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Art of Islam, Language and Meaning: Commemorative Edition (Library of Perennial Philosophy Sacred Art in Tradition)
Art of Islam, Language and Meaning: Commemorative Edition (Library of Perennial Philosophy Sacred Art in Tradition)
by Titus Burckhardt
Edition: Paperback
Price: 21.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Erudition worn lightly, 21 April 2014
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This book was first published in 1976, and what's on sale now is a commemorative edition, with updated illustrations. The book has clearly stood the test of time. Burkhardt's writing is elegant and erudite, always a pleasure to read. His knowledge seems encyclopaedic . . . And examples are drawn from a wide variety of Islamic lands. my particular interest is in Central Asia, but, unfortunately, not many of the examples are drawn from there . . . I suspect because it was difficult to travel there in former times. A strength of the book is the way it roots Islamic art in platonic philosophy (ironically, only available to us today because it was preserved by being translated into Arabic). Burl hard tis seeking to set out a unified overview of the art, but often says there are variants within the art as the Arabs met up with the pre-existing cultures in the lands they conquered and converted. I would have appreciated learning more about the variants, but that would be another book. Burkhardt was also a convert to Sufism, and his writing displays the sense of gentleness and love which underlies that approach to Islam.

In short, this is a very beautiful book to read . . . A useful antidote to current media driven images of the destructive violence of "jihadism". I shall treasure the way it has given my vision of some very beautiful and mystifying objects more compassionate depth.

I would recommend this book to anyone.


Arts & Crafts of the Islamic Lands: Principles  Materials  Practice
Arts & Crafts of the Islamic Lands: Principles Materials Practice
by Khaled Azzam
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding how things are made, 21 April 2014
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This book parallels a course in traditional Islamic art at the royal college of art in London. By focussing on how the art is made, and the strongly symbolic aspects of the products and techniques of making, the book provides a way of understanding "what you are seeing" when you look at the artefacts themselves, a way of "reading" them. Ina reflexive way, it made me think how much of my understanding of west European art is rooted in my own religious education. An additional question it raised for me was to begin to grasp how Orthodox art straddles two different modes of representation.

As a "maker" myself, I also gained some insight into how to look using my hands rather than my eyes . . .


The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia
The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia
by Peter Hopkirk
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Boys own adventure stories, 21 April 2014
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I was slightly put off by the method of recounting history by telling tales of nineteenth century adventurers in Central Asia. But in the end, I grasped the overall history of struggles for control of the region, primarily focused on England and Russia. The overall narrative emerges from the accounts of responses to the exploits of the adventurers, on both sides, and the way their actions are woven into diplomatic processes.

The more important thing I was drawn to thinking about is imagining a world in which "national boundaries" don't really exist, or are shadowy and murky. Also, the book is thought provoking in trying to set the current Ukrainian crisis into perspective.

A consequence of the narrative structure of this book is that I found it difficult to start with (not really having an interest in boys' own adventure tales), but then found myself slowly gaining a much larger overview of the region . . . And, also, raising many wider questions about the longer history.

In short, the book does succeed in contextualising a region in which silk was not the only thing crossing through it.


Samarkand
Samarkand
Price: 6.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting enough, 14 April 2014
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This review is from: Samarkand (Kindle Edition)
I read this because I am planning a trip to Uzbekistan and it was recommended by the tour company. The structure of the novel is basically two narratives, which follow one another. One is set in the past, when Omar Khayyam was writing the Rubaiyat, and the other is set in the present, about finding the original copy in Samarkand. For my purposes, it gives a light introduction to some of the recent (and long ago) history. However, it's not a novel which is sticking in my mind over time . . . more light diversionary reading.

As literature, the structure is a bit too simple compared to many of the novels which mix two narratives in time. The translation is adequate, but doesn't sparkle. The resolution of the plot is a bit mechanical and provides a closure on the tale(s). So, as literature, not one of the greats. As a diversion, it's OK, but I've read better mystery novels.


Murder on the Ballarat Train: Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates (A Phryne Fisher Mystery)
Murder on the Ballarat Train: Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates (A Phryne Fisher Mystery)
Price: 0.84

4.0 out of 5 stars a pleasant light read, 27 Nov 2013
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This is a light, almost frothy novel, which I read for pleasure when I want a tale that zips along but doesn't challenge my brain too much. Read it three days ago, and have almost forgotten the plot. Phryne Fisher novels are a bit formulaic, so the intellectual interest is to see the variations within the formula. This also means that it's not a good idea to read too many too close together.


Mumbai Fables
Mumbai Fables
by Gyan Prakash
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Another way of looking at Mumbai, 31 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Mumbai Fables (Paperback)
I read this some time ago, but what struck me was how nicely it fitted against Rushdie's perspective on Mumbai.


Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, 31 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Cloud Atlas (Paperback)
Several separate narratives, somehow interlinked. A puzzle to be solved. The interesting thing is that the writing style varies with each of the narratives, so for those who are intrigued by how "writing" can change with the times, those who enjoy the use of words, will find it more interesting. A dystopian view. I found the "wrap up" at the end a bit formulaic and disappointing, but enjoyed getting to it. (I haven't seen the film.)


Maps for Lost Lovers
Maps for Lost Lovers
by Nadeem Aslam
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Painful and beautiful, 31 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Maps for Lost Lovers (Paperback)
This is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. There is the constant tension between the beauty of the writing and the extraordinary pain of the central event . . . an honour killing among a very segregated immigrant community in the north of England. I found the writing absolutely gripping . . . like fireworks . . . and the narrative intensely painful. I couldn't put the book down, but found myself disturbed after each chapter (as much pain as I could tolerate in one go). I can't recommend this book highly enough, although I realise it will not be to the taste of a casual reader looking to be entertained. I left with a much deeper understanding of the perspective of the people who left a rural homeland to settle in an English city.


THE COMPLETE FATHER BROWN MYSTERIES COLLECTION [Annotated] (Complete Works of G.K. Chesterton Book 1)
THE COMPLETE FATHER BROWN MYSTERIES COLLECTION [Annotated] (Complete Works of G.K. Chesterton Book 1)
Price: 0.77

3.0 out of 5 stars Short stories, 31 Oct 2013
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Chesterton's moralistic tales can be a bit wearing. I can't read more than two or three at a time. But they are enjoyable bed time reading on holiday . . . I keep them on my iPad, so I can read them while travelling. As short stories, there is little sense of character development . . . but a real sense of how important being observant and seeing things from other perspectives can be in forming moral judgements.


Our Lady of Darkness (Sister Fidelma Mysteries 09)
Our Lady of Darkness (Sister Fidelma Mysteries 09)
Price: 3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, 31 Oct 2013
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This is one novel in a long series. It is delightful (female detective, medieval Ireland). Main polemic is to show how well developed the Irish legal system was at the time. Unfortunately, a lot of material is repeated throughout the series, so I stopped reading them after the third or fourth novel. Nevertheless, they made good holiday reading and introduced me to an Irish perspective at the time.


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