Entries Tagged 'Reviews' ↓

Review: Unimagined

When you first pick up Unimagined, the most striking thing about it is the cover. It features the author, very young and somewhat debonair-looking in a suit. It is an unusual photo. But, somehow, it perfectly suits the book.

Unimagined is a series of memories penned by Imran Ahmad. He chronicles his life thus far, from his poor childhood (he’s the son of Pakistani immigrants) to the awkwardness of adolescence. It is, at times, humorous and heartwarming. There are moments of pathos. More remarkable is its authenticity: the ordinary things we pay little attention to are illuminated.

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Review: Girls of Riyadh

There have been many so-called Muslim/Arab-related memoirs and non-fiction narratives over the years and rarely do they seem authentic. Conversely, in Girls of Riyadh we have a fiction book that appears really to be a collection of the author Rajaa Alsanea’s personal experiences and anecdotes, so thoroughly crammed is it with just about every event that could happen to a Saudi girl of privilege. For a book that wishes to illuminate a hidden world, it’s not highly unique nor greatly important; but we do gain some insight into just how similar women are regardless of culture and circumstances, and we also get an overall idea of how Alsanea perceives Saudi Arabia’s class system and demography.

Perhaps Alsanea’s story is loaded with truth, or maybe I’m just reading too much into it. I suppose I should have prefaced all of this with an admission that I am fairly unfamiliar with how Saudi men and women live and conduct themselves. My knowledge and understanding of the area is limited to what I read in various media as well as stories of foreign compounds told to me by friends who lived in Saudi for several years (and, I should add, completely loved it). But then of course, being of Arab heritage myself, I can certainly recognise similarities across the Middle East in ideas, traditions, culture, and of course, religion.

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Review: Forbidden Lie$

Norma Khouri in Forbidden Lie$

You might remember one of the most outrageous (and let’s be honest, totally juicy) literary hoaxes of recent times. Norma Khouri, con artist and, quite possibly, sociopath, was exposed as a “fake” in a Sydney Morning Herald series by journalists Malcolm Knox and Caroline Overington in 2004.

The scandal? Khouri claimed she was escaping danger in her homeland of Jordan after her best friend and business partner, Dalia, a Muslim (Khouri is Christian), was the victim of an honour killing. Her wildly successful “memoir”, Forbidden Love, detailed Dalia’s alleged romance with a Christian man. It was published as non-fiction — a tad inconvenient for her publisher because the book was all a lie. Khouri was in fact a US resident, a wife and mother of two, and apparently under investigation by the FBI for fraud.

Enter Australian documentary-maker Anna Broinowski (she won an AFI for her documentary, Helen’s War). She confesses that she was quickly won over by Khouri’s charm when she met her. Convinced that Khouri was the victim of a media witch hunt, she set out to make a documentary that would prove the veracity of Khouri’s claims that Forbidden Love was not fiction. Continue reading →

On Libraries of Unread Books

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read this year and follows on from his equally excellent Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets in that it challenges the way we interact with an increasingly complex world. If time permits, I will write a proper review and summary of some of his more salient points (and there are many) but, in the interim, I just wanted to post a passage from The Black Swan.

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market will allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

In other words, the majority of people see Umberto Eco’s books as a status symbol of sorts and make the assumption that all have been read. On the other hand, a minority of people realise that a library is simply a tool for discovering things and therefore regardless of what one has already acquired in knowledge (the read books), there remains much more to be learned (the unread books). Whereas the shelves of read books may lead a person to become conceited and sure of themselves, the unread books help to keep the person humble.

Restaurant review: Patogh

8 Crawford Place, London, W1H 5NE
Telephone: 0871 3328448

When my younger brother was a resident doctor at the Hammersmith, he used to arrive on Edgeware road on a Sunday evening, (after a weekend on being on duty) and order a dozen or so pieces of deep fried chicken from the HFC (Halal Fried Chicken). He would then sit in his car, windows up and listen to Radio 4 whilst he scoffed it down. On one such occasion, a scantily dressed woman tapped on the window to ask him if he would like a good time. He replied that he was already having one, but nonetheless thanked her for her concern.

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Halal Fiction?

It seems that there are virtually no Muslim authors who inject a fairly universal and positive Islamic worldview into their fiction (and I am speaking strictly about fiction). We’re all aware of the ubiquitous Muslim interest novel: the picture of a veiled woman, her kohl-lined eyes peering out from her black scarf, gracing the cover. And then there’s the literature that deals with Muslims in the Western setting. For example, White Teeth (although the author Zadie Smith isn’t Muslim), Nadia’s Song, Brick Lane, The Map of Love and so on.

I’ve just finished reading Minaret by Sudanese author (and UK resident) Leila Aboulela. Her books are highly regarded, and Minaret was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. See an excellent in-depth review of Aboulela’s work published by Al-Ahram Weekly.

I’m not a huge fan of the stilted writing form that plagues so much “award-winning” literature, but aside from that, in terms of content, I closed Minaret and wasn’t sure what to think. Is this halal fiction? I wondered.

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Restaurant review : McDonalds in Casablanca

Being a Muslim this is particularly shameful, but one of the few authentically halal places in Casablanca is the McDonald’s. It does not serve alcohol, nor does it have pork on the menu unlike most “Muslim” establishments nearby on the waterfront in Casablanca.

Surely the ultimate irony? The Trojan Horse of western cultural imperialism is the only one that feels the need to adhere to Islamic dietary principles in a predominately Muslim country.It speaks volumes about where the future of Islam will be.

Back to maccas. In a county that is poor and where the working class is resolutely observant only the secular middle classes can afford to eat at this place. The only other authentically halal places to eat were in the working class neighborhoods well away from our hotel. This was located on the waterfront next to the cathedral disguised as a Mosque.

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Review: Muhajababes

I remember, one afternoon in 2004, watching TV in my aunt’s sitting room in a small West Bank village. Much of the night before had been taken up speaking about the current toxic situation in the region, my family regaling me with tales of redemption, betrayal and fear. All told with a hefty serve of humour. I could tell that in some ways, peculiarly enough, there were people in other parts of the world who took their situation more seriously than themselves.

My feelings were confirmed when the next day I sat in front of the TV, flicking channels and finally settling on one of the many music stations taking the Arab world by storm. This one was called “Superstar”, not to be confused with the pan-Arab Idol show of the same name, and it ran music videos and concert clips 24/7, SMS messages of love and flirtation scrolling constantly across the bottom of the screen in gaudy technicolour. A family friend later confirmed that they were watching Mazzika, another of these music channels, more than Al-Jazeera. It all seemed very bizarre to me, but I concluded that in such times of trouble, no matter how misguided it seemed, music videos, with their cheeky storylines and buffed, good-looking and impossibly happy actors, obviously served as an antidote. Forget occupation and war — Nancy Ajram had a new album out.

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