Tag Archives: True Stories

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

Overview
Talking As Fast As I Can

Title: Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between)
Author: Lauren Graham
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: BiographiesEasy readingMemoirsNon-fiction, True stories
Pace: Fast
Format: Novel
Publisher: Virago
Year: 2016
5th sentence, 74th page: ‘When I co-wrote a pilot about an aspiring late night talk show host, played by me, I had my character (me) speak to a photo of Joan she keeps on her dressing room mirror.

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Synopsis

This book contains some stories from my life: the awkward growing-up years, the confusing dating years, the fulfilling working years and what it was like to be asked to play one of my favourite characters again. Also included: tales of living on a houseboat, meeting guys at awards shows and that time I was asked to be a butt model. A hint: all three made me seasick.

Thoughts

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book. Mostly, I just bought it because I am a huge fan of Gilmore Girls, and every interview or article I have read on Lauren Graham is favourable. Beyond that, I really didn’t know what to expect from this novel, and even if it was going to something that I enjoyed reading. But let me tell you – it was one of the best non-fiction reflective pieces that I have ever read!

Combining Lauren Graham’s quirky sense of humour and unique (at least to me) perspective on Hollywood and acting, with her beautifully written prose created an unexpected, beautiful retelling that I look forward to reading again and again and again. Every moment of Graham’s incredible journey is filled with crazy tangents and humorous anecdotes that had me giggling throughout. I loved that she writes the same way as she speaks on screen – both in Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. It is quick, witty and impossible to put away.

Talking as Fast as I Can touches upon so many different aspects of Lauren’s journey and makes her question whether she really ‘made it’. From her first days of acting, to the first days on the set of Gilmore Girls, the story follows a kind of symmetry, with the final words returning to the Gilmore Girls reboot. Providing fantastic insight into Lauren’s life and career is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that I plan to repeat again.

<- The GapThe Longest Trip ->

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Babylon’s Ark by Lawrence Anthony

Overview
Babylon's Ark

Title: Babylon’s Ark
Author: Lawrence Anthony
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Conservation, Non-fiction, True stories
Pace: Fast
Format: Novel
Publisher: Thomas Dune Books
Year: 2007
5th sentence, 74th page: I knew it was unlikely I would be able to shoot my way out, but I certainly would take a couple of these cutthroats with me.

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Synopsis

When the Iraq war began, conservationist Lawrence Anthony could think of only one thing: the fate of the Baghdad Zoo, located in the city center and caught in the war’s crossfire. Once Anthony entered Baghdad he discovered that full-scale combat and uncontrolled looting had killed nearly all the animals of the zoo.

But not all of them. U.S. soldiers had taken the time to help care for the remaining animals, and the zoo’s staff had returned to work in spite of the constant firefights. Together the Americans and Iraqis had managed to keep alive the animals that had survived the invasion.

Babylon’s Ark chronicles the zoo’s transformation from bombed-out rubble to peaceful park. Along the way, Anthony recounts hair-raising efforts to save a pride of the dictator’s lions, close a deplorable black-market zoo, and rescue Saddam’s Arabian horses. His unique ground-level experience makes Babylon’s Arkan uplifting story of both sides working together for the sake of innocent animals caught in the war’s crossfire.

Thoughts

There is nothing like settling down with a good, inspiring book that not only restores your faith in humanity, but also reminds you that anything is possible… if you have the courage to try. Anthony’s exploits in Baghdad at the take-over by American soldiers is one such story. Although the background of war and conflict help to heighten the risks which Lawrence takes in the name of conservation, this story is an incredible story about the people and the animals who are stranded in the middle of this dire situation.

Impulsive like the best of us, Anthony decides to travel to Iraq to attempt to save the animals that were stranded in the middle of one of the most bullet riddled conflict zones of the war. What follows is a journey that has stuck with me for the past two years. I have read it multiple times throughout the proceeding year, and with each re-read my awe and admiration for this incredibly dedicated man refuses to diminish. Lawrence Anthony is both who I strive to be, and who I could never imagine myself being. He chooses to risk everything for the sake of the lives of a few creatures who are unable to protect, and fight for themselves. Well, at least, they’re not able to fight against the gunfire that flew past them on what must have been a daily basis.

Whilst this story is about saving the Baghdad Zoo from ruin, and the rescue mission that sparked international interest, it is also about the people who made this possible. From the two brave men from Kuwait who travelled across the border to assist Lawrence to the Iraqis who journeyed daily across the ‘Red Zone’ to then spend unforgiving hours lugging buckets of water under the hot, desert sun. These men and women risked everything to take care of their fellow creatures. Yet, it wasn’t just the locals, members of the militia often helped to assist the up and coming zoo. From the unnamed soldier who gave away a brand new generator, to the mercenaries that continuously protected Lawrence and his people against looters – Babylon’s Ark is not only a story about saving a zoo, but also about the bravery and gumption of people in the face of almost impossible odds.

<- Born FreeThe Elephant Whisperer ->

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Gogo Mama by Sally Sara

Overview

gogo-mama

Title: Gogo Mama
Author: Sally Sara
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves:
Australian authors, BiographiesFeminismMemoirsNon-fiction, Strong women, True stories
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Year: 2006
5th sentence, 74th page: If you go to fetch for water or firewood and people start running, you have left your children and run alone.

Synopsis

I’M SITTING IN A $30 HOTEL ROOM IN UGANDA WONDERING WHAT THE HELL I’VE GOT MYSELF INTO. THIS IS DAY ONE OF GOGO MAMA. I DON’T EVEN KNOW ALL THE NAMES OF THE TWELVE WOMEN WHO WILL FILL THIS BOOK; ONLY THE JOURNEY WILL REVEAL THEM.

Gogo Mama is a journey of discovery into the lives of a dozen very different African women. They include the survivor of a brutal attack by Ugandan rebels; an Egyptian belly dancer turned movie star; an escapee from slavery in Ghana; Zanzibar’s most famous living diva; a former child soldier from Liberia; a grandmother fighting AIDS in South Africa; and a pioneering midwife from Timbuktu. They speak with complete candour both about their astonishing experiences and about the way they live now, in some of the most hostile and exotic parts of the continent.

While introducing these inspiring women, award-winning journalist Sally Sara takes us on a trip across Africa, in all its complexity – from the frenetic townships of Johannesburg, to a clifftop village in Mali; from the horror of the frontline of war in Sudan, to the glamour of Cairo nightclubs.

Gogo Mama is a vivid, illuminating and haunting composite picture of an extraordinary land, in the words of the people who know it best.

Thoughts

This story left me feeling… humbled. Just humbled. These twelve women will touch you in a way that you can’t imagine, and their lives set amidst the beauty of Africa are guaranteed to linger in your mind’s eye for years after you close the cover. It is just an incredibly powerful, moving and honest set of stories. The truth is met unflinchingly and without hesitation. Yet, in all of Sara’s interviews, there is no anger and bitterness, rather, a simple acceptance for what has been suffered and an optimism for what they may face in the future.

From a survivor of the Rwandan genocide to a world-famous belly dancer, each of these twelve stories is different and unique. They are insights into another country, another world. One which I can’t even fathom. The range of stories, from the downright depressing, to the uplifting are a fantastic window through which to view such a varied continent. There is no feeling of repetition or even judgement throughout the stories. Sara manages to shine the light on every single experience, use the nuances and feelings from every single interview to weave a textured tale that you will never forget.

Yet, it isn’t just the tales of Sara’s journey and the women whom she had the pleasure of encountering that makes Gogo Mama such an enthralling novel. It is the vivid descriptions of the African countryside, the daily activities that are undertaken in some of the most picturesque landscapes in the world. Picturesque, yet war-torn. The vividness and beauty of the countries plays a haunting note to the tales which are spun by women who, against all odds, have triumphed in their own lives and found a way to carve out their own reality.

<- Anna: A Teenager on the RunThe Upside ->

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Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

Overview

falling-leaves

Title: Falling Leaves
Author: Adeline Yen Mah
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: BiographiesNon-fiction, True stories
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Penguin books
Year: 1997
5th sentence, 74th page: Forget the Kung Fu masters and martial arts and all that foolishness.

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Synopsis

Adeline Yen Mah’s childhood in China during the civil war was a time of fear, isolation and humiliation. The cause of this was not political upheaval but systematic emotional and physical abuse by her step-mother and sibling, and rejection by her father. Falling Leaves is the story of a ‘Fifth Younger Daughter’ and her determination to survive the pain of a lonely childhood.

Thoughts

It is honestly difficult to believe the depths of despair and tragedy which some people experience, and although it was an incredibly sobering experience reading of this in Falling Leaves, it was also a fantastic journey full of hope and strength. Not only did Falling Leaves remind me to never take anything for granted, but it was also a reminder that if you persevere, it is only you that can ultimately save or destroy your own future. Granted, some, like Adeline, definitely have all of the cards stacked against them – I can’t imagine the kind of life that she has led. But, in spite of all of this difficulty in her life, she managed to triumph and the woman who shines from the pages of this book is not only shrouded in her honesty and humility, but a light that can never possibly be dimmed.

There is something about true stories that bring out the most terrifying villain. The worst villains created in fantasy and fiction cannot hold a light to the characters that you know truly existed. Niang in Falling Leaves fits this bill perfectly. Her maliciousness and ability to manipulate others was somehow one of the more sinister things that I have read – the lasting imprint that she leaves on Adeline’s life and that of her family furthers the feeling of unease that lingered throughout my reading of this epic journey.

I’m not someone who knows much about history, especially the political history of most of the world. It isn’t something that has drawn my attention, so it was really nice to discover the upheavals of China in the recent past in a way that was both enlightening but also dramatically interesting. The use of Chinese proverbs and quotes throughout the text, and within the chapter headings helped to illuminate the world in which Adeline was raised.

<- Chinese CinderellaI Am Malala ->

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Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Overview

chinese-cinderella

Title: Chinese Cinderella: The Secret Story of an Unwanted Daughter
Author: Adeline Yen Mah
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: BiographiesNon-fiction, True stories
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1999
5th sentence, 74th page: Big Sister and our two older brothers knew her better than I did.

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Synopsis

‘Tell me what my real mama looked like. I can’t picture her face.’
‘There are no photographs of her,’ said Aunt Baba… ‘Your father ordered all her photographs destroyed.’

When Adeline Yen Mah’s mother died giving birth to her, the family considered Adeline bad luck and she was made to feel unwanted all her life. Chinese Cinderella is the story of her struggle for acceptance and how she overcame the odds to prove her worth.

Thoughts

If you want a happy, cheerful biography that has some mild ups and downs, but in the end is a tale of happiness and love… this isn’t for you. Quite frankly, it’s depressing. But in this brutally honest, depressing tale, there is light, hope and strength. It is a stark reminder that regardless of the horrors of childhood, we can be true to ourselves. Regardless of what others want and expect from us. For some, it is impossible to break them, even though they are bent until they almost snap.

Although this story is horrifying in the abuse and mistreatment, the lack of love from Adeline’s father and step-mother is still offset by the love that her grandparents and aunt show her. The fact that eventually this is removed from her is another travesty in a life that is barely touched by light. However, at no point, is Adeline bitter or resentful, simply saddened. Her reflections of her childhood show a period of great loneliness and fear that plucks at every single heart string.

The story only ends when a brilliant young Adeline is finally able to attend University, and although the epilogue does reveal some of her eventual future, it leaves a lot of her later life open. Although you can feel the pain and isolation through her words, there is a need to know more about her adult life in England. Luckily, there is another book, Falling Leaves, that encompasses more of her life and tale.

<- The Autobiography of Malcolm X ReviewFalling Leaves Review ->
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Subversive Spiritualities by Frederique Apffel-Marglin

Overview

Subversive Spritualities

Title: Subversive Spiritualities: How Rituals Enact the World
Author: Frederique Apffel-Marglin
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Anthropology, Mythology, True stories, Non-fiction
Pace: Slow
Format: Ethnographic text
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Year: 2012
5th sentence, 74th page: It goes much further than simply the health of an individual.

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Synopsis

Even in the twenty-first century, some two-thirds of the world’s peoples quietly live in non-modern, non-cosmopolitan places. In such places the multitudinous voices of the spirits, deities, and other denizens of the other-than-human world continue to be heard, continue to be loved or feared or both, continue to accompany human beings in all their activities. In Subversive Spiritualities, Frederique Apffel-Marglin draws on a lifetime of work with the indigenous peoples of Peru and India to support her argument that the beliefs, values, and practices of such traditional peoples are ”eco-metaphysically true.” In other words, they recognize that human beings are in communion with other beings in nature that have agency and are kinds of spiritual intelligences, with whom humans can be in relationship and communion.

Ritual is the medium for communicating, reciprocating, creating and working with the other-than-humans, who daily remind the humans that the world is not for humans’ exclusive use. Apffel-Marglin argues that when such relationships are appropriately robust, human lifeways are rich, rewarding and, in the contemporary jargon, environmentally sustainable. Her ultimate objective is to ”re-entangle” humans in nature, by promoting a spirituality and ecology of belonging and connection to nature, and an appreciation of animistic perception and ecologies. Along the way she offers provocative and poignant critiques of many assumptions: of the ”development” paradigm as benign (including feminist forms of development advocacy), of most anthropological and other social scientific understandings of indigenous religions, and of common views about peasant and indigenous agronomy. She concludes with a case study of the fair trade movement, illuminating both its shortcomings (how it echoes some of the assumptions in the development paradigms) and its promise as a way to rekindle community between humans as well as between humans and the other-than-human world.

Thoughts

This book was such a unique experience for me – it was an engaging and insightful look into phenomenological ethnography. For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t when I started reading this book), phenomenology is the different ways in which we view the world. Our phenomenological understandings of our realities are shaped by culture, personal experience and spiritual considerations, amongst other things. Ethnographies, of which I have read a few, are anthropological texts. Ethnographies involve the author immersing themselves into another’s culture and life. Here they participate and observe at the same time, at once part of the group and separate.

I found this ethnography to be really theoretically engaging, and whilst I have read others, this is the one that left me thinking for a long time after I closed its pages. Not only did Apffel-Marglin open up a whole new realm of studies and theoretical points upon which to pursue my own research, it also introduced me to the world of agriculture in the Peruvian Andes. I loved the combination of scientific understandings and cultural knowledge in the care for these passionate people’s environment. And delving into such a wonderful blend of objective and subjective knowledges of the world struck a chord deep within me. So much so that I used this idea within my own Anthropological Honours thesis.

Not only was the subject matter of Subversive Spiritualties highly engaging, Apffel-Marglin’s writing style was incredibly engaging – you couldn’t help but be pulled into the world she so vividly describes. It was also highly appreciated that she was so aware of her own biases. It helped to highlight my own cultural biases and the ways in which our views of the world completely colour everything that we experience and see.

<- More non-fiction reviews More anthropology reviews ->
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Fortress Conservation by Dan Brockington

Overview

Fortress Conservation

Title: Fortress Conservation: The Preservation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania
Author: Dan Brockington
Rating Out of 5: 3 (On the fence about this one)
My Bookshelves: Anthropology, True stories, Science, Non-fiction
Pace: Slow
Format: Ethnographic text
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Year: 2002
5th sentence, 74th page: Number of species.

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Synopsis

Dan Brockington challenges the broad vision of Africa’s environment, history and society which drives conservation policies across the continent. He argues that his vision has been harmful, unjust and unnecessary in its effects on people at the Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania.

Do cattle destroy a wilderness?
Many ecologists question whether herds degrade the environment. They ask whether a wilderness has to be devoid of people. They voice the concern for the rights of the people excluded from the Reserve by politicians and judges.

Are the interests of people to give way to wildlife?
Exclusion policies are the norm of conservation. African governments gain easily collectable revenues from tourism. Western governments and donors form alliances with the African governments to sustain this vision.

Were the Maasai in Mkomazi long ago?
Conservation policy is based on a fallacious interpretation of the Reserve’s history and environment. The evictions have been economically damaging.

Do the foreign Trusts provide valid rehabilitation projects?
The Hollywood film about the work at Mkomazi “To Walk with Lions’ is used for fund-raising. Hello! reports on London parties. Books, films, television and magazines feed the search for a long-held dream of Africa. They gloss over what has happened to the people and their herds who have been moved out.

Thoughts

I found Fortress Conservation to be a good read. It gave a fascinating insight into conservation practices throughout Africa and the idea of ‘fortress conservation’. It was amazingly useful for my BA Hons thesis – focusing on conservation in Australia. The idea that fortress conservation is a ‘white man’s practice’ was fascinating to me. Although I did find some of his writing a little too academic and dry in places (hence the lower rating). I would recommend this book to others interested in conservation though.

This book raised a lot of complex issues – it wasn’t just about conserving the natural world, Brockington also investigated the cultural and social significance of this. Add in aspects of the conservation on colonialism, and I walked away from this book with a LOT of thoughts running through my head.

Not the book for everyone, but definitely worth a read if you have any interest in Africa, conservation or just the issues of the modern political and social climate.

<- More non-fiction reviews More anthropology book reviews ->
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