Anyone who grew up in the Middle East in the mid-1980s or spent time there particularly during the month of Ramadan will remember the TV series "Alf Layla Wa Layla - A Thousand and One Nights" starring Egyptian actress Sherihan and directed by Famhy Abdel Hameed. Watched by millions in the Arab World, it owed its main success to the affinity people felt for the tales of Sheherazad and Shehrayar of 'The One Thousand and One Nights'. Not only was the older generation thrilled to have the tales of their childhood played out vividly on their screens but the show also succeeded in sparking an interest in the younger generation who had assigned these tales to the archives of the past only to find them dusted down and repackaged relevant to their own modern times.
This brings me to storyteller and author Tahir Shah's latest release 'Scorpion Soup'; a work heavily influenced by 'A Thousand and One Nights' as attested by the author in his introduction whereby he writes that this book is 'a small hymn' to the tales that he 'feasted' on since early childhood and have shaped the man he is today. The work is a celebration of stories and storytellers in which ultimately he, Shah himself, emerges supreme.
Shah in 'Scorpion Soup' introduces a network of tales that can only be compared to a set of Russian Dolls, you know the ones where you open up one doll to find another smaller one contained inside it and then that holds a smaller one too and so on until you get to the last and smallest doll in the set. And that is what Shah does in this book. He starts with one story and then this story is the beginning of another and that contains the beginnings of another all the way until the end when we are back at the first story we started with. All the while commanding the reader's full attention engaging the imagination, entertaining, instructing and questioning. Idle readers beware!
The book begins in the hellish prison of Oran where a once-upon-a-time fisherman is now a shackled worn down slave slowly losing all hope of survival. However, we know he is going to survive because he is going to tell us how a tale recounted in a barely audible whisper by another inmate was key to his salvation. And so the reader's journey with Shah begins. From North Africa to Spain, Ethiopia and Egypt, China, Persia and Iceland. Lands of frogs, lands of cats and others ruled by dogs. We have wizened witches and a jinn in an urn at the bottom of the Red Sea. An old man in a cave and the story of a deity or two. The reader meets wise men, foolish men, knights, kings, queens, princes and princesses. A box with a rusty nail and a pendant with tears of a unicorn and still more and more and more.
The stories are meant to entertain but Shah has an ulterior motive. He believes that stories are 'part of the default programming of Man' and as such carry an important role in the shaping of minds and souls. His work is not only a nod to a revival of storytelling, he seems to want a complete resurrection and by the looks of it he might just get his wish.
'Scorpion Soup' is currently available as an e-book but hardback copies will be dispatched starting March 2013. The hardback cover is only available to purchase from Taher Shah's personal website. Click HERE to go there.
Read this book! Drop whatever it is you are doing and go out and get 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn. If you've already got a reading list for 2013 create space on it for this book. If you have to, bump off one of the books for it (It won't matter which one because I can guarantee you that the one that bites the dust will never measure up to this one). My point: get it on that list.
So why am I so excited about Gillian Flynn's novel? Because it is a story that will genuinely consume you. It traps you like a fly caught in a spider's web, you struggle to leave, to break free and yet the more the struggle the more futile the escape as the author has cast webs such that Spiderman could only dream of. And you will want to leave (somewhere halfway into the book and just before the end of part one to be exact), but you shouldn't and most of you won't be able to and actually I plead with you to hang on, for lurking just there after the page that has part two written on it is a bombshell revelation about to explode; the aftermath of which carries chaos of incredible proportions. And the ending? I dare you to see it coming. I wasn't even close.
This is the story of Amy and Nick who have both lost their jobs in New York and move to Mississippi to Nick's family home. Nick's dad, a proper woman-hater, suffers from Alzheimer's and has been placed in a home ironically run by women who he has to depend on for his daily needs. Nick's mum is suffering from cancer and is the main reason Nick moves back so as to help his sister Go take care of her. Amy is the rich daughter of once-upon-a-time famous authors of the children's book series Amazing Amy. She is beautiful, popular, with the perfect marriage to a husband who adores her. Or so it seems until on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary she suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick, an accusation he denies. However, Amy's recovered diary tells its own story.
'Gone Girl' is a thriller. A haunting thriller. Not in the sense of ghosts and spirits haunting but as in 'it will haunt you for days and days and days' to come. I personally don't think I'll be forgetting this one any time soon. 'War of the Roses', if you've read it, is a walk in the park compared to Nick and Amy's marriage. This is not only an addictive read but a toxic one. It will test your views on many of today's modern social issues and how we have come to view ourselves and others in this fast paced dominant world of reality television and the fame that tags along with it. How even our basic everyday reactions to modern day issues are dictated by what movies we see, what books we read and of course the internet. Where everything needs to be as if airbrushed to appear perfect although it is far from that and the extremes one is willing to take to maintain that perfection. And yet despite the knowledge that we've become a society slave to the 'same script syndrome' we still hang on to the belief that we always know those closest and dearest to us. Or do we?
What are you still doing reading this? Go. Now. Get it!
It has been announced that translator Howard Curtis is winner of this year's Marsh Award for his translation of Italian novel by Fabio Geda 'In the Sea There are Crocodiles'. The novel is based on the true story of a 10-year old Afghan boy fleeing the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan to seek asylum in Italy. For more on Howard Curtis, click HERE.
The Marsh Award for Children's Literature in Translation is awarded biennially and celebrates the best translations of books from a foreign language into English. For more on the award and its foundation, click HERE
A few months ago in the BOOKFABULOUS household, negotiations were under way to try and find a solution to a major dilemma I was having regarding my 10-year-old. I call it dilemma, JJ calls it drama but nonetheless it was time to sit down in the household's negotiating boardroom (the kitchen) and hash things out. As of late I had noticed that JJ was more into his DS case than his bookcase, so being who I am I panicked. I imagined a world where I'd give my son a book and he'd stare vacantly at me not knowing what it was, unable to decipher its contents. Sirens rang in my ear, and sleepless nights ensued the result of which the meeting was called and set.
I thought I'd start out calmly, maturely, all grown-uppish so I gave the usual speech of how great reading is and how personality building it could be. How I was doing this for his own good and that he'd thank me later in life. How reading could help with his writing at school when he moved to the more demanding Secondary phase of education and so on and so forth. Then I did what I had promised myself never to do (pre-children): I told him how when I was a child his age I'd already read 'Anna Karenina' and 'War&Peace' and for extra effect I said I did that by candlelight (I think that's where JJ gave me the drama-mum look). By the look on his face and judging by how old he thinks I am he didn't find the candlelight thing far-fetched... mental reminder to sit down for another meeting and discuss what decade I come from. Slowly the mum-son chat turned to lecturing and I desperately realised that we were going nowhere with this except for my son's body which seemed like it was slowly melting away from his chair as he slid further downwards and was eventually going to end up pooled under the kitchen table. This 'meeting' was definitely over!
A week later, JJ comes back home with his school book-club reading book "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens which is not easy reading for a 10-year-old. Judging by the look on his face reading the first page he was struggling. I offered to help in the reading and as they only had three weeks to complete the book, we decided that we would actually read together swapping who would be reader; he would read aloud a few pages and then ask me for the words he did not get or sentences he found quite ambiguous in the Dickensian English it was written in and then he would take a break from reading and I would read to him but stop to see if he was following up with the events of the story. It worked! three weeks and the book was done and we had both enjoyed the experience of reading the same book at the same time and having discussions about it even at times when we weren't even reading. The penny dropped and the solution to my dilemma seemed to be staring me in the face.
Once "A Christmas Carol" was done, JJ moved on to more modern reading in the form of 'Ratburger' by one of his most favourite authors David Walliams. But this time he asked to independently read the book after which I would have a go after he was done with it and then we would discuss it. Agreement reached we have since completed two books in this manner. The process seems to be working and fingers crossed I can put my fears to rest, for now at least!
As those of you who read the blog will have noticed I have included 'Ratburger' by David Walliams in the January Reads list and the reason- although obvious from my post- is because it was a landmark book for JJ and I. Therefore, it is JJ's review that I post below today. This is his own work (with really minor tweaks from myself) and he is really proud of his work as I am of him.
Finally to David Walliams we both say: thank you for in terms of role models they rarely get better than you (not that he reads the blog but one can only hope). Big love!
'Ratburger' by David Williams
Reviewed by JJ (age: 10 years)
Ratburger is a story is about a girl called Zoe whose mum we know from the beginning of the story is dead. Zoe is left with her dad who loses his job when the factory he works at shuts down. He now spends most of his time at the pub although he really tried to get a job but couldn’t find anything so he gave up looking. Dad has re-married Sheila who is a lazy, horrible , ‘fat, huge’ person.
Zoe has just come home to find that her pet hamster has died under suspicious circumstances and she is really upset about that. Anyway, one thing leads to another and she now finds a pet rat that she is convinced is smart enough to learn breakdancing moves.
One day, Zoe meets a man called Burt who is hiding an awful secret and who tries to kill first her pet rat and then her after she finds out about his secret. After Burt gets hold of her rat by force (thanks to nasty Sheila’s help) Zoe desperately tries to find him (his name is Armitage by the way but don’t ask why because it’s a long story. Honest). With nobody to help it seems like all is lost unless Zoe manages to convince the only person who loves her in the world to help.
Ratburger is an outstandingly funny book by David Walliams. I liked how he described the stepmother as “fat, huge”, and how she is always stomping to Zoe’s bedroom. Sheila loves nothing more in the world than her prawn cocktail crisps and spends all her time eating them. One thing I have to say here though is I can’t believe that Zoe doesn’t like these crisps. They are one of my favourites.
This book is one of the best of David Walliams’ books and I should know because I have read his other books: The Boy in the Dress, Billionaire Boy and Gangsta Granny. I would recommend this book to any child or adult who wants to laugh their head off. The book is very quick and packed with adventure. I enjoyed seeing the character Raj who seems to pop up in all David Walliams’ books. I also enjoyed the illustrations by Tony Ross.
If you're a subscriber to the Banipal magazine (which I happen to be) then you will have received an email announcing the winner of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize. A prize awarded to translators in recognition of their contribution to the literary world.
The winner of the 2012 award (the ceremony takes place on Feb 4) is Roger Allen for his translation of 'A Muslim Suicide' by Moroccan Bensalem Himmich published by Syracuse University Press.
Runner-up is Humphrey Davies for his translation of 'I Was Born There, I Was Born Here' by Mourid Barghouty, published by Bloomsbury
As stated in the Banipal email, the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is an annual prize of £3,000, awarded to the translator(s) of a published translation in English of a full-length imaginative and creative Arabic work of literary merit published in the thirty-five years prior to submission of the translation and first published in English translation in the year prior to the award. Entries are judged by a panel of four distinguished authors, critics and literary experts, two of whom read and consider both the Arabic original and the English translation.
The prize is administered by the Society of Authors in the UK, as are other prizes for literary translation into English from European languages. The Award Ceremony is hosted by the British Centre for Literary Translation, the Arts Council, and the Society of Authors. The Saif Ghobash-Banipal entries can have been published anywhere in the world but must be available for purchase in the United Kingdom, either via a distributor or on-line.
The prize, the first worldwide for a published work of English literary translation from Arabic, was established in 2005 by Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation, and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature. It is wholly sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash and his family in memory of his father, the late Saif Ghobash, a man passionate about Arabic literature and other literatures of the world.
Do you know that 2013 is the International Year of Quinoa (Keen-wah)? Do you know that Quinoa although may look somewhat like couscous is actually a complete protein? Do you know that to get the maximum absorption of iron from haem and non-haem iron sources you ought to have a small glass of orange juice or fresh fruit, especially berries or kiwi fruit, with meals thanks to the Vitamin C these foods contain? Well, you may by now be asking yourself how I know all this. Simple answer is The Healthyfood Guide magazine.
'Healthyfood Guide' is a compact (as in of a size easy to carry in a purse) monthly magazine packed full of very useful nutrition information that are easily understood by anyone outside of medicine and more importantly the advice is quite easy to apply even by the busiest of us. Packed full of healthy recipes it is a great reference for those who like to cook from scratch and offers advice each month on what to choose from the ready-meals we pick up from our supermarkets to advice on how to better our general well-being. The publication goes further with sensible fitness and shaping up tips. The panel of monthly experts make sure that whatever health resolution you've made for the new year, they have it covered. I cannot begin to say how brilliant this magazine is and 'No!' I don't get paid to say this :)
My favourite part of HFG? It's got to be the weekly diet planner. Each month a nutritional consultant offers up a week of planned meals that you can shop for at the beginning of the week which definitely takes the hassle out of deciding what to eat each day. Besides research has found that people who plan their meals ahead and know what they are having each day are more likely to stick to their diets and enjoy better health. 'What?' I hear you say 'and give up the daily mad hectic high blood-pressure inducing rush of getting home after a long day's work trying to frantically put together whatever's in the fridge to come up with some decent sort of dinner to feed those hungry mouths in the living room?'- Yup, I thought so!
HFG wouldn't be a decent mag though if they didn't have a website that lets you check out a sample issue. So, honestly head there now and let me know if you agree with me- or not but that's what the comment section below is all about - To go to HFG's website, simply click HERE.
In other news today, I have just finished reading 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' by Mark Haddon. I've had this book on my wish list for years and now that I have finally got round to it, I completely get why everyone continues to rave about it. You cannot possibly read this book without falling in love with the story's main character Christopher who suffers from Aspeger's Syndrome, a type of Autism. A genius at maths he struggles with day to day activities that a lot of us take for granted. A sensitive eye-opener of a book and it has been widely embraced by both adults and teenagers.
Although it has taken me nearly 10 years to get to this murder mystery (the novel was published in 2003), there is a silver lining here: the stage production will be running at the Apollo Theatre in the West End from March to May this year. Having completed its run at the National Theatre it hits the theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue from March 1 and is scheduled to run until May 25. Tickets have been on sale since November of last year. Mine are probably in the post as we speak. How exciting!
The award-winning novel is adapted to the stage by playwright Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott (the award-winning co-director of War Horse). Luke Treadaway, who appeared in 'War Horse' at the National Theatre and in the films 'Clash of the Titans' and 'Wasteland', plays Christopher, the 15-year-old central character of the book. A film adaptation is currently being discussed. Yay!
The blurb about the book as on the back cover of the paperback edition:
'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour's dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.
It's great to be back after quite a long break from this blog. Although I never stopped tweeting (@RanaAsfour) and of course reading, life obligations seemed to take over and one day merged into the other and here I am back at the computer after quite a spell; so let's get started. There is so much to tell but will not cram everything
I do hope you have all started to feel less lethargic, less satiated, less puffy and bulgy after the excesses of December. I must admit I did start on a slow-burner but I can confidently report that things seem to be back on track this Monday and I am ready and burning for action. Reading and writing action that is.
This is a month not only to look forward to what life has to offer but also a good month to re-assess the previous year's achievements (or lack of) and decide whether to go on with what worked and take time out to eliminate what didn't and I'm not just talking about work. It could be anything from work ideas, to diet plans, to negative friendships. None of us get any younger and experts have been warning about the dangers of attaching yourself to 'latchers' who are people who befriend you because they want something from you and then are never there when you need them. Recycle these so-called 'friends' and you'll be the better for it they say. It isn't an easy thing to do but I have for the first time in my life made such a list (I wonder if 2 names qualify as a list?) and I'm going to see what happens. On the other hand I have made a list of people, definitely more than 5 names on there, of people I consciously want to see more of and keep promising myself that I will but never get round to doing. So, it is not all doom and gloom in the BOOKFABULOUS household! There will be parties and people will make merry at ours minus those 2 people on the list that is. Oh dear! I think I'm feeling guilty already.
Talking of re-cycling it turns out that a large percentage of people are no longer offended if you recycle the Xmas present you give them. We all do it and I guess more of us are now mature enough to openly admit it. Not that I am going to tell a certain someone that I HATE what they got me and wish they hadn't even bothered. But I am going to send it to the charity shop. Yes, it is that hideous that I would never choose it for anyone I know. ugh!
Having got that off my chest (which is adorned by the way by a gorgeous necklace from Megan), I must say that barring that above mentioned gift, all my others gifts were fabulous. Out of the many other treasures I got given were two fascinating photography books written by photographer Patrick Dalton. The books are called 'Shit London: Snapshots of a city on the edge' & 'Shit London 2: Even more snapshots of a city on the edge'. I absolutely love them and they now occupy pride of place on my living room table. The images in the book are taken from Dalton's website which has the same name.
According to Dalton in his introduction of the first book he found that everyday 'Londoners are surrounded by pure acts of comedy... from random acts of sign vandalism to the dirty joke fingered on the back of a van, or just plain awful shop names, it's all there' and so a few years back he decided to grab a camera and take snapshots of ones that caught his eye. He soon had a hoard of them that he stuck onto a website and soon had followers waiting for his next upload. The books naturally followed, although the second book seems to have emerged thanks to people sending Dalton photos they had taken in their areas. However, it seems that the real compilation of these photographs is to show a city in constant stages of movement and that 'beneath the veneer of our digital age there is still a human heart beating'. Awesome! so thanks Helen :)
Thanks to my darling friend Tiffany my 10-year-old and I got a really cool Xmas present in the form of two tickets to watch 'Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain' at the Garrick Theatre in the West End. Now that was superb especially if your child like mine has just been introduced to the Tudors at school. Good laughs and I must say, I did learn a few things I had no idea about in British history like the story of Amelia Dyer, the Baby Farmer (more like baby butcher) who lived in Victorian times. Her story is quite chilling seeing as she is thought to have murdered around 400 babies in the River Thames over a period of twenty years. She was eventually caught and hanged for her crimes. What is even more interesting is that upon further reading it turns out that author William Stewart had suspected her of being Jack the Ripper but to this day no evidence has linked her to that. Interesting no?
Another really amazing piece of theatre my 10-year-old and I managed was Simon Callow's rendition of 'A Christmas Carol'. One of my favourite Dickens stories and no Christmas would be complete without it. It was clean, clear, pure acting at its best. No gimmicks, no thousand-pound staging, just Callow up there on the stage doing what he does best. At the best of times Simon Callow is an acting force to be reckoned with but give him a Dickens script and he is beyond human. The man is phenomenal. The ability to recite the story by heart nearly word for word to a packed house is a feat not to be taken lightly at all. No one and I mean no one other than Callow should ever attempt to do this. Ever!
The short days, and long nights in January need not be depressing especially with the sun refusing to put in an appearance but what better way to while away the hours than with a cup of cocoa and a good book warmly snuggled up on your favourite couch. Guess what? I can help with both: Yup, I have come across an amazing recipe for cocoa and even for those of us on a diet (yes hope that New Year resolution is holding up well!) we can still have it as a treat to keep us going. It's easy and really really yummy. As for the reading look out for tomorrow's list of the 'January Reads' here at BOOKFABULOUS and I have to admit that although Hilary Mantel's 'Bring Up the Bodies' is a re-read it is still worth having on that list for its mere brilliance.
Lots to do and look forward to this year and hopefully I can highlight a lot of them here. The International Prize for Arabic Fiction short list is to be announced tomorrow and I will try to bring highlights of that. Well, if you've made it so far into the article and are still with me, all I can say is thank you for staying. You are truly fabulous!