The 21

Mosebach, Martin. The 21: a journey into the land of Coptic martyrs. Translated by Alta L. Price. Walden, New York: Plough Publishing, 2019.

Reason read: Early Review selection from LibraryThing.

At the very least, The 21 is a thoughtful examination of the martyrs and their humble lives before they became regarded as saints. Mosebach travels to their villages, respectfully meets with their families, and comes away with a poignant picture of stoic grief and outward pride in equal emotion. The most important element to this story is its power to move people regardless of their personal beliefs. Mosebach was compelled to tell the stories of the men in orange; martyrs compared to Jesus on the cross, exposed and seemingly calm before the facing impending execution. The aftermath was just as heart wrenching as the deaths. What those families had to go through just to bring the bodies home; how they needed to search the desert sand for the bodies first before their sons, brothers, and husbands could be buried in El-Aour as saints. Imagine: sixteen of the twenty one had been neighbors; living on the same narrow lane. Unimaginable: each home had an identical iPad so families and loved ones could watch the full, unedited version of the executions. This goes to show you how differently western culture views tragedy. The families of El-Aour proved the enemy had not won as the desired effect had not been achieved. Despite all that, The 21 was a hard book to read.

Author fact: Mosebach is also an accomplished poet.

Book trivia: The 21 was originally published in Germany in 2018 and became a best seller. The foreward was written by the Archbishop of London.

Publisher trivia: Plough is a faith publication whose mission is to find common ground with all.


Baghdad without a Map

Horwitz, Tony. Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia.

Reason read: Baghdad was bombed in March 2003. Read in memory of that event.

Baghdad in the mid 1980s was such a volatile place to be. For Tony Horwitz to be bombing around (pun totally intended) Arabia was insane. There he was, in a land where even local weather reports and maps were banned. Think about it. As a left handed, Jewish stringer, he was not the most popular person to be wandering about those parts of the middle east. He met many people who exclaimed, “Death to America!” before gushing about Disneyland or Hollywood. Despite the dangers and hatreds, his narrative is more than slightly tongue-in-cheek and a lot more than a little funny. He scoffs at roadblocks manned by a 7′ cardboard soldier (while the real military gets stoned on qat). He makes light of millions of crushing fanatics at Khomeini’s funeral. He jokes about not being able to find his wife cloaked in a chador. At the same time as being funny, he is keenly observant. One of my favorites notes – while middle eastern air travel is not the safest; the oxygen masks made be missing, but at least passengers know which direction they should bow their heads in prayer thanks to a “Mecca indicator” on the ceiling of their aircraft.

As an aside, I love it when the knowledge lens gets a little wider. Through reading Martin Mosebach’s The 21, I gained a broader perspective of the Coptic Christian community. So when the Coptics were mentioned in Baghdad Without a Map the reference wasn’t a foreign concept.

Quotes to quote, “The history of modern Baghdad reads like Macbeth, only bloodier” (p 113), and “A man could play Rambo for less money than he paid for a week’s worth of qat” (p 37).

Author fact: Sadly, Tony Horwitz died last year at the age of sixty years young. Heart attack, I think.

Book trivia: There are no photographs included in Baghdad Without a Map. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl said her favorite line in Baghdad without a Map included Horwitz’s humor and insight.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” (p 113). It’s funny Pearl included Horwitz’s book in this chapter because he ended up going back to the middle east again…so maybe it in his mind it was always a good idea. No regrets.


March Same As It Ever Was

This March will mark my eighth time running the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race. When I lived in town I would watch the runners race by, seemingly effortlessly. I could spy on them from my third floor apartment; while I sipped coffee I wondered what it would be like to able to run six miles knowing believing I couldn’t run a single one. Look at me now, Dad.

Here are the books I’m reading for the month of March:

Fiction:

  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – in honor of International Women’s month and to check off a category from the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge list (a cozy mystery).
  • Miss Mole by E.H. Young – in honor of Young’s birth month.
  • The Calligrapher by Edward Docx – in honor of March is Action Hero month.
  • On the Night Plain by J. Robert Lennon – in honor of Yellowstone National Park.
  • Pandora’s Star by Peter Hamilton – in honor of sci-fi month.

Nonfiction:

  • All Elevations Unknown: an Adventure into the Heart of Borneo by Sam Lightner, Jr. – in honor of the first time Mount Kinabu was ascended (March 1851).
  • Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz – in memory of the March 2003 bombing of Baghdad.

Series Continuations:

  • Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland – to continue the series started in January in honor something I can’t remember.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • The 21: A Journey into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs by Martin Mosebach (started in February).

December Ends

December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:

Fiction:
Aguero Sisters  by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe


Nonfiction:
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s  by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)

Series Continuations:
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child


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

June Not Jumping

This has become a morbid joke but I’m not going to the island so there is no chance of me jumping off anything this month. There is time for books, though. Here’s the list:

Fiction:

  • Book of Reuben by Tabitha King – in honor of June being the month when a lot of people (my sister included) like to get married.
  • Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – in honor of Suicide Prevention Day being in June in some states.
  • Sun Storm by Asa Larsson – in honor of Larsson’s birth month being in June.

Nonfiction:

  • Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan – in honor of Kaplan’s birth month being in June.
  • From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll – in recognition of Khomeini’s death in the month of June.

Series continuations:

  • Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling – to continue the series started in May.
  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the never-ending series started in January.
  • Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in April.
  • Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian – to continue the series started in May.

Short stories for National Short Story Month:

  • “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Life and Times of Estelle…” by Sherman Alexie
  • “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
  • “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
  • “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis

December Didn’t Disappoint

I may not be happy with my personal life in regards to fitness, health, and so on, but I am definitely satisfied with the number of books I was able to check off my Challenge list for the month of December. Special thanks to my kisa who did all the driving up and back and around the great state of Maine.

Fiction:

  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (EB/print).
  • Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess.
  • Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund.
  • This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun.
  • Time Machines: the Best Time Travel Stories Ever Written edited by Bill Adler, Jr.

Nonfiction:

  • The Black Tents of Arabia: (My Life Among the Bedouins by Carl Raswan.
  • Lost Moon: the Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger.
  • The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer.
  • Stet: a Memoir by Diana Athill (EB and print).
  • Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens (EB and print).

Series continuations:

  • Unicorn Hunt by Dorothy Dunnett. Confessional: I did not finish this.
  • The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (EB/print/AB).

Black Tents of Arabia

Raswan, Carl R. The Black Tents of Arabia: My Life Among the Bedouins. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1935.

Reason read: The movie, Lawrence of Arabia, was released in December of 1962.

Raswan spent more than twenty years with different Bedouin tribes of Arabia. He went along with them hunting, raiding, battling and surviving as they migrated across the unforgiving arid desert. He submersed himself in the Ruala tribe, learning their customs and traditions on an intimate level. This intimacy and his passion for Arabian horses helped him escape enemy clutches when they were ambushed more than once. How he managed to avoid certain death was beyond me.
Raswan’s language has the ability to take the reader on his adventurous journey. In Black Tents of Arabia he had a way of describing sights and sounds that brought his wild experiences to life. Here’s one of my favorites, “In our tumble-down car there were now no less that seven men: Ibrahim, Ali, two Bedouin rafiqs, two soldiers, and myself; also a gazelle, a greyhound, and two hens. We were packed like sardines: we had to hold on to anything that we could and change grips when the hand threatened to go to sleep. But with thirteen arms interlaced (Ibrahim’s free arm controlled the steering-wheel) we prevented the car from falling apart, nor could any passenger fall out without the knowledge of the others” (p 122).

Quote I needed to quote: Here’s an example of romance in the desert. Faris says to his love, “The blade of my dagger reminds me that I shall never be at peace until the slender blossom bends before the storm of my love” (p 61).

Author fact: Raswan took all of the photographs featured in Black Tents of Arabia.

Book trivia: There are a generous number of photographs in Black Tents of Arabia. I counted over 65 photographs and they are remarkable.

Nancy said: Pearl said Black Tents of Arabia is “a hymn of joy and affection for the nomadic life” (p 25).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called Arabia Deserta” (p 23).


Six Days of War

Oren, Michael B. Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Reason read: the Six Day War took place in June.

Oren’s challenge was to weave together an accurate account of the Six Day War that covered many different perspectives from a myriad of sources. All sides of the conflict needed to be represented and not just from the perspective of battles and conflict. He needed to produce an account that was not only balanced and unbiased, but thorough in its investigation and analysis. This was accomplished through meticulous and extensive research.

Author fact: Oren is a former ambassador to the United States

Book trivia: Six Days of War includes a fair collection of black and white photographs as well as maps to orientate you.

Nancy said: Six Days of War is “massively thorough and equally readable” (Book Lust, p 154).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Middle East” (p 154).