Archive for June 30th, 2009

Book Review: Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Pakistan

Author: Kamila Shamsie
Title: Salt and Saffron
Publication Info: Bloomsbury USA (2000)
ISBN: 1582340935

Summary/Review:

This contemporary novel tells the story of Aliya, a Pakistani woman of an aristocratic family who becomes reacquainted with family members – first in London and then in Karachi – after being away for four years at a university in America.  Aliya thinks of herself as a family historian and a storyteller, but over the course of the novel she becomes aware of aspects of her family’s story she never knew, especially that relating to the Partition of India which also divided the family.  It’s easy for me to get lost in this book, both by the complex family relations and the many Urdu terms sprinkled through the text.  On the other hand, unlike many Around the World for a Good Book choices, Salt and Saffron is funny.   I knew this right from the start when Shamsie writes: “Confused?  Would you rather I changed the topic to yak milk production?”

The plot feels a little flimsy and soulless as if its there merely to serve an intellectual exercise about genealogy.  The novel has its moments and overall I’d say its a good but not great book.

Recommended books:
Rating: ***

Book Review: Outposts by Simon Winchester

Author: Simon Winchester
Title: Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire (2005, originally published 1984)
Publication Info:D 4449(6) Harper Audio
ISBN: 0060797185

Previously read by the same author:

Summary/Review:

I’ve read several books by Simon Winchester who writes about things that interest me – travel, history, natural history, science, culture, geology,cartography, and lexicography – all with much detail and some fascinating tangents.  Yet he’s not too serious and studious.  This is mind candy for people who like to think.  I also enjoy his audiobooks since he narrates them himself in his charming English accent.

Outposts is built on the idea of the “sun never sets on the British Empire,” still true today albeit stretching its rays to catch the tiny settlements and islands that still fly the British flag.  Winchester wrote this book originally in the 1980′s in the wake of the Falklands War and reminds me of The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux which also explores issues of empire except in Britain itself.  Things have changed even in the 25 years since the book was written and for the audiobook Winchester drops out the chapter on Hong Kong now that it’s been transferred to China.

The places he visits include the islands of Tristan, Gibraltar, Ascension Island, St. Helena, and Pitcairn.  The latter oddly enough was in the news recently due to the island’s history of child abuse (not mentioned by Winchester).  The most interesting part of the book for me was the first chapter when Winchester sailed by yacht into the British Indian Ocean Territory and Diego Garcia, an area restricted by the British and American military forces based in this remote outpost.  Winchester relates the shocking story of how over 2000 residents of these islands were forcibly relocated in the 1960′s to create the military base and his own adventures trying to penetrate the secrecy and security.  The rest of the book is less compelling and seems to get bogged down in less-than-delightful tangents and tales of approaching yet another distant island.  There are better books by Winchester out there than this one that I’d recommend you read instead.

Recommended books: Heaven’s Command: An Imperial Progress by Jan Morris, The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain by Paul Theroux
Rating: **1/2

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