Friday, January 25, 2013

222. Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Primo Levi's The Periodic Table (Penguin Books, 1975 (First Publication); 195), translated from Italian by Raymond Rosenthal, is largely a complex potpourri of autobiographical events, with two chapters of fiction. It details the life of the Chemist, Primo Levi, as he transitions from one period to another; from when race was unimportant to when one's name could get him to the gas chamber; from a mere boy with interest in chemistry to a graduate student in chemistry; from working as a chemist to fighting against the fascist government.

Divided into twenty-one different chapters, each chapter of the Periodic Table is titled after the name of an element of the periodic table. The book opens with Argon, a noble or inert gas common in the atmosphere and ends with Carbon, a common element found throughout the universe, the element we are made up of and what we become upon death. Primo uses these elements to narrate, sombrely, the story of his life, chronologically. Arrested for fighting against the government, he was sent to Auschwitz; however, his knowledge in chemistry saved him from death. He was later to meet, in a correspondence at least, one of the Nazi officers who had supervised his work at the laboratory.

All through, it is clear that this ingenious of a man lived for one thing: chemistry and its practical applications. However, the story also shows the frustrations of a man eager to prove himself, to show his worth, to achieve more, but strangulated and emasculated by the very society he finds himself in. This story is intelligently told and Primo's love for his for language shines through with entire paragraphs of brilliant phrases. All metaphors, analogies, similes, and philosophical observations are seen with a chemist's eyes and expressed through a chemist's mind using the profession's language. 
The course notes contained a detail which at first reading had escaped me, namely, that the so tender and delicate zinc, so yielding to acid which gulps it down in a single mouthful, behaves, however, in a very different fashion when it is pure: then it obstinately resists the attack. One could draw from this two conflicting philosophical conclusions: the praise of purity, which protects from evil like a coat of mail; the praise of impurity, which gives rise to changes, in other words, to life. [ Page 27/28]

Monday, January 21, 2013

221. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Life of Pi (Harcourt, 2001; 326) by Yann Martel won the Man Booker Prize in 2001. It is about the story of faith, struggle and belief in oneself and in the supernatural. It's also about man's relationship with animals and provides some excellent justification for the creation of zoos. It's also an allegory, perhaps, of the journey towards manhood; with the shipwreck and the struggle to survive at sea representative of the adolescent stage.

Eleven-year old Piscine Molitor Patel is travelling with his parents as they relocate to Canada. They ship they were travelling in sank and through a series of incidences, some of them not directly observed by Piscince (or Pi), he found himself with a hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, an orang-utan, and a Bengal tiger on his lifeboat. What ensued was a series of carnivorous expressions and after a few days floating at sea, it was left with Pi and his Bengal tiger. The mission was on how to 'tame' the 450-pound monstrosity. 

As the story of a man at sea, Yann Martel found a way of turning what would have been a bathos and sombrous narrative to a lively and sometimes humorous story. The story of Pi, narrated in the first-person to the author when the former called upon him at his home in Canada, is sometimes oneiric, sometimes sad and sometimes utterly unbelievable. Pi's meeting of a French castaway when he was blind but managed to murder him before he was murdered could easily pass as a story of a deeply delusional person. These and some overtly miraculous incidences, such as the sharing of space with such an animal as a Bengal tiger, made Pi's story somewhat preternatural. But reality itself is an interpretation of the mind and what could pass as reality for one person could be fictitious to the other.

The 'Author's Note' at the beginning of the story offers a deceptive introduction to the story. It pushes the reader into double-checking if the story is a work of fiction or the memoir of a man who actually lived. Yann Martel described how he wanted to write a certain kind of book but failed only to be led to this by a resident of Pondicherry. In fact, even in the story he told his own story about his meeting Pi and described his family. Thus, Martel made appearances in Pi's story. Again, the chapters were of various lengths, some as long as two lines. 

The Life of Pi is an interesting story that must be read by all. Hope the movie adaptation does not poorly represent the book. It's recommended.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Challenges and Wish Books for 2013

70 Books Reading Challenge*
In 2012, I participated in several challenges and succeeded in completing them all. In fact, they were the reason I read the largest haul of books since I started blogging in 2009 and I began tracking my reading habits and statistics. It is therefore amazing that I have not as yet stated, at least not openly, challenges I'm participating in, in 2013. Whilst I'm yet to create my own challenges - at least apart from the one I'm 'covertly' participating in - I've also not joined any external challenge, yet.

The only challenge I have in mind, and which I've been working towards, is to sustain my reading intensity by challenging myself to 70 books, just like I did in 2012. This would mean that I embark on heavy book purchases this year as I'm gradually running-out of unread books. 

Minor Challengers, subject to book availability
Non-Fiction: There are however books I would love to read this year. To bridge the gap between reading for fun and recreation and reading to gain knowledge in specific areas of life, I would, the availability of books permitting, be reading relatively more non-fiction (anything greater than 11 - the number read in 2012). Key wish themes/subjects/areas I would want to gain more knowledge on are:
  1. Development, Culture and the Human Mind;
  2. Thought and Language;
  3. Philosophical, Political and Economic writings about nation states and humanity;
The following titles were offered by friends on facebook and twitter after I made the request for books that fit the above themes. Note they are not exhaustive and further additions (and supplies) will be welcome:
  1. Thought and Language - Levy Vygotsky
  2. The Myth we Live by - Mary Midgley
  3. How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays - Umberto Eco
  4. Tradition, Culture and Development in Africa - Historical Lessons for Modern Development and Planning - Ambe J. Njoh
  5. Poor Numbers: How we are Misled by African Development Statistics and what to do about it - Cornell Studies in Political Economy - Morten Jerven
Fiction (Russo-lit): The fact that Russian authors have dominated the literary world, with the fine writings, before is an indisputable fact. In one breath one can name Nabokov, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Pushkin, Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, Gogol and others. It is therefore a literary crime to not have read a Russian. Again, I look up to reading, but not limited to, these writers:
  1. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
  2. Brothers of Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky
  3. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
  4. Notes from the Undergound - Fyodor Dostoevsky
  5. The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
  6. The Dreamlife of Sukhanov - Olga Grushin
  7. Other Russian writers I will get.
Fiction (African): Funny enough, on the continent of Africa, the most difficult books to get are African-authored books. Ever since, Heinemann ended their African Writers Series book circulation amongst African countries have declined (my observations, might not be the fact). This is so even in the face of the sudden increase in publishing houses. For instance, it is easier to get a Toni Morrison in Ghana than to get a South African writer. Actually, apart from Gordimer, South African writers are hard to come by. It is even difficult to lay one's hand on books published by publishers in next door Nigeria. However, if I get them, I look forward to reading:
  1. Broken Glass  - Alain Mabanckou
  2. African Psycho - Alain Mabanckou
Fiction (Other Writers): There are other writers I still would love to read including some Nobel Laureates. The following are books that make the remaining wishlist:
  1. The Wooden Tongue - Bogdan Tiganov
  2. Romanians: Contradictions and Realities - Bogdan Tiganov
  3. Prague Cemetery - Umberto Eco
  4. The Name of Rose - Umberto Eco
  5. Focault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco
  6. Love in the time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  7. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  8. In Praise of Stepmother - Mario Vargas
  9. Face of Another - Kobe Abe
  10. Women in the Dunes - Kobe Abe
  11. The Summer my Father Died - Yudit Kiss
Knowing the difficulty to get books, I will definitely settle with the major challenge and work towards the minor challenges as and when I get the books. At least, it is good enough to wish.
* For practical reasons such as the sizes of books I have picked up to read this year, I have revised this figure to 60 books. (February, 2013)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

#Quotes: Few Lines from the Life of Pi by Yann Martel

When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival.

I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reasons comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread. [161]

I concluded that I had gone mad. Sad but true. Misery loves company, and madness calls it forth. [242]

Don't you bully me with your politeness! Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe? [297]
Read review here

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

#FavBooks2012: As I Share my Favourite Books of 2012*

Initially, I appended this to the Year in Review post; however, upon further thought I've decided to make it a whole post on its own. It made the other post too long and detracted from it. I have already shared what some friends of mine think were their favourite books of 2012. This year saw me read some famous books like Great GatsbyBluest EyesJuly's PeopleA Farewell to Armsand many others. My favourite reads of 2012 are:

Non-African Books
  • The Book Thief by Mark Zusak. Mark Zusak in this book brings out how infernal the human mind could be and the frailty of friendship. The book's protagonist was Death and how he empathised with humanity has he was forced to pick destroyed souls from one suburb to the other. The book was also written from the point-of-view of a young girl, Liesel Meminger.
  • Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. This book shows the psychological effects of slavery and segregation in America and all over the world. When one's culture is suppressed, degraded and his identity is used as a mark of inferiority requiring only derogatory and slavish treatment, one's psyche is tempered with and he or she becomes haters of himself or herself. This is what The Bluest Eye is about.
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This book is a critique of America's, and by extension the world's, contemporary culture. It dissects and make bear our love for wealth over humanity. It shows our displaced values where people prefer shares on the stock market to shares in the lives of their families.
  • Blindness by Jose SaramagoBlindness shows how the human would behave if he lacks knowledge and vision and also how visionary leaders and followers are important for progress and development in the life of a country.
Honourable mentions are: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, for its transitions and detailed descriptions; Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by  Winifred Watson, for its comedy and social commentary; Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner, for its ability to excavate from the pits of Hades the evilness of the human heart; White Teeth by Zadie Smith for the boldness and broadness of its themes; and Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling for the inspiration it offers.

African Books
  •  Rachid Boudjedra's Repudiation. This is book captures change and repudiation in a bold manner. It was banned in the author's home country of Algeria because of its blatant expose of certain inimical traditions that has been tagged 'religious'. It also shows blind belief can lead to developmental retrogression.
  • The Famished Road by Ben Okri. The magical realism, the integration between the spiritual and physical worlds, the beauty of the prose are the things that endeared The Famished Road to me. Okri took advantage of African's expansive belief to write a such a perfect novel.
  • The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer. Nadine is not an authority of apartheid South Africa literature for nothing. In this book she shows how the love for the farm supersedes the love for the native South African. However, she even showed something more interesting. Whereas White South African farmers could leave and go to other places, the natives know they own the land and do not worry much about who would inherit what. The natives could be displaced but their belief in the land and love for it could not be displaced; on the other hand, the white farmers had to ensure that their children would love to work on it. This marked my journey into Gordimer.
  • In Steve Biko's I Write What I Like we get to know what moves the man to do the great and daring things he did so that even at such a young age of just over thirty, which he died, he was already a hero. In this book, Biko showed how Africans must fashion for themselves the tools required for their progress and development; he showed that those who wield power would not just give it up and it would require the use of our combined energy to wrestle it from them. It cannot be said that all he envisioned and wanted for Azania had been achieved even after apartheid. I believe Biko is a greater man.
  • Ken Saro-Wiwa's A Month and a Day & Letters shows how wicked rulers can be to their own people and how silent complicity does nothing to abate the nefariousness of a rabid military junta. This being the last book by the Environmentalist and Human Rights activist before he was hanged, it showed the torment he went through in his last days. How, people in authority, in complicity with the government, hanged an innocent man and eight of his friends against the appeals of the international community. Recent report shows it was done to show that the government of the day, led by his infernal highness General Sani Abacha, was not afraid of anybody. The role of multinational corporations such as Shell in the murder was also discussed. Again, in some strange way, Shell's behaviour is akin to what Franzen discussed in The Corrections - love of wealth over human lives.
  • If I'm pushed to pick one book that made 2012 such a memorable reading year, it will be the last book I read in that year - Kojo Laing's Search Sweet Country. That book represents everything I love in novels: experimentation, going beyond the ordinary, throwing away rules and being unique.
Honourable mentions include: Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz for its beautiful prose and exotic scenery (setting); and Kofi Anyidoho's The Place We Call Home and Other Poems for its masterful delivery. 

In general, 2012 was an excellent year for reading. I can't just choose. However, if you want to go through all my reviews for the year click here.
* This was from The 2012 Year in Review post.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Books of 2013

  1. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  2. Periodic Table by Primo Levi
  3. The Best of Simple by Langston Hughes
  4. Speeches that Changed the World by Emma Beare (Editor)
  5. Gathering Seaweed: African Prison Writing by Jack Mapanji (Editor)
  6. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
  7. The Ghost of Sani Abacha by Chuma Nwokolo
  1. Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
  2. Definition of a Miracle by Farida N. Bedwei
  3. Fathers & Daughters - An Anthology of Exploration by Ato Quayson (Editor)
  4. Dead Aid - Why Aid Makes things Worse and How there is another Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo
  5. Interventions - A Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan (with Nader Mousavizadeh)
  1. War and Peace (Volume IVolume IIVolume III, & Volume IV) by Leo Tolstoy
  2. Smouldering Charcoal by Tiyambe Zeleza
  3. Breaking Silence - A Poetic Lifeline from Slavery to Love by James Robert Myers (Editor)
  4. The Lump in her Throat (SS) by Aba Amissah Asibon
  1. Antifragile - Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  2. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  3. The Government Inspector by Nikolai V. Gogol
  4. My First Coup D'etat - Memories from the Lost Decades of Africa by John Dramani Mahama
  5. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  1. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
  2. Saturday by Ian McEwan
  3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  4. Auto Da Fe by Elias Canetti
  1. Infinite Riches by Ben Okri
  2. The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola
  3. Tales of Tenderness and Power by Bessie Head
  4. When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head
  5. The Karamazov Brothers by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  6. The Cardinals with Meditations and Short Stories by Bessie Head
  1. Ama - A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade by Manu Herbstein
  2. God Dies by the Nile by Nawal El Saadawi
  3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  1. A Heart's Quest by Elikplim Akorli
  2. The Spider King's Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo
  3. Farad by Emmanuel Iduma
  4. Taboo by Mawuli Adzei
  5. Kongi's Harvest by Wole Soyinka
  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  2. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
  1. Indaba, My Children by Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa
  2. The Parliament of Poets by Frederick Glaysher
  3. African Roar 2013 by Emmanuel Sigauke (Editor)
  4. The Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil
  5. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen
  6. Permit for Survival by Bill Marshall
  7. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  8. Women of Owu by Femi Osofisan
  1. True Murder by Yaba Badoe
  2. The Poor Christ of Bomba by Mongo Beti
  3. Dreams in a Time of War - a Childhood Memoir by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
  4. Allah is not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma
  5. Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma
  6. A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta
  7. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  8. South African Short Stories from 1945 to Present by Denis Hirson with Martin Trump (Editors)
  1. Delta of Venus by Anais Nin
  2. African Short Stories by Chinua Achebe and C. L. Innes (Editors)
  3. A Cowrie of Hope by Binwell Sinyangwe
  4. No Sweetness Here by Ama Ata Aidoo
  5. That's Doctor Sinatra, You Little Bimbo! by G. B. Trudeau
  6. Dune by Frank Herbet
  7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

#FavBooks2012: As Friends Share their Favourite Books of 2012

Last year I shared my friends' favourite books of 2011. Favourite books were collected from friends on Twitter, Facebook, and the Google Plus platforms. The objective is to encourage people to read more books and for other readers to know that there's a community of readers out there. It also serve as a pool for other readers to select books they would want to read. I've already shared ImageNations' favourite books of 2012. Here are the favourite books of friends:
  •  Nartekuor is a twitter friend. She's from Ghana and considers herself as 'doing the most outrageous things and chalking it up to life's topsy turvies'. Nartekuor chose John Grisham's The Appeal;
  • Ms. Komassi describes herself as a '"work in progress", a friend, law graduate, blawgger, writer, God's girl, vintage fan...'. She blogs here. Ms. Komassi's favourite books include The Suns of Independence; Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals; and Allah is not Obliged, all by Ahmaduu Kourouma;
  • Miss Bwalya, a Zambian passionate about her country, Africa, Education, Women's Right, Development, and Entrepreneurship, selected Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor and So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba.
  • Affoh G blogs about politics, culture, Literature, and History. She believes that if he who doesn't know learns, he gets to know. She blogs at My Library. According to Affoh G, Alex Haley's Roots and Les frasques d'Ébinto by Amadou Koné were her favourite books of 2012.
  • Casca Comrade Amanquah Hackman and I have a lot of things in common, including reading. He selects, as his favourite books of 2012, The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna; My First Coup d'etat by John Dramani Mahama (the President of Ghana); Diplomatic Pounds and Other Stories by Ama Ata Aidoo; African Violet - a Caine Prize Anthology; The Art of War by Sun Tzu; Children of Gebelawi by Naguib Mahfouz; and Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon.
  • Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire, a Ugandan friend on facebook added Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's Shadows, Chika Unigwe's Night Dancer, and Ernest Bazanye's The Ballad of Black Bosco as his favourite books of 2012.
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