Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

The Gunpowder GardensThe Gunpowder Gardens by Jason Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those great books which I like to categorize as ‘History of Things’. Through tracing the history of a thing, in this case, Tea, we unravel many more stories en-route. Tea is something that has always been central to my life, it never answers back and it’s always there for me in a crisis. I think this book is an essential read to anyone who consumes tea on a regular basis. It provides fun anecdotes all the way through and the author ‘Jason Goodwin’ is a great companion on the adventure of tea.

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Moby-Dick or, the Whale by Herman Melville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Call me a dick – but this is great! This is one beast of a book. It’s all consuming when reding it so I read it in sporadic bursts. There is nothing quite like it and it feels like you are making history just by reading it. It’s a fantastic experience as well as being a book to ponder over. It does take some time to get through so I recommend reading the clusters of chapters. There are several ‘digressions’ which are illuminating but take us away from the main story arc.

The characterisation is amazing and the details are obviously copious – Melville spent four years on whaling vessels. It’s biblical in many places with references and style. One of the early chapters is actually a sermon. There is a sense of inevitable dread which intensifies towards the climax. I felt like I was constantly being sucked into the hunt.

I used a map in places just to chart the progress. The language is niche and reflects the time, character and in some cases, the status of the characters. After a few chapters it gets easier to read though. Reading modern works seems kind of shallow and unrewarding after this beast. I recommend it to anyone who lives on planet Earth.

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Title: The Wire (Season 1)

Creator: David Simon

Starring: Domenic West, John Dolman, Idris Elba, Larry Gilliard Jnr and many many more

Released: 2002

There isn’t enough space to write about how good “The Wire” is, but I’ll do my best. This show is unlike anything else I have ever experienced in any medium. People often look down upon television for being too passive; less of a spectacle than a movie and less rewarding than a book. “The Wire” proves all these assumptions wrong by exploring character, plot and themes on an exhaustive scale never seen on TV. On a basic level, it focuses on one single case, but the success of the show is down to how all the characters affect this case, be they street level dealers or major players. This is mirrored on the law enforcement side as we see all the action from raids on the streets up to the quiet conversations in the chambers of the courthouse.

The facts that originally led to a luke warm reception and criticism are the very things that make “The Wire” a truly unique show. There is little action in the first two or three episodes and the number of characters is almost endless. If you expect a conventional heroes and villains plot with cliffhangers at the end of each episode then this won’t be for you. If you appreciate moral ambiguity, unresolved storylines and dialogue that sometimes needs subtitles for a native English speaker, then you might enjoy “The Wire”. As I mentioned, there is a focus on more than a few characters which gives you the feeling of reading a long novel. The realistic approach to sets and dialogue give an almost voyeuristic feel, it’s as if you are standing at the end of an inner city street when the action is going on and you are compelled to watch.

On a purely personal level I have never really been a fan of Cop Shows and I always avoid the Crime section in bookshops. I think the biggest reward for me has been my enhanced understanding of the politics of crime and crime fighting. It’s left me feeling pretty negative about law and order and slightly confused about the people who I previously thought of as being baddies. One last word of advice: try to watch the whole thing in an intensive period, it makes it easier to follow the plot(s) and get involved in the characters.

Title: ‘3-Iron'(빈집) 2004

Released: 2004

Director: Kim Ki-duk

Writer: Kim Ki-duk

Starring: Jae Hee, Lee Seung-yeon

This is one of the best Korean films I have seen, and one of the best films I’ve seen for quite some time. Reading the impossibly constructed plot would make you think that this is a gimmick of a film or just plain pretentious; it is neither.

The film unfolds at a gentle pace with almost no dialogue, it feels like a nature documentary at times. Tae-suk quietly breaks into houses empty of occupants and proceeds to enjoy blissful yet brief domesticity. His time relaxing in the bath or in front of the television is counterbalanced with dull chores, chores which he accomplishes with the inner peace of a monk. Our sympathy with the character happens because he actually fixes things and steals nothing. This strange routine of breaking and entering is finally broken with the discovery of a battered housewife. Witnessing domestic problems draws our hero in, from his previously quiet solitary life, he enters into something far more complicated and ambiguous. The film follows a wordless love story through the various parts of the city and subsequent brushes with the housewife’s husband and the police.

I hate to use this term, but it could be described as a ‘magical realist’ love story, or worse yet – a modern fairy tale. But it’s a film that sweeps you along without the need for labels, and on closer reflection it makes you think. Despite the anonymous urban landscape the cinematography is beautiful and the music (one track in particular) is threaded through the film reflecting the continuing love story between the two silent protagonists.
I would recommend this film to anybody and everybody, even to those who don’t like subtitles as there is almost no dialogue. My only tiny problem is the title, in Korean it’s ‘Empty House’ which to me seems a more poetic title than 3 Iron.

When I lived in Manchester I used to cycle and walk everyday. On weekdays I dodged the insane buses on what I still believe is the busiest bus route in Europe – Oxford Road. On weekends I had a more leisurely pace and just cycled past any places that interested me. One of the places I went past was the Armenian Church in Ardwick, it’s round the corner from the Turkish Baths which won the Restoration programme’s vote on that BBC show. If you know your history then you will realise the ultimate irony of being round the corner from a Turkish place, many Armenians left their homes due to the Turks. Seeing this Church with its mystical looking alphabet filled me with curiosity about a place I knew nothing. It was with this in mind that I searched and found one of my favourite books and subsequently, one of my favourite authors.

From any perspective Armenia is one of the most interesting places on earth. The first Christian state, sight of Eden or resting place of Noah’s Ark. The problem is, few people actually know this. Luckily Phillip Marsden took the trouble to enlighten us by learning Armenian in Jerusalem and visiting members of the Armenian Diaspora (often by complete chance). I have rarely read a travel book that tackles so many important subjects without being crushed by it’s own weight. The author succeeds in being engaging without losing the complexity and academic weight of the subject. Marsden develops a real affinity for all things Armenian but always remains objective and critical. The book’s greatest asset, and the main reason why I chose to recommend it, is the fact that it is like a biography of a place and it’s people all rolled into one. If you want to find out a little more without reading the book click below: