Book Review: ‘Unqualified’ by Anna Faris (Foreword by Chris Pratt)

anna faris unqualified book review

What a great memoir this is! 🙂 Almost ‘unputdownable’, and I say ‘almost’ because I think those pages with input from Anna’s Facebook fans and podcast listeners seem to be fillers. And I might be wrong, but it appears this book was launched around the time Anna and Chris split? So, why oh why, does it not spill the beans on the reason(s) for the split, instead of just gushing about what a unicorn Chris is and how much they love and will sacrifice for their son? Hmm. Before picking up this book, I actually had no idea who Anna Faris is (and yup, I’ll probably pronounce her name wrongly too, just like you would – it’s supposed to be something like Ah-nah, not Ann-na). But after reading this book, I now know (just about) everything from when she lost her virginity to the time she got breast implants. Let’s just say this book is a tell-all, except about the part regarding the divorce. I’m guessing it’s somewhere in pre-nuptial agreements to keep certain things private? 😉 So, props to them for somehow still being able to remain friends after a divorce.

It all seems so weird to me, how these angmohs can get divorced and have new partners and everyone can get to meet / know each other. It’s like they kind of accept that no one gets marriage right the first time, so it’s ok to call it quits (“till death do us part” hahahaa) and then stay pals with exes and even befriend their ex-spouse’s new love interests. (>_<)

Anna has this popular podcast called ‘Anna Faris is Unqualified’ and I really do love this word – ‘Unqualified’. She can say whatever she wants, and you can’t fault her, ‘cos she has already stated that she is unqualified and who asked you to believe what she says? 😀 In this book, she shares lots of relationship advice too, and ultimately I feel a little sympathetic towards these high-profile celebrity romances. If you’re a celeb, it makes sense to date / marry another celeb; someone who will understand the demands of your job and also not kick up a fuss if you have kissing scenes, etc, with another hot celeb. BUT the pressures of keeping up a facade of being in a marriage that is #relationshipgoals (thanks, social media) and having to deal with the press who’d happily plaster a picture of your sole, sad self along the beach alongside one of your husband laughing with his hot co-star… that can certainly take its toll. And when there’s a comparison of who’s more famous than whom? Sigh.

On page 194, Anna shares about the time she uttered “Don’t you know who I am?” in 2002 when the manager of a bowling alley bar wanted to kick her out of the place for getting (slightly) drunk. Reminds me of the time that our own local celebrity, Rui En, did the same. I suppose fame gets to your head, ya? Even a self-deprecating, funny, and lovable character like Anna also falls prey to it.

Read this book if you’d like to know Anna Faris a little better. She does share some interesting nuggets about Chris Pratt (which make him seem REALLY desirable) but don’t expect it to tell you (not even a hint!) about the reasons why they got a divorce.

Book Review: ‘Operation Playboy’ by Kathryn Bonella

operation playboy book by kathryn bonella

This book, ‘Operation Playboy’, is about the true story of “playboy surfers turned international drug lords’. It’s a hundred times better than ‘Billion Dollar Whale‘, in my humble opinion. 😉 It’s a real page-turner and it’s obvious the writer did countless interviews with the people involved (caught or still at-large) and the cops who caught them. The result is a book which opened my eyes to a portion of the international drug trade starting from Brazil and leading to other parts of the world, such as Amsterdam and Bali. It reveals the lives these drug lords lead, dripping in cash, and their eventual downfall which could involve 12-man firing squads. Also, there is a shocking and damning account of the justice system in Brazil, where cops, prosecutors and judges can be bribed all too easily.

“…if a judge gets convicted for crimes, even if he worked only 3,4,5 years, he’s going to be dismissed of his judiciary power, they are going to say you are not a judge anymore but you are going to receive your paycheck every month… it’s almost an invitation to sell some sentences, to get money off some guys being accused. Give it a try, man. What’s the worst [that] can happen? You don’t have to work for the next 30 years and you’re going to receive pay as if you’re working.” – Chief Caieron 

Sometimes I wonder how drugs land in Singapore, what with our strict laws and all the customs checks. Then there’s this book about how these surfer drug lords have ‘horses’ (read: drug mules) working for them, and they have drugs hidden in the lining of bags, parachutes even, and also within specially made surfboards just for this purpose. There’s carbon paper packaging to counter all those x-ray checks and anti-dog scents to get dogs off their (drug) trail. It all sounds so easy, unless dumb things happen, such as sending a horse who looks like the exact opposite of a surfer, or when the guy making these surfboards isn’t paid promptly and he decides to cut corners this time.

This book succeeds, beyond any doubt, in drawing readers into the world of the playboys, with its free flow of drugs, cash, booze, women, luxury hotels and first-class travel. You might begin to wonder why you’re working so hard and making so little, when these guys are getting others to be their horses and they’re just flying in after them and getting loads of cash without much risk. Then, towards the end of the book, you’ll find executions, jail time and sometimes ridiculous outcomes such as when a “well-known horse and boss” becomes a police officer in Brazil. (>_<) Someone should make a movie out of this book!

Book Review: ‘9th Of August’ by Andre Yeo

9th of August book by Andre Yeo

This is a book that was just waiting to be written, really. I’m surprised it wasn’t written / published earlier. It’s a no-brainer: Singapore’s a shiny target for the terrorists, and what better time to cause maximum damage than on National Day? So this book by Andre Yeo is about how six suicide bombers have slipped into Singapore, planning to blow themselves up on SG’s 55th birthday in the year 2020.

I like how the author has woven in other stories, about Tun, about Inspector Rahim, and even about Henry. Gosh. Henry’s wife’s last words to him are so shocking when they are finally revealed towards the end of the book. You got me there, Andre! Good one!

I found this book an exceedingly enjoyable read, no doubt due to the author’s astute observations about Singaporeans. It’s totally true how a suspicious-looking character on a train would get zero attention whatsoever. And since a good portion of our train network is underground, if timed perfectly, a suicide bomber on a train could cause a lot of damage when the detonation happens right under a densely-populated area such as Raffles Place during office hours.

One of the suicide bombers even heads to Waterway Point! I certainly sat up a little straighter when reading that bit. Why a terrorist would want to head to a mall in ulu little Punggol, I don’t know. But seriously, guys, don’t come here ok? 😛 I think the author might even have done a little shopping in Waterway Point before since he states on page 195 that the suicide bomber codenamed “Number Two” headed to “level one of the East Wing of Waterway Point” where he saw “several [people] struggling with plastic bags filled with produce from the supermarket”. *Fact-checking!* The author knows there’s an East Wing, but the truth is… the supermarket is actually located in the West Wing, at Basement 2. If you go to Level 1 of the East Wing, you might actually be looking at the Customer Service counter after you head past the cafe. Having said that, please don’t come to the West Wing either! There’s toys ‘r’ us, Daiso, PizzaHut, Times bookstore, McDonald’s! Most of my favorite stores are in the West Wing. Seriously. Why not an Orchard Road Mall though? Oh wait… ‘cos people don’t visit Orchard. 😀 😀

What I’m not too fond of is how the author paints such a rosy picture of Singaporeans coming together after the terrorist attacks, united as one, looking out for each other, etc. The book almost became a tearjerker. But wait… we aren’t the Japanese, you know? I think the book doesn’t do enough justice to our kiasu, kiasi spirit.

I would think that people would lock themselves in their homes, like they usually do already. And they would stock up on essentials (you may think it’s rice and biscuits and water, right? But it’ll also include things like powerbanks, duh!) Possibly people might even pretend they aren’t home when neighbors come asking for some infant formula or water or food. We even pretend we are asleep on the trains when pregnant ladies and elderly folk come on board! So don’t put it past us.

And if the authorities let slip that they’ve received intel regarding a possible attack on National Day, wahahaha, people will definitely be trying to flee the country before 9th August. If they are crazy rich, they’ll jet off. Or cruise. Most of us will be trying to get onto a flight out of the country (especially folks like me who have no bosses to report to). And just about everyone will try to get to JB. We’ll walk over if there’s no other mode of transport available.

And I really don’t think the suicide bombers should target the PM. ‘Cos I want to see how he handles such a crisis. 😛

What an exciting topic for a book. And yet how difficult it must be to write this book. There must still be a “National Education” sort of message about how we stand together united as one. The author is the Deputy News Editor at TNP so yah, I don’t blame him for including an NE message. But if you were to ask me what I really think, it’ll be that we’re more likely to die in a stampede while trying to get over the Causeway to JB before the terrorists even set foot in Singapore.

If the nation is made aware of the fact that an attack is imminent (based on highly reliable intel), I think all hell will break loose. So, will they tell us? That’s something to think about.

Book Review: ‘Sick: A Memoir’ by Porochista Khakpour

‘Sick: A Memoir’ by Porochista Khakpour is unputdownable, but not in the usual ways. I wanted to read this book (and did so in less than 24 hours) because it’s strange. Why is this lady on the cover, with an oxygen tube (or a nasal cannula if you want to be specific) and pills of all sizes and colors? Why’s the book titled ‘Sick’ instead of something like ‘Road to Recovery’, ‘My Battle With Lyme’, or something along those lines? Sure, ‘Sick’ cuts right to it but it still makes you wonder why someone SO, apparently, ill would bother with writing a book and its accompanying strains on time and energy what with the editing, the promoting of the book, tours, etc?

sick by porochista khakpour

“I am a sick girl. I know sickness. I live with it. In some ways, I keep myself sick.”

And while reading the book, I’m thinking this lady is a real warrior. In her shoes, I might have taken the easy way out. Yes, really. After all those hospital visits, trips to meet “healers”, pills, therapies, broken relationships and more, wouldn’t it just be easier (so much easier) to end this life? After all, can you endure chronic insomnia, not knowing when you’ll faint again on the streets, or when you’ll vomit in public, or when there’ll be a relapse? I doubt I can. And having your parents tell you to please leave their home because they can’t live with a sick daughter anymore, and want their quiet lives back? That’s brutal.

If you’ve watched the video I’ve embedded above (if the link doesn’t work, just head to YouTube and search for “Porochista Khakpour with Eileen Myles: Sick | 6-5-2018 | NYPL Author Talks”), you’ll find that the author is a very intelligent individual with a great sense of humor. I’m already planning to read her two novels which were published before this memoir came out. 🙂 [*I love the way she handled that heckler of a woman in the audience, around the 42-minute mark of the video :D]

In this particular book, she mentions a lady who wanted the author’s help with her manuscript for a memoir. But Porochista read the lady’s manuscript and found that it was made up largely of fabrications. So she turned that lady down. I’d hazard a guess that much of this book, if not ALL of it, is true or what the author believes to be true. She’s so brutally honest that sometimes I find myself shaking my head in disbelief and disapproval as I read about how she purchased a CARTON of Marlboro Reds when she went to college and purposely got herself addicted to cigarettes (WHO DOES THAT?!), and how she was STILL smoking when she put together this memoir, as a “reward for some paragraphs or pages”. I have very little sympathy for sick people if they smoke while already ill. They have a right to smoke, for sure. But don’t expect any help or pity from me.

“Another part of it is the thrill of the sick person making herself sicker. If you know a part of you is always dying, taking charge of that dying has a feeling of empowerment. My body goes against me often, so what if I put it through that myself?”

A common theme in Porochista’s life has been that of ‘addiction’. Not just cigarettes, but also drugs. In her younger, and healthier, days, she took cocaine, ecstasy, etc. At some point, she even got sexually assaulted by two men after a drug-fuelled escapade. Later on, as many ill people are, she had a drug addiction because of the medications prescribed to her.

She has managed to present so many years, if not decades, of her life into this one book that has just 250 pages but will leave you thinking she has lived a full life. She has experimented with so much, lived in so many cities, had so many relationships (probably not a good thing) and now she’s a very successful author.

“At some point I questioned why I had for much of my life leaped from one person to another, with no end in sight. I’m not sure my conclusions are good, but I can tell you when the body feels out of place it will cling to anything that looks like life. Cities. Homes. People. Lovers.”

~

I’m not sure what you’ll take away from it.

At the end of the day, it leaves me thinking about wealth and of health. Would you want to be a writer who has gotten accolades from The Oprah Magazine, Buzzfeed, Cheryl Strayed, etc? Would you want to have to go through what Porochista did in order to get there? 😉 I’ve already read a couple of books recently which made me think that it’s such a privilege to be able to go to sleep at night with little trouble. So many people have to battle insomnia, and so many need pills in order to fall asleep and even if they do get some sleep, they don’t wake up feeling refreshed.

If anything, this book makes me feel even better about my own life, and reminds me of what I need to be thankful for. Sure, it’s probably not the author’s intent. She probably wants to raise awareness regarding Lyme disease, how flawed the medical system is because doctors don’t take young women’s complaints of being ill seriously enough thus leading to delayed detection of Lyme, and shining a spotlight on society’s attitudes towards those who are ill and not being productive, not working and not hustling.

Overall, it’s a great read. It shows you what war and revolution (the author’s family are refugees from Iran), and dysfunctional families can do to young people. And it might even get you alarmed at how a tick bite can lead to severe health consequences. Before this book, I didn’t even know there’s such a thing as Lyme disease!

Porochista currently has two fundraising campaigns going on at gofundme.com. If you are so inclined, go donate some money to help her fight Lyme disease.

Book Review: The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

the girl who smiled beads

I was wrong. I thought this would be yet another book of a refugee who simply wanted to share her story of how she fled the Rwandan massacre at age 6 and eventually made it to America after 6 long years, and how she also managed to graduate from Yale University! “Well done!”, a congratulatory pat on her back, and all should be good, right?

Instead, this book taught me more than I’d expected. What impacted me the most were the bits about how we, as people who have never suffered the horrors of war, think we know what refugees need / want. And in giving to them, we also want to receive appreciation and their gratitude. When we meet someone like the author, whose (internal) response might be “you have no idea”, it’s a punch to the gut.

Clemantine forces me to differentiate between giving and sharing. Giving implies that I’m more privileged, more able, etc. While sharing means the refugee and me are equals. I’ve realised I’m pretty good at giving; what I no longer need, what I can spare, what I can do without. I’m not that great at sharing. (@_@)

And how brutal we all are when we ask refugees to relive the horrors by sharing their stories, made worse with our insensitive questions such as “do you feel guilty that you survived when the others perished?” As usual, Clemantine has a ready response. And it’s gold. Read the book to find out what it is. 😉

Clemantine pulls no punches. She hits you where it hurts, rips your mask of hypocrisy to shreds and grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you up.

This is a book which will definitely teach you a thing or two you never expected. And I’m glad it’s in the form of a book and not a movie. If it’s too graphic, I won’t be able to get it out of my head.

Because this book also has a co-author, Elizabeth Weil, I somehow knew it would be a decent read even before setting eyes on the first page. How much of this book is fact, and how many pages of it is fiction / imagination, I don’t think anyone knows. I cannot remember much / any of what I did as a 6-year-old. And if I had been separated from my parents because of a war when I’m 6, the trauma would have left indelible marks on my memory. Still, this book is based not so much on the author’s childhood / family history, but on her take of what happened, what should not have happened, and what needs to happen from now on. A very good read.

Book Review: ‘Dying To Meet You: Confessions of a Funeral Director’ by Angjolie Mei

Dying To Meet You by Angjolie Mei

While preparing dinner, I began reading this book ‘Dying To Meet You’ by Angjolie Mei and now, before I head to bed, I’m ready to do a review. Proof that the book was ‘unputdownable’. In fact, it got me crying by page 12. What’s up with authors these days? Can’t they make us laugh, or at least laugh till we end up crying? 😀 Very good book, though I’m not so sure about whether locals would buy a book featuring a (quite stunning) coffin on the front and back cover, albeit accompanied by a HOT female who loves salsa (though you won’t know that till you’ve read the book). Though some might think it’s ‘pantang’ to work in this industry or even to be associated with someone working in this line, I think it would be quite a privilege to be friends with a funeral director (Hello Angjolie, we should meet!) because if she’s someone who does her job well, I would think that happy spirits would be hanging around her and probably granting her wishes or something – perhaps something like always having an empty parking lot in a crowded carpark or finding money on the ground, maybe. 😀 What’s there to be ‘pantang’ about?!

I learnt a few things from reading this book, that I didn’t know before:

  1. Islam forbids cremation, so Muslims have to be buried. (You can Google this. I have. It’s considered haram and apparently Muslims cannot witness a cremation or even state their approval of it)
  2. A casket has 4 sides while a coffin has 6. (Again, you may Google for images)
  3. A person’s sense of hearing is the last to go when a person is dying. So feel free to keep talking to your loved one lying on his/her deathbed.
  4. The Ngee Ann City mall is located where a former graveyard used to be.
  5. In Singapore, you may only remain buried for 15 years. (So you might as well be cremated. Just saying.)
  6. Funeral wakes usually last for 3 or 5 or 7 days. Odd numbers because the Chinese believe that good things come in pairs (好事成双) and funerals are considered inauspicious therefore are held over an odd number of days.
  7. The fabric square worn on sleeves of family members of the deceased are worn on the left for males and on the right for females. (Yes, I didn’t know that!)

Ok, now back to the author. Angjolie Mei changed her original name and included ‘Jolie’ because of Angelina Jolie, whose courage and commitment to humanitarian work she admired. Angjolie is the daughter of ‘the Coffin King’, the late Ang Yew Seng. When she was in Primary 5, her best friend died after he was run over by a cement mixer. Hence she now makes it a point to look out for kids at funerals and help them cope. In the book, the author also shares how she helps shield grieving family members from the media, such as when a Japanese lady in a taxi was killed after a crash involving a Ferrari in 2012. I like that. All too often, people handling newsworthy cases (such as lawyers) try to manoeuvre  themselves into the limelight. Of course, I have not met Angjolie and can only trust what I’m getting from the book. We’ll see. 😉

“…the day you stop feeling sadness for the family is the day you lose empathy and compassion, which is needed to work well in the industry”

If I do meet the author one day, I have two questions for her:

  1. Why PINK as a corporate color for your company?
  2. How did you do so well in the financial planning industry when you say your heart wasn’t in it? Qualifying for MDRT for 3 out of 4 years is pretty amazing.

~

Go purchase or borrow a copy of this book. It’ll certainly get you thinking. I remember reviewing another book involving a mortician, ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ by Caitlin Doughty, which is also really good. Strange how funeral directors are such fantastic writers. Or perhaps they just have outstanding co-writers and editors. 😀

p/s: I would love to be cremated (please ensure I am really dead first, ‘cos you know getting burnt to a crisp is irreversible but some people are able to claw themselves out of coffins after being buried). No embalming, please! All those chemicals – yucks! And people touching my body – ARGH!!! I hate being touched when I’m alive. I’ll probably haunt those who dare touch me when I’m dead. Muahaha! And forget about turning my cremains into a diamond – please lah, spend money more sensibly. I don’t mind becoming fertiliser for a plant though. 😀

Book Review: ‘My Lovely Wife: A Memoir of Madness and Hope’ by Mark Lukach

My Lovely Wife by Mark Lukach

This is probably the BEST memoir I’ve ever read in a long time. One that I’d happily stay up all night to read, if not for the fact that in this book you’ll realize that having sleepless nights can lead to frightening consequences. Mark married his college sweetheart, Giulia (pronounced like Julia, as she’s Italian) and life was picture-perfect. Until the stress from her job caused Giulia (aged 27) to have her first psychotic breakdown. The book chronicles the first, second and third episodes, ending in 2014. I think newly-weds and people who are intending to wed should read this book. If you’re a caregiver for a family member living with mental illness, this book’s for you too.

I found this YouTube video of Mark’s TEDx talk. If you’re going to watch it, get some tissues ready. I’ve never watched a 11-min TEDx talk that left me in tears and also had the audience give the guy a standing ovation. This is it:

“…when I got married at 24, I said ‘I’m here, till death do us part, in sickness and in health’. And when you’re 24 and you think you’re invincible, you don’t know what that means. And it’s until the health evaporates, that’s when you really get tested. That’s when the vow really counts.

(Commitment) “It’s about standing by Life’s imperfections, no matter what.”

I can’t help but feel lots respect for this man who stood by his wife through it all. Through the psychosis and the depression that followed, through the delusional outbursts and the suicidal episodes, through the battle with healthcare professionals who’d probably admit they are just experimenting with the various medications to find the right cocktail of drugs that might help, and having to care for not just Giulia but also their little boy, Jonas.

No one gets married expecting that one day, their perfectly healthy spouse (with no prior mental illness) would have to be checked into a psych ward.

“I had lost my wife and gained a lifelong patient.”

So when you utter that vow, or now that you’ve already said it, are you prepared to stand by your spouse, no matter what? I think Mark has set a fine example regarding commitment to those marriage vows. I’m pretty sure there are many other men who would have balked at the idea of living with (and caring for) a loony wife. For Mark, it appears that there’s only Giulia, his “lovely wife”. Read this book ‘My Lovely Wife’ and you’ll gain a whole new understanding of mental illness and what it might entail, bearing in mind that every person has an entirely unique experience of mental illness.

p/s: On a scale of 1 to 5, this book is a perfect 10. 🙂

Times Bookstore is Moving Out of Tampines One: Offers 20% Off Books*

Times tampines 1 moving out sale

Screengrab from Times’ facebook page

I’m guessing this might be the beginning of the end. It would be a real shame if we lose yet more bookstores. Though I suppose this is inevitable. Without the right people, ideas and plans, we might just end up with 1 bookstore chain in the near future – yes, that popular one which parents drag kids to and stock up on assessment books. 😀

After Times’ exit from Tampines One, this bookstore chain will be left with 6 outlets in Singapore: Centrepoint, Cold Storage Jelita, Marina Square, Paragon, Plaza Singapura and Waterway Point.

About two weeks ago, I met two female employees of MPH in Malaysia (who have marcomms roles) and gave them an idea that just came to me while I was looking at the titles they had at their booth. Without bothering to delve further and ask more questions and see how this idea could work for them (not me), they provided immediate objections such as “can’t be done”, “no budget”, “management won’t agree”, etc. But if they had given me 5 more seconds, or shown more enthusiasm, I could have shared with them ideas for how it could be executed with little to no budget (and might even make them money in the process), what steps to take, how to generate a ton of publicity and even how to convince that boss and other people to get on board. The reason I even bothered to speak with them was ‘cos they were attending workshop after workshop to find new ways to revive the book-selling industry. (I think I forgot to ask if MPH had sent them or if they had voluntarily come by. Haha!)

But too bad, too sad. I’m guessing they’ll look for other jobs eventually. Those positions at MPH Malaysia are mere stepping stones for them, it seems. But wouldn’t it be awesome if they could play a part in rejuvenating this (dying) business, make a name for themselves, then move on to another company?

In Singapore, there are a few main reasons why I don’t buy books at bookstores anymore. (It has nothing to do with authors sending me their books for reviews, ok? :P) And I’ll share with you what would make me return…

#1: The lack of people who are PASSIONATE about the business

Seriously. Just walk into any bookstore (Times, Popular, etc) and ask the staff for a book recommendation. You might just give them a heart attack. Some don’t read books, have not heard about best-selling titles (not obscure ones), and always have to rely on “Let me check the system” no matter what question you ask.

Don’t ask me for a book recommendation. I’ll just go on forever, invite you to my home, and make you leave with a handful of books you should read. 😀 It’s true. There was another lady at the same book table in Malaysia who had picked up a copy of a book that I was about to buy as well, we started chatting, and I eventually bought her another book PLUS gave her a copy of my book ‘Blogging For A Living’. And at that point, I didn’t even know her name. Good grief!

#2: Seriously lame marketing efforts

Are we really going to make a beeline for Times just ‘cos they’re dangling a “20% discount” offer? *yawn* Do you not know that you can get books on bookdepository.com at a much lower price, PLUS they deliver worldwide for FREE, with no minimum spending? They even give you a free bookmark with every order, for crying out loud!

The only book sales that can get me out of the house are the Books Box Sale ($50 for an entire carton of books you can handpick yourself, but which, sadly, isn’t happening this year) and the Epigram Books sale ($20 for 10 books you get to choose).

With 20% discount, I’m just going to stay put and watch more episodes of the 2018 Meteor Garden remake ok? 😛

#3: No value-add at all

What’s the difference between buying a book online and buying one from the Times bookstore near my home?

Does the one in the store come with the author’s signature? Does it have a special “limited edition” freebie? Is there an accompanying workshop? Do I get to MEET the author? Do the staff read stories to the kids who visit the store? Are there staff recommendations of books I should get, or which mothers should get, or which children aged 5 to 7 should read?

No. What I’ll get is a grumpy guy (or lady) who asks me if I’m a member, then scans the barcode off my Times app, collects payment and sends me on my way.

~

Sure. Bookstores can bank on assessment books and kids’ titles to be their cash cows for a little longer. But how sustainable this will be in the long run, I’m not sure.

Book Review: ‘Butterfly’ by Yusra Mardini

Butterfly by Yusra Mardini

There have been a number of books written about how Syrian girls have fled their homeland because of the war and described their treacherous journeys across the sea towards freedom, peace and hopefully, a better future. In this book, ‘Butterfly’, you’ll read the story of how sisters Yusra and Sara escape Syria and make their way to Germany. The climax is when the inflatable dinghy (built for 8 passengers, but forced to carry 20) starts to sink out at sea after the engine dies. The girls, together with some of the male passengers, get into the water so as to lighten the load and keep the boat and everyone else afloat. *Though a lot of the credit has to go to Sara, Yusra is the one who eventually gets all the fame. I really would love to read Sara’s account of events. 😉

By the age of 12, Yusra has already made it into the national team, swimming for Syria. While the sisters are equally talented at swimming, Sara’s shoulder injuries mean she cannot fulfill her dreams of becoming an Olympian. But Yusra can, and she has.

This book, ‘Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph’ is impossibly well-written. I think a lot of the credit has to go to co-writer Josie Le Blond, whom Google tells me is a British freelance journalist in Berlin.

It seems almost incredible how a swimmer in Syria who survived a bomb blast and fled to Germany would eventually landed a Visa commercial, a sponsorship deal with Under Armour, become the youngest ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, get named in People magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World (2016) and TIME’s The 30 Most Influential Teens of 2016 too!

Indeed, Yusra’s story grips the imagination such that it even has journalists spinning tales, such as one about how Yusra, with a rope around her waist, pulled a boat with 150 people to safety.

Here are a few thought-provoking parts of the book:

#1: Without Sara, would Yusra even have made it to Germany?

My hunch is that without her more decisive older sis, Yusra would not have made it all the way to Germany. But, of course, this is just my guess.

#2: If war breaks out here in Singapore, would we not be leaving our homeland just like Yusra and Sara did?

Unlike a soldier, I can’t fight. And unlike Yusra and Sara, I’m not even a good swimmer. I hope there are enough planes, buses, boats and motorized sampans to get us all out of Singapore.

#3: Why people would dehumanize or think any lesser of these folks whom we term ‘refugees’. The people at a restaurant in the island of Lesbos refused to sell them water. In Belgrade, hoteliers refused to serve customers with Syrian passports. Smugglers are also out to make a quick buck from helpless Syrian refugees, even keeping large numbers of them prisoner in Hotel Berlin. In Hungary, they are treated like vermin by the police and given food probably unfit for human consumption. They are also treated like animals when they are transported in cages.

#4: Yusra and her family and friends are a different kind of ‘refugee’. While on the run, they are “posting selfies on Instagram and chatting online with friends back home”, checking locations and getting directions.

#5: While some Europeans treated the refugees poorly, the Germans were quite the opposite, giving them a warm welcome. There are donations, housing and even monthly allowances.

#6: At the Rio Olympics, Yusra was part of the Refugee Olympic Team, or ROT for short, which seems quite an unfortunate acronym.

~

“…Steven asks me what I learned on the journey. That’s easy. I learned perspective. Back in Syria I wasted time worrying about petty things. Now I know what real problems are. My eyes have been opened.”

 

“It’s just easier to laugh than to cry. If I cry, I’ll cry alone. But if we laugh, we can do it together.”

~

This book is definitely a very good read. You’ll enjoy it though at the end, you might find yourself wondering, like I did, how much of it is fact and how much of it is embellishment. Unless the author has a phenomenal / photographic memory, it’s unlikely that a person can remember so many details from being on the run (from the war, from the police, from the bad guys, etc). And after the numerous rounds of retelling of the story to so many journalists, it’s not impossible that some things may not be entirely true / accurate anymore.

Book Review: ‘Killing It’ by Camas Davis

killing it book by camas davis

Gosh. I do love the cover of this book.

This book is like the more gung-ho alternative to ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Instead of blissing out under a mango tree somewhere in Asia, the author goes to France to learn how to slaughter animals for food. Here’s a quick summary: Camas Davis lost her job as a food journalist for a magazine, and also broke up with her boyfriend of 10 years. She quickly finds herself in the bed of another man, and just as quickly, leaves him behind in Portland, Oregon and goes to France (for 7 weeks) to learn how to become a butcher. (You know, after a decade of working as a food writer, people tend to suddenly want to find out where their food originated from.) Oh, she also uses a credit card she’d found at the back of a filing cabinet to fund her trip. 😉 She later returns to America to start a business that becomes wildly successful. For a good period of time, she also finds herself straddling two relationships: one with a man, and one with a lesbian. That’s messed up in so many ways but she spares us what she calls the “lurid details” of her relationship with Jo.

“…I wanted to live in a world where I was allowed to love both Andrew and Jo in whatever way I wanted to, without consequences.”

 

“For such a long time, I was unwilling to lose one to keep the other.”

 

“I didn’t want to be seen by anyone. I didn’t want my true, disingenuous self to be exposed – the self capable of stringing Jo along for more than a year, the self capable of keeping such an enormous secret from Andrew, the self capable of pretending she was incapable of causing others pain.”

This is something I find very hard to accept. Sure, you can be bisexual, and born this way, and whatever else you want to claim. But being in two relationships at the same time and knowing you are hurting these two people yet you can’t think of anyone else but yourself is just plain selfish. No other way to put it. And the sweet guy still wanted to marry her (eventually). And the lesbian went off to start a family with another woman. (@_@)

It’s interesting how things worked out for Camas.

From getting ousted from her job and requiring unemployment checks for a long time (why doesn’t she have any savings?) to starting the Portland Meat Collective, appearing in ads for a knife company, and also receiving an American Made award from Martha Stewart, she has indeed, as the title suggests, succeeded in “Killing it”.

~

While her private life might be frowned upon by some readers (myself included), I applaud her courage in sharing what she did. More importantly, she’s shared her journey of coming to understand, and appreciate, how food is farmed. The people she has met in France have shown her that it’s possible for farmers to have total control of every stage… such as from seed to sausage. They grow their own crops, which are fed to the pigs they raise, and they kill the animals and make full use of every part, letting nothing go to waste.

After reading the book, I think that eating meat isn’t all that bad (despite what some very vocal vegans will tell you). According to the book, if the animals have had a good life, a good death, a good butcher and a good cook, there’s really nothing else left to be said. In fact, I’ve avoided eating foie gras for a while now, but if I have access to foie gras as it is ‘produced’ like in the book, then yes, I’ll go back to eating and enjoying it.

This book has vivid descriptions of how pigs, chickens and even rabbits are slaughtered. The author, as part of her business, also conducts workshops to teach people how to kill animals for food. If you get squeamish easily, then perhaps you might want to skip certain parts of the book. But I’d highly recommend you get a copy and confront what you’ve been avoiding for a while now if you’re a meat eater and you get your ‘supplies’ from the supermarket. An animal (perhaps bigger and heavier than you are) was (maybe) bred in unthinkable conditions, and slaughtered in what might have been cruel or inhumane ways, but what’s packaged and presented nicely to you in various cuts and forms allows you to not think about what the animal had to go through.

Get this book as it’s certainly food for thought, and it just might influence what you’ll eat or not eat from now on. 🙂

~

“I live my life in abundance. That means I always believe things will work out and they always do. You should try it sometime.” – a woman the author had met.