Friday, November 19, 2010

A Few Great Reads

My favorite type of reading is non-fiction, true accounts of people transcending difficult circumstances with some manner of grace and courage. These are some of the books I have read recently that had me totally immersed in the author's experiences. Even Silence Has An End is Ingrid Betancourt's account of being taken hostage by guerillas while she was campaigning to become President of Colombia. She was held captive, often chained at the neck, deep in the Amazon jungle for six years. During that time she made four daring escapes. The recounting of what the days and nights were like for her and her fellow hostages is rivetting and  their dramatic rescue  at the end of the book is the stuff of films. I could not put this book down.

Burmese Lessons by Karen Connelly is a beautifully written love story, set first in Burma and then in Thailand where the author recounts her love affair with the leader of the Burmese guerillas. This was a beautiful read, poetically written. A love story with historical context, showing life on the run with revolutionaries.

Stolen Lives:Twenty Years In a Desert Jail by Malika Oukfir is so good I am re-reading it now some years after first experiencing it. Talk about spirit overcoming difficulties! Malika was raised as a princess but, after her father staged a coup attempting to assassinate the King and was executed himself, Malika, her mother and siblings were held for twenty years  in a penal colony under the starkest of conditions. They actually escaped confinement by digging a tunnel with their bare hands. They survived for five days before being recaptured. A story of resilience, courage and humor in the face of acute deprivation. They were released in 1996 and Malika now lives in exile.

Now this one - oh my! This one blew my doors off. Perhaps you have seen the movie. Jean-Dominque Bauby was 43 and at the top of his game as editor-in-chief of the Elle magazine in France when he was felled by a stroke. When he regained consciousness, only one muscle in his entire body still worked - his left eyelid. With that eyelid, he devised a manner of communicating: a helper would point to letters on an alphabet board. When the correct letter was pointed to he would blink: once for yes, two for no. In this manner, letter by letter, he dictated this book. In it, he took imaginary trips to places he had never been, ate gourmet meals, wrote about his life and his children. He died two days after his book was published to critical acclaim.

After reading this, I decided I had no right to ever complain about writers' block again. After seeing the movie, it felt like a true miracle to be able to get up out of my seat and walk out into the evening air, see the lights of the city, board a bus for home. A miracle.


I came upon this little book in, of all places, the Sally Ann, paid my fifty cents and took home one of the best, most gripping books I have ever read. Xinran Xinran is also the author of The Good Women of China, which I read a few years ago, itself a wonderful glimpse at what women's lives are like in China. This book, Sky Burial, tells of the author's twenty-year search for her husband, a doctor who had been serving with the Chinese army in Chinese-occupied Tibet. She was told in 1958 that he had died. She was determined to find out what had happened to him. She had also been told that the Tibetans welcomed the "liberation" of  their country, and was surprised to arrive in the midst of conflict. She was taken hostage, and this book recounts her twenty year journey, living among the Tibetan people, revealing the country and the Tibetans in all their beauty. It is a rare inside look at their way of life day by day. When she discovers her husband was given a sky burial, customary in Tibet, (the laying out of the body, to be "cleaned" by vultures) she returns to a China she doesnt recognize, the Cultural Revolution having happened during her absence. A fantastically gripping read.


This is the book I'm asking Santa for for Christmas! Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi byJustin Wintle, tells of Suu Kyi's imprisonment  for speaking out for the pro-democracy movement, thereby becoming the figurehead of an oppressed people. She spent fifteen of those 21 years under house arrest,  separated  from her husband, (who died of cancer in 1999), and from her children, who live in exile. Suu Kyi is the third child and only daughter of Aung San, considered the father of modern-day Burma. Oxford-educated and reserved by nature, she was not primed for life as a dissident but because of her belief in democracy, she took a stand for her people, at the cost of living her own life in freedom. She was finally released just this month, on November 13.

Can't wait to read it.

I rarely read fiction, but three books in recent years really caught and grabbed me: The Kite Runner and Ten Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini are so well known a recap is likely not needed, both set in Afghanistan. This is some of the finest writing I have encountered.

Rice Mother by Rani Manicka is a fascinating look at daily life among the impoverished in Malaysia. A wonderful tale of mothers and daughters, it is an extremely interesting look into these women's lives.

So there we have it - a list of great reads about "ordinary" lives (if there is such a thing) that become extraordinary through circumstance, and which ultimately transcend extreme difficulty in such a way as to offer hope and humanity to those who observe them.

People are inspiring!


  1. Oh, this is a spectacular selection of books, Sherry! I'm jotting down a couple of titles to search out, particularly Stolen Lives..sounds like my kind of book. And I too am hoping Santa brings me Suu Kyi's story...:)

  2. Sherry you are a woman after my own heart with non-fiction...that is my book of choice have a wonderful list here...I have not read any of them...will have to pick one or two for winter reading....bkm


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