Ahad, 17 November 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Klik GAMBAR Dibawah Untuk Lebih Info
Sumber Asal Berita :-

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

The Valley Of Amazement


Lucretia "Lulu" Minturn is the American mistress of the mansion, a first-class establishment of first-rate beauties who confer pleasures upon their patrons between secret smiles, skilled singing, and sweet nothings.

Lulu is also a master mediator, with a knack for facilitating deals between patrons of different nationalities. Her wilful half-Chinese daughter, Violet, lives a life of privilege in this "house of flowers", but treasures her mother's (divided) attention above all sweetmeats and silver.

Their rich and varied narratives will sweep readers through decades of love and loss, lingering over lavish parties glittering with flower sisters and hot-blooded gentlemen, and transport them back in time to the streets of San Francisco, and journey deep into the heart of a remote Chinese village and its lonely beauty.

In the eight years it took to finish this book, Tan invested a tremendous amount of research into her latest work, and it shows.

Detail-oriented readers will enjoy lavish descriptions of high-ranking courtesan costumes and traditional living quarters, see the majestic natural landscapes in their mind's eye, and find themselves familiar even with the minutiae of the past.

This holds true with Tan's fascination with – and dedication to – researching the yesteryears and presenting them in all their grit and glory.

The relationship between Lulu and Violet experiences its fair share of mother-daughter angst, but those looking for Tan's usual brand of familial bonds may not find that dynamic here.

The sheer scale of detail provided can sometimes overwhelm the ties described, but this may merely be an effect of the overbearing artifice of the courtesan environment.

Happily, there are some personalities you warm to quickly and learn to care for, such as the sassy, smart-mouthed older courtesan Magic Gourd, whose pragmatic views are tempered with love and vulnerability.

Of course, when the story concerns courtesans whose bread and butter lies in the consummation of carnal pleasure, passages can be rife with descriptions of sexual paraphernalia and seduction techniques, especially in chapters such as "Etiquette for Beauties of the Boudoir".

The acts are often described in a woman's wry voice, and the wisdom of trysts both tame and terrifying leave the teller with a certain canny frankness. It is largely devoid of any real passion or romance, as befitting any form of love put up for sale.

The complex characters commit mostly believable mistakes, though their motivations (or lack thereof) sometimes remain a mystery even to themselves.

But for all their flaws, each seems to inhabit and illustrate the story exactly the way Tan intended.

Violet, for one, is forced to face harsh realities and bloom into adulthood before her appointed time. Interestingly, her journey's timeline is in tandem with Shanghai's ascent towards its golden age in the 1920s, and the events that develop forthwith provide a compelling parallel.

A mysterious painting called The Valley Of Amazement also serves as a key plot point, and readers might enjoy the push and pull in the family history described.

Though the ending may seem ripe for a sequel, Tan herself dismissed the notion as she is not interested in continuing an already completed story: "I also think I am not as curious about what happens to the characters, because I more or less know what will become of them."

And while readers might even find some of them downright unlikable, it is perhaps testament to Tan's writing that her cast of characters cannot be faulted for their flawed, and sometimes fickle, actions.

After all, their behaviour is in instinctive accordance with the innate chaos and disorder of one very natural condition: the ever-changing depths and desires of the human heart.

Denial: Self-deception, False Beliefs, And The Origins Of The Human Mind


EVERY person who reads this book review will die – obviously not as a result of reading this but just because the nature of human life, and indeed all life, is that it is finite. Of course, almost every human being who has reached the age of reason knows and understands that our time on earth is limited, yet our behaviour is very often at odds with that knowledge and we behave as if our lives will continue indefinitely.

Authors Ajit Varki and Danny Brower maintain that though we can intellectually grasp our own impermanence, on an intuitive level we don't really believe it. When it comes to our own mortality we are in a state of denial.

This may well be necessary for our personal wellbeing and the survival of the species as a whole. Evolution has moulded us to be capable of denying the risk of mortality. If we were to be constantly and viscerally conscious of our imminent demise we would be in permanent panic mode, essentially so terrified of our own existence that we would be all crouched in foetal positions gibbering in a corner. Any creature exhibiting this type of behaviour would be unlikely to find a mate and consequently unlikely to pass down its genes.

While the rational analytical mind is a useful tool and has allowed us to dominate this planet as a species and go beyond, or at least stretch (close to breaking point), the environmental constraints placed upon us, our biological makeup has also prepared us for times when thinking is not such a good idea. When being attacked by a wild animal, or a neighbouring tribe, the fight or flight mechanism overrides rational thought. Biologically and neurologically we haven't evolved beyond this point. The mechanisms that allow us to act, or rather react, without having to give any sort of rational or logical analysis of a given situation are still very much in place.

The pathways between prefrontal cortex and amygdala involved in the stress response are not fully developed in humans until we reach our early 20s. This goes some way to explaining the sometimes reckless behaviour of "invincible" teenagers, and specifically young men. They will take incredible risks, often just for the fun of it, risks that no sane middle-aged person would ever consider. This, incidentally, makes young men very useful military recruits.

Reality denial comforts us. We do not brood on death all the time. Yet sooner or later we all experience some form of existential angst and ask ourselves the big questions: Who am I? What am I here for? What will happen to me after I die? The thought of our own discontinuity is unnerving. We may be troubled by the idea that our lives would be pointless if it was all just to end in a black void. We look for a meaning in our lives.

Along with our innate capacity for denial we may also be hardwired for spirituality as part of the same survival mechanism. Many choose to see their lives as fitting into some sort of divine plan, believing in a greater scheme of things and some sort of higher authority that governs our lives to some inscrutable end.

All major religions play on this and have evolved to assuage our doubts. They tell us that even after we die we will continue on in some other form, that there will be an after-life or another life. Billions of humans accept this on faith, without a single shred of evidence, because we are in denial of the reality of our mortality, because our intuition insists and whispers reassuringly that we are immortal.

This book is full of examples of our capacity for self-delusion and denial. We develop and maintain nuclear weapons and assume that they will never fall into the wrong hands or be used against us. We blithely dismiss the fact that we have irreparably altered the environment, that there have been countless extinctions within our lifetimes and many more to follow, that we have created an economic model that thrives on inequity, exploitation and human misery.

Despite decades of warnings from the world's top scientists we avoid dealing with the issue of environmental destruction and fail to instigate any meaningful legislation or action to offset the worsening state of our climate. We assume, quite wrongly, and against all scientific evidence, that it will somehow all just sort itself out.

The authors assert that "we are in a state of denial about our denial of reality". We can't change that denial is part of our genetic makeup. But we have to face up to the reality of the problem in the same way an alcoholic or addict takes the first step to overcoming their addiction – by admitting that there is a problem.

On the bright side, we can see optimism as a useful aspect of denial. The same neural wiring involved in our stress response is better at informing our brains about good news than bad news. Ignoring the likelihood of failure allows us to carry on in the face of the most unlikely odds and has enabled us to achieve countless advances of all sorts. Ultimately, we need to recognise when our capacity for using "mind over reality" is useful to us and when it isn't.

Denial is a meaty book that merits being read slowly, but is definitely a thought-provoking and well worthwhile read.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

0 ulasan:

Catat Ulasan


The Star Online

Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved