The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel: Book Review

The High Mountains of Portugal is the latest novel from the 2002 Man Booker prize-winning author of Life of Pi, Yann Martel. Spanish-born, Canadian author Yann Martel has crafted this mesmerising story that is as good, if not better than Life of Pi.

Yann Martel once again uses the tools of religious allegory and zoological lore to explore the meaning of life and the human experience of suffering.

The High Mountains of Portugal is a suspenseful, intriguing story of three connecting narratives that span the 20th century. Yann Martel uses the power of story telling to the explore great love, lost love, faith, reason and grief.

HOMELESS

In Homeless, the first novella is set in Portugal 1904. The protagonist, Tomas has lost his son, lover and Father within a week. Tomas’ response to the overwhelming grief is to walk backwards.

“Some people never laugh again. Others take to drink,” Martel writes. “Walking backwards, his back to the world, his back to God, he is not grieving. He is objecting. Because when everything cherished by you in life has been taken away, what else is there to do but to object?”

Tomas journey through the High Mountains of Portugal, in one of the first motor cars, in search of a crucifix as mentioned in the diary of a 17th century priest. The journey becomes an allegory for Tomas’ grief.

HOMEWARD

In the second novella, Homeward, the tale unravels over one surreal night in the office of Dr Lozora, a pathologist in Braganca, Portugal in the late 1930’s.

Dr Lozora’s wife visits to explain her theory about the connection of the Gospels and Agatha Christie. Here Martel explores one of his personal re-occurring themes of faith and reason.

The second guest that night takes Dr Lozora into a bizarre allegory of sorrow, including the entombing of a baby chimp in a corpse.

Here we see Martel’s skill as a master story teller who uses the writers tool of allegory with stunning effect.

HOME

In the third and final novella we meet Peter Tovy, a Canadian Politician at the end of his career and following the loss of his adored wife. On a political trip to a chimp refuge in Oklahoma Peter Tovy befriends and adopts an ape. The ensuring story is a beautiful tale tinged with sadness and moments of joy.

Peter Tovy’s story is woven into the fabric of the previous two novellas and we are once again spell bound by Yann Martel’s story telling magic that we loved so much in Life of Pi.

RECOMMENDATION

This book is recommended to anyone who enjoyed Life of Pi. Lovers of religious allegory and zoological lore will also throughly appreciate The High Mountains of Portugal. Take your time to read this novel as the themes are worth digesting and so poignantly capture the human experience.

The High Mountains of Portugal is a great story told by a master of story telling and has a 4 out of 5 stars.

Cross Stitch (Outlander) by Diana Gabaldon: Book Review

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon Book Review

Do you want to escape for a while into a really good story? Look no further than the Outlander series. Cross Stitch (Outlander) is the first book in the Outlander series by New York Times best selling author Diana Gabaldon. The first book in the series is now called Outlander, however it was previously published as Cross Stitch in the UK.

Word of warning: stock up the fridge, turn off the phone, you are not going to be able to put the Cross Stitch (Outlander), and possibly the following 7 books down!

The story focuses on 20th Century nurse Claire Randall who time travels to 18th Century Scotland to find romance and adventure with the charismatic Jamie Fraser.

The author creates interesting and quirky characters. Intricate layers to the characters explore different themes including, but not limited too; practice of medicine, family bonds, witch craft, sexual sadism, the unique relationship that exists in every marriage, what it means to be a woman or a man today (refer also to A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman) and in the 18th century.

The Outlander books have a tantalising depth because of the historical detail and character development. In essence I have not felt that this is a pure fantasy story as the author handles this so masterfully. Unfortunately this depth to both the story and characters is not reflected in the TV Series.

In 2014 The Outlander series was adapted to TV. I initially saw the TV series before reading the books. I found the TV adaptation focused on the fantasy time travelling aspect of the story. Generally I am not interested in the whole Fantasy genre, so I didn’t bother watching after the first episode. Many others have enjoyed the TV series, so I expect that it depends on your personal preference. Fortunately a friend mentioned how much she enjoyed the books, otherwise I would of missed out on experiencing the rich tapestry of this historical tale.

I am in awe of first time fiction author Diana Gabaldon. ‘In 1988, Gabaldon decided to write a novel for “practice, just to learn how” and with no intention to show it to anyone'(1). Diana Gabaldon had been working as a university lecturer with degrees in science, zoology and marine biology and a speciality in computational science. Fortunately Diana Gabaldon decided to share her ‘practice’ novel. This is a great story told by a very intelligent woman.

It has been interesting to see the Diana Gabaldon’s writing style develop as she experiments with various dramatic devices in Cross Stitch (Outlander). Furthermore the depth of research, description and attention to every detail of 18th Century life make this series an entertaining lesson in history.

I have found the Outlander series to be highly addictive. Seriously! My house, etc has been badly neglected while I have been immersed in this series. The books are all lengthy tomes that are a true time commitment.

Cross Stitch (Outlander) is recommended to anyone interested in learning about Scotland’s history. If you love a good romance then you will not be able to put this series down. Science fiction lovers will also enjoy the time travelling aspect. Essentially anyone who loves to get lost for a while in a really good story will enjoy Cross Stitch (Outlander).

I give Cross Stitch (Outlander) 5 out of 5 stars. You will not be able to put it down.

*(1) FAQ www.DianaGabaldon.com

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg: Book Review

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg examines the topic of women’s leadership, issues with a lack of women in government and business leadership positions, and feminism. Sheryl Sandberg sends a call to professional women to help themselves, and support other women to make small changes in their life so that change in the workplace can happen on a universal scale.

Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook and founder of Leanin.org (all proceeds from the sale of Lean In go to Leanin.org). Before Facebook Sandberg was vice president of global online sales and operation at Google, and was involved in launching Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org. Before Google, Sheryl Sandberg served as Chief of Staff for United States secretary of the treasury Lawrence Summers.

In 2012 Sandberg was named in the Time 100, an annual list of 100 most influential people in the world according to Time magazine.

Part autobiography and part manifesto to empower women to take more leadership positions in government and business. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is for professional women, to help them achieve career goals.

Sheryl Sandberg believes that the main barriers for women include:

  • Society’s barriers: sexism, discrimination and sexual harassment
  • Women’s own barriers: internalising systematic discrimination and societal gender roles.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead Sheryl Sandberg proposes that the solution is for women to ‘lean in’ to leadership roles. That the more female voices in positions of power will equal more equitable opportunities for everyone. Sheryl Sandberg shares her own boardroom career experiences with self deprecating humour, and shares her wisdom to help empower women to put their hand up, speak out and don’t be afraid to ask for a fair wage and the same opportunities as men at work.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead was written at a time of great success in Sheryl Sandberg’s life. Sadly her husband Dave Goldberg, father to her two children and biggest champion, died suddenly in 2015. Sheryl Sandberg has gone onto write Option B (released April 2017) following this experience. I have this on my reading list and will review separately.

There has been criticism that Sheryl Sandberg is elitist and couldn’t possible understand the everyday struggles of most women.  Yes, there are parts of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead that most working women don’t have in common with Sheryl Sandberg. Private chefs, full time nannies and out sourcing to a degree that most could not afford. Furthermore, not all women have the support of a partner and face the challenge of single parenting while working full time. Sheryl Sandberg went on to acknowledge this oversight, following her personal experience of grief after the death of her husband Dave Goldberg.

Sheryl Sandberg has said that the advice contained in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is what she had wished for at the start of her career, before success at Google and Facebook. The advice is heart felt and certainly any women who is starting their career will benefit from Sheryl Sandberg’s advice.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead was written in 2013. The question is this book still relevant today? Yes’ I believe it is. The latest results from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (Australian Government August 2016) demonstrate that we clearly have a long way to go before our daughters will have a equal chance at a leadership role with equal pay in both government and business. See Equality in the Workplace: Ideas Worth Exploring for the latest statistics from the Australian Government.

I recommend Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead to professional women who want help in achieving their career goals and men who want to contribute to a more equitable society. Anyone who is interested in leadership and how the major companies of our time, Google and Facebook operate will enjoy Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Sheryl Sandberg’s story is not necessarily unique, in a lot of ways her journey has been similar to fellow success story Ariana Huffington. However, Sheryl Sandberg is passionate in her call to action for women to step up and take their rightful position in government or private enterprise to help create more equitable opportunities for everyone.

I enjoyed reading Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

Ideas Worth Exploring: Equality in the Workplace, Feminism, Equality, Women’s Leadership, Smart Girls

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge: Book Review

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge is a tale about psychiatry, horror pulp fiction, secrets and the scandal when secrets are revealed. The Night Ocean revolves around H. P Lovecraft and his contemporaries, as told by the wife of H. P. Lovecraft’s would be biographer. Furthermore, the wife is also a psychiatrist.

The reviewer is not familiar with the work of H. P Lovecraft and after reading this book I am not sure I want to explore this author? Horror pulp fiction is not my interest. I picked up this book because I was intrigued by the story line as told by a psychiatrist.

The Night Ocean is a within a story. In a less capable authors hand this format could of been confusing, but wasn’t. The author has explored each characters secrets and provided enough twists and turns to keep momentum. In the reviewers experience this book was unique in terms of the format and it is this aspect The Night Ocean provides compelling reading.

Each character was well developed, the reader is given exquisite insight into every secret through both the character and the recollections of friends, enemies and lovers. The keeping of so many secrets and the resulting bad behaviour to keep the secrets hidden meant that the reviewer found most of the characters not likeable.

The Night Ocean is successful in that it delivers a nice neat tidy package that by the end all secrets are revealed, the story was well resolved and very well written. Would I recommend it? Well that is the rub. I just didn’t like the characters, although I admire the authors intent. Quite simply the book was too ‘dark’ for my tastes.

Interestingly, the horror fiction writer Stephen King has said that H. P Lovecraft is “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”** Stephen King names H P Lovecraft as the writer who inspired him to create his own horror fiction.

I recommend this book to anyone with a love of H. P. Lovecraft and the history of horror pulp fiction.

**Wohleber, Curt (December 1995). “The Man Who Can Scare Stephen King”. American Heritage. 46 (8). Retrieved September 10, 2013.

This book has a 3 out of 5 star rating.

The Mind Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer MD: Book Review

Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health by Emeran Mayer MD, explains the science behind the connection between our mind gut and digestive system.

As someone who has a general interest in health, I found this book to be an interesting read, although I did ‘dip’ in and out of the book and at times went ahead to see what the secret was to a happy mind gut. The content, while explained simply, was still a little over whelming.

The author presents the latest research on the effect of the mind gut on our overall well-being. The insights into microbiota (gut flora) offer hope to suffers of gut disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In essence, medical doctors had thought that our brain controlled our digestive system, when in fact the science now proves that the gut impacts our mood, choices and health. The mind communicates with the gut, but your gut also talks to your brain.

In The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health you will learn;

  • The importance of intuition and gut feelings
  • How we can optimize our gut health to live a long disease free life.
  • The relationship between our digestive health and the emotions that make us who we are. Some may even call it our soul!

A big ‘take away’ for me was learning about the effect of unhealthy childhood memories on the mind gut and the resulting long term health outcomes. As a parent it is a natural to want to give your child a happy childhood filled with healthy memories. Sometimes it isn’t always possible and I now see the importance of the link between your child’s mental well-being and the mind gut. It is so important to seek support if you or your child is not processing their life experiences in a healthy way.

Intuition affects most of our everyday decisions. Learn why an upset gut could be responsible for poor decisions and how you can make better intuition decisions in the future.

The good news is that according to The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health it is easy to optimise mind gut health.

  • Essentially lots of probiotic rich foods like kim chi, sauerkraut and yoghurt.
  • Consider a good quality probiotic supplement if taking antibiotics.
  • And of course eat lots of fruit & veggies
  • No processed food
  • Red meat once or twice a week
  • Follow a Mediterranean style diet
  • Include social connection at meal times
  • Daily exercise like walking most days and cardio workouts 3 x per week

For anyone that has family or friends living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) there is hope that with some awareness around the research presented in The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health we are all closer to some answers. In Science Translational Medicine Magazine (March 2017) it was reported that germ free mice have successfully received a transplantation of fecal microbiota from patients with irritable bowel syndrome and this alters gut function and behaviour in recipient mice. These results indicate the potential of microbiota directed therapies for IBS sufferers. See link here for more information http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/9/379/eaaf6397

I recommend The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health to anyone who has an interest in mind gut/ digestive disorders, pursuing a healthy lifestyle, parenting and the science behind why we need to look after not just our guts, but our minds as well, to live a long disease free life.

IDEAS WORTH EXPLORING: Mediterranean Diet, Probiotics, Microbiota 

This book has a 4 out of 5 star rating.

+ Ideas worth exploring ageing gracefully

Ageing Gracefully: Ideas Worth Exploring

To care for an ageing parent is any child’s privilege. Firstly we can return some of the love and nurturing that we received and secondly we can still enjoy this person in our lives and help our loved one in ageing gracefully. Certainly a privilege when you consider anyone who has lost a parent and grieve’s that loss.

As I creep closer to 50 years of age I find that social gatherings inevitably leads to discussions about the options for an ageing parent. I am the primary carer for my 73 year old mother, who also has traumatic brain injuries from a car accident over 52 years ago. As part of caring for my Mum I have had to consider a lot of the issues now facing my friends a long time ago. So what are the issues?

Essentially:

  • Downsizing or moving from a larger, quite often the Family Home to a smaller home that is easy to maintain.
  • Self Care, especially following a fall or sickness. How will my loved one manage rehabilitation, managing money, preparing meals, showers, mobility and house cleaning?
  • Safety around the home and in the event of a fall or sickness.

In the next stage of life, following the initial down sizing, many people express regret that they hadn’t made the move sooner. Regardless the process of downsizing for many people is extremely stressful, because it can be the first time that person has had to acknowledge they are getting older and recognition that they are not able to cope with everything like they once did. The new home will be easier to look after and there is a lot less stress because they are not worried about gardens, lawns, fences, painting or any number of items that must be maintained.

When making the decision about where to live many things have to be considered:

  • Proximity to family, friends or support networks.
  • Have they considered their current health issues and what the long term quality of life is likely to be?

In my mothers situation I had to consider her traumatic brain injuries and the real likely hood that in old age Mum will require a high level of care. To this end we decided that a self care apartment in a Retirement Village with a high care nursing home, as part of the facilities was the best option.

Mum will age gracefully in the knowledge that while she is mobile and able to live independently now. Then down the track, if required, there are options like the nursing home, that are in an environment that Mum is familiar with.

Most importantly we are anticipating Mum’s needs now and planning, instead of being in a stressful situation where we may not have options for accommodation or the best care.

Too often I see friends parents denying the reality of their situation and choosing to stay in the home that they can no longer care for and most damaging of all, trying to ignore the fact that they are ageing and their needs have changed. Inevitably they end up having a serious fall with a extended hospital stay and cannot return to their home and are in the unpleasant situation of having to move into care that is not to their liking or located away from family friends. Needless to say this involves stress and heart break to not only your ailing parent but you and your family as well. With a little planning and a few difficult conversations this can be avoided.

In The Telomere Effect we learn the importance of support networks, stress reduction, together with eating a Mediterranean style diet and aerobic exercise. By following the recommendations in The Telomere Effect, together with the guidelines above we can expect, not only ourselves, but our loved ones, to age gracefully and live a healthier longer life free of disease.