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Book Nook - 27-03-2017

Monday, March 27, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

Out Of Syria
People who follow the news, know about the horrific civil war conditions in Syria, the suffering of the people and the huge refugee problem. Elizabeth Laird’s moving novelWelcome To Nowhere, puts it all into perspective for the young—and adult—reader.

She has managed the razor’s edge balance of putting all the horrors of a family’s travaila on the pages, yet not made the book morbid. Through the destruction and displacement, Omar, the twelve-year-old narrator of the story remains upbeat.

Omar lives with his parents, siblings and grandmother in Bosra, Syria, and dreams of being a businessman like the cousin he works for, selling tourist trinkets to visitors. Almost overnight, conditions change in the country. In 2011, violence breaks out – government forces go on the rampage, killing civilians and bombing towns. Omar and his family take a few belongings and flee to stay with relatives in the countryside, where they are relatively safe and comfortable, till the violence reaches there too.

The family packs up again and goes to a refugee camp in Jordan, where, to begin with, conditions are subhuman. They live in tents and Omar has to rush about queuing up for food, water and basic necessities. But the resilience of the Syrians is amazing. Even amidst the deprivation and chaos of the camp, the kids manage to thrive. Omar finds work in a makeshift bazaar, cheekily named Champs Elysees, and supports his family, while his father flounders in rage and helplessness, his clever brother Musa, who suffers from cerebral palsy, needs help, his mother and sisters are forced to stay indoors, since their culture decrees it.
Omar may not be as good as his siblings at school, but his courage and resourcefulness endear him to the reader. Every time he is hit by misfortune, he gets up, dusts himself and fights back.

Keeping the young reader in kind, Laird has sanitized the reality of Syria to a large extent—there seems to be a fairy-tale quality to how it ends. There are even touches of humour amidst the tension—when Musa deflects danger by pretending to be retarded. Omar’s family lose their home, and some of them are wounded or killed, but with great empathy, Laird focusses on how a brave and loving family can weather all storms.

Welcome To Nowhere
By Elizabeth Laird
Publishers: Pan MacMillan
Pages: 352

Excerpt of Welcome to Nowhere
My hometown is a brilliant place. Was a brilliant place, I suppose I ought to say. It’s called Bosra and it’s in Syria. It’s not too big, so you can’t get lost, and in the middle of the town there’s a huge tumbledown city of Roman ruins – whole streets, temples, a theatre, you name it. Tourists used to come from all over the world to see Bosra. Personally, if I’d had all their money, I’d have gone somewhere cool, like Dubai, or New York, or London, but then I’m not that crazy about history.

Looking back now, those days in Bosra seem like a sort of dream. Everything was ordinary and peaceful. My father worked in the tourism office (a sort of government job) and Ma did everything at home. What with school and my two jobs, I was busy all day long, running to keep up.

My early job (five to seven in the morning) was in Uncle Ali’s hardware store. Baba, my father made me do that one. Then there was school till 1 p.m., home to gobble down my lunch, and I was off to work at the ruins with my cousin Rasoul.

Being with Rasoul was the best part of the day. He had a shop selling souvenirs right beside the old Roman theatre. Rasoul was the most amazing person in the world to me. He was twenty years old, funny, handsome, knew everything about sport, had the latest stuff – he was the person I wanted to be when I grew up.

My job was to try to get the tourists to choose our shop instead of one of the others that lined the route to the ruins. Tourists notice kids more than grown-ups, so it made good sense. And I was brilliant at selling. I’d got this excellent technique.

‘Antiques, nice and cheap! Lovely rugs, in a heap!’ I’d chant in English, doing a sort of hopping dance. ‘Camel bells, No bad smells! Come and see! Buy from me!’

That was just about all I could say in English, except for ‘Hello, what is your name?’ and ‘My name is Omar’, which we’d learned in school. A young man with long blond hair had made up my rhyme for me. I think he was American. He’d spent a whole afternoon sitting in front of Rasoul’s shop, watching me trying to get the tourists to come in, and then he’d scribbled down the rhyme and taught me to say it. The tourists always looked round and smiled at me when they heard it, and some of them did actually come and buy things.

Rasoul was proud of me for being such a good salesman and he got me on to selling postcards. He gave them to me for 20 cents a strip. Each strip had ten cards that you could drop open dramatically in front of the tourists’ eyes. He let me keep nearly all the profits too, and I was building up a secret hoard in a plastic bag stuffed under my mattress.

When there were no tourists around, and Rasoul was busy chatting to the other souvenir sellers, I used to lose myself in my favourite daydream. One day, when the stash of postcard money under my mattress was big enough, I’d buy a donkey and rent it out to the guys who gave rides to the tourists. With the money I’d get another, and then another, till I had a whole string of hee-hawing trotters. With all the money I’d make, I’d get my own shop. It would be even better than Rasoul’s. I’d arrange everything in a really interesting way and put up notices in English. My sister Eman would tell me what to write. She loved school, and was brilliant at English. Soon I’d be so rich I’d buy a car, a big white one with darkened windows, and I’d get a gold necklace for Ma, who’d start loving me more than my annoying brother Musa. Then . . .

But what’s the point of going on about those old dreams? How could I know what was going to happen? Nobody saw the disaster coming, especially not me. I wasn’t quite thirteen, after all.

I can remember the day when I realized that everything was going to change. My dad shook me awake as usual just after half past four in the morning.

Also Received
In the fast-moving world of technology, a book like the one edited by Daniel Franklin is like a guide to the future. According to the synopsis:  “Technology moves fast - so where will it have taken us by 2050? How will it affect the way we live? And how far are we willing to let it go?

In Megatech, distinguished scientists, industry leaders, star academics and acclaimed science-fiction writers join journalists from The Economist to explore answers to these questions and more.

Twenty experts in the field, including Nobel prize-winner Frank Wilczek, Silicon Valley venture-capitalist Ann Winblad, philanthropist Melinda Gates and science-fiction author Alastair Reynolds identify the big ideas, fantastic inventions and potentially sinister trends that will shape our future. Join them to explore a brave new world of brain-computer interfaces, vat-grown cruelty-free meat, knitted cars and guided bullets.

The writers predict the vast changes that technology will bring to everything from food production to health care, energy output, manufacturing and the military balance. They also consider the impact on jobs, and how we can prepare for the opportunities, as well as the dangers, that await.

Thought-provoking, engaging and full of insight from the forefront of tech innovation, Megatech is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand tomorrow's world.

Mega Tech: Technology In 2050
Edited by Daniel Franklin
Published by Hachette
Pages: 244


Adding another title to the steady stream of books on how to stay young and healthy, The Telomere Effectsays, “Have you wondered why some sixty-year-olds look and feel like forty-year-olds and why some forty-year-olds look and feel like sixty-year-olds? While many factors contribute to aging and illness, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn discovered a biological indicator called telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres, which protect our genetic heritage. Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel's research shows that the length and health of one's telomeres are a biological underpinning of the long-hypothesized mind-body connection. They and other scientists have found that changes we can make to our daily habits can protect our telomeres and increase our health spans (the number of years we remain healthy, active, and disease-free).

The Telomere Effect reveals how Blackburn and Epel's findings, together with research from colleagues around the world, cumulatively show that sleep quality, exercise, aspects of diet, and even certain chemicals profoundly affect our telomeres, and that chronic stress, negative thoughts, strained relationships, and even the wrong neighborhoods can eat away at them.

Drawing from this scientific body of knowledge, they share lists of foods and suggest amounts and types of exercise that are healthy for our telomeres, mind tricks you can use to protect yourself from stress, and information about how to protect your children against developing shorter telomeres, from pregnancy through adolescence. And they describe how we can improve our health spans at the community level, with neighborhoods characterized by trust, green spaces, and safe streets.

The Telomere Effect will make you reassess how you live your life on a day-to-day basis. It is the first book to explain how we age at a cellular level and how we can make simple changes to keep our chromosomes and cells healthy, allowing us to stay disease-free longer and live more vital and meaningful lives.”

The Telomere Effect
By Elzabath Blackburn & Elissa Epel
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 398

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