In an interview on BBC World Radio, Kamila Shamsie said that the idea for her novel started with one unforgettable image: the scarred skin of the back of a survivor of an atomic explosion, permanently tattooed with the three black flying cranes, the pattern on the white kimono she had been wearing at the time of the blast.
Protagonist Hiroko Tanaka has an unusual talent for languages. She survives the devastating bombing of her home-town Nagasaki by the US, but her German fiancé Konrad Weiss perishes on that dreadful day.
For me, it was shocking and horrible to discover that survivors of the atomic bombs – known as hibakusha – suffered severe discrimination in Japan. Mainly as a result of this, Hiroko goes to Delhi to find Konrad’s sister, Ilse, and her British husband, James Burton; there Hiroko falls in love with James’s Muslim assistant, Sajjad Ashraf.
With admirable seamlessness, the author weaves a tale that spans 60 years and five countries, and features a three-generational cast of characters from Japan, Britain, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US. In an intelligent study of the interplay of history and personal lives, she explores themes that include globalism, Partition, the 9/11 bombings, nuclear proliferation and more.
For me, there are only a few places where the author’s ambitious vision is marred by perhaps less-than-credible thoughts and actions on the part of her characters. This is a book worth reading, but don’t expect a happy ending.
Fit not Fat
Anna Jacob and Ng Hooi Lin
I leafed through this book in December and thought it looked interesting, but picking it up after a holiday of excess, it really focused my attention. Weight loss and diet books take up a big chunk of bookshop shelves nowadays, so there is stiff competition, but this book is straightforward, easy to read and well laid out.
I like the Survival Skills chapter, which explains how to make better choices when eating out; and the Survivor’s Guide, which outlines three simple rules to weight loss.
The Asian-style recipes are simple to prepare and don’t require a special trip to the shops. Easy-to-follow menu planners should keep most people on the straight and narrow with tasty but low-fat dishes, and the calorie expenditure table highlights the necessity of exercise.
This book is aimed at people who have just a little or a whole lot of weight to lose, and helps them incorporate weight loss into their lifestyle. Carrot soup, anyone?
Monkey Magic – The Great Wall Mystery
Grant S. Clark
In this book, just like in the one before it, Monkey Magic – The Curse of Mukada, which I reviewed in the January 2011 issue of Expat Living, 11-year-old Romy Alexander goes on a journey and has a problem to resolve. I recommend reading the books in order.
This time, Romy is in China and has to help a bunch of capuchins (a type of monkey) help rescue a few of their family members who have been captured. She also helps some panda bears. She is visiting China because she and her dad went there for an unusual gathering on the Great Wall, only one week after her visit to Borneo. She is still tired from that trip but is very enthusiastic about helping the little capuchins get their family back.
I recommend this book to children aged eight and older. It is an enchanting tale depicting good versus evil along with an important environmental message.
Siona Mitra (10)