I bought this book, with no previous knowledge of it, because I was looking for an Arabic-language manga or graphic novel and this was the only one I could find in the shop. When I read the blurb and discovered the topic, I found it was something I'd never read about in fiction before and so I bought it.
ظهور الصغير جن is the first in a series of books (called جن الحافي; Japanese original: はだしのゲン Hadashi no Gen; English: Barefoot Gen) about Gen, a six-year-old boy living with his family in Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War. The plot takes us through Gen's experiences of life in a Japan entirely dedicated to fighting the US forces and the suffering that the population went through as the country's resources, particularly food, largely went towards the war effort, leaving many on the brink of starvation. On top of this, Gen's father is very vocal in his opposition to the war and the whole family suffers condemnation by their community, often with physical violence, as a result of this.
The writer, Nakazawa Keiji, was a Hiroshima native and was himself six years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. This book is, therefore, semi-autobiographical. It is clear from the start, from the introduction in fact, that the writer's aim with this series is to show the horrors of war and promote the pursuit of peace.
I struggled with this book and ended up putting it to one side for about a month while I decided whether I could finish it. My reasons for this struggle could well be personal and even due to a lack of understanding of this style of book, so I'll explore them here and do tell me if you think it is! My primary problem with the writing style was that it seemed quite repetitive; for the first three quarters of the book, I felt like every other page was telling me again that the war was bad and that the people were paying the price. This feeling of repetitiveness was compounded by the way this was often said in a very didactic style. That's not to say that the idea was not also demonstrated in the events of the plot, however. Perhaps the repetition makes more sense if the book is for a younger reader, which brings me to my second issue.
Another point of confusion for me was who this book was aimed at. I've tried to find out if it was intended for adults or children but am unable to come to a conclusive answer. Again, I wonder if a Japanese reader would automatically be able to tell from the style who the target age group is. Regardless, if it is for children, I would be very careful about the age group because there is considerable violence throughout and it is particularly graphic in the aftermath of the bomb, as well as emotionally challenging. The violence I found perplexing, though, was that against children by teachers and parents; these children were punched in the head so many times I wonder that they weren't all lying at home with concussion! Is this normal for a Japanese reader? I don't know! What I do know is that this is definitely a book to read first before deciding whether to share it with your children! There are also a couple of instances of nudity, which I was not prepared for.
My engagement with the book improved considerably in the last quarter or so as the story drew nearer to the day the tension was building up to: when the US dropped the atomic bomb. I found myself much more involved with the characters and didn't want to put the book down as I wondered what would happen to them in the aftermath. Gen's view of the explosion and what followed gave me a perspective on the event that I hadn't experienced before and I think this was the most valuable aspect of this book.
I have not read a lot about the bombing of Hiroshima but what I think of first is the long-term effects of radiation and the general destruction it caused to the population as a whole. This book, however, gave me a much more intimate experience of the struggles that the Japanese people had been dealing with even before the bomb was dropped, it gave me insight into the atmosphere of intimidation that was used to maintain support for the war, and portrayed the complete devastation that individuals suffered in the moments after the bomb was dropped.
The book has been translated into many languages (including English) and has been made into series and films, so I might give the film a go if I can get access to it, in sha Allah. I would be interested to see how they adapted it to the new medium.
If you have answers to my confusion regarding the writing style and target age group, please do comment and enlighten me!
I'm going to start with my conclusion: I'm so glad that I read this book and I recommend it to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the forces influencing the relationships between nations and regions in the world today and how we reached this point. Now, let me tell you why (and what I was not so keen on).
Prisoners of Geography introduces the reader to how the geography of different regions has impacted and continues to impact the development and relationships of countries and regions. Each chapter focuses on a particular part of the world, giving its historical background then leading up to today. Since the book was published in 2015, it is still quite up-to-date. Given that the book is based on maps, I was hesitant to listen to it as an audiobook. However, I gave myself my usual non-fiction dilemma line - "if I don't listen to it, I probably won't read it at all" - and stuck my headphones on. Having said that, I don't feel like I missed out too much; my knowledge of the world map could be better, but it's not too bad either so I was generally able to picture in my mind the region he was talking about and where the countries were. Also, having had a quick look at the book pages online, the images in the book are just maps of the region, so you could easily have a look on Google Maps (with the "terrain" option on) and you'd be able to see what he is referring to. Of course, if you don't have my non-fiction resistance problem, just read the physical book instead!
I have read next to nothing about geopolitics and had never given that much thought to how geography impacts the way countries are run and interact with each other beyond the location of oil and natural gas reserves, which have been regularly brought up in the news in recent years (hello, Iraq). So from the start I found myself constantly amazed at how fundamentally history and international relations have been dictated by terrain, natural resources, access routes, natural barriers, and the list goes on. For one, he mentioned many conflicts that I had always considered as predominantly ideological that have significant geographical motivations behind them: Kashmir (access to water from glaciers), Xinjiang (natural buffer zone to foreign invasion), Tibet (same as Xinjiang), Afghanistan (facilitates Russian access to a warm-water sea port), to name a few. He also outlined how geography has played a role in giving certain regions a "head start" in development, such as Western Europe's naturally fertile land and relatively uninhibited natural trade routes between areas within it.
A significant geopolitical issue he brings up that may have slipped under the radar of some people (but that has consistently comes up in reading on the history of the Arab world) is the creation of nation states and the impact of arbitrary borders drawn up by colonial powers. This is not only significant in the Levant, although it is particularly visible there thanks to ensuing conflicts and the ongoing occupation of Palestine, but applies to a large portion of the world. Marshall gives examples from the Levant, South Asia and East Africa amongst others, and I think for anyone who was not already aware of the huge problems this has caused, it will certainly be an eye-opener.
Now for my words of caution when reading this book. Inevitably, discussions that involve politics or any topic related to social sciences are going to be tinged with the ideology and values of the writer and this book is certainly no exception. One of the most obvious examples was a simple list of cities around the world which ended with "and Jerusalem in Israel". Do I need to spell out how much it undermines the credibility of a geopolitics specialist when he casually brushes over one of the most (THE most?) contested land disputes in the world and in history? Of course, this was not done out of ignorance, but I think we can all join the dots so I'll move on.
There is also a definite Western perspective (for lack of a better description) that runs through the book in the way certain areas are discussed, but there is unlikely a book out there on this topic that isn't tinged with the writer's views. This is natural and we just need to be aware of it and of how it might influence the way information is presented.
My other warning relates to the isolation of geographical motivations from other factors that play a role on the world stage. By the time the reader reaches the end, they might be inclined to wonder if all political decisions and conflicts in the world are purely geographical. The title of the book doesn't help to direct the reader away from this idea, either! Of course, this is not the case and there are naturally other factors, such as ideology as mentioned above and other socioeconomic factors (and justice! and ego! and general humanness!). However, this book is about geography and the writer can't possibly cover everything else as well.
The main point I'm making with these warnings is that we must always remember to read more than one book on any particular topic, preferably from writers of a range of schools of thought and origins. This allows us to gain a wider perspective, to mitigate the effects of writers' biases and to compound our knowledge and understanding through repetition and reflection.
All in all, I was very pleased that I chose to read this book. It was easy to follow and understand, there were some witty remarks that gave me a chuckle here and there and it opened my eyes to factors affecting our world today that are often hidden from the layman's eye. Although it didn't discuss certain regions in as much depth as others (I was hoping for much more about Africa), there is a lot to think about and I think it will certainly impact the way I process everything from political events and international relations to the novels I read from around the world.
The fundamental question I'm left with is this: technology will never fully overcome the natural limits that we live with on this planet, neither can we undo the damage done in the past, so how can conflict over resources be resolved if not through justice and wisdom, courage, and compromise for the greater good? To reach such a point, we as individuals and communities must lead by example (and keep reading and learning).
When I came across this book, I had already heard of the Heath brothers as authors of "Switch", which has been on my "to read" list for a good while. However, this one popped up on Scribd as an audiobook so I thought I would give it a go. My hope was to get some practical ideas for how to come up with ways to express concepts that will be engaging and, well, stick!
Each chapter of the book addresses a particular characteristic of ideas that will have a long-lasting impact. The one-word chapter titles certainly follow their first rule: sticky ideas must be simple. Having since looked at the contents page in the written book (I listened to the audiobook, remember), I have to admire the way they have written it to incite curiosity in the reader. They offer just enough to tempt you to read on.
The tone of this book is informal and the use of stories conveys their ideas in a clear and entertaining way. I found myself chuckling at several points of the book and nodding my head in agreement at others. There are plenty of examples that garner admiration for the innovative approaches people have used to make their ideas stick. At no point in the book did I really feel like it was getting monotonous. Once the focus of each chapter had been explained and its effectiveness demonstrated through stories, the reader is taken through an "idea clinic" in which a badly expressed idea is made stickier using the relevant technique.
In theory, this sounds like an effective way to write such a book. The problem is I finished it yesterday and I've already forgotten most of it. I'm sitting here now trying to remember the main ideas of the book and I'm struggling. Without a doubt, this is partly due to the fact that I listened to it rather than read it and I know I have a visual memory. However, even as I was listening, I was doubtful that I would be able to apply the contents to my own context. I wasn't quite sure how I should move forward; what was the next step? Having said that, this isn't a workbook nor is it a personal coaching session. Perhaps I am expecting too much.
To sum up, Made to Stick is a smooth and entertaining read based on a solid theoretical foundation, from what I can see. It is organised in a logical way and gives enough examples to demonstrate each technique clearly. To improve your experience, I advise reading it rather than listening to it as I did. I would also say that, like many books of this type, Made to Stick should be read as part of a wider exploration of theories and guidance on developing ideas and content (in general and in the particular field you are active in).
If you have read this book, do let me know what you think! Do you agree? Have you been able to apply it in your own life?
When I first heard about this book I wasn't particularly inclined to read it. In recent years, we have heard so many explanations from Muslims trying to communicate their beliefs to the world that I'm not inclined to repeat it all again. I'm also not interested in living my life on the defensive.
However, I was recently offered the opportunity to read it and decided to have a look at it with an open mind. Dialogue is a comic book written and illustrated by Norédine Allam, one of the creators of The Muslim Show, a French comic published by BDouin Editions. The goal, as stated on the back, is to clear up misconceptions that non-Muslims may have about Islam, with a focus on particular, often controversial, topics. He certainly stuck to his word with this, as the first issue jumps straight into a discussion about terrorism.
As soon as I saw the topic, I cringed. Do I really want to see another Muslim explaining that "Islam is a religion of peace" and "war is bad" (I'm paraphrasing here)? I said I would read it with an open mind though, didn't I? Fine, let's carry on. What I found was a pleasant surprise. The use of clear, precise language and engaging illustrations makes for enjoyable and, more importantly, accessible reading for anyone who doesn't have background knowledge on the topic or Islam in general. It also presents the topic in more detail than other explanations I have come across, without it becoming heavy or overwhelming. It is clear that Allam did his research and thought carefully about how he was going to present the information.
The second part of the book takes the reader around a mosque, with a demonstration of how Muslims prepare for prayer, mosque etiquette, and the various functions a mosque and imam perform in the community. I particularly liked the two-page spread displaying the different parts of the mosque, even if it is perhaps a little more spacious and well-equipped than some mosques you might walk into in the UK or France. I also enjoyed the scene introducing the imam's young son doing cartwheels around the prayer space! The book ends with some pertinent verses from the Qur'an and sayings of the Prophet, peace be upon him.
Overall, I was impressed with this book. I think it brought to light some key assumptions that I am carrying around in my subconscious about having these discussions. The first is that my knee-jerk reaction to dismiss those claiming to explain misunderstandings about Islam comes largely from the fact that often such explanations are too simplistic, or are presented with an apologetic tone, sometimes doing more harm than good. The second is that, although I'm still hesitant to feel like I should have to explain myself or Islam on a regular basis, there is no doubt an important place for discussions and media that clarify Islam for those who are sincerely interested in learning. Such projects should be part of a wider educational infrastructure that doesn't just focus on those surface issues highlighted in mainstream media, but also addresses the foundational beliefs and principles that put all other details into context and challenges the narrow ideological lens that is often imposed on these discussions in a Western setting. With all this in mind, I appreciate those who put the time, effort and research into producing high quality materials that address these issues and I think Dialogue is on the right track.
Growing up, I thought personal development books were self-indulgent and all fluff. I still think some of them are. But the real heavyweights, the ones that go beyond being "inspirational" (vacuous buzzword of the decade), can change the way we understand ourselves and give us the tools to facilitate real change in our lives. I have mentioned one of my favourites before, but here I am going to talk about one I read recently and immediately knew to be valuable, even to those who "don't read self-help books".
Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy is short and practical. At 109 pages long, each of the 21 chapters offers a simple strategy to become more effective with our time and "get more of the important things done today", as the cover states. From "Set the Table" to "Technology is a Terrible Master" (we can all imagine what that one might be about), each chapter gives us the basic understanding we need then tells us what we need to do. This book doesn't explore the emotional and psychological causes behind procrastination, as some other books do. While I do appreciate such insights, I think there is a time and place for both types of personal development book (and they complement each other very nicely). I would say Eat That Frog! is one to read, maybe get in a few highlights, then implement straight away.
I listened to this as an audiobook first. It's narrated by the author and is very easy to listen to. When I decided I liked it, I bought the paper version so that I could go back to individual chapters when I wanted to remind myself of a particular technique.
I recommend this book for anyone who wants to improve their time management skills and get stuff done now!
This is one of those books that I have seen many times but never really focused on. When I asked around for book recommendations from China, it came up so I decided to give it a go. Falling Leaves is an autobiographical work about Yen Mah's life from birth to adulthood and her immediate family relationships. As the youngest girl, and because her mother died after giving birth to her, Yen Mah had the lowest status amongst her siblings and this was exacerbated when her father remarried a domineering and cruel woman. The subtitle, "The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter", sums up the general sentiment of this book quite succinctly. This book was very easy to read and I finished it in a couple of days (I have more time to dedicate to reading at the moment and I'm taking full advantage of it). The sequence of events and the way she tells the story in the context of the changing political and economic landscape is done well and makes it easy to follow and understand how it all fits together. I also thought the names of the chapters were a nice touch: Chinese proverbs which were written in Chinese characters, Pinyin (transcription of Mandarin in Latin characters) and English translation.
Starting with what I felt was missing, I found it very strange that her two children are hardly mentioned and she often takes sudden or long trips without them being involved in any way. Given her upbringing, I was naturally waiting to see how it would impact her own parenting, so was disappointed by this gap in the story. Perhaps this would have been resolved if we got more insight into her life after she left Hong Kong and settled down in California, but it often felt like she was just skimming over these bits so that she could get back to focusing on her family's schemes. I suppose her intention with this book was not to tell her whole story but to tell the story of her family relationship, so that's probably why she wrote it in this way.
Aside from this, I took two main benefits from this book. The first was the overview of Chinese history spanning the past few generations, which is made more compelling as it is contextualised through its effects on the lives of the family. With particular focus on Tianjin and Shanghai, the two cities where Yen Mah grew up, it takes us through the French and Japanese invasions, how the two pulled China into the Second World War, the rise and fall of Communism, including the Cultural Revolution, and what followed. It also documents the rise of Hong Kong, where Yen Mah's family fled to when she was still a child, and the concerns that its residents faced with the looming Hong Kong handover in 1997. We are even given insight into the experiences of Chinese students in the UK and the US (back when it wasn't such a normal occurrence) and Chinese/female doctors in the US. I really appreciated this aspect of the book and since starting my next book based in China I have already recognised the name of a major political event in Shanghai, which reminded me that I am learning more about new regions with every book! It's worth remembering that Yen Mah comes from a very wealthy family and has lived outside China for much longer than inside and both of these factors dictate the perspective of events that we receive.
The other very obvious benefit was the reflection on the influence and responsibility of family. This is, of course, the major theme of this book and one with many sub-ideas to consider. If we look at Yen Mah's behaviour in relation to her family from a superficial "rational" perspective, it seems like madness or obsession for her to keep turning back to them and hoping that "this time, they will love me". But the reality of family is that this is exactly the effect the relationship has on us, especially when it comes to our parents. It's probably the most powerful and influential relationship in our lives and no matter how far we go or how long the gaps in our communication with them, they affect us every single day. This really made me reflect on the huge responsibility that being a parent brings.
Overall, I'm glad I read this book. It reminded me to be grateful for my own family, particularly my parents and the way they raised me, and to be aware of my responsibilities towards them. It also allowed me to learn more, in an accessible way, about a part of the world that I am still very ignorant about. Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it? Did it bring up any other questions for you?
I'm sure you've all seen this book around. The Danish word "hygge" was hard to avoid not so long ago but I stayed away from this book and anything related to the concept throughout its moment in the spotlight. However, in November, I decided to read books from Scandinavia and when I saw this book as an audiobook at my local library I thought, "why not find out what all the hype was about?"
There are some helpful and healthful principles in this book that I really agree with. It talks about maintaining a balance between prioritising our professional lives and physical and mental health. It emphasises spending time with family and going for quality over quantity when it comes to friends. It tells us we need to give ourselves some time to slow down and be aware of our surroundings. Finally, it champions bike riding and coffee - both winners in my book.
In spite of all this, there was something about the book that just didn't feel right. I couldn't quite work out what it was and I spent a lot of the time as I listened squirming and trying to analyse the feeling. In the end, I came up with three main problems. The first was the abstractness of it all. The book does include some practical sections - recipes and shopping lists, for example - but that doesn't create "happiness" on its own. Most of the suggestions in the book were tied to living a certain way in a certain place with a certain budget. This brings me to the second problem: although it did stipulate that owning "stuff" is not important, there was rather a lot of talk about cushions and candles and furniture, eating pastries and having open fires and staying in log cabins in the mountains. It all felt a bit too... indulgent.
And that leads me right into my third - and biggest - problem with the premise of this book: that the purpose of life is ultimately to be happy. Half of the book seemed to end up with people sitting around doing nothing apart from drinking coffee and reminiscing. Is that really what we should be aiming for in life? Maybe once every now and then such activities are important to give ourselves a rest and maintain relationships, but there's work to be done in this world!
I feel, at this point, I should say that I have read a few solid personal development books that opened my eyes to understanding myself better and gave me very practical tools to improve myself and my life in a profound and tangible way. After those, any book that suggests it might offer life-improvement secrets but does anything less than the above just feels superficial. But not everyone is looking for the same as me in such a book, so perhaps I am not the author's intended audience.
To sum up, many of the ideas presented in this book about balance, relationships and even selective shopping align quite closely with my own, but the tone and worldview that underpins it all made it really rather jarring for me and I was quite relieved to get to the end.
I have been meaning to write a review of this book for a long long time! This will be my first book review, as opposed to podcast episode about the book, but I hope to do it more often for books that I don't feel are suitable for a whole episode of the podcast.
I read this book in August, which I had allocated to reading books from South Asia. I came across it in an Instagram Story and it sounded like a good way to find out more about what is happening to the Rohingya in Myanmar.
I don't know much about the country at all, but I came out of it feeling like I had a clearer idea of the context and forces involved. The book starts with a historical overview of the area and of the Rohingya and Muslim populations and their relationships with other groups in the region through history, including the impact of British colonialism on these relationships. It then describes the current situation and the oppression that the Rohingya have been experiencing. Before offering possible solutions, it explores the geo-political forces at play that limit the reaction of other national powers. Personally, I found this part most interesting as it helped me to understand why this disaster persists and the various parties involved.
This book is in no way an in-depth study; at just over 60 pages, it is designed to give the layman a general understanding of what is happening in the area. The language used is simple and easy to follow and it doesn't assume any background knowledge on the part of the reader. I found it served its purpose well and recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about this underreported crisis.
Reader. Occasional writer. Muslim.
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