Book Summaries: Around the World in 120 Days, Week Five, Day Two

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Book Summaries: Around the World in 120 Days, Week Five, Day Two

This is the fifth week, day two of the book summaries for Around the World in 120 Days for The Invisible Mentor’s Virtual Literary World Tour. Yesterday, we stopped our Tour in South Africa with Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People. Along the Tour, I felt that Norwegian Wood was difficult to read because there were too many suicides, although Haruki Murakami achieved critical acclaim for it. Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa takes a while to read because of its content – you need time to digest the information.

Around the World in 120 Days, Week Five, Day Two

  1. Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chögyam Trungpa, Tibet
  2. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami, Japan
  3. Ru: A Novel, Kim Thúy, Vietnam
  4. My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin, Australia
  5. A Man Lay Dead: Inspector Roderick Alleyn, Ngaio Marsh, New Zealand

Book Summaries: Around the World in 120 Days, Week Five, Day Two

Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa

Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa is the kind of book that you have to read for yourself. A summary cannot adequately deliver the true essence of what Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior is about. The book is about Eastern philosophy, which is more common today in the West.Shambhala

“The Shambhala teachings are founded on the premise that there is a basic human wisdom that can help to solve the world’s problems. This wisdom does not belong to any one culture or religion, nor does it come only from the West or the East. Rather, it’s a tradition of warriorship that has existed in many cultures at many times throughout history… Shambhala is a place of peace and prosperity, governed by wise and compassionate rulers….The goal of warriorship is to reconnect to the newness of reality, so that you can go forward without destroying simplicity, without your connection to the earth.”

The author tries to demonstrate what he is writing about so you might understand and appreciate his message. There are times when Chogyam Trungpa says something that sounds odd, but when you pause to reflect on what you just heard it makes complete sense to you. For instance, he talks about opening up yourself to yourself, which at first sounds like double speak. But when I thought about it, to me it means getting to the true essence of who you are at the core.

When you strip away all the masks you wear to protect yourself until you are exposed, you are naked and vulnerable and have nowhere to hide. If you like yourself, the real you, you are on the road to warriorship. If you can embrace your true self, then you can embrace others and you have a longing and willingness to work with others. Arrogance prevents you from being gentle and genuine. You have to show concern for others, then you’ll see the brilliance of the universe.

Warriorship is a way of life. You have to be genuine every moment. True fearlessness is going beyond the fear. Work with the softness of the heart to experience fearlessness.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Although Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is well written, and is an acclaimed novel, I found the story utterly depressing. This is definitely not the kind of book I would have read prior to the Virtual Literary World Tour, and it wasn’t on my original list, one of the sales associates at Indigo Bookstore recommended that I read it.Norwegian Wood

The story is centered on Toru Watanabe, a quiet and very serious university student in Tokyo. Toru is telling the story 20 years later. He is very devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman who was his best friend, Kizuki’s girlfriend. The trio often did things together until Kizuki committed suicide. As I am reading Norwegian Wood, the way the story is written I have this sense that Naoko is doomed and that she is going to commit suicide. This book made me very uncomfortable, and I do not know if this is a good or bad thing. Is it good writing when an author creates such strong reactions in people?

When Naoko turns 20, Kizuki had died by this time, she tells Toru about her family and her childhood. She talks for a very long time, but the conversation is very stilted and strange. That night, they sleep together for the very first time. Later she goes into a facility for people with mental illness, but it’s not a place where you are treated formally. Toru eventually gets the opportunity to visit her there a few times. Naoko’s condition doesn’t improve, and she finally goes to another facility where she is treated for her mental illness.

Although Toru knows that no good will ever come of a relationship with Naoko, he is still devoted to her. He meets Midori Koboyashi and the two fall in love, but his devotion to Naoko is a barrier. When Naoko commits suicide, Toru doesn’t take the news very well and goes off for a month. The way Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami ends, we get the sense that Toru can finally get on with his life, and maybe, just maybe he can have a future with Midori.

The story made me uncomfortable because too many people – four – committed suicide. Despite that, the story also shows us that the little things in life matter. Two great ideas stood out for me:

  1. “If you read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
  2. “The one thing I do have, though, is curiosity. I want to see what I can do out there in the big, tough world.”

Ru: A Novel by Kim Thúy 

RuWhile I was reading Ru: A Novel by Kim Thúy – who was born in Vietnam and arrived in Quebec on a boat with other refugees – I was reminded of a mature student I met in Calgary who came over on a boat from Vietnam. In his efforts to avoid persecution in his home country, he took the risk and during his journey he lost both legs. He was a very angry man, and now having read Ru: A Novel by Kim Thúy I can better understand his anger. This was more than two decades ago, and at the time, although he had a brilliant mind, his inability to speak English fluently, and his anger created barriers for him. Knowing his story, and similar stories of countless people, how might we embrace them and be more compassionate?

In the novel, the reader gets a first-hand experience of what it is like to stay in a refugee camp waiting to get accepted in a country. I can’t explain what I was feeling when I read that someone fell into a pit toilet and died. It’s mind boggling some of the things I read in Ru: A Novel. Imagine what it would be like if soldiers entered your home and took up residence, helping themselves to your possessions, and there is nothing you can do about it.

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin) is a novel that was written in 1901. Franklin submitted the manuscript to Henry Lawson who submitted it to his publisher. In the edition of My Brilliant Career that I read, Lawson wrote the preface.

Through the eyes of the heroine, Sybylla Melvyn, we learn what life is like growing up in rural Australia in the 1880s. Her father, Richard Melvyn, made a series of very poor choices which plunges the family into despair and he copes by turning to the bottle. Sybylla did backbreaking work on their farm with little to show for it. There wasn’t enough to eat, and there certainly wasn’t money for music and books which she loved. Life on the farm was her “brilliant career.”

The extended drought kills their cows and the few surviving ones have to be sold with their other possessions when an agent absconds with payments against a loan. Life is very hard and their neighbours and relatives come to the rescue. Sybylla’s mother grows to despise her husband and regrets the day she met him. She is faced with the task of breaking up her family. Sybylla suggests some alternative solutions. Her mother suggests that she has to earn her keep, although Sybylla works long hours on the farm while attending school.

She wants a better life for herself, and she and her mother do not see eye-to-eye. They have an argument, and in the end her mother thinks she is a she-devil. Sybylla decides to return to her writing. She had previously submitted a novel to a Sydney publisher two years before when she was 13 years old, but was told that she should get more experience and read more literature. But how can she read literature, when they are inaccessible?

Sybylla’s grandmother sends for her. Her life is transformed while she lives with her Aunt Helen and grandmother. She has the companionship that she craves and gets to consume many books. Her life turns around and for the first time, Sybylla has companions, and feels like she is truly appreciated. She no longer has to do backbreaking work until she is bone weary. Just when her life has taken off, her mother sends for Sybylla demanding that she return home and work as a governess to a family to help to support her siblings. Her father is even worse off than when she left.

One sad thing, is that for all the time that Sybylla was living with her grandmother and aunt, she put her writing on the back burner. Shortly after she starts her governess job she gets ill because of too much work and returns home. Sybylla loses her spunk and I like her character less and less. The end of the book left me with a sinking feeling, and it’s the only book that I regret investing the time to read for the Virtual Literary World Tour.

A Man Lay Dead: Inspector Roderick Alleyn, Ngaio Marsh

I really enjoyed A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh. I love detective stories and reading the books that I have been for the Virtual Literary World Tour, I was feeling starved for the genre that I love. The only copy of A Man Lay Dead that I could find has two other books in the Inspector Alleyn Mysteries series, but I committed to reading only A Man Lay Dead and that’s what I did. I can read the other two books in the summer.A Man Lay Dead

Although Ngaio Marsh is a New Zealand crime writer, A Man Lay Dead is set in the United Kingdom in Sir Hubert Handesley’s English country house. Young reporter Nigel Bathgate, his cousin, Charles Rankin, Rankin’s mistress, Rosamund Grant, Marjorie and Arthur Wilde, a married couple, and Doctor Foma Tokareff, a Russian doctor and the host’s beautiful niece Angela – are spending the weekend as guests of Sir Hubert Handesley. Over the weekend they are going to be playing the Murder Game. The murder game turns out to be a real murder and Charles is murdered. Inspector Roderick Alleyn from Scotland Yard is dispatched to investigate the murder.

Although Nigel has the most to gain from his cousin’s death, for various reasons, he is cleared from being a suspect. Most of the guests that weekend have reasons for wanting Charles dead. Angela and Nigel play a major role in helping Inspector Alleyn to solve Charles’ murder. As with any good murder mystery, A Man Lay Dead is filled with intrigue, vengeance, secret societies and to top it off, a romance developing between Nigel and Angela. The story is interesting because Ngaio Marsh throws in what may seem like a red herring, which isn’t, and that’s who did it.

Interview With Virginia Littlejohn

Avil Beckford: What are five books by Austrian authors that are must-reads for others? And they do not have to be by contemporary Austrian writers, it can be a mixture.

Virginia Littlejohn:

  1. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (the Great American (US) novel, in my opinion)
  2. Your Life as Story, Tristine Rainer (about writing memoir)
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  4. Green Mangoes and Lemon Grass: Southeast Asia’s Best Recipes from Bangkok to Bali, Wendy Hutton
  5. Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, David Remnick
  6. Future Edge, Joel Barker
  7. The Future, Al Gore

Avil Beckford: Where is a must visit place? 

Virginia Littlejohn: Bali is my personal Shangri-La. It’s a fascinating culture that throbs with art, gamelon music that puts you into a trance, shadow puppetry, floral masterworks, monkeys, breathtakingly beautiful rice paddies adorned with statues, architecture that embraces the outdoors, anthropomorphic funeral pyres, and deeply spiritual people.  Avoid the beaches and go to the interior.  I hope this magical island never succumbs to full-on tourism. 

About Virginia Littlejohn: Virginia Littlejohn is CEO of Quantum Leaps, Inc., an NGO that is a global accelerator for women’s entrepreneurship.  She has lived, worked in or traveled to about 80 countries.  She and her husband currently live in Vietnam.

Interview With Vicki Gordon

Avil Beckford: What are five books that you would recommend as must-reads? (Five books that profoundly moved you).

Vicki Gordon: I have to admit that I am not an avid reader of nonfiction. I enjoy philosophy and poetry, Kahlil Gibran The Prophet, and auto biographies, but I find it impossible to dwell in a world where reality does not exist.  It is music that moves me, not books, music saved my life as a child growing up in a broken working class family in New Zealand!

Avil Beckford: If you wanted to convince others to visit Australia or New Zealand, what would your argument be?

Vicki Gordon: It is important to understand that Australia and NZ are very different countries with very different cultures and very different values. New Zealand has always been progressive; Women’s vote, Maori Party in Government, transgender rep in Government and now Gay marriage. Australia is built on a conservative colonialist ideal which it continues ‘unconsciously’ to perpetuate. It is my belief that healing begins with a countries relationship to its First nations people combined with its respect for its native flora and fauna; Australia has a long way to go and Australians and New Zealanders are very different people despite their close proximity, a bit like Americans and Canadians!  Both Australia and New Zealand have extraordinary landscapes to explore, I have travelled more than most in Australia and seen the desert, the rainforest, the tropics, the sugar cane fields and the wet and I love this country. NZ is incredibly beautiful in a different way with its Mountains, Glaciers and fern forests and hot thermal springs!!

Avil Beckford: What places would you recommend that they visit in Australia or New Zealand?

Vicki Gordon: Australia -  Broome in WA, South Coast of NSW Jervis Bay, Darwin in the Northern Territory, Uluru Alice Springs and Gove in Arnhem Land.

New Zealand – Greytown and Papawai Marae North of Wellington, Waiheke Island on the Auckland Harbour, Lyall and Island Bay Wellington, Lake Tekapo, Lake Wanaka and Mount Cook South Island.

Avil Beckford: What’s your favourite dish, and what is the recipe?

Vicki Gordon: My brother, Peter Gordon, is NZ’s most famous chef with an OBE from the Queen for his contribution to food. He is based in NZ and London. We have just celebrated our Maori ancestry on our Marae in Papawai in which he cooked for 60 people and I would recommend anything he cooks. He is famous for introducing fusion to NZ and to the UK!

Avil Beckford: Who is your favourite musician from Australia or New Zealand?

Australia – Ursula Yovich, New Zealand – Maisey Rika.

Book List for Week Five: Around the World in 120 Days

  1. Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (Shambhala Classics), Chögyam Trungpa, Tibet
  2. Norwegian Wood Publisher: Vintage, Haruki Murakami, Japan
  3. Ru: A Novel, Kim Thúy, Vietnam
  4. My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin, Australia
  5. A Man Lay Dead: Inspector Roderick Alleyn #1 (Inspectr Roderick Alleyn), Ngaio Marsh, New Zealand
  6. The Trial and Death of Socrates (The Trial and Death of Socrates 3th (third) edition Text Only), Plato
  7. Medea of Euripides, Euripides
  8. Jason and the Golden Fleece (Jason and the Golden Fleece: (The Argonautica) (Oxford World’s Classics)), Apollonius
  9. Gilgamesh: A New English Version
  10. July’s People, Nadine Gordimer
  11. Huckleberry Finn (Huckleberry Finn (Huck Finn And Tom Sawyer))
  12. Your Life as Story, Tristine Rainer
  13. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  14. Green Mango and Lemon Grass: Southeast Asia’s Best Recipes from Bangkok to Bali, Wendy Hutton
  15. Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, David Remnick
  16. Future Edge, Joel Barker
  17. The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, Al Gore
  18. Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
  19. Jock of the Bushveld, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick
  20. A Far-Off Place, Laurens van der Post
  21. A Dry White Season, Andre Brink
  22. Promised Land, Karel Schoeman

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