Book Review

Book Review: “Short Walks in Shangri-La” by Peter Francis Browne

A travelogue about Peter Francis Browne’s trekking in Nepal. Peter prepares for his trip by walking up and down the stairs of his home in Devon, Peter is 54 and worried about his knees, and vertigo and pulmonary oedemae, whatever they might be.

Short walks in Shangri-La

Short walks in Shangri-La

Peter is an entertaining travel companion as he takes us around the Himalaya foothills. He hires a porter called Iman, who quickly becomes his friend the pair bonded with more than a little of the local hooch “raksi“. The book has given me wanderlust, not that I have plans to visit Nepal (I too suffer from vertigo, and tales of the bus trip to and from Kathmandu, leave me in no doubts, I want to give Nepal a miss.) The road heading down was even more unnerving than it had been coming up, the chasms easier to see plummeting beside a track as thin as a stray hair on a green blanket.” 

Travel is about novelty, new experiences, new vistas, new insight into the world. Not all those novelties sound appealing. Kathmandu sounds awful “all around there was the sound of a dawn chorus…men hawking, spitting and snotting into hands that shook the mucus into the street with deft finger movements...” There is a marked contrast between the wealth of the trekkers and the poverty of the locals, where thousands of girls are sold by their parents to the brothels of India. The guides’ observations of different nationalities is interesting, for once Brits abroad don’t fare so badly: “The Australians and English are very good, Irish too, and Scandinavians. The Americans are sometimes difficult. They expect things to be modern like in America, but the most rude are the Germans and the Israelis. Some guides I know refuse to travel with Israelis even if it means losing money.”

At times among gap year trekkers in the hostels, Peter feels like an old Fogey, lamenting his lost youth.

There are also some moments of drama, descending to Thorung Phedi on a glacis sloping north, they found themselves on ice unbroken for hundreds of feet, a fall could have been fatal as they had no ice axes or crampons, just a bamboo stick. Peter slipped and nearly went over the edge…”all the energy drained out of me as I lay there helpless, knowing that if I went over I would have perhaps ten seconds before striking the boulders below.” He did recover slowly but he was shaken by the experience.

It is an interesting read, particularly as the writer isn’t too much older than me. I would have liked some maps and photos.

My rating 4 out of 5

Books Read in 2014

I read around 50 books in 2014, mostly in English, four in French and a few books for children in Georgian. Over 16 000 pages in total.

"Istanbul" by Orhan Pamuk

“Istanbul” by Orhan Pamuk

I tried to review each book I read for this blog. The highlights for me were the following (the links are to my reviews):

“Cathedral of the Sea” by Ildefonso Falcones

“The Man from St. Petersburg” by Ken Follett

Where are the Children? by Mary Higgins-Clark

“Istanbul: Memories of a City” by Orhan Pamuk

“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz

“Alone in Berlin” by Hans Fallada

“Dumb Witness” by Agatha Christie

“A Morbid Taste for Bones” by Ellis Peters

I also managed to read some classics that had been on my “to read list” for a very long time like “Middlemarch” by George Eliot, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Homage to Catalonia” by George Orwell and “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens.

There were, a few books, I wished I hadn’t bothered with, usually I will put down a book if I haven’t got into it by the fiftieth page but I persevered with “E is for Evidence (Sue Grafton), “Ratner’s Star” by Don DeLillo, “Nutcase” by Charlotte Hughes and “A Hero of our Time” by Mikhail Lermontov. I regret the time spent on these books I didn’t enjoy.

I’ll see if I can read another 50 in 2015, and try to include some in Georgian….

Book Review: “Istanbul: Memories and the City” by Orhan Pamuk

This book is a real cabinet of curiosities. It resembles in part the İstanbul Ansiklopedisi by Reşat Ekrem Koçu, an unfinished work which so influenced Pamuk that he has devoted an entire chapter to it. Our author has lived in Istanbul all is life and is intimately acquainted with its streets, its people and its moods. The book goes back and forth between personal memoir and a memoir of the city  Pamuk describes Hüzüna collective melancholy that pervades Istanbul, “a cultural concept conveying worldly failure, listlessness and spiritual suffering.”  Istanbul is one of those cities, I feel everyone should visit in their lifetime along with Jerusalem and Rome. The 50 year old Pamuk reflects on his own childhood, capturing a sense of the Istanbul of memory and tradition and juxtaposing it with the Istanbul as seen by outsiders, especially the literary lights that visited Istanbul over the years, Pamuk creates a rich texture for his story of the memories and the city. Pamuk is disappointed that so few of his fellow Turkish writers were inspired to write about the city.

"Istanbul" by Orhan Pamuk

“Istanbul” by Orhan Pamuk

Before he was a writer, Pamuk, as a teenager was a painter heavily influenced by Utrillo. We encounter comments and thoughts from writers as diverse as Levi-Strauss, Ruskin, Flaubert, Gide and Gerard de Nerval. But there are also the insights of local writers like the novelist Tanpinar (who, according to Pamuk wrote the best novel of Istanbul “Peace“).  The book is filled with black and white illustrations but these are without captions, some information about the photos is included in a short afterword. Pamuk’s views of the city are also in black and white in keeping with the melancholy, bittersweet air of the memoir. Istanbul is a city torn between East and West. Straddling the Bosphorus, one part in Europe one part in Asia. Pamuk, too, from a westernised family is torn between East and West, a tension that comes through in his novels like “Snow.” His interest in painting ended when his “Black Rose” (the name he gives to his first love) leaves for Switzerland.

I loved this book, I think it is best sipped slowly like Turkish coffee.

My rating 5 out of 5

Blood, Sweat and Tea

This is a review of the book that inspired me to start blogging.

“Blood, Sweat + Tea” by Tom Reynolds.

Blood, Sweat and Tea

Blood, Sweat and Tea

This book is awash with blood, sweat, tea and many other bodily fluids. Tom Reynolds (pseudonym) writes about his experience as a London Ambulance driver and it is a riveting read. The book is taken from his blog, the first I have read like this but in this century, I suspect many similar books of this ilk. The tales are a mix of the tragic, comic and frustrating.

At night the Ambulance crews and the A & E department seem to take most of the slack for failings in the rest of the care system: GPs, Social Workers, midwives, carers etc… there is much ranting about other health care professionals not doing their jobs effectively. Government targets don’t help; the ambulance should reach a patient in a maximum of 8 minutes, if it does and the patient dies it counts as a success, if they reach the patient in 9 minutes and save him or her it is a failure… I think all government ministers should read this and other health professionals, too…it might help inform a better health and social care system.

There are plenty of little rants in here about the problems of alcoholism and the waste of young lives afflicted, the author has a strange failing in that he can’t smell alcohol, so has to rely on his crewmate to smell alcohol on the breath of a patient. He is also clearly upset about parents who smoke in the presence of their children, as one child dies of asthma and the distraught parents ironically go and light up.

Tom worries about not being PC at times but covers it with the caveat that he hates everyone. This is clearly not the case as he is deeply affected by some of his cases and working in Newham he will see a large cross section of the community. He is even incensed that some sufferers of Sickle Cell Anemia (mostly a disease of West Indians) are barred from certain hospitals, making his and their lives more complicated.

I would thoroughly recommend this book.

The book even inspired me to start my own blog, the direction of which is as yet unclear…waiting for clearer instructions from control.