Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Kim's Review: Street Cafe Morocco

The colours used in this book are what first attracted me to pick it up. The photography by Jeremy Hopley is very captivating.

The book covers recipes for street food in Morocco. So the foods themselves are easy to prepare. Most recipes have less than 6 ingredients, so its easy to throw a dish together with ingredients in your grocery cupboard or refrigerator.

Primarily targetted at a British audience, I find myself being more generous with the chilli powder than recommended in the book. But its been great at getting me to use some of the spice mixes I picked up on a recent trip to Morocco.

Do not let that fact scare you. A majority of the recipes can be prepared without searching for exotic ingredients.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Kim's Review: The Poison Tree - Planted and Grown in Egypt

A friend sent me the link to this yesterday. The book is legally downloadable for free from Marwa Rakha's own website. While currently available in English, she promises that the Arabic translation too will soon be online.

The book is written in a semi disjointed "part blog-part diary-part letter" fashion and someone who is used to a structured flow when reading, may start out feeling a bit disconcerted. But if you persevere you can gain some insights into Egytian culture, sexuality, morality and society. The unifying theme of the book revolves around gender stereotypes, dating and marriage and how men and women are held to different standards in society. While this may be true across the world, it is more pronounced in Egypt.

I often wondered how so many Egyptian friends and acquaintances kept ending up divorced within barely a year or two of marriage, sometimes with new born kids who were not even a year old. Some have ended up remarrying men who had been unfaithful to them during their first attempt at marriage. This being a very sensitive and private matter, I have never felt comfortable enough to actually ask them the question directly. But Marwa's book has shed some light on at least some of the reasons, which seem to lie in Social Conditioning.

There were parts that I skipped over, but there were also parts that are really insightful.

This book is worth reading if you are interested in human behavior or are visiting Egypt and would like to know a little more about people you will encounter.

But, I would highly recommend the book to any non-Egyptian girl/woman/lady planning to get herself an Egyptian boyfriend or Egyptian husband. Most Egyptian men think and operate differently from "Western" men and its important for a female to know what she is getting herself into before she gets in too deep.

While the book may also be guilty of stereotyping men and women, there are a lot of grains of truth behind the characterisations.

The book could be classified as chick-lit, but there is a lot you can begin to understand about Egyptian society and how it operates through the eyes of a Single Independent Woman

If you would prefer to read the book as a paperback or on kindle, they are both available via Amazon.

Also published on desicritics.org

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Kim's Review : An ABC Escapade through Egypt

An ABC Escapade through Egypt is a wonderful book for children within Egypt or outside to learn a little about things uniquely Egyptian.

It isn't just for the little ones who are learning the alphabet, but can be a reading tool even for slightly older children.

Cactus Crunching Camels and Underwater Urchins share space with crunchy konafa and jumping jerboas. Bernadette Simpson uses alliterations to create a fun reading experience accompanied with some lovely colorful photographs that make reading fun as well as informative.

Bernadette first moved to Cairo in 1993 with her parents and did a part of her schooling in this country before returning to the US to study further. She then came back to Cairo and was inspired with all the activity around her to write a book that would be fun, educational, informative and have content that would be familiar to its readers. This book is the result of those efforts.

Her book is available in Egypt in most of the major bookstores:

Also available on Amazon:

If, after reading the book, you still want more, you can visit her blog http://escapadethroughegypt.wordpress.com/ which lists more alliterations for the alphabet.

Her mother Ginda Simpson is also a writer and painter.

Kim's Review : Egypt Pocket Guides - Alberto Silioti

The AUC Press has brought out a wonderful series of pocket guides for Egypt by Alberto Silioti.

Each of the books gives a quick glimpse into the area it covers, in just enough depth for the average tourist.

The aerial view maps reminiscent of the DK Eyewitness guides are much easier to navigate than flat maps.

The books are printed on glossy paper which brings the photographs used to life. There are just enough technical details for those mildly interested in them but not too much to bore those who aren't.

Egypt Pocket Guide : The Pyramids covers the pyramids of Giza, Saqqara, Dahshur and Meidum. It also includes Memphis just to complete the Pharonic circuit around Cairo.

Egypt Pocket Guide : Luxor, Karnak and the Theban Temples includes everything that you would want to see in and around Luxor. Luxor Temple, Avenue of sphinxes, Karnak Temple, Colossi of Memnon, Medinat Habu, Ramesseum, Hatchepsuts Temple, Luxor Museum, Mummification Museum and Dendara.

Egypt Pocket Guide : Islamic Cairo gives the historical time frame of the various Islamic dynasties. It also covers the major Islamic Monuments in Cairo : Ibn tulun Mosque, Gayer Anderson Museum, al Ghuri Complex, Al Azhar mosque, al Hakim mosque, Khan al Khalili, Qalawun & Barquq Complexes, Sultan Hassan Madrassa, al Muayyad Mosque, Blue Mosque, Citadel, Mamluk Tombs, Nilometer and the Museum of Islamic Art.

Egypt Pocket Guide : Coptic Egypt starts with an informative section on Coptic Christianity and monasticism. It only covers the Synagogue of Ben Ezra, Coptic Museum and Hanging Church in detail. The rest of the churches in the Coptic area; it just skims over. It does give details of all 4 monasteries in Wadi Natrun and the 2 monasteries of the Red Sea but not those of Upper Egypt.

Egypt Pocket Guide : Alexandria and the North Coast covers everything of interest in Alexandria: the Qaitbay Fort, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Serapeum, Pompei's Pillar, Roman Theater, Catacombs, Greco Roman museum, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Jewelry Museum, Montaza Palace and some of the Ncropolis around Alexandria and Abu Qir. It even covers Alamein.

Each of these books costs 30Le if you buy them in Egypt.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Kim's Review : Comdex : Computer Course Kit - Windows Vista with Office 2007

The Comdex - Computer Course Kit - Windows Vista with Office 2007 written by Vikas Gupta costs 229INR with the CD. Vikas Gupta has earlier co-authored books for Wiley, McGraw Hill and IDG.

This book, comes with a CD Training kit and the book aims to help you master Windows Vista, Internet, MS Word, MS Excel, MS Access and MS Powerpoint.

The book is developed with the premise that the qualification of the person using the book is "ability to read" hence it is extremely simple, straight forward and easy to follow, with step by step instructions accompanied by appropriate illustrations.

The book provides explanations, with screen print outs to demonstrate the described functions. The CD provides an audio video demo and a self practice mode.

The book starts out with the first 24 pages outlining the types of computers, the hardware units, and the basics of software and networks which is an excellent preface for someone not well versed with computers. This took me back to our ITC (Introduction to Computers) course, but this book was much simpler.

At times the language in the book dips a bit into the formal, flowery, government office kind of English, but it soon recovers and gets back to the simplicity, that is its selling point.

It even covers new features like Windows Aero, Windows Meeting Space, Internet Explorer 7.0, Windows Mail.

My only feeling of discontent with the book is that the paper quality is not the best and it gave me the feel of a pirated cheap reprint.

The book and the CD may be used completely independently of each other.

The text instructions on the CD are in English only, but the audio has the option of Hindi too. The audio can be turned off, if you feel that it is slowing you down during the audio-video demo mode. The voice on the audio is pleasant and not robotic or irritating except for a few mis-pronunciations(/heavily accented pronunciation) like "appears" and "adjust". This is an ideal method for auditory learners.

The Hindi version, still uses a lot of English words in the voice over and some Hindi words that aren't common vocabulary.

In some modules, The control panel at the base of the screen, takes an inordinately long time to follow instructions. You can increase or decrease the speed of the verbal instructions and the demonstration time during the demo module.

This is a wonderful book for someone who is just starting to learn about computers. Quite a good book to gift your parents and preserve your own blood pressure from escalating. Or if you are looking to brush up your knowledge or upgrade your software and need a quick primer on the subject.

Also published on desicritics.org

Friday, 16 January 2009

Kim's Review : The Jewel of Medina

I had written about the controversy surrounding "The Jewel of Medina" a couple of months ago, but it hadn't really inspired me to go out and buy the book immediately. Of course there was the other matter of it not being available in any Middle Eastern country. But when a friend of mine told me she had the book in case I was interested, I decided to see what the fuss was all about.

The book was initially quite ho-hum (compared to some of the other books I have read on the subject) while it covered the childhood politics around a little girl growing up in a polygamous family where her own mother was the second wife. The girl just happens to be Aisha Bint Abi Bakr, herself an extremely controversial character in Islam. After the Prophets death, she led an army against his Son-in-law Ali, which was the cause for the Sunni-Shia split.

Sunnis claim Aisha was the favourite wife of the Prophet, while Shiites believe that he disliked her for her disobedience. Sunni accounts put the Prophet in Aisha's embrace at the time of his death and Shiites believe that he died in Ali's arms.

Why is The Jewel so inflammatory?

Conservative Catholics across the globe were vociferously against "The DaVinci Code" as it was based on the anti-thesis of a non-negotiable fact - that Jesus was married and sired a bloodline. This questioned the foundations of the Catholic faith and the vows of celibacy taken by priests and nuns.

"The Jewel of Medina" portrays each edict passed by Mohamed as being one for personal gain. It also caricatures him as an old man in constant sexual overdrive, whose only interest was in finding the next beautiful young bride. Drawing conclusions and elaborating on the fact that, when his male followers were allowed only 4 wives, the limitations did not apply to him. And other such incendiary conclusions.

For someone who is not familiar with the basics behind the Islamic teachings, it is a disastrous book to read, because it will completely distort the idea of Islam and its foundations. Ms Jones in her interviews has claimed that she wrote this book to make Islam more accessible and understandable to the general public in USA.

If this is her target audience, it will only serve to further aggravate the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims in America where a majority of non-Muslims already look upon Muslims with suspicion and in extreme cases, even hatred. Among the non-Muslims in America, there is a wide spread belief that women are completely dominated by men in this religion, they are forced to cover up from head to toe by overbearing fathers and husbands. This book will only serve to deepen and worsen those beliefs. I do not see any "understanding" coming out of this book.

The problem with writing fiction with characters from real life is that very few readers actually have the ability or knowledge to distinguish the line between the blurred lines of fact and fiction in a novel. And how much of this book is fiction? As a non-Muslim with basic information about Islam from my Muslim friends, I was quite riled up about certain injustices being described in certain sections of this book. This is a normal process when reading a book, the skill of the author is in making you feel for the characters. But the way it is portrayed as fact, brings these feelings out back into the world, beyond the reading of a book.

What Ms Jones has written is a piece of fiction and not even a well researched one at that. Friends of mine who are scholars in Islamic studies, say that the inaccuracies are innumerable.

Geraldine Brooks (who has extensively researched the history of this era), author of the 1995 nonfiction book, "Nine Parts of Desire" whom Jones has cited as one her initial inspiration, says this in her review of The Jewel of Medina, "if you wish to claim that your novel is "extensively researched", why lurch around in time and space, grabbing at concepts such as hatun, or leading wife, which Jones knows full well belongs to the Ottoman empire of centuries later, or purdah, which exists in Persian, Urdu and Hindi but not Arabic? Why refer to an Islamic veil by the modern Western term "wrapper"? Why have Muslims bowing to Aisha, when bowing is an alien custom to desert Arabia and to Islam's egalitarian ethos?"

Is "The Jewel of Medina" a good story? - Well, it manages to keep your interest going after the initial chapters, wondering what is going to come next? and How will Aisha manage this latest calamity?. But in most parts it reads like Mills & Boone/ Silhouette kind of Soft Porn.

I ask a larger question : "Is it ethical to write a book like this, which caricatures a person who is the cornerstone of a particular religion?

Disclaimer : I do not want to get into a debate about death threats, riots and fatwas that inevitably follow a book of this kind.

Published on desicritics.org

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