28 February 2008

Fire from the Andes: Short Fiction from Women from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru

I found this book while I was looking for something to read from Peru. It's a collection of very short fiction from about 16 women Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. There is also a short biographical sketch of each of the authors.

I didn't really love this collection though. There were a few stories I liked, such as The Senorita Didn't Teach Me, Wings for Dominga, and Of Anguish and Illusions, but in general, I wasn't thrilled. They just weren't quite my sort of stories.

But you might like them.

26 February 2008

A Dream in Polar Fog

I posted back in October that I'd had no luck finding a book for Melissa's challenge by a Siberian author. Well, I finally found one this week.

A Dream in Polar Fog is by Yuri Rytkheu, a Chukchi. It was published in Russian in 1968 and is set in the years just before the Russian Revolution. The main character is a Canadian sailor, John MacLennon, whose hands are seriously injured and who is abandoned by his ship while trying to get medical help. He stays with the Chukchi people and his life changes dramatically.

I would have loved it if this book had been written from Pyl'mau's point of view instead of John's (although there are a few times we know Pyl'mau's thoughts). Even though John changes a great deal over the course of the book, having it told from his perspective still gives it an outsider-looking-in feel instead of an insider-letting-us-see-in feel.

Since it was written during the Soviet years, you can't avoid at least a little propaganda. But for a Soviet book, this one isn't too heavy on that propaganda. All Americans in the book are bad, Canadians are possibly redeemable, and Russians are about non-existent. And capitalism isn't looked on too highly.

I enjoyed the book, although I wouldn't recommend it to everyone simply because it's not amazing, and you'd probably need at least a passing interest in the native peoples of Siberia to want to read it. I'd be interested in reading his other books.

25 February 2008

Faith Rewarded

I only discovered this book by President Monson a couple of weeks ago even though it was published in 1995. It's about President Monson's twenty years as the apostle assigned to East Germany and comes from his journal (with obvious editing).

I enjoyed reading it and seeing a slightly different side of President Monson. He started going to East Germany in 1968 when there was very little church activity allowed and continued visiting very regularly until about 1988, after there was a temple there and missionary work to and from there was about to be allowed.

I particularly enjoyed this book because I know people in Kyrgyzstan in somewhat similar circumstances. I hope though that the members in Kyrgyzstan won't have to wait so long to be able to be fully active members of the Church. Of course, the members in East Germany were lucky to have a GA visiting so often and so much attention paid to them.

22 February 2008

Rosetta Stone Farsi

Second review of Rosetta Stone Farsi (click on "Rosetta Stone" at the bottom of this post for other posts about RS Farsi).

Things are still going fine with Rosetta Stone. As those of you who've used Rosetta Stone know, the speaking part of the program is totally worthless. You have to sound exactly like the speaker, and since that's just about impossible even though you might be pronouncing the words correctly, it's not worth doing anything with the speaking part.

One problem with Rosetta Stone's format is that it doesn't always translate neatly into other languages. For example, in English you can say that a building, a dog, and a person are all old. But in some languages, you might use different words to describe all three things as old. That can be quite confusing on Rosetta Stone and make some of the things they're trying to teach you a bit pointless.

There have been a few captions that I simply cannot figure out. There are some grammatical constructions in Arabic that would be exceedingly difficult to teach in Rosetta Stone, but are quite simple to learn from a book. I'm guessing that's the same with Persian. We are getting a Persian grammar book in the next few weeks to help with this problem.

But I am learning Farsi. As always, I should practice speaking more than I do. And it is too easy to manipulate the program and get everything right without really knowing what you're doing.

As for my 7-year-old, he's enjoying RS too and is happy to do it every day. It is a very painless way for me to be sure he's learning, and he is learning, since he is starting to speak some Persian around the house.

So far, I'd say RS is still a good option for learning Farsi. 4/5. And get a book. But you already knew that.

21 February 2008

Watching a baby who's just found his hands is one of my favorite things. The looks of surprise and concentration are wonderful. And it's nice that it finally gives that baby something to entertain himself with. It takes a lot of effort to get a hand in your mouth. :)

Earth and Ashes

This very short little book (really a novella) was written in Dari by Atiq Rahimi and translated by Erdag M. Goknar. It's written in second person (I think this is only the second novel I've read in second person) and set in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

It's amazing how much you know about the main character after reading such a short book, or really, all the characters. There's more here than meets the eye when you pick the book up. Recommended.

As for books written in second person, I'm still deciding if I like it, but I think I do. Both second-person novels I've read have not been about cheery subjects at all so that doesn't necessarily endear me to the writing style, but the characters are so much more immediate. I might search out a few more. (Or take recommendations!)

20 February 2008

The Dark Child:The Autobiography of an African Boy

This book is a few of the memories of Camara Laye's childhood in Guinea. It's a simple book, and quite short, and I thought it was a touch underwhelming, although there really wasn't anything in particular that I didn't like. But I wasn't caught up in it. It's worth reading though to see a tiny glilmpse into one boy's experiences growing up in Guinea in the 1930s.

19 February 2008

Are you ready for the lunar eclipse tomorrow night?

Twilight

So I finally got around to reading this book. And I rather enjoyed it, especially while I was in a bit of a fog on Saturday and needed something light to read.

I didn't like Bella's dependence on Edward; she obviously was a rather independent person before meeting him and certainly wasn't after meeting Edward. But can you have a healthy relationship with a vampire? I can't say I loved the book like a lot of people did, but I did like it and will wait for New Moon to become available at the library.

Monique and the Mango Rains

I requested that the library buy this book after reading Julie's review last month. And the library got and I read it last week and enjoyed it. It's by a Peace Corps volunteer who spent two years in a small village in Mali in about 1990.

There was a bit of typical PCV stuff, but not too much. Mostly Holloway writes about Monique, a midwife and a lot more, focusing on the two years Holloway was in Mali. I would have loved to have heard the story told by Monique, but this is a good substitute.

Recommended. And make sure to read the comment on Julie's blog.

14 February 2008

The Book Thief

I'm not quite sure what I think about this book by Marcus Zusak. There were a lot of things I liked about it and some things I didn't like.

Liked:
The overall story
Liesel, the heroine
Death's point of view
A different historical setting (although the German family hides a Jew)
Original

Disliked:
A touch too crude in places
Too long- 550 pages it didn't need to be
Did I mention too long?

But for a book about the power of words, it's well written. I know this book is very well-liked, but for me, it just wasn't quite there.

11 February 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

This is another book by Khaled Hosseini about Afghanistan. It cover the second half of the 20th century and mostly focuses on two women, Mariam and Laila.

I liked this one much better than The Kite Runner, and I liked The Kite Runner. But A Thousand Splendid Suns is a little quieter (particularly the end), a lot less violent, and nowhere near as melodramatic. If you're going to try Hosseini just once, skip The Kite Runner and read A Thousand Splendid Suns. Recommended.

I particularly like the significance of the title (I should, given the name of my blog). It comes from a poem by Saeb Tabrizi about Kabul, and while the book isn't so much about Kabul, it's still worth quoting here:

Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her, for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

My song exalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I Bastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls

Her laughter of mornings has the gaiety of flowers
Her nights of darkness, the reflections of lustrous hair
Her melodious nightingales, with passion sing their songs
Ardent tunes, as leaves inflamed, cascading from their throats

And I, I sing in the gardens of Jahanara, of Sharbara
And even the trumpets of heaven envy their green pastures.


Poetry about cities somehow always gets me, whether it's about Cairo, Jerusalem, Xi'an Kashgar, or Herat. I don't think I've read any about Bishkek though...

08 February 2008

My Sister's Keeper

I've had this one on my list for a couple of years now and it finally worked out to read it. Like Picoult's other books, this was a quick and enjoyable read, but it also makes you think. Even though everyone's probably already read this book, the basic storyline is about a family who has a seriously troubled son, a daughter with leukemia, and a second daughter who was genetically designed to be able to supply the first daughter with cord blood.

In the end I liked everyone in the book except the mother. But really, what's a mother to do when she has the opportunity to keep a daughter alive? I think a lot of mothers in this situation sacrifice their other children in their efforts to support the sick/disabled child. It's a hard situation.

I didn't quite like the ending, but it certainly wasn't a bad ending. The book is mind candy in a way, but it makes you think.

06 February 2008

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

In A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah writes about his life in Sierra Leon in the mid 1990s. After being forced from his home by war, he ends up spending two teenage years as a solider in the civil war. About half the book though is about his rehabilitation and what happens to him after the war; it could be a lot more graphic than it is, although it's still plenty violent.

I particularly enjoyed this book after reading The Devil That Danced on the Water and Ancestor Stones, both of which are by Aminatta Forna and about Sierra Leon. (If you're looking for fiction about Africa, I highly recommend Ancestor Stones.) Forna's Devil covers earlier history, but gives a little background into the conflict that steals Beah's childhood. And the timeline at the end of Beah's book is very useful.

There are better writers out there (it's rather slow in parts, especially the beginning), but Beah still tells a good story. I'd like to hear his tale in person. Recommended.

05 February 2008

Seductions of Rice

Seductions of Rice by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid has basic instructions on how to cook lots of different types of rice at the beginning of each chapter. I didn't list any of those here. Three stars is for recipes that are wonderful, two for good ones (or maybe ones that are more time-consuming, but still tasty), and one for ones I wouldn't bother with again. Here are my links to their other cookbooks: Flatbreads and Flavors, Hot Sour Salty Sweet, and HomeBaking.If you've made anything from this or any of these other cookbooks, I'd love it if you left a comment about it.

3 Stars
Everyday sprouts page 80
Quick and easy Chinese greens page 85
Red chicken curry page 147
Special everyday Persian rice page 288
Golden chicken kebabs page 296
Oasis salad page 299
Mexican red rice page 412

2 Stars
Egg fried rice page 105
Sweet rice and pork dumplings page 106 (time consuming)
Classic Thai fried rice page 159
Everyday Persian rice page 290
Aromatic rice and fish with two sauces page 335 (time consuming)

1 Star
Spicy cucumber surprise page 81

04 February 2008

Better

I added this book to my list last summer after Julie reviewed it. Since I haven't read anything else by Atul Gawande, it was all new to me. And I thought it was an excellent book. Gawande is a surgeon and covers a variety of topics related to medicine, but mostly with the theme of improving health care. The last chapter about improving performance- not getting better machines or focusing on laboratory science- was particularly good. He also writes about doctors providing assistance with lethal injections, malpractice suits, vaccinating in India, and more.

Highly recommended.

Bella at Midnight

This is another book I picked up from the display shelves in the children's section of the library. It's by Diane Stanley and is a retelling of Cinderella. Well, not exactly a retelling, since only the barest of outlines of the traditional story of Cinderella is there.

It's a fun little book and quick to read, but nothing amazing. Although I think I'd like it better if I were a 10-year-old girl.

01 February 2008

The History of the Ancient World

I've been working through Susan Wise Bauer's The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome for the last week or two. One thing I like about Bauer's book is that it's very readable; there's nothing dense about it.

This book is almost exclusively a who-ruled-what-when book and I enjoyed it. I did skim most of the Roman stuff though, especially near the end because I do get tired of the Romans. I enjoyed the first 600 pages much more.

I didn't run out to buy this book (or put it on hold) when it was released almost a year ago because of some negative reviews (usually from people who wanted more than kings and empires, but then the book would have been quite a bit thicker than its almost 800 pages). I'm glad I found it at the library and decided to try it myself. It was worth the time.