arkadi cloud

tech, teaching, and books

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

When I first heard there was a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, I had mixed feelings; I wanted to find out more about the origins of Gilead, but also didn't want the author (to possibly) taint the legacy.

Now that I've read it, I know that both feelings were right. I enjoyed it mostly, but still other things left a bad taste in my mouth.


Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

I already read his book No Place To Hide. That book is more about Snowden's life, escape and life after. If Snowden was a superhero (and he sort of is to me), this book details his origin story, in his own words. What caused Snowden to abandon his life to do what is 'right'? Who does that sort of thing? What are his views on freedom, and privacy?

Technology doesn't have a Hippocratic oath. So many decisions that have been made by technologies in academia, industry, the military, and government since at least the Industrial Revolution have been made on the basis of “can we,” not “should we.”


Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali

A funny, well-researched and thoughtful story about Max who finds himself at the center of the Nazi baby program during World War 2. This book is the winner of an English PEN Award and is “Endorsed by Amnesty International UK as contributing to a better understanding of human rights and the values that underpin them.”

Now don't expect a literary masterpiece, as this is YA fiction but it was still very good and interesting. The characters were believable and the plot was good. Certainly this would be a great story to get kids thinking about human rights, and learning about World War 2 as well.

The cover is a great conversation starter too; it's an outline of a fetus wearing a Nazi armband.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #74 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

A twisting labyrinth of stories from large group of interconnected families in Oman. Each chapter is a stream of consciousness reflection on a part of their lives from the past or future. Just like all families, they have their secrets. It doesn't really all come together until the end but you can sort of guess what's coming. They all struggle with following tradition, and with the decision to follow their family's wishes or their own.

I sort of enjoyed this book but I had to turn back to the family tree at the beginning of the book almost every time I read it. The names of the characters are difficult to remember, and a few of the characters have the same name. Each chapter is named after the character. Every chapter bounces from one character to the next, causing me to bounce back to the beginning of the book to view the family tree.

The setting of Oman didn't pop out for me as strongly as settings in other translated fiction books I've read. I was a bit disappointed with this book overall. I didn't come away knowing too much more about Oman after reading this book. This is a very underwhelming book, especially considering it somehow was the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019. At least 60 of the other novels I read this year are better than this one.

Just off the top of my head if you want a way better translated fiction novel try: Disoriental (Iran) by Négar Djavadi and The Watermelon Boys by Ruqaya Izzidien (Iraq).

Rating: ★★ Book #73 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

Sci-fi melded with Hindu Gods? Right. It doesn't seem like it would work, but it kinda does. It's not an easy read though; names are difficult and characters change names because they change bodies.

It's certainly a unique and strange book. I enjoyed it, but I like lots of weird things. I'm glad that it's finished though too. The chapters are very long! This is a 284 page book with 7 chapters in it.

This Guardian review sums up this book quite well.

Rating: ★★★ Book #72 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #SciFi #hinduism #RogerZelazny

The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World by Greg Grandin

This is one of those very large, very beautiful hard-cover history books with illustrations and pictures in it that open your eyes to something you knew very little about. This is about slavery and it uses a slave revolt on the ship, The Tryal, to give this book a narrative that's easier to follow along. As the author makes his way to explaining the slave revolt on the ship you learn a lot along the way.

This book does a good job of taking a very large (and potentially overwhelming) subject and breaking it down into manageable chapters of information. It links all the information through the narrative. It also 'attacks' the subject from all angles so you get quite a full picture of slavery from the point of view of slavers, regular people, people working on the ships, the Spanish, the English, the Americans, etc. It also has very detailed notes at the end of the book giving you even more information on important people, and things mentioned in the book.

These kind of books, you read them and reflect on them for months after.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #71 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #history #slavery #GregGrandin

The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa

A short novel, a novella really, about two women traveling back to Morocco, where their families are from, and they get caught up with smuggling back a person to Europe. Of course, something goes wrong and it details the plight of these ladies.

Not much to say about this one, it's short, sweet and too the point. It certainly is very topical as it talks about the struggle of immigrants trying to find a better life for themselves and their family in Europe, at any cost. It isn't a very deep novel. It only scratches the surface of the topic.

It's too bad this story isn't from multiple perspectives. We don't get to hear much at all from the immigrant Murat at all. This novel could've also taken another approach and had different immigrants trying to come in to Europe from different countries, for different reasons.

Rating: ★★★ Book #70 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #TranslatedFiction #TommyWieringa #Morocco

Once Upon A Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up by Xiaolu Guo

A story so fantastical, it's hard to believe it's not fiction. Xiaolu had quite an upbringing. This book is her memoir and it doesn't hold back. She includes some real pictures from her life and even calls out the person who sexually assaulted her as a teen.

In China, creativity mean compromise. Creativity no longer bore it's original and intended meaning. Creativity under a Communist regime requires the struggle to survive under such rigid rules, and for all creative thoughts to be kept to oneself.

This is a page turner with just enough drama, passion, and politics to keep it humming along. The main character is the author, but she also goes into the backstory of her grandparents, and parents as well so this book has quite a bit of depth. This means that she touches upon different experiences in her family members lives that help you feel a little bit what it was like to live in Mao's China: the census, one child policy, Tiananmen Square, and cultural revolution.


At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong

A story told from multiple perspectives of people's lives and how they were all caught up in the modernization building boom in the 1980s in Korea. The main character is a rich man, a verifiable rags-to-riches story, who has become very successful. As he's at the end of his career, he wonders at what cost have all his riches come?

I lived in Seoul before so I really enjoy Korean Literature. I can smell, and see the places the author talks about. This is a nice and short book that gets to the point rather quickly. It starts with a very long chapter that is a bit overwhelming, but if you can get through that, the book gets better after.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #66 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #HwangSokyong #TranslatedFiction #KoreanLit

Books by Polish Writers: Szukalski and Tokarczuk

I recently finished two books by Polish authors. One is an art book by a creative 'genius', unrecognized as such, on his theories, sketches and sculptures about Zermatism. The other book is by a celebrated author that is currently having a moment. The authors being Polish seems to be the only thing these two books have in common, though they both seem to be eccentric.