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Karen Triggs (London, UK)

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Mrs Moneypenny's Careers Advice for Ambitious Women
Mrs Moneypenny's Careers Advice for Ambitious Women
by Mrs Moneypenny
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five-star careers advice for women ... and men, 3 July 2012
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This marvelous careers advice book is aimed at women (it says so in the title of course!) but if you are a man - or if you know a man - who is standing at the bottom of the greasy pole looking up, or stalled, clinging on at the halfway mark, then recommend him this. Maybe advise him to buy the Kindle edition, so no-one will see he's reading it - after all, as Mrs Moneypenny points out, image is important. She herself, she reports, is often seen carrying a copy of the FT rolled under her arm, thus demonstrating she is a business-like person.

I feel slightly ashamed to admit I'm not a regular reader of the FT or the Economist - I just can't seem to tear myself away from the Guardian. Neither do I work in the City or possess a degree in accounting (Mrs Moneypenny is currently studying for one and somewhat regrets she didn't do this earlier in life but personally, I couldn't imagine a duller way to spend my time). I haven't attended the World Economic Forum (as yet) or ever been invited to a shooting party at a country house, both of which Mrs Moneypenny recommends as a fine means to improve one's network of contacts and oil the wheels of business. Nonetheless, I rather enjoyed reading about this high-flying, megabucks world, which is testament to Mrs Moneypenny's humorous style, so finely honed over a number of years in her FT column of the same name.

Although Mrs Moneypenny clearly intends, at one level, for her advice for to be taken literally - attend the poshest university you possibly can, study finance, network with the right people, hire a great nanny, sit on the board of a charity and so on - it was the principle of the thing that I really took away: plan ahead, work hard, seek out opportunities, grow some cojones, help others and (some of them) may later help you. In this respect the book has something for you whether you are a primary school teacher aspiring to become a deputy head, a newly-qualified nurse-practitioner looking for your first higher-level prescribing position, an optician studying sports science at night in the hope of becoming a personal trainer, or a mum of toddlers working very part-time whilst looking to the future. Did you guess it? Yes, these ladies are all real people, my chums, and I shall be recommending this book to all of them.

And if your goal is to become a fully paid-up member of the Establishment or to advise an ambitious, clever but not-very-socially-well-connected girl on how to become one (and by this I mean that daddy can't fix her up the right internships), then this book is also for you. Although I think they probably broke the mould after they made Mrs Moneypenny, her advice on how to reach the dizzy heights of blue-chip CEO is solid gold, as well it should be given that, in real life, she runs a headhunting firm.

Do I plan to take up shooting as a result of reading this book? Probably not. But I'm having a very hard think about what the equivalent activity is for my own industry.

Black Mamba Boy
Black Mamba Boy
by Nadifa Mohamed
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This novel stinks ... in a good way, 14 Dec 2011
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This review is from: Black Mamba Boy (Paperback)
You can almost smell this powerful first novel. There is the stink of rotting goat meat, the sour odour of sweat and dust and the hot smoke in the boiler room of a British Navy steamship, as we follow Somaliland-born Jama, the main character, on an extraordinary journey from the backstreets of 1930s Yemen, through '30s and '40s Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, to the '50s docksides of peasouper Britain.

If you wrung out the pages there'd be a mess of blood and sand - the young Jama is educated in the school of exceptionally hard knocks, loosing first his mother, then his father, and then - worse - conscripted into Mussolini's army, East Africa branch.

So, it's a visceral read and UK-Somalilander author Nadifa Mohamed's writing is so raw that, at times, I had to put the book aside and take a deep breath. It turns my stomach even to recall a scene in which one of Jama's friends is brutally sodomised and then slaughtered by a couple of power-crazed Italian soldiers in Ethiopia. For that one she wins the Reservoir Dogs Grand Prize for the Graphic Portrayal of Senseless Violence.

I won't say it's all doom and gloom - Black Mamba Boy is not quite a misery memoir. In fact Jama is a very hardy and resourceful young man, who takes his pleasures where he finds them - how could he survive otherwise? Neither is he on a western traveller's journey of self-exploration. Instead he lives like a Somali nomad writ large, riding the waves of history and circumstance on the surfboard of his wits until he finds a place of relative rest - a damp and foggy postwar England plastered with signs declaiming `No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs'.

Nadifa Mohamed may the the first writer to try to infuse a novel written in English with the flavour of the Somali language. `Spare', `lean', `efficient' - these are not words to describe her prose but in my view her cross-cultural literary experiment is an interesting one which will bear more fruit as her style develops.

This one's a 4/5, then, on the basis that I'm looking forward to reading Novel No 2 which I understand is in production, and set in 1980s Hargeisa. I'll save my fifth star for that.

The House of the Mosque
The House of the Mosque
by Kader Abdolah
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars gripping dramatisation of the Iranian revolution of '79, 28 Sep 2011
It's Iran in the `60s and `70s. Under the Shah, progressive Tehran ladies have abandoned the chador for loose headscarves which show their hair.

But in a small provincial town near Qom, Iran's centre of Shi'a scholarship, where several generations of carpet merchant Aqa Jaan's family live together in `the house of the mosque' of the book's title, the march of progress is less advanced.

When rakish Uncle Nosrat, a photographer and film-maker, visits Aqa Jaan and the others, bringing with him a trendy girlfriend wearing sheer nylon tights, the two grandmothers who run the household are outraged.

Luckily for the girlfriend, Aqa Jaan is a moderate (and a diplomat). He instructs the grandmothers to offer her a beautiful chador and a pair of thicker stockings as a gift, so that she can take a trip into town without setting tongues wagging. This is the politics of change one pair of tights at a time.

Unfortunately it's not an approach which serves Aqa Jaan well as the Shah teeters and radical Shi-ite leader Ayatollah Khomeini's influence grows, because in the new Iran emerging around him there is no middle ground.

This enthralling novel from Dutch-based Iranian émigré Khader Abdolah meshes a family saga with a dramatisation of the fall of the Shah and the subsequent takeover in 1979 by Khomeini and his henchmen.

Family saga as political drama: it could be a clumsy device but Abdolah absolutely pulls it off, as much via the steady infusion of Islamic poetry and a sense of Islamic tradition (sounds boring, but it ain't the way he does it), as via the quality and charm of his writing.

As anti-Shah civil unrest brews and later during the new regime's purges each member of Aqa Jaan's family is in some way implicated, for better or for worse.

I mustn't give away the ending but look out for a liberal helping of poetic justice in the last chapter as someone gets his just desserts.

There's not nearly enough poetic (or even regular-style) justice in world politics as a general rule. Just as well, then, that there is fiction like this, to transport us.

The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life
The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life
by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the unbearable hotness of being, 6 Sep 2011
Ryszard Kapuscinski is as much a philosopher and a poet as a foreign correspondent. This marvellous book about postcolonial Africa is both a brightly lit road movie and an engaging narrative history.

There is no aircon in Kapuscinski's Africa - it's damn hot on every page. He bakes, burns and sizzles his way through Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

He meets coup leaders and village chiefs, market traders and truck drivers, child soldiers and missionaries.

He is accompanied everywhere by a plague of hellish insects, buzzing, stinging, whining, biting. Inevitably he contracts malaria - William Burroughs has nothing on Kapuscinski's dreadful, fever-tossed nights.

Those harbouring ambitions to become a foreign correspondent should read the chapter on getting in (and out) of coup-struck 1960s Zanzibar very closely.

I feel sure he would advise a course in basic car mechanics to anyone contemplating following in his footsteps - his landscape is littered with broken-down trucks and threadbare Land Rovers, pitted with giant potholes or oozing black mud.

But amongst the drama, Kapuscinski is also clear and analytical.

His seventeen-and-a-half pages on the genesis of the conflict in Rwanda is the best I've read.

He colourfully describes his meetings with politicians and officials to a greater purpose - explaining post-independence Africa's (few) successes and (many) failures.

To be able to write history like this is a real talent.

What does it all mean? The clue is in the title: not Heart of Darkness but Shadow of the Sun. To escape the unbearable heat of the African day, to survive until the evening, one must look for a shady place. This is the African quest.

Fanning himself, sweating, Kapuscinski seeks the shade too. It is only from this place that light can be shed.
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