Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesdays with Morrie - A true story (published in 1997)

How many times do you read a book that changes the way you think about life ? Well, welcome to a book that has changed the way of thinking of many people, got people to re-think about what is important in life. The book, through its focus on the inspiring words of a dying man, sends a message to people to focus back on what is important in life, to appreciate the good and simple aspects of life, as well as implicitly also about what your legacy will be like. How you are remembered depends on the way you treat others, not on your own set of riches or ambition. Treating other people with compassion and kindness, mindful of their dignity, giving love and joy, none of these are difficult to do, but we ignore these simple aspects so easily. This book is one of those books; it started out with a small beginning, having been refused by a couple of publishers, but the appeal of the book was such that it became a huge bestseller.

So what is the book about ? It is about the interaction between a well known sports writer named Mitch Albom (who was working with Detroit Free Press, and who saw an interview of his former teacher, Morrie Schwartz, a history professor at Brandeis University (the interview is with Ted Koppel on Nightline). Morrie has been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and is dying. Albom has not been in touch with his former teacher ever since college, sixteen years earlier, and decides to pay a visit, initially on Tuesdays, since his paper is on strike; soon these visits become regular visits.
Albom writes about several things, such as details about Morrie's declining health, which is quite depressing, about the final conversation between Albom and Morrie, and about what has happened in Albom's life between his college and visiting Morrie. However, as you progress in the book, you read more Morris' views, a sense of what the important things in life are from someone who has little left. Morrie is very eloquent and seems to carry an upbeat dignity to the end, and it is through his views on the need for a person to have his own set of beliefs, and not be driven by what is current culture; how you should strive to make a difference and be good. It is particularly through the wisdom of a terminally ill man to make us realize that human relationships and health are more important than all the gadgets, modern conveniences, pressures to get ahead professionally, and the need to advance monetarily.

Tuesdays with Morrie - A true story (published in 1997), describing the interactions of Mitch Albom with his former teacher, sociologist Morrie Schwartz

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No Comebacks - by Frederick Forsyth (1982)

Writing gripping short stories is not easy. You do not have the time or the space in order to develop your characters or the story, and yet you are expected to write a story in which the characters are fleshed out to some degree, in which the story has developed enough that the reader does not feel cheated; the best short story is the one in which there is also a twist such that you get a sense of satisfaction after reading the story. There are not too many writers who are able to write effective short stories, and yet Frederick Forsyth has written multiple such compilations. No Comebacks is an interesting collection of 10 such short stories; most of these have twists, there are surprises in these stories, and the settings are also different for many of them. When you read the term, 'No Comebacks', it literally means that once you take an action, there is no way to get back to where you were.

The short stories that make up a part of this collection are:
"No Comebacks"
"There are no Snakes in Ireland"
"The Emperor"
"There are Some Days..."
"Money with Menaces"
"Used in Evidence"
"A Careful Man"
"Sharp Practice"
The stories are very different, such as the opening one, which is the story of a rich successful businessman who can have everything he wants; however he falls for a married woman who refuses to leave her husband. The rich man sends a hitman, and then you get the twist in the story. Similarly, other stories also have their own twists.

No Comebacks by Frederick Forsyth (published in 1982)

Dogs of War - by Frederick Forsyth (1974)

Suppose you are in the turbulent time period of the 1960's - 1970's when various colonial ruled countries in Africa were reaching their independence. There were many different influences working in the countries at that point of time, the Soviet Union was trying to get regimes to be in its favor. Many of these countries were mineral rich, and there was a fight to get the rulers of the country in favor of companies so that they could get advantages of the mineral rights that were being awarded by these countries. It was not unheard of that a country's Government could be deposed off in a coup, although using mercenaries was not unheard of. As is normal with Forsyth, his novel is based on a lot of detailed research, enough that people who were in this line of business were astounded by the accuracy of these details.

In fact, there is a lot of buzz that the country that Forsyth refers to as Zangaro was actually the country of Equatorial Guinea; the book is supposed to be atleast partly based upon Forsyth's time as a reported in the Biafran War between Biafra and Nigeria, and in fact, as a part of researching this story, Forsyth was researching how to attempt a coup against the Government of Equatorial Guinea, and it was supposed to cost a ridiculously small sum of a quarter of a million dollars. There is a lot of speculation that there was an actual coup attempt against the Government that was spoiled by Spain.
The book draws mixed reviews, with many people praising the depth of description of the details; however, there was also criticism that there were too many details or preparation and not enough action. The story is about a British mining tycoon learning of a hot discovery of the priceless metal, platinum, in the Central African republic of Zangaro. However, the ruler is leaning towards the Soviet Union, who in turn decide to give him a KGB guard and also send in their own survey team. At the same time, the British tycoon Sir James Manson hires a mercenary, Carlo Alfred Thomas “Cat” Shannon, who had left Zangaro earlier after the side he was supporting failed. They decide to plan an operation in which they will kill the current leader, Jean Kimba, and replace him with their own man. The rest of the story is about the execution of the plan, and how it meets with its challenges.

Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth, published in 1974