Israel is Real

Cohen, Rich. Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009.

Reason read: Resolution 181 is a United Nations resolution passed in November 1947 calling for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. As an aside, Natalie Merchant sang a song about Resolution 181. Of course she did.

Like a slingshot pulling back for the attack, Cohen pulls us back in history to preface Israel as a reality. You expect Israel is Real to be a dry, potentially boring account of Jewish history when in reality Cohen is the storyteller with the sparkle in his eye. It is as if he is telling you a bedtime story by an open fire; urging you to lean in and listen close. He makes historical figures seem like old friends, historical events seem like he participated in them.
As an aside, my least favorite part of reading Israel is Real was stopping to read the extensive footnote at the bottom of nearly every page. While the footnotes contained interesting information, it was like hitting every single red light and getting behind every student – laden school bus on the way to work.

I plan to visit Rome in the next year or so. This line gave me pause, “In choking Jerusalem, Rome was the brain come to stop its own hear, the body come to kill its own soul” (p 25).

Someone asked me how I supported diversity and before I could control my mouth I blurted out, by not making an issue out of it. In retrospect, I think I was trying to say my workplace doesn’t discriminate but more importantly, doesn’t notice how or oven if someone is different. So, when Cohen pointed out Superman has a Jewish name (Kal-El being the Hebrew word for strength) and was created by two teenage Jews, I didn’t have an Ah Ha moment. It just made sense.

Author fact: Rich Cohen has his own website here.

Book trivia: Israel is Real includes a small section of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl called Cohen’s Israel is Real “illuminating and provocative” (Book Lust To Go p 144).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A Mention of the Middle East” (p 143).


November Accomplished

I wanted to rename November Nope the second I published it. I don’t know why I always have a pessimistic view of the month before it has even started. I think I need an attitude adjustment! For starters, I finished the books I set out to read for the month:

Fiction:

  • The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane.
  • The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak.

Nonfiction:

  • Four Corners by Kira Salak.
  • Israel is Real by Rich Cohen.
  • Silverland by Dervla Murphy.

Series continuations:

  • Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset.
  • Echo Burning by Lee Child.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Teaching Empathy by Suzanna Henshon, PhD.

September Psycho

I don’t even know where to begin with September. It was the month from hell in more ways than one. The only good news is that I was able to run twice as many miles as last month. That counts for something as it saves my sanity just a little bit more than if I didn’t do anything at all.

Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • In the City of Fear by Ward Just
  • Jim, The Boy by Tony Earley
  • The Shining by Stephen King

Nonfiction:

  • Thank You and OK! by David Chadwick
  • Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks
  • Ayatollah Begs to Differ by Madj Hoomin
  • Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone

Series continuations:

  • Tripwire by Lee Child
  • Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • My Life on the Line by Ryan O’Callaghan

Ayatollah Begs to Differ

Madj, Hooman. The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: the Paradox of Modern Iran. New York: Anchor Books, 2008.

Reason read: the Iran-Iraq War of 1980.

Iran, a land of contradictions and gross misunderstanding. Madj shares historical facts and personal reflections revealing a side of Iran and Iranians few westerners get to see. Does he want to clear up misconceptions? He understands there is a widespread lack of thoughtful acceptance of middle eastern culture. The United States especially is not on solid ground with their relationship is an understatement. The two sides are polarizing when there is so much more to understand. How can westerners reconcile dead camels on display, their throats slit for religious sacrifice? Other illogical points to consider: Birth records in Iran were instituted in 1930. Also, the chador was illegal for women to wear in the 1930s. Interestingly enough, the Shah was persuaded not to enforce this law until it was finally changed in 1941. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 promised to do away with class. Even the employees of the President dress the same as the man who poured their tea. In contrast, Madj says “When American…politicians may often come from ordinary backgrounds their lifestyles usually change dramatically when they have reached the pinnacle of power, they are long removed from their more humble roots” (p 17). This doesn’t happen in Iran.
Madj sits comfortably in a dual cultural identity, western (educated in both England and the United States) and middle eastern as the son of an Iranian diplomat and the grandson of a professor of Islamic philosophy. It’s as if he wants us to understand him as much as he wants to explain Iranian culture. Take the practice of ta’arouf, for example. He recognizes that it is an exhausting and sometime ridiculous practice similar to an over-polite chess match. Or customary gestures of hello: in the United States you thrust out your right hand to grasp someone else’s right hand (and shake vigorously), but in Iran you instead place your right hand over your heart as a gesture of respect. It’s the little things…

Quote that struck me, “Just as one doesn’t have to be religious to feel and appreciate the emotion of a gospel signer, one doesn’t have to be devout to feel the emotion of Muslim religious music, and Shia chants reach into a place deep in the Iranian soul, formed by centuries of cultural DNA and the certain Persian knowledge that the world is indeed a wicked place” (p 87).

Author fact: Madj is a writer of short fiction and has his own website here.

Book trivia: Majd includes some really great color photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Iran” (p 108).


From a Persian Tea House

Carroll, Michael. From a Persian Tea House. London: Tauris Parke, 2007.

Reason read: Khomeini died in the month of June.

One of the best reasons to read From a Persian Tea House is for the cultural aspects to a society some of us will never see. Carroll humanizes the middle east in such a way we can picture dancing with the happy couple at a wedding, striving to understand how common corporal punishment and corruption can be, and of course taking tea with the locals. Having said that, it is important to keep in mind when reading From a Persian Tea House that is was written from a mid 1950s perspective, when old Iran was romanticized and equally mysterious and evocative. Carroll and his traveling companion represent a British born curiosity. They traveled in relative safety, making friends with bemused locals while making keen observations about the culture and society. My favorite parts are the descriptions of a wedding, bartering for rugs, and retrieving their own stolen items.

Author fact: Carroll (not be confused with the lottery winner who blew his millions on naked women) was born in England but spent a lot of time in India.

Book trivia: From a Persian Tea House has fantastic photographs.

Nancy said: Absolutely nada.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Iran” (p 108).


Soldiers of God

Kaplan, Robert D. Soldiers of God: with Islamic Warriors on Afghanistan and Pakistan. New York: Random House, 2001.

Reason read: Khomeini died in the month of June.

Soldiers of God provides the historical context for the emergence of the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network. Given the devastation of September 11th, 2001 the republishing of this book was timely and smart on Kaplan’s part. Robert Kaplan first traveled to Afghanistan and lived among the mujahidin (soldiers of God) back in the mid 1980s. It was on this journey that Kaplan came to witness the rise of the Taliban. More than that, he acquired the colors to paint a vivid picture of a society few Americans see: refugee camps, harsh drought, pervasive illiteracy, militant indoctrination, fierce piety, and ethnic battle lines. In the unity of prayer was practically the only form of democracy; all whispering the name of God one hundred times.
Kaplan digs deep to uncover the hidden side effects of the Soviet invasion – malaria outbreaks, for example. Thanks to stagnant pools of mosquito infested water caused by pervasive destruction of irrigation systems.

Quotes to quote, “The idea of fighting for political freedom is an easy one to grasp until you see in the flesh what the cost is” (p 143) and “After twenty four hours in Querta, my instinct told me that if a man possessed no furniture, he also possessed no useful information” (p 200).

Author fact: According to the back cover of his book, Kaplan is a “world affairs expert.”

Book trivia: Soldiers of God was first published in 1990. Pearl mentioned a newer edition with a updated introduction and final chapter.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Soldiers of God as a good book about militant Islam.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Islamic World” (p 126).


Sacrificial June

June was all about giving up various elements of my life for the sake of family. I’ll go off the book review protocol to say one nice gesture threw off a myriad of plans. Because of one nice gesture I:

  • sacrificed a camping trip,
  • postponed my first trip of the season to Monhegan,
  • cancelled plans with my mother,
  • lost four training days,
  • lost hours of sleep but gained a kink in my back due to sleeping on an air mattress,
  • got behind on reading and writing end of year reports,
  • spent more money than I budgeted due to a cancelled flight,
  • missed a day of work, and
  • have no idea if I actually helped or not.

Anyway. Enough of that. On with the books:

Fiction:

  • Book of Reuben by Tabitha King
  • Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Sun Storm by Asa Larsson

Nonfiction:

  • Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan
  • From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll

Series continuations:

  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling
  • Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian
  • Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

Short Stories:

  • “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above”
    by Sherman Alexie
  • “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis
  • “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
  • “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
  • “What You Pawn I will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
  • “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
  • “Harrowing Journey” by Joel P. Kramer
  • “Ado” by Connie Willis