He Who Walks in Love

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,

May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;

While he who walk in love may wander far,

Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.


Henry Van Dyke
From: The Story of the Other Wise Man.
The Gift of the Magi and Other Christmas Stories – O. Henry
Read more: https://www.scribd.com/book/263910109

Love, I Know What You Are

Though it is hard. All gifts are temporary. I unwillingly surrender this one. And thank you for it. God. Or world. Whoever it was gave it to me, I humbly thank you, and pray that I did right by him, and may, as I go ahead, continue to do right by him.
Love, love, I know what you are.
________________________________________________________________
Excerpt From: “Lincoln in the Bardo: WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017” by George Saunders. Scribd.

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Read this book on Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/book/334747443

How to Read a Love Story

In my quest to exorcise the thoughts of my beloved from my mind, I started some months ago to read all the books that he raved about. I thought that once I finished them all, I will finish with him too.

First I read the English Patient. Perhaps I was not in love with the imagery and language as he was. He said he usually read it slowly to savour it, and always went back a few pages to re-read them when he dipped back into it. However, I did relate to the brokenness of love and heartache. I fully understood it on an emotional level.

Next I read  “An Equal Music” by Vikram Seth. My beloved is a musician, or at least a former musician, and he shares some common traits with the protagonist of the book. It is true that they play different instruments, but they are both of working class background, and hail from the northern parts of England. The book character also finished his music studies at the Royal Academy of Music in my love’s hometown. Without even reading the story, I suspected that he also related to the character on an emotional level, in the tragic and besotted way he fell in love.

The book was never a bestseller. Perhaps it did not find a large audience because chamber music is a part of its plot. But strangely enough it was one of the books I owned. One that survived the cull of several moves, from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape, to Cape Town to New York until it finally settled on a bookshelf in Nairobi. It was still on my To-Be-Read (TBR) list, when he mentioned it me, as one of his favourite books. I was amazed that we managed to agree on this obscure title too, one of many subtle connections we shared.  Please stop here if you intend to read the book because I will speak about it next, and might spoil the plot for you if you read any further.

In a nutshell it is a love story. One that does not have a happy ending. The protagonist, Michael Holme, meets the woman he loved and never managed to forget. The chance meeting happens ten years after they part ways and lose touch with each other. Next comes the resurrection of their love, which is a bittersweet interlude that threatens to unsettle both their lives. Julia is married, and is trying to conceal the fact she is going deaf, a terrible ordeal for a pianist who relies on her sense of hearing for enjoying music and presenting it to the world. Micheal himself is an accomplished violinist in a chamber music quartet, but I got the sense that he was still drifting aimlessly in his artist’s life, when he found Julia again. I accompanied him on his journey and understood its suffering and inevitable resolution.

Some books take you on a journey of knowledge and discovery, others on a roller-coaster ride of nonstop action, and the third type are the ones that invite you to accompany the characters on their emotional journey. This book is one of them. Since I discovered my own emotional intensity, I can appreciate and commiserate with the feelings of similarly broken characters. Michael and Julia are not perfect, each of them is flawed in his way, yet their responses are raw and real. Michael especially struggles with accepting Julia’s decision to stop seeing him, and this drives him into self-destruct mode, with a few tantrums thrown in for good measure. The book does not end in total disaster, there are small measures of joy, acceptance and redemption in Michael and Julia’s life. They survive, in their separate lives.

It was quite interesting that both love stories my Englishman recommended featured a forbidden love affairs that ended tragically or miserably. In both stories, the emotional bond survived separation or even death. At a previous point in my life I might have mocked either or both narratives. But today I know that those who wrote about love from first-hand experience never lied. The genuine descriptions of love whether in poems, songs or novels always speak to human feelings, and go on to become bestsellers. Love is essential to our lives. It is shared and expressed universally across cultural, spatial and temporal divides. At its best it is like an internal sun, that illuminates from within, lends glow to the eyes, and gives lightness to the steps. At its worst, It is a heavy piece of flint carried under the ribs, or a giant’s fist wrapped around the throat. Days, months or years might pass where the offending objects diminish until they are almost forgotten. Then, something shifts and the flinty stone would expand, hot and sharp to stab your insides and stop your breath. The fist would tighten its grip to choke the throat. Anybody who has ever grieved a lost love would relate to this pain, as I related to the heartache in the English Patient and An Equal Music, and to the emotional turmoil in half a dozen other love stories I read since I was similarly afflicted. The scars will always remain.

Such is the sentiment of a poem quoted in An Equal Music. You part from the one you love but they always leave their mark:

But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining –
They stood aloof, the scars remaining.
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now flows between,
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been.*


 

* Fare Thee Well by Lord Byron.

 

 

Book: In the House of the Interpreter

In the House of the Interpreter: A MemoirIn the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir by Ngugi wa’Thiong’o

The author writes about his years at Alliance High School in Kenya. The writing is very good, with fairly interesting anecdotes and vignettes of Kenyan society, youth, and evangelism.

The last few chapters, cover the author’s return trip to his village after earning his first pay as a temporary teacher, and this is the part where I most related with the protagonist. He was arrested under the state of emergency and spent some time in jail. For me, the book is worth reading for these pages alone.

Overall it is a story of African people, their survival under difficult circumstances and the choices they make; when it is acceptable to compromise and when it is not.

From a character point of view, there are a few memorable ones. Carey Francis the British principal of a school for Kenyan boys. An officer of the colonial power, who is deeply dedicated to educating native boys and presenting them as equal to their white peers. He reconciled both conflicting interest with Christian belief.

Good Wallace, Ngugi’s brother, who fought with the Mau Mau resistance in the mountain.

Also interesting is the ambiguous and often false relationship between evangelism and true morality. Worth reading, even if the story could not maintain tension and interest equally throughout.

Book: The Other Hand (Little Bee)

The Other HandThe Other Hand by Chris Cleave

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is a noble premise to this book, to raise awareness about refugees to Britain, and to combat the sentiment of apathy that most people feel towards their plight. The character of the Little Bee is sweet and fascinating. The way she superimposes her experience in Britain on remembrances of her Nigerian home is quite endearing.

However, and I cannot quite put my finger on it, the book left me unsatisfied. Like many stories that are written by white people about Africa or about African people there is a certain flatness to them. The Africans are always the helpless people who surrender to their fate, no matter how many radical plans they make to escape it.  Africans are either brutes or victims. Either sub-human monsters or near-saints, but perhaps this is just me. Little Bee comes quite close to a real-life humane and wise African girl, but the others in this book are not quite so engaging. Of course you will have to read the novel to judge by yourself, it is quite short and easy to finish in one or two sittings.

The book is about Little Bee the Nigerian girl who finds herself a central character in the life of Sarah, a British editor of a funky women magazine, and mother to 4-year-old Charlie. The events of the novel takes place over a few weeks but move backwards to the memory of both women’s lives and the fateful events that brought them together. It is narrated in the alternating voices of Sara and Little Bee.

One thing that bothered me as a mother of a small child is the portrayal of the little boy, Charlie, a.k.a Batman. His speech manner is quite irritating and I think it is quite exaggerated because 4-year-olds in my experience are quite capable of uttering grammatical sentences. Sarah has her heart in the right place, but she is also neurotic to say the least, this is perhaps done on purpose to illustrate that sometimes the immigrant is far wiser than the full-blooded British citizen with his or her “values” whatever they are.

Perhaps I would have given the book one extra half star but since the option is not available I am erring on the minus side, simply because the book did not deliver on it hyped up promise.

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Book: The Saladin Murders

The Saladin Murders (Omar Yussef Mystery Series)The Saladin Murders by Matt Rees

Frankly I found this a very depressing read, and knowing that reality probably mirrors this fictitious tale in many of its grisly dimensions was very bitter to contemplate.

This is the second Omar Yussef mystery and it plays out in Gaza, a dump in every sense of the word according to the protagonists. The dirt, the sandstorms, the corruption, the religious zealotry, the garbage, the ruins, and so many deaths and corpses are the order of the day in that terrible place.

Omar Yussef comes to Gaza as part of a UN group. He is investigating with his UN boss the arrest of a colleague who is also a part time lecturer at Al-Azhar University. This innocuous beginning quickly spirals into something sinister as one UN man gets kidnapped and another is assasinated. Soon the corpses pile up among Palestinians rival factions from one killing to another revenge. I lost track of the motives, the agendas and the rivalries. What is left is the deep sense of futility as corrupt politicians fight it out and squabble over this pile of garbage that is Gaza. In this story Israeli violence and hostility do not exist; it is all about Palestinian internal strife. The violence between rival factions is extreme and almost mindless, and the distasteful part is that you cannot even dismiss LAW wielding fighters as far-fetched. Just because the events take place in Gaza, the craziest and the most mindless violence is possible.

A woman in the story says: “Sometimes I think that the only Palestinians who do not weep are the dead ones”.

I was saddened by a little boy, who showed Omar Yussef the doves he is raising on the roof, an innocent child who would soon be struck by tragedy and grief. Nobody remains innocent for long in this environment. Yet people laugh and joke, they exchange wisecracks in the face of death and enjoy a distinct gallows humor, which rang very true. Those Palestinians are tough, and they can put up with a lot of suffering. Omar Yussef says: “I am Palestinian” by way of explanation of his tough nature and tolerance of hardship, but even he was pleased to leave the dust of Gaza, its graves and graveyards behind.

Book: Knitting

KnittingKnitting by Anne Bartlett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An easy and quick read for a sensitive and insightful novel with a strong connection to knitting, yarn and fabric. I wouldn’t have picked up this book if I was not a hobby knitter myself.

The story is set in Adelaide, southern Australia, and follows the lives of two very different women. Sandra is a tightly-wound academic, who is trying to cope with the recent loss of her husband to cancer, while Martha is a free spirit who gives most of her time to her creative knitting. A chance meeting of the two women starts an unlikely friendship. As they work together on a vintage knitting exhibition, both women need to deal with their deepest secrets and conflicts. There are no dead bodies or sinister powers at work here, just the usual scars of life. Sandra and Martha slowly find their way to healing them, and to accepting their own flaws.

I found the book’s rambling about the connection between knitting and writing a bit tiresome. Sandra’s perfectionist tendency to crafting words irritated me, especially as I did not see or read any parts of her lean, and brilliant writing. In contrast Martha’s perfectionism was endearing because the garments she created in the process were aptly described. I had the distinct feeling that perhaps the writer is better at knitting than word-crafting.

Book: Triptych

Triptych (Will Trent, #1)Triptych by Karin Slaughter

I will first start with the title of the book. This is the first time I remember when I look up a title in the dictionary. My digital Collins says:
triptych [ˈtrɪptɪk:]
n 1. a set of three pictures or panels, usually hinged so that the two wing panels fold over the larger central one: often used as an altarpiece
2. a set of three hinged writing tablets
From Greek triptukhos, from tri- + ptux plate.

One of the story’s characters has a triptych on her mantelpiece. When the two side panels fold over the central one a new image or canvas is formed. There is a blurb on the book cover: Three people with something to hide. One killer with nothing to lose. I believe the Triptych reference is to these three people and the way their deception makes things take different forms at different times.

I bought this book after I read Fractured by the same author because I liked the character of Special Agent Will Trent and wanted to read more about his personal story. This book did not disappoint, as the plot moved at a cracking pace. There were plenty of unexpected twists that kept me turning the pages, and re-reading some parts to discover how the author expertly wove the pattern of deception.

I love the way Karin Slaughter handles her characters. Unlike clean predictable sleuths such as Temperance Brennan (Kathy Reich’s forensic anthropologist), Karin Slaughter comes up with more vulnerable and gritty characters for her police force. They show many human frailties that anyone can relate to and sympathize with. Her characters fight their private battles as they are fighting crime, and this makes them all the more appealing.

The story starts with the murder and mutilation of Aleesha Munroe, a prostitute and a drug addict living in one of Atlanta’s rough neighborhood. Detective Michael Ormwood is in charge, but he soon finds out that he needs to work with Special Agent Will Trent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Will Trent is helping out because the murder has some similarities with other attacks around the state. Within 24 hours Michael’s next door neighbor is found dead in his backyard and in order to solve the mystery the two men need to look back into a past that refuses to stay buried.

I will not elaborate more on this excellent thriller in order not to spoil it for future readers. More than just a good thriller the story challenges the perceptions of right and wrong, justice and injustice. It showed the grim reality of prison and why a convicted felon almost always ends up back in prison.

I will remember many characters in this book. For example there was the mother character who fought bravely and unrelentingly for her son, it was a character I related to. She stands in contrast to the mother who fought blindly for her son doing a lot of damage to people’s lives in the process.
Another character later in the book speaks poignantly about her children: “It’s the most wonderful blessing God has given us, our ability to bring a child into the world. You hold them in our arms that first time, and they are more precious than gold. Every breath you take after that is only for your child”. This is so true.

Book : Fractured

Fractured (Will Trent, #2)Fractured by Karin Slaughter

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the first time in my life when I read a detective novel solely for the character of the investigators. The story starts very strong with the nightmare scenario of a rich woman coming back from tennis to find her daughter lying in a pool of blood and a man kneeling above her holding a bloody knife.

The story does not improve from then on, and the only bright sparks are the side stories of the investigators.
The crime drama unfolds over the course of three days with following up the usual leads in the tradition of CSI and Law and Order, the only thing is that it takes longer to get to the conclusion and when it finally comes it is a little bit of a cliche. It would have been all deadly boring if it was not for the interest in the character of Will Trent, a Special agent who grew up as a ward of the state, and Faith Mitchell the 33-year old detective whose son is a college freshman. I think I had a secret wish for them to get involved romantically, but by the end of the book they only managed to hit it off to a friendship and a long-term partnership.

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Book : The Samaritan’s Secret

The Samaritan's SecretThe Samaritan’s Secret by Matt Rees

I kind of goofed up by picking up this work thinking that it is an earlier installment of the Omar Youssef series than another book I own, but this is the third item in the series not the first.

The setting is what makes these detective stories interesting. Omar Youssef is not the typical policeman he is a Palestinian school-teacher who finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery. This time he is traveling to Nablus with his family to attend a wedding of a police officer colleague when a tragedy strikes and a body is discovered in the vicinity of Samaritan temple. The victim is Ishaq, the son of the temple custodian, who was also the financial adviser of a senior political figure in the Palestinian hierarchy.

True to old-style detective novels Omar Youssef unravels the layers of the mystery surrounding the murder, giving us in the meantime a snapshot of life in the West Bank, the Palestinian realities of corruption, extremism and survival. It also gives some insight into the small Samaritan community resident near Nablus.
I found this a very quick and interesting read, a good old-fashioned mystery with clear-cut motives and none of the high-tech investigation style, which I suppose is something to be expected considering the setting of the West Bank.