A book you love and one you didn’t

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jumping over Fire by Nahid Rachlin, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Chronicles of Narnia : The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini are books I absolutely love from start to finish. I’ve read a few of them more than once. I’ve had the entire story fleshed out in my imagination. Basically,I build the world for the story I’m reading… and that world becomes lodged in my brain. If you ever so much as mention any one of those characters from any of these books, I will definitely remember how the character looks, how a particular place in the story looked like or the expressions on the characers’ faces as they delivered a certain dialogue.

The Secret Garden was a beautifully-written story that was heavy on details. The story was written from the young girl’s perspective, completely drawing the reader into the child’s world. There were undercurrents of melancholy in every chapter and I remember empathising with the child as I read the book in Primary School. Social stratification, racial inequality and slavery were a few of the several themes that were seamlessly woven into the story. At that age, the idea of independence was new to me, yet intriguing.

I was 14 when I read Jumping Over Fire. It made me fall in love with all things Iran. The main characters’ struggles — both internal and external — are still vivid in my mind. There’s a lot in this book about Iran’s history, politics and culture, making it a wholly interesting read. It’s a story of struggles but with bittersweet undertones. To constantly wake up to a day of struggles and still face life with resilience was one of the things that I took away from the book.

I remember gifting my Secondary Four classmate The Alchemist for her 16th Birthday. I also remember her telling me a few days later that she hadn’t opened the present and that it was still in her cupboard when I had wanted to know what she thought of the present. Funnily enough, I never picked up the book for myself until I entered Junior College. The ideas and concepts in every chapter struck massive chords with me and opened up a world of revelations. There were a lot of moments where I had to put the book down, walk over to my window and just gaze out at the greenery for some time. The concepts were a faintly abstract but I soaked them all. Paulo is amazing.

The Chronicles of Narnia was a book that I presented for my show and tell in Primary Six. I remember my English teacher — Mdm Hoon at that time — dabbing away at her forehead with a tissue while seated at the teacher’s desk. “Go on! Go on! You’re doing good!” were her words. I remember two boys raising their hands to pose questions about my book review and how proud I was at the end of the presentation.

This book was an exhilatating ride of a read from start to end. Even when I picked up a Turkish Delights-flavoured chocolate from the Cadbury’s Choco Tray, an image of Edmund eating the Turkish Delights offered by the White Queen was instantly conjured in my mind. I can’t seem to find words to express my thoughts for this book for some reason. But if you’re looking for a story to lose yourself in, pick this up.

A Thousand Splendid Suns was a book that I recently finished reading and one that was set in Afghanistan. This was a book with fully-fleshed out characters and settings. This was a story of love juxtaposed against a bed of struggles and fear. At some points, I had to put the book down and head to bed because certain parts on marital violence were too painful to read. I had immense respect for the two main characters, while being astonished at how differently life had panned out for the main characters, a life so different and exposed from the sheltered comforts of their teenage phase. It shed light on the perils Afghan women faced — injustice and extreme cruelty.

  • *I would like to add a few more books to the list: The Clay Marble, Sing To The Dawn and Totto-Chan.

I frankly don’t remember a book I didn’t love. But of course, selective memory at play here, ensuring I only commit to my mind the titles that I absolutely love.

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I’ve decided to pick up books relating to the history, politics and culture of Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iran. This comes especially after my trip to Siem Reap last year which rekindled my memories of reading The Clay Marble. This in turn fuelled my interest in the history of Cambodia and propelled me to draw connections between its history and architecture, namely Ang Kor’s temples.

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I feel everyone can a touch of richness to their lives if they read and/or travelled extensively.