Book Review [4]: The Spy by Paulo Coelho

the spy

In his 16th book, Paulo Coelho has sprinkled the fiction over the non-fictitious story of the great Mata Hari giving it his own typical style of slow rhythmic sentences with multiple quotes. However, he has chosen this book to be a fast read, unlike most of his other books.

Mata Hari was the name Margaretha Zelle chose for herself when she arrived in Paris after leaving her drunk and sadist husband who was a Dutch Army Officer. In Paris, she became a dancer who with her exotic dance performances enthralled not only men but also women.

Her first mistake was to agree to work as a double agent for France and Germany, at the time of World War 1, just because she wanted to stay in the city she loved: Paris — though she did not provide any secret information to any of the countries. Another mistake was her narcissism, as his lawyer told her, “I saw that you were more interested in showing your importance than in defending your innocence. (In court.) Her mistake was also to take help of prominent men by seducing them. So, when it came to helping her, they were all too concerned about their reputation than in saving her life.

Paulo has chosen a unique way of writing the book through letters. First by Mata Hari to her lawyer, Mr. Clunet, and second, vice versa. Nevertheless, this book felt strangely incomplete and left us wanting to know more about Mata Hari’s inner voice and also what happened after her execution. Personally, I wanted to know a lot more about her daughter and also about Mata Hari from her perspective.

As Paulo mentions in the blurb, Mata Hari’s only crime was to be an independent woman but, to be honest, her crime was to be a woman whose brave dance made her independent. Then, as she did a few minor mistakes and aged, men did what they always do with women like her. In 1947, after a few years of Mata Hari’s execution, the prosecutor of Mata Hari confided to a journalist saying, “Between us, the evidence we had was so poor that it wouldn’t have been fit to punish a cat.”

Those who are Paulo Coelho fans would love this book since Adultery was quite disappointing. Those who are not into Paulo’s books will definitely be happy to know about the woman who took fate into her hands but lost the fight, yet winning a place in history as one of the strong women. Believe me, Paulo has tried his best not to sound as indistinct as he does in his other books.

Happy Reading!

 

Book Review [3]: Black Milk by Elif Shafak

black milk

Each human has voices inside his head. Those voices are either united making a human complete or — in most scenarios — they fight with each other inside a human brain and one of the voices benefits at the expense of others until some other voice takes over.

Elif Shafak’s head was also a messy one with 4 voices in her head which increased to 6 overtime – fighting, winning, losing. Elif was a single young woman, traveling and making her career as a writer, all while trying to grasp herself.

At the age of 35, when she was still against marriage, she met Eyup at a tavern in Istanbul and ended up marrying him in Berlin. At 37, when she was still horrified at the idea of having kids, she got pregnant and ended up giving birth to a daughter. With every miracle, her head got messier and then, after two months of delivery, she could not save herself from falling into Postpartum depression which affects a lot of new mothers. Despite the fact that she was irritated by her voices, she loved them and her depression locked all those voices and engulfed her.

What was worse? She could not do the only thing she loved more than any other: write.

Black Milk unfolds her struggle of making peace with the voices in her head and getting out of the Postpartum depression after the birth of her baby in 2006. Along with that, Elif Shafak tells the stories of the personal and public lives of various women writers. To me, it seemed like she was trying to interpret her life keeping their lives in view but in the end, decided to discover her own path while acknowledging theirs.

Black Milk gives an impression of Elif’s journal. She has fearlessly talked of her vulnerable brain exposing herself as a woman, a writer, and a mother. For me, as a woman writer, Black Milk put me in awe. Writing such a book was indeed something a writer hardly dares to do. Most of the autobiographies talk about the outer struggles of a writer; Elif Shafak has aimed the book on her inner struggles.

Since this book highly deals with feminity and writer-hood, I would suggest this book in the first place to women writers. In the second place, this book is for all women. In the third place, I would keep male writers. If the genre interests them, male readers can give it a read too. Though, somehow, I am sure they will leave the book midway.

I would always be grateful to Elif Shafak for this book since I cannot stop thinking of writers, writing, and books. The sound of tapping at the keyboard has become my favorite music. What better gift for a writer than this?

Back to Elif Shafak: After her daughter, she gave birth to a son. At the end of the book, she tells her readers:

Our daughter’s name is Shehrazad Zelda – the former from the charming storyteller of the east, the latter from Zelda Fitzgerald. Eighteen months later we had a son, Emir Zahir – the former from the old traditions of the East, the later from the story by Borges, “The Zahir,” and a book by Paulo Coelho, “The Zahir.”

Elif sure is a crazy woman. May history never forget her. Amen.

Book Review [1]: The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald

gatsby-original-cover-art

Nick Carraway was born in Midwest. After serving in World War 1, he moved to West Egg to test his luck as a bond salesman. He was spending an ordinary life. But Jay Gatsby was not like him.

So, when Nick Carraway gets to know Jay Gatsby he is compelled to tell his story to the world. At least, that is the idea presented by F. Scott Fitzgerald in his famous classical masterpiece ‘The Great Gatsby’ which is set in the 20s when America was celebrating a Jazz age.

At first, this book did not attract publicity Fitzgerald expected. However, later, after his death, this book became the best novel of the 20th century and the second best English language novel of the same era.

Gatsby is a rich resident of East Egg throwing lavish parties each weekend which are attended by the whole town. Carraway, as his new neighbor, attends one of his parties where he meets Gatsby who after a certain time reveals his love for beautiful Daisy Buchanan.

In attempting to recapture the past, Gatsby’s story comes to an unexpected halt which notes that the cruelty disrupts the beauty and simplicity of life. Besides, it explores the consequences of going after unworthy dreams.

These are the last lines of novel which summarize the whole agenda of the story:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning-

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Fitzgerald was successful in putting the plot because of which this book attracted fame. The lack is in the characters as they are flat; readers are not able to empathize with any of them. Yet there are places when you can feel with characters as close as Fitzgerald intended his readers to feel. The writer has put enough work into this book that readers will not end up regretting to read the story of Gatsby even if they do not enjoy it.

All you have

A few weeks ago a friend of mine lost her father. Then the televisions were airing the death news of young Sheyhla Baloch. Yet, the impulse to write this blog came at the unexpected death of the mother of another friend of mine.

I cried, I don’t know why. Maybe because my plan to eat ice-cream with her didn’t come true or rather because I was scared to lose my own mum. I also saw mine death close, lurking around me with each breath I took.

A realization hit then: All the goals and dreams are vague, including the very-next-moment-plans. You do not even own the next breath of yours, let alone your future or those you love.

Then whoops! I panicked.

But problems do have solutions and so it came as easily as a dream: MOMENT.this-moment

 

Judging our nature of desire to possess everything, God hasn’t made us all powerless after all. He has given us something – this moment, this very moment when you are reading this.

Don’t hold back: do what is important to you; say what must be said; dance; feel; love; live. Just stop looking forward to the mirage of tomorrow; it’s all today, now.

When you do this, death will become a friend – a sound blessing because if there would have been no death people would have been too lazy to do anything and also, a little too cruel. So, thanks to the solicitous God.

This moment is all yours to embrace. Once you do this, embracing death would be no big deal.

(May those whom death have engulfed rest in peace and may those who are still being seduced by life live healthy and happy. Amen.)

The story of Zaynub (R.A)

A love story between the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and her Allah-God and a love story between the same woman and her husband Amr Bin Al’aas.
A simple short story of love and making a true choice.

In Mecca there lived a family consisting of four sisters and their parents. One of the sisters was named Zaynub. When she grew out to be a young beautiful woman her maternal uncle asked her mother Khadijah to ask if Zaynub wanted to marry his son. Khadijah discussed this issue with her husband and they both asked Zaynub for her consent. She stayed silent; at that period of time if a girl stayed silent when asked to marry meant that she is ready but is too shy to express it. This is how Zaynub was married to her cousin Amr Bin Al’aas.

Khadijah gave her own very necklace to her daughter at her marriage as a gift. Amr and Zaynub together developed a beautiful intimacy and with each second their love increased for each other. In the later years they welcomed their first baby girl, Umama, then came their son, Ali.

But as life cannot be the way you want, time changed. The light of Islam shooed away the darkness which overshadowed the entire world. Zaynub welcomed herself into the light while her husband couldn’t bring himself to do that. This drastic change in their lives began to test their love for each other.

The non-Muslims of Mecca started asking Amr to divorce Zaynub at once, that there are many beautiful women in Mecca who are dying to marry the handsome and rich Amr but Amr was impossible as he dearly loved his wife and couldn’t even think to part himself from Zaynub. Besides, the two younger sisters of Zaynub got divorced and came back to live with their parents, then soon her mother died. This was the very sad period for the family of Zaynub.

When the non-Muslims wrecked the havoc so much so that it became unbearable for Muslims to live in Mecca the Muslims were ordered to leave that place at once. So, everyone following the family of Muhammad migrated towards Medina, a safer place. Zaynub stayed behind with her husband setting an example of an impeccable love.

Muslims grew strong in Medina and soon the fight of Badr was in air. Zaynub became restless as she didn’t want her husband to die while he was still a non-Muslim. She was relieved to know that he was alive but enslaved by Muslims. She sent her necklace to her father and demanded the freedom of his husband. Muhammad couldn’t control his tears at the sight of the beautiful necklace that once belonged to his beloved wife, Khadijah. He understood his daughter’s feelings and asked everybody if it would be fair to free the slave named Amr and to send back what has been received as ransom. The companions of Prophet agreed at once.

Alas! For the time of separation had come for such noble lovers. Before Amr left for Mecca Muhammad sought his promise that he would send Zaynub to Medina as they were no more in a marital relationship according to Islam because the verse 221 of Chapter 2 had been revealed which said:

And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. And a believing slave woman is better than a polytheist, even though she might please you. And do not marry polytheistic men [to your women] until they believe. And a believing slave is better than a polytheist, even though he might please you. Those invite [you] to the Fire, but Allah invites to Paradise and to forgiveness, by His permission. And He makes clear His verses to the people that perhaps they may remember.

After the revelation of this verse all those men and women who themselves were Muslims but their spouses were not separated as their marriages dissolved themselves.
Inspired by the culture and values of Islam, which he comprehended as a slave, Amr agreed at once and asked Zaynub to go to Medina. She asked him to convert but didn’t find him ready for such a step yet she had instilled the love of Islam in his heart with her humble, loving, and principle-centred attitude.
When Zaynub was ready to depart with her kids Amr said to his brother Kinana:
“Help her leave Mecca, there will be a few Muslims waiting for her. You know that I cannot bear this separation. I have neither the courage to leave such a virtuous wife nor can I replace her even with most beautiful woman of Quraysh. Take care of her even if it consumes all of your arrows but don’t you let anyone near her.”
As Quraysh had eyes on the slightest of actions taking place they got to know about the egress of Zaynub and were able to stop them before they could leave Mecca. Kinana, following the advice of his brother, fought with them yet those men hauled Zaynub down the camel and she fell mercilessly onto the ground and suffered a miscarriage. Her condition turned so severe at the spot that the people of Quraysh left and Kinana chose to take her to Medina instead of taking her back to her husband.
With time, she recovered her health and spent her time following the path of Islam and caring for her children. She didn’t remarried as she found her heart deeply in love with Amr despite of all the differences and so she preferred to wait for him.
It took them 6 years to meet again. Once while an attack on a trading caravan Amr saved his life and came to Medina. He found out where Zaynub was living and asked her for her protection. She allowed him into her little home and early the next morning she announced to the people of Medina that Amr is in her protection and no one will harm him without her consent.
Everybody accepted her proclamation as per ritual. Muhammad came to visit her daughter as soon as he heard it and advised her understanding perfectly her situation:
“O daughter! Be gracious and offer courtesy to your guest but don’t be involved with him as if you were his wife because he is not lawful for you as a polytheist.”
Not only Zaynub but every Muslim treated Amr with respect and returned him all the wealth which they had attained after the attack.
That was all it took to melt his heart wholly and he proposed his wish to be a Muslim. Other Muslims suggested that if he converts he can keep all of the wealth of caravan as it belongs to Polytheists and he had the right to keep it according to the rule but he said:
“How bad it would be if I’ll start my Islam with treachery!”

He went to Mecca, returned the wealth to those it belonged, verified that he has returned everything and possess no more money of others, declared Islam in front of everyone, and came back to Medina.

Prophet Muhammad gave again his hand happily in the hand of his beloved and patient daughter Zaynub. Their happiness was intense and elusive. Amr found himself caring for his wife and children and practising Islam as much as he could.

This happiness didn’t last longer than a year. Zaynub still had pains from the brutal miscarriage she faced six years back so she died of those pains. It was as if she was living only to see her Amr as a true believer of Islam.

Amr felt miserable, his heart wretched but he didn’t let his tongue say a single ungrateful word which would make his dear God angry but his eyes spoke of the sorrow he felt in his being. He couldn’t stop his tears at her funeral no matter who consoled him. Peace entered his heart when Muhammad came and touched his shoulder. His tears dried instantly.

He never remarried and gave all his love to his children, Umama and Ali. It is said that he was more inclined towards Umama because she very much looked like her mother. Some narrations also tell that Ali died in his childhood so all the focus of Amr was on his daughter.

Soon his heart regained the strength but the empty space at the loss of such a beautiful wife could not be attained. Once he was ready to live a fulfilling life he devoted himself to Islam. He fought many wars as he was a brave and tough man and he practised Islam in every way he could and became one of the dearest companions of Prophet Muhammad.

A few years later he died peacefully as a true Muslim.

*

Zaynub fought a war of love; she had either to choose God or Amr. She took the right decision by making her God happy and then God fulfilled all which arose in her heart. She didn’t disappoint God so God too didn’t disappoint her.

Looking at Amr it is realised that he was blessed because of Zaynub but it would have been impossible if he hadn’t accepted the truth after knowing it.

So, ultimately, the decisions matter.

These are the kind of people for which the Lord has said that He has bought the souls of such people for in-exchange they will be given paradise.


  • R.A is a symbolic form of ‘Radhi Allahu Taala Anha’ which means ‘Allah has become pleased with her’.
  • The name of Amr bin Al’aas is Abul Aaas bin Rabiyah according to some of the narrations.
  • Reason: I’ve used the name of Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and his companions various times but didn’t used P.B.U.H and R.A with their names so that the story could maintain a flow.