Going Solo (Roald Dahl’s Autobiography #2) by Roald Dahl: A Book Review

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“I was already beginning to realize that the only way to conduct oneself in a situation where bombs rained down and bullets whizzed past, was to accept the dangers and all the consequences as calmly as possible. Fretting and sweating about it all was not going to help.”

I liken Roald Dahl to ‘Lola Basyang “  (literally  Grandmother Basyang) in Philippine literature, a legendary grandma who has become a symbol for someone who has many short stories to tell, and the nom de plume of  Severino Reyes, the “Father of Tagalog Plays”.

His books are interesting and engrossing to read, so I never get sick and tired of them. They even make me feel like going back to my childhood when I was totally absorbed in children stories. Of course, he can also bear a striking resemblance to Hans Christian Andersen, best remembered for his fairy tales. However, a childish-adult-like reader like me can still prefer stories which can no longer sound superannuated, old-fashioned, or ancient. I am now in a modern era when literature is no longer what you see is what you believe.

Going Solo is another one I felt that how I was listening to a story teller or, formally speaking, a raconteur. I enjoyed most of the stories, notably his African adventures, despite that I could not relate to what a war freak is blabbering about.

Going Solo is said to be the sequel to Dahl’s autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood. The latter one is far funnier but more heat-breaking than the former one, something a reader should be sympathetic to. The former one is more on his adventurous and breath-gasping blow-by-blow account. It tells his perilous adventures in Africa where he survived the wild animals especially leopards and mambas. The account is new to me since I have read a great deal of wild African life. However, some of his stories seem to be hyperbolic and exaggerated. His anecdotes seem to be fictitious. I don’t know if Dahl intended to twist his real stories to not lose his readers’ interest. Probably, it could be a half-fiction and half-autobiography the same with his Boy: Tales of Childhood.

When I was drawn into his flying and war experience, at that moment, I lost my interest because most of the words are technical which I did not want to grasp any longer.  Perhaps, I was not interested in stories related to military service. Had I not read it deeply, I would have put it aside aligned with the other unread books. Nevertheless, Dahl has the talent to turn stories others may find irrelevant, inappropriate into interesting ones. His telegraphs to his mother, meeting with a beautiful nurse, and encounter with the Germans and bandits caught my attention. I told you so, he is a raconteur, indeed.

Finally, what I liked most of the parts of the book is the ending. I felt how a soldier misses his family so badly. In other words, I was not left clinging. I was very satisfied with it. It may be simple but this is one of the best endings I really finished in awe. Sooooo, I want another Dahl’s books!!!!

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang: A Book Review

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Reading the book with turon, a famous Filipino delicacy

Thick. Voluminous. Its Flamingo edition has 696 pages. I laid it aside many times. I didn’t know how to finish it , but I wanted to  heap it soon onto the other books read and unread; I was obsessed with the other  new books I had splurged on. When I gave it a shot for the third time; I was so already excited  that  I was close to its real-life –saga ending. Then, I was stuck again, in some  harrowing  parts I had to understand by heart and turn over in my mind . There, I trudged along. I was almost cross-eyed at the figures and  facts I could grasp no more , tearing my hair  until I could  let out a deep breath. ( Heavy sigh) Finally, I was done . My verdict: I SHOULD HAVE READ IT ALL ALONG WHILE I WAS DEEPLY  ENGAGED IN POLITICAL DISCOURSE ON SOCIAL MEDIA DURING OUR NATIONAL PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Its vivid details could have been mesmerizingly engaging, heart-breaking, and eye-opening. Besides, I came back to my senses  that communism turns out to be an ineffective form of government after all. Also, out of my ignorance, somehow, I brushed upon some   historical facts about Mao Zedong, the man I have been curious about, or I could have been looking up to because of his numinous image.

One of the big challenges for a writer, particularly an autobiographer, is to write all the blow-by-blow accounts to make the book appear accurate and credible. There are instances that some are laconic with their stories; they only choose the situations which could be appealing to their audience. ( It’s a matter of marketing strategy, I guess.) Who could dare write a book that is so full of dramatic but petty details? Of course, padding the book could be intended to impress its audience. And I don’t think it’s Jung Chang’s intention.   Never mind its mind-boggling  and undermining Chinese names of persons, places, and technical words buzzed if you   don’t have these ears for language . You will still be abandoned to the waves of negative emotions each daughter draws off- pain, endurance, hopelessness, despair, cruelty, savageness, you name it. Whoa, woe to you. Sit tight! Make sure that you have this empty chest.

After all, the book is not just about novelizing Jung Chang’s experiences but a way of letting go of the past. She used this as the instrument for cauterizing all the  feeling and thoughts she had pushed to  the  darkest corners of her mind for a long decade under Mao Zedong’s  said totalitarian government. Also, through this book, she had rectified all the injustice her entire ancestors, particularly her parents and grandma, had suffered for a long time. She had the chance to clear of all the  political mud  slung against her families that went down in Chinese history, which was eventually expurgated after Mao Zedong’s  political failure.  At the same time, she had the chance to reminisce about the good memories which shaped her up as a strong and intelligent woman.  However, as far as I know, the New China has not recognized the essence of her book  yet  out of jingoism. In fact, it was banned when it was published  in 1992.

This book   has been translated into 37 languages. No doubt. Quite apart from its heart-breaking themes, it is worth reading because it opens our mind. It will probably change our view points of the social issues in our contemporary era. You will understand that every country has different culture when it comes to family, society, and politics. So, you might come to realize that all the cultures could be immoral but stuck up in a time warp, especially when   human dignity is   already trodden. Everything is changing as is nature. Nonetheless, after all, I can’t cry bloody murder  if such backward culture existed before ; it even did in our country, elsewhere. (Heavy sighs) Dare I say that we humans are still underdeveloped   even up to this day, or it is just a matter of the philosophy of  relativism? Look what is China now. North Korea. Some Middle East countries. The armpits of  Africa. Even in state-of-the-art European nations. Now the issue is Brexit if you are aware of its referendum.

The book’s theme Cultural Revolution  disabused me of that communism is not politically, socially, and economically feasible at all in a country that needs big social changes wherein all people should be ideally equal.  I have been enlightened as an idealistic citizen  that humans are fallible, that there is no such Utopia in a modern world. Evils have been part of the  natural laws  since the world began. ( heavy sigh)

Ever since I took to history subject, I have never had the clear details on Mao Zedong’s life. I was just tipped off  that he was a cruel president of China , that he killed many babies, that he was revered as god. However, Jung Chang did not describe him much in the book. She was too euphemistic about him as though she still respected him despite all the pains China had suffered. In the end, I was not satisfied.  I am still more  curious about him . Who is Mao Zedong? Fiddlesticks! A red thick biography  about him that  I always see in a  premier book store is now sparking my curiosity. The good thing is Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday wrote a biography about him : Mao: The Unknown Story. Interesting! As a matter of fact, she wrote another biographies about  Empress Dowager Cixi and  Madame Sun Yat- Sen. I hope to luck out and find them!

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s undeniably amazing.)

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai : A Book Review

“I don’t want to be thought of as the “girl who was shot by the Taliban” but the “girl who fought for education.” This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.” 
― Malala Yousafzai
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

malalaThe day Malala was in the  news headlines  catching the attention of the world , I remembered  myself  back on my younger years when I was still so idealistic,  wanted to make a big difference  by helping survive the dying  Mother Earth  and educate the youth as well.  Malala invigorated that desire. Then,  I  kept track of  her personal life . I watched  her  on CBS news  and even  her speeches and TV guest appearances on Youtube. I will not forget her speech at the U.N where she expressed her desire to   continue her  fight for  girls’ right to education.  In fact,her closing statement marked in my memory, “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” Her speech made me cry and clap many times as though I belonged to the audience in the chamber surrounding her in awe.Then in 2013, her autobiography was launched . However, I was so frustrated that I was not able to buy it yet because of its exorbitant price. After a few years, I’ve got my own copy and  read it with gusto. In the end, I fathomed Malala more. I was moved to the bone and shattered at my reading chair.

I revere Malala not only because she was shot by Taliban for speaking up for the right of girls but also because she was very young , at the age of 16 , to get silenced. I may sound ignorant of the current and affairs around the world, but who can imagine that a young girl like her living in one of the tumultuous lands on earth was able to stand up to a group who could have almost killed her? I have known some admiring people who have been staunch for their causes, but so far Malala is one of the most incredible  persons I have known in my generation.

Reading this book  sounds like the author is an old adult who has grown up a lot  , for she  is too mature to speak of the miserable situations in the world. She is so smart that she understands her rights. However, you may realize that the author turns out to be as young as your  niece or cousin – Malala is also an ordinary girl like the other girls playing outdoor games, fond of watching romantic movies and dramas, interested  in reading books .  Think of her as a young lady, but take her seriously. She really means business.

Aside from the fact that  she  has the courage of her own convictions, there are the other sides of Malala that made me grin from ear to ear. She likes studying a lot. She is always eager to learn the things she has not understood yet.  That is why she is  academically  competitive but intellectually humble. In fact, she likes History and Physics.  The cute thing is she is a big fan of Twilight and other books about vampires. Also, she likes journalistic writing and is a nature lover as well. But the most important thing I have learned from   her is to stand up for your rights.

Before, I  wanted to be an environmentalist. I wanted to help the famous Filipino environmentalist, Chin-Chin Gutierez, on her advocacy of surviving the Mother Earth. I started   in  little ways. However, I lost interest and courage to do so when everything in our society turns out to be so powerful that I could be run over. Nevertheless, when I read Malala’s story, since then, I said I want to do it again. I hope I can do it again, for life on this earth is so infinitesimal.

“Life isn’t just about taking in oxygen and giving out carbon dioxide.” 
― Malala Yousafzai
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)

Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela: A Book Review

nelsonI learned  Nelson Mandela’s life   from my high school history because of  the word,  apartheid. (Thanks to  Mahatma Gandhi; he introduced him to us on his cause of Caste  System in India.) However, I just scratched  the surface of him as my teacher did not tell much details about him as if he was not   attached much importance to the subject. ( If I were my teacher, I would have told much more about him.) In fact, I mistook him for a Black-American. Uh-oh! I was still an ignoramus at that time despite the fact that I was enthused about  studying  history.  Few years later, he drew my attention when he was in the news ; he was reported to have passed away. The world was so grieved by  his death  that he was almost  the headlines of all the newspapers and news programs. Only that time did I realize  that he was such a big name in the world. As usual, I desired  to know him more by reading his life. However, I  did  not afford to buy his book then. Eventually, my generous-to-fault student gifted me this book. Of course,  I grinned from ear to ear with joy.  Full of enthusiasm, I started to read it. However, it took me time to finish it and ended up on my study table for a few months. The book is light  because of  Mandela’s prose but steeped in geographical places and  anthropological and  political terminologies only South African can  almost relate to. Nevertheless, I liked it on account of Mandela’s ideologies, experiences, and speeches he delivered before his people.

I enjoyed reading Mandela’s autobiography because of his  light English prose as the indication  that he  had studied well- typical of a  smart student studying  in English speaking countries. For your information, South Africa has many official languages, and English is one of them. Thus, not  the majority of its population uses the language every day. Another impressive thing about writing his autobiography is his capability to  incorporate his   various feelings, be they in positive or negative, into his compelling  narrations. Sometimes, other autobiographers  write with highfalutin, highbrow, and high-flown stories  or  with unfathomably philosophical insights  beyond my understanding (, but still I try to bend my mind to  them until I bash my head against the wall ending up into a library of books or surfing the internet. Ones of  best examples so far are Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Selected Writings and Poems.)   Therefore, reading Mandela’s autobiography can be likened to a  teen-ager’s diary. Everyone  can   take a  fancy for his diary unless you are that a political animal. On the contrary,  his usage of some political, geographical, and anthropological terms which  I am not very  much familiar with undermine the said like-a-teen-ager’s-diary element. You might get tired of  them , saturated with the words you need to absorb in and turn over in your mind. In fact, it has 859 pages, the thickest book   I have read this year. Thus, you have no choice but to turn to Google or to a library of history books if you are a Luddite in order to understand them by heart. That’s why   I  did not lay a finger on it for a few months.  In the end, Mandela’s autobiography, in  my hypothetical suggestion, could still be a critically acclaimed book  for  its two kinds ,A Long Walk To Freedom: Nelson  Mandela’s Autobiography: An Abridged Version– expunged  some technical words and A Long Walk To Freedom: Nelson  Mandela’s Autobiography: Unabridged Version, same  with this original version.

Reading his speeches is also page-turning. There’s something about his speeches – they were  like causing mass hysteria among South Africans at that time. I tend to read his narrations as fast as I could in order to imaginatively listen to them . As a matter of fact, I tended to search  his speeches on Youtube wondering how he delivered them. I would say that Nelson Mandela, along with Malcolm X ,  has  most moving speeches  I have read so far.

Mandela’s autobiography reminded me of Malcolm X, another Black -American  revolutionary who had somewhat the same cause—racial equality. Malcolm X , based on his  best-selling authorized biography,  also believed that Black-Americans should be equal to White Americans . He demonstrated against   the  culture of discrimination  against his fellow Blacks. The only differences between their causes were: specifically, Mandela   fought against the Apartheid whereas Malcolm X against   general forms of discrimination. Still, both  of their causes  categorically fall to  racial equality.  Besides, there is one surprising thing that  made me jump to my conclusion: Nelson Mandela’s last resort was using violence when he came to the point that diplomatic negotiation did not work at all. In fact, he had been   influenced by the idea of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma  Gandhi  on civil disobedience. After all , he succumbed to  Malcolm X’  slogan , “ By Any Necessary Means.”, which I surmised he had disliked ;rather, admired  Martin Luther King’s , “ I Have a Dream.”I guess I can also conclude as well as you agree  that , sometimes , in any circumstances even  in history,  Malcom X’s slogan worked and is feasible as long as this is the last resort as was  Mandela’s. On the contrary, in the end,  Mandela  had proved that “virtue of patience” in the name of peaceful,  friendly, and sincere ,as he put it, negotiation can work.

Likewise, Mandela was weaned on  communism or Marxism – the political idea that also influenced Malcolm X and  Richard Wright, famous for his books, The Native Son and Black Boy. Did this idea also occur to some revolutionaries  in a place with insurgent atmosphere because of social injustice? So does to some at the present situation?

Before I finished it, Aristotle had taught me his The Republic, a philosophy book  that  also deals with the real meaning of JUSTICE. ( I haven’t written my review of it yet.)   It has the   dialogues   among the Philosophers   debating   over the  scopes  of justice. As a student of his , discombobulated, mulling over  his students’  philosophical explanation, upon reading Mandela’s autobiography, it dawned upon me  that  justice means equality.  In other words, I applied   understanding The Republic by Aristotle  to Mandela’s book. For instance, for Plato and Socrates, justice is fulfilling one’s appropriate role, and consequently giving to the city what is owed.  In a simple way, I want to illustrate  the virtue Nelson Mandela  believed in my life. I want  that life in some aspects  is “FAIR”. That’s why, without malice, without  this air of  pride and pompousness, I  want to  respect  people regardless of their skin color , sex , and race ; I respect in action people with deeply-seated religious beliefs   despite I have this  Richard Dawkins’s –desire to change the world;  I empathize “the destitute”  despite that giving alms is not my principle except for “the needy”, but bringing them to their senses  that capitalism is an evil, that living in this world is consummate “survival of the fittest”.

Mandela applied his rude awakening to equality  to understanding the people he got along with . With this belief, he became a freedom fighter, stalwart, determined, humble with undefeated fighting   spirit. That was Nelson Mandela, and in the end, despite the travails he had gone through, he   made it to his final walk  to FREEDOM.

Obviously, my long review of this book   indicates   my feeling of fulfillment. I am glad that I finished it after a short while. I do not regret   having   laid it  aside on my study table. Just I let the time permit.

Thanks to my student ( Sr. Angela )  for picking  it among the books in a book store,  without the idea that I had longed to read it  ; she had granted my wish. If I were a pantheist, I would exclaim  ,”What a divine intervention!”  ^_^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it. )

Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father by Richard Rodriguez: A Book Review

richardEven though I get the points of Richard Rodriguez, this book is beyond my interest. I cannot relate to his essays on Tijuana and other buzz words unless I look them up in Wikipedia as though I read sheer historical information on Mexico’s sovereignty. Besides, I mistook the title of the book for his difficulties in coming out to his father. (The title turns out to be related to the relationship between America and Mexico.) So it took me a few days to finish it since I do not want to get into the habit of putting down a book that I find too sluggish to read.

The reason why I longed to read it then because I was impressed by his notable autobiography, THE HUNGER OF MEMORY since it deals with intellectual development of an average person.

Nevertheless, reading DAYS OF OBLIGATION has proven the fact that Richard Rodriguez, for me, is indeed genius; he has these exceptional skills in writing. I tend to befuddled by the ways he puts his ideas together as well as his perspectives on life as a non-native speaker, an immigrant in America. Also, he is such an independent critic. He even criticized the customs of the Filipino immigrants in America. No doubt he is heralded as one of the best American essayists. If I were a Mexican or World History professor, I would rate it 4 or 5 stars. In fact, I wonder if he could write a novel as impressive as Henry James’s. ^^

Rating: 2/ 5 stars ( It’s ok. )

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Hitchhiking to Heaven: An Autobiography. Lionel Blue by Lionel Blue: A Book Review

blueThe story is about Lionel Blue’s life as a gay Jewish rabbi, how he managed his desires to know God in various religions, specifically in Judaism regardless of his struggle for coming out in the open. To find himself, he hitchhiked to “heaven” in some European cities, particularly in Amsterdam- not in a literal meaning of the geographical place. I guess you would understand what heaven Lionel Blue meant when you have read its last two chapters.

Despite his inspiring story, admittedly, I did not enjoy it much. Ridiculously because I had expected that I would read something to do with his gay life, which was somehow he gave emphasis as well as how he managed to lead his religious life as a gay rabbi. Besides, I may not be as religious as other readers to be impressed. If I were so, I would not be hypocrite to give it 3 or 4 stars. ^^ Furthermore, I must be used to reading autobiographies / biographies or memoirs that are beautifully written and compelling just the like of the critically acclaimed ones I have read. Nevertheless, I felt in his writing styles how a gay he is indeed- full of hilarious prose.

On the other hand, I admired his humble audacity how he proved that homosexual life is not a big drawback to exercising one’s religious belief. In his autobiography, it was an abject misery that in 1960’s, homosexuality was considered a mental disease like the plague. Prejudice was borne down upon them and eventually led some to committing suicide. Fortunately, he survived this thought.

Exposed to some kinds of religions, Lionel Blue emphasized his favorite quote by the agnostic emperor Marcus Aurelius:

 “If you think there is God, then follow Him, if you think there is no God, become godlike yourself.”

The message is VERY simple. ^^

Rating: 1/ 5 stars ( I wish I liked it.)

Secrets of a Sparrow by Diana Ross: A Book Review

sparrowWhen I was in high school. I watched a contest on TV about contestants who had to lip-synch any famous singers they wanted to parody. The winner chose Diana Ross. I wondered who Diana Ross was  at that time . I just had an idea that she may have looked black with these long soft curls. Then the idea had dwelt upon me for a long time . This is the fact that I am fascinated by Black Americans. For me knowing about the lives of Black Americans is a mystery to me. No doubt I have read some of them such as Richard Wright, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. So I wish to read others’ more.

Since Diana Ross may be a legendary icon, I try to relate to the story by listening to her songs on YouTube, even listening to other singers namedropped I am not familiar with.Besides, I got wind of other legendary singers like Josephine Baker and Marvin Gaye whom I find very interesting. Thus, reading books is indeed beneficial; it leads you the way to other worlds you have not gallivanted around yet.

This book appears to be simple since it is Diana Ross’s memoirs. May be I wish that she had written it at length. She just made it special because of the mushy lines she padded with, which touched me to the bone nonetheless, and for sure readers might feel the same way.So it is inspirational for people who want to make something of them. Also, you can understand what makes Diana Rose to be the way she is, how she always believes that there ain’t such high mountain that people can reach, how perfectionist and passionate she is about her profession, and how smart she turns out to be- not only how she views the world from her own perspectives but also the way she puts her ideas into beautiful sentences. In fact, she loves readings books, too. It is just as well I decided to buy it after having skimmed through the pages.

Since this book was first published in 1993, I am sure that somehow I would understand any talks on her life whenever she makes a headline on TV or newspapers, I would just exclaim, “Ah, it’s Diana Ross- the wonderful singer.”

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )