Tag Archives: Discrimination

Book Review: “The Silent and the Lost” by Abu Zubair

Alex Salim McKensie, a war baby of the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence, is adopted by the McKensies, an American family that has lost their only son in Vietnam. Years later, Alex falls in love with Sangeeta Rai, but their happiness is threatened when the enigma of his birth casts a dark shadow over their relationship. The Silent and the Lost opens with the wedding of Alex and Sangeeta in Brentwood, California on a sunny Saturday in 1997, then travels back into the boiling cauldron of political clashes of East Pakistan in early 1971. Through the eyes of newlywed Nahar Sultana, her husband, student activist Rafique Chowdhury, and their friends we are immersed into the nine months of revolution that created Bangladesh. On March 25, 1971, Nahar, Rafique, Nazmul and the Rahmans find themselves in the center of Operation Searchlight at Dacca University. Miraculously surviving, they escape to Sheetalpur village. Longing for vengeance and freedom, Nazmul and Rafique leave for the Mukthi Bahini guerrilla camps in Agartala, India. In a twist of fate, in a brutal family betrayal, Nahar is captured by the Pakistani Army. Destitute and in utter despair, tortured and mad, Nahar grips desperately to her last scintilla of hope-Rafique’s return. Two generations spread across two continents, thousands of miles apart, are brought jarringly together when Alex begins his search for answers to his beginnings. He discovers that his own struggle for happiness is inextricable from the history that he finds himself part of: the genocide that in 1971 ultimately created out of East Pakistan the new nation of Bangladesh. Set in a pivotal point of time, The Silent and the Lost powerfully chronicles the history of a revolutionary change in the socio-political landscape of the sub-continent, and takes us on a sinuous journey into a passionate and breathtaking untold account of heroism and betrayal, family and friendship, love and anguish-of the lives of the characters and millions of others swept up in the unfolding unrest, mayhem and suppressed genocide.  (from Barnes and Noble)

Padma Phool - Water Lilies - Bangladesh

When I think of a descriptive word that best describes “The Silent and the Lost” by Abu Zubair, the only word that applies is “beauty”.  Beauty in the pages and hardcover binding; beauty in the picture and artwork of the front cover; beauty in Abu Zubair’s words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters; beauty in the relationships described; beauty in the flow of this incredible novel.  Once opened, I did not want to let go.  When I read the last word – I wanted more.  And the unusual, undeniable juxtaposition is that the root topic is one of deep unrest, family betrayal, and world struggle and war. Genocide.  True life facts of history wound up in a story bound to reach the heart of readers, in a way that will change the reader forever. 

Before reading Abu Zubair’s novel, my own knowledge of what happened between West Pakistan – East Pakistan – Bangladesh – was sadly lacking, even though my friend circle includes individuals whose own heritage springs from these conflicts.  That humbles me, and at the same time, makes me a little embarrassed – now having read “The Silent and the Lost”.  How could I have been so unaware of something that happened in my lifetime, happened as my high school years were ending, and university loomed on the horizon?  I shake my head in wonder that, at no time since high school or university, did I learn of the tragic events and sacrificed lives that took place in 1971. 

Abu Zubair does not leave much out of his descriptions of war and its tragedies, but nor were his descriptions anywhere near gore or horror.  Yes, there was gore in the actual historical events – there was horror in the actual events – but as with any skilled craftsman, Abu Zubair acknowledges and speaks to the gore and horror of these real life events, but he does not glorify the gore and the horror.  Which I must say, I keenly appreciated.  It allows for the storyline to remain front and centre. 

The novel takes place in two time spans: one in 1997 and one in 1971.  Each era has its own cast of characters, and there is no challenging maze of events to follow.  The reader will easily recognize when the chapter is to be about the events of 1997, and when it will be about the events of 1971.  Also, the author’s calendar dates are shown for each section of the book – very helpful. 

As I write the year ‘1971’, I am still trying to wrap my head around ‘such events’ happening in ‘this day and age’; and I am also sadly aware that tragic events like this continue to plague our world.  And those of us living in North America have so much to be grateful for, with respect to political and religious freedom.  Yes, troubles exist in our world but are nowhere near the magnitude of such battles, as the battle for Pakistan. 

There are also scenes and chapters of “The Silent and the Lost” that are filled with such love, beauty, and grace – my eyes brimmed over with tears as I transitioned from one generation to another, one chapter to another, and at times even one sentence to another.  But not all dreary and sad, this novel includes some very happy and joyful happenings in the lives of the characters.  Moments that brought smiles, not tears, to my heart. 

I was attracted to the subtle experiences of spirituality expressed or implied by the author about the characters.  Admittedly, spirituality is a grace I subconsciously (or consciously) look for no matter which book sits before me.  Nevertheless, I believe it was a real element of the story line – spirituality and the lack of spirituality. 

Although not necessarily meant in any other way than to comment on Muslim and Hindu differences, I was affected quite deeply by the following short paragraph – affected on a spiritual level, as well as on a moral level.  Based on how we need to work toward true peace, in this frequently “peace-less” world. 

                    “Remember, the enemy has penetrated our ranks and will try     to create division among us, and through looting create derisions in our ranks.  Hindus or Muslims, Bengalis or non-Bengalis, all are our brothers.    It is our duty to ensure everyone’s safety.”  (page 52) 

“The Silent and the Lost” reached me on many levels – intellectually, psychologically, spiritually, and not the least of which, emotionally.  This is a book I will treasure and re-read again and again. Because the topics which are covered in the books I read and review are so very different, I do not use a numbered rating system.  Even if I stated that the ratings held only “in the genre the book was written for”, as humans we love to compare and number comparisons between works of fiction and of non-fiction would be inevitable.  So, I steer clear of a number scale.  However, if I was to rate “The Silent and the Lost” on a number scale – it would rate the highest number possible.  When I received this complimentary book from the author, and it arrived clearly packaged with care, I knew I was holding something very special.  I am happy to be able to freely supply my review, and know this book truly is something special.

I highly recommend “The Silent and the Lost” by Abu Zubair be added to everyone’s to-be-read list, and I would be interested to hear everyone’s reaction to, and thoughts of, this book.  I certainly welcome comments be added to this post. 

Read and bring this book into YOUR life.

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Book Review: “Escaping Innocence (A Story of Awakening) by Joe Perrone Jr.

From Barnes and Noble:
Ah, “The Sixties” — a brief phrase that conjures up all kinds of amazing images…unless, of course, you weren’t there! It was a time when “free love” was anything but, and there was a heavy price to be paid for messing with “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.” Find out what coming-of-age in that magical era “really” was like in the outrageously funny novel ESCAPING INNOCENCE (A Story of Awakening) by Joe Perrone Jr. Meet David Justin, an Italian-Catholic, height-challenged youth, desperately trying to escape the bonds of sexual repression and adolescent innocence that dare to hold him captive in — yes, you guessed it — “The Sixties.” Experience them for the very first time, or relive them again and again, but either way, for heaven’s sake, don’t miss ESCAPING INNOCENCE.

When I first received “Escaping Innocence” from the author, he cautioned me about the writing and the material in the book. Would I be able to step outside my own life and comfort zone, into the world of a young man from the 60’s who would face numerous trials, and various life transitions? (Including some colourful language). I said that I thought I was up for the challenge, and I am glad I said yes! Even though I was but a young child in the 60’s!

I was drawn into the book from literally the first page, which was a bit of a surprise! Joe Perrone’s writing style is very inviting and engaging. The humour of this book is definitely a bonus. The real emotions that are conveyed through the main character, David Justin, are extremely well and brightly written.

Although the life experiences written about in this book are not exactly the same as my own, Perrone’s narrative style allowed me to smoothly connect my life experiences with those of the main character, David Justin. In cases that were not at all present in my life, the lives of my friends and family filled in the blanks! I did not ever participate in the real Florida experience during my school days; my thoughts of what it would have been like were actually confirmed by the experience of David Justin! The innocence, combined with the open experience of David Justin, were brilliantly written by Joe Perrone, and I believe truly conveyed the average North American teen culture of the 60’s, as portrayed in news reels, movies, and memories of those who lived the 60’s as teens or young adults.

As far as the sexuality portrayed in “Escaping Innocence”, well, with a title such as it has, how could sexuality not be part of this book? Perrone portrays many types of sexual experiences in this novel, but I believe he does so in non-offensive ways. Straightforward, definitely, but non-offensive. I say that, but I also realize the words and descriptions may be bothersome or offensive to some readers, which is just a bit of a caution.

As far as the offensive language, it did exist, and in some chapters may have been a little overdone. When reading, I do not enjoy strong four letter words, but in this book, I found myself able to scan over them as they occurred. In general, my personal opinion remains that offensive language is never necessary. If authors feel the need to write in offensive language to convey character, a change in writing style might be better employed. I believe Joe Perrone’s writing style is such that offensive language is not required, and all his characters’ personalities are not dependent on the few offensive words they speak. And to that point, the amount of offensive language is very minimal, and accepted by even my critical eye. With the caveat that the title of chapter 30 could be changed!!

There were chapters in the book that did drag a little, and oddly enough, it was specifically the chapters written about the Florida experience. I found that Joe Perrone’s writing style changed a little in that part of the book, became less crisp and clear, and I thought became a little forced, and my interest waned a little. Once the character, David Justin, left Florida, Joe’s writing style was back on track. Maybe it was a section of the book that presented challenges to the writer?

College students do the twist on a Fort Lauderdale beach

Not only were the characters fully explored in the book, as a result of Perrone’s writing style, the characters’ life experiences came through as authentic and genuine. At times I could not wait to find out what was going to happen next! And I appreciated the smooth flow from chapter to chapter. As I was reaching the end of the book, my mind was racing ahead, wondering how the book was going to end! And at the same time, not wanting the book to end! But end it did; and the ending was perfect and fitting. Excellent final chapter.

However, the book is not all humour and laughter. The author does touch on quite serious subjects, some of which are unique to the 60’s, some experienced by teens and young people around the world, crossing through all generations. Subjects such as the Vietnam War, sexual orientation, drugs, and sexual experience in general. The author did not minimalize these subjects in any way, treating each with respect.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book as a way to look back to life in the 60’s – whether you lived it as a teen or not. And look back with delightful and surprising humour, or a real laugh out loud moment. I know a number of people will relate to the adventures portrayed, and will delight in reliving their own 60’s life style.

An extremely engaging read, one I will re-read a few more times.

As I mentioned above, the author emailed “Escaping Innocence” direct to me, and it was at no cost to me. (I have not yet purchased an eReader, so Joe emailed me a pdf copy). Joe Perrone was looking for an impartial review and I hope I conveyed that message. I will say that when I later saw what the cover of the book looked like; I really missed having the book in my hand!! The cover perfectly suits the narrative! I may have to buy the real book for my collection – especially as I really do intend to re-read this book a few more times!

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Book Review: “Mary Jane” – Dorothy Sterling

One of my favourite memories from elementary school is the Scholastic Book Catalogue!!! Do you remember that Catalogue? In my school we started to receive the catalogue in Grade 4. It was the first place I actually purchased books!! It was so exciting! I can remember pouring over the catalogue, reading the descriptions of all the books, and seeing how much they cost! As you can imagine, my parents had a slight cap on how much I could spend, at times bending the rules when I could not decide between titles. I filled in the order form, gave it to my teacher, and waited. Waited for the arrival of THE BOOKS!! When the day came, I would come back to my desk after recess, and there they would be – a neat little pile on my desk. Oh, my! That was thrilling!

For the most part, I still have my Scholastic books, which proudly occupy a shelf in my ‘book room’! My all time favourite Scholastic book and actually I would say it is still my all time favourite book, was and is “Mary Jane” by Dorothy Sterling. I purchased it in Grade 5. The lead character is Mary Jane Douglas, who lives in High Ridge, in the southern United States. The book is set in the early days of integration; Mary Jane is a black American – who has decided to go to what was an all white high school – Wilson High – simply because it was the best high school in town. Integration had just started and Mary Jane, and her friend Fred Jackson, were the first, and the only, black students starting at the high school, junior level.

After Mary Jane has spent the summer on her Grandfather’s farm, she returns home to find her mother talking about getting ready for high school. Mary Jane’s Mother is putting more excitement in this new year, than ever before! Mary Jane is overwhelmed by her Mother’s purchases: new clothes, shoes, school supplies, and even a new ‘big’ bed.

On the first day of school, Mary Jane and Fred are escorted by their fathers, right into the door of the school. To get to that door Mary Jane, Fred, and their fathers must go through a large crowd of white protestors – they even have a police escort. The crowd is filled with angry townspeople, neighbours, students, and parents, and is a startling experience for Mary Jane.

Mary Jane does not really understand what the problem is – she is simply starting high school! All around Mary Jane, other characters in the book, especially in the first half of the book, frequently speak about “they”: ‘they won’t like this’, ‘they have rules’, ‘what will they say’ and ‘what will they do’? This puzzles Mary Jane, who really cannot understand what the fuss is about and cannot figure out who are ‘they’?

Mary Jane faces discrimination, taunts, and physical hurts; but that does not stop her. When shunned in the lunch room, she calmly sits alone. When hurtful words and hurtful names are thrown at her – she forges ahead; learning new subjects, completing projects, she is befriended by one fellow classmate, two teachers, and eventually entering a Science Fair with trained white mice. Mary Jane even becomes part of a Junior Science Club, where she meets students who do not care about the colour of her skin – a happy experience for Mary Jane.

A typical first year high school student, Mary Jane does get mischievous, visits the science room after school is over, hides a squirrel named Furry, and hides secrets from her parents. The book ends just as the Science Fair is getting underway, and although the mice act as they were trained, whether or not Mary Jane wins a prize, is left to the reader’s imagination.

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I just re-read this book about a month ago and it held my interest as much now as it did in Grade 5. I enjoy the fact that Mary Jane is a strong young girl, who accomplishes everything she puts her mind to, and my imagination sees her becoming a leader as she continues through high school, and moves forward to a career. Mary Jane’s grandfather is a retired biologist university professor, her father is a lawyer, her elder sister is a nurse, and her brother is studying to become a lawyer. Mary Jane’s great-grandmother was a slave who fought to educate herself, knew things “were better up north”, and eventually escapes the south, only returning after the Civil War. These are Mary Jane’s heros.

I love the way this book is written so easily, and flows so gently, while attacking the painful hurt of discrimination. Dorothy Sterling’s writing just draws me in – even after all these years – into Mary Jane’s life and world, and eventually I feel like I am Mary Jane, feeling all her challenges and emotions through the difficult beginning of high school, and the difficult time of forging new friendships in a world that could be peaceful, but instead is alive with racism. This book is definitely written for a grade five student back in the ‘60’s. Some of the phrases are outdated today, but the sentiments are still real. The lessons and teachings of this book contributed to the lessons and teachings I received at home from my parents. Be kind to everyone. Treat everyone the same. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. And 45 – 50 years later the world still needs to know about Mary Jane.

It was only recently that I found out that Dorothy Sterling continued her career as a writer, completing approximately 35 books for adults, including some of the first non-fiction works about black history. The attached article was written when Dorothy Sterling died in 2008, at the age of 95. Interesting reading. I think a trip to the library is in order!

<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/05/arts/05sterling.html” target=”_blank”></a>

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