Just short notes on a few books I read in April and May:

Complications: A surgeon’s notes on an imperfect science: Gawande is a well-known science writer, but this is the first long work by him that I read. All the more respect to surgeons; there’s so much unknown and uncertainty about how our bodies work. And when you actually think about the processes, the details, it’s so barbaric, cutting open fresh and across bones. My main take-away, whether the author intends it or not, is that you should not be obese. That complicates everything: surgeons don’t know where exactly to cut in, they have to forage around for the right organ; anesthetists have to rough guess the dose; you can’t lie down because of sleep apnea… So don’t be obese!

Arabian Sands: My new favorite travel/culture book, and now permanently in my favorite list of all genres. Life in Arabia before all the seismic changes caused by oil exploration and production. Eye opening. Great description of the desert and its way of life. I’m quite a bit jealous of his experience that sure is not repeatable anymore.  Confirmed my belief about the overwhelming hospitality of nomads and their admirable code of honor, and that the Saudis’ Wahhabism is despicably backward and has been so even before all the big money. Too bad they got rich and get to spread their influence. If only it was the other way around, the world would be so much more peaceful.

Song of Solomon: Picked this up, because well it’s by Toni Morrison. She’s a powerful writer, such a distinct voice and imagination, lyrical and magical. Story of Milkman, a black man born in the 30s, and his experience through life: some representative of his race, others peculiar to his family and upbringing. The uneasy disconnection you can have towards others of the same race, because of location, class, or ideology, even when you feel like you should stick together because that’s the only way to move forward. What exactly defines a black experience? And the struggle to find your roots, where your family comes from and what it means to living you life. A hard book to sum up, especially since the ending is so open.

El tiempo entre costuras: I was as doubtful to start this after my disappointment with La sombra del viento. Another heavy book  (over 600 pages) of contemporary Spanish literature that receives rave review on Amazon, and both have the backdrop of the Spanish civil war and world war II. Luckily, this one turned out to be delightful, and taught me so much about Spain’s engagement in WWII and the role of Spanish protectorate of Morroco in the civil war; I knew very little to none about both. Great explanation about historical figures like Surreno and Beigbeder, the working of British intelligence operations in the peninsula, and lively fictional characters of the pension owner/blackmarket dealer/ever-resourceful resolver of all pinches Candelaria, the artist possibly gay neighbor that knows everything about everyone Felix, and I loved reading the streets and houses in different neighborhoods in Tetuan Spanish Jewish Muslim, the smell and odor of Mediterrean Africa, the social scenes and expats and rich refugees waiting to leave the Continent behind once and for all, the destitution and brokenness of Spain. I know that’s a long run-on sentence, but too lazy to fix.

The Glass Palace: by one of my favorite historical fiction writers Amitav Gosh. All his books deal with complex issues and I’ve always reveled in how his meticulous research is weaved in his expansive stories, but in this one he is overly ambitious. There’s royalties and colonialists, sovereignty and invasion, exile, business and slavery and exploitation, imperialism and the Empire, mutiny and world war, the colonial mindset and its awakening and questioning, independence and democracy, and among all of that love, relationship, family, friendship. There are too many main characters and too many story lines, few fully developed to my satisfaction, and in some places it seems like Gosh is running out of breath to keep abreast of all the web that he’s weaved. All that said, without a doubt, he never ceases to amaze me with the breadth and depth of his knowledge on so many topics, and the power of his imagination to bring to life so many seemingly disparate characters and put them all together. Where else could you learn about the last royal family of Burma and their exile in India in such a realistic sometimes depressing but always so poetic story?

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