Tag Archives: ATW80

Review – Sky Burial – Xinran

sky burialSky Burial
Author: Xinran
Translator: Julia Lovell and Esther Tyldesley

It was 1994 when Xinran, a journalist and the author of The Good Women of China, received a telephone call asking her to travel four hours to meet an oddly dressed woman who had just crossed the border from Tibet into China. Xinran made the trip and met the woman, called Shu Wen, who recounted the story of her thirty-year odyssey in the vast landscape of Tibet.

Shu Wen and her husband had been married for only a few months in the 1950s when he joined the Chinese army and was sent to Tibet for the purpose of unification of the two countries. Shortly after he left she was notified that he had been killed, although no details were given. Determined to find the truth, Shu Wen joined a militia unit going to the Tibetan north, where she soon was separated from the regiment. Without supplies and knowledge of the language, she wandered, trying to find her way until, on the brink of death, she was rescued by a family of nomads under whose protection she moved from place to place with the seasons and eventually came to discover the details of her husband’s death.

The sub-title of Sky Burial is An Epic Love Story from Tibet and epic is surely the word the describe it. The book itself was tiny – only about 3.5 inches wide by 6 inches tall (so smaller than a normal MMPB), but it encompassed over thirty years in that few amount of pages. Which makes me wonder how an author who doesn’t write in English can convey in 200 pages what it takes some writers 600 pages to do…but that is a thought for another day…

This was the story of a true, unending love – not the type of love that you see in a standard romance (as much as I love them), but the type of love that many of us could probably only dream of. I don’t know about anyone else, but spending 30 years in the isolation of Tibet, trying to find out what happened to my husband of only a few months isn’t necessarily something that I had considered. The flow of the story was beautiful – I started reading it while I was stuck riding in a van to a work location (about an hours drive) and by the time we turned around to head home two hours later, I was 70% of the way done with it (and finished it on the second half of that commute).

I had to admit that the romantic in me hoped for a different outcome than what occurred – but at the same time, there was closure to the story. It was hard to tell while reading whether this was fiction or not – from the description of the book, it could have been biographical, but at the same time, there were elements that I think the author took creative license with. Either way, I highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about the nomadic people in Tibet, or about Tibetan history (around the time that China invaded it). I look forward to hearing peoples thoughts if they decide to read it. 4 stars overall.

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Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Book Review


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Review – The Meeting Point – Lucy Caldwell

the meeting pointThe Meeting Point
Author: Lucy Caldwell
Challenge: ATW80 – Bahrain

When Euan and Ruth set off with their young daughter to live in Bahrain, it is meant to be an experience and adventure they will cherish. But on the night they arrive, Ruth discovers the truth behind the missionary work Euan has planned and feels her world start to crumble. Far from home, and with events spiralling towards war in nearby Iraq, she starts to question her faith – in Euan, in their marriage and in all she has held dear.

With Euan so often away, she is confined to their guarded compound with her neighbours and, in particular, Noor, a troubled teenager recently returned to Bahrain to live with her father. Confronted by temptations and doubt, each must make choices that could change all of their lives for ever. Compelling, passionate and deeply resonant, The Meeting Point is a novel about idealism and innocence, about the unexpected turns life can take and the dangers and chances that await us.

I have to admit that I was looking forward to reading this book when I picked it for my Around the World in 80 books challenge. Over the last 8 years in the military, I have had the opportunity to visit Bahrain several times (and loved every visit), so I was really looking forward to reading a book set there and seeing how much I recognized of the country. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the result. The vast majority of the book (probably about 75%) was set in the compound where Ruth and Euan were staying while in Bahrain. Now I know that recently Bahrain hasn’t been the safest place in the world to be, but prior to the “Arab Spring” as it is called, it was a great place to visit. There was so much to do and see. so the fact that there was really only one place highlighted that was visited during the book (the Tree of Life), it was like, oh well, she can google – that’s awesome…maybe I am being too harsh, but it always sucks when you are looking forward to reading something and it is disappointing. Ruth, as a character just pissed me off (sorry for the expletive), she was like a doormat to Euan – I guess she was supposed to be the submissive wife – but she wasn’t even that…she just drove me nuts.

The aspect of the religion in the book didn’t bother me that much, because I was able to see where it was heading. But it is still fustrating to see that in the 21st century, people still believe in trying to convert others to their beliefs – yes, I know – I shouldn’t be surprised, but it is still fustrating. Especially in middle eastern countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (where some of the characters actions took place without every actually being there). The mystery as to what was going on with the Bahraini girl (Noor), seemed under developed and just thrown in for some conflict and to add another character for interaction purposes.

I would have a hard time recommending this book to anyone and I know that I won’t be looking at any of her stuff in the future. I am actually considering possibly looking into another book on Bahrain to replace this one because I was so disappointed.

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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Around the World in 80 Books, Book Review


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Review – A Thousand Lives – Julia Scheeres

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown
Author: Julia Scheeres

Book Description:
In 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a church in Indianapolis called People’s Temple Full Gospel Church. He was a charismatic preacher with idealistic beliefs, and he quickly filled his pews with an audience eager to hear his sermons on social justice. After Jones moved his church to Northern California in 1965, he became a major player in Northern California politics; he provided vital support in electing friendly political candidates to office, and they in turn offered him a protective shield that kept stories of abuse and fraud out of the papers. Even as Jones’s behavior became erratic and his message more ominous, his followers found it increasingly difficult to pull away from the church. By the time Jones relocated the Peoples Temple a final time to a remote jungle in Guyana and the U.S. Government decided to investigate allegations of abuse and false imprisonment in Jonestown, it was too late.

I have often heard the term “drinking the koolaid” and have even said it a time or two, but until I finished this book, I didn’t know the originals of the saying. Not growing up or attending school in the United States means that things many people learned in their history classes, I am clueless about (and don’t even get my started on my lack of knowledge of politics)…but when I was listening to Ice Cold (Tess Gerritsen), the Jonestown cult and massacre was mentioned and I was intrigued. And funnily enough, I was talking to some coworkers at the same time I was reading this and one of them mentioned the phrase and I was then about to put two and two together to understand. I then found out about this book while I was trying to find a book set in Guyana for my Around the World reading challenge – so it was like hitting two birds with one stone.

I loved how the author was able to use various documents that had been released by the FBI to develop the picture of what happened – since there is very little eye-witness testimony and most of the people who did survive (not that there were many of them) have since died. I was actually surprised to see the amount of information that had been recovered from the camp after the massacre was discovered. I found that the author did a good job of weaving the tale to make it interesting, I wanted to know about what happened. It wasn’t like a normal NF book where I can read bits and pieces and be ok with stopped, in the end, I think I read this in about 3 days, which is significantly less time than most non-fiction books that I read. I will definately be looking for her other book to read and will be interested to see what more she writes in the future. 3.5 stars.

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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in Book Review


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Review – The White Mary – Kira Salak

The White Mary
Author: Kira Salak

Book Description:
Marika Vecera, an accomplished war reporter, has dedicated her life to helping the world’s oppressed and forgotten. When not on one of her dangerous assignments, she lives in Boston, exploring a new relationship with Seb, a psychologist who offers her glimpses of a better world.

Returning from a harrowing assignment in the Congo where she was kidnapped by rebel soldiers, Marika learns that a man she has always admired from afar, Pulitzer-winning war correspondent Robert Lewis, has committed suicide. Stunned, she abandons her magazine work to write Lewis’s biography, settling down with Seb as their intimacy grows. But when Marika finds a curious letter from a missionary claiming to have seen Lewis in the remote jungle of Papua New Guinea, she has to wonder, What if Lewis isn’t dead?

Marika soon leaves Seb to embark on her ultimate journey in one of the world’s most exotic and unknown lands. Through her eyes we experience the harsh realities of jungle travel, embrace the mythology of native tribes, and receive the special wisdom of Tobo, a witch doctor and sage, as we follow her extraordinary quest to learn the truth about Lewis—and about herself, along the way.

If I hadn’t been purposely seeking out a book set in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for my Around the World challenge, I likely never would have picked up this book. Yet, when I did, I was immediately draw into Marika’s life (and for what its worth, I loved her name). She is the kind of kick-ass successful female character that could be used as a role-model in today’s society. The kind of woman that says, yes, I know I might get killed on this assignment, but I’m going to do it anyways. The book is took in two different styles, a present day narrative of her experiences travelling through the isolated jungles of PNG with only a local witch-doctor as her guide, and through flash-backs to her life before PNG – her experiences in various war zones, finding a life that isn’t in a war zone, discovering that her idol has committed suicide and her decision to write his biography and where that leads.

Kira Salak, the author, brings a world of experience to her characters and it seems as though at times, that Marika is a reflect of her and her travels. She has written for National Geographic as well as many other journals and magazines. The visual imagery found in The White Mary was so engaging that I felt like I was in PNG with Marika, and could almost even feel the leechs on me at various times (ick! – lol!). I plan on trying to find Ms Salak’s memoir of her backpacking journey through PNG in the future and see how it compares to the White Mary. Overall, 3.5 stars, but with a recommendation to people who like thought-provoking reads.

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Posted by on July 11, 2012 in Book Review


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