Book Review: Dark Places

Dark PlacesDark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places is a twisted tale of a crazy night on a farm in Kansas that takes Libby’s mother and two sisters away. Ben the only son to Patty and brother to 3 sisters of the Day family is in deep trouble for not just the alleged murders of his family but also Satan worship and child molesting. Libby the youngest, and only 7, escapes the gruesome murders by a twist of fate. But how and why? 25 years after the murders, Libby now 30 something finds herself researching into the murder case of her family only to discover the truth that was buried by the people involved in the case.

As I turned page after page into the story, I couldn’t help but pause and say, what the hell goes on in Gillian Flynn’s mind? As I started the book, I kept saying nah its not at par with Gone Girl. No, nothing close but she proved me wrong! The story just keeps getting better if you keep turning the pages and once you start the book there is no stopping until you have reached the end. Though I would highly recommend reading the novel with all the positivity and happy vibes around you as there is some depressing, disturbing stuff to freak you out.

Things I really enjoyed as the story progressed are as follows:

Libby and her unusual random theft moments stop disturbing you and as the story unfolds you realize how perfect are her stealing skills.

The conversations between Libby and Lyle brings out the personality of both the characters making them more human than weird. But then again, humans are weird. right?

As Libby starts visiting Ben, her brother in the prison, the layers to these characters start to come of.

Flynn does it incredibly well when she describes the murders. They hit you like a bullet and stay with you. I do not want to reveal much, spoilers are the worst thing but let me tell the readers (if anyone has come this far into reading my ‘review’) that some of the final chapters in the book are best.

Libby’s dreams are perhaps the weirdest but one can relate to their strangeness.

I don’t remember giving much thought to acknowledgement part of the book. But with Flynn, acknowledgements were fun, inspiring and more of an insight to the kind of person Flynn is. I recommend reading them, seriously!

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The Bell Jar Review

belljarcoverAs a reader, when I picked up this book, I did it solely to find some answers into the mystery of Plath’s suicide. Why would a beautiful mind producing amazing poetry, would put an end to her life? The Bell Jar is exactly about this person not just through Esther’s character but through all the characters that we meet in the book. You cannot help but see Plath in Esther’s friend Joan as well. Esther, the protagonist, has been portrayed to  what Plath could have become in an ideal world but it is Joan’s character which is mirroring Plath’s real life. Once you open the book, a labyrinth opens up as Esther goes on from being an apparently stable mental health to eventually breaking down. The book portrays the struggles and experiences of her time in different asylums; most importantly how she ends up in them.

The imagery in the book gets you in awe with a tinge of pain. There is a fig tree described at one point in the book. A sadness lingers on once the fig tree has been interpreted through Esther’s perspective. This is by far the only imagery that will remain stuck in my mind; especially whenever I see the beautiful fig tree out in my own lawn. The dilemma of picking the right fig instantly climbs up my spine. At one point into the story, Esther goes to visit her father’s grave and the description of the graveyard is exactly the kind you find in Pakistan. She says ‘It was crowded right up by another gravestone, head to head, the way people crowded in a charity ward when there isn’t enough space.’

The issue of gender equality made me draw parallels between Pakistani culture with that of the American when Plath reflects on men and patriarchy.

An element of distrust looms over her relation with Willard Buddy that on some level amused me. I could not come to a conclusion who was more at fault Esther or Buddy? Was it the feminist in Esther that made her inflexible to Buddy’s confession, or the lack of his ability to build confidence about their relation for Esther to lean onto.

It is not just Esther’s relation with her boyfriend and other men that she comes across that make you want to dig deeper into her character or so to speak see into Plath’s. The irritation with her mother’s visits to the hospital and her memories of her father, all lets you peep into the complex mind of Esther.

What happens to Esther in the end is for you to find out; making observations about this girl who herself is a silent observer ‘I liked looking at other people in crucial situations.’ As readers we all kind of become Esther; very carefully peeling off layer after layer observing her dissent into mental illness.

Thoughts and Book review of sorts on ‘Stealing from God’

Frank Turek wrote a very comprehensive and well argued book dissecting deep into the issues that bring atheists and theists at loggerheads. With themes like morality, evil, bad and good, the purpose of God in our lives etc have been dealt with an ease for everyone to understand along with quoting a number of theologians, philosophers and scientists both who are atheists and Christians. He is certainly well read when it comes to giving various arguments to back up his case and why God very much exists. So if you are a religious person, a theist, someone who finds that they are confronted with questions from atheists around you that you can’t seem to address or feel you too need to refresh your faith in God, that being who created this all, then this book is a good read. Although I m not a Christian, but the work of Frank Turek is relevant even if you are a Muslim, Christian or a Jew or simply a believer in an Intelligent Being who created us.

Following are the few things that I have been reflecting on which are especially from the chapter on morality, the idea of evil and good.

In the chapter of morality, the author first presents the incident of a girl’s abduction to make the case of atheists denial of objective moral values. Since atheists do not believe in the existence of God, Turek argues that they cannot then make their moral values when deny a set of objective morals set by a higher force. He talks on the issues of rape, murder and the Nazis to address the idea of justice and the lack of it. Richard Dawkins champions atheism and is of the view that there is no ultimate justice. To this Turek refutes that if there is no justice, there can’t be injustice either. Which means that you or I could commit one wrong after the other and say it is just a matter of opinion and not a matter of injustice or brutality.

For evil to exist, good has to be present and for good to exist, there has to be an Intelligent Being. The argument atheists give is that either God is wicked or that since evil exists in this world, how can there be a God who is passive to all wrong being done. Some also argue that since there is no Designer of this world, our universe is a result of natural forces only, good or bad, good or evil are no concepts. All of these are sensibly refuted by Turek in his book by the way of analogies.

Frank Turek says very aptly that “you don’t judge a religion or philosophy by its abuse, but by its truths.” This caught my attention by way of my being a Muslim and confronted almost every day with a finger being pointed at us and our religion (through media) for someone’s actions elsewhere. I find myself questioning why would someone commit a heinous crime on a large scale in the name of a religion. No matter how many arguments go forward from the Muslim community, no matter how good we are in our daily lives in our interactions( with people of other faiths, deists or atheists) but one act from an extremist hold us responsible for all the evil existing. Interestingly if the culprit turns out to be a while man or woman they are nothing but psychopaths with no relation to Christianity or atheism whatever so ever. There is a clean chit for them, they only psychologically ill which never happens to be the case with people who are unfortunately Muslims by name and origin but not by their practices.

Another interesting thing pointed out by the author is evidence that the number of crimes done by the people of faith over the past 500 years combined is less than the small number of atheists’ actions in the past few years.

The question that often bothers many of us is how does a good God let bad things happen to us. This is the question that atheists often raise as well. Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer, however, contradict their own statements when they opine that parents should have the right to murder their children even after they are born.

So why evil and bad things if there is a God? Again Turek reflected on a Q & A session he had with one of the students where he was presenting. The author said that for evil to stop completely, God would have to take our free will away. With that gone, Turek says, we will also lose our ability to love. Another interesting thing articulated well is that the bad things that happen not as a result of evil done by men but by natural disasters, we as humans learn from the effect of those happenings which brings us closer to our creator. The pain, the loss of someone or something sometimes awakens us to the existence of God.
Quoting from the book, C.S Lewis once said that sometimes people only look up when they are on their back. It is important to realise that God did not send us on this earth merely for pleasure but so that we can understand and know God. Again, how would we distinguish between pleasure if there was never pain or setbacks or loss. I would point out here that Quran also mentions in Surah Mulk that God made this place as a testing place for us to see who does good deeds.

Although there is a difference in Muslim concept of God being a Master and Christianity referring to God as a father, the good humored example does make a point when the author says that God is like a father and not a grandfather who pampers and spoil us out of love. There is a balance in His role, who wants us to learn from our successes and also sometimes from failure (which we could roughly define as pain or loss, injustice)

It may seem I m only quoting from and talking about the issue of morality. Needless to say there’s a lot from the evolutionary process, laws of logic, laws of intentionality, laws of causality and science that all need a mention. However, I will leave it for the readers to explore themselves.

Last but not the least, I would end my rather unexpectedly long post with an analogy of a man with a metal detector from chapter 6 of Science in the book. The guy with the metal detector denies there’s any rubber or plastic material around because his gadget didn’t detect it, little realising the gadget is made of rubber and plastic as well ! Dr Edward Feser identifies this man with the likes of Richard Dawkins who claim that all truth comes from science and if some things science cannot prove, they do not exist. With this point stems a number of other issues that have been discussed in detail in the book.

Interesting fact from the book: Did you know that the single celled Amoeba’s DNA has as much data/information equivalent to a 1000 Britannica Encyclopedia? So if this is not the working of a Designer, an Intelligent being who has existed forever, then who has?

Book Review: How It Happened

There is a girl in her twenties, part of a work force, with a marital status that screams ‘I m single, save me’. Whenever and where ever she goes and happens to come across aunties, they ask her either verbally or non verbally, ‘beta why not married yet? Something wrong?’ It is then followed by a full body scan via the sharp laser eyes. If you happen to be the above, then Shazaf Fatima Haider’s tale of ‘How It Happened’ is a must read for you. The single happy creatures living in South Asia can totally relate to this.
Set in the city of lights, Karachi, the story revolves around Zeba, a teacher by profession, a bookworm and a cynic by nature and single by status. Her family includes a mother, a father, a brother and a sister, not to forget the dramatic/nostalgic Dadi retelling the stories from her ancestral village of Bhakuraj. The story is narrated by her Naïve 15 year old sibling Saleha which adds freshness to the perspective. Family values and customs are deeply imbedded in the memory of their eccentric Dadi who vows to follow them unto death; arrange marriage of her grandchildren being her priority.
The fun in the story begins right at the start when the writer very cleverly mentions the words ‘arrange marriage’ followed by an amusing story from the proud Bhakuraj. Saleha’s naivety adds humour to the story along with the failed attempts by the Dadi to marry off her grandchildren in her esteemed Bhukraj family.
There is Haroon the eldest brother who fills up the sub plot with his story of how he marries much to the nuisance of Dadi first and delight later. Haroon’s story also prepares the reader with what awaits them – the main debates of shia sunni union, the whole drawing room rishta episodes (where match making takes place) that reeks of ‘tradition’ going stale and the question of an eastern girl crossing 25 yet living a happy single life.
The story has its moments of seriousness when the family finds itself in the middle of a row. There comes a twist when Zeba finds the love of her life and expresses or let’s say gets caught dating a Sunni young man by Dadi amid the shia mourning time. The circumstances under which her family learns of her tryst and how the events lead to impeccable rishtas/ suitors for Zeba are wonderfully woven with good punch lines that are totally relatable in our day to day life.
If you are looking for a light humorous read, this debut novel is a recommendation as its story is right out of our lives or the lives of those around us. The writer is very Pakistani; her story I would say is a safe pick but again it is very Pakistani and the satire right on spot.

Book Review: Between Clay and Dust

betweenclayndustIt was the title of the book and the author’s name that made me want to read it. Musharraf Ali Farooqi is a name well known for his translations of Urdu classics, The Adventures of Amir Hamza (2007,Modern Library) and the first book of a projected 24-volume magical fantasy epic, Hoshruba (2009, Urdu Project/Random House India). He is also the author of children books. The title ‘Between Clay and Dust‘ has a natural pull to it perhaps because it reminds one of what we are made of and what we will turn to at the end of life. The cover of the book draws equal attention.

Initially the story didn’t get my full attention until I got the part where Tamami prepares for his first wrestling challenge with a wresting giant of his time. This was the high point in the story for me. This is where Tamami’s personality comes forward, we see him as an individual and not as Ustad Ramzi sees him. The details of his preparation for the fight, the diet and tough exercise regime, people looking forward to it all set a stage for what has to come. The author was able to build a subtle amount of suspense as to what will follow, who will eventually win the most crucial fight. Will Tamami be able to prove his worth in his brother’s eyes, who is a living legend, carrying his clan’s pride. It is then that the story seems to move a little faster. This is also the point where things change, where actions lead to reactions.

We get to meet Gohar Jan, a tawaif (prostitute) out of her prime years, drifting away with the passing time but only through Ustad Ramzi. There are moments when we see Gohar Jan’s character with some insight to life when she tries to console the wrestler for the difficult times. But it feels that we don’t see her as much as the reader would want to. The tragedy of her life unfolds towards the end of the novel, the harsh stand of the society as they try to oust the likes of Gohar Jan.

But I will say this much, the book could be easily put down, and the cover reminded that it has to be finished to know what comes of the two people who value their art more than anything and have dedicated their lives for the art that seems to be fading away in the post partition land. At certain points in the story I felt that perhaps the character of Tamami was overshadowed by that of Ustad Ramzi hence making it a little difficult for the reader to understand what Tamami wants.

Last but not the least the book was about relationships that both Gohar Jan and Ustad Ramzi failed to develop with the people in their lives. It showed us that human relations are perhaps the most difficult to understand. It a tale narrating one man’s lack of trust in his own blood, and another’s lack of commitment to build that trust.

Between Clay and Dust is overall a decent book that explores human relations and focuses on characteristics that we all can relate to. How far the writer has succeeded in effectively telling the narrative will be for the readers to form an opinion about.

originally published here