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.

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.

Long Road Home by Kim Yong

Title: Long Road Home
Author: Kim Yong with Kim Suk-young
Genre: Non-fiction(Memoir)
Source: Library
Hardcover: 184 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (June 1, 2009)
Set in: North Korea
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:
Kim was an ideal North Korean citizen. He had a high post in the government, made a lot of profit, worshiped their leader, put his country above his family and was basically living an ideal life with his wife and 2 kids. Everything was perfect, until it wasn’t.

Kim was an orphan and war orphans had an advantage in North Korea as their parents gave their life serving the country. Family background played a very important role in North Korea and even the 2nd and 3rd generations had to pay for something their parents or grandparents did or supposedly did.

Kim’s world came crashing down when it was discovered that he was the son of an American spy who was executed by the Government. He was immediately arrested and sent to prison for what his father did, a father whom he did not even remember.

What happened to Kim and possibly many North Koreans was shocking to say the least. I can only question the sanity of someone who can put 2nd and 3rd generation loyalists for something they did not do. I might have understood a demotion but not putting him into one of the countries worst prison.

Kim did manage to escape to South Korea and eventually to the US, but before that he had to spend 6 years in hell. His journey from North Korea to South Korea was nerve breaking. I kept praying they don’t catch him even though I knew they don’t. The author brings to light the lives North Koreans lived and probably some of them still do under this horrific regime. He wants the world to know what is happening in the closed country.

The author is the only person who escaped Camp 16 and 14 and has lived to tell his story. There are not many books written about North Korea and this one is definitely worth reading.

No More Tomorrows by Schapelle Corby with Kathryn Bonella

Title: No More Tomorrows
Author: Schapelle Corby with Kathryn Bonella
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing (June 1, 2008)
Source: Library
Genre: Memoir
Set in: Bali, Indonesia
Rating: 5 out of 5

Schapelle Corby was arrested at Bali airport, Indonesia in 2004 when 4.1 Kg of Marijuana was found in her bag. She was in Bali to be a part of her elder sisters 30th birthday celebrations. But little did she know that this holiday would change her life forever.

She was arrested and thrown into Bali’s prison to await trial. Her sister Mercedes hired a lawyer Lily who was none the wiser as it turned out to be her first case ever. Schapelle thought she would be released as soon as they realized that the drugs were not hers. After all she did travel via 2 domestic Australian airports before landing in Bali, there had to be some proof of her innocence somewhere.

But the trial was over and Schapelle was sentenced to 20 years in prison. No More Tomorrows is her journey from a care free women to someone who had her world turned upside down in a few minutes. Schapelle claims throughout the book that she has no idea where the drugs came from. There could be so many simple ways to determine whether she was guilty without doubt but the Indonesian police and the justice system overlooked a lot of things.

First of all, they did not test the marijuana to determine the concentration, they did not test the marijuana bag for fingerprints in spite of repeated requests by Schapelle and her lawyer. The Australian airport did not have any videos of Schapelle checking in the bag as which could easily determine whether the bag had drugs. It was after all a huge bag.

The Indonesian justice system also did not take into account the testimony of an Australian prisoner who happened to over hear 2 prisoners taking and laughing about how a bag of marijuana was mistakenly placed in someone else’s bag and how she had to go to prison because of that. They also did not take into account the fact that there was a report released about how Australian airport baggage handlers were involved in illegal movement of drugs from the airport.

Everything about Schapelle’s case irritated me and made me more and more angry. I respect Indonesian laws that gives sever punishments to drug peddlers, but at least make sure that the person whose life you are ruining deserves it without any doubts. There were so many things that could have been done to prove her innocence.

Other than having to go through something that Schapelle did not deserve, she also describes the deplorable and at times shocking conditions of the Bali prison. One thing that really shocked me the most was the way the media behaved. We all know what the media is like, we have seen so many examples, but the way the media behaved with her was absolutely disgusting. Here is one the passages from the book which I believe is one the milder ones.
So hard to concentrate: the courtroom is covered with cameras, reporters, TV cameras sitting on the floor in the middle of the court, and when I speak all these microphones are placed down on the table in front of me, and there’s a window behind me with people speaking in Indonesian. Cameramen calling, ‘Corby, Corby’ in my ear; as I turn, they snap the camera. Couldn’t they have a little respect? I have to be completely aware and with no distractions: I am on trial for my life! don’t they understand?
Diary entry, 3 Feb 2005.

Schapelle with her mom

There is a word added in the Urban dictionary: Schapelled which means “to be screwed over – brutally.” What more can I say?

There were a few repetitions in the book but I’m not complaining. I don’t remember ever being so emotionally affected by a book before. It’s probably because what happened to Schapelle could happen to me or my loved ones and it just scares me to no end. If it could happen at the airports of a developed country like Australia, it could happen anywhere.

Schapelle is still serving her 20 year sentence in the Bali prison. I really hope and pray that she is released soon.

Latest Update: Schapelle Corby was granted parole on 7 February 2014 and released on 10 February 2014 after having served nine years in Kerobokan Prison.The ruling however means that Corby will have to live in Bali and follow other rules set by the correction bureau and check in with the Bali corrections bureau monthly until her final release in July 2017

Note: If you haven’t watched the documentary series on NatGeo called Locked up Abroad/ Banged up abroad/ Jailed abroad (same series, different names), please do. It’s a series about normal people like you and me who made a mistake, a misjudgment, got carried away and landed up in prison in third world countries. 99% of these cases are related to drug peddling.

If it doesn’t show in your country, you can watch all the past episodes on the NatGeo website.