Sunday, February 24, 2019


Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'éléphantsParle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'éléphants by Mathias Énard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an amazing book, and I was fortunate to have read it in its original French. The short story line is a little known putative episode in the life of the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo, who goes on to accept an architectural assignment from Bayezid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1481 to 1512, after being snubbed by his Roman patron Pope Jules. In the hope of righting himself financially and besting his much senior arch-rival Leonardo, Michelangelo, not 30 years of age yet, sneaks out of Florence on a merchant vessel and takes temporary residence in Constantinople, where he mingles with the locals of all walks of life, undergoes a cathartic "cultural immersion" and barely escapes his ultimate undoing at the hands of some devious courtiers, hell bent on discrediting his Ottoman sponsors and their pet project.

It is a story of change, constancy, friendship, rivalry, and above all, art, beauty, and unconditional unattainable love. Enard, who is a specialist in Persian and Arabic literature, evokes the much loved metaphors of wine and perfume, dusk and dawn, nightly city, dreaming, awakening and visions of the beloved. In fact, the whole books is written in short chapters of poetic metaphoric language that draw on the time honored traditions of Eastern poetry. The impermanence and dream like quality of the imagery is haunting and vivid. There is nothing superfluous, every phrase and detail has its precise place in this pageant of the mind....

Enard got to some literary fame with his language experimentation, and if this were to be one of those experiments, it is a successful one. I was thrilled that with my not so consistent grip on literary French, I was not hindered by having to struggle with the original, or (worst of all), tempted to give up and read the translation (of which I read some good reviews, and hoping the book would get recognition here in the US that it merits). Enard's idiom is so clear, gorgeous and transparent that it is a joy to read and contemplate, with no extra detail or thread to distract the reader from the enjoyment of the story.

The dreamlike quality of the narrative is so haunting that if you cannot help thinking that Michelangelo got transported to Constantinople in his sleep and awoke just in time to paint the Sistine ceiling... if it were to be the case, the dream served its purpose... a handy act of God that destroys (almost) all evidence of it possibly ever existing in reality allows the poetic metaphor to stay separated from the documented facts....



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Saturday, January 26, 2019

Review: Ketotarian: The (Mostly) Plant-Based Plan to Burn Fat, Boost Your Energy, Crush Your Cravings, and Calm Inflammation

Ketotarian: The (Mostly) Plant-Based Plan to Burn Fat, Boost Your Energy, Crush Your Cravings, and Calm Inflammation Ketotarian: The (Mostly) Plant-Based Plan to Burn Fat, Boost Your Energy, Crush Your Cravings, and Calm Inflammation by Will Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought it was a great book. While I am all on board as a practitioner and self-professed "patient" as to the benefits of Keto food regimen and lifestyle, I am definitely not a meat eater and would be cautious to recommend unbridled meat consumption to patients who will derive their sources of meat from conventional mass-farmed animals. Besides, not everyone who feels undernourished to conventional vegan and vegetarian diets is nevertheless ready to make the transition to complete avoidance of vegetable matter in favor of a steak a day.

The book gives clear instructions on the goals of the food regimen, and no, it's not weight loss first and foremost, although certainly, in functional medicine, the healthy gradual weight loss usually follows a decrease in overall inflammation. You will be guided through a clear and concise refresher on essential nutrients and their relationship to main body systems (recent research is listed in the reference section), will be primed on what to expect on the Ketotarian plan, and after that, given a clear run down on what foods to consume and which ones to avoid.

The book can be used as a structured plan of 60 days, or an idea book for an indefinite keto lifestyle. Dr. Will Cole is no slouch on the latest digital trends, and should anyone need help and further info, his expertise is available via different media channels. (I tagged #ketotarian on instagram for a food-related post of my own and quickly got an acknowledgement and a thank you - a nice little gesture, although it was not the post's primary intent). Lastly, it is a beautiful cookbook, with nice food photography and simple and concise recipes and ingredients I have come to rely on even back in my raw foodist days, a type of life style that I find highly beneficial, but for various genetic reasons (just like Dr. Cole), cannot engage in long term. And yes, smoothies and green juices are ok - sans sugar and sweeteners! A great addition to my health library and great resource to anyone whose health tool chest is in the kitchen.

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Thursday, January 03, 2019

Review: Becoming

Becoming Becoming by Michelle Obama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I add about this book?! There is an excellent recent review by Isabel Wilkerson in the New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/06/bo.... There is also a slightly earlier interview with Michelle Obama herself, talking about her favourite reads and reading habits.

I have lived in the USA through the eight years discussed in her book, as well as the previous two iterations, but largely as an expat, and I can attest how different and how critical her husband's (and her as FLOTUS) tenure was to the history of this place. It was actually that period of time of some unusual change and hope for a more civilized society that finally propelled me to start taking part in civic life here. The ugly elections thereafter only make Michelle Obama's book and her motto of living in real world, while working for a better future so much more important - she comes back to it again and again, saying that this country is strange and unpredictable, many entrenched paradigms go back to far less enlightened times, and to turn this around, we need mainly two things, more active voters and more educated voters. She specifically addresses raising educated voters, especially female voters, practically from birth, and giving access to public life to citizens from all backgrounds. Everything she says throughout every chapter comes back to that point - it is not about her, as much as her carrying the torch for all women and the younger generations. While she is speaking about her path into civic life from the pages of the book, the reader learns quite a bit about the public sector, social services and issues of equality and access, as well as its history and trends.

Of course the book is peppered with entertaining details of her family life, humorous recounts of getting used to security detail and learning diplomatic code, and as the NYT reviewer has noted, is written in a lively suspenseful way that keeps us turning the pages for the next episode of the Obama courtship or campaign trail story. Through all of this, she does not attempt to compare her achievements with her husband's heavy load as POTUS, but gives voice and visibility to her initiatives, motivated exactly by considerations of making education and health important and accessible to younger generations in the hope they will help bring about lasting positive change. What was interesting to me is that she has stayed open and critical about other politicians on the Washington circuit, and does not pare down her remarks to be polite and obliging. Only once does she mention the current FLOTUS, and it is on the day they are observing, as is the requirement, the inauguration ceremony of 2017. She mentions her successor by name without even a tiny detail of any interaction with her, which makes us believe the traditional tour of the White House to show her the view of the rose garden from the dressing room may have never taken place....

I have only recently gotten to reading biographies, and as we all know, some of them are heavy stuff. It took me a couple months of fits and starts to finally finish a short book about a WWII double spy. This one by contrast reads like one big breath of fresh air. Michelle Obama names and thanks every person on her team for helping birth this book and make it a success. Politics or no politics, Michelle Obama is a gifted person and an outstanding human being, and this book should be recommended, read and passed along. Could not be happier to see it be the No 1 non-fiction book in the NYT charts.

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