Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Case of Exploding Mangoes

Who kills General Zia?

In 1988, Zia-ul Haq, the sixth president of Pakistan from 1978 to 1988, died in a suspicious plane crash in Bahawalpur in 1988. There are many conspiracy theories around the accident. A Case of Exploding Mangoes tells a satirical version of the accident. The story is told through the narration of Ali Sighri, an under officer in Pakistani Air Force who wanted to revenge for his father's death.

Started with a story of a daily life of a cadet, the novel then continues with stories of numerous events involving different people in different places. The events that did not seemed to be connected in the beginning, slowly developed a connection that eventually leads to the final event, which is the crash of the plane carrying General Zia and a number of Pakistani military officers, and also the US ambassador to Pakistan at the time.

When a friend told me about this novel, I suddenly think of my childhood, back in the eighties. I was still a second grader, hearing the name of Zia ul Ha q from my parents' conversations.

I don't really understand how but I remember that back then, I had the impression that he's not a good man. I think it must be something in my parents' conversation. So I think it must be interesting to read the book now that I'm all grown up and have my own point of view of the world. 

I enjoyed this book very much.

This book is a trip down to the memory lane. Aside from thinking about the days when I was sitting with my parents and absentmindedly listening to their conversation, this novel also makes me reminiscing of the later day, still in the memory lane, when I was in junior high and used to spent my weekends reading my Dad's novel collection which revolves around Sidney Sheldon and Frederick Forsyth.

Reading A Case of Exploding Mangoes gives me the similar feeling I get from reading Forsyth. Perhaps it's the conspiracy theory, or the military and political nuance in the book, though not as heavy as those  of Forsyth's or other books from similar genre.  The writer pictured General Zia almost comically. I even found myself laughed so hard at several points in the book, and sympathized with General Zia and his stupidity. 

A Case of Exploding Mangoes is written by Mohammed Hanif, a Pakistani writer and journalist who was graduated from the Pakistan Air Force Academy as a pilot officer. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Wild Sheep ChaseA Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say that I’m pretty much obsessed with Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase now.

In his interview with Paris Review, Murakami said that Norwegian Wood is a strategic choice, written as his attempt to break into the mainstream, an easy reading that might attract people to read his other works.

In my case, it’s the other way round.

Norwegian Wood is the first Murakami book I read.  After that I found Kafka on the Shore but somehow decided that I’ve had enough Murakami at the time. Despite being considered as an easy reading, Norwegian Wood left the uncomfortable aftertaste that I wanted so much to shake off of my mind. I enjoyed reading the story with its late sixties setting and Beatles songs, but I guess the story about rebellious youth always has this subtle, nagging bitterness. At least that’s how it feels for me. So I figured I’d better try reading another book instead of drowning myself deeper into the bitterness.

That was four years ago, and it wasn’t until last week that I finally had the courage to read Murakami again.

A Wild Sheep Chase is my second Murakami’s book. I found it on the library shelf, stacked between Sputnik Sweetheart and The Wind Up Bird Chronicles. All hard cover editions. I picked A Wild Sheep Chase at the time because, honestly, it’s not hard covered, and it’s the thinnest. It won’t cause too much trouble to be carried everywhere and I’d be able to read it even when standing in the middle of the crowded train.

It turns out that I love the book.

It started out simply. A young advertising executive received a postcard from a friend, and suddenly found himself involved in a surreal chaos with his life at stake. He used the photographin the postcard from his long lost friend for one of his advertisements, and strange things after strange things followed after that. The picture of scenery of mountain and a herd of sheep in the postcard attracted certain party and he was finally forced to launch into an impossible search to find one strange sheep that was in the picture.

Hesitant at first, the young advertising executive finally decided to pursue the search, leaving his quiet and lonely life behind in Tokyo, and went to the dying village far up on the mountain to find the strange sheep. There, up on the quiet mountain, he found the sheep and also his long lost friend.

A Wild Sheep Chase for me is not only a story about the power of a mythical sheep, but also the inevitable loneliness every one of us feels as human.

All the characters in the book were unnamed. Even the main protagonist, the young advertising agency executive, was nameless. He was pictured as a boring man with a boring life. His name was never mentioned, and when he’s checking into hotels, he used fake name. His ex wife was nameless. His ex girl friend from back at the college days, was called ‘the girl who would sleep with anyone’. No name. His other girlfriend was also nameless. The person who forced him to launch into the search of a strange sheep, was referred to as ’the man in black suit’ and the boss of the man in the black suit was referred to as Mr. X. His best friend who’s also his partner in owning the advertising agency, was referred to as ‘my partner’. His long lost friend was referred to as the Rat.  The Rat’s ex girlfriend was referred to as ‘she’. His cat was nameless until he left for the search of the sheep and was named Kipper by a nameless limousine driver, for the sake of having a name.

The story was delivered in short sentences that somehow give you a feeling like there was something hanging in the air between the characters, the weight of the unspoken words and thoughts, creating an atmosphere of depressing silence. And the nameless characters just add more weight to it.Though not directly related to the main story, each character in the book is a story of sheer loneliness that was fully acknowledge of and consciously lived with.

Another inevitable bitterness alright. But perhaps the surreal setting helps in making it more bearable. Because I finished the book quite within a record of time, and I continued right away with The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (next on my list is Sputnik Sweetheart and The Elephant Vanishes).

A Wild Sheep Chase is the last part of the Trilogy of the Rat. I just found out about this after I finished reading the book and I really really wish I could go to Japan to purchase the first and second book since the English translation of the first and second book were not published outside of Japan.

By the way, just a side note, this has again reminded me that when choosing books, it might be wise to start with the less popular one.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sound of PaperThe Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know if I'm the only one feeling this way, but most of the time, I pick a book to read based on my mood. There are some books that have been abandoned for years in my bookshelf, simply because I don't feel like reading them, yet.

Thus, it’s kind of frustrating when you have to spend about 30 minutes walking back and forth between the high shelves in the library, because you don't know what kind of book that you want to read.

I’m really when I found this book, "The Sound of Paper", next to a book titled "The Tao of Jung" that I initially picked.

The Sound of Paper is a book about an artist’s way in finding source of inspiration through spiritual approach. It contains short essays about finding and befriending the sources of inspiration needed by an artist, be it a writer, composer, actor, or painter. At the end of every pieces were a simple task to do by the reader, but unlike those you usually find in how-to books, the tasks were, to quote from the writer’s words, modest and gentle. They don’t force you to actually achieve or produce something, rather, they guide you through a silent journey of finding the inspiration in you.

I really like this book for that particular two reasons; modest, and gentle.

It is as if you can feel that all the essays in it were written with a gentle heart. They are like a good friend, full of understanding and willing to walk slowly with you after a tiring day, or simply sit with you in silence. Their mere existence is meaningful. Their small and seems to be unimportant talks are meaningful.

I feel I can relate so much to the essays. All essays in this book were started with a description of the season and the situation surrounding the writer; the sight of the city skyline, the brown leaves, the dry season in California, the sandstorm, the blooming colors of spring. I really love the way she uses nature as her source of inspiration. She shows that if you pay a little attention, every details in the nature is meaningful.

For people who are into writing, this book really helps, not in the way other books on writing do. There are some tasks and applicative stuff like the morning pages (which turn out to be very famous). It’s less technical. It goes deeper and further beyond finding out what to write and how to write it. Reading the essays in this book, I was feeling as if Julia Cameron herself was walking me through her silent journey from spring to summer in California, trying to decipher the meaning of every little details in nature and turn them into inspiration.

I like the spiritual approach used in this book. It says that it would be better to think of art as something that has there around you, rather than something you need to create. It would be better to think of art as a divine message and you are the channel. It makes you more humble, and surprisingly, more sensitive and open to sources of inspiration around you.

Conveyed in gentle manner and in the nuance of serenity, this book actually tells a strong message. That a creative work, just like other type of work, requires works that are being done consistently. That aloneness and serenity you think you need to be able to produce creative work, is actually not that difficult to be found. They’re not always in the form of solitude or a long hours brainstorm or daydreaming. Sometimes, they are part of your busy everyday life; while you were waiting for the doctor appointment, while you were waiting for the cake to be fully baked, in the middle of writing a report for your daily job, of when you’re sitting at the bus shelter with crowds of people around you.

To me, it simply says: no excuse. I’ve written about it on on my blog too. No excuse about lack of time, lack of space, lack of inspiration, or incondusive environment. When you constantly find yourself feeling suffocated of having so many things to write, then you must write. Inspiration are everywhere. And creative is a process. And art, flows through you. You, yourself, are the fertile soil of inspiration.

The Sound of Paper is not the kind of book that you can finish at one go. It's the kind of book that you read slowly, page by page. It's the kind of book that makes you stop in the middle to simply take a deep breath and look around, trying to absorb the meaning you find in the sentences.

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