And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

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 Pages: 463 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Goodreads Rating: 4.03
My Rating: 3.92

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And The Mountains Echoed (ATME) tells a story of Abdullah and his sister, Pari who lived in a small village of Shadbagh. Abdullah loved his sister so much that he would do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. And one day, something happened.

The format of ATME is completely different from Hosseini’s previous works. The book has nine chapters and each chapter tells a different story which was connected to the lives of Abdullah and Pari. It’s more like a collection of short stories. The book spanned over 50 years and it traveled from Shadbagh to Kabul, into the streets of Paris, across the sky into Greece, and California. Each chapter introduced a wide range of characters with their own secrets and stories which were masterfully portrayed by Hosseini. At first, I was annoyed with the format as each chapter was distinctly different to the following chapters, and it took me awhile to familiarize myself with the format. But later, I don’t know how Hosseini did it, but the inscrutableness of each chapter charmed me as the drama unfolded towards the end.

Many people think that this book isn’t as great as his previous books and yeah, I felt the same. Even though the stories were great, I think some parts were unnecessary as it lacked connection to the main characters, Pari and Abdullah. Some parts were somewhat prolonged and I got lost somewhere around there. But then, there was something fascinating in each story; it felt REAL, the emotions were beguiling and raw. The secrets in each story, their thoughts, their different ways in thinking about life, their behaviours and the relationships between characters – they awed me, they repeatedly broke and mended my heart. They made me think on how I should treat the people I love. They also made me think on how I should live my life.

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Even though, there weren’t much details of the wars in Afghanistan in this book, Hosseini always fascinates me with his ability in interweaving fictional story with historical background. From this book, I found that the lifestyle in Afghanistan was constantly changing through different period and different place. For example, in 1950s – 1960s, the strides were made towards a more liberal and westernized lifestyle, particularly in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. Meanwhile, the conservative factions were mostly located at the smaller and rural areas. Progress was halted in the 1970s as a series of coups and civil wars took place and in 1990s, when the Taliban was in power. These weren’t described in details but it gave a glimpse of the changing happened in Afghanistan.

All in all, I’m enthralled by this book. The stories, the feels and the ending – they are just perfect.

A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

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Pages: 288 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Japanese Literature
Goodreads Rating: 3.78
My Rating: 3.8

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A Hundred Flowers tell a story of a family living in China during the reign of Mao Zedong. During his reign, he introduced The Hundred Flowers Campaign where all intellectuals & artists were encouraged to freely express their opinions about the Communist party. Gradually, many intellectuals, students and artists grew bolder in raising their voices and once the criticism turned directly towards the Party members and Mao himself, the Campaign was abruptly halted and all the counter-revolutionaries arrested and were sent to prisons to be ‘reeducated’ – where Sheng was one of them.

Nothing much happened in the story, really. It is a very simple story of the everyday lives of Sheng’s family members which is told from multiple POVs which brings each character into sharp focus. The alternating narrators started great, but gradually it shifted too quickly, thus it felt less engaging.There are a few dramatic moments but overall the story revolves around the thoughts and hopes of the characters.I liked it, but that’s as far as it goes. Despite the plain storyline, I appreciate her simple yet gracefully descriptive writing style. I love Tsukiyama’s serene and peaceful tone. It was moderately slow, just how I like it. Slow but sweet.

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Even though there just wasn’t enough character development, Gail Tsukiyama has a way of creating characters that are inherently flawed yet lovable. One particular character of this story that I loved is Sheng’s father, Grandpa Wei. In the book, he was portrayed as a reserved and a quite man, which is completely different from his captured son, who was an outspoken and impatiently brusque. But throughout the story, readers may notice that Wei gradually has became more remarkably fragile and weary, which – until a secret was revealed – which made my heart ached. I also loved the part where Grandpa Wei went on the train trip to meet Sheng and met Tian.

Now, the encounter between Grandpa Wei and Tian sparked a question to my mind – Between national struggle and the love of your life, which one prevails? Imagine a situation where you are fighting for a cause, but your partner despise it because both of you simply do not share a similar political belief and struggle, would you leave her/him? This situation reminds me of Nelson Mandela where his first two marriages collapsed under the strain of politics. It was alleged that the separation was mainly because Mandela has always prioritized his citizens’ lives and struggle more than his wives. This situation can also be related with one of the Islamic legal maxims – A private injury may be tolerated in order to ward off the public injury. What do you guys think of this?

Alright, coming back to the review. A Hundred Flowers is a tale well told, definitely won’t be my last from Gail Tsukiyama. I strongly recommend this book to those who love a ‘quiet’ read, without the noise of the current world.

Out of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys

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Pages: 346 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Goodreads Rating: 4.06
My Rating: 4.3

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-11-09-45-pmOut of The Easy tells us the story of Josie Moraine, the daughter of a prostitute in New Orleans in the 1950s. Josie felt that everything is going against her – ultimately, her mother who never gave a damn about her. However, Jo is blessed by having Willie, the bad ass yet the loving madame of the brothel and her great and wonderful friends. Each of the characters was vibrantly unique and it felt so alive – My favourite character is, of course Josie and the uh, ice queen, Willie.

Josie is a great character, and we can learn a lot from her – she is bold, strong and very loyal. Even when she was being tormented by her fate, she is always trying to do the right thing. Josie is by far one of the strongest female characters I have read. In this book, in order to support herself, Josie worked at a book store owned by Charlie and became acquainted with Patrick. The first quarter of the book kept on making literary references and it made me REALLY REALLY REALLY excited!!! Among the literary references were Keats’ poems, Little Women, Pride & Prejudice, Whats Eating Gilbert Grape and so many more! They even made bookish guesses and oh my, they were so relatable! 

The pacing is perfect and all the events come together so seamlessly but I didnt really like the ending, the beginning of the book was fun and intriguing but at the end, it kind of spluttered out and the flames died – I mean it ended *poof* just like that, it felt like there were too many things unresolved. Plus, I felt like the closure of the big “mystery” was a bit disappointing. But nah, despite the oh-kay-ending, I absolutely LOVED this book. Wont be my last of Sepetys. Highly recommended!

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Pages: 550 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Goodreads Rating: 4.35
Rating: 

Alright, I think everyone knows what The Book Thief is all about. It is a story of Liesel Meminger, an orphan, who was being taken to live with a pair of foster parent in Molching during the Nazi regime. She unofficially became a book thief when she first stole a book at her brother’s burial rite.

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The greatest thing I love about this book is the brilliant and absorbing narrative. Book Thief is narrated by a first person narrator who was known as Death who narrates in a weary and sometimes, humorous tone. Death is by far the most remarkable and important narrator I have ever encountered – This could have simply been another story about the Holocaust, but instead, Zusak nailed the story by using Death as the narrator. Brilliant. Some may find the narration device weird, but I liked it. It is alternately emotional, serious and almost saccharine.

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As for the language, well, it is beautifully haunted, poetic and powerful. The writing style is so vivid and descriptive, it just swallowed me in. Some people may not like it because of its slow development but it was perfect for me. The odd pairing of words sequence, the detailed sensory experiences, and the way situations explained left me speechless, that is how powerful the book is. To steal words from the book itself, the story is “so ugly and so glorious” at the same time.

I embraced each of the characters and I know they will cling to my heart for years to come. The curious and strong-willed Liesel, the kind-hearted Hubermanns, the crazy Rudy Steiner, Max Vanderburg and even the supporting characters. They will certainly live in my heart.

I cried so many times. It was the unaware, silent tears streaming down my face for several pages sort of cry and I, literally spent the last 50 pages weeping. My poor little heart is broken. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year, an evocative and bittersweet piece of literature. Highly recommended.

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

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Pages: 354 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Sufism, Religion
Goodreads Rating: 4.16

My Rating: 5 

Okay, where do I start with a book like this? I’m scared my review wont do the book justice, because this book is a beauty, devastatingly beautiful.

The Forty Rules of Love consists of two parallel narratives. The first narrative is about Ella, who works for a literary agency and she was given a book entitled Sweet Blasphemy and yep, the Sweet Blasphemy is the second narrative of this novel. It’s a story of the great mystic Sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi with his soul instructor, disciple, companion and a soulmate, Shams of Tabriz in their quest for eternal love of God. The crust of the story is about yes, the old and frequently written theme – love – but not the typical cheesy and mushy stuffs of love, it is something different, a widened concept of love.

The first narrative of Ella was somehow odd and empty, I didn’t find it exciting as the second one. Shafak really nailed in narrating the second narrative, the Sweet Blasphemy. The way it was shown from many perspectives, from Shams perspective, the beggar, Sulaiman the Drunk, Desert Rose the Harlot, and Rumi;s family was really captivating. I loved everything about this book and most of it is because of Shams of Tabriz, from his exquisite rules of love, to his bold personality, to his love and belief in God, EVERYTHING ABOUT HIM WAS SO BEAUTIFUL AND MESMERIZING. This is the first time that I have so much respect for a book character. Nak fangirling pun macam serba salah sebab hormat, kah kah kah.

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This is definitely one of the best books I have ever read. The narratives, the characters, the plot twists, the 40 rules themselves, are a marvelous piece of wisdom and inspiration. A must read for everyone. A book that goes beyond all faiths, beliefs, thoughts and current societal conditions. Highly recommended!