This has turned out to a very busy month at work and otherwise. So while I have managed to read a lot, I have gotten rather behind in updating my blog. After a week of silence, I’ve put together bite-sized takes on these three books that I read over the last 2 months or so.
The Mammoth Book of Merlin
Genre: Short stories/Arthurian fiction
Publisher: Running Press (2009)
Edited by Mike Ashley
Give me a dash of magic and I can read almost any book! This old world of spells and potions took me away on an enchanted journey. Merlin the Magician is a powerful character in this genre and one that we all have heard of. So when I saw this book, I just had to read it.
A collection of short stories by Merlin experts, this book is edited by Mike Ahsley who has also contributed a couple of stories. Now, for me all books are a kind of learning and with this, I plugged a gap in my knowledge.
Somehow I had never connected Merlin the magician and his Old World religion with King Arthur’s Christian crusades. But now it is obvious to me that these two are so enmeshed. Many of the stories explore this clash of 2 religions:
Merlin is a Druid who follows the Old Religion and ways of magic.
Arthur represents all knights, chivalry and is a Christian prince in search of the Holy Grail.
The famous sword Excalibur embodies the clash between the 2 religions. While is it a symbol for Arthur himself and believed to be the source of his power, it was given to him by the Lady of the Lake, someone from the Old World of magic.
The stories are wonderful, magical and definitely worth a read, especially if magic or Arthurian fiction is an interest.
Red Mandarin Dress by Qui Xiaolong
Genre: Crime thriller
Publisher: Hodder (2008)
Inspector Chen Cao series
This detective fiction set in contemporary China caught my eye in large part because of the cover. But another reason I wanted to read it was to read something about and from China.
The mystery itself was not so gripping and the conclusion rather banal, but what I loved about it was the peek into China. While I have been rather crazy for Japanese culture – ninjas, samurai, anime and such other things, the Red Mandarin Dress is the only book I can remember that is set in a different part of the Orient. I realise that I am woefully ignorant of the details of socio-political developments and situation in China. I might actually have to read some non-fiction now.
And I can tell even having read only one book, that Inspector Chen is what makes this series a hit. He is academic and eccentric and brilliant. There is a calm pace to the unraveling of the mystery that is pretty rare in crime thrillers.
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
Genre: Literary fiction
Publisher: Random House (2009)
A tongue-in-cheek novel that fictionalizes life and politics in Pakistan in the 1980s. This story fills in the blanks regarding the plane crash that killed General Zia, the President of Pakistan in the late ’80s.
Hanif makes a rather bold statement about the Pakistani military government in general and the overly paranoid and religious President Zia ul Huq in particular. Of course, while the characters are real, the incidents, their characterisation and the explanations are completely made up. Refreshing read, and rather funny.
Hanif weaves together stories from the past and present, fact and fiction and many plots and sub plots all the while getting us to laugh at the military and political institutions of the country at that time. And even while tackling a heavy subject Hanif’s language is easy and accessible, making this a fun read.
I bought both A Case of Exploding Mangoes and Red Mandarin Dress from the Friends of Books Used Bookstore. I do love actually going to bookstores and shopping, but I also love being able to order books that I want and read them even when I don’t have the time to go shopping.
The books were delivered in good time and although used, are in pretty good condition. I’ll be ordering from here again, next month perhaps, or whenever my budget allows me!