Eight Acres of Heaven


“What are those ducks doing?” asks one of our goggle-eyed friends during a walk around the property called ‘Eight Acres’. Uncle Kam, our tour guide turns to look and replies, nonchalant, “Oh, they’re mating.” Later, in the privacy of our shared accommodation, we four urbanites admit that we have never see such a thing before.

”At the time, though, we are forced to pay attention to Uncle Kam as he continues with his story about this eco-resort in Raub Pahang which recently won a prize for Best Eco Initiative. He says that when his son, Paul Kam (Group Managing director of ‘D Jungle Resorts’, which owns ‘Eight Acres’) first brought him to the property, it was the sound of water cascading from the waterfall nearby that convinced Uncle Kam to support his son’s dream to create this sanctuary. That was four years ago.

Today, ‘Eight Acres’ has evolved into a place that can only be described as a banquet for the senses. To appreciate its extraordinary beauty, you must set aside the creature comforts available at other resorts like air-conditioned accommodation, toiletries on demand and an à la carte menu.

Instead, embrace communal eating, apply liberal amounts of insect repellent and open your heart to the warmth and hospitality of its gracious hosts. In so doing, you may come to see that ‘Eight Acres’ is a place where the humans and animals don’t merely co-exist – they have just about switched places. Where the humans have been lovingly creating and building this place, the animals are involved in scandalous sexual behaviour, acts of horror and even attempted murder.

For instance, there’s Justin, who is in charge of all recreational activities, tenderly stroking an injured bird who made the mistake of flying into the ceiling fan. Uncle Kam monitored the planting of a whole host of trees on a particular section of the property, “because we wanted to create a colony for birds to come.”

”Then there is ‘Java House’, a structure brought over from Java, Indonesia, and reconstructed here on ‘Eight Acres’. Imagine the scene from its balcony during the twilight hour: a waterfall on your left, verdant tropical flora in the background with a majestic ‘Tualang’ tree right at the top, and row upon row of Heliconia and Hibiscus on your right. When night comes, the Orion constellation is prominent in a cloudless

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Astray by Emma Donoghue

Title: Astray
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Picador (October 25, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1447209494
ISBN-13: 978-1447209492

Emma Donoghue’s tightly written offering of fourteen short stories in ‘Astray’, although small in number, should be read as a considerable contribution to the understanding of what many who venture far away from home experience and endure. As Donoghue says in the ‘Afterword’, ‘Emigrants, immigrants, adventurers, and runaways – they fascinate me because they loiter on the margins, stripped of the markers of family and nation; they’re out of place, out of their depth.’

Each story has two parts: the fictitious account of the protagonist and the factual information the story is based on. This factual information is often derived from public records of a time past. For example, ‘The Gift’ is a story about adopting a child and its consequences, but it is based on entries made in a census taken years ago. ‘Counting the Days’ is based on actual letters Henry Johnson and Jane McConnell Johnson published by their great-granddaughter Louise Wyatt. And ‘Daddy’s Girl’ is based on articles published in the newspapers.

Donoghue is an Irish writer who was born in Dublin, lived in London for a time and now calls Canada home. Her previous works include ‘Slammerkin’, ‘Life Mask’, ‘Touchy Subjects’, ‘The Sealed Letter’ and ‘Room’ (shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange prizes).

It is stated on her website (emmadonoghue.com) that ‘Astray’ was shortlisted for the 2012 Eason Irish Novel of the Year and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. One of the stories in the collection, ‘The Hunt’ was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. The book was also longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction. She also writes about the close connection she has with all the members of her family and her happy childhood.

What is arresting about this collection is that the stories are arranged in a particular sequence – people who are leaving a place or situation, people who are in transit and what happens to people after they arrive at their destinations. This structured and thought out approach makes one feel as though they’re on a journey or sorts with the Donoghue. For example, there is a tale of a slave who hatches a plot with the mistress of the house to run

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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Title: The Historian
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Paperback: 832 pages
Publisher: Time Warner Books; Later Printing edition (2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316057886
ISBN-13: 978-0316057882

‘The Historian’ is a classified as ‘Historical Fiction’ in Amazon.com. It is the debut novel of Elizabeth Kostova and blends the mystery of Vlad the Impaler, the legend of Dracula and fiction.

Briefly, ‘The Historian’ features a nameless narrator who documents her adventure in unraveling a mystery after discovering an odd book. She tells her father, a historian, about this book: it has no words but a picture of a dragon in the middle. The father, Paul, tells her the story of his discovery of the book and how it led him on a wild adventure where he met (and later married) the narrator’s mother, Helen Rossi. Halfway through the book, Paul disappears in search of Helen with the narrator and her companion hot on his trail.

‘The Historian’ won awards from the best ‘Novel-in-progress’ (Hopwood Award – 2003) and ‘Debut Author of the Year’ (Quill Award – 2005) to ‘Award for Best Adult Fiction’ (Book Sense – 2006). It is easy to see why ‘The Historian’ won these awards.

For a start, the plot and structure of the novel are very well constructed. As a novel that weaves between time zones, it is easy for the reader to get lost at any one moment. However, Kostova made sure that the reader was never lost in the novel. For example, at the beginning of chapter 4, she writes, ‘As I’ve told you, my father said, clearing his throat once or twice …’ This is a clear indication that the rest of the chapter will be about the father’s adventure, rather than the narrator’s.

That said, the novel is very long and there are times, especially in the middle, when there are no real surprises in store for the reader. A seasoned reader could easily, and rightly, guess each event in the novel. Furthermore, the end of the tale suggests that the characters think that they have killed Dracula, but the last chapter suggests that he will live forever. Perhaps, Kostova could have provided a more realistic and satisfying ending by suggesting that the characters, though happy that their ordeal was over, weren’t sure whether Dracula was dead. Nevertheless, they made the decision to move on with their lives and forget

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Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

Joseph Anton
by Salman Rushdie
Hardcover: 656 pages
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; First Edition edition (September 18, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0224093975
ISBN-13: 978-0224093972

Sometimes, when a writer introduces himself, he’ll receive a response along the lines of, “Can you help me write my memoirs? You should hear my story. It’s a fantastic story.” Many writers will attest to smiling politely at such a response and moving on. After all, there are more than enough works of self-aggrandizement touted as memoirs. Equally appalling are those that chronicle every detail of horror the author has experienced that makes readers question the veracity of the story. Every so often, though, a gem of a book like ‘Joseph Anton’ by Salman Rushdie comes along.

‘Joseph Anton’ is written in third person narrative and that alone makes this memoir somewhat original. As Rushdie says, ‘Now by naming himself he had turned himself into a sort of fictional character as well.’ In fact, ‘Joseph’ and ‘Anton’ are half the name each of Rushdie’s favorite authors, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov.

As such, ‘Joseph Anton’ is the memoir of Ahmed Salman Rushdie. It begins on the day the infamous fatwa was declared in 1989 and charts the events in his life from that moment on. It ends on the day in March 2002 when the threat level has been reduced and police protection is no longer offered to him.

There is another layer to the originality of writing this memoir in third person narrative and that is one of balance. It is part reportage, which makes ‘Joseph Anton’ an objective account of what happened in Rushdie’s life. At the same time, because Rushdie is at pains to explain his side of the story and his feelings, it’s a very subjective piece of writing.

Certainly, ‘Joseph Anton’ tells the story of a man with indomitable courage. If anything, all aspiring authors must read the story of his journey to publication for one of his novels, ‘Haroun’. In that, they will come to see that even celebrated authors like Rushdie will face rejection, betrayal and harsh criticism from all sorts of people in the publishing industry.

‘Joseph Anton’ examines the range of emotions Rushdie undergoes from his sense of pride at his sons’ achievements and his joy in the love of a woman to his inability to forgive those who have hurt

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Narendra Modi: A Political Biography by Andy Marino

Narendra Modi: A Political Biography
by Andy Marino
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins India (November 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9351770257
ISBN-13: 978-9351770251

On 27 February 2002, 59 people in a train returning from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad were burned to death in Gujarat. Subsequently, there were riots all over Gujarat. In all, close to 900 people died and more than 2,500 were injured. For the next 12 years, almost everyone lay the blame for these riots squarely at the feet of Gujarat’s Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. He has been neither formally charged nor convicted for any of these alleged offences.

More than that, since 2002, whatever success he achieved as Gujarat’s Chief Minister became secondary to a concerted effort by the media and public to demonise him. In fact, in a speech on 1 December 2007, Sonia Gandhi went so far as to suggest that Modi was ‘maut ke saudagar’ (the merchant of death); human rights activists like Shabnam Hashmi made parallels between Modi and Hitler; and, celebrated writers like Arundhati Roy criticised him in spite of evidence of false facts and obvious success.

All this information is available in a political biography called, ‘Narendra Modi: A Political Biography’ by Andy Marino. His research included studying voluminous documents and having interviews with Modi and those around him.

How did Modi react to all this ‘Modi-bashing’? Apparently, Modi decided early on to, ‘let the media do its work: there will be no confrontation.’ Nonetheless, the timing of the publication of this book (the eBook format was published just before Modi became Prime Minister of India last year) suggests that it’s Modi’s attempt, through Marino, to tell his side of the story.

The word that Marino uses to explain Modi’s ways is ‘detachment’. For instance, since he’d attended the local youth meetings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) when he was 8 years old, many assumed that Modi remained a RSS man. When he became the leader of the RSS’s political arm, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), many assumed he was a BJP man. In truth Modi was nobody’s man. As Modi says, “In a way I am an apolitical person.”

Even in his personal life, the only person he has shown devotion to is his mother, Hiraben. His relations with his siblings remain benign and they don’t feature in his political life. As for his marital status, which Modi never speaks

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Ruby ShinesBright and the Birthday Cake by RosaBella Bloom

Ruby ShinesBright – and the Birthday Cake
by RosaBella Bloom
Paperback: 24 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (December 8, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1505282837
ISBN-13: 978-1505282832

Ruby ShinesBright is a very special little girl. She lives in a place called Flooperville and has a red stone on her tummy which shines bright when she is happy and well.

She is very excited because tomorrow is going to be a special day for her, it’s her fifth birthday.

Her granny Ruth has made her a beautiful cake and it’™s sitting in the kitchen ready, however, Ruby can’™t wait until her party, and so naughtily she sneaks down in the night and accompanied by her little black kitten Dotty, she eats it all!

The next morning her granny is very unhappy with her, and poor little Ruby’s stone on her tummy is very dull. She feels very unwell and deeply regrets eating all that cake. What’™s more, her granny wants to know what they are going to give her friends to eat when they arrive for her party later.

Then, Ruby has a great idea, and with help from her granny she makes a delicious cake of fruits which all her family and friends love.

And when the time comes for her to blow out her candles, can you guess what she wishes for?

To find out, you have to read the book!

This is a wonderful story for children and is beautifully illustrated by the talented artist Jackie Atkin.

Reviewed by Susan Keefe
(February 2015)

7 Genres for Your Novel and How to Choose the Right One

7 Genres for Your Novel and How to Choose the Right One

“Go to the bookstore and you’ll see my new book on the shelves,” said a recently published author. Her book was a fictionalised account of her spiritual journey and finding God a year after her divorce. Two days later, I was at the Customer Services desk of the bookstore, giving the lady the title of the book, name of author and even the ISBN. This was after I’d already looked for the book in the ‘Literature’, ‘Asian Writers’ and ‘New Releases’ parts of the Fiction section. The lady entered all the details into the computer and voilà, she knew where the book was.

“Follow me, Miss,” she said and we went in search of the book.

Can you guess under which section my friend’s book was placed? Self-help. How could a fictionalised account of a woman’s journey be classified as ‘Self-help’? The book was part fiction. Surely, we should have looked at shelves somewhere near the Fiction section?

The lady from Customer Services said that it was the author who had given them this classification. My friend denied this and said that she’d given her book to the distributors and left it to them to sort out how the bookstores would classify her book.

I didn’t see the need to probe the matter any further, but it made me aware of the possibility that the responsibility of classification of books rests on the shoulders of the author or aspiring novelist. So, let’s see if we can help an aspiring novelist in this matter.

One of the first issues an aspiring novelist will have to consider, therefore, is the type of novel he’d like to write. It might seem straightforward, but any published author will admit that this is not necessarily so. For one, the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a novel in the following terms: ‘a fictitious prose story of book length.’ A novel could be 50,000 words long. It could be 150,000 words long. What happens if the work is part fiction? Indeed, Miguel Syjuco, when asked about how much reality was reflected in his novels, further illustrates this point: “I like the old writer’s cliché that applies to my book – everything in this book is true, and some of it might even be factual.”

Furthermore, enter any bookshop and it will become obvious that there are hundreds of different types of novels

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How to Be Happy Inside and Out

How to Be Happy Inside and Out

You’re delighted with the bonus you’ve received for a job well done. You spend the holidays with your family and it’s a happy time. A month later, you find that you’ve been promoted and this adds to your happiness. By the end of the month, though, that happiness seems to have paled. A mere six weeks later, you admit that this is a recurring pattern in your life where your initial happiness gives way to sadness; after all, these are yet another set of achievements that you’ve checked off your list. It’s almost as if that absolute happiness is fleeting and momentary.

There are many schools of thought that will say that the reason for such fleeting emotions is because the happiness wasn’t from ‘within’. It was cursory and you can only feel truly happy if you’re happy ‘inside’. Is it possible to be both happy inside and outside? Here is a story that I have adapted and called, ‘Jasper, the Frog’ to demonstrate how one can learn to become absolutely happy (http://forum.yogananda.net/index.php?/topic/7080-story-of-a-deaf-frog/ )

Once upon a time, a group of frogs organised a race where the goal was to reach the top of a high mountain. A big crowd gathered throughout the route to provide moral support for the contestants. In truth, no one thought that such tiny frogs would reach the top of the mountain. True enough, along the way, many of the contestants heard things like, “Oh, it’s way too difficult; no one will ever make it to the top,” or “This mountain is too high.” One by one, tiny frogs collapsed in sheer exhaustion, gave up or slowed down.

The few who carried on regardless included one old frog called Jasper. Everyone expected Jasper to collapse at any time and medical aid was placed on standby. They shouted at him to stop and he looked at them, smiled and carried on up the hill. He was being stubborn and refusing to listen to their advice. Finally, at the top of the mountain, Jasper was the only one left standing. Naturally, he won the race.

Many of the other frogs wanted to know how he’d done this incredible feat. Before he answered all their questions, though, he thanked them all for being there. Other frogs also observed that Jasper made no eye contact with them and stared only at their

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