Wednesday, November 30, 2011

And now... The much awaited River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

River of SmokeRiver of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent sequel - lots of it is still about language and communicating and error and chance. It reads like a big vortex of historical, as well as personal events, but I feel it is more controlled and metered in its impact than Sea of Poppies, which was like a whirlwind of color, language and passion colliding over 500 pages of text. In fact, much of the novel is comprised of correspondence - between the characters, the political figures, the merchants and the government, to the point that it almost forms a novel within a novel. That creates an interesting contrast to the narration of the events presented as unfolding "in real time", without taking away the build up of the tension to the end of the part of the trilogy. Finally, some of the narrative is told or summoned up in pictorial form, whether by the lay person or the trained professional. This is probably not the place to delve into communication theory, but like the historical novels of Umberto Eco, Ghosh's narratives are multilayered and semantically complex, especially if the reader is inclined to dwell on issues of meaning and their consequence.

Another huge area of interest for me in this book is the history of China (being involved in Chinese medical arts), and little that I formally know about China's history, the book brings it to the reader in a vivid and engaging form that makes for a fine introduction to further study.

I am truly looking forward to the final installment of the trilogy - it is definitely some of the best and most fascinating reading of he past 2 years.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Real Food: What to Eat and WhyReal Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many times, telling others that your current read is a book on diet and nutrition will only elicit a raised eyebrow or a jaw-breaking yawn. After all, everyone tells us what to eat, and what is not good for us. Yet, we all know that no matter how the dietary rules change, the prevalence, or as the common term goes, "epidemic", of obesity and systemic disease, never seems to budge even slightly. As we continue consuming our relatively healthy varied Mediterranean based diet, we occasionally wonder why...

This book was such an unexpected breath of fresh air that I spent weeks with it, highlighting, bookmarking and cross-referencing, while ignoring other exciting reads on my kindle and a stack of books on my desk. We all know that what we put in our bodies is important, but how often do we make the connections and finally see the big picture?Traditional food has gotten a lot of attention lately, but to actually come out and say that it's the fat and salt and the whole unprocessed content of it that make us feel healthy... Yet, it makes perfect sense. It is no wonder that patients do not thrive on hospital food, but the lucky ones to get the home-made stuff brought in by their families heal faster and fight off the ailments in no time. In Chinese medicine, my area of health care, cooking for the patient, or at least discussing cooking appropriate foods with the patient and family, is a requirement for successful treatment.

Nina Planck does it all: she takes every traditional food that has been vilified by the medical establishment for being a putative cause of every possible major health problem and rehabilitates it in the eye of the reader. While doing that, she also restores the rightful status of the farmer or artisan who produces it. And after that is done, she compares it to what it has been replaced with, often in the name of health, in the course of industrial food evolution in the latest century. This comparison inevitably makes one very sad - it turns out most food shoppers not know what real beef, chicken, egg, milk and cheese or for that matter, apple, corn or orange, taste like... Consequently, the nutrient benefits of these foods, however much touted, on the packaging and in the press, are completely unavailable to most of us.

Ms. Planck does not stop there - she shows exactly why the traditional, full-fat, cholesterol, salt, etc. foods are better for our health, and how all the nutrients work synergistically to protect us from disease, while the industrial improvements usually deplete these foods of their beneficial qualities and even lead to the development of many modern-age conditions. The book, not unlike writings on Chinese dietary therapy, makes a strong case for the omnivore diet, however, it does so without knocking down other ways to choose and combine foods, but rather through comparing potential benefits and hazards of both.

The chapters dedicated to the discussion of macro- and micronutrients contain references to some in-depth research; however, Nina Planck makes this research understandable and accessible to the reader by listing ways to obtain these nutrients from common foods, as well as by avoiding industrial food pitfalls. She also explains the politics behind the current dietary recommendations and demystifies the slow progress of popular nutritional wisdom, exemplified by the prevalence of fad diets and marketing tricks from mass manufacturers and fast food chains.

As if this was not enough praise for the book and the courageous author, who has single handedly taken on every single major food lobby in the name of Real Food, she goes on to provide a glossary, a research reference, a list of suppliers of organic sustainably produced food, and an extensive further reading list for those of us looking for answers to our modern ailments where it matters most - right in our own kitchens.

Nina Planck's book is highly recommended. Some recent research shows that close to 30% of people on this side of the pond do not know how to cook food... Part of it is undoubtedly due to the fact that proper real ingredients are unavailable to most of us, while the stuff commonly known as food, is not worth trying. Before that dying art completely disappears, leaving us sucking space meals out of the aluminium tube while dying of malnutrition and a host of other problems, let us try to reclaim what is ours - real nutrition, real nutrients and our health.... Educating ourselves about these elusive notions would make a nice first step.

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Parle-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 fortuna...