Sunday, February 28, 2010

Beneath a Marble Sky

Beneath a Marble Sky - a love story by John Shors

This was a picturesque and engaging novel. It is a historical novel surrounding the building of the Taj Mahal and the lives of a few people (some real, some fictional) that were involved.

John Shors did quite a bit of research regarding the building of the Taj Mahal as well as the political history and the life scenarios in 17th century Hindustan (currently India in large part as well as parts of Pakistan). Using text as well as paintings he was able to craft an incredibly descriptive story of life as the Emperor's daughter. The story is told from her voice and he does a good job speaking in the female voice. At no time during my reading did I think, "well, this is just what a man would think that a woman would think, say or do at this point."

I very much enjoyed reading about the history of the region with the wars between the different tribes and religions. It seems little has changed in that realm in the hundreds of years that have passed. The author took some artistic liberties with regards to his love story of Jahanara, the daughter of Shah Jahan and the voice of the story. In the book her relationship with her brother, Aurangzeb, is venomous. In reality, however, it seems that it was a cool and politic relationship but they did make amends in later life unlike in the novel. Also, it appears that she never married and had no children.

In the novel much is made of how power-hungry and blood thirsty Aurangzeb was. It seems that this was an apt description in large part. He was not the benevolent and loved ruler that his father had been. He did have his older brother executed and did kill his other brothers in battle to gain the throne. He was also an extremely devout Muslim who ruled against music in order to cause the Hindus to be unable to perform religious worship as music was integral in their worship. It seems many Hindu temples were destroyed under his rule. He strongly encouraged all under his rule to abide by or convert to Islam and follow the rule of Islam strictly.

The love stories told within the novel are well crafted and believe-able. They brought a richness to the telling of the story that would not have existed had the story been told from a strictly historical standpoint. The building of the Taj Mahal is a love story that is true and it was a wonderful aspect of the book but the fictional love stories help carry the book beyond the Taj Mahal and help complete the history of the time.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in historical novels or anyone just looking for a light and enjoyable read.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Food Rules

Food Rules by Michael Pollan

This book only has 140 pages and many of the pages only have a picture of a fruit or vegetable on it. I read it in 1 hour.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. Most of it is "common" sense with regards to food. Much of it I consciously ignore when I shop or drive through someplace to purchase "food."

We are trying to eat a more healthy (and less expensive) diet and I thought this would help us to kick start that plan. I think it did.

Read it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

I finally finished The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel this weekend. I had been reading this book for over a month. It was written in 1934. My translation (I don't know that there are any others) was done by Geoffrey Dunlop. The author's note stated that the book was conceived during a stay in Damascus in 1929. There he witnessed the situation of many Armenian refugee children working in a rug factory. Franz Werfel wrote the book between July 1932 and March 1933. This book is a novel based on actual events and historic records including a documented conversation between Enver Pasha and Pastor Johannes Lepsius.

Musa Dagh is a mountain located in Syria on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea not too far from the border of Turkey. The novel begins in the spring of 1915 when the deportation orders for all Armenians living under Turkish rule began. The deportation was used as a method of extermination. The men and boys were taken from the deporting columns and forced into labor. Once their task was complete, they were taken into the woods and executed. The weaker Armenians, the very young, old and infirm, died during the march and were left along the roadside. The few remaining Armenians who reached the deportation camps (it is believed there were 25), were given practically no provisions and most died of starvation. This was only part of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish government.

By the time that the six villages surrounding Musa Dagh received their deportation orders, they had become aware of the situation. The older Armenians remembered the massacres of 1895 and 1909 in which Kurds working for the Turks as well as members of the Turkish military slaughtered 115,000-330,000 Armenians.

The village leaders decided that if they were to die at the hands of the Turks, they would prefer to die close to home and fighting. In the novel, the master planner of the Armenian defense was a fictional former member of the Turkish reserves who had been educated in France and lived most of his life in France. Because of the death of his brother, he just happened to be at his family estate at the foot of Musa Dagh at just the wrong, or right time. Once the Turkish authorities demanded all travel papers be relinquished, he was trapped and unable to travel as well as his french wife and son.

Some 5,000 Armenians from six villages took what few weapons they had as well as provisions up the mountain after sun-down over several evenings. Some of the Armenians in the villages chose to be deported thinking that they had better chances of living if they did not resist. The villagers who chose deportation assisted the others in that, on the day of deportation, they reported the others had all run off into the countryside in the night.

In the novel, the resistance lasted 40 days but in reality it lasted 53 days. In the end, more than 4,000 Armenians were rescued by French and English ships who saw their banners "Christians In Need of Help." The ending of the book was changed slightly in order to accommodate the fictional drama that Werfel had created.

This book was more readable than I expected given the formality of the language during the time it was written. The fictional characters and their personal stories really brought the situation to life. I think the reason it took so long to read was the subject matter itself. It was horrible to read the Turks talking a mundane and, almost bored manner of the planned extermination of an entire race.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Armenia, Turkey or the region. Also, it would be a good read for anyone interested in learning more about genocide.