Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller

I have always been enthralled by the ancient Greek mythology and this book comes as the icing on the cake. Circe by Madeline Miller brings alive the ancient mythology in a feminist perspective. Miller critically analyses the magnification of masculinity and heroism through the protagonist, Circe, of the novel.

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A daughter is born to the Titan Sun god, Helios and nymph, Perse. But she’s a misfit for neither does she look like god nor does she sound divine. Circe grew up neglected and unloved. Her powers are weak, not like the other gods. As she grew, she discovered she’s more than who she is said to be. She found an unexpected talent in witchcraft and sorcery. She’s a witch —someone who’s very existence is a threat to the Titans’ realm. Witchcraft—a power forbidden to the gods, became Circe’s strength.

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The wrathful Helios banishes Circe to a remote island of Aiaia for practicing witchcraft. Circe considers this banishment not as a punishment but as a catalyst for liberation. She learns to harness her occult craft. Many passes through Circe’s place of exile entwining their fates through her. Be it her casual lover Hermes, the messenger god or the great craftsman, Daedalus or the many pack of sailors who took shelter in her home which she turned everyone into swine or the brave Odysseus on his epic voyage home after fighting in the Trojan war.

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There so many solid themes present in Circe. Taking control of one’s destiny, breaking away from the expectation of one’s lineage, love, parenthood, power, finding inner peace, drawing boundaries, and loving oneself. Circe is such a pleasurable read. A coming of age book where the protagonist, Circe, turns herself form an awkward, self doubting least loved child to a witch , goddess, mother and a woman of power who commands her own destiny.

Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah

Untold Night and Day

This book is, perhaps, one of the most complex and confusing books I have ever read. Also, this is my first time reading Bae Suah and I’d say it’s like reading Han Kang or Kafka in some form. I learnt that the translator of Han Kang and Bae Suah is one — Deborah Smith.

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Untold Night and Day follows the last working day of Kim Ayami at an audio theatre in Seoul. This theatre plays audio recordings of dramas to blind people , and sometimes to high school students. The audio theatre closes down abruptly which leaves Ayami jobless and adrift. In conversation with her German teacher , Yeoni , Ayami is able to secure an opportunity for work. Yeoni, advices Ayami to work as an assistant for a German writer, Wolfi, who is arriving in Seoul shortly.

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Far from a simple narrative , Untold Night and Day is metaphysical , complex and several dimensional. This novel is hypnotic and mysterious. Jobless Ayami walks down the busy street of Seoul and goes out for dinner with her former director. She also meets the German writer, Wolfi. Bae’s novel is recurring and poetic. It’s like you’re in a parallel universe where it’s somewhat like a dejavu yet it’s not.

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In another part of Seoul, there is Buha, an ex-businessman who is roaming the busy streets of Seoul trying to search the face of a poet he had seen in a newspaper many years ago. Buha crosses paths with Ayami. To Buha, Ayami reminds of the poet. They look similar. Buha confronts her only to be denied by Ayami that she is not the one Buha is looking for.

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This book is mind-twisting where the past and the present collide. The vagueness present in it is nearly chaotic. I think to understand this book, one needs to explore the other works of Bae Suah. A dreamlike story where parallel lives meets, Untold Night and Day tells a surreal and disorienting story of recurrence and mystery.

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#untoldnightandday #baesuah #bookstagram #igreads #readabookday #surreal #bookstagrammer

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Men is the only real enemy we have. Remove man from the scene and, the root causes of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.

Old Major to the rest of the animals

Orwell’s Animal Farm is an allegory of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Under Tzar Nicholas’s II rule (1894-1917) the Russians underwent appalling destitution and upheaval in the economic system. This suffering was signalled by the Russian Revolution of 1905 which is also known as the First Russian Revolution or the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1905. On this particular day , unarmed protestors especially peasants, workers and soldiers who had returned from the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 protested for better social reforms against Nicholas II. But Nicholas’ savage decision led to the massacre of the protesters in cold blood. Millions of lives of Russians worsened during Nicholas’ reign.

When Russia took part in World War I, 1914, it lost many of its men than they’d ever lost in any previous war. The enraged citizens under the rule of Nicholas began a series of protests which led to the Russian Revolution of 1917( February and October Revolutions) This brought an end to the rule of Tsar Nicholas II or the overthrow of the Russian monarchy.

Four legs good, two legs bad

After Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne 1917, the Bolsheviks came to power under the leadership of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, a Russian Revolutionary Politician. Under Lenin’s administration Russia or the Soviet Union became a Marxist-Leninist state. Lenin is an ardent follower of Marxism (where workers own the means of production or classless society). In 1924 Lenin passed due to failing health . He was succeeded by Joseph Stalin.

Under Stalin’s administration the Russian Civil War broke out followed by getting in alliance with Adolf Hitler in 1939. Hitler later betrayed Stalin by waging war with Russia in 1941 where Russia emerged victorious. This battle is known as the battle of Stalingrad where Stalin forced defeated Hitler’s . This was the time when the Second World War was fought (1939- 1945) . In 1943, Stalin met Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt to discuss lasting peace. This meeting is known as the Tehran conference of 1943.

All animals are equal.

Mankind’s self-absorption and gluttony led the animals in Manor farm to rebel and drive out the owner , Mr Jones from his own farm. Under old Major’s leadership, the animals of manor farm started working towards a rebellion. Old major dies before he could see the rebellion. The rebellion was soon achieved with the supervision of two superior pigs, Napoleon and Snowball. They changed the name of the farm to Animal Farm from Manor Farm. They laid down seven commandments to go along with the newly adopted ‘animalism’. The pigs come out as superior than the rest of the animals. They became the leaders and supervisors with Napoleon and Snowball as leaders . But the nature of relationship between Napoleon and Snowball is such that they disagree on everything !

Snowball proposed for a construction of windmill to generate electricity. Electricity would make their labour less taxing. But Napoleon is against this plan claiming that they don’t have time to built a windmill. In a twist of fate, Napoleon success in driving out Snowball from the farm. Napoleon then claims that he is the actual mastermind of the windmill project.

Words began spreading about the comforts and achievements of the animal farm. Animals across England are inspired to start a rebellion . Mr Jones reattempted to take back the farm but in vain.

We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples

As the story progresses, the pigs became more and more drunk in power . The very ideal that Napoleon fought for was reduced to ashes. Rather than achieving the freedom that they all longed for , the animals began to suffer under the administration of Napoleon. Envelopes by list for power , Napoleon started a totalitarian rule where he began to adopt ways of human . He began killing his fellow animals. Their commandment read “all animals are equal “. But now it was changed to “all animals are equal , but some animals are more equal “ to suit the best interest of the pigs.

Napoleon is always right

The animals toiled in sun and rain but their lives ran bleak. Soon , the pigs began walking on only two legs . They began trading with humans and started drinking . They occupied the farmhouse and started decorating their body with ribbons and badges ! The animal farm had turned into the exact system which they’d rebelled during Jones’ time. It had become the exact replica of Jones’ rule or more worse.

If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak… Instead -­‐ she did not know why -­‐ they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.

If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak… Instead -­‐ she did not know why -­‐ they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.

The animals could no longer differentiate pigs to man

Orwell’s Animal Farm is still relevant today. It could be paralleled with the rule of today’s politicians and leaders. A classic example where the weak are exploited for the benefit of the strong. Themes such as lust for power, violence , communism, socialism , power of language and hierarchical society runs prevalent throughout the book. Animal Farm is a must read as it enhances one’s social reform philosophy and gives a room for thought .

The Princess and the Political Agent by Binodini (translated from Manipuri by L Somi Roy )

The Princess and the Political Agent

Sanatombi is fierce, unruly, defiant and independent. Sanatombi is the eldest child and daughter of Maharaja Surchandra of Manipur. As a child , Sanatombi is favoured by her grand queen mother ,Maharani Kumudini. The grand queen mother recognised the boldness in Sanatombi and never stopped her from becoming who she wants to be. Sanatombi grew up how and who she wants to be — free-spirited and unrestrained.

Born in an era where women are silenced, Sanatombi is often wished by people around her that she’d been a son rather than a daughter. She spoke up for her place to succeed the throne. But that did not materialise because she’s a woman. She was given off in marriage to Manikchand of the Nongmaithem family as a royal arrangement. But there really was no love in the marriage.

After four years of Maharaja Surchandra’s reign in Manipur his half brothers started a rebellion which was led by Prince Koireng ( Bir Tekendrajit) to overthrow the ruling king. The rebellion was a success and Maharaja Surchandra (Princess Sanatombi’s father) was exiled to Calcutta. Maharaja Kulachandra becomes the new king. In an unknown circumstance Sanatombi’s father dies in Calcutta and she becomes traumatised by this incident.

During Maharaja Kulachandra’s reign Manipur is attacked by the British which leads to the Anglo- Manipuri War or the battle of Khongjom. The British emerged victorious leading to the execution of Prince Koireng and the imprisonment of Maharaja Kulachandra. The seven-year-old cousin of Princess Sanatombi , Churachand is installed as the Maharaja of Manipur by the British after the Anglo-Manipuri war.

The Princess and the Political Agent is a translated work of Binodini (Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi , the youngest daughter of Maharaj Sir Churachand Singh of Manipur) by her son Somi Roy from Manipuri to English. This book is a historical fiction that entails the love story of Princess Sanatombi of Manipur and the British representative to Manipur , Lt Col Henry St P Maxwell. The book is written is flashback technique where Sanatombi’s younger days and older days dashes back to back. In what may seem a love story there exist the political and family feud in the backdrop of the story . The Manipur royal family where the sons started fighting for the throne after the death of their father Maharaj Chandrakirti and the eventual subjugation of Manipur Kingdom by the British leading to the downfall of Manipur

“What bothered Maxwell most was not being able to express all that he wanted to say, and not being able to understand all that Sanatombi was saying. He thought, ‘How difficult Meiteilon is!’”

In this turmoil was born a love that defies cultural norms— a member of the royal family falling in love with the enemy! Princess Sanatombi and Maxwell’s love was more of a vanquished than that of a defeated. People began to question the Princess’ integrity . The royal family is struck with an arrow but the madness between the two lovebirds could not be undone. The Princess left her husband Manikchand and went away with the Saheb (British man Maxwell). But Maxwell knew he cannot settle in Manipur forever. Someday he has to return to his land. True to her nature, a carefree soul, Sanatombi refuses to leave Manipur. She could never leave her beloved Father’s land. Did they truly love each other ? Was it really true love ? Well, read on and decide .

“But Sanatombi could now understand what he was saying. She had gotten used to the way he spoke. She was getting used to him.”

I have not read the Manipuri version of this book so I cannot tell how much justice is done to this translated book but the vocabularies used in this book is commendable. Themes such as gender disparity , family feud, love, political and historical accounts take the centre stage. I love how this book educated me immensely on the history of the royal family of Manipur. Binodini’s vocal quality is prominent in this book. She intricately weaves her rebellious aunt’s story in a manner that will remain a treasure in Manipur’s literary sphere.

This is a translated work of Binodini by L Somi Roy from Manipuri to English.

Publisher : Penguin Random House (2020)

Pages : 312

Price: Rs: 399

You can buy the book here https://amzn.to/3fKSmVN

Stories of the past: Recalling our ancestors in Chansa Makan’s Living Ghosts and Other Uncanny Stories.

Living Ghosts and Other Uncanny Stories

It is just recently that the written literature came into existence in the Tangkhul Naga community. Before the onset of the written literature, the Tangkhul Naga community thrived on the art of oral storytelling. Oral tradition, since time immemorial, has been a part of the Tangkhul Naga. Be it knowledge, folktales, folk songs, folk dances or history, the ancestors ardently passed down these to their children through oral tradition. As a child, I remember sitting around the fireplace with my siblings listening to our grandparents narrating to us stories, folktales and legends. Since folktales were passed down to us orally, there was nothing or less about written stories where I could call my own . Therefore, I grew up reading literature of the west. Chansa Makan’s book comes in such a time when we are looking for our identities— something to belong to. Our ancestors have left us but a part of their love for oral storytelling will remain through this book.

“He couldn’t believe his eyes for he saw that the beautiful woman’s feet were not touching the ground.”

Living Ghosts and Other Uncanny Stories (2020) is a semi-fiction book by Chansa Makan. This book is a collection of folktales, legends and real life stories interlaced with eerie and chilling narratives. It has seven uncanny stories where one of them is a series. Chansa Makan is an Imphal-born Tangkhul Naga author from Ukhrul, Manipur.

Ever heard of living ghosts or met one yet? Makan’s debut book Living Ghosts and Other Uncanny Stories is drawn from strange stories he had heard from his mother or told by people he knows. Tales of living ghosts takes centre stage in the temper of the stories. Kazeiram Kazang, Zingtai Mansingla and Mi Khangayei are some of the stories in this book. The series of Kashong Philava stories also forms a spotlight in this book.

Accounts about Kazeiram, Kokto, Mi Khangayei and Rai Kaphung are stories, which are not foreign to a Tangkhul Naga. Stories about the wrath of Kokto or the mysterious chronicles that surrounds the netherworld are something that a Tangkhul Naga grew up listening to. Growing up, I see elders talking about Rai and Mi khangayei in hushed tones. These things are not to be spoken of unreservedly in public. In most scenarios, these are ambivalent cases yet one is required not to dig deeper for meaning, for these things are believed to be unfavourable to the society. On the other hand, eerie tales about Kashong Philava would make me shudder in fear. Stories pertaining to the nature of the Philava where she starts looking for lovers amongst the mortals after the death of her lover Kashong Sei are peculiar. Whoever meets the Philava either dies in a mysterious condition or gets sick. And the quintessential Tangkhul Naga folktale Zingtai Mansingla’s story is a treat. In my younger years, I remember being so fascinated with the story of Mansingla and her dexterous weaving ability. But i would be horror-stricken if stories about living ghosts surfaces and would avoid talking about living ghosts at night.

“The seizure like phenomenon started occurring frequently. Prayers and different local medicines had no effect on him. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night and start talking and smiling as if somebody was visiting him.”

What makes Makan’s book uncommon is that it defies the normal and succeeds in boldly portraying the non-accepting facets of the society.  This book brings out the meaning in keeping the history of the community alive. In a community where written literature is scarce, this book is a great addition to the stack of written literature that is slowly building up.

If you love reading frightening and ghosts stories this is the book for you. This book has just the right amount of hair-raising and spine-chilling mood. Some stories are intriguing and riveting, some would give you that petrifying feeling, some would make you ponder on the possible causes of these strange stories. Wholly, this book is exciting and it keeps you hooked till the last page. I would recommend this book if you are searching for lost stories of the past. This book is a must-read. This is a book with an eerie concept and sometimes it sounds unreal. A student dies after spending a night in a haunted house. The cause of his death? Well, you know who! Whether the ghost took him or did he suffer a cardiac arrest? Science or ghost? Well, it is up to you. Read this book and come to your own judgement. Happy reading folks!

Pages- 126

Publishers- Bluerose Publishers (2020)

You can buy the paperback here https://amzn.to/2BEbYfd

You can buy the e-book here https://amzn.to/3855ZMG

Franny and Zooey by J.D Salinger

Jerome David Salinger was an influential 20th-century American writer. Salinger writes primarily of young people and adolescents on the brink of adulthood who experience a crisis or breakdown as they realize they cannot be themselves and enter the social world. Salinger belonged to the post World War 2 writers where the question of existentialism is prominent in the literature of 1940s and 1950s.

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Much of Salinger’s work concerns the Glass family, especially the effect of Seymour’s (eldest sibling) suicide on the rest of the members.

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Franny and Zooey is a two part novella which were published independently as short stories before they were clubbed as a novella. In most of Salinger’s short stories the Glass family forms the basis. Likewise, in Franny and Zooey we see the stories of two of the Glass siblings — Franny, 20 and Zooey , 25.

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This novella tells the story of Franny’s  breakdown and her discussion about it with her brother, Zooey. There are not much action happening in both the stories. In Franny the scene takes place in an eastern college town during a football weekend where Franny is dining with her boyfriend Lane. Lane sophisticated and privileged ivy league world, with its money and opportunity, but a world without soul or imagination. Whereas Franny is an unusual and gifted young woman, sickened by the conventional people, ideas, and classes she endures day after day. She longs to meet someone real she can respect. 

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She is upset at her own intolerance for others but cannot respect those who pretend to have talent or authority when they do not. She is struggling to stay true to herself, a goal that isolates her, when she also wants love and connection. People like Lane lack authenticity. They do not live any truth but mouth what they have been taught. 

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Franny is attached to a book called The Way of a Pilgrim which teaches a technique for Christian mysticism, repetition of the Jesus prayer until one feels united with God. Franny holds on to this prayer to get her through her crisis. When she finally tries to share with Lane what she is going through, he belittles it, or reduces it to a psychological problem, because he has no framework for dealing with such matters. Franny is looking for a deeper love and meaning in her life. Lane offers her weekend sex and a certain companionship but little understanding of her deeper needs.

As Franny struggles with her breakdown her brother Zooey helps her overcome it.

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As the short story progresses, Salinger emphasises that family is always there to help—an alternative to an empty life. Zooey begins with Zooey reading a letter to him by his brother Buddy. The letter and Buddy’s description of how Franny and Zooey were raised sheds light on Franny’s current spiritual crisis. Zooey, it appears, had taken the education seriously and continued in some form of meditation. He is described by Buddy as having a permanent benign and happy expression, the true source of his handsomeness. It is implied by Buddy that Zooey attained some degree of success with his spiritual quest. He is happy and adjusted. Franny, however, as the youngest, seems to have been left on her own, and now, confronted with the ugliness of the world, she only remembers the ideals she was taught by her brothers. She tries a spiritual technique she finds in a book but has no teacher. Feeling desperate and stuck, she has a breakdown.

Interestingly, Zooey received this crucial letter when he was about Franny’s age. Buddy helped Zooey over the hump into adulthood, and now Franny needs help. Zooey is the one who will give it to her.

This book is an interesting read ! Typical American literature book.

You can buy the paperback here https://amzn.to/2BGTWZW

The Courage to be Disliked by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi

“The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness.”

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The Courage to be Disliked is a sprawling Japanese analysis of the work of 19th-century psychologist Alfred Adler, who established that happiness lies in the hands of each human individual and does not depend on past traumas. This book is written by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi. .

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The book tells the story of an unhappy young man, who visits a philosopher on the outskirts of his city. Over the course of five conversations, the teacher helps him take control of his own life and happiness.

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By referring to Adler’s work, the book fills a gap in our current pop psychology conversation. It provides a useful, level-headed approach to living a happy and fulfilled life.

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Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

“We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.”

“mansplainer” is a “man compelled to explain or give an opinion about everything—especially to a woman. He speaks, often patronizingly, even if he does not know what he’s talking about or even if it is none of his business.”

Rebecca Solnit is a writer, historian and activist. In her book ‘Men Explain Things to Me’— a collection essays, Solnit addresses gender politics, gender-based violence and global violence which continues to affect the society. This book talks about the silencing of women, ideas that men purposely belief that that no matter what a woman says, a man always knows better. She writes about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t. Rebecca Solnit takes on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. 

These essays also serves as a reply to anti-feminists, who believe that feminists hate men, exaggerate the statistics on sexual and domestic violence, and to those who believe that global gender equality has been achieved. In this book Solnit portrays feminism as “together”. 

She writes, Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. However, we are free together or slaves together. Surely, the mindset of those who think they need to win, to dominate, to punish, to reign supreme, must be terrible and far from free. And giving up this unachievable pursuit would be liberatory.”

Men Explain Things to Me is about gender roles, but more importantly, it is about the unequal distribution of power. Solnit’s discussions of rape culture, marriage, inequality, gender-based violence statistics etc represents that we need feminism more now than ever before.

“Young women needed to know that being belittled wasn’t the result of their own secret failings; it was the boring old gender wars. He thought that being patronized was an experience a woman chooses to, or could choose not to have–and so the fault was all mine” writes Solnit.

Solnit argues this silencing of women has dangerous consequences: many of the problems that plague society have, in large part, arisen and continue to take place because of the very inability to listen to what women have to say.

Over the centuries, women have been rebuked and pressed into silence. Men have much more control over a silent woman who doesn’t threaten his status quo. Women who have been abused know that they face penalty, disbelief and even violence for reporting that they’d been sexually abuse or even to the point of depiction as sluts or delusional. 

Solnit further articulates that the women of first world countries are fortunate to have laws and society behind them in seeking full equality with men. However, in regions like the Middle East, parts of Asia and in developing nations, women virtually have no rights – no right to be heard or educated or to even show their faces.The first essay explores men silencing women. It begins with Solnit recounting a conversation with “Mr. Very Important” in which he asks her about her writing, only to talk over her and lecture her about a book that, it turns out, she actually wrote. She uses this to explore the way traditional gender roles inculcate men to believe that they are automatically better informed than women and have a right to speak over them. Examining how this works to silence women and drown out their voices, Solnit links this to wider patterns of repression, violence, and abuse.

The second essay explores violence against women, providing a variety of statistics that demonstrate the scale of rape, domestic violence, and other abuse in the U.S. and throughout the world. She observes that the vast majority of this violence is committed by men but that this pattern of gendered abuse is rarely recognized or discussed. From this, she concludes that tackling violence against women will require us to properly recognize the way gender roles and masculinity help perpetuate abuse.

The third essay continues to explore violence against women, focusing on the alleged sexual assault of Nafissatou Diallo, an African immigrant working as a hotel maid, by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She uses this encounter to explore the roles of gender, power, and privilege in enabling men to commit violence against women. She also draws symbolic parallels between Strauss-Kahn’s alleged actions and neo-colonial violence enacted by Western institutions like the IMF.

The fourth essay examines marriage equality suggesting that those who oppose same-sex marriage are motivated by a desire to maintain traditional gender roles. She asserts that same-sex marriage, which can be seen as a marriage between equal parties, should be celebrated for the way it challenges the patriarchal organization of traditional marriage in which women have effectively been the property of men.

The fifth essay explores how women are, on a symbolic and literal level, “obliterated” (70) by many cultural practices. She examines practices such as only recording men on family trees or women taking their husbands’ names when they get marriage, asserting that this removes women from history, silencing their voices and lived experiences. She connects this to wider patterns of silencing and repression experienced by women throughout the world.

The sixth essay is a celebration of Virginia Woolf and an examination of approaches to criticism and analysis that do not seek to make the unknown known but rather subtly explore the intangible and obscure. Solnit suggests that, far from being something that we should attempt to pin down and definitively understand, the unknown or the “darkness”  should simply be explored without striving for fixed interpretation. With this understanding, she suggests that the darkness is a place of hope, filled with potential for remarkable progress and positive change.

In the final essay, Solnit looks at progress made by the feminist movement. She suggests that the most accurate measure of this is the way the movement has made irrevocable changes to cultural understandings of gender and women’s rights. Accordingly, while conservative forces may attempt to change legislation and restrict women’s rights, they cannot change the fact that the majority of people now believe that women should have these rights. As the forces released from Pandora ’s Box, these ideas and a general belief in gender equality will not go back in the box, despite the backlash of repressive forces exerted against the feminist movement and women more broadly.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.”

21 Lessons for the 21st Century is a non-fiction by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s an insightful book on how to know which things to worry about, and how much to worry about them.Each lesson befits a TedX talk. This book highlights today’s most pressing political, cultural, and economic challenges created by technology while helping us prepare for an uncertain future. A 400 pages which discusses today’s greatest challenges, most important changes, what should we pay attention to and what should we teach our kids. Harari divides the book into five parts and chooses twenty-one topics to disuss in this book— the technological challenge (part 1), the political challenge (part 2), despair and hope (part 3), truth (part 4), and resilience (part 5).

“In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.”

With twenty-one topics, Harari makes a determined effort to deal with the future of work and education, the wide-ranging and growing influence of data collection on people’s lives, the increasingly threatening rupture around the foundation of the European Union, the conflict between secularism and religion, and a trio of existential threats: climate change, nuclear war, and artificial intelligence. I found the three chapters on Liberty, Equality and Community especially engaging. Ideas burst from every page; many of these are highly controversial so there is never a dull moment.

“It takes a lot of courage to fight biases and oppressive regimes, but it takes even greater courage to admit ignorance and venture into the unknown. Secular education teaches us that if we don’t know something, we shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging our ignorance and looking for new evidence. Even if we think we know something, we shouldn’t be afraid of doubting our opinions and checking ourselves again. Many people are afraid of the unknown, and want clear-cut answers for every question. Fear of the unknown can paralyse us more than any tyrant. People throughout history worried that unless we put all our faith in some set of absolute answers, human society will crumble. In fact, modern history has demonstrated that a society of courageous people willing to admit ignorance and raise difficult questions is usually not just more prosperous but also more peaceful than societies in which everyone must unquestioningly accept a single answer. People afraid of losing their truth tend to be more violent than people who are used to looking at the world from several different viewpoints. Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.”

Harari discusses that life in 15th-century China was pretty slow, but now in the modern era the pace of change feels unstoppable. He further reiterates that religion can be bad, but has its uses. Nationalism can be bad, but has its uses. Factory farming is very, very bad. Liberalism is good, but under threat. Hunter-gathering is a more exciting lifestyle choice than farming, or working in a factory. Technological advances bring Big Ethical Questions. He argues that collective myths, such as money and laws, have allowed us to build huge, complicated societies far beyond what our biological limitations might suggest is possible. But in the secular west, religion is fading from public life. And in our globalised world, the idea of a unified nation-state is threatened. Being a Histotrian himself, Harari brings in a lot of historical facts in this book. So its interesting as you flip each page you’re fed with history of the worlf lessons. 

The Twenty-one Lessons are-

Part 1- The Technological Challenge

1.      Disillusionment

2.      Work

3.      Liberty

4.      Equality

Part 2- The Political Challenge

5.      Community

6.      Civilisation

7.      Nationalism

8.      Religion

9.      Immigration

Part 3- Despair and Hope

10.  Terorism

11.  War

12.  Humility

13.  God

14.  Secularism

Part 4- Truth

15.  Ignorance

16.  Justice

17.  Post- Truth

18.  Science Fition

Part 5- Resillience

19.  Education

20.  Meaning

21.  Meditation

Summing up the entire book in three points:

-Whoever owns the data wins, which is why everyone struggles for it.

-We don’t know, we just think we do – and that’s a problem.

-Education must show us how to navigate information, not give us more of it.

“Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely.”