Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Title/Author: The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Publisher: Vintage International
Pages: 106
ISBN: 0-679-72205-x

In a nutshell
In February 1955, eight crew members of the Caladas, a Colombian destroyer, were washed over-alive, on a deserted beach in northern Colombia. Several of them drowned shortly before arriving at the port of Cartagena de Indias due to the existence of overweight contraband aboard the vessel. Ten days after the shipwreck, one of the sailors, Luis Alejandro Velasco, turned up on a deserted beach and became a hero overnight. Therein began his telling and selling his story to the media, including El Spectador where Marquez worked. Only this time, he tells the whole story, one that wasn't sanitized or authorized by the Colombian government.

What I liked
The lesson learnt - accepting adversity and making the best out of it. Velasco was lost and alone on a drifting life raft, far away from civilization. Nature was his friend and foe. She tore him apart, but also kept him alive. The scorching sun burnt his skin but each sun rise gave him new hope. The shark-infested waters could end his life, but it was also his source of hydration. And in darkness, nobody would be able to spot him from afar, but it was also the only time when the sharks left him alone.

Left with no food, Velasco ate his belt, the 3 business cards he had in his pocket and a 30cm root he found which tasted like blood. He also drank sea water, learning that it’s not harmful to the body and only resorted to it when the pain in my throat became unbearable.

Though Nature challenged Velasco in every possible way, she was also the only thing that also kept him sane and alive.

It’s the same with Life. She's your best friend when things are going your way. But when she throws you lemons (and calls you an ungrateful friend), just make lemonade and make a toast. Thank her for all the good times and wait till she runs outta lemons. Meanwhile enjoy your lemonade :)

What I disliked
Reading the Shipwrecked Sailor was like watching 'I Shouldn't Be Alive' on Discovery, and I think I much prefer it filmed on TV.

I'm in two minds about this book. I can’t say I either enjoyed or hated it. I only finished Shipwrecked because it was a Marquez and it’s only 106 pages :P

I guess I was expecting Marquez’s usual rich and luscious prose that I fell in love with in Love in the Time of Cholera and Melancholy Whore. Maybe because he first wrote Shipwrecked Sailor as a series of newspaper articles that required a different style?

My verdict? 3/5

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

I've been trying to finish reading my ebooks for a very very very long time and am still half way through most of them. I NEVER HAD TROUBLE FINISHING A BOOK BEFORE (except for really sleep-inducing ones)! So I told myself to stop with the ebooks and get back to paperbacks (I don't really fancy hardcovers either :P). And I MUST SOON as I need a good read for our trip to Florida. And so I did! It was tough choosing the RIGHT book. The book that SPOKE to me. Went to Barnes & Noble but none of the books displayed caught my attention. Checked out Walmart too. None. I almost gave up until we went to Target.

There...I found...The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. Somehow, my hands just reached out for it. Browsing the first few pages was good enough for me to decide to get it. And my instincts were right :)

Title/Author: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb / Melanie Benjamin
Publisher: Bantam Books
Pages: 458
ISBN 13: 978-0-385-34416-6
In a nutshell: Mrs. Tom Thumb, or rather Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Warren Bump, was only two feet, eight inches tall. Even as minute as she was, the world couldn't contain her dreams. She claimed, "Yes, my height would be the first thing people noticed about me, but it would not be the last."
Somehow she knew she was meant to do great things and not confined to her life in her family farm in Middleborough, Massachusetts. She defined herself before the world could. "Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it."
She probably got her sense of adventure and need to achieve success of magnanimous proportions from her mother's side. "I can trace my pedigree on my mother's side back through Richard Warren of the Mayflower Company, to William, Earl of Warren, who married Gundreda, daughter of William the Conqueror."
At 17, she was hired as a teacher and immediately drew respect from her students as "Without a murmur, every child obeyed my command." Then, the watershed moment happened in March of 1858, when Colonel John Wood showed up at their door, offering Vinnie a job as an 'entertainer' on his showboat. Thinking of the opportunities it offered she accepted it and before you know it, she worked for the immortal impresario P.T. Barnum, married the tiny supserstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and became the world's most unexpected celebrity.
Life couldn't be better, until Vinnie's similary-sized sister, Minnie, joined her in her tours and performances. Vinnie loved her sister tremendously and knew Minnie was too gentle of a soul to be following her path. She did all she could to "keep her sister safe" whose life came to a tragic end. What happened after that made Vinnie really reflected on life, love and purpose.
What I liked
This was a beautifully-written book. I liked how Benjamin made something researched so readable. Her storytelling was strong and solid. The pace was good and story was rich in detail without being cumbersome. It's as though Vinnie wrote this book herself. 
Vinnie's character was so well infused in this autobiography. One particular moment stood out to me: When Vinnie was hired as a teacher, she asked for her wage. Everyone must have thought it amusing as they broke into "helpless guffaws". Later she understood that people found it very odd to hear such a request coming from a person like her - small and female, what more, a female with no other prospects, to be asking for salary. What was offered to her, was she "suspected was likely and act of charity". Did she get her salary in the end? But of course :)
I liked how the author developed Vinnie's relationship with the characters. Each were given equal attention, with more on Barnum and rightly so as we will find out where Vinnie's heart really was.
Although the strength of her relationship with Minnie was brought in later in the story, I could feel their bond and love for each other. And what happened to Minnie later in the story made me cry buckets. It showed me what a big person Minnie was despite her size.
It would have been better if...
there were more pictures of Vinnie, her travels and companions would have made this reading experience more enriching.
My verdict? 4/5
I'm so glad I picked this up for my Florida getaway :)
Let me end this review by sharing one of my favourite paragraphs in this story.
"We were all four (Mr & Mrs Tom Thumb and Mr and Mrs Bleeker) seated in one of the parlors after dinner; it was particularly cozy on this night, as it was frigid outside, but inside we had the warm familiarity of flocked wallpaper, worn carpet, chipped hotel dinnerware. That was the life we knew, the four of us, and we had shared for so long. The few times we saw one another out of such surroundings - not on a train, or in a theater or a hotel - it seemed odd; we always acted stiff, uncomfortable, overly formal. This was where we belonged - in anonymous hotels, in cities we never saw save from a train window or from a stage door. It may sound depressing, but it was not; rather the bland anonymity of our surroundings served only to sharpen our identities, making us dear and recognizable to one another - making us a family." (pg. 371)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Would you let your children read these??

I'm a sucker for children's books; anything for ages 0 - 10; especially those written by Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Julia Donaldson and Eric Carle. I normally pick books which are:
* entertaining
* simple but educational
* has good vocab
* well written and conceptualised
* great illustrations! (for picture books)

Recently, I came across this article which listed 10 children's books and I was flabbergasted. Were these books REALLY MEANT FOR CHILDREN??? I won't ever read these books to kids. Would you or allow your kids to?

The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb
Illustrations by Sanya Glisic
First, the title itself turned me off. Suck-a-thumb, and the illustrations seemed to aim at giving children nightmares...Definitely not something I wanna read to my children...

The ABC of Anger
Ghastly, ghostly, gory...A HUMAN HEAD-SWALLOWING HEAD???! Is this Nightmare on Elm Street?? And check out its title...I dare not imagine what's in their ABCs

Brave Mr. Buckingham by Dorothy Kunhardt
This one looks innocent enough. That little red thing on the left looked like a carved out potato to me,..but...after reading its description...that seemingly innocent-looking potato is actually the head of Mr. Buckingham, who had been dismembered!! — losing one foot to a buzzsaw and another to a fish before his arm is sliced off by a gardener and he gets hit by a truck — as he tries to prove to little Billy that it won’t hurt to pull on his loose front tooth. That’s him there, just a head left.
I imagine this conversation between a dad and his son:
"No, daddy! I don't wanna pull out my loose front tooth!"
"Hey son...there's nothing to worry about...Look at Mr. Buckingham! He's left with only his head, and he's still smiling!"

Poor Cock Robin
The title of this book is Poor Cock Robin. I mean, REALLY??? It sounds so wrong whichever way I read it.
Poor, Cock, Robin
Poor, Cock Robin
Poor Cock, Robin
Even if I read it flatly Poor Cock Robin
And what's it about?
circa 1865, the sparrow kills Cock Robin and then all the other terrifying creatures of the forest talk about how they’ll bury him. An excerpt: “Who saw him die? I, said the Fly, with my little eye, I saw him die. Who caught his blood? I, said the Fish, with my little dish, I caught his blood.”

This, my friends, were how the Russians taught their children the important lessons on life:
"You like to fight with your fellow-friends? Then you’ll be bitten by different snakes!” and “If you plan not to listen to father wild black cats would scratch your brother” and “If you are greedy as old and don’t share balls probably you would be eaten by wolves.”
I think I'd stick to, "If you don't do your homework, I'll call the police to come get you." That itself, scared me to death when I was a kid.

Yes, this is a CHILDREN'S BOOK. JorÃ…gumo (which is literally translated as “whore spider”), from Gojin Ishihara’s 1972 children’s book Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters.
Click here for the complete article.


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