Top 5 Books That Will Change You

(… or that changed me.)

In honor of the Riyadh International Book Fair happening this March 9 to March 19 at the Riyadh Center for Exhibition and Conference, I’m writing an entry on books that changed, or at least moved, me to continuously inspire Riyadhizens to READ. I’ve written a few entries on books in The Pink Tarha like the books you should read during Eid and book series you might want to consider picking up in the hopes of encouraging you, or at least your kids, to go back to reading and forget about Facebook and other social media accounts or online games even for just a few minutes of your day. After all, ‘there are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.’

I’m a voracious reader and I’m nearly done with my Goodread’s Book Challenge of finishing 25 books for 2016 (sign up and challenge yourself too!). I already read 15 books and it’s just the first week of March. Yes, I have time to read on top of caring for my family, working, writing for The Pink Tarha, going out with friends, and trying out new things and activities. But here’s the thing, even if I read a lot, I don’t really remember everything that I read. When I’m done with one book, I forget it already once I open another. I rarely get affected with what I read… until I came upon and read these top five books which left my mind and heart floating on air: I’m not sure whether I’m depressed, happy, or just left confused. I think the proper adjective would be “stunned”. Yes, these books gave all the right kind of feels.

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I think I already told you about this in a past entry on books; how much I loved this book because while it left me really sad after reading it, this book opened up the world of Middle East to me. I read this on my first year in Saudi Arabia and if I was feeling down living in one of the world’s most restricted country, that feeling was swept away in an instant by this book. There are other Middle Eastern countries suffering more than Saudi Arabia in terms or restrictions, poverty, and war and I should be thankful that I am in Saudi Arabia and not in the middle of the tumultuous events in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Read the book before you watch the movie.

Read the book before you watch the movie.

[PLOT] Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had. – via Goodreads

This book by Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini portrays the themes of friendship, betrayal, guilt and redemption. It’s a sweeping drama that is set against the backdrop of Afghanistan, from its monarchy’s fall to the Soviet military’s intervention, stories of refugees to Pakistan and the US and the rise of the Taliba regime. It’s a story with history. Reading this gave me a quick lecture on Afghanistan, a country that I wasn’t really aware of until this book came to my shelf. It also let me take a glimpse of what goes on a father and son relationship; a rarity even in these times. You know how men are; they refuse to succumb to their emotions and they’re really stubborn expressing their feelings and thoughts. And when they finally do, it’s too much to handle. Their secrets, their lies, their sacrifices… ahhh this novel has it all. It’s so beautifully-crafted it’s heartbreaking. The friendship of Amir and Hassan, the relationship of Amir with his Baba, and finally, the delicate relationship of Amir with Sohrab, Hassan’s son… they all broke my heart into a thousand pieces. It was the first time a book made me feel depressed yet hopeful at the same time. It’s the book that launched me into reading a hundred other Middle Eastern books. This is not on the bestseller’s list for nothing. It’s everything. Everything!

2. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

I read this book just last month and it took my breath away. So much so that until now, I couldn’t pick up another book to read because Shantaram left me in a daze. The plot, the characters, the setting… they were all so good. It’s not a story that left me hanging to it page by page but every event in this riveting story left me breathless. The only thing I didn’t like is how long it is. I was reading this in my Kindle and the corner of the device shows how many percent was I done reading and I kept on looking at it because it didn’t seem to change. Turns out it was really a looong book. It’s a friggin’ EPIC! (Literally and not.)

Incredible covers for an incredible book.

Incredible covers for an incredible book.

[PLOT] Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear. Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere. As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. – via Goodreads

The setting is in India and even though it depicted the slums and criminality in Mumbai, this book made me fall in love with India as a whole (#nextdestination). In a way, it’s like the Philippines. Yes, we have poverty, yes we have crimes, but beyond the ugly city life, the country thrives with the hearts of its people. Shantaram is like a Bollywood film. It has drama, action, and romance (and even a song and dance number somewhere if it’s given a movie reproduction). The novel is dizzying and dazzling. Sometimes I thought I knew what happened but then sometimes I felt like I got lost in translation, especially with the wisdom and quotes in conversations. Like what?! Haha! Anyway, I still love Shantaram because the ups and downs of life can be read about here; it’s so human it’s painful. It’s not a perfect book and a huge feedback on this is that the protagonist Lin is egotistical and has a blurry sense of good and evil. But we’re sometimes like him you know? Anyway, it’s not Lin that I admired in this book. It was his guide Prabaker that I was drawn to and let’s just say he and his story made me cry. Why? You have to read the over 900 pages book if you want to know. I still can’t let go of this book and my feelings about it. But it’s mostly about what happened to Prabaker. Dandandandannnn…

3. Honeymoon in Purdah  by Alison Wearing

Ask me a few years ago what country I want to visit and I will answer “Iran”. I know you’re rolling your eyes and calling me “weird” and “crazy”. Yes, I had a phase and I attribute that plan to travel Iran with the book, Honeymoon in Purdah. Oh my gahd this book is laugh out loud fun to read. And yet it’s a story in Iran? Fun and Iran? I must be out of my wits, yeah? Haha! This is a story that I would like to have written on my own; except of course, the setting would have to be Saudi Arabia.

It's not easy traveling to Iran, much less have a honeymoon.

It’s not easy traveling to Iran, much less have a honeymoon.

[PLOT] With a love of travel, Alison Wearing invites us to journey with her to Iran–a country that few Westerners have a chance to see. Traveling with a male friend, in the guise of a couple on their honeymoon, Wearing set out on her own at every available opportunity. She went looking for what lay beneath the media’s representation of Iran and found a country made up of welcoming, curious, warmhearted, ambitious men and women. With humor and compassion, Wearing gives Iranians the chance to wander beyond headlines and stereotypes, and in doing so, reveals the poetry of their lives–those whose lives extend beyond Western news stories of kidnapping, terrorism, veiled women, and Islamic fundamentalism. – via Goodreads

Again, this novel is set in the Middle East and it’s something that I have envisioned writing for myself you know? Just that I want mine to be in Saudi Arabia, because well, that’s where I went to. Like Alison Wearing, I came to a new country with an open mind and an open heart. Maybe that’s why she wrote this book with so much enthusiasm and energy and love for traveling. She’s open to trying out new things, venturing into unknown places, taking risks, and meeting new people. She talked about the people she met instead of herself and the place thus bringing out to light the kindness and humility of the people in Iran. We seldom see snippets of the people of this country because it’s much known for something else but this story made me want to get to know them better and see their beautiful country that which are hidden to us outsiders. This book changed my view of Saudi Arabia because like her, I saw a  Middle Eastern country from the inside… where it’s coming from. And not from the perspective of those who are outside of it who know nothing but news that are limited and stale.

4. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abuhalwa

“A heart-wrenching, powerfully written novel that could do for Palestine what The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan.” This is the introduction of this book in Good Reads and I was immediately curious to read it because hello, read #1 on this list (if for some reason you skipped that one and jumped to #4). I love The Kite Runner and if this is something like it, only set in Palestine, then please I’m eager to read the book. And I did. And you know what? Yes, it can do for Palestine what The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan. This did it for me.

Ready your tissues while reading this.

Ready your tissues while reading this.

[PLOT] Forcibly removed from the ancient village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejas are moved into the Jenin refugee camp. There, exiled from his beloved olive groves, the family patriarch languishes of a broken heart, his eldest son fathers a family and falls victim to an Israeli bullet, and his grandchildren struggle against tragedy toward freedom, peace, and home. This is the Palestinian story, told as never before, through four generations of a single family. – via Goodreads

Ang sakit lang sa puso. Yes, this book also left me heartbroken. Being in Saudi Arabia, the conflict of Palestine and Israel is a topic we rarely discuss. As you know in The Pink Tarha, we don’t discuss anything about politics. In this book, I am given a glimpse of the political conflicts that define our times and the citizens of other countries. More than the clashes that we see in the news, the people in these countries are the ones who suffer and Mornings in Jenin shows this in such an intense way. I felt like I was their neighbor looking into their story and feeling for them. Like I was directly involved. This novel of love and loss, of childhood and age, of marriage and parenthood is well-crafted, it threads stories of four generations of a single family in poignant, emotional way that I couldn’t help but feel for Amal, the protagonist. It’s an incredible read that you shouldn’t miss.

5. A Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

This is a bit different from the rest because this novel doesn’t involve war and the conflicts that arise from it. It involves a boy, a kitchen, two restaurants, Mumbai and French Alps. Wait, what? Mumbai and the French Alps? Two cities that are so different from each other. How do they even connect? Through the hundred foot journey of Chef Hassan Haji.

Gorgeous, gorgeous covers for a flavorful book.

Gorgeous, gorgeous covers for a flavorful book.

[PLOT] “That skinny Indian teenager has that mysterious something that comes along once a generation. He is one of those rare chefs who is simply born. He is an artist.” And so begins the rise of Hassan Haji, the unlikely gourmand who recounts his life’s journey in Richard Morais’s charming novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey. Lively and brimming with the colors, flavors, and scents of the kitchen, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a succulent treat about family, nationality, and the mysteries of good taste. – via Goodreads

This novel is like a scrumptious dish bursting with different flavors: spicy and strong like Indian cuisine and elegant and subtle like the French’s. It was a delight eating reading it. I just love the vivid descriptions of cooking, the delicious dishes, and even snaps of Indian and Italian life. They said that this novel, which turned to a movie, was the marriage of Ratatouille and Slumdog Millionaire. Yes, that fits. There were great characters and an interesting story line that melds perfectly together. I really like the character of Hassan’s dad and Madame Mallory. After reading this book, I wanted to learn to cook immediately. Or maybe, just eat more butter chicken and masala then finish off with a dessert of souffle. This book is a feast for the senses. If you’re a foodie, pick this up and devour like there’s no tomorrow.

So there. these are just some of the books that I remember putting down and having goosebumps. Like I had to take a break from reading for a week or so just to absorb everything that happened in the novel. A good book should move you in ways that you never thought of. These books did that for me. Most of the Middle Eastern books I read had propelled me to understand this region better through the eyes of others, those who have experienced it first- or second-hand. I’m always amazed by the creativity and intelligence of people, especially writers who I can see na may pinaghuhugutan. I feel them. I hope you also take this chance to READ, or at least visit the Riyadh International Book Fair happening this March 9-19, 2016 to look for books that might interest you and motivate you to read and share the gift of reading to your families and friends.

From a bookworm’s heart to yours. 😉

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Janelle
Janelle

The Editor-in-Chief speaks 7 languages: Filipino, English, Wit, Sarcasm, Truth, Creativity, and The Pink Tarha.

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