Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy (J.J. Robinson)

Before I read The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy, I did not know much about these islands other than that they were in the middle of the Indian Ocean and were in the tropics.  J.J. Robinson's 300-page book on The Maldives' odd politics and history was well-researched and based on Robinson's first-hand experiences on the island as the editor of a newspaper.  It provides a story of paranoia, despotism that was shrouded in attempts of democracy, and politics that would make our own current affairs blush in embarrassment.

The book spends much of its time in the years the author worked on the island, talking about its experiments in democracy, the battle between establishment politics and democratic forces that rankled the prior power players, and the battle over the role of Islam in the nation's affairs.  Historical context is provided to shape how the Maldives became a hodgepodge of an archipelago - "inhabited" islands where local customs and faith dominated and "uninhabited" islands where resorts and a cultural diaspora of tourists roam - all the while showing the struggle between tradition and democratic progress while the author traversed the nation's many islands.

The author does a very solid job weaving between politics, custom, and tradition.  He speaks explicitly from a Western point of view, having lived in the U.S., England, and his native Australia, and talks about the challenges of adapting to a uniquely different country whose tropical paradise covered for a nation whose politics were anything but paradise.  It's a well-written, at times humorous, read into a nation few know much about.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Girl with All the Gifts (M.R. Carey)

As a fan of The Walking Dead from the very beginning, I was looking forward to reading M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts.  One complaint I’ve had about TWD lately is that it just doesn’t seem as original as it once did, with the writers recycling stories over and over.  Readers don’t have to worry about that with this novel though, as Carey energizes the zombie genre with a fresh new approach.

Decades ago, the world has basically ended with the Breakdown, and “hungries” are roaming the land.  Most of them are like the way zombies are traditionally portrayed – always looking for their next meal.  But a group of children are different; they can talk if they’re taught, learn, and be somewhat controlled.  Melanie is one of these kids, waiting every day to be collected from her cell on the base so she can go to “school.”  Her best days are when her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, is in control of the classroom; however, this is not your ordinary school.  They are taught only because a research scientist, Dr. Caldwell, needs the data.  When the base is compromised, the survivors set their sights on Beacon, where there might be some way to start new lives.

Carey manages to do something I’ve never seen in a zombie novel, and that is to add an enormous touch of humanity into it.  Even though Melanie is still a functioning hungry, she wants so badly to make Miss Justineau proud of her, and it is this teacher/student relationship that is truly at the heart of The Girl with All the Gifts.