Monday, December 31, 2007

The Top 5 Books And Most Memorable Literary Events For 2007

The year is coming to a close and what a remarkable year it has been for the literary scene.

With the released of the much-anticipated last book of the Harry Potter saga, 2007 saw the magic of author J.K. Rowling. A record-breaking 11 million copies were sold on the first day in the United States and Britain and on that day, millions of children and adults read or flipped through the 607-page tome to find out the hero's fate. It was also the year that saw the world's most expensive fairy tales - The Tales of Beedle The Bard. A book of fairy tales created, handwritten and illustrated by author J.K. Rowling, The Tales of Beedle The Bard was bought by online bookstore Amazon for a record $1.95 million pounds at a Sotheby's auction.

Besides the frenzy generated by Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, 2007 was also a year of controversies with both J.K. Rowling, with her outing of Dumbledore as gay, and Philip Pullman, the author of the award-winning His Dark Materials trilogy, whose first book has been adapted into a movie - The Golden Compass, coming under attack by Christian evangelicals in United States for being unsuitable for children and promoting atheism.

2007 also saw the sad passing of Norman Mailer of renal failure at age 84. The literary icon and two-times winner of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, with The Armies of the Night in 1968 and The Executioner's Song in 1979, was noted for his acerbic wit, biting prose and as an antagonist of the feminist movement.

It was also a year of achievement for Irish author Anne Enright who won the Man Booker Prize award. Her 272-page tome, the Gathering which chronicles the disintegration of an Irish family, pipped five other contenders and hot favorites like British writer Ian McEwan and New Zealander Lloyd Jones for the award, netting her $52,500 pounds.

And in closing what had also been a wonderful and remarkable year of blogging adventure for me, here, with the last post of 2007, are the top five books that i have enjoyed reading :

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
After his stunning bestseller, The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini returns with a beautiful, riveting and haunting novel that confirms his place as one of the most talented literary writers today. Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, born a generation apart and brought together by war, by loss and by fate.

It is a deeply moving story of faith, family, friendship and the salvation to be found in love. As Mariam and Laila endure the ever escalating dangers around them, they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other which will alter the course of not just their own lives but of the next generation. A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship and an indestructible love.

2. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
From the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, comes a compelling novel of alternate history, a gripping whodunit and a love story with 1940s vibes. A what-if, the story is set in a present-day alternate reality in Sitka, Alaska, a safe haven for Jewish refugees after World War II and the collapse of Israel, and after nearly 60 years, the Federal District of Sitka is about to revert to American rule.

Into this setting comes Chabon's hero, Meyer Landsman, a drunken rogue cop, who wakes up one day to find a dead body next to him. Poignant, lyrical, hard-boiled and funny all at once, The Yiddish Policemen's Union's central murder mystery has its roots in the Biblical tale of the Messiah, who would one day lead God's chosen people to the promised land. With elements of an international terrorist thriller complicated by religious conspiracies, it is a haunting account of alternate history and demonstrates the power of a good story.

3. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
Voted as one of the best young writers in UK, Scarlett Thomas's narrative is a breathless one, a combination of postmodern philosophy, physics and spine-tingling science fiction, that propels you relentlessly like a bullet train. About a smart young woman, Ariel Manto, who stumbles upon a rare book by an obscure 19th century Victorian scientist at a secondhand bookshop and through the book, discovers the secret to accessing the "Troposphere", a universe of the collective unconscious and the ability to leap into the minds and bodies of other living beings.

This book is the literary equivalent of the science fiction movie, The Matrix, and is a rollicking adventure story with ideas about sub-atomic particles, existence and reality. A delirious valentine to the pleasures of reading.

4. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Composed of 108 short chapters, based on the beads in a traditional Indian prayer necklace, this beautifully written and heartfelt memoir comes across as scenes in a movie. Plagued with despair after a nasty divorce, the author made the difficult choice of leaving behind all the trappings of modern America and embarked on a soul-searching journey on the aspects of her nature amid three different cultures.

Exploring her competing urges for earthly delights and divine transcendence, Gilbert first savored Italy's buffet of delights - the world's best pizza and free-flowing wine, then spiritual rigor and seeking communion with the divine at a sacred ashram in India and followed finally by the seeking of balance between the two in Bali, where she studies with a merry medicine man and plunges into a charged love affair. Eat, Pray, Love is down-to-earth, honest, conveys infectious rapture and delight and recalls anguish with touching candor. It is a sprawling travelogue of soul-searching and self-discovery.

5. The City Of Joy by Dominique LaPierre
The last spot in my list is for a book that is at least twenty years old and into my seventh reading. Dominique LaPierre's heart-wrenching account of the lives of the poorest of the poor in one of Calcutta's most devastating slums, Anand Nagar - "The City of Joy"- touches at a visceral level.

From the dedication of Polish priest, Steven Kovalski, to Hasari Pal, an inhabitant of the slum, to American physician Max Loeb, the book is a searing vision of the struggle for survival of the poor. It is a story of hope and love amid all the devastating realities of poverty, desperation and death and is a testament to the majesty of the human spirit, unbowed by the most wretched of circumstances. City of Joy epitomized the philosophy of the Christopher Award it won in 1986 - "It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness."

*Related posts :
- J.K.Rowling Under Attack
- The World's Most Expensive Fairy Tales
- Turmoil In The Kingdom of The Golden Compass
- Winner Of The Man Booker Prize 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

J.K. Rowling's Tales Of Beedle The Bard - The World's Most Expensive Fairy Tales.

Just as fans of J.K. Rowling eagerly await her next work, supposedly to be in the crime/thriller genre, out pops a collection of fairy tales - The Tales Of Beedle The Bard.

A book of fairy tales created, handwritten and illustrated by author J.K.Rowling, The Tales of Beedle The Bard has been sold for a record $1.95 million pounds at a recent Sotheby's auction, making it the world's most expensive fairy tales.

The astounding price the book fetched is a record on three fronts. It is the highest ever achieved at an auction for a modern literary manuscript, a record for children's fiction and a record for a work by Rowling. In keeping with Rowling's philanthropic character, all proceeds from the book's sale will benefit The Children Voice, a charity which campaigns for children rights in Europe which she co-founded with Emma Nicholson, a member of Britain's House Of Lords.

The 157-paged tome is one of only seven handmade copies in existence and is bound in brown moroccan leather and mounted with silver and semi-precious stones. The book is actually the volume of five wizarding fairy tales left to Hermione Granger by Albus Dumbledore in the Potter book, Harry Potter And The Deathly Harrows. One of the tales, The Tale Of The Three Brothers, appeared in the Deathly Harrows but the remaining four are told for the first time.

Rowling was naturally ecstatic with the record amount that the book garnered, "...this means so much to children in desperate need of help. It means Christmas has come early for me," she said. The book has been described by Rowling as a distillation of the themes found in the Potter books, calling it a farewell to the Potter world she has inhabited for she last 17 years. As for the remaining six copies of the Beedle book, it have been given to people closely associated with the Harry Potter series.

The buyer of the book is none other than online bookstore, Amazon, and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, truly seems to love books and understand the following that Rowling commands by displaying photos of the book together with reviews on the site. Interested readers can see it here.

While there are no plans currently by Rowling to publish the Beedle book for distribution, the burning question in my mind is whether the book will eventually be mass published for the public. As fairy tales are an intrinsic part of childhood, it will be a shame if the Beedle tales are confine only to the rich, and Rowling's large following of fans, most of whom are children (including some adults like me), are deprive of the enjoyment of such rich literature.

*Related posts :
- J.K. Rowling Under Attack
- What is J.K. Rowling Working On Next?
- The Next Harry Potter
- Life After Harry Potter

Get beautiful

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness.

Having been bitten by the viral nature of blogging in my recent participation in Blog Action Day, today will be another special day where I will take a break from my usual fare of books and literature, and celebrate Bloggers Unite, a day where thousands of bloggers around the world unite in doing acts of kindness. With Christmas, a time for sharing and giving round the corner, Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness is especially timely and these acts of kindness will definitely spread cheer and joy during this festive season.

After hearing about Bloggers Unite about a month ago at Blog Catalog, a blog directory, it got me thinking about what will be meaningful acts of kindness that will not only benefit disadvantaged individuals but also society as a whole, especially since environmental issues are very close to my heart, and i wanted to involve my 10 year-old daughter in the process as well. Well, this was what we did.

Since last Thursday till Saturday 15 Dec 07, with a van borrowed from a close friend, my daughter and I scoured almost the entire neighbourhood in my housing estate, collecting old newspapers, magazines and anything that is recyclable. A whopping total of about 415 kg of old newspapers and magazines, 22 kg of plastic bottles, 6 old mattresses and 1 mini hi-fi set were collected. The items collected was sold to a recyclable goods dealer, netting us a grand total of $197.75.

At a loss who to donate the money to, my daughter suggested taking part in the Boy's Brigade Sharity Gift Box project. Held during the Christmas season, the Boy's Brigade Sharity Gift Box project, in its 20th year, promotes the spirit of giving and sharing and distinguishes itself as a charity initiative that goes beyond monetary donations for the less privileged among us. Through various donation locations in the city, members of the public can choose to either donate daily necessities or fulfill a specific wish of a child, elderly or family to bring joy to their lives.

The entire $197.75 that we have collected was used to buy daily necessities like rice, canned food, beverage and milk powder plus a Barbie doll - a Christmas wish of a 9 year-old girl - and left at the donation box outside a local supermarket outlet.

While I am no Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, with their ability to donate millions to charity, the experiences and lessons learnt from these 3 days were priceless. Besides spending quality time with my daughter and inculcating the importance of helping the less fortunate, the large amount of recyclable goods collected in such a short duration reminded me of our social responsibilities and the importance of doing our bit to cut down waste, recycle, preserve and protect our environment.

Caught up in the maddening rat race in our competitive society, we sometimes forget about the less fortunate and disadvantaged among us, and taking part in Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness has made me.... human again. It also reminded me that anyone can make a difference and effect change, all it takes is just a little bit of time and effort.

*Read more acts of kindness by :
- Cybercelt
- Lisa Mcglaun
- Matts Nutts
- Blog Catalog members

*Related post : A pleasant surprise from Blog Catalog

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas - A Time For Humanitarians.

Christmas Celebration Series
Do you know of anyone or have relatives and friends with dead-beat jobs, desperately trying to obtain small loans or finance to start simple businesses to break out of their poverty cycle but were unsuccessful, as all financial institutions requires either collateral or an income that meets the borrowing criteria? Or have you met or heard of....knights in shining white armour, helping the poor with small loans to start simple enterprises, loans with easy-to-meet criteria and repayments terms? What about a story of a man who with just US$27 and through his beliefs and vision, started a revolution and created an institution that lifted millions of people out of poverty in the Third World through micro-loans?

Christmas, besides saints like Mother Teresa, is also a time for remembrance of humanitarians like Dr. Mohammad Yunus.

"......these millions of small people with their millions of small pursuits can add up to create the biggest development wonder." - Dr. Mohammad Yunus

Born on 28th June, 1940 in the village of Bathua, in Hathazari, Chittagong, in what was then Eastern Bengal, Mohammad Yunus was the third of 14 children of a successful goldsmith father. His father, believing in the importance of education, sent him to the United States where he graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Ph.D in Economics in 1970. He returned to Bangladesh in 1972 and took a chair in economics at the University of Chittagong. But it was his mother, Sufia Khatun, with her generous spirit of helping the poor, who was his biggest influence in his early childhood years and inspired him to a lifelong mission of helping the poor and the eradication of poverty.

In 1974, a time of famine in the country, Dr. Yunus led his students on a field trip to Jobra, a poor village in Bangladesh where they came upon a woman who struggled to etch out a living by making bamboo stools and learnt that she had to borrow capital, at outrageous repayment terms, to buy the raw bamboo for the stools she made. After repaying the usurious loan, she was left with just a penny profit margin, barely enough for subsistence. Shocked by the poverty surrounding him and the struggles of the poor, he realised that something is terribly wrong with the economics he was teaching, "What is the point of all these splendid economic theories when people around me are dying of hunger?" he asked himself.

Yunus took matters into his own hands and lent US$27 dollars out of his own pocket to 42 craftsmen in the village, telling them that they could pay the money back when they could afford to. He found out that with tiny loan amounts and the removal of usurious repayment terms, it was possible to not only help the poor and give them a chance to survive, but also create the spark of personal initiative and enterprise necessary to pull themselves out of poverty. He decided that there have to be an institutional solution and hit upon the idea of a bank for the poor.

Going against banking wisdom that loans to the poor are not viable and against the advice of many banks, government officials and even threats from violent radicals and warnings from the conservative clergy, Yunus's persistence finally secured a loan in Dec 1976 from the government-owned Janata Bank to start lending to the poor in Jobra. On Oct 1, 1983, what began as a pilot project to help the poor with micro loans became a full-fledged bank - the Grameen Bank, a bank for the poor.

Mohammad Yunus reversed conventional banking practices by removing the need for collateral and provided credit to the poorest of the poor in rural Bangladesh to start simple enterprises, and created a banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation and creativity. By 2206, in Bangladesh alone, Grameen has more than 2,200 branches serving 6.74 million borrowers in over 72,000 villages, 97 percent of whom are women. With more than US$6 billion in loans dispensed, Grameen boasts of a repayment record of over 98 per cent, a recovery rate higher than any other banking system.

Dr. Mohammad Yunus efforts in eradicating poverty did not stop with Grameen Bank. In the late 1980s', he started major social projects aimed at increasing agricultural yield and productivity for the thousands of peasant farmers like the Grameen Agriculture Foundation, Grameen Fisheries Foundation and Grameen Telecom. Projects like the Village Phone has brought cell-phone ownership to 260,000 rural poor in over 50,000 villages since the beginning of the project in March 1997.

With more than one billion people in the world living on less than one US dollar a day, the struggle against poverty is an existential struggle for survival. Through the granting of micro-credit, Dr. Mohammad Yunus has helped millions of the poor get out of the poverty cycle. He has given the poor a chance where none have existed before and promoted entrepreneurship that puts the poor, especially women, in the control of their lives. Even beggars are not turn away from Grameen bank as he firmly believes that alms destroy initiative and creates dependency. The story of Mohammad Yunus and the success of the Grameen initiative not only shattered stereotypes about the poor but also proves that the poor and disadvantaged are no different from you and me, they just needed to be given a chance. It is an inspirational story of how so simple an idea could have worked so well for millions of poor around the world.

Dr. Mohammad Yunus's tireless humanitarian efforts in eradicating poverty and uplifting the lives of millions of the poor have been widely praised and acknowledged, and has won many awards including the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the World Food Prize and the Sydney Peace Prize. Along with Grameen Bank, he was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and is the author of Banker To The Poor. The success of the Grameen model of microfinancing has also inspired similar efforts in hundreds of countries throughout the developing world and even in industrialized nations, including the United States, Canada and France.

" the rate we're heading, we'll halve total poverty by 2015 and create a poverty museum in 2030," - Dr. Mohammad Yunus.

*Sources :
- Nobel
- Mohammad

*Related post: Christmas - A Time For Saints

*Author's footnote :
This is the second of my "Christmas Celebration Series" - a celebration of the human spirit.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Turmoil In The Kingdom Of The Golden Compass

With shades of the recent attacks on J.K. Rowling with her outing of Dumbledore as gay, here is another controversy generated by the movie The Golden Compass.

Book 1
Based on the award-winning trilogy His Dark Materials by British author Philip Pullman, the US$180 million film has been attacked by the Catholic League in the United States for promoting atheism - the belief that there is no god - among children. An e-mail campaign promoting a boycott of the film has been circulated among the Christian community.
Book 2
Author Philip Pullman's, whom the New Yorker once called England's most outspoken atheist, trilogy comprises of Northern Lights which was retitled The Golden Compass for the American release, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. The award-winning series, once hailed as the next Harry Potter, tell the tale of an orphan girl, Lyra Belacqua, who rescues children kidnapped by a mysterious and evil organisation.

Ironically, the uproar over The Golden Compass has been fueling book sales worldwide with major book retailers reporting a surge in sales of the trilogy. Even yours truly here has sold 3 copies of Northern Lights, 2 of The Subtle Knife and 1 copy of The Amber Spyglass through Amazon.
Book 3
Putting the controversy aside, Philip Pullman's trilogy is actually a good read, with breadth and depth matching the Harry Potter series. An adventurous fantasy tale of magic and wizardry, the series gallop along at an adventurous speed and celebrate universal values such as friendship, bravery, sacrifice and loyalty. The richly textured series come with an intelligent subtext which advocates free will and thought over slavish devotion to doctrinal authorities. And if one read between the lines, you will find that Pullman's tale is not about killing off God but removing an understanding of a God who is antiquated and resurrects a far more sophisticated divinity.

For fans of Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is a trilogy i highly recommend and its popularity has been acknowledged with more than 12 million copies sold worldwide.
Save 20% With The
Complete His Dark
Materials Trilogy

*Related posts :
- J.K.Rowling Under Attack
- The Next Harry Potter
- Great Books For The Holidays

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Great Holiday Gifts For Children.

Having done a post on great books for the holidays, it just doesn't seem complete if i did not come up with a selection of gifts for children, just like what my daughter pointed out to me : "What about gifts for children?" Being relatively clueless about what children would like for the coming festive holidays, i roped in my daughter and 11 year-old nephew to help me with the selection. So, here is a selection of gifts from Amazon that would bring on the smiles in a child's face :

Imported from Europe, this fun Happy Zebra bead frame on wheels is beautifully crafted of wood and wood beads and will keep little hands and minds busy for hours and develops fine motor coordination and critical thinking skills as the child slides beads across the tangle of wires. Washes easily with a damp sponge. Recommended ages 1 & up.
Size - 7" x 3" x 6".
Happy Zebra Bead Frame Play Toy on Wheels From Friendly Company. Price : $19.99

Delightful and adorable Monchhichi 8"Dolls. Based on the adventures of a monkey from the popular Japanese animated series "Futago no monchhichi", these cute 8" dolls are highly sought after collectibles by young and old.
Assorted Monchhichi 8" Dolls From Sekiguchi.
Price : From $15.95 onwards.

KidKraft Veranda Swivel Dollhouse , mounted on a 360 degree swivel, offers plenty of room for your child's dolls and her BIG imagination. With 24 pieces of furniture, 4 rooms and 2 levels, the included wooden doll family of four, can move in right away. Let your little one use their creative eye to arrange and decorate the living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. It's a dream house your little doll will love! Measures 23 1/2 x 2 1/4 x 8"
KidKraft Veranda Swivel Dollhouse From KidKraft
Special Price : $71.62

With Hasbro Transformers Cyber Stompin' Action Figures, kids can take control of the Autobots and rescue Earth from the ruthless Decepticons. Based on the characters from the 2007 summer blockbuster hit movie, "Transformers," this action figures series has battle sounds and features galore and will let kids relive all of the movie's best scenes. Recommended for ages 4 and up.

Assorted Hasbro Transformers Cyber Stompin' Action Figures.
Price : From $9.99 onwards.

Girls can style Princess Rosella for the royal ball as they sing along to favorite songs from the beloved "Barbie as The Island Princess" movie. The beautiful island rose becomes the microphone and girls can even record and play back their performances. Play set includes hairbrush, clips, faux makeup and a special tiara that girls can share with Princess Rosella.
Measures 11.5"H x 13.5"W. Requires 4 "AA" batteries, included. Barbie Island Princess Rosella Karaoke Styling Head From Mattel
Special Price : $34.99

The bride Giselle debuts from the blockbuster Disney movie "Enchanted," in stunning lightweight tulle and rich brocade with princess sleeves, gloves, a tiara and hair adorned with sprays of delicate faux flowers. Doll measures 12" tall.
Disney Giselle Fairytale Wedding From Mattel.
Special Price : $28.70

Based on Cartoon Network's smash hit - Ben 10, this game features a three-dimensional Omnitrix that tells players what alien they turn into. Will it be the one they need to fight the villain they just encountered? If it is, you've captured it and continue on to your next challenge. For 2 to 4 players ages 7 and up.
Ben 10 Total Transformation Game From Pressman Toys
Price : $14.99

Attach Jedi Starfighters to hyperdrive rings and blast off into hyperspace. Removable Jedi Starfighter features retractable landing gear, multi-position wings and an opening cockpit that can seat Obi-Wan Kenobi or the firstever Kit Fisto minifigurine. Hyperdrive ring features flick-launching missiles and opening starfighter connection plates. Size 11.34"H x 18.92"W x 2.83"D.
LEGO® Jedi Starfighter™ with Hyperdrive Booster Ring
Price : $49.99

Discover the fantastic micro-world of ants with Forest Ants, of the Antquarium range. An educational and interactive game, learn how ants build tunnels and their habitat in a blue transparent Gel, while a rain forest grows on the gel surface.The tiny Forest Ant Ecoterrarium measures 5" x 3-1/2" x 1"
Globus Space-Age Ant Habitat, Antquarium From Noted
Special Price : $19.99

*Related post : Great Books for The Holidays

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Christmas - A Time For Saints.

Christmas - a joyous occasion where millions of people around the world celebrate the joys of love, the wonders of giving and the importance of family. A time of togetherness when children and adults alike, dream of wishes come true. And what would my Christmas wish be?

Like parents around the world, I wish for happy, peaceful and joyous lives for my family and children. But with the way things are in the world now - the crisis in Darfur, strife in Middle East especially Iraq, extreme poverty in many parts of Asia, foreclosures and bankruptcies of millions of people affected by the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the multitudes of people displaced by natural disasters - I also wish for more advocates of peace through non-violent means like Mahatma Gandhi, many more humanitarians like Dr. Muhammad Yunus and Dr. Paul Farmer, freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela but above all else, I wish for more authors of compassion and love like Mother Teresa and Polish priest Stephen Kovalski.

Christmas is a time for remembrance of saints like Mother Teresa.

"To care for the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." - Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born on 26 August 1910, in Skopje, Yugoslavia, of Albanian parents. Fascinated by stories of the lives of missionaries and their service at an early age, she left home at age of eighteen and entered the Missionary Order of the Loreto Sisters, taking the name of Teresa in memory of the little Flower of Lisieu, the patron saint of missionaries.

On January 20, 1931, she came to Calcutta, then the largest city of the British Empire after London and served as a teacher at the Loreto convent school in eastern Calcutta. For sixteen years, she taught geography to daughters of the well-to-do in British and Bengali society and although Mother Teresa enjoyed teaching at the school, she was increasingly disturbed by the poverty surrounding her in Calcutta. One day in 1946, on a train journey to Darjeeling, a town on the slopes of the Himalayas, she heard a voice.

God was asking her to leave the comfort of the convent and live among the poorest of the poor in the vast city beyond. In 1950, having obtained permission from the Pope, she started the order of the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation which began as a small order with 13 members in Calcutta. Today it has more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices, caring for the poor, the blind, disabled, aged and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine and has several thousand charitable foundations throughout India and the world.

In 1952, an incident gave birth to "Nirmal Hriday - the Place of the Pure Heart - Home for Dying Destitutes." It was June 1952 and the time of the monsoons when Mother Teresa stumbled upon an old and dying woman outside the Medical College Hospital in Calcutta. The old woman was hardly breathing and her legs had been gnawed to the bone by rats. Mother Teresa scooped the old woman in her arms and ran into the hospital, depositing the dying woman in a stretcher. "Take that woman away immediately!," an hospital attendant intervened. "There is nothing we can do for her." Mother Teresa took the dying woman and set off to another hospital. Suddenly, she felt the woman's body stiffened and realized that it was too late. "In this city, even the dogs are treated better than human beings," she sighed.

So was born "Nirmal Hriday - the Place of the Pure Heart" - a place for the dying to appear before God in dignity and love. Those brought to the home received medical attention and were given the opportunity to die with dignity, according to the rituals of their faith; Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received the Last Rites. "A beautiful death," she said, "is for people who lived like animals to die like angels — loved and wanted."

Taking in dying destitutes was only a first step for Mother Teresa, for the living too needed care and among the most neglected of the living were the abandoned newborn babies that might be found in a gutter, on a rubbish heap or in the doorway of a church. On February 15, 1953, she founded "Shishu Bhavan - the Children's Home of the Immaculate Heart," and welcomed its first guest, a premature baby wrapped in a piece of newspapers and left on a street pavement. "Shishu Bhavan" was to serve as a haven for thousands of discarded babies, orphans and homeless youth.

After the dying and the abandoned children, Mother Teresa turned her attention to the most wretched of Indian society, the lepers. At Titagarh, a shantytown in an industrial suburb of Calcutta, she constructed on land borrowed from the railway company, a haven to harbour the worst leper cases, bringing them medicine, dressings and words of comfort. She named the hospice, "Shanti Nagar - the City of Peace."

For over forty years, Mother Teresa ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned, the unwanted and dying in Calcutta, and her selfless dedication and compassion for the underprivileged has been widely recognised and acclaimed throughout the world. She has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize in 1971 and the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding in 1972. She was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian efforts.

Mother Teresa passed away on September 5, 1997, nine days after her 87th birthday. At the time of her death, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, an associated brotherhood of 300 members, and over 100,000 lay volunteers, operating 610 missions in 123 countries. Following her death, she was beautified by Pope John Paul II and given the title "Blessed Teresa of Calcutta."

"....but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society - that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult." - Mother Teresa's Nobel Prize speech

*Sources :
- Nobel Prize org.
- Wikipedia
- City Of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

*Author's footnote :
Beginning today right up till Christmas, there will be a series of articles dedicated to humanitarians who have made tremendous contributions to society and these articles - the "Christmas Celebration series", will truly be my Christmas celebrations - the celebration of the human spirit.

*Related post : Christmas - A Time For Humanitarians

Friday, November 23, 2007

In Memory Of Gary Jennings.

Norman Mailer, an American literary icon, passed away this week but today's post is not about him. Instead it is dedicated to a personal literary icon of mine - Gary Jennings, who passed away in 1999, something which I had belatedly found out.

Going down memory lane, I remembered browsing at a local book store some twenty years ago and chanced upon Aztec whose synopsis about the life and times of a lost civilization looks interesting enough for me to buy it. And what a find it was!

Meticulously researched and exceptionally well written, I was spell bounded by the unique prose, wit and bawdy spirit of the epic novel. The breathtaking story of the protagonist's, Dark Cloud, adventures as a warrior and traveling merchant in what the Aztecs called The One World, was a novel of heroic dimension.

Rich with memorable characters and colorful exoticism, it was an epic tale full of surprises and led me on a wonderful journey back to a time now lost. Jennings's Aztec world was filled with vivid details and written with an authenticity that is hard to matched. Over the years, Aztec is one of the few novels in my collection that I had read many times and remains one of my all time favorites.

Besides the evident amount of research Gary Jennings pours into his historical epics, he also has this special ability to imbue his protagonists and characters with an irrepressible and zany lust for life, exotic wit and roguish charm, so much so that a reader wants to identify with them.

Who can be untouched by the adventures of Dark Cloud or the loss of his wife and daughter? What about the Goth, Thorn, the protagonist in Raptor and his spell bounding narration of his tempestuous exploits through his exciting journey across Europe at the time of the Roman Empire? Or Jennings's take on Marco Polo in Journeyer? His men and women were eccentric, always roguish and unabashedly bawdy. Jennings enlivened their adventures with an energetic prose and a narrative drive that many believed unique to historical fiction.

Nearer to our times, Jennings's Spangle was another tour-de-force of fascinating circus lore set in nineteenth-century Europe, with its stolid innkeepers to drinking poets amid a continent on the brink of change and the emergence of the new nations of Italy and Germany. The journey brings us from the impoverished post-Civil War South to the decadent courts of Europe, the grim of the Russian Czar and finally to Paris under wartime siege.

To the literary world, Gary Jennings was acknowledged as a man of intellect and erudition. His novels were international best sellers, praised for their stylish prose and widely acclaimed for the years of research he put into each one. To me, he was a rare literary great that comes once in a while and I mourn the loss of such a great icon in historical literature.

Thank you very much, Gary Jennings, for the memories.

"I'm a writer. I write not only for a living, I write because I'm a writer."

* Gary Jennings other works :
- The Rope In The Jungle
- Sow The Seeds Of Hemp
- The Terrible Teague Bunch

* As Gabriel Quyth
- The Lively Lives of Crispin Mobey

*Reference :
- Gary Jennings net

*Related post :
- A Blast From The Past - My Journey With Stephen King

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Great Books For The Hoildays.

Whenever anyone ask me what i would like for a Christmas gift, my answer has always been books, even when i was a young boy. I still remember the thrill of receiving my first book, Moby Dick, as a Christmas present from a dotting aunt when i was about 10 years old. The excitement and joy was simply beyond words.

Unlike other gifts, books to me are timeless and i experience the same joy, if not more, when reading a book a second or even a third time round. There is just something about books, maybe it's their texture, the smell of printed paper, the visual impact of the cover or the promise of a wonderful journey, that make books so attractive to me. So, here is a selection of books from and with 34 per cent off books over $25, would make wonderful gifts for the coming festive holidays :


Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full PotentialThe SecretYou: Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty (You)
Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Yo...
by Joel Osteen

The Secret

You: Staying Young
by Michael F. Roizen

Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning LifeConversations with God : An Uncommon Dialogue (Book 1)Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life)
Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, ...
by Tony Dungy

Conversations with God : An Uncommon Dialog...
by Neale Donald Walsch

Basic Black

Become a Better YouFive Wishes: How Answering One Simple Question Can Make Your Dreams Come TrueDeceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food
Become a Better You
by Joel Osteen

Five Wishes
by Gay Hendricks

Deceptively Delicious
by Jessica Seinfeld


I Am America (And So Can You!)Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life
I Am America (And So Can You!)
by Stephen Colbert

Eat, Pray, Love
by Elizabeth Gilbert

90 Minutes in Heaven
by Don Piper

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a TimeClapton: The AutobiographyThe Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World

Three Cups of Tea:One Man's Mission to Pro...
by Greg Mortenson

Clapton: The Autobiography
by Eric Clapton

The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New ...
by Alan Greenspan

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the BrainThe Glass Castle: A MemoirRescuing Sprite: A Dog Lover's Story of Joy and Anguish

Tales of Music and the Brain
by Oliver Sacks

The Glass Castle: A Memoir
by Jeannette

Rescuing Sprite
by Mark R. Levin


Love in the Time of Cholera (Oprah's Book Club)Water for Elephants: A NovelThe Gathering (Man Booker Prize)

Love in the Time of Cholera(Oprah's Book
by Gabriel Garcia


Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen

The Gathering
(Man Booker Prize)
by Anne Enright

The ChoiceA Thousand Splendid SunsWorld Without End

The Choice
by Nicholas Sparks

A Thousand SplendidSuns
by Khaled Hosseini

World Without End
by Ken Follett

The Almost Moon: A NovelThe Abstinence TeacherThe Thirteenth Tale: A Novel
The Almost Moon
by Alice Sebold

The Abstinence
by Tom Perrotta
The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield

*Related posts :
- August sizzling reads
- This week's bestsellers