Monday, November 26, 2007

The Unpublished Spike Milligan edited by Norma Farnes

Remember how at this time of the year people often say to you, “What do you really want for Christmas? You never give us any hints!” This new book containing the unpublished stories and clippings of Spike Milligan might just well be your answer. Give them a wink and send them this link. (That’s starting to rhyme like the poems you will find in this Milligan cornucopia).

The Unpublished Spike Milligan is hardly a conventional book, which is one of the reasons why it is subtitled, ‘Box 18’—the box for Spike’s scribbles and seeds, many of which, in the fullness of time became the stuff of vintage Spike.

Norma Farnes, Spike’s manager, biographer, life long friend and the one who he said had “the Power of Attorney over everything in my life except the Execution Squad”, is well placed to offer this smorgasbord of things Spike and provide illustrations of the off stage habits of the great man. For instance, Farnes explains that while Milligan’s public persona was that of the manic, disorganized bloke, in his office (what he called his ‘womb’), he was focused, methodical and a meticulous filer of clippings and stories—hence the subtitle, ‘Box 18’.

Many of the draft stories and soliloquies are provided in Spike’s handwriting with a typewritten translation to offer sense out of the squiggles and doodling. Copies of Spike’s handwritten diary give some interesting insights into the moods of the man. Journal entries such as ‘I’m so lonely’ or ‘F*ck the system’ reveal Spike’s innermost feelings. Spike had written on the page for the 28 September 1980 that one of his tasks was to ‘Die’. The editor adds the caption below, ‘He didn’t’.

The unpublished scripts are about sperm donors, religion, elephant substitutes, ‘Ostralians’, cat coffins and Egyptian mummies.

‘Box 18’ contains some unpublished poems, photographs (from the Goons or Spike blowing his bugle), children’s stories (including some about Bad Jelly the Witch), letters which illustrate his environmental concerns and simply some scattered statements. In one fragment, penned in 1980, Spike says, “My mind is overflowing but it’s nowhere to go.” (p140) At another time he writes, “Waiting—we are all waiting, waiting, for the waiting to stop.” (p143)

While you go adding this book to your ‘All I Want for Christmas’ list, don’t expect that you will find in ‘Box 18’ a laugh a minute. Sensational speeches heard live so often appear dead when they are laid out in type on papyrus. Spike’s speeches and sayings are no exception. But if you can hear the lilt in his voice, if you know the deft timing, if you can see the smile creep over his face, then this Milligan Miscellany will rekindle your memories and transport you back to the stage and the wireless.

Spike concluded most of his jottings, whether to Prince Charles, George Harrison or Michael Parkinson, with this hopeful benediction, ‘Love, Light and Peace’.

The Unpublished Spike Milligan: Box 18 ed. Norma Farnes (London: Fourth Estate, 2007).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 91.00.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of The Unpublished Spike Milligan.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Colours of Fujairah by Christopher Hurndall and Blanka Rössler (photographs)

At first glance this book appears as just another coffee table edition but a sustained reading reveals that this volume has substance as well as colour.

When information in English on Fujairah is scarce and largely promotional, this book offers a good survey of the history of the region as it was visited by Mesopotamian seafarers, Babylonian armies (modern day Iraq), the messengers of Islam, the Portuguese invaders in the sixteenth century and the British occupants of these ‘Trucial States’. Furthermore the author tells of the discovery of Greek and Roman coins, the importance of the trade route that intersects the Wadi Dam (controlled by the fort at Bithna) and connects Dubai and Sharjah with Fujairah and the East Coast.

Residents will find new details about familiar city locations and monuments and they will learn information about archaeological sites and the fauna and flora of Fujairah that visitors rarely see. The cultural attractions of the area are recorded (racing dhow, bull butting and football) and the book focuses pleasingly on the smaller villages and suburbs of the emirate including Dibba, Al Aqqah, Masafi, Ghurfah, Sharm, Bidiya and Bithna.

This comprehensive, yet uncluttered book is largely attributed to the knowledge of the author, Christopher Hurndall, who visited the UAE first as an airline pilot (he has seen the colours of Fujairah from the best vantage points) and then as a resident where he has lived in Fujairah during his retirement and witnessed the east coast and its sensational waters from his classic schooner, the ‘Charlotte Anne’.

This book is one of a series (The Colours of Dubai etc.) so the title alerts readers to beauty and colour as its governing themes. To the casual visitor, Fujairah sometimes appears as a dusty little city and colour is not always the most lasting memory that people take with them. Like the contributor to the UAE chapters of the popular Lonely Planet Guide to the Arabian Peninsula, who while noting the beauty of the eastern region, said: “Fujairah itself is a rather characterless small city without much tourism infrastructure…. Our recommendation is to bypass Fujairah, as its beaches are polluted and unattractive and the Port of Fujairah just north of the city is a major blot on the landscape. You’re much better off going north.” (p348)

In contrast, the resident author of The Colours of Fujairah finds beauty in the streets, the markets, the beaches, the wadis, the ‘picturesque villages’, the streams, the colourful flora and even in the port! This book has a lot of information on the distinctive and rare animals of the region, including Blandford’s fox, the Bonelli’s eagle, the Arabian gazelles, the Arabian leopard, donkeys, goats, dolphins and the Caracal lynx. The colour of the region is also apparent in the sky (over 300 different species have been recorded in this key bird watching area) and in the colourful shells on the beaches.

Blanka Rössler, who hails from Prague and more recently has been living and exhibiting in Germany, has conveyed the beauty and the colour of the region through her photographs in this book. With her artist’s eye, Rössler has captured the glow of dawn over the Arabian Sea, the colours of the Hajars from the air, the reflections of the sea waters, the bright night lights of the roundabouts and even in the multi-coloured containers at the port.

The Colours of Fujairah was published in 2002 and while it contains some wonderful photographs of Fujairah from out of the archive, some of the pictures depicting modern day Fujairah looked dated. This is only natural when one considers the rate of change that this emirate and country has experienced even since this book was launched. Rössler supplies some technical information about the pictures (especially satellite photographs) to do with exposure and resolution but many of the colours are so vivid and scenes are presented with such clarity and definition, they look too good to be true! Have camera filters enhanced the Fujairah scenes beyond recognition, or is there more dust and sea fog in the air today that makes Fujairah appear pale and veiled?

Readers will stumble across some purple patches in this book whose production has been financed by many sponsors (see the last page) but The Colours of Fujairah rightly possess a positive feel and sound a note of hope about the future of this eastern region. This book is an important acquisition for anyone interested in Fujairah, past, present and future.

Christopher Hurndall with photographs by Blanka Rössler, The Colours of Fujairah (Lake City, Florida: Zodiac Publishing, 2002).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 135.00.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of The Colours of Fujairah.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

My Forbidden Face by Latifa

My Forbidden Face Growing Up Under the Taliban: A Young Woman’s Story is the eye witness account of a young woman who was born and raised under the Soviet occupation but who, as a teenager, witnesses the takeover by terror of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

‘Latifa’ is not the author’s birth name but her assumed name now that she and her family live as exiles in France as a result of having a fatwa slapped upon them and receiving death threats.

This book is a revealing account of the political overthrow by the Taliban, the rapid revolution of terror and chaos and its endless creativity for inventing illogical laws to maintain control and suffocate its citizens.

As a Muslim, the author argues how the Taliban, though operating within the veil of rigorous religion, has departed from the essence of Islam. Like all fundamentalist groups, the Taliban is described more by what it is against than for what it stands for: No videos (tapes are stripped from cassettes and draped around trees), no TV, no photographs (no memories), no alcohol, no dancing (even at weddings), no whistling kettles, no dogs, no birds, no nail polish, no cultural treasures (the Taliban vandals destroy the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan) and no more kites in Kabul (‘the Taliban have outlawed the skies’).

Latifa tells of the marginalization of women under the Taliban, since it has decreed that women will no longer work, no longer be able to go to school and no longer have any health treatment. The account depicts the confinement of women, their thirst in an intellectual desert, their punishment by rape and the cruel tradition in which Afghani women who are violated are obliged to marry their rapist or be condemned to exile or death.

The author relays the psychological and physical impact due to the restrictions on her as a budding journalist, the profound depression ‘that is swallowing up’ her medico mother, the heavy weight that presses down on her father and brothers whose business and livelihoods suffer.

Despite the bleak mood of the book, there are touches of humor as Latifa tells of how she and her friends grew up nicknaming women who wore burqas as ‘bottles’, ‘upside-down cauliflowers, ‘storage sacks’ and collectively as ‘a regiment of parachutists’!

Any mirth quickly evaporates as Latifa and her fashionable friends are forced to wear the heavy burqas with the distinctive latticework, whose mesh is reduced even further by the short-sighted, stick-wielding Taliban police.

For a young journo and writer (the book was published when the author was only 22), whose first language is translated into French and then into English, this book is superbly written and contains a wealth of colorful images. Latifa describes her cloistered experience as feeling like ‘a canary in a cage’. She likens her wearing of the burqa to existing in ‘a moving prison’.

Latifa tells of the shutting down of the media in Afghanistan and its replacement with a diet of mindless propaganda. She rages against the international amnesia that has afflicted world governments and foreign journalists. This feeling of being forgotten by the BBC and the Voice of America is summed up by Latifa’s brother who says of Afghanis, “We’re like rats in some dark hole that is inaccessible to the rest of the world.” (p153)

Although set in the minor key, this book presents promising glimpses of the courage of its author and her family, who represent the many unnamed heroes whose stories are never told, in the running of a clandestine health clinic out of their home, the establishment of a secret school for children and the operation of an underground newspaper to satisfy the appetite for local and international news.

Written in exile, this book is a promise of hope, a literary treat to a nation starved of storytelling, a tribute to women who have kept their dignity and, as the author hopes, a key to other women, “whose speech has been padlocked and who have buried their testimony in their hearts and in their memories.” (pv)

Latifa with Chékéha Hacheim, trans. Lisa Appignanesi, My Forbidden Face Growing Up Under the Taliban: A Young Woman’s Story (London: Virago, 2002).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 49.00.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of My Forbidden Face.

Other books that are reviewed on Afghanistan that convey similar themes but offer their unique perspective are the following, with their links:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen (Pakistan and Afghanistan)

Other books reviewed that highlight the oppression of women include:

Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi

My Name is Salma by Fadia Faqir

State of Terror by Karen women

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Spoken Arabic Step-By-Step by John Kirkbright

Spoken Arabic is not one book but two books—Books 1 and 2 (82 and 100 pages respectively) and three CDs that accompany the twenty lessons.

These resources were first published in 1993 but such has been their popularity that the books have gone through ten printings and the 2006 and 2007 model is the edition that comes with the DVDs.

The author, John Kirkbright has lived in the Arab world for more than forty years of which the last thirty have been in the Arabian Gulf. These resources come out of Kirkbright’s experience in creating self-study books for companies and banks and then they have been honed through his leadership of many staff courses in Gulf Arabic for companies such as the Al Futtaim Group, Shell and Emirates Bank.

The distinctive things that distinguish this resource include the following:
* It is for beginners but getting to grips with the twenty lessons will enable students to hold basic conversations with Gulf State Arabic speakers.
* It is about spoken Arabic. Students don’t through these resources get to grips with learning the alphabet and writing the script.
* The vocabulary is intentionally limited as are many of the grammatical intricacies. This is designed so as not to complicate and bog down the beginner. Lists of words do come in the Appendix and they are grouped according to themes.
* It is ‘step-by-step’ and the guide chooses the first few steps carefully and slowly, so as to encourage learners and not to leave them daunted and giving up.
* The course is written for people with no formal language training in language and grammatical terms. As Kirkbright says in the preface, this resource is for “The man [and woman] in the street.”
* Alternatives are given to show how words in Gulf Arabic differ from standard Arabic and to highlight variants throughout the Gulf and Saudi Arabia.
* There is a goodly amount of revision and summaries so as to consolidate and avoid overload
* The CDs are a valuable addition. Each lesson starts with some rousing Arabic music to get you in the mood and on task. There is a predictable four step rhythm in the approach to learning. Kirkbright gives the cue in English. The student is then given time and space to say the word or phrase in Arabic. The model answer is given by a person from the Arabian Peninsula and then it is your turn to say it again after the speaker.
* There are different speakers on the audio—men and women and speakers from different parts of the Gulf. This is a great advantage.

Kirkbright says, “It may seem strange that a non-Arab should write a course in spoken Arabic. On reflection, however, the pitfalls and difficulties of a language are not always apparent to native speakers of that language.” (Bk I p4-5)

This is a popular and useful resource because it is written by an effective Arabic speaker who knows how to assist beginners in taking those first, tentative steps. The sub-title, ‘step-by-step’ is the essential key to this book. But this is also the Arab approach to good education and to all of life. As they say in these parts, "Grapes are eaten one by one", which is a colourful way of saying ‘step-by-step’, ‘one step at a time’ or in the original:

أَكْل العِنَب حَبَّة حَبَّة Transliterated: Akl il-3inab Habba Habba

(Proverb taken from, Primrose Arander & Ashkhain Skipwith, Apricots Tomorrow , London: Stacey International, 1997.

John Kirkbright, Spoken Arabic Step-by-Step (Dubai: Motivate Publishing, 1993, 2007).

This resource book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 185.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Spoken Arabic Step-by-Step.

A related article entitled ‘Learning Arabic in the UAE and the Gulf’ has been posted on Experiencing the Emirates.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi

With Iran at the focus of much international attention, this memoir by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, gives a fascinating background to the country that has gone through a series of revolutions, awakenings and regressions in only a few decades.

Iran Awakening is a frightening account of the overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of a fundamentalist religious regime in which critics of the government are imprisoned and murdered.

Ebadi highlights how certain events, such as the burning of a crowded cinema in 1978 and the death of 400 people, prompted people to protest and overthrow the Shah. The author also exposes the negative aspects of crowd movements for their hailing of Ayatollah Khomeini quickly turned to howls. Her analysis of these national movements points up the importance of the media and the legal profession when their representatives are doing their job well. For anyone thinking through the issue of the separation of religion and the state, this book gives ample comment and illustration.

Shirin Ebadi recounts her early life experiences, her training and service as a judge, and how she reacted when her influential job was taken from her and she became sidelined. Some instances of injustice and cruelty towards members of her extended family galvanized her commitment to work for battered children, women who were hostage in abusive marriages and political prisoners. Taking up the legal cases that others wouldn’t touch, Ebadi puts her own life at risk and for her courage in staying in Iran and being a champion of the rights of the vulnerable she is harassed, threatened and imprisoned.

It is illuminating to read the thoughts of a Muslim woman who has a deep faith, asks the hard questions and is eager to encourage the fulfillment of women. Ebadi baulks at the way under the strict Islamic code a man’s life is worth twice that of a woman and how this understanding translates in such things as a limited access to education by women, fewer professional opportunities and a much higher unemployment rate.

Iran Awakening is an important book for Muslims to read as Ebadi, a devout Muslim, is able to spell out the forbidding side of the theocracy that sparked the Islamic Revolution in Iran. She describes how the government espoused an ideology that made the family the centerpiece of its action but in reality, it used theology to introduce news laws that were oppressive toward women and children. These memoirs assist readers in reflecting upon the levels of flexibility one has in applying seventh century texts and conventions to contemporary situations.

In her epilogue Ebadi says, “I wanted to write a book that would help correct Western stereotypes of Islam, especially the image of Muslim women as docile, forlorn creatures.” (p210) This book reveals one striking representative of those Iranian women who have stood up for the rights of women but the book reinforces the stereotypes that the author wanted to shatter. Ebadi’s candid remarks about her husband’s expectations that she does the cooking, the housework and the bulk of the caring for the children (even though he supported her activism), illustrate graphically the practical limits of gender equality.

Despite her frankness about many aspects of Iranian life, the author indicates that her voice has been muted: “The censorship that prevails in the Islamic Republic has made it impossible to publish an honest account of my life here.” Perhaps Ebadi’s book has escaped the full impact of the censor’s pen only because of her international standing as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni, Iran Awakening (London: Rider, 2006). This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 56.00.

A picture of Shirin Ebadi and one of her stories is posted at:
Stories for Speakers and Writers.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Iran Awakening.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Birds of the Middle East by David Cottridge et al

The writer, P D James, describes in her autobiographical fragment, Time to Be in Earnest, a day with her friends exploring the natural world:

“One of the delights of being with [friends] Tom and Mary [Norman] is their knowledge of natural history. There isn’t a bird, butterfly, flower or tree which they can’t name.”

If you’ve also admired in others and longed for that skill of being able to name birds that you see in the Middle East, the revised and republished, Birds of the Middle East, may assist you to be well on your way with this aspiration.

Trivial Pursuit players confronted by questions about birds in the Middle East will be well prepared by a study of this volume. For example, Can you name five birds that are mentioned in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? Or what about this trivial pursuit question: Birds are mentioned five times in the Koran. What specific bird is mentioned in the Islamic scriptures? [Answers below]

This reference book has a focus on birds in the United Arab Emirates with Simon Aspinall giving an introduction to birds and bird watchers in this country. This small book will be useful for keeping in your pocket or the glove box of the car if you are a resident in the UAE or one of the increasing number of tourists to this burgeoning country, many of whom come primarily for bird watching.

More information about birds and bird watchers in the UAE is posted on the Experiencing the Emirates site.

The book has a series of color tabs according to the bird group (larks, swallows etc) so you can find the page and photograph quickly when you are out and about with your binoculars and camera.

Each of the 252 species described has a colour photograph (supplied by David Cottridge), the taxonomical name and commonly used names (I hope the next edition supplies the Arabic and Hebrew names). Readers aren’t deluged with too much information. This small book comes with a glossary, an index, suggestions for further reading and addresses and web links for those wanting to take their study further.

They say that when we reach forty years of age we should be learning one new skill or taking up one new hobby each year to prepare for a full and rich retirement. Perhaps bird watching or birding (note the difference between these two pursuits and how they also differ from ornithology) might be one of those interests. Reading Birds of the Middle East might give you the impetus to get this feathery hobby up in flight. Don’t wait until you are forty to buy this book. It is a gift that a young girl or boy might easily read and treasure.

David Cottridge (not listed as author but photographer), A Photographic Guide to Birds of the Middle East (London: New Holland Publishers, 2001 & 2006).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 56.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Birds of the Middle East; David Cottridge.

Answers: The birds that are mentioned in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures include the eagle, sparrow, dove (turtle dove), raven, stork, ostrich and hen.

The Koran mentions the hoopoe (related to the hornbill). Birds of the Middle East has photos and information on all of these birds but the references in the ancient texts illustrate how birds have for centuries been a big part of the Middle Eastern environment.