Growing up Bin Laden by Jean Sasson (with Osama’s wife and son)

book cover: Growing up bin ladenTitle: Growing up Bin Laden
Author: Jean Sasson (with Najwa Bin Laden and Omar Bin Laden)
352 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (October 27, 2009)
Set in: Saudi Arabia
Genre: Non-Fiction (memoir)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts: Having read and loved most of Jean Sasson’s books, I’m always happy when I discover she’s written a new book. This book was more interesting to me because it was written on Osama Bin Laden, the elusive ‘self-proclaimed’ jihadi. Although I have intense hate for him, there is a part of me that wants to know why and how does a man become the Osama. How does a guy have so much control over so many people that they were willing to die for him? Also, What kind of family life did he have? All this and the author’s name led me to read this book.

The book starts with Osama’s life in Jeddah, then Sudan and finally to Afghanistan. Because the book is from his family’s point of view it doesn’t have details of his jihadi life but enough to note the major crossroads of his life and how it shaped and encouraged him towards a violent future.

Omar Bin laden: courtesy 4th-reich

The first thing that struck me about this book is the honesty with which it’s written. It must have taken immense strength from the wife and son to narrate this. They don’t pretend to hate Osama for the sake of the world. They loved and tried to please him in spite of what he was. His sons and wives spent their lives travelling with him to various countries and living in increasingly deteriorating conditions. Osama was a rich and successful builder to begin with. His family lived in luxury until Osama became overly “religious”. This book is not written for the sake of writing one. I have read memoirs of people where all they write is common knowledge. But this book reveals a different side to Osama, it shows him as a devoted family man. Time Magazine describes it best

‘The thrill of being a fly on the wall of the bin Laden family’.

The book was written before Osama dies so that part is still a mystery but fortunately I have a later edition of the book which gives a brief idea of the reaction of his family to his death. I seriously cannot stop talking about ‘Growing up Bin Laden‘ and since there is no one else I can talk to, I am happy and grateful I have this place.

For the Love of a Son by Jean Sasson

Title: For the Love of a Son
Author: Jean Sasson
Genre: Non-Fiction
Source: Personal Shelf
Set in: Afghanistan, America and Jeddah
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
I love books by Jean Sasson. The first time I read on of her books I was in 11t Grade and it was probably my first non-fiction book. I have been a huge fan of hers ever since. I think her writing is simple but the stories in her books are heart wrenching. I remember I cried a lot when I read her book Mayada. She writes about women in the Muslim World. She writes about their oppression at the hands of those they love, oppression by their government and because of age old beliefs that are hard to shake even in this century.

This book is no different. For the Love of a Son is the story of a woman from Afghanistan called Maryam. Jean Sasson begins by telling us about Maryam’s grandmothers forced wedding to a man much older than her and the brutality she faced after he died. Maryam’s father was a very kind man in comparison to most of the Afghan men. She grew up under the loving protection of her much liberal parents and was, in a way, naive about the world around her. She saw them suffer abuse and thought them weak for not raising their voices.

But her perfect world came crashing down when their family had to flee Afghanistan after the Russian invasion. Their family immigrated to America where she thought she would be free from the sanctions imposed by Afghanistan government and their society. Maryam’s father married her off to a fellow Afghan who turned out to be a very violent and abusive man. When she had a son, he fled with him to Afghanistan.

This story is mainly Maryam’s but it is also the story of all the women who have suffered tremendously because of their government or their culture. This book tells us about so many such woman whom either Maryam knew personally or had heard about. I feel sad knowing there is so much cruelty against women, that their father’s, brothers and uncles who are supposed to love and cherish them, push them into a dark world and leave them without hope or self respect. It’s unbelievable how strong these women are even if it’s for the sake of their family, their children or themselves.

I will remember Maryam’s story for  along time to come and I hope more people read this book.

Note: That’s Maryam on the cover by the way. Also, it’s surprising how much history of Afghanistan is covered in this book which was a plus point for me.

The Great Elephant Escape by Antoinette Van De Water

Title: Title: The Great Elephant Escape
Author: Antoinette Van De Water and Liesbeth Sluiter
Genre: Memoir
Source: Library
Set in: Thailand
Challenge: East and SouthEast Asia
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
I had very low expectations from this book but it ended up surprising me. The Great Elephant Escape  is about a German woman Antoinette who volunteered in an Elephant Park in Thailand and ended up organizing a ‘Bring the Elephant home’ campaign. Antoinette loved elephants and empathized with their situation in Thailand. She wanted to do more than volunteer and that’s when she came up with the project. The book  chronicles her and her teams journey through Thailand with the rescued Elephants. The goal of the project was to make people aware of the plight of the elephants.

Today Elephants in Thailand are mainly used for begging and tourism purposes. There are Elephant shows, Elephant rides and the works. But there are also elephants that work in the logging industry. Violent measures are usually used to train them and they are often not treated well. With deforestation, the elephant owners have little to feed their elephants, so they have to resort to take them to the cities to beg or use them in the logging industry.

Antoinette begins her project by raising money which seems a lot more difficult than she imagined. A lot of things that could go wrong did go wrong during the planning of this project. But as the project progressed there was also a lot of support and awareness created about the Elephants and their plight. The author takes you through Thailand with her and lets you experience the frustration of dealing with the Thai bureaucracy, the sorrow of seeing the plight of these majestic animals and the happiness of finally doing something for them.

The writing if not very literary is good enough to pull you into the book without any distractions. Antoinette seems like a genuine person who poured her heart and soul into this project. I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in memoirs or Elephants.

Call of the Litany Bird by Susan Gibbs

Title: Call of the Litany Bird by Susan Gibbs
Author: Susan Gibbs
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
To say I didn’t know anything about the Rhodesian Bush war is an understatement. I’m overwhelmed by African war history. Ironically, the only reason I accepted this book to review is because it’s set in Africa.

This is a memoir of a time when Zimbabwe had become Rhodesia. This particular story is about a white farmer’s family. After Susan’s first husband expired because of Cancer, she married Tim and moved to Bonisia with her 2 young kids. Bonisia is in Matabeleland which is one of the conflict zones. Susan describes living under these conditions. Day to day life was very tense and they had to worry about attacks and death and safety among other mundane things.

The white minority community was a very close knit community. As different farmers were shot dead or abducted or attacked, Susan started to re-evaluate the safety of her family, and thought about leaving the land she had come to love and raised children on.

It didn’t matter much that I wasn’t aware about the history of Zimbabwe, what I loved most was the description of the daily life on farm. She bought the African landscape to life. I loved reading about her daily routine, about her bee rearing business and so many things among others. She talks about the dry season:

Following each successive drought we swore we could see the Kalahari desert encroaching further into our territory. Tjolotjo Tribal lands, west of Nyamandhlovu, were already desolate. Overgrazed by cattle, chewed to the quick by goats, denuded of trees by tribesmen building their huts and cooking fires, it had, over the years, cleared the way for desert sand to advance over the baked earth, and famine had become a reality for tribal people. Food agencies tried to help but little reached those in real need. Government road blocks confiscated donations coming in on the blocks of lorries, selling them on to the highest bidder and Nyamandhlovu farmers reacted by opening up back tracks on their land and smuggling the grain through.

She also talks about the monsoon. I loved the sentences below. It somehow reminded me of the monsoon back home.

The lacerating heat, seemed to last forever, but one day,as we watched from the verandah, purple clouds began stacking up on the horizon, rapidly blowing closer and bringing the smell of rain on the wind. Thunder rumbled in the distance, lightning played around the sky as afternoon grew dark. And then it broke. glittering rods of rain, blocked the view, spattered mud on the walls and washed dust laden leaves. Overnight the veldt greened and the air filled with smells of wet earth and blossoms and Matabele ants, pungent and pervasive when stepped on. Just behind John’s cottage the Mpopoma river came down in spate, sluicing over the spill way into the Khami and sending torrents rushing down into the dam.

She doesn’t dwell very deeply into the politics and the history, most of the times she just tells how the bush war affected the farms and farmers in Matabeleland. She had kept a map in her house where she marked all the dead, attacked and abducted farms with different colored pins, they also had to get up in the morning and do a roll call so that they can account for everybody. It was particularly sad to see the effects all this had on her kids, especially when one day her youngest girl playfully says to a worker ‘don’t get killed on the way home’

Whether you are interested in memoirs, African history or simply Africa, this book is definitely worth reading.

Steve & Me by Terry Irwin

Title: Steve and Me
Author: Terri Irwin
Source: Personal Shelf
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Simon Spotlight
Genre: Non Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
Who hasn’t heard about Steve Irwin? Even though I’m not a crocodile fan, I still watched his show sometimes because his enthusiasm and obvious love for his work pulled me in. His wife was always in the background. I never gave her much thought and I wondered what this book might have to say. But I was pleasantly surprised. Terry has her own charm and genuineness which comes across through the pages.

Terry met Steve when she visited Steve and his parents zoo in Australia during a vacation. After a few months they got married and Terry moved to Australia to be with him. She had her own business, worked part-time at an emergency veterinary hospital and operated a wildlife rehabilitation organization called ‘Cougar Country’. So she was, before she met Steve, a wildlife warrior in her own way. After she met Steve she was introduced to a bigger world and a passion for Wildlife that matched or even surpassed hers. She was with Steve when he wasn’t with Animal Planet and wasn’t famous. She assisted Steve in his crocodile hunts and helped him manage the zoo.

Through Steve and Me, I got to know a Steve who was as passionate and dedicated as we know him but we also got to know how emotional and vulnerable he was. I was especially touched when Steve cried because he couldn’t save one of the crocodiles from the hunters. He did not limit his love only to Crocs, he loved every animal out there and worked for their welfare.

There were also a lot of things that I learnt from this book. The one that gave me goose bumps was when Terri described what Crocodile farming was really like. She also writes about the time Steve was surrounded by controversies-once during the Whale shoot and another during the time he did a croc show with his daughter Bindi in his arms as an infant. It’s disheartening to know what kind of stories people cook up to create sensation.

I feel that Steve’s death, other than the loss to his family, also robbed the world of a wildlife warrior, the kind who would be difficult to find again. I hope his children have the same passion and energy he had and take his legacy forward. In terms of writing, this book is as simple and straightforward as it gets, but I feel it doesn’t need frills and flowery language to describe what an amazing man Steve was. Highly recommended.

Muslim Women Reformers by Ida Lichter

Title: Muslim Women Reformers
Author: Ida Lichter
Hardcover: 513 pages
Publisher: Prometheus Books (May 26, 2009)
Genre: Non-Fiction
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
When I first browsed through the book, all I saw was too much information. Just from the index I could tell that there were too many countries and too many reformers from each country. I thought it would be an overload and I would finish the book without knowledge about anything in particular.

But how wrong I was. After reading the book I can still say it has lot of information but everything is so nicely structured that I could go read it in sections without getting overwhelmed. It was definitely not an overload and I could tell how important it was to include as many reformers as possible. I would feel bad if even a single among them was excluded and I feel there was still room for more.

Every countries section begins with a brief but concise history of the reformation with how the countries past and present has affected the position of the women for better or for worse. Under each country we have the information on different women reformers and the work they have done and are still doing for the betterment of women. It also lists the awards won and books written if any and the various organizations that are working towards a single goal-the betterment of women.

I found Muslim Women Reformers an awesome resource on the work done by women from different Muslim countries. Although every country has it’s own laws, one thing remains common-the exploitation of Muslim women in the name of Islam. The problem is combining religion and politics and hence the misinterpretation of religion to achieve the political goals. Since most of these politicians are men, they use Islam as a way to keep women out from what they consider their territory. But women are learning to interpret Islam the correct way which is helping in fighting with these fundamentalists.

These are the women who are fighting for basic rights, both political and personal, and suffer tremendously for it. I am amazed by their courage and determination at the cost of their personal lives. The saddest part probably is that these women have to fight even for basic things like custody of their children, honour killings, right to decide if they want to wear a veil and right to express their opinion; and although it is a slow process, there is definitely progress in many parts of the Muslim world.

I am in no situation to say how accurate or inaccurate this information in this books is but I have faith that the author has done enough research before writing the book. I also understand that there are exceptions everywhere. For me, this books definitely deserves a place on my shelf. I highly recommend it.

Related/ Similar topics:
Teaser Tuesday: Muslim Women Reformers
Honour Killing: Stories of men who killed by Ayse Onal

The Memoirs of a Monster Hunter by Nick Redfern

Title: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter
Author: Nick Redfern
Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir)
Source: Library
Rating: 2 out of 5

My Thoughts:
I love reading everything paranormal. I have watched a lot of documentaries that deal with searching or proving the existence of Paranormal entities. So when I saw this book in the library I was instantly attracted to it. The book is Redfern’s account of the 5 years he spent in America chasing after monsters like bigfoot, Chupacabras, Moth-Man and others.

The book begins when Nick flies to the U.S for a conference where he meets his would be wife Dana for the first time. After a while they get married and they decide to stay in the Texas, U.S. for some time. He spends most of his time attending conferences. Now his research, or at least what he writes in his book, is mostly visiting the places where the monster was seen, talking to people who had seen them and also talking to people who have written books about them or are researching about them.

I didn’t feel there was anything new in this book. The back of the book says
But do such creatures really exist? Can it be true that our planet is home to fantastic beasts that lurk deep within its forests and waters? Memoirs of a Monster Hunter proves the answer is a resounding yes!

ummm…well, not really. At no point it’s actually proved that anything is real. Nor does the author ever comes across such creatures, at least not in this book. He does come across something called as Ghost lights and he claims to have seen them and taken a picture. But for some reason, he does not include the photo of the only possibly paranormal thing he has seen. And it’s not like there are no photos in the book. I’m just confused about why he wouldn’t include that photo, that’s all.

But the book is an easy read and is not boring for most of the time. I liked reading about conferences and such and how seriously all this monster hunting and UFO thing is taken. The books as a whole had little substance and the only chapters I enjoyed reading were the ones about Chupacabras in Puerto Rico. The author calls Chupacabras vampires because they suck the blood out of the animals and leaves 2 holes on the neck. I loved this section because it was new to me and the setting of Puerto Rico was marvelous. But again, all he does is go around interviewing people and visiting places and not proving or even trying to prove anything.

With a bit of effort he could have proved or at least made an effort to find some solid evidence. For e.g. when he found the place which the goat man had possibly marked as his lair, how difficult was it to place a camera all night at the place or even stay overnight? But he says he did not have the time. Because seems like most of his time was spent in attending conferences or hopping from one place to another. At one point he did not go to an actual site where he and his friends were going to stay overnight to see if they could find anything, but preferred to interview some person who had probably seen something years back. I mean seriously?

To me, it didn’t seem like he was actually interested to study the monsters in-depth. He was just there for the ride. Memoirs of a Monster Hunter was disappointing. And I don’t even want to start about how he was shamelessly plugging his other books throughout. Sigh.

Buried Alive by Roy Hallums

Title: Buried Alive
Author: Roy Hallums
Genre: Non-fiction (memoir)
Source: Review Copy
Set in: Iraq
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
Roy was a 56 year old retired Naval commander working for a food supply contractor in Baghdad’s high-end Mansour district. In 2004, Roy was kidnapped by gunmen who stormed his Office. 3 Iraqi’s and a Filipino Robert was kidnapped along with him. After shuffling Roy and Robert to a few places, they finally kept them in an underground cell in a house in the middle of nowhere.

For 311 days Roy along with Robert survived hellish conditions while being blindfolded and handcuffed most of the time. Buried Alive is the story of their survival and hope against all odds.I admire Roy for his courage and his ability to stay sane in the most trying circumstances.

Buried Alive is not just a hostage drama. We also get a glimpse into how kidnapping became a business to make money, to bargain or simply to spread terror in foreign countries. The most surprising information was how many Iraqis are kidnapped for extortion. We hear about people from various nationalities being kidnapped and the various foreign government efforts to negotiate, what we don’t hear often is how these kidnappers take hostage their own countrymen to get money.

The book also gives us a glimpse into Roy’s family and how they dealt with his kidnapping. Also, it was interesting to see how the FBI controlled every aspect of information sent/ given about the kidnapping. When I started this book my progress was a little slow but after 50 pages, I just breezed through it. Buried Alive is also a good look behind all those kidnapping and killing videos we’ve see on the news. Horrifying but true. Recommended.

Beyond The Comfort Zone by James M Turner

Title: Beyond the Comfort Zone
Author: James M Turner
Source: Review Copy
Genre: Non-fiction (Memoir)
Paperback: 354 pages
Publisher: Cliffs Edge Books (December 9, 2009)
Rating: 4.25 out of 5

My Thoughts:
This book was not exactly what I was expecting when I read the premise. Not in a bad way though. The premise is about how one of UK’s premier musicians finds himself in the Golden Triangle working to infiltrate the trade of Human Trafficking. And that’s exactly what it was. But having read about books on human Trafficking before, obviously my mind jumped to conclusions. So in a way Beyond The Comfort Zone was refreshing.

Jim, as the author is referred in the book, was born in Northwich in 1961. He describes how he went from an unknown saxophone player to one who played for famous bands like Bros and Take That, But after years of playing and after opening his own production company, he decided he wanted a change, to go on adventures he had read about on NatGeo magazines. The first 50 pages or so describes his life before and during his music career. Although I had never heard of this musician or even the bands Bros and Take That (I don’t listen to Western music a lot), I was never bored. It was an entertaining tale.

In 2002, he finds himself in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I would have loved to know why he decided on this particular place and what was he really planning to do there. But seems like that was exactly what he was planning, to NOT do anything, probably just experience a new place. He meets many people along the way, foreigners as well as the local people. Franco was one of those guys.

Franco and Jim, armed with a hidden video camera just for the sake of fun and possibly coming away with something explosive, go to a Burmese village along the Thailand-Burma (Myanmar) Border. They find themselves wanting to capture something of importance, something that would capture the child prostitution that is so ripe in Thailand and that particular region. They come away with some footage which turns out to be very rare and before they know they are pulled into something much larger than they had anticipated.

Beyond The Comfort Zone was thrilling and entertaining. It was also sad because it was real. It made me angry and sad for the hundreds of children who are trafficked for prostitution every year. The author describes daily life in Thailand, not necessary from a locals point of view but not from a tourists viewpoint either. At times I did not want to read about Franco’s and his antics but they too offer a different view of Thailand. This book does not really dwell deep into the human trafficking issue, it is mostly the authors experiences and the adventures he had along the way. The last hundred pages or so had me holding my breath waiting to know what happened. This being a memoir only adds more to that feeling. All I can say is don’t judge this book by its cover. Recommended to those who like memoirs and those who like their memoirs to read like a novel.

Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper

Title: Dispatches from the Edge
Author: Anderson Cooper
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; First Edition edition (May 23, 2006)
Source: Library
Genre: Non-Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
I love reading books on War Correspondence but sadly out of all I’ve read I’ve only liked two. But Dispatches from the Edge I loved. I had expected to like it but I wasn’t prepared to like it so much.

Anderson Cooper describes his journey, dispatches rather from developing and third world countries. The first section describes the cyclone that hit Srilanka and many other countries a few years back. Having been to Srilanka recently, I could picture the small towns and the people and it was very painful to read about the destruction of life and property.

The middle section is more a mix of his experiences in war-torn places like parts of Russia, Iraq and Africa. At times there are alternate chapters on the same places but in different times. I guess he wanted to contrast or something but to me that section was most confusing because even though it describes the same place the situation was somewhat different, at least politically. It was difficult to just switch between times.

The last section is on hurricane Katrina. He was in the midst of the hurricane then and his experiences were chilling. And because it was his own country, he was more emotionally involved which reflected in the writing.

What I loved most about the book was that Anderson Cooper didn’t hold back. He let the readers know what his state of mind was then. He described how his father’s death affected his and his brother’s life. He kept running away from reality instead of facing his grief and loss. His brothers suicide was another tragedy that made him runaway from his emotions. He describes his need for always being in crisis and how it was unable for him to adjust to normal life.

Although this book is based on difficult subjects, it really is very easy to read. Highly recommended.