Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Two book reviews

I have written only one book review till now - when I was freelancing for CT Indian Life. I want to review two books on this blog post. You know, there are times when you read something, and know that this is going to always stay with you. These books are like that for me. They are both very well known. A lot of you would have already read them as they are not new. The first is the book 'A Mighty Heart' by Mariane Pearl and the other is 'The Last Lecture', written by the late Randy Pausch.
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I read 'A Mighty Heart' maybe a fortnight back. After returning a string of books back to the library after reading only a page or two, I finished this book in about four days. I got this book when it was the 10th anniversary of the death of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, who worked with Wall Street Journal and was brutally killed in Pakistan. I wanted to read this book as I always wanted to know how he died, and the fierce way in which his wife fought to get her husband back. Why I loved this book is because of the sheer presence of mind that Pearl's wife Mariane had when everyone realized her husband was kidnapped. Despite being in the second trimester of her pregnancy, she and her fellow companion, Asra Nomani, took on the herculean task of trying to get him back. Although the outcome was known to me and any other reader, the book is still so gripping and poignant.
She does not give up till the very end. In a nation where she found it so hard to trust anyone, she had formed a trusted group of Pakistani and American men who were toiling day and night to get Daniel Pearl back. She was resilient, and coherent of whatever was going on around her. It was through his laptop and emails that they formed a map with Daniel in the center and all the members of the terrorist groups that he had interacted with. I learned from the book that you have to be calm when you are dealt with a challenge that you think is beyond your capacity to handle. She demonstrated that calmness. Mariane said that she had grown up chanting the Buddhist mantra - Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, which she chanted a lot when she and her late husband really needed. Imagine being pregnant and having to go through something of this magnitude that will change the course of your life.
Towards the end of the book, her description shows that she too, is human. She breaks down when a member of her trusted group gives the news of him being brutally killed. She finds some solace initially as her brother comes over to Pakistan. As promised, Mariane tells the story of herself and the group that had helped her immensely to several presidents - including the U.S. and French presidents. She also met with then President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf and has a no-nonsense talk with him. Apart from all this, she said something that I still think about. Mariane mentioned that she has not lost her spirit to live and not lost her purpose in life. She said that if she loses that, then she will give in to what the terrorists always wanted and she will not give them that. She is now mother to an almost ten-year old son.

I read The Last Lecture almost six months ago when I had just moved to Washington DC, and had time on hand (and no TV to distract me). A lot of people had told me about this book, or at least see the lecture on line. I am quite certain most of you know about the author. If you don't, he was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had very few months to live. The University regularly conducts these hour-long sessions, where professors are invited to talk that if you had to give one last lecture, what would you say. Ironically, Pausch didn't work at the University much longer after this lecture. The reason behind reviewing this book is that he had some very simple lessons to offer. The lecture or the book is not a self-help book. But it does make you think, and in my case, it did make me implement what I learned through his book.
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Pausch's kids are very young and he wrote the book and steered the lecture in a way that his children would know about him, even when he is not there. He passed away in 2008. In his lecture, he talks about how to achieve your childhood dreams. There are a few things that just stayed with me. For instance, his very famous quote is that brick walls are there for a reason. He said that brick walls/ obstructions are for those people who don't want something so badly. If you really want something, you will not let the brick wall deter you. He gave an example, by which he said that when you want something, keep trying. And when those who are trying to stop you for whatever reason stop that, at that time you know that you will make it. A and I knew this was true soon after we read the book. A's interview process for his current job in DC took a very long time, and we kept getting mixed signals. But he was persistent, and he didn't let anything deter him.

The other thing that Pausch said, which I know, a lot of us can use is to never give up. He mentioned that every person has a good side to himself. And you have to wait a long time for a person to show his/ her good side. Simple lesson, but very profound. How often have we given up on someone, because that person has done a lot of bad in our lives, and to those we love. One has to wait and that person will show his/her good side at one point.
Of the several other profound thoughts that he had, he cited an anecdote, where his colleague gave him advice on relationships. He said that when it comes to men, who are romantically interested in a woman, ignore everything they say. Just pay attention to what they do. It is profound advice that a lot of us can implement or share with soon-to-be adolescent children.
In short, I loved his book as it shows his and his wife's resilience amidst an illness that he eventually succumbed to. And that is was positive from any angle you looked at. The girl part of me loved his admiration for his wife and the beautiful way he thought of her and got her a cake during his last lecture. It was very emotional and if you read the book, you will read what their interaction was during that special moment. Read this book to believe in yourself, to start something new, to love your significant other and children and never take anything for granted. Cancer is a disease that takes a lot of you and your family. Only those who have lived through it or have seen their family member through it, would comprehend the tireless and unending efforts one makes.

The common theme between both these books is the extremely brave women - the better halves of both the men who are not in this world anymore, but am sure are there in spirit with these women. We all can learn a thing or two from their courage.

This post is dedicated to a very close family member who passed away last week, after battling cancer.


  1. very interesting thoughts. The Professor's book is definitely one of the best! Will try to read the other one now. Thanks for sharing these reviews.

    1. Dear anonymous,
      Thank you for stopping by. Please do try to read A Mighty Heart if possible. It is a great book.

  2. Excellent reviews. May your family have peace with your recent loss. GOD BLESS!

    1. Thanks Reena! And thanks for the kind words.