The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World by Avi Shlaim

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The whole world stands polarised on the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine/Arab world. While one section of the population attribute this raging disquiet to Israeli obduracy, the remaining section remains firmly entrenched in placing the blame squarely on Palestinian/Arab obstinacy. This tome by Avi Shlaim endeavours to clear the cobwebs and strike at the very heart of the matter.

Subsequent to the de-classification of many documents and archives by the Israeli Government, a select group of authors, popularly termed the “new historians” strove to set the record straight. Foremost among them being Benny Morris, who also is credited with coining the term “new historiography”. The other constituents of this group were Ilan Pappe, Simha Flapan and Avi Shlaim. In this impartial, intuitive and intricate work, Avi Shlaim works hard to provide an insightful view of the complex muddle racking two sets of people. A muddle that has at its roots the sophisticated philosophy of one of Zionism’s founding fathers Je’ev Zabotinsky. Zabotisky advocated the construction of an “Iron Wall” that would firmly secure Israel’s place on the Planet, behind the refuge of which he proposed a mechanism of negotiation for conflict resolutions. But as the author brilliantly portrays in his book, every single political administration of Israel while resolutely pulling its might behind the construction of the Wall, fecklessly failed to address the second half of Zabotinsky’s concept.

Scuppering every available overture extended by the Palestinians for peace, scuttling all available mechanisms to succeed at the negotiating table and slaying umpteen windows of opportunity for lasting peace, Israel has singularly succeeded in its obstinacy in not only thwarting genuine hopes, but also in spawning a new breed of violent opposition in the form of Hamas and Hezbollah. The callous and indifferent attitude of a recalcitrant United States is also glaringly exposed in the open. The world’s oldest democracy has employed its Veto Power in the United Nations on a whopping 42 occasions in support of seemingly irrational Israeli strategies.

Whether it be the intransigent Golda Meir’s “kitchen cabinet”, or the hawkish Ariel Sharon’s “farm forums”, all policies fostered and pursued by Israel towards its neighbours have led to restlessness and relentless tension. The Arab world also has to shoulder a considerable amount of blame in their approach to tackling the Palestinian issue. Covert supply of arms, open instigation of “intifadas” or terrorist attacks and firing of the Russian made Katyusha rockets into Israel, has exacerbated rather than alleviating the grief of over 3 million hapless Palestinians clustered in and around West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Targeted assassinations, mushrooming of illegal settlements, demolition of homes and public welfare institutions have become an all too common, albeit unfortunate feature of Middle East politics. The historic and landmark Oslo accord signed by the visionary Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat lent a fleeting glimmer of hope for long lasting peace and cordiality between two warring factions. However a clinical and calculated butchery of the accord by Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon has ensured that the situation has reverted to the dreaded status quo.

This book demonstrates with reeking clarity the ways and means by which deliberate intransigence can prevail over honest intentions. So long as such intransigence constitutes the very DNA of the political establishment of all the parties to the controversy embroiling the Middle East, peace will only be an ephemeral wish and a non existent dream. An issue which seemed irreconcilable will transform into one that is intractable. Meanwhile thousands of innocent civilians continue to be slaughtered while their inexcusable loss of life is defended under the garb of patriotism, nationalism and collateral damage.

Children of the Days by Eduardo Galeano

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A calendar of neglect, but paradoxically a calendar of immense import. Relegated to the confines of the dustbin of history to be too obscure or derided by a fickle memory as too obtuse, these are the forgotten children of Planet earth whose influence, either triumphant or terrible will be felt until perpetuity. Eduardo Galeano in a marvelously minimalist style, lays down one event (in some rare cases multiple) for every day of the year.

Triumph juxtaposes with tragedy; horrors vie with heroics and humour blends in with hatred as Galeano unfurls each splendid tale of his in an uninhibited fashion. The past coalesces with the present only to coagulate into the future. Employing a marvelously minimalist style, Galeano sets out what can justifiably be termed the ‘human anthology’. The topics are as diverse as the foibles and favours concerning them. They envelope time and space with carefree abandon. John Rockefeller’s autopsy competes with a pair of German brother’s whose diligence in learning the ways of life of the Mayans in Trojolabal did the world an immeasurable service. The unfortunate cooking of a bishop named Pedro Fernandes Sardinha (no pun intended) shares space with the second birth of Fyodor Dostoevsky, who got a miraculous reprieve from a firing squad.

Spanish inquisitions and the Russian football team that failed to turn up to play Chile in Pinochet’s ill maintained National Stadium (an original torture chamber for prisoners) merge to harrow and hurt the human conscience. Galeano also lends an element of scathing satire and sardonic views for some implacable events such as the unjustified invasion of Iraq by the US on the pretext of destroying ‘non-existent’ Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The precocious value of this book can be aptly summarised by reproducing John Berger who reviewed it, “put it beside your bed and the bed of those you love”

Children Of The Days – Not just to be kept beside the physical bed but to be firmly etched in the bed of conscience!

Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love – Andrew Shaffer

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If ever there was a misleading title to a book, this has to be it! Detestable dalliances, pompous promiscuity and astounding adultery litter this collection substituting the Shakespearean jilted love or a scorned heart. Inexplicably weird habits of a bunch of highly rated philosophers (for eg. Diogenes the Cynic’s reprehensible propensity to urinate, defecate and even masturbate in public), masquerade as love in this peculiar collection.

But nonetheless, this book makes for an interesting read. These philosophers whose at times, arcane and obtuse philosophy is deemed indispensable and whose works occupy a hallowed reverence in the portals of wisdom, prove themselves to be human (or at times sub-human after all). Try digesting this if you can:

Simone de beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre had a singularly unconventional fifty one year relationship during the course of which Beauvoir in her letters to her lover recounted her same-sex liaisons in illuminating detail while receiving from Sartre equally controversial musings dealing with divesting a woman of her chastity, with surgical precision. If this does not confound you, Sartre went on to adopt his Algerian Mistress, Arlette Elkaim as his ‘daughter’ (yes, daughter). Not to be outwitted, Beauvoir, in turn adopted one of her lovers, Sylvie le Bon, as her daughter (what’s with these kinks?) and bequeathed her estate to her!

Taboo and repulsion dot every page of this unique collection. Take the case of Peter Abelard. Falling in love with his own student Heloise, he stoically faced the wrath of his prospective father in law before ultimately winning the latter’s approval. In the interregnum, Heloise’s maid develops and ‘interest’ towards Abelard but is rejected to her uncontrollable fury. The story ends tragically when Abelard sends Heloise away to a convent, a move which results in the philosopher being castrated by his now angry father in law!!!

Andrew Shaffer entertains albeit in a revolting fashion and warns u to keep our carnal urges under prudent confinement. After all, there is no point crying over spilt milk, or in this case a castrated member!

‘Great philosophers who failed at love’ – Philosophy stood erect!

The Promise of Endless Summers: Cricket Lives from the Daily Telegraph – Martin Smith

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The physical demise of any sportsman not only evokes feelings of sadness but also transports the mourner into a world of nostalgia graced by both pleasure and pain. While the fact that the athlete no longer resides in the physical world might bring immeasurable grief to his/her fans, the very acts performed by the departed soul in his/her chosen theater of dreams provides a cause for celebration (or in some rare unfortunate cases phlegmatic derision). Death of a sportsman, more often than not lends itself to an almost paradoxical joie de vivre brimming with the very essence of life and living.

The Daily Telegraph, under the able stewardship of Max Hastings and Hugh Massingberd introduced the concept of a daily obituaries page dedicated to paying tributes to athletes renowned and reclusive. This collection represents an anthology of such tributes to people associated closely with the word of cricket. Widening the breadth of coverage to include not just players, but also dedicated scoring men, umpires of integrity and commentators oozing class, this book makes for some inspirational, humurous and at times, plaintive reading.

Established writers such as the redoubtable E.W.Swanton, the delectable Michael Parkinson, and the articulate Sir John Arlott all remember the rich legacy left behind by some fine cricketers. In turn cricketers such as Simon Hughes, Derek Pringle and Mark Nicholas fondly focus on the achievements of some of their own peers and contemporaries, lost too early to the cricketing world. The former Prime Minister of England, John Major’s heartfelt tribute to his boyhood hero Dennis Compton is a classic.

Reputed cricketers such as The Don and Keith Miller are placed alongside eccentric entertainers in the nature of Bryan ‘Bomber’ Wells. The most indefatigable cricket scorer of all Bill Frindall gets a poignant mention as do John Arlott and Brian Johnston, two of the greatest commentators of all time. The adorable and superstitious David Shepherd attracts the attention of the reader in the company of the Right Reverend Lord Sheppard of Liverpool.

Humorous anecdotes, rare on field performances and rarer off the field experiences adorn the pages of this book, making it an excellent read.

‘The Promise of Endless Summer’ – The immortal cricketer!

The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

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Commencing with the ‘seemingly’ simply illustration of a chair, and posing a question as to the very existence of that object, Bertrand Russell opens to the reader the amazing, complex and contradicting world of Philosophy. Weaving an intricate pattern of thoughts, highlighting paradoxical postulates and rudimentary concepts, this prolific, erudite and intellectual genius, strives to make the subject of Philosophy not only attractive but also indispensable.

Laying out the assertions of rationalists and the arguments of empiricists, Russell in this compact work introduces the reader to the notions of the Universals vis-a-vis particulars, the pull and tug of truth and falsehood; and the dizzying notions of the descriptive and the sense datum. Hegelian Fragmentary theories of the Universe and Descartes’ musings on duality are dealt with in a manner that is simple to fathom and in a style boasting of no pompousness.

As Russell himself concedes in a stupendous epilogue, Philosophy does not profess to provide clinching evidence or lay claims to concrete proofs. It is the questions more than the conflicting set of answers that are most relevant if one has to enrich one’s understanding of the Universe and most importantly broaden the horizon of perception.

“The Problems of Philosophy” – to read, re-read and then read!

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

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After an interminably long hiatus spanning a decade, one of the most original writers of our time, Kazuo Ishiguro is back, and how! ‘The Buried Giant’, although not in the same make and mould as the sensational ‘When We Were Orphans’, or the phenomenal ‘The Remains Of The Day’, is nonetheless refreshingly stirring and invigorating.

iAxl and Beatrice are an elderly couple, passing their time in an era where there lies an easy quiet and collective calm between the Britons and the Saxons. However, this environment of amicability and camaraderie seems to be characterized by a weird phenomenon having the insidious ability to wipe memories out of people’s minds. Events are transformed into hazy recollections and reminiscences are but tremulous wisps of an enveloping mist. Is this lack of recollections the very reason behind the truce between two warring factions?

Has a spell been cast upon an unsuspecting populace by that cunning genius Master Merlin, acting under the orders of the noble and benevolent King Arthur? Is something ungodly lurking under this seemingly Utopian setting? The search for answers sets Axl and Beatrice upon a journey which otherwise a couple of their ilk would be loath to undertake. During the course of their wanderings, their intrigue is heightened and prospects imperiled as they are beset with hurdles both man made and mystical.

Thrown in Master Wistan, a dragon-hunter, Sir Gawain, a knightly nephew of King Arthur, Querig a most feared and almost mythical dragon, you have an uneasy conflation of philosophical, meta physical, social, cultural and political contradictions and conflicts. The wait has well and truly been worth the anticipation!

The Buried Giant – Return of a Master!

On Anarchism – Noam Chomsky

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Often times riveting, at other times, polemical one of the most influential thinkers of our time provides a compact overview of the tenets underlying anarchism or libertarian socialism or anachrosyndicalism (as appropriate). With particular focus on the works and philosophy of Michael Bakunin, George Orwell and Wilhelm Von Humboldt, Chomsky proceeds to highlight the basic essence and vital synthesis embodying an act of anarchism – the amelioration of the human creed by putting paid to the hopes of vile expropriators and their speculative expropriations.

Setting out in detail the genesis as well as the unfortunate demise of the Spanish Revolution or the ‘Franco Rebellion’ that stirred the hopes of a whole Planet in 1936 and 1937, Chomsky ascribes to anarchy the power of liberation, the boon of self realisation and the goal of equal recognition. Although some of the more nuanced concepts such as the linkage between the freedom of language and liberty are couched in enough complexity to induce a torpor for the uninitiated, the work nonetheless evokes a voluntary awakening towards the beliefs underlying anarchy.

On Anarchism – an exhausting read.