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Review: Dream New Dreams

By Jai Pausch. Grade: A+

Randy Pausch, wrote The Last Lecture when he was fully aware of his approaching death. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and in September’06 he was told he had pancreatic cancer. Working behind him as his support, for virtually his lifeline, was Jai, his wife. The Last Lecture (now also a book by Randy Pausch) went viral on Youtube and led Randy Pausch to give appearances on several shows like Opera and Good Morning America.

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

The book offers just this: invaluable experience of Jai Pausch who stood by her husband through the rough journey and lived every moment to fulfill her matrimonial vow: Till Death Do us Part. This autobiographical is not the story of one woman and one man fighting cancer, it reaches beyond it to become something anyone going through such a terrible experience may have. It may be those golden words for someone fighting a similar battle.

Honestly, to review Dream New Dreams as merely a book will not do it justice and neither can I muster the strength to say that I liked or disliked it. It is not a story or a normal jouney of an individual’s ups and downs. It is a representation of someone’s deepest fears, someone’s heart rendering description of seeing their loved one walking towards death, fighting it to finally embrace it peacefully or is someone’s soul laid bare on a piece of paper. There cannot be anything to judge here. To those who are lucky enough to have never experienced this, gain a value of the loved ones they have around them and at the end of the 225 pages of book it makes you think how lucky you are to have people you love sitting next to you.

The book is invaluable for those who have faced death and are looking for closure or have managed to heal it but it remains an eternal part of your system. The sweet memories of the moments shared with someone special mixed with the empty bedside that now reflects the emptiness, the void left by their departure is what we have to face someday. The inevitability of death, depicted with honesty in the book, makes life more valuable.

Even though our surgical oncologist and our hospice nurse had told me Randy was in the final stages of dying by the end of June 2008 and even though I could see with my own eyes that his health had taken a dramatic step downward that third week in July, I still wasn’t prepared when, on July 25, I woke up and found Randy dead.

Jai Pausch recounts the memories of the time she devoted to being a caregiver, a mother and juggling the practical and the highly emotional problems that the situation presented. There were three very small kids; Dylan, Logan, and Chloe, to be taken care of, meals to be prepared, treatments to be searched, visits to the doctor, financial tensions and sometimes all these were furthered by a child catching fever or cold. Then there are discussions to be had about remarriage, about the will, the last wishes, the final goodbye and so on. Fear becomes a part of the normal equation and every possible bit of strength is mustered up and spent on these daily activities and concerns. It is an attempt to grasp life and get some order out of chaos that enveloped the Pausch family. It is like gripping sand in the palm of your hand only to see it slip away.

What captures you is the simple yet realistic view of these issues. There are moments of human doubts, of breakdowns and of accepting defeat but all of them told not in oh-why-did-this-happen-to-me kind of way but a more mature and relatable recounting of it and the possible solutions at hand. In the middle of a heavy paragraph pulled down by the gravity of the situation, there’ll suddenly be a line that makes you gently smile. It is this gentle tug of opposite irreconcilable emotions in the very same paragraph that makes the memoir so touching. Reviews at the back of book substantiate my appreciation of Dream New Dreams :

            “A remarkably frank, deeply moving, and inspiring memoir by Jai Pausch,whosw husband, Randy, wrote the bestseller The Last Lecture while battling pancreatic cancer.”


“In Dream New Dreams, Jai Pausch shares her own story for the first time: her emotional journey from wife and mother to full-time caregiver, then to widow and single parent, fighting to preserve a sense of stability for her family.”


“Powerful story of grief, healing, and new found independence, Jai’s story will inspire not only the legions of readers who made The Last Lecture  a bestseller, but also those who are embarking on a journey of loss and renewal themselves.”

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Review: A Grief Observed

By:C.S. Lewis.  Grade:A+

Written after his wife’s tragic death as a way of surviving the “mad midnight moment,” A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis’s honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. This work contains his concise, genuine reflections on that period: “Nothing will shake a man — or at any rate a man like me — out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” This is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

C.S. Lewis always brings new ideas to the table and in such a poignant way that touches the very core of your heart. This book was hard to read because it dealt with grief, something most of us have gone through, which can be a source of such emotional stress. This book was like removing all the fluff and dealing with the hardness and harshness of life. But more specifically, C.S. Lewis’ life. I have never seen such a naked and bare view of this intellectual great. It goes to prove that who we are comes to light in the hard places of life.

This transcription is the closest I’ve ever come to crying over a book. Even though these were his notes through this process and not something that he necessarily worked at to communicate effectively with, you could feel the emotion and the pain coming off the pages. Maybe it’s different for each person who has experienced different degrees of grief. Maybe what I was feeling was a reflection of my own emotional experiences, but whatever it is, you get the sense that C.S. Lewis is in pain and that makes all of his writings the more bearable and the more eaiser to listen to, because he knows the pain too.

In this pain he deals with his doubts about God. Not the issue about whether or not there is a God but who God really is. He is brutally honest with God and with himself. And in the end it’s not like the pain is suddenly gone, he just “misunderstands a little less completely.”

It is so interesting, this is like a true journal or diary. When he starts to right himself back up from this overwhelming sense of grief it’s not like we see it gradually come, as the conclusions of his other books show; It is almost, almost, sudden but still filled with clarity. You still kind of wish you could have been there each day because you know he didn’t document each moment of this revelation. He himself said that he was only writing down one thought in one hundred that he was thinking.

When you finish the book you will come out with grief analyzed in some ways. Maybe with some pointers on how to deal with your own grief. But definitely with the sense that you aren’t alone when you are grieving. Someone has gone through this too. And maybe that’s what makes this book so valuable. Having someone inside being able to write out what he was feeling in those very moments, shedding some light on what’s happening inside of you.

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Review: Overlay

By Marlayna Glynn Brown. Grade: B

What is it that makes one’s life interesting to another? Is it the reader’s perceived shared experience with the writer? Thankfulness for not having shared such an experience? A story that evokes emotion – whether it be relief, anger, fear, sadness or joy? Our shared desire for entropy, balance, peace and happy endings?

Author Marlayna Glynn Brown has crafted an extraordinary tale of survival and resilience in spare and convincing prose. Written form a child’s point of view from ages 4 to 17, this tale describes her precarious childhood in 1970s era Las Vegas.

The desert perimeter serves as a hot dry barrier that shuts out the rest of the vibrant world and bleaches away any sense of the joy that often colours childhoods. Born into an ongoing cycle of alcoholism, addiction and abandonment amidst fallen adults, Marlayna develops a powerful sense of her care. Her story explores the personalities of the bizarre characters who populate her life as she moves from home to home, parent to parent, family to family and ultimately to homelessness at the age of fourteen. Out of the resources of her remarkable childhood emerges an inner strength that will charm and captivate readers and remain in their consciousness long after the last page of her story has been turned.

There is one thing I should clarify. This is an autobiography of sorts; so for all intents and purposes, it shall be treated as one. Everything’s real – there is no plot, no imaginary characters and most importantly, no lofty ambitions. The novel, from the very onset, keeps everything so real that the strands of reality are almost palpable.

There are two things of importance in the cover page – first, the subtitle “A tale of one girl’s life in 1970s Las Vegas” and second, the title “Overlay”. As far as the subtitle is concerned, there is only one term which almost screams of its presence – Las Vegas, the glittery town which never sleeps. Anything associated with Las Vegas generates the perception of a shining world of glitz and glamour, but the key thing that passes unnoticed is 1970s, an era when Las Vegas was reeling under the clutches of Mafiosos and ganglords. So, just like 1970s Las Vegas, the story is of a girl who is trapped in the clutches of her own destiny’s demonic attritions.

Coming to the title, Overlay is a good bet where the bettor has a distinctive edge over the casino. There is a reason why this title is probably the best title there could have been for this novel. Whenever any bettor comes to a casino to gamble, no matter what the game is, it is always the dealer who has an upper hand. But in case of an overlay, it is the bettor who gains an upper hand – be it due to a long winning streak or a short burst of good fortune or simply the nature of the game he is playing. In case of Marlayna Glynn Brown, Overlay implies that she, the bettor in this casino which is the world, has a distinctive edge over the dealer, life. This edge may very well be coming from her never-say-die attitude, her perseverance, her early-in-life experiences or something else which words can’t describe.

There are a few human feelings that have been touched upon exceptionally well in a few instances.

1. JOY – “…“So this is what it’s like to be normal!” I say aloud to myself continually as I run around laughing with normal girls from all over Nevada and California…”
2. HOPE – “… Is there really a chance I could live in the paradise that is my aunt and uncle’s world? My head reels and I…”
3. PERSEVERANCE – “…Just know that I am still in the pot…”

It is these small instances that prevent the story from becoming morose and another sob saga.

At the beginning of every chapter, there is a gambling term which is defined and at the end, it is used to summarise the whole chapter succinctly. This, as it turns out, is the USP of the novel. This is the one thing that has been used to perfection and lends an extra dimension to the writing. The same goes with the parallels drawn between various facets of the author’s life and that of the process of gambling.

If you are looking for a typical cheer-you-up novel, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a self-help case study, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a motivational book, it will kind of motivate you in its own way. This is not a feel good book; it will definitely not show you the brighter side of life. But, if you are looking for a gutsy tale of facing all the odds and overpowering them, you have the right book in your hand. Marlayna Glynn Brown has given us a good take on life through gambling, to which, in the words of Nick Dandalos, we can only say –

“”The house doesn’t beat the player. It just gives him the opportunity to beat himself.”

Kudos to the author, and kudos to the gamble we all know as life.

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Review: Son of Hamas

By Mosab Hassan Yousef with Ron Brackin. Grade: B

The story, which is an autobiography, is set in the Israel-Palestine belt which has been in conflict over various religious, military and political reasons from the beginning. The author is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who is in the upper echelon of the political wing of “Hamas”, a Palestinian liberationist faction, which was why he saw the power struggle up close and personal. When the struggle got really ugly, Mosab decided to help the Shin Bet, the Israeli version of FBI, only in order to make sure that peace is maintained. He then operates as a double agent, feeding information to the Israelis to make sure that chaos doesn’t strike everywhere. During this excruciating, painful voyage, Mosab rediscovers himself and finds his faith in Christianity.

From the Inside Flap

Before the age of twenty-one, Mosab Hassan Yousef saw things no one should ever see: abject poverty, abuse of power, torture, and death. 
He witnessed the behind-the-scenes dealings of top Middle Eastern leaders who make headlines around the world. He was trusted at the highest levels of Hamas and participated in the Intifada. He was held captive deep inside Israel’s most feared prison facility. His dangerous choices and unlikely journey through dark places made him a traitor in the eyes of people he loves—and gave him access to extraordinary secrets. On the pages of this book, he exposes events and processes that to this point have been known only by a handful of individuals. . . .

Mosab Hassan (“Joseph”) Yousef is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding leader of Hamas, internationally recognized as a terrorist organization and responsible for countless suicide bombings and other deadly attacks against Israel. An integral part of the movement, Mosab was imprisoned several times by the Israeli internal intelligence service. After a chance encounter with a British tourist, he started a six-year quest that jeopardized Hamas, endangered his family, and threatened his life. He has since embraced the teachings of Jesus and sought political asylum in America.

Ron Brackin has traveled extensively in the Middle East as an investigative journalist. He was in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Gaza, and Jerusalem during the Al-Aqsa Intifada. He was on assignment in Baghdad after the fall of Iraq and more recently with the rebels and refugees of southern Sudan and Darfur. He has contributed articles and columns to many publications, including USA Today and the Washington Times. Ron served as a broadcast journalist and a congressional press secretary in Washington after graduating from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

The first thing that strikes is that this book is different. The reason it is different is that although it is a completely nonfiction autobiography, the plot seems to be so close to fiction. The guns, the war, the espionage, the prisons, the religious extremism, the political fanaticism – the story has all the pointers of a classic fiction plot. The simple fact, that a person had to face so much and then come out of it, is what makes the story so different. I guess that is why they say – “truth is stranger than fiction”.

The characters are real and too many, which gives a variety to the story. Even though the characters were real, it is a difficult job to portray them on paper, which to the credit of the author, was done well. It is effective in putting a human face on the high-stakes drama that is the Middle East conflict by going behind the scenes and showing the intense personal dynamics that shape the headlines.

The story, in the way which it is told, is highly spiritual. The continuous mention of religious texts would corroborate the same. However, oddly and quite oxymoronically, it points to a certain practicality as well, especially towards the end.

One thing which is very interesting is the religious metamorphosis of the author. When the story starts, it is filled with references from the Quran. Then, it gradually subsides and gives way to the Bible. The best part about the transition is that it’s very subtle which indicates a level of maturity in writing.

It is also an inspiring work of peace, helping us see that there are no cut and dry answers to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. All have done wrong, with Jesus all are capable of peace.

There is one problem:

“…that I won’t step on too many toes as I learn to dance with the Bridegroom…”

I’m not sure how the author would learn how to dance with the bridegroom. I think he meant the bride. Translation errors, I suppose, since the book was originally published in Arabic.

On the outset, Son of Hamas is the autobiography of the son of a Palestinian extremist leader, who in search for peace, turns to the other side. Actually, it is a story of “a child”, a child who had seen so much of violence and confusion in his own people that he decided to help the other side in a desperate attempt to make sure that peace prevailed in a region which has seen turmoil from the very onset. World peace starts with but a single step. Son of Hamas is perhaps that first step. That is certainly heartwarming.

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Review: Raga N’ Josh

By Sheila Dhar. Grade: A

To say that I am not a good singer would be like calling Grand Canyon “a little big”. So when I first received the review copy, I assumed – albeit wrongly – that it would contain boring essays on Hindustani music, a topic that doesn’t interest me much. Or hadn’t, until this book came along and changed my perception entirely.

Sheila Dhar’s autobiographical stories, essays, and memoirs are classics of modern Indian prose. An accomplished singer, the world she inhabited included renowned north Indian classical musicians such as Begum Akhtar, Siddheshwari Bai, Fayyaz and Niaz Ahmed Khan, Kesar Bai Kerkar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and Bhimsen Joshi. No writer has ever conveyed the ethos of this world and the quirks of its denizens with such wit, irreverence, perceptiveness and empathy.

Sheila Dhar’s writing straddles many worlds. Once a part of Delhi’s political elite, she is inimitably observant about celebrities as diverse as Indira Gandhi, Joan Robinson, Richard Attenborough, and the Queen of Tonga. In other parts of this book she returns to the Old Delhi she grew up in-its sprawling bungalows, its labyrinthine households with their complicated domestic politics, its bygone musical ambience.

Many of these writings have been unavailable or out of print for some time. The present book provides, for the first time within the covers of a single volume, Sheila Dhar’s collected shorter writings, including all of her memorable stories and essays.

Incisive intelligence, comic effervescence, self-deprecating humour, and a fascinating ability to manipulate the English language for Indian contexts-all combine to make this book an absolute delight.

In her book Raga’n Josh – Stories from a Musical Life, the author combines her two earlier books “Here’s Someone I’d Like You to Meet” and “The Cooking of Music and Other Essays”, she writes about her interactions with bureaucrats and musicians, about her experience listening to some of the great masters of Hindustani Classical music and about her own thoughts on Indian Classical Music and the changes it has gone through during her times as a classical singer.

As I believe I have mentioned before, I know next to nothing about any kind of music. I enjoy listening to it, but if somebody had the gall to ask me about Hindustani music, I would be nonplussed. I expected that to detract me from the story. Huge parts of it are dedicated to the study of classical music, and it is perhaps the only connecting link between the myriad essays. To my utter and delightful surprise – it didn’t. The reason was simple.
For a person whose forte is supposed to be music, she sure knows how to make words dance to her tune.

She looked at life from a different angle, and put it so simply that sometimes one may pass it without fully comprehending the little nugget of gold. Her acute perceptiveness about foibles of character and the nuances of situational atmosphere are very obvious throughout the entire novel.

Page after page, the author offers us enchanting moments, suspended in semi eternity. She has talked about the fads, eccentricities and the inherent humanness of people who have been larger than life without any trace of malice or jargon of pretentiousness. Sometimes they make you laugh out loud in unbelievable hilarity, and sometimes they put a lump in your throat.

She creates and recreates, captures and recaptures the memory of pure emotion, the resonance of a raga, the idiosyncrasy of a great artist, and much more, with enormous sensitivity, inspired wit and originality. The vibrations linger and linger. She talks about her achievements in very much the same tone she recounts her failures. Her little vignettes of life in bureaucracy were especially delightful. The book is a perfect mix of iconoclastic observation with an insider’s casually deep knowledge of music-making in north India.

Despite this, the best part about this book was undoubtedly the two obituaries of the author. I read them before I began the book, and their perception made me fall in love with the author before I read a word by her.

If you’re looking for a good memoir, then this one’s perfect for you.

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Review: Peace from Broken Pieces

By Iyanla Vanzant. Grade: A

“What is it that would make a creature as fierce, majestic and powerful as a lion is, subject itself to the intimidation of a man, a whip and a chair? The lion has been taught to forget what it is.”

                                                                                                    -Iyanla Vanzant

Iyanla Vanzant is a motivational speaker, a spiritual guru and is known for being a guest speaker on the famous “Oprah” show. She has written many books and “Peace from broken Pieces“ is Iyanla’s memoir of her journey through life and an effort to decipher the broken pieces of her life and to reclaim it.

New York Times best-selling author Iyanla Vanzant recounts the last decade of her life and the spiritual lessons learned””from the price of success during her meteoric rise as a TV celebrity on Oprah, the Iyanla TV show (produced by Barbara Walters), to the dissolution of her marriage and her daughter’s 15 months of illness and death on Christmas day. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Iyanla shares why everything we need to learn is reflected in our relationships and the strength and wisdom she has gained by supporting others in their journeys to make sense out of the puzzle pieces of their lives.

At the very onset, she makes clear that the book is about her personal narrative of the people, the events she encountered on her path to fame and this honest approach instantly grips the reader. By the time Iyanla was thirty, she had already survived childhood rape, her daughter’s death from cancer, an abusive relationship and teen pregnancy. The hard hitting descriptions of these events touch the heart of the reader who becomes a pillion rider as Iyanla takes him on a journey of her life.

The most beautiful part of the book, apart from its simplicity, is her concept of pathology of human emotions, the broken patterns that are passed on from one generation to the other. This then becomes a part of our DNA and we unknowingly become enmeshed in the repeated patterns. Iyanla’s mother was a teenager (Iyanla was conceived when her mother was around thirteen). Iyanla also became a mother when she was a teenager and her daughter too becomes one: an example of the unexplained patterns we all inherit.

Another thought provoking theory she mentions is her concept of how our failures teach us valuable lessons and help us move a step closer to God. Iyanla believe that our souls are given a project by God. When the soul accepts the project and agrees to enter the human world, its memory is wiped clean of the details of the project. What we encounter throughout our life is the soul’s effort to complete that project.

Also, on a simpler level, the book can be seen as a girl’s journey to womanhood. The various men and women Iyanla encounters in her life teach her disrupted and conflicting notions of being a woman. Her grandmother, a strict, rough and often violent woman taught her that a woman needs to be just that in order to survive. Her father taught her that men come and go whenever they feel like as she was abandoned by him on many occasions. Her father’s girlfriend, Lynette taught her to be docile and that a woman should “serve” her man. These lessons in turn make her a broken woman who can’t even tell a cab driver, a man, to turn down the air conditioner as she sat shivering in the back seat.

She spends a major part of life in denial: a denial of being broken, hurt and devastated. Although at a sub-conscious level, she is aware of these feelings, she ignores her inner voice. In the end, however, she manages to pay heed to that voice and finds solace in serving God. Although some fragments of her life might still remain broken and unexplained, she is no longer a broken woman.

To conclude, the book is a must read and is a touching tale and insight into the author’s personal life, thoughts and emotions.

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