Posted in book review, thriller, writing

Book Review: The Killers of the Flower Moon

I first came across David Grann’s work when I was searching something about the mysteries of Amazon as part of a research project. Finding his work being listed as relevant to the topic,  I read its summary in Wikipedia and decided to buy the novel titled The Lost City of Z (A review of the book can be found here on my blog: 1).

Being impressed by his style of writing and storytelling, I picked up his next book-Killers of the Flower Moon. I must admit that I was intrigued in part by the title-Flower Moon. I wondered what that meant, and its relation to being one of the first high profile cases handled by the FBI led to me to read it.

Set in the 1920s in central USA (what is now Oklahoma) during the Prohibition Era, the book’s protagonist is the Osage Indian tribe who have been living in central USA since centuries. The arrival of the white colonizers leads to their displacement when they are forced to relocate from an area in Kansas to their place in present day Oklahoma. All is peaceful and quiet, until the discovery of oil under the land of the Osages.

The discovery of oil meant that these Osages became the richest men in the world overnight because of the headright to the oil and consequently, one of the most persecuted men in the world. Members of a household began turning up dead. Some died because of slow poisoning, some of gunshot wounds. With more than 20 people dead from the community in a few months, the Osage leaders began asking the government and the law enforcement agencies for help. However, since they were Indians and considered savages, the government denied them help. But when more and more Indians began turning up dead, the pressure mounted on the government to conduct an investigation, which was handed over to the FBI. The subsequent FBI investigation and the catching of culprits forms the basis of the book.

Similar to The Lost City of Z, the author first begins with the history of the Osages-their formation, displacement and discovery of oil under their land. He then moves on to the murders, the FBI investigation and finally the author himself travels to the location to comment on the current situation of the place.

The book is an exciting read for anyone interested in historical fiction, in understanding the prosecution of minorities in the USA and how FBI solved the crime.

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The Case of The Rohingya Muslims

An updated version of my earlier post on the topic which includes some of the latest developments.

DayDreamer

Just a few months ago, the image of a 16 month old boy lying dead face down in the mud flashed across the front page of the newspapers. The boy drowned while crossing the Naf river, trying to escape to Bangladesh. The boy’s name was Mohammed Shohayet, and he was a Rohingya Muslim.

The Rohingyas are basically Indo-Aryan Muslims from Rakhine state in Myanmar. While the Rohingyas maintain that they belong to the region, the Burmese government maintains that they are illegal immigrants (terming them “Bangladeshis”), who came into the country after Burmese independence in 1948 and after the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. The Burmese government has denied citizenship to any Rohingya muslim who cannot prove their ancestry before the British occupation (1823). They are believed to have started settling in the Rakhine area from 15th century. When the British took control of the area in the 19th century, Rohingya…

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Tales of Polar, Desert and Sea Explorations

DayDreamer

There are few men in history and almost none alive today, who can be compared in the same breath as Sir Ranulph Fiennes. For those who are hearing his name for the first time, Sir Ranulph is one of the best polar explorers in the world, in addition to being a writer and a poet. I first read about him when I was reading something about Antarctic expeditions and the more I found out about him, the more respect I had for the man. But like him, my thirst for knowledge and understanding was not quenched, and so I decided to read his autobiography- Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know. The unusual sounding title is how he was referred to by his father-in-law when he asked his daughter’s hand to marry him.

The book begins with an account of the author’s childhood-the death of his father in World War 2…

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A Trip to Liechtenstein and Austria

DayDreamer

I am a big fan of budget travel. Apart from meeting new people, you also travel cheap. Having undertaken a number of such trips since I came to the Netherlands about eighteen months ago, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands when one of the student trips organization announced an excursion to Vaduz and Innsbruck.

IMG_0578 A view of Vaduz from the hilltop

To those who are not aware of Vaduz, it is the capital of Liechtenstein-the sixth smallest country in the world. Starting from Utrecht in the heart of the Netherlands on a cold evening, about eighty people (some students, some expats) arrived in Vaduz the next morning. We were immediately captivated by the place-the hills, the signs in German and not a soul out on the streets. Coming from India and living in the Netherlands (two of the most densely populated countries in the world), you become accustomed to…

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Posted in book review, thriller, travel, writing

Tales of Polar, Desert and Sea Explorations

There are few men in history and almost none alive today, who can be compared in the same breath as Sir Ranulph Fiennes. For those who are hearing his name for the first time, Sir Ranulph is one of the best polar explorers in the world, in addition to being a writer and a poet. I first read about him when I was reading something about Antarctic expeditions and the more I found out about him, the more respect I had for the man. But like him, my thirst for knowledge and understanding was not quenched, and so I decided to read his autobiography- Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know. The unusual sounding title is how he was referred to by his father-in-law when he asked his daughter’s hand to marry him.

The book begins with an account of the author’s childhood-the death of his father in World War 2 before he was born, his childhood in South Africa and how he dreamed of someday commanding the Royal Grey Scouts, which he ultimately did. After graduating from university (where he was taught German by John le Carre, the famous author), he served in the army of the Sultanate of Oman, and once his commision expired began looking for alternative employment opportunities. What followed was a series of expeditions in Canada, Transglobe (where the team started from England and went to Antarctica, the Arctic and back to England over a course of three years, travelling entirely on land and sea), the Antarctic expeditions and countless others. But the one expedition that I was really impressed by was the 7*7*7 marathon challenge.

Ranulph finishing a marathon
Sir Ranulph completing a marathon

In 2003, just three months after suffering a heart attack and undergoing a bypass surgery, Sir Ranulph completed 7 marathons in 7 days across 7 continents. While most of us only dream about running one marathon, this sixty-year “young” man completed seven over a period of six days actually, taking into account the different time zones. And in addition to that, the sponsors had one more condition-each marathon must be completed in under six hours, which both Sir Ranulph and his partner managed to do.

Sir Ranulph writes the book in a no-nonsense style, meaning if he doesn’t like someone, he will say it. And that is what makes this book so interesting. Readers expecting high drama and adrenaline pumping action will be disappointed. The author does not glorify himself or the expeditions, rather he simply states the facts, his preparation, the journey itself and finally the outcome. Towards the end of the book, the author described his failed attempt to climb Everest and successful one to climb the north face of the Eiger.

Eiger
Sir Ranulph climbing the Eiger

Ginny, the author’s first wife features predominantly in the book. He described her as a rock in his life, taking care of all the planning and communication for his expeditions, in addition to managing a farm in his hometown. Her death due to cancer affected the morale of the author, but he subsequently remarried.

Having raised over 10 million pounds so far for charity, the author pens down his “wishlist” at the end of the book, where even at the age of seventy, he wants to plan and go for a few more expeditions in order to reach the magical figure of 15 million pounds.

After the release of the book, the author succeeded in his third attempt to climb Everest and thus became the first man to cross both poles on land and climb Everest. When one journalist asked him about his plans for retirement, he joked that he would never retire as he thought playing golf and bridge are ways to reach an early grave.

There are many things that one can learn from this man and his book, no matter what your profession. Never give up is the foremost lesson. Strive hard to achieve what you want, and ultimately you will get it. And lastly, age is just a number. If a man in his sixties can run seven marathons in seven days barely three months after having a double bypass, we in our twenties can finish at least one.  

Nile
Hovercraft expedition across the Nile
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Book Review: Riot-A Love Story

DayDreamer

Riots and India have something synonymous with each other. With a population of over 1.3 billion people belonging to different religions, speaking different languages and following different customs, tensions are bound to flare at one point or another. There are many incidents which make the “normal” citizens like us cringe even at the thought of it. When one of India’s popular singers tweeted that he did not like being woken up by the sound of Azaan early every morning (Azaan is the Muslim call of prayer, the first of which takes place around 5 am), a minority leader offered anyone who shaved the singer’s head a sum of INR 10 lakh (around 15,400 USD). Then there is a recent case of a film called Padmavati, based on the life of a Rajput queen. Even before the film’s release, the Rajputs have started protesting and offering anyone who cut the lead…

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Book Review: Riot-A Love Story

Riots and India have something synonymous with each other. With a population of over 1.3 billion people belonging to different religions, speaking different languages and following different customs, tensions are bound to flare at one point or another. There are many incidents which make the “normal” citizens like us cringe even at the thought of it. When one of India’s popular singers tweeted that he did not like being woken up by the sound of Azaan early every morning (Azaan is the Muslim call of prayer, the first of which takes place around 5 am), a minority leader offered anyone who shaved the singer’s head a sum of INR 10 lakh (around 15,400 USD). Then there is a recent case of a film called Padmavati, based on the life of a Rajput queen. Even before the film’s release, the Rajputs have started protesting and offering anyone who cut the lead actresses nose a hefty sum of money, stating that filmmakers have distorted history in the movie. This comes at a time when the film is set to release in the county and almost no-one (apart from the makers), have seen it. This sense of holding the country hostage and getting your way in everything is what is halting the march of the country on the path of development.

Shashi Tharoor bases his book Riot-A Love Story in such a similar setting. The book, written in 1989, is set against the backdrop of a riot in the town of Zalilgarh in India. The author portrays the location as a typical small Indian town where people are not too educated, but everyone takes religious matters seriously.

Priscilla Hart is an American medical student at a university in New York and has come to Zalilgarh to educate the women about reproductive health. Her association with the country is not new. Falling in love with India as a young child when her father was the head of Coca-Cola in the country, she sympathized with the Indian poor and wanted to make a difference in their lives, particularly the women. She felt that if Indian women were educated about contraceptives, they would bear fewer children and thus have more control over their lives. Apart from Priscilla, the District Magistrate of the town-Lakshman and the Superintendent of Police are the two main protagonists. Trouble brews when Lakshman and Priscilla fall in love with each other. The author weaves a simple narrative out of the two storylines of the love story on one side and the brewing tension between the Hindus and Muslims on the other side. The Hindus want to destroy a mosque built on a sacred Hindu land and want to build a temple on the site. Matters come to a head when clashes erupt between Hindus and Muslims and as an act of revenge against Lakshman, Priscilla is killed.

The author tells the story from the first-person narrative of all the main characters-similar to what we see in The Song of Ice and Fire books (Game of Thrones book series). The book is gripping because each of the characters thinks that he is telling the truth and that all his actions are justified. From the author of The Great Indian Novel and Show Business, this book is nothing short of a masterpiece. Shashi Tharoor once again takes the readers on a ride, at the end of which they will be forced to think about the state of their country in retrospect.

Although written almost 30 years ago, many of the situations depicted in the book still ring true. Most of the towns are still dusty and polluted with an erratic power supply. Communal tensions can still lead to riots in any city with a comparable Hindu-Muslim population. It is high time that the country starts to think about these issues.