At The Very Source…..

The Source” by James Michener is one of my all-time favorites; it’s a book I go back to after years and years and it embraces me like an old friend who still has more tales to tell, despite my having visited it many times previously! It’s one of my personal bibles and stands up there with my absolute devotion for the likes of Pride and Prejudice, East of Eden and To Kill a Mockingbird. While one can debate whether its literary significance is as profound as the other titles that I listed, there can be no denying that the book does come back again and again with some hard-hitting questions, asking us to question what do we mean when we refer to our “God”, the right and wrongs and the journey of two races born of the same land, caught in a quest of independence over 2000 years.

The Source begins with John Cullinane arriving at Makor, an archeological site in Israel to begin digging ostensibly for a Crusader’s castle but actually to find the very foundation of Makor which in old Hebrew means Source. He is joined here by Dr. Vered Bar-EL, Dr. Ilan Eliav and Jamail Tabari. As the excavations get underway, John tries to better understand the history of Jews and Israel and how both could not be taken as synonymous. With the archeologists finding artifacts after artifacts, the novel reverts through the earliest mankind when the cavemen walked on Makor and the family of Ur began a more settled existence with farms and house of mud replacing hunting and caves. As the family of Ur begins to gain more and more success in their endeavors whether its improvement of crops or weapons, the beginning of the concept of “God” and forces that are beyond man’s control start to take root in the family of Ur, thus beginning not only the way of live that would later evolve to modern world but also the concept of religion and fate, that is to grip mankind’s consciousness forever. The novel, in true Michener style, then moves forward by a couple of centuries and each chapter touches upon some of the greatest event in the history of the region, involving the Hebrews, the Cannans and later the Jews, Christians and Arabs – whether it’s the cult of El Shaddai, in the Bronze age or, the deportation of Jews to Babylon, the rule of King David and Herod, the Muslim conquest and the Crusade and finally the in twilight of the Ottoman Empire. All through the ages, the events are intertwined into the story of family of Ur and his descendants and interplay with the present day and the artifacts that are discovered at the site. The novel takes a sweeping look at the rise and fall of fortunes of the family of Ur as they struggled, converted, dispersed and again came together in land of Makor.

To begin with it is a powerful story – in just over 1100 pages, Michener tries to tell the history of the torn land of Palestine/Israel from the point of view of the common man who lived through various ages of cathartic and tumultuous change. The book tries to explain Jewish history and at the same time clearly enunciate that to see Israel through the Jewish prism alone is a mistake, since this land has always been shared by the “Other” – Canaanites, Romans, Christians and Muslims. It is the blending of the two cultures that make the land so special and that is one of main thrusts of the tale. Besides being a sweeping historical saga, it also a very good yarn; each chapter is a complete capsule in itself that tell a gripping tale of not only religion but of everyday men and women, of their courage which may be overt or concealed and the choices they have to make, even the harshest ones for the greater good. The book shows men and women in all their glory, strength, and caprice and constantly touches upon the infinite ability of men to survive even when all hope is gone. What is perhaps an absolute marvel and a characteristic that goes to show the kind of caliber Michener had as a writer is the lack of judgment despite all the follies and failures of all the religions and cultures and the men and women, the book is written with great empathy and understanding – never pointing finger and always showing the white, black and the grey shades of lives as is, without any embellishments. Written in simple language, it is a massive read with several references to Jewish philosophy and a wholly new perspective on the Arab history during the crusades. Despite its volume, it is an easy read, because the tale just grips you right at the start and never lets you go.

If I sound like lunatic ranting on, read the book and you will know what I mean!

And for the August path….

So I did the disappearing act again but I was travelling on business for 4 whole weeks and the project implementation kind of sucked all life force out of me, leaving me with no time for anything I hold remotely close to my heart – eating, travelling, writing; the only indulgence I had been reading and that too with limited timeframes. I keep promising myself that I will not let the Project Manager me take over the writer me and time and again I fail. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do and there is after all a mountain of bills to be paid! Nevertheless, not to be deterred by temporary setbacks, we march on boldly and I present to you my August reading list (Yes! I know, I never got back to all of you with my July plan, but there is still time and I will get back!)

Reading classics1. Bleak House by Charles Dickens – Great Expectations had me hooked! Since I SO LOVED the book as an adult, I decided to be brave and venture forth with what many scholars have termed as the most ambitious of Charles Dickens’s work. At 800+ pages, it’s definitely voluminous even by Mr. Dickens’s standards; but so far I am loving Esther, Ada, Robert, Caddy and Mr. Jardynce ; I am overawed with the sarcasm and the sensitive detailing without indulging into crass sentimentalism on the state of poverty and hope that the ending will hold as good!
2. The Blood Letter’s Daughter by Linda Lafferty – Based on the true historical account of Don Julius, the illegitimate son of Rudolph II, the Holy Roman Emperor, circa. 1600 and his mental illness, the book captures his dynamics with Marketa, the daughter of the local blood letter/barber, whose help is secured to treat the Prince. Rich in details, shedding light on one of the lesser discussed aspect of European history, I am completely hooked on to this book; will definitely post a review when done
3. Daughters by Consuelo Saah Baehr – I picked this up on a whim since it had some very strong parallels to Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang and since I loved it, I am hoping Daughters would be interesting too! (Yes! I know it’s unfair to have such expectations from two completely different genres of authors, but I am only taking of the subject!) I have not read the book as yet but the synopsis on Kindle which promoted me to buy the book states that it’s a family saga of three generations of Christian Palestinian women from 19th century to modern-day. I love everything Middle Eastern and here’s a historical fiction about woman in the Middle East; I mean how could I let this one go??

4. Embers by Sandor Marai – I have heard a lot of great reviews about Sandor Marai though have never read him. On recommendation of my sister, I picked this one up and so far, it’s very unusual and keeps you gripped. In a secluded Castle in Bavaria, a General prepares to entertain an old comrade, and the meeting will lead to some secrets being unfolded of betrayal and friendship and the memory of the long dead wife of the General.
5. The Great Transformation: The Beginning of our Religious Tolerance by Kate Armstrong – Kate Armstrong is one my favorite writers and I loved her History of God and Holy Wars. I had picked this one up some time ago, but just did not find any time to complete the same. The author reviews how some of the most popular religions of the world, Hinduism, Daoism, Monotheism all evolved from violent times in an effort to create order among increased chaos. Hope to post a review soon.

That’s my list for this month! Considering half the month is past; but I am still looking forward to all these readings and I promise to come back with details