The Art of Togetherness

So, I recently took up nail art as part of my fundraising efforts (if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, you could read this post). Nail art is pretty much my new favourite thing though. I love the intricacy of it, and the way it makes your fingernails look iced – almost good enough to eat.

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An early attempt at something vaguely hipster-y

And the reason this slightly random topic is getting a blog post is this: every single nail I’ve ever painted – ever – is kind of messed up. I make mistakes all the time – I swear, it is impossible to make straight lines on that kind of scale! But most people have ten finger nails. The smudge on the little finger, or the chip at the base of the thumb aren’t the main focus; it’s the total, the summation of the ten tiny paintings, together. The art is not in one single nail, because I don’t think any of them could stand up to that kind of scrutiny. The art is in the togetherness.

[You can always trust an English Lit student to run with the weirdest metaphors – I’m not even sorry.]

This whole thing got me thinking about community – whether that’s family, housemates, colleagues, church or ‘squad’. I think every time, there’s something really beautiful about togetherness. We really really weren’t made to be alone.

There are an absolute tonne of books that deal with community, but today I wanted to point out some of my favourites.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis 

This applies to all of the books, but my particular favourite scene is in The Horse and His Boy, where we get a glimpse of a peace-time Narnian community. I love the way that everyone knows everybody, and there’s a real sense of inclusion and all round ‘getting along’.

The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Is this not everyone’s favourite, though? I am so in love with the Clave community: the way that although there are differences and personality clashes, there’s this fierce loyalty among the shadowhunters.

The Bible

Maybe slightly different to the other books on this list, but for real! The Bible is full of community – even in the Trinity (the doctrine of one God, three persons), there’s a real model of harmony and putting other people first. In the early church, we see the new Christians selling their belongings to provide for less well-off members of their community. (Acts 4:34)

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

I think this is maybe an obvious pick – there’s such a heavy  emphasis in this series on friendship, and not going it alone. My favourite example of this is Frodo taking the ring to Mount Doom: his friend Sam his there with him until the end. There is such intense loyalty and selflessness in this story – gah. It’s great.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

This pick is maybe a little more obscure than the others, but I’d highly recommend it! I wrote a review here, if you’re interested. My favourite thing about the community in this book is the glaring differences in upbringing, culture and circumstance of each of the women. They each have their own stories, but they have a web of support as a group of friends.

Is this really cheesy? I find a lot of books (especially post-Romantic period?) have this really focus on individuality, and being strong enough to defeat the odds in your own strength. To my mind, that’s neither practical nor practicable – I think a need for community is not a weakness; but a strength!

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

-Howard Zinn

I want to hear your thoughts! What are your favourite books about community?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

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Read the World: South Asia

Today I wanted to talk about a region of the world called South Asia, which is – unsurprisingly – comprised of countries located in the south of Asia. The term usually refers to sub-Himalayan countries like Bangladesh and Nepal.

I’ve collected a list of the very few books I’ve read set in these countries, and thought I’d share them here!

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini Set in Afghanistan, this book is a bildungsroman that follows the life of an Afghan boy called Amir. The book works through contemporary issues of religion, totalitarianism and violence in the country, while weaving a movingly beautiful story. I first had to read this book as part of my English course at sixth form, and it’s a really rich and interesting book to get your teeth into. I gave it five stars!

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez Also set in Afghanistan, this book follows a mixture of Western and Afghan characters in their various walks of life. It does explore the conflict and corruption of the country, but there is also an emphasis on the beauty and adventure that thrives in that part of the world. The book focuses especially on the place of women in the Islamic society, and I found it really interesting to see it through the changing narratives. Another five star novel!

Blood Money (CR)

Blood Money – Chris Ryan This is the seventh in the ‘Alpha Force’ series, which I loved between the ages of 11 and 14.The premise is that a group of teenagers find themselves in various situations across the globe and have to fight for justice/safety/The Right Thing – for example in this book, the team are confronted with the illegal trade of human body parts in India. It’s an exciting read that gives a basic insight into a many-layered country. I gave it four stars.

Breakfast with the Nikolides

Breakfast with the Nikolides – Rumer Godden While this book didn’t completely float my boat, I did really enjoy the insight that discovering a country through a Westerner’s eyes divulges. The story revolves around a family who have had to move to India from France, and it’s interesting to see how the different family members cope with the change in climate, culture and company. I gave it three stars.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi – Yann Martel This is probably the best-known book in the list! The sole human survivor of a tragic shipwreck, our Indian protagonist – Pi – finds himself drifting on a life-boat in the middle of the ocean. With a tiger. While it’s not really set in India for the most part, it does offer some insights into the religious and societal diversity present. Also it’s just quite a nice story. I gave it four stars.

Battleground (CR)

Battleground – Chris Ryan Next up is another Chris Ryan book: this one is part of the ‘Code Red’ series, in which British protagonist Ben gets thrown into a multitude of crazy adventures abroad. This book is set during his school exchange trip to Pakistan, where the poor lad manages to get himself tangled in a Taliban plot to kill hundreds of people. Obviously the story is heavily centred around the violence and conflict in the country, but I felt like it made the effort to portray a fairer view of the country. I gave this one four stars.

That’s all for my books set in South Asia – have you read any of these? Are there any books set in this region that you’ve enjoyed?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

 

Month in Books: January 2014

I read a lot of books that don’t even get a passing mention here, despite my having potentially really enjoyed them. What I’ve decided to do is write a quick summary of my month in books: what I read, a very short summary, and my rating out of five stars. The plan is to have a list of books that will hopefully inspire you to pick one of them up. I’ll link you up to any reviews I’ve written, and also the Goodreads page for each book, so you can find out more about any that take your fancy.

  • Chocolat – Joanne Harris – 4 stars A beautifully written novel set in a little French town, depicting a passive-aggressive battle between the legalism of the local church and the tempting luxury of the new chocolatier.
  • Unwind – Neal Shusterman – 4 stars A creepy YA Dystopian that follows the stories of young teenagers who are donated by their parents to a company who will ‘unwind’ them and re-distribute their body parts to other people.
  • Le Petit Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery A short (and very weird) children’s book full of philosophical ‘thought-provokers’ (also available in English)
  • Burn – Ted Dekker, Erin Healy – 4 stars Another creepy read! After a fire in a gypsy camp wipes out nearly all of her family, Janeal faces the aftermath, rebuilding her life and ultimately having to make the choice between the good and evil forces at work.
  • The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez – 5 stars The hard-hitting story of five very different women becoming unlikely friends in the context of the conflict in Afghanistan (I reviewed this here!)
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker – 4 stars The original vampire horror novel! A timelessly chilling account of the infamous Count Dracula faced by the only five men in England who actually believe in his existence.
  • The Help – Kathryn Stockett – 5 stars The moving story of three women living in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi and their struggles against the poisonous racism. (This was my Book of the Month!)
  • Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen – 4 stars A particularly accessible Austen story that tells a pretty romance with a refreshing amount of humour and satire. Especially recommended for any first-time Jane Austen readers.
  • My Classy Life and Other Musings – Ron Burgundy – 4 stars The beloved character from comedy movie ‘Anchorman’ blesses the world with his hilarious and completely character-appropriate autobiography. (Did I mention this was hilarious?)

And that was January! If you’ve read any of these books, let me know what you thought of them. Hopefully you were inspired by one or two of these titles – and if not, there’s always next month!

Thanks for reading and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Review: The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez – 5 stars

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

I picked up this book on the recommendation of my English teacher (who warned me, very candidly, that she liked to read ‘trash’). My first impressions correlated with this idea; I felt like Deborah Rodriguez was writing about the situation in Afghanistan with all the solemnity of a Hilary Duff film.

I persevered however, and found myself rooting for the characters and completely immersing myself into their lives. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they found the speed of developments erratic and unsatisfactory, but personally, nothing like that bothered me. The author explicitly says ‘People get close fast in Kabul’ (probably a horrible misquote, but that sort of idea), and I found myself believing the entire story whole-heartedly.

A lot of people compare this to the Kite Runner – in fact, the review featured on the cover of my copy reads: ‘As though Maeve Binchy wrote the Kite Runner’. I don’t feel that two books set in the same country necessarily demand comparison. In defence of Rodriguez’s book, I felt that the Western characters with a foreigner’s outlook weren’t a misrepresentation of the country, but a bridge to make the whole story accessible to Western readers. The Afghani characters created a balance, allowing enough insight to the true Islamic culture to make this book the exotic experience it is.

As the plot developed, I felt that the book was impossible to put down – not because of any particular excellence in articulation, but because of the beautifully crafted stories and characters that intertwined.

After my initial impression of “Like Chocolat, minus the pretty writing and with added Taliban,” I began to see the book as not unlike the character Candace – superficially a little tacky but with a touching depth that radiates given a little time.

If you’ve read this too I’d love to know your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani