Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Murder in the name of Honor by Rana Husseini

Murder in the Name of Honor deals with the controversial subject of honor killings which are common throughout the Muslim world and are becoming increasingly common in the West.

Rana Husseini, an investigative journalist, has devoted her professional life to the eradication of this evil practice and to the promotion of women's rights in the Middle East. Her main focus has been on the abuse of women in Middle Eastern Muslim cultures, specifically the crime of honor killings.

Husseini, who is an Arab Muslim, looks in depth, at the culture and practice of honor killings in Jordan as well as in numerous other Middle East countries. In Murder in the Name of Honor, she tells the horrific stories of women from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Israel. Husseini discusses how honor killing has moved into Western society as Middle Eastern Muslims have immigrated and taken this practice with them and how Western law enforcement does not understand this crime and how to deal with it. The recent case of Rifqa Bary in the United States, is one such situation.
Husseini includes

"as many human examples as possible in this book, to show that this is a very real tragedy, that every day, all across the world, bright young women are being slaughtered for no good reason."
Many of the stories are terribly heartrending. Women killed for talking to men, falling in love with men their families don't approve of, or of dressing differently. Many of these women are not just simply killed. Many are tortured and raped - by family members BEFORE being murdered. Husseini's stories show that their suffering is unspeakable; their terror, palatable.

Some of the most heartbreaking stories are those of women who have survived attempted honor killings only to languish for years in prison. Rana Husseini visited Jweideh Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre for Women, one such prison in Jordan. Victims of honor killings are imprisoned to protect them from being killed by their families. For many of these women, their only hope to get out of prison, is to marry - usually a much older man who comes seeking the companionship of a younger woman. The other option available is to have a male relative post a guarantee worth $7000, that no harm will come to the woman. Many women have such guarantees posted only to learn this has been a ruse used to get them out of prison, to be killed.

What became very apparent in reading this book, is that many of the families are very conflicted about this crime. Family members feel compelled to kill sisters, wives, daughters to cleanse their "honor". Often all traces of the victim are expunged from the family. The murderers, who are brothers, fathers, husbands, uncles and grandfathers, sometimes feel intense conflict over having killed a beloved sister, wife or daughter. Other times there is no remorse at all, simply deep hatred towards the woman for "dishonoring" the family and placing the men in the position of having to reclaim their honour.

Husseini points out that laws do little to protect women. Often laws are passed with loopholes that still allow men to kill. Most Muslim governments simply will not pass laws protecting women. Pressure from extremist Muslims is often enough to change the minds of those in power who might be otherwise predisposed to change.And the women themselves often have no where to run - no safe place to go.

The problem is so large that it remains to be seen whether these societies will ever change. Views about women must change and the distorted notion of honor much be changed. This book is a start in helping publicize the plight of our sisters in the Middle East. We must be their voices. Husseini is one such voice.

I'm not a Jane Fonda fan, but her words in the books foreword are worth quoting:

"As I write this foreword, CNN is broadcasting the footage of a young woman being publicly stoned to death by a lynch mob, while the police just stand by watching. It pains me deeply to live in a world where a Kurdish woman has been killed for falling in love with a man from a different faith. Murders like this, which happen around the world, destroy the honour they are intended to restore. Honour is respect for life. Honour is respect for love. There is no honour in murder."

And from Rana herself these fine words:

"...Beliefs relating to women as the bearers of family honour are still embedded in many people's minds, making so-called crimes of honour acceptable. But these beliefs are about control, not honour. Women are placed in fear, knowing that one false move or one malicious piece of gossip could end their lives in a moment. A killing made in the name of honour is a murder, plain and simple, and must be punished as such."

This is heartwrenching, well-written book dealing with a very sensitive topic. A must read for all who care about women.

Update: Jordanian jailed for sister's "honour killing".

Book details:
Murder in the Name of Honor
The true story of one woman's heroic fight against an unbelievable crime.
by Rana Husseini

Friday, January 22, 2010

head case by Sarah Aronson

You are seventeen - on the cusp of the beginning of the rest of your life. But you wake up one day and life is very, very different.
You learn the car you were driving while drunk killed an old man and your girlfriend. You are paralyzed from the neck down. You are a "head".
That's the scenario for Aronson's debut novel, head case.
Frank Marder is that seventeen year old and he's got to learn how to live again. How will he integrate back into society. He has to deal with friends that he's alienated and parents who have serious personal problems themselves.

It isn't going to be easy because a lot of people think Frank hasn't been punished enough. And they're saying so on www.quadkingonthenet. Many people think Frank should go to jail but not Anonymous.

"head case" is a poignant, heartbreaking quick read that tackles the issues of drunk driving, consequences of actions, forgiveness and judgment. Can Frank move forward, to forgive himself, and to make a new life for himself under such terrible circumstances? Can he forgive himself?

As a former physical therapist, Sarah Aronson has certainly given teens alot of material to think about.

I really enjoyed this book except for one major detail and that was Frank Marder's complete obsession with sex. Quite honestly, I really think a person in Marder's situation, dealing with quadriplegia, would have many other things to adjust to and to deal with. Certainly the idea that sex might be a thing of the past (as it was in Marder's case) would be in there, but I simply don't think the emphasis would be on this. There is an entire chapter in which Victoria, Frank's physical therapist, discusses the ways in which a quadriplegic can have sex. I felt the novel's repeated focus on this aspect of life was overdone.

Interestingly, the f-word, which is dropped throughout the book, doesn't appear in a quote on the back cover. And, I'm wondering why? If it's okay for the INSIDE of the book, what's so wrong about the back of the jacket cover?

Maybe it was a marketing decision.....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Movie Avatar

Avatar is the latest in a series of 3D, CGI movies to hit the big screen. Critics have panned the movie mainly due to it's overdone plot of evil, technologically-advanced people over-running poor indigenous peoples. Nevertheless, audiences are returning in droves to see Avatar again and again.

In Avatar, humans have come to the planet, Pandora, for it's mineral wealth. Trouble is, Pandora, a beautiful, lush planet in pristine condition is inhabited by the humanoid Na'vi race.

Parapalegic Marine Jake Sully takes his brother's place on a mission to infiltrate the Na'vi tribe. Humans have discovered the mother-lode of unobtainium is located under the Home Tree that a large Nav-i tribe lives in. His mission is to learn more about Home Tree and to try to convince them to move so that humans can mine the mineral. Since the Na'vi world is toxic to humans, they have developed a means of living on the planet through the use of Avatars - Na'vi bodies that can be inhabited by a human mind.

To accomplish his task, Jake inhabits and controls a man made Avatar body with his mind. His blue, tall Na'vi body has both human and Na'vi DNA. Gradually, Jake begins to bond with the Na'vi tribe and falls in love with Neytiri, a young Na'vi female who helps Jake integrate into her tribe and live in the beautiful, but poisonous world of Pandora.

However, Colonel Miles Quaritch, who controls the military operation on Pandora, eventually decides to use force and destroy the tree since Jake's mission appears to be failing. But the Na'vi don't intend to go quietly and with Jake Sully and Neytiri, they begin to resist the humans. The central question then remains: can the Na'vi throw off their human occupiers and rid their planet of these people who have come to rape and destroy it?

The film is both visually thrilling and appealing. The special effects are beyond this world and watching the movie in 3D only enhances the experience, although the 3D glasses gave me a headache. Despite the fact that the plot has been done a million times before, Avatar has exciting action scenes and several climatic battles.

Avatar is heavy on pantheism, which isn't surprising given the current environmental global culture. But one can't help but experience and identify with the terror and disbelief that Na'vi feel when their world is attacked. Especially terrible is the destruction of the tree of life, which is central to the Na'vi's existence.

Home Tree
What is happening on Pandora is also a parallel for what happened when the European explorers came to America to colonize the continent in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first Europeans came in search of a route to Cathay and then, in the case of the Spanish, to find gold. It was a clash between a primitive culture and a more technologically advanced one. It was also a clash between Christian nations and peoples who were essentially pagans. However, unlike say, the Aztecs who practiced human sacrifice, the Na'vi are relatively peaceful and appear to have no such beliefs. Uber warrior, Colonel Miles Quaritch represents all those dull-minded European brutes who are intent upon subjugating a people they don't understand.

Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington are well cast and Steven Lang, an actor of considerable talent,  is brilliant as the homicidal crazy warrior who just has to complete his mission and subjugate the primitive people of this planet.

See Avatar for the visuals, the action and the gorgeous special effects. You can check out the movie's website here, Official Avatar Movie

Chenxi and the Foreigner by Sally Rippin

Since I'm a huge fan of books, both fiction and nonfiction, dealing with China it seemed only right to pick up this book.
The story revolves around Anna White, the daughter of a wealthy American business man who is in China to make his fortune in the late 1980's. Anna's parents have separated and she has come from San Francisco, to spend four weeks with her father in Shanghai. While Anna's father would like her to study business law and become an entrepreneur, her heart lies in being an artist. So it seems like a good idea to study traditional Chinese painting, at the local art college.

Her father hires Chenxi, a local Chinese art student and painter, to help his daughter around Shanghai. Almost immediately, Anna becomes infatuated with her young Chinese host but is put off by his seemingly cool, distant attitude towards her. She cannot understand the mindset of the Chinese as she gets mostly mixed signals from Chenxi.

Chenxi, in turn, is frustrated by Anna's naivete and her lack of understanding of how repressed Chinese society is. However, Chenxi realises that despite this, Anna understands his art which is modern and very different than traditional Chinese art. Chenxi is impressed with Anna's fearlessness in using art to express herself but knows she doesn't understand what it is like to live in a society where freedom to express oneself does not exist.

To make matters more complicated Anna's father does not like Chenxi but favours Laurent, a French national studying mandarin in Shanghai. In an attempt to get Anna to mix more with the foreigners living in Shanghai her father takes Anna to cocktail parties and encourages her to meet with Laurent more often. However, Anna dislikes Laurent who deals in drugs on the side.

Anna continues to be attracted to only Chenxi with drastic consequences for all involved. She tries to convince Chenxi to leave China but he rebukes her telling her that he does not want to go to America and be a Chinese man living in America. He wants to live in China and be Chinese.

It isn't long before Anna soon learns that Chenxi is involved in much more than just art, working with other artists and students who are seeking democratic reform in communist China. While students are demonstrating for democracy in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Chenxi and local artists stage their own demonstration at an art gallery in Shanghai. When Chenxi disappears, Anna tries everything to find and see him again but to no avail. It is at this time she learns she is carrying his child. When she tells her father and finally makes a decision for herself about her life, Anna's father refuses to help or support her and Anna leaves China.

Several years later, Anna learns through mysterious circumstances that Chenxi is safe and free again. She hopes through one last act she might reconnect with him again.

Chenxi and the Foreigner was authentic and believable. It's obvious that author Rippin knows her subject well. Although the characters were realistic, I personally found most of them unlikeable. Anna came across as spoiled and self-centred. Laurent was a dislikable drug head who seemed out of character in helping Anna navigate the Chinese health system when she suspects she's pregnant. Even Anna's father seemed shallow and self-absorbed. What father sends his daughter home, cutting her out of his life, when he learns she is pregnant in a foreign country? He seemed to have little time for his 19 year old daughter. I also found Chenxi to be a somewhat one-dimensional character - getting into his head came in bits and pieces that were hard to put together. He seemed to want to be like the foreigners, trying to get into their nightclub and yet despising them. Perhaps this was an accurate portrayal of how Chinese view westerners. It seemed like Anna and Chenxi only really connected during the one time she critiqued his painting.

Nevertheless, Chenxi and the Foreigner is a good, engaging read about a time in recent China that hasn't been much written about. The story is based somewhat on author, Rippin's experiences as a teenager living in China during her teen years. She studied painting in China for three years, first at the Shanghai Institute of Fine Arts and the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art. Some swearing and a short description of sexual intercourse in this book.

For more information on the author, Sally Rippin see:
Sally Rippin

Book Details:
Chenxi and the Foreigner by Sally Rippin
Annick Press Ltd 2009

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Dogs and The Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky

The seventh of Nemirovsky's books to be recently republished is a tragic love triangle involving rich and poor Russian Jews.
Originally published in 1940 just prior to the restrictions placed on Jews living in France, The Dogs and The Wolves tells the story of Ada Stiller and Harry and Ben Sinner who are cousins. On one level the book is a love story that involves all three - Ada becomes infatuated as a child, after seeing the rich Russian-Jew, Harry Sinner one day. Unknown to Ada, Ben Sinner her cousin is in love with her and hates his rich cousin Harry.

On another level it is a story about Jews living in Europe and the difficulties they encountered assimilating into European society and the class struggles within Jewish society. Harry Sinner represents the dogs, the rich Jews who have been able to assimilate into European society while Ben Sinner represents the wolves, those who take whatever and whenever they can.
Ben and Ada eventually run away and marry to escape the brutal Aunt Raisa. All three surface in Paris, France where Ada learns that Harry is set to marry into a wealthy French Catholic family. Once again, Harry has assimilated, Ada and Ben have not. Ada's love for Harry eventually leads her to abandon Ben and to draw Harry into a scandalous love affair that threatens to ruin his marriage. Harry himself is drawn to Ada through her artwork and their common Jewish heritage.
When Ben destroys Harry's inheritance, thus threatening him with ruin and destitution, Ada must make the choice between staying with Harry or setting him free to go back to his wife whose family can save him. She must make the choice between Harry becoming as she is - a wolf or remaining wealthy and assimilated and accepted - a dog.
Poignant and rich in texture, this book captured my attention to it's riveting, sad conclusion.
Book Details:
The Dogs and The Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky
Chatto and Windus 2009