25 August 2015

The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia, UK, 2008

When I started reading this book, I was not sure where it was going, and I was not sure whether or not I was going to like it; however, after the first few chapters, I was completely drawn in.

The story concerns a refugee from Eritria, Naser, who is brought to Saudi Arabia by his uncle, who has been living in that country for a number of years. Ten-year-old Naser and his three-year-old brother leave behind them war-ridden Eritrea, but also the love of their mother and the other women in the camp where they had been living. In Saudi Arabia everything turns into a black-and-white film where the men are all dressed in white and the women are all hidden behind black abayas. Naser grows up in a world of men, learning that women are not only less worth than men but that they are also connected with everything that is evil. If a man deviates from the path to Allah then it is with all certainty because of a woman. The religious police use the threat of punishment and death to keep the sexes apart; Naser, who still has very fond memories of his mother, cannot understand why women must be hidden away.

Then he meets a woman, who we only know of as Fiore (flower), and his entire life changes.

As a social commentary, it is interesting and disturbing to see how the men, deprived of the love of women, enter into temporary homosexual relationships until the time when they eventually marry. The hypocrisy is at times quite sickening, and the hold of the imam over the general populace is unbelievable. Naser is brave enough to rebel against mediaeval rules and regulations where man is king and woman is an unfortunate necessity. The reason he is able to rebel is because he has discovered true love, something that most of his peers never really find.

It is understandable that many men who have grown up with such beliefs often continue to act in a similar manner, even after moving into other cultures, but understanding is one thing, acceptance is another. In order to change such deeply ingrained beliefs, it would be necessary to change the teaching of the imams or else give men in these countries the permission, the space and a reason to think for themselves.

That Sulaiman Addonia was himself a refugee with many experiences that paralleled those of Naser gives the story a greater depth and credibility. Definitely worth reading. 

Photo of Sulaiman Addonia from

18 August 2015

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Italy, 1980

Photo of Umberto Eco from
In the blurb to the first Italian edition of the novel, Umberto Eco, a semiotician, wrote:
‘… this novel may perhaps be read in three ways. The first category of readers will be taken by the plot () and will accept even the long bookish discussions and the philosophical dialogues, because it will sense that the signs, the traces and the revelatory symptoms are nesting in those inattentive pages. The second category will be impassioned by the debate of ideas, and will attempt to establish connections (which the author refuses to authorize) with the present. The third will realize that this text is a textile of other texts, a whodunnit of quotations, a book built on books. 1

At some point in the novel, the main character, William, makes the observation that all books speak only of other books, and that no story is new because it has already been told; consequently, it makes sense that Eco regards The Name of the Rose as ‘a book built on books’, and it also makes sense that the library, with all its riddles and false promises, is at the heart of the mystery.

Although The Name of the Rose is a detective story set in an isolated monastery in the fourteenth century, it is not a light read, and the detective element - why are all these people dying, and who is killing them? - is merely the scaffolding on which Eco hangs many theological and philosophical questions and riddles.  I was fascinated by the title and eventually discovered that Eco had chosen the title because: the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left.’ 2

The Name of the Rose puts forward ideas, possibilities and clues, but, like the labyrinth of the library itself, nothing is perfectly clear, much is hidden, and, at the end of the book, William (the detective in the story) says: ‘… The order that our mind imagines is like a net, or a ladder, built to attain something. But afterward you must throw the ladder away, because you discover that, even if it was useful, it was meaningless… ’ 3 

 Even Adso, the novice monk travelling with William and the narrator of the story, looks at what he has written and wonders whether there is a hidden meaning (or several) somewhere among the pages, or whether perhaps there is no meaning at all.

The photo (taken from the film based on the book) is from
Apart from the suspense of the actual detective story, I feel that the reader is given a multitude of ideas that he/she can then take in whatever direction he/she wishes. As with the library, many of these directions will hit a wall without any opening, while others will follow complicated trails not previously considered. It is definitely a book than can, and probably should, be read more than once.

1 The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, Alfred A. Knopf, UK, 2006, Introduction, p.xiv
2 “Postscript to the Name of the Rose, The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, Harcourt, Inc., 1984 p.506
3 The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, Alfred A. Knopf, UK, 2006, p.550

04 August 2015

From 'The Latham Diaries' by Mark Latham

Mark Latham, leader of the Australian Labor Party from late 2003 to early 2005, was unconventional as a politician but, I feel, extremely sincere; he was never afraid to state the obvious. He made politicians on both sides of politics feel uncomfortable - something that is undoubtedly necessary if we are to achieve a more honest and trustworthy political system.

In 2005, he published The Latham Diaries, and the following is a quote he has included from Kelvin Thomson (page 139).

People can proclaim their compassion in the abstract as loudly as they like, but there is no such thing as humanity in the abstract, there are only people. If you treat people in your life with contempt, then your great compassion for humanity in the abstract does not mean a lot.

The photo of Mark Latham is from

Please note: There will be no blog post next week 11th August; the next book review will be on the 16th August.