. In each one of them, Russel tried to convey, and teach how philosophers
view the world. He started with how you see the world from your own senses, but in somehow different perceptions. He gave a simple example of a table. If it were to be seen from different angles, then that very same table would indeed look very different in each one of the realisations. However, all the slightly different images don't refer to a totally different thing.

He progressed further with the question of how "real" is reality? Might it then perhaps be that, our life is just a long sequence of a dream? As all knowledge have to be derived from previously known knowledge, there will be a point in time when there's no causality of and for the first knowledge. Knowledge in this case can also be seen as the "truth".

You believe in something, because you hold them dearly against more solid beliefs beforehand. Something that you are almost, totally confident is true, but how do you assure yourself when it comes to the first realisation of the truth? Russel pointed out, that as sometimes even in science we have several hypothesis to explain a certain phenomenon, would it be possible then perhaps, that several version of truths independently exist?

According to him, philosophy is meant to be studied for the uncertainty and baffling nature of its own self. Once a branch of philosophy attains a threshold of certainty with the strong backup of convincing arguments and proofs, it will then become a part of science. Just like how mathematics, astronomy, psychology and sociology were born out of philosophical realm.

However, once philosophical thinking is applied to its greatest extent, sometimes you just cannot help but to question everything that you can see and touch. Triviality can then be seen as utter complexity, at a few odd times. Sometimes, you will wonder if indeed you are awake or actually dreaming to be awake. You question too much, at one point you are never quite sure what is the meaning of the questions.

Russel mentioned a bit about religious facts and beliefs. This is one tricky part of the equation, as until now there are still a few things that you are just expected to believe in, without any solid rationale or explanation behind it.

Quoting the very last paragraph of this book.

"Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good."

Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in philosophy. Get it from Project Gutternberg for free.

*Nazri Awang is an avid reader on various genres and has been writing several reviews for the BukuProject. He now resides in Coventry and has a few more months of MORSE before he is due to graduate in July 2011.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck oleh HAMKA

Penulisan Hamka bukanlah mudah untuk difahami oleh insan yang buta seni bahasa seperti saya. Tetapi gaya bahasa, santun dan kemas tulisannya sangat menarik hati untuk membaca naskah “Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck” sehingga ke helaian yang terakhir.

Perjalanan cinta Zainuddin dari tanah Mengkasar sehingga ke Surabaya disusun dengan sangat kemas sehingga saya sentiasa tertanya pengakhiran naskah ini. Namun ada sedikit ralat sepanjang membaca kerana saya tercari-cari kolerasi antara tajuk naskah ini dengan jalan ceritanya. Akhirnya baru saya sedar bahawa penulis mahu mengakhiri perjalanan hidup Zainuddin selepas tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck bersama cintanya, Hayati.

Kisah sedih Zainuddin, bagaimana merana dan melaratnya hidup setelah kematian ibu sejak kecil, ayah juga pergi setelah bertahun hidup dalam pembuangan, serta cinta yang ditolak dek kerana adat yang menjunjung asal bangsa seseorang. Zainuddin bangun semula dari segala kedukaan, membuka lembaran baru dalam hidup dan berubah menjadi seorang penulis yang ternama dan berjaya. Menceritakan tentang kesetiaan, cinta dan kasihnya Zainuddin terhadap Hayati, gadis yang pernah berjanji sehidup semati namun mengkhianati cinta sejati.

Di akhirnya, penulis bermain dengan perasaan pembaca apabila Hayati kembali menagih kasih daripada Zainuddin setelah diceraikan suami yang telah membunuh diri. Disebalik sifat baik Zainuddin yang ditonjolkan, terselit sedikit sifat negatif seperti dendam walaupun sebenarnya masih ada cinta. Tindakan Zainuddin yang menolak cinta Hayati dan menyuruh Hayati pulang ke kampung halamannya dengan Kapal Van Der Wijck akhirnya menjadi pengakhiran sebuah kisah cinta.

Cerita cinta ini disampaikan oleh Hamka melalui surat-surat yang ditulis oleh Zainuddin dan Hayati juga tidak ketinggalan surat Khadijah,sahabat baik Hayati. Membaca surat-surat ini akan membawa kita melayang ke dunia dan zaman mereka. Sebuah cerita yang menyayat hati. Soal pangkat, darjat, wang dan adat bijak dimainkan oleh penulis.

Secara keseluruhannya, novel ini tidak menjemukan walaupun masih menggunakan gaya penulisan melayu lama. Diluar kisah cinta, sebenarnya penulis banyak menyelitkan ilmu penyetahuan terutamanya tentang adat Minangkabau yang memberatkan perempuan. Paling penting, penulis berjaya membawa pembaca ke dalam cerita ini.

Saya tertarik dengan baris ayat dalam naskah ini.

“ Di belakang kita berdiri satu tugu yang bernama nasib, disana telah tertulis rol yang akan kita jalani. Meskipun bagaimana kita mengelak dari ketentuan yang tersebut dalam nasib itu, tiadalah dapat, tetapi harus patuh kepada perintahnya”.

Tetapi saya juga percaya Dia tidak akan mengubah nasib kita jika kita sendiri tidak mahu mengubahnya.

nota : Kami di The Buku Project ingin mengucapkan terima kasih atas setiap ulasan yang diberikan dan mengalu-alukan ulasan yang lain. Ulasan yang menarik ini telah ditulis oleh seorang rakan kami yang mahukan identiti beliau dirahsiakan. Tambah beliau lagi, buku Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck lebih menarik berbanding Titanic. Mungkin peminat Titanic ada sesuatu untuk diperkatakan? :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam

This review is written by a friend of the BukuProject's Nazir Harith Fadzilah*

Reading on the crackdown of the Shiite by the officials in Malaysia recently brought back the lessons I used to have in school, mainly those that taught me that Shiism is a blasphemy. Back then, it never occurred to me to question the textbook or even the Ustaz teaching the subject. All I know was, they are different from us, the Sunnis.

Most of us might just accept the facts as they were told to us (which is arguable) and never then revisit them, or to dig deeper on the how, the why, and the consequences of the split. Isn't it strange, considering the Prophet himself constantly preached of unity?

This book, written by Lesley Hazleton, brings us back to the time of tribulation, the time of difficulties, the time of fitna, the time in which the Muslim community was really tested by the Higher Power. Each character, one by one, is stripped from common misconception, either from misleading classes or through sheer lack of understanding

This is not a story that glorifies the characters, and neither is it full of flowers throughout. This is a story of mere human beings, prone to make mistakes, prone to fall to their Jahiliyah insticts, prone to have their judgment clouded by emotions.

These people were not without ideals. It would seem to us that 23 years under the guidance of the Prophet would have prepared them for the coming of this disunity in the Ummah. But we forget that this was the period which most of the characters had prayed they would never see. The period that became known as the beginning of the Sunni-Shiite split.

To be honest, I was nervous about reading this book since every line was new and unfamiliar to me, quite unlike everything I have been taught. Frightened as I was, I did not stop halfway. The author writes with such wit but is never didactic. Since she fills the lines with questions that insist the reader to dig deeper, dig deeper a reader should.

I love the way the book is being presented but I must warn the reader to read with caution and to try to cross-check with much more authentic history books. To call it a major work of Islamic history is short sighted but nevertheless the book shows another side of looking on the history of the Muslim Ummah.

*Nazir is a third year engineering student at the RMIT, Australia. He co-founded the ASAM, a community for artistic souls that sometimes features articles from the BukuProject. "While others enjoy being under the spotlight", Nazir prefers "a candle to light up [his] life". Nazir now resides in Melbourne.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Contains spoilers. Readers, be warned.

Since I've been reading a lot these few days, I might as well write down what I get from those books. So here is a review of one book that I read during my stay in kampung over the weekend. A very famous book revolving around a very famous fictional detective and his equally famous sidekick. A very famous story indeed! :D

I think most everyone knows or has heard of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. As a kid, I used to read abridged versions of all his famous investigations, The Sign of Four being my favourite of them all. I haven't watched the 2010 film adaptation starring Robert Downey Jr. However, I did watch an unaired pilot episode of BBC's Sherlock, which is good enough to ignite a long-forgotten passion for investigative works within me. So I got myself a cheap copy of Arthur Conan Doyle's Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes just
before New Year, and boy, I don't regret it for the slightest bit!

The styles are different throughout. There are some cases from other compilations that are narrated by Holmes himself, and some by an omniscient voice. But I enjoy the story most when it is Dr Watson that puts on the narrator's hat. After all, he was the one who started all the sensation with A Study in Scarlet. He's a normal person, just like me. We both do not study the science of deduction, and we both have average minds. So it is interesting to be finding out the wonders of Sherlock's deduction from the point of view of one who is not in the know. Plus, Watson is a funny character. He's someone I would be delighted to have conversations with over dinner.

Sherlock, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. Even without his incredibly unbelievable skills of finding out things about people that are not very obvious at first, the way he carries himself is also quite strange. I credit Doyle for this impressive work of character building that not only makes Sherlock intriguing, but also human. I am sure I have never encountered such human-ness before, but it feels human nonetheless. Even his patronizing "Elementary" to our much beloved Watson is a delight to read =)

The first part, the adventures, is straightforward cases presented as short stories, so they work really fine for people who like to read during commuting. Every case is a new start so it doesn't require an immense attention span. Perfect! It is the same for the second part, the memoirs. However, the Memoirs is especially famous because it marks Holmes' involvement with the notorious Professor Moriarty. The Final Problem accounts Holmes last moments before he was said to have fallen down the Raichenbach Fall clutched together with his nemesis, Moriarty. I was deeply moved by Watson's last words on his long-time friend, a sleuth that became an icon for the English speaking world and beyond.

So when I found out that Holmes did not actually die and that he made a return in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, I was not exactly sure how to react. I suppose I should be happy for the comeback but part of me still felt a bit cheated. You know, I know for a fact that it's not true but I still harbour irrational suspicion that old Arthur must have needed money real bad or something. Or maybe people just missed Holmes that much that Arthur felt it was cruel to kill Holmes off just like that. And it was cruel. We were left with no credible explanation of what happened to him in the memoirs. So yea, thank God for The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

I won't review here the longer cases like The Hound of Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear and A Study in Scarlet because I think I should revisit those novels before attempting to review them. And thanks to Feedbooks, I can finally do that without emptying my ever thinning pocket!

So to those of you who find the detective as interesting as I do, get buying paperbacks now! Or even better, visit Feedbooks for free titles here:

Elementary! :D

Monday, February 7, 2011

Free Books! =)

Hi everyone, I just stumbled upon a cool discovery. It is called FeedBooks, which is one of the largest pools of online books available to download in PDF, Kindle, and EPUB versions! What's even cooler is they are all free. Just go to the Public Domain page on FeedBooks and browse for any interesting titles and get downloading! If you have a Kindle or Kindle for PC, you just need to click on the title of the book and choose the download-for-Kindle option and the book will be automatically stored in your Kindle. It is so easy!

Here are the steps:

1. Go to FeedBooks

2. Click on Public Domain

3. Click on any title

4. Download whichever version you like

You may register if you want to make an online purchase. But if you're just in it for the free books, save yourself the hassle and skip the registration process. Happy reading! =)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why The West Rules~For Now

This short review is written by a friend of the Buku Project's, Nazri Awang*

This brilliant book is written by Ian Morris, a professor of history at Stanford University. In it, he argues that it is geography rather than racial supremacy, religion, or luck that somehow shapes the world as we know it today. From the start to finish, the author tries to compress and summarize 15000 years of humanity development into a comprehensive analysis of bits and pieces of history, as left by our ancestors.

Over the very long period of human existence, the old world was already shaped by its two geographically unique communities of the east and the west. Morris focused more on the biggest and most developed civilizations at different time instances, therefore some empires were not mentioned as frequently as the more prosperous ones. The main theme of the book was about the advantage of backwardness, explaining how a previously laggard, poorly governed area can evolve in a span of a few hundred years, overtaking the previous super-power.

Western centre of civilization had changed plenty of times, from the ashes of the Greek empire, more city-states sprawled and grew faster than ever. The Romans, Persians, ancient Egyptians were the stars of their time, each one of them occupying distinct prosperous period. Renaissance movement induced more development in northern Europe, Britain in particular. However, in 20th century Pax Britannica slowly faded away and from there, came the new super-power in the form of the Great United States of America.

A similar kind of development was unfolding in the east as well, largely in Chinese mainland. Throughout history, it was not always the west who hold the the winner cap. The east was far on top for a few hundred years before western Europe bounced back from its dark age. Again, applying the theory of advantages of backwardness, the hegemony of the world will always change, favouring those who successfully adapt themselves to the changes in humanity evolution faster and better than the rest, it is inevitable.

"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." ~ Churchill

*Nazri Awang is a final year MORSE student at the University of Warwick and is expected to graduate in a few months. Nazri now lives in Coventry and keeps a very informative blog:

Friday, January 14, 2011


This review is written by a friend of the Buku Project's, Hamedullah Muhammad*

Outlier (def): A person or thing away from others or outside its proper place.

Often, when we read about a success story or a rags-to-riches tale, it talks much about the person. It talks about sacrifice, dedication, perseverance and uncompromising attitude.

More often than not, we will also come across something along the line of "..despite his poor background..." or "..although disadvantaged in.." or something similar. Well, "Outliers" is a book about success. But, it is also about why we should, instead of saying "despite" and "although", say "because".

The author, Malcolm Gladwell, divides this book into two chapters. The first is entitled Opportunity. Malcolm asserts that in order to make sense of success, we need to look at a bigger picture rather than merely concentrate on individuals. He talks about advantage, opportunity and luck; inter alia

  • How being born in the first four months of the year can make one a professional ice hockey player in Canada,
  • Why without Hamburg there would be no The Beatles,
  • Why out of 70 of the richest people throughout human history 20 are Americans born around 1834 and
  • Why IQ scores don't really matter.

By the end of chapter one, you will get a sense of what Malcolm wanted to convey; success is not as individualistic as we have come to acknowledge it today. He said “the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work”.

His second chapter is titled 'Legacy'. Malcolm argues that we have become a society too wary of making generalization. We thought that it would be rude to associate success or in more obvious case, failure with race or culture. We're afraid that we may appear to be undermining people. Malcolm begs to differ. He mentions about:

  • How being a Korean or Colombian flight pilot makes one more prone to crash a plane in the 70's, and
  • How Korean Airlines turned from notoriously known for plane crashes to one of the safest in the world today.

Interestingly, Malcolm also tackles the "Asians are good at math" notion in one of the subchapters entitled Rice Paddies and Math, explaining the influence of language and rice paddies on children's mathematical ability.

Malcolm has an extraordinary skill of turning dry statistic data, one that would probably bore us in its raw form, into something we can identify with and worth pondering over. This book is not in any way undermining the determination and effort of successful individuals. It is merely saying that success has a blueprint; it is a function of opportunity and legacy. Success is intertwined with society. Bigger forces are at play. And they could be measured. And what gets measured gets managed.

The enjoyment of reading Outliers, in my opinion, comes from its ability to make one think "I am an outlier". Not that one could become successful suddenly. But one would become more appreciative of his/her world and possibly would look harder for opportunity and chance. That is probably the main message Malcolm wanted to pass through; that success can be shared to everybody if we as a society can make sense of it.

*Hamedullah graduated from UCL in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.He's currently employed by MISC Bhd. Being a Malaysian, he started taking interest in reading a bit late, about two years ago. He heard about thebukuproject some time ago in London, thought it is a brilliant endeavour but only now decides to contribute something. As they say, "Hands that give also receive".

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Delayed Chic Flick Chic Part 1: Eat Pray Love

Okay, okay I know that my last post was quite a decade ago (In which i am meant to say, happy 2011!). Wasting a few lines for an excuse is pretty much pointless so, let's go straight to the point. Now, drum-roll please!

Yes, yes I know. This is quite an outdated book, some might say, since the sequel is already been published (and some already reviewed it). I am so wishing to make this earlier but again, due to the time constraints, earliest would be now.

So here's the story of the book and I, behind the scene : First, the only thing that I knew the moment I ever touched this book, made my way to the cashier and paid for it was: It is a movie by Julia Roberts. The rest, zilch. I even thought that this book is 100% fictional! Yes I know, I should have made my own research first. I just love surprises, most of the time.

Luckily, the book worth every penny. Or ringgit.

This book revolved around the life of the author herself, Elizabeth Gilbert (or Liz), post-divorce in which she had traveled to Italy, India and Indonesia (Bali, to be exact). She went all the way crossing the continents, for the love of exploring the world and most importantly, herself. In Italy, she spoiled herself with the lavish food (Now now, this doesn't do much justice. Who doesn't love Italian food, anyway? My sympathy, and *ahem* your loss!) and of course, Italian language. She joined the crowd of soccer fans, swooned by the famous arch and buildings of Rome, and get spontaneous and surprised herself everyday with new things as she enjoyed Italy. In India, she went into another "side of the world", in which she joined the meditation of Guru's Ashram. The first part of her India "exploration" immersed her into frustration as the whole atmosphere brought her into something different than Italy. She met a friend, Richard, in which often referred her as "Groceries", a nickname he profoundly used after he saw how much amount of food she could eat. This journey that started off with depression, swiftly turned 180 degrees as she found tranquility and reason to live: God. Lastly, she found herself on her way to Bali, Indonesia to meet a medicine man she formerly met a couple of years before, Ketut. She promised she would return to Bali to teach Ketut English (how cute!) English, only to find that Ketut, being an old man, had little fond of memories of her. In Bali, she discovered another different culture of Balinese, in which she described as "lodged, completely held, within an elaborate lattice of customs." Think of Hinduism traditions met hierarchical village communities met rich and beautiful paddy fields operated by the local people. She spent her days in Bali to meditate, daily meeting with Ketut, and walked around the town, enjoying the picturesque view of the paddy field ( Ubud's paddy field has such magnificent view! ) or just talked to the people themselves. She met Wayan, a Balinese healer which later turned into a friend, and later on she found herself the "love" part of the "Eat, Pray, Love" ( geddit?), a Brazillian man named Felipe.

My verdict: 4 out 5.

1) In a way, this book is rather a book for feminist. But then again, it's a documented life of a woman, what can be manly about that?

2) What created attention here is how Liz put the story lines and plot. I like the way she narrated in this book for it is so honest, even for the darkest thought. Funny and odd, but honest. She is lucky for she has met people like Ketut, Wayan, or even Richard (who seemed to like nothing but to mock her at the first place) and her bunch of Italian friends. I like how Ketut put it:
"To find the balance you want, this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the Earth that it's like you have four legs, instead of two. That way, you can stay in the world. ." ( para 3, page 27)
and how Richard quoted:

" See, now that's your problem. You're wishin' too much baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be." (page 150)

And how Liz used to write to herself in Italy:

"I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me." (para 5, page 54)
(We all have one of the days when we feel the world is coming to get us. Come on, admit it.)

and many more I wish I could share. But then again, what fun could it be without reading the book itself, right?:)

3) If you happen to read one of my posts in my personal blog, I have once said that I'd love to do some world-travelling and exploring and consider it is as a job (like Ian Wright and Samantha Brown. Watching too much of Travelling Channel, I presume). What Liz did, was too good to be true to ever happen to me, for this moment of course. I always want to go to Rome or Italy, generally (Ede, remember our foreign exchange students interview? Haha. I said I wanted to go to Italy because of its food. Signed, honest me. Duh) But someday, insyaAllah. Someday. And Ubud, Bali is beautiful too. India, yes. (But my ex-supervisor used to say that if you went to India and returned home without diarrhea, consider your trip invalid. LOL)

4) Liz's favorite word: Attraversiamo :)

5) Apparently I am not really bothered with Felipe, or David (Yes, despite the fact that the role is played by James Franco in the movie version) , or any of Liz's love interest. What amazed me is the people Liz got to meet, like Giovanni, or Sofie, or Ketut, or Wayan or even Richard from Texas. These kind of people she met, by taking chances (and challenges) to go by herself travelling alone. And also, she really is lucky for having friends to help her raised money for Wayan's house. Now that's just awesome, no?

p.s: Delayed Chic Flick Chic Part 2 is coming, erm, soon? I won't promise anything "legend-wait for it-ary* but I will try my best!