Monday 1 January 2024

Books I liked in 2023

This post is about some fiction and non-fiction books that I had liked reading in 2023. I want to start with a book which had a strong impact on me.

“How I Rescued My Brain” by David Roland

I loved this book. Often, I had to stop, reflect, go back and re-read. It made me think of long-forgotten episodes from my life and how they had shaped me and my life-choices.

The book was published in 2014 and I had it in my “waiting to read” pile since 2020. It is a memoire of an Australian psychologist about his personal experience of neurological and psychological disturbances, including stress & burnout from listening to stories of extreme violence and suffering, facing financial ruin and finally, a brain stroke, which was not immediately diagnosed.

The second half of the book is about his attempts to regain control over his life, to recover some of his lost neurological and cognitive capabilities and to come to terms with his new body and self, even while he has to negotiate through relationship difficulties with his wife.

This book resonated with me in a personal way. Professionally, as a doctor, I could understand the difficulties of dealing with the pain and suffering of people. I also used to swing between over-empathy and complete detachment in similar situations. David's ideas about compassion made me reflect on those periods and wonder if I could have dealt with them differently.

I have also seen the impact of progressive cognitive decline in persons dear to me, and wondered about its inevitability, as I grow older. Thus, the cognitive challenges faced by David in the book and his attempts to find ways of dealing with it, also resonated with me.

Finally, his ideas about the episodes of deep psychological trauma, which we carry unresolved in our minds, sometimes from childhood, also stimulated me to think of different ways in which we deal with them.

It also has a lot of stuff, especially in the second half, about the potential role of meditation, mindfulness and Buddhism in dealing with psychological & cognitive challenges. I think that it can be a wonderful tool in our paths of self-discovery and development. As I look back on the year gone by, it was the most important book I had read in 2023.

Next part of this post starts with the fiction books and then continues with Non-fiction books that I had liked reading in 2023.


3 Books About Bees and Bee-keepers

It was my year of reading about bees and bee-keepers. I didn't plan it, it just happened. I still have 2 more non-fiction books about bees in my "waiting to read" pile of books.

The Last Bee-Keeper” by Julie Carrick Dalton is based in a dystopic future-world where all the bees have died and food-grain production can only occur in special green-houses where people work as pollinators.

A young woman called Alexandra is travelling, looking for her home, where she lived with her father Lawrence, who was one of the last bee-keepers in the world. Many years ago, there was a big scandal, when the last remaining bees were lost, Lawrence was sent to prison and Alexandra to foster care. Since then, talking about bees is prohibited.

Alexandra travels under a pseudonym Sasha and does not tell anyone that she is the infamous Lawrence’s daughter. She finds her house is occupied by a group of squatters (young people) and starts living with them. One day she finds out that some wild bees are still alive and they come to meet her in the forest. The bees bring hope to this dystopic world.

There was a time when I used to read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy books. While I like films set in future dystopic worlds, I am not so fond of reading about them. However, this book was an exception, it drew me in and didn't let me go till the end.

The Murmur of Bees” by Sofia Segovia has been translated from Spanish and is about the Mexico of early 1900s and its war of independence. Written in lyrical prose in the magical-realism style, the book tells the story of Simonopio, a boy born with a cleft lip and palate deformity, who has a special relationship with the bees. The book has a rich cast of characters from his adopted family called Morales, and the people working for them, including some superstitious peasants who think that Simonopio is the incarnation of devil and brings bad luck.

I loved this book's slow pace, and its rich exploration of different characters. From the first chapter, about an old woman who seems to live on a rocking chair, the story grabbed me immediately and did not let me go till the end.

The Morales family persons in the book are too good to be true, always kind and attentive to each other and to their servants, with no trace of prejudice against the deformed child and respectful of his gift of communicating with the bees, while the only evil lies in the heart of illterate peasants. These stark characterisations, gave the book a fairy-tale kind of feeling. 

The Last Bee-Keeper of Aleppo” by Christy Lefteri - It is a book about being a refugee and the challenges of starting a new life in a far-away land after a huge personal tragedy.

Nuri and his wife Afra live in Aleppo in Syria when the bombings and war arrive in their lives and brings destruction. They start on a difficult journey, passing through the refugee camps in Turkey and Greece. Afra has lost her ability to see and must be helped by her husband. The refugee camp hides other dangers, including persons waiting to pounce and prey on vulnerable people like Nuri.

Finally they reach England, but they still need to find their cousin Mustafa who is also worried and searching for them. Mustafa teaches bee-keeping to the refugees. In the story, bees are the connection between the past and present of Nuri and Afra. It is a book about hope and happiness, even after facing huge tragedies.

“Pavilion in the Clouds” by Alexander McCall-Smith

Some 15-20 years ago, I had read a series of mystery books by the prolific Scottish author Alexander McCall-Smith, known for his detective and crime stories. Isabel Dalhousie was a very unsual detective in that series because she was a middle-aged philosopher-professor in Scotland, who edits a journal on ethics. I had loved reading those books.

Alexander is famous for his series of mystery books based in Botswana (the series of Ladies Detective Agency) - However, I did not enjoy that series. He has also written many other series of detective books including a Scandinvian series, but I have not read them.

This stand-alone book “Pavilion in the Clouds” was an exception and I was happy to finally find one of his books which I liked. It is about a colonial family living in a tea-estate in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in early 20th century. Bella, the family's daughter has a English governess Ms White. The wife thinks that her husband is having an affair with the governess. The girl, influenced by her mother, tells a lie and creates the circumstances so that Ms. White can be sent away from their tea-garden. Only, some decades later, a meeting with Ms. White, will make Bella understand what had really happened during that period.

It has a gentle and unhurried kind of story and the surprise revealed near the end was very effective and satisfying.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt 

This book is about 3 main characters in a small American town - an octopus called Marcellius living in a marine acquarium, a Swedish immigrant woman called Tuva, who had lost contact with her son some decades ago, and a good-for-nothing young man called Cameron.

Tuva has a special connection with Marcellius and feels that he is very clever - for example, she knows that at night, he can open the lock and go out of his enclosure, then come back and relock the enclosure, just like a crafty teenager.

Cameron, the young man, is going around in his camper looking for his father. He reaches that town and since Tuva has sparined her ankle, finds temprary work in the acquarium.  Marcellius can immediately make-out that Cameron is the son of Tuva's  long-lost son. The book is about the efforts of the octopus to help Tuva to reunite with her grandson.

It is a feel good book, not always very consistent with its characterisations, but I still liked reading it.

Last year I also saw a Netflix documentary about a sea-diver who makes friends with an octopus and discovers that they are intelligent creatures. Because of that documentary and this book, I don't like the idea of killing and eating octopuses.

Beyond that, the Sea by Laura Spence-Ash 

This book tells the story of a young girl called Beatrix, who lives in London, and is sent to live with a American family in Boston (USA) during the second World War. Initially angry and unhappy, slowly Bea becomes a part of her new American family and falls in love with one of the boys. Heart-break comes when the war finishes and she has to come back to London.

It is a family story and a little love story. The book tells about the events from the point of views of different characters and is very well-written.

In an interview, the author had explained about the inspiration for this book, "Over 20 years ago, I read an article in The New York Times about a group of British adults returning to the States to see where they had spent time during World War II when they were young. I was fascinated by this — I was aware that children in London were evacuated to the country, but I hadn’t known that children were sent so far afield and often traveled alone."

One good thing by Alexandra Potter 

My last fiction book from 2023 is about Olive, a divorced, unhappy and depressed woman who decides to shift to a Yorkshire village where she used to go for holidays as a child. On an impulse, she has sold her city house and bought an old cottage in the village, hoping to make a fresh start.

The book is about her life in the village and in a new community, the challenges she faces and her decision to adopt an ill-treated disabled dog called Harry. The dog helps her to find friendships in the village community and leads to her healing.

The last quarter of the book was a little predictable with everything turning out to be perfect, including Olive finding her long-lost sister and the beginning of a new sentimental relationship. However, in spite of this, the book is very enjoiyable.

Reviewing my list of my favourite fiction books from 2023, I can see that it was an year of mostly reading books about family-dramas, relationships and love stories, instead of my usual preference for thrillers and action books. In 2023, I was a bit disappointed by the new books of many of my favourite thriller-and-action-book-writers. Or, perhaps, it means that my reading preferences are changing. 


About non-fiction, I tried reading a lot of those books in 2023, but most of them bored me. Often I read them in bits and pieces and then, left them. Here are a few, which I liked.

The Invention of Yesterday - A 50,000 year History of Human Culture, Conflict and Connections by Tamim Ansary 

This was one of my favourite books this year. It introduced me to the concept of social constellations, which are created by narriatives and meta-netarratives that we use to understand and explain the events and the world around us.

This book takes a wide overview of history, focusing on the inter-connections between events occuring in different places.

For example, the book explains the links between the policies of the Ming emperor in China and the tea-party revolution in Boston, leading ultimately to the independence of USA. America imported tonnes of tea, but the British started charging them big taxes for its sale, because of their trade-imbalances with the Ming regime in China, leading to the tea-party revolution. 

Another interesting part of the book is where the author looks at the reasons for the industrial revolution and the rise of the west. There were three Islamic empires around 1500 CE - the Ottomans in Constantinaples, the Safvids in Persia (Iran) and the Mughals in India. Ansary concludes that all three of them were backwards looking empires which didn't produce any significant innovation and inventions.

On the other hand, the situation was different in China and Europe. China made some interesting inventions like the printing-press and gun powder. In Europe, after the crusades, inquisitions, and the plague epidemics, the social control of the church was lost and thus advances in science could be made. For Europe, learning from the Chinese inventions was the first step, but even more imporant were the incremental innovations, which Europeans added to the Chinese inventions. For example, Europe learned about the gun-powder from the Chinese and added the innovations of guns and bullets to it.

I often wonder about the orthodox-dominence in most Islamic countries. Ansary is from Afghanistan and in his opinion, over the past few centuries, the middle-eastern worlds of Islam, with its subjugation of women, have been moving against scientific progress and innovation. He feels that this situation is bound to be changed by the people over the coming decades, because it excludes them from the benefits of the scientific progress which is helping improve the lives in the rest of the world.

I felt that the last parts of this book dealing with the future - role of machines, biotechnology, climate-change, etc., were a little confused and repeatitive. Still, at almost 500 pages, it was a rare non-fiction book for me, which I didn't skip in parts and read till the very end.

Two Books by Charles Duhigg 

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do by Charles Duhigg: I liked this book which talks about how our habits are formed, how we can analyse and understand them, so that we can change them.

I especially liked the first part of this book which focuses on the habits of the individuals, such as - how each habit is associated with its cues and triggers, what is the role played by the rituals in habit-forming, and, the idfferent kinds of pleasure/satisfaction that a habit provides. It is imperative to understand all of these before we can try to change our habits.

Smarter, Faster, Better - Being Productive in Life by Charles Duhigg - Duhigg writes in a clear and uncluttered way and brings in psychological insights by giving real-life examples. He does not use the psychology-jargon, which is a big plus. I wish I could write as clearly as he does.

Like the "Power of Habit" above, I liked the first part of this book where he talks about 8 areas which can influence our productivity, such as motivation, working with teams, focus and power of mental models, goal setting, innovation and working with data.

The second part of the book where he has shared his own life experiences and his struggles for improving his research and projects-writing was less interesting for me (in fact, I skipped large parts of it).

Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, involved in writing, doing podcasts and giving talks. I appreciated his books because of his clear way of writing. Most of the time I am bored by the self-improvement and self-learning books because they focus on easy formulas for bringing a change and in my opinion, those easy formulas do not work. However, I enjoyed some parts of these 2 books.

We the Scientists by Amy Dockser Marcus 

Finally, this last book in my list, is about the coming together of doctors, scientists and the parents of children with a rare fatal condition called Neyman Pick's disease. It talks about the impact of the disease and the challenges faced by doctors and scientists to try to find a cure for it.

It tells the stories of children as they try the new and experimental treatments, their hopes and tragedies. It focuses on a new drug called Cyclodextrin, which initially seems to be effective but is difficult to administer (a cathetor must be put in the children's brains, leading to infections and strokes). After all the difficulties, the results so far did not seem to have clear-cut benefits.

A big challenge in finding treatments for rare conditions is that all the data about those conditions and their treatments remains scattered in different places. The book talks about the challenges in sharing that kind of information.

There were positive aspects in these stories, which show that scientists and doctors, with the help of parents, were able to overcome many barriers and start communicating with each other, but the individual stories of the children described in the book still have tragic endings. It was like reading a thriller with a sad ending.

It is a short book (137 pages, plus notes) and I read it in one go. It left me feeling sad and yet hopeful. If we can improve the communication between clinicians and scientists working on identification of drug molecules and sharing of data, perhaps an answer can be found for rare conditions. 


Increasingly I find it difficult to read most books - I start them and leave them after 20-50 pages. This happens to almost 90% of the books I try to read. At the end of the year, to have this list consoles me!

So I am keeping my fingers crossed for my book-reading in 2024. I have just started reading a new biography of Martin Luther King and it looks promising.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year 2024 and happy reading of books that you like!

If you have come so far, please do write a comment with a suggestion about a book that you have read and liked. I like communicating with my readers.


@sofiasegoviawrites @christy_lefteri @MirTamimAnsary @AmyDMarcus @cduhigg @40somethingfkup @shelbyvanpelt @McCallSmith

Tuesday 15 August 2023

Sculptures & Art About Books

I love reading and as a chld I had started reading very early. There was a time when I read everything. I used to say that I will even read toilet paper if it has something written on it! I no longer try to read toilet papers, but I still read a lot. I am a part of a Booking-Readers' Group in Schio in the north-east of Italy, where I live. Finally, earlier this year I completed writing my first fiction book in Hindi.

This photo-essay is about those works of art from across the world which celebrate books and their authors.
Art & Sculptures about books - Artist Pitero Magni - Image by S. Deepak

I am starting this post with a sculpture from the Brera Museum of Conteporary Art in Milan (Italy) - it has marble statue of a young woman reading a book by the Italian sculptor Pietro Magni. (Image above)

My Favourite Authors

Most of my favourite authors from my childhood were from my father's collection of Hindi books - Krishen Chander, Nanak Singh, Shivani, Chatur Sen, Rangey Raghav, Asha Purna Devi, Bimal Mitra, Shanker, Muktibodh, and many more. Those were not books meant for children, but that did not stop me from reading them!

Growing up, I discovered English books. Then, over the last decades while living in Italy, apart from Italian writers, I have also discovered many Latin American and European writers. Through the images of this photoessay, I hope to make you think about your own favourite authors and books.

The next image in this collection is from the Innocenti building in Florence that hosts the UNICEF office and shows a boy sitting on a paper boat. I think that it wonderfully illustrates the capacity of a good book to transport you to far away lands of imagination. I don't know the artist of this sculpture.
Art & Sculptures about books - From Innocenti Building, Florence - Image by S. Deepak

The next image is of an unusual tower made of one hundred white coloured books by the Italian sculptor Lorenzo Perroni, who specializes in sculptures of white coloured books. I had clicked this picture during the visit of a group of American astronauts to the Sala Borsa hall in Bologna in 2011. So you can see the astronauts in the lower right corner, with people sitting on the ground in front of them and the white columns of books towards the left.

The next part of this photo-essay is divided according to countries where the pictures were taken.

America (USA)

There are two images from the Central Park in New York. The first one has a statue of Robert Burns, also known as Robbie Burns. He is considered to be the national poet of Scotland. According to the Wikipaedia, "He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish Diaspora around the world. Celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries, and his influence has long been strong on Scottish literature".
Art & Sculptures about books - Robert Burns' statue in New York - Image by S. Deepak

The second image is of a sculpture showing two characters of one of the most famous and enduring love stories of the world - Romeo and Juliet - by the British playwright William Shakespeare.
Art & Sculptures about books - Romeo-Juliet sculpture from N. York - Image by S. Deepak


The next image is from Vienna and shows the writer and playwright Ferdinand Raimund (1790-1836) near the opera building. He is credited with a number of important books and plays in German. I find his story very tragic - bitten by a dog and afraid of a painful death due to rabies, because no treatment existed for this disease at that time, he had committed suicide at the age of 46 years. When I hear people complaining about vaccines and refusing to vaccinate their children, I would like to remind them of this story.
Art & Sculptures about books - Ferdinand Raimund in Vienna - Image by S. Deepak


The next three images are from Brussels, the capital of Belgium. The first one shows two lovers at the lake - they are Thyl and Nele, the characters of a book by the Belgian writer Charles De Coster. De Coster is considered to be the father of Belgian writing. This monument is the opera of the sculptor Charles Samuel, a fan of De Coster. The monument also has many other characters from De Coster's books on its sides - a cat, a cooking pot, a spinning rod.
Art & Sculptures about books - Literary world of Charles de Coster, Belgium - Image by S. Deepak

The next image shows two of the principle characters (Captain Haddock and Tintin) from the iconic comic books about the adventures of a boy called Tintin. These comics were written and illustrated by the Belgian author and artist called Hergé (his real name was "Georges Remi"). Tintin is considered to be one of the most popular European comic books and these have been translated into different languages.
Art & Sculptures about books - Tintin and Hergé, Belgium - Image by S. Deepak

The third image from Brussels shows a statue of Charles Buls (also known as Karel Buls) placed in the Agoraplein square, close to the Grand Place square. According to Wikipaedia, "He was a Belgian politician and mayor of the City of Brussels. Buls was an accomplished and prolific author, not merely on educational and artistic issues but also publishing accounts of his travels abroad. Buls became Mayor of Brussels in 1881. However, along with these reforms, his most lasting achievement was the result of his opposition to the grandiose architectural schemes of King Leopold II, and the resulting preservation of old parts of Brussels. "
Art & Sculptures about books - Charles Buls, Belgium - Image by S. Deepak


The next five images are from Brazil. The first one has the bust of famous Lebanese writer Khalil Gibran in the city of Goiania. He was 12 years old when his family emigrated from Lebanon to USA. He died at 48 years and wrote in both Arabic and English. His most well known book is "The Prophet".

Many of the words of Khalil Gibran have been quoted infinite number of times and will be familiar to readers across the world. For example, you must have heard these - "If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don't, they never were." Another of his quotes that I like, says - "I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers." You can check many other quotes from Gibran at Goodreads.
Art & Sculptures about books - Khalil Gibran, Goiania, Brazil - Image by S. Deepak

The next image is from Pelorihno, the old city on the hill in front of the port of Salvador do Bahia, where the well known Brazilian writer Jorge Amado lived. His house in Pelorinhno hosts a museum and shops around sell his souvenirs including his paintings showing him with a pipe in his mouth.
Art & Sculptures about books - Jorge Amado house, Bahia, Brazil - Image by S. Deepak

The next two images are from the medical college in Pelorihno, showing two ancient Greek philosophers, writers and scientists - Hippocrates and Galen.
Art & Sculptures about books - Hippocreates, Bahia, Brazil - Image by S. Deepak

Art & Sculptures about books - Galen, Bahia, Brazil - Image by S. Deepak

The last image from Brazil shows the house of Cora Coralina, an Afro-Brazilian slave during Portuguese occupation, in the historic city of Goias Velho. The house is located next to the river Rio Vermelho and there is a statue of Cora standing at the window, looking over the river. Cora was a poet, who wrote about the degradation of slavery and her poems inspired hundreds of other Afro-Brazilians to seek a life of dignity.
Art & Sculptures about books - Cora Coraline, Goias Velho, Brazil - Image by S. Deepak

Czech Republic

The next image of this photo-essay is from Prague and shows the statue of a women writer - Bozena Nemcova (real name "Barbora Panklova"). Writer of fairy tales and legends, she is best known for her novel Babicka (Grandmother), an autobiographical book about her childhood with her grandmother.
Art & Sculptures about books - Bozena Nemcova, Prague - Image by S. Deepak


The next four images are from India. The first image has the iconic figure of poet-saint Basvanna from Basavkalyan in Karnataka, who is known for his Vachana-sahitya. According to Wikipaedia, "He spread social awareness through his poetry, popularly known as Vachanaas. Basavanna used Ishtalinga, an image of the Śiva Liṅga, to eradicate untouchability, to establish equality among all human beings and as a means to attain spiritual enlightenment. These were rational and progressive social thoughts in the twelfth century."
Art & Sculptures about books - Basvanna, Karnataka, India - Image by S. Deepak

The next two images are from the Hindi Bhawan in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) and present two important personalities from the world of Hindi literature - national poet of India, Maithili Sharan Gupt and the iconic writer Munshi Prem Chand. My aunt, Dr Savitri Sinha, was close to Maithili Sharan Gupta, affectionately called him Dadda and had written about him.
Art & Sculptures about books - Maithili Sharan Gupt, Lucknow, India - Image by S. Deepak

Munshi Prem Chand was the writer of many stories that I loved as a child. He was the founder-editor of Hans, a literary magazine in Hindi, that continues to be active even today.
Art & Sculptures about books - Munshi Prem Chand, Lucknow, India - Image by S. Deepak

The fourth image from India shows Nobel laureate poet, writer, playwright and freedom fighter, Rabindra Nath Tagore.
Art & Sculptures about books - Rabindra Nath Tagore, India - Image by S. Deepak


The images of writers from Italy are more numerous than all the other countries in this photo-essay. This may be because I have travelled widely in Italy. Perhaps, this has also to do with greater willingness in Italy to honour artists and writers in the public spaces.

The first three images are from the gardens of Villa Borghese park in Rome. The first image shows the Ukrainian born Russian writer and playwright Nikolai Gogol. In her book "The Namesake", Jhumpa Lahiri had paid homage to Gogol by giving his name to her hero.
Art & Sculptures about books - Nikolai Gogol, Rome - Image by S. Deepak

The next image has the Peruvian writer Garcilaso de la Vega known as The Inca, from Villa Borghese gardens of Rome. He wrote about the Spanish colonizers of Peru. The son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman, he is recognized primarily for his contributions to Inca history, culture, and society.

The third image from Villa Borghese gardens of Rome has a writer from a tiny eastern European country called Montenegro - Petar Petrovic Njegos, who was a nobleman and a poet. As the Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, he is credited with modernization of his country.
Art & Sculptures about books - Petar Petrovic of Montenegro - Image by S. Deepak

The fourth image is also from Rome, from the ruins of Traiano's baths near the Colosseum, and shows the statue of Italian journalist and writer Alfredo Oriani.
Art & Sculptures about books - Alfredo Oriani, Rome - Image by S. Deepak

The next image is from Santa Croce square in Florence and shows the most well known Italian poet Dante Alighieri, famous for his epic poem "Divine Comedy".
Art & Sculptures about books - Dante Allighieri, Florence - Image by S. Deepak

The next four images are from a garden near Cavour square, close to the Brera museum of art in Milan. This garden has many statues of writers, journalists, philosophers and scientists.

The first of these images shows the well known Italian journalist and newspaper editor Indro Montanelli, writing on his old typewriter. He is shown as a young man, his severe face is focused on his writing. It is a remarkable piece of art.
Art & Sculptures about books - Indro Montanelli, Milan - Image by S. Deepak

The next images have 3 Italian writers - Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, Gaetano Negri and the playwrite Giuseppe Giacosa from the Cavour square park in Milan.

Art & Sculptures about books - Ernesto Teodoro Moneta - Image by S. Deepak

Art & Sculptures about books - Gaetano Negri, Milan - Image by S. Deepak

Art & Sculptures about books - Giuseppe Giacosa, Milan - Image by S. Deepak

The next image is from the city of Vicenza and it shows the writer, editor and publisher Neri Pozza. The sculpture is close to the bridge on the river Bacchiglione, just behind the famous Basilica built by Andrea Palladio. Neri Pozza is one of the reputed contemporary publishing houses in Italy, who have published the Italian translations of different Indian authors including Alka Saraogi and Anita Nair.
Art & Sculptures about books - Neri Pozza, Vicenza - Image by S. Deepak

The last image of this photo-essay shows the statue of Irish writer James Joyce and is from the city of Trieste in the north-east of Italy. Joyce is shown walking, crossing a bridge in the centre of the city. Joyce had lived in Trieste for many years. He is famous for his books like Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.
Art & Sculptures about books - James Joyce, Trieste - Image by S. Deepak

In the End

I have loved putting together this photo-essay, even though identifying the pictures for this post took me hours of going through my vast picture archives. It was frustrating that from many countries, I could not find any image related to a book or a writer or a journalist. For example, I could not find any such image from my image archives of UK or Switzerland. No country of Africa is represented in this photo-essay for the same reason.

Many countries do not put statues of writers in prominent public spaces, probably because often writers speak against their governments! Also because compared to national leaders, military persons and freedom fighters, for many countries writers and artists are not considered important enough to be remembered through art and sculpture. Finding images of art related to women writers is even more difficult - for this essay I could find only two of them.

I hope that you will enjoy going through these images and perhaps share with me your experiences of finding the statues of your favourite authors during your travels! I would love to hear about any art works related to writers and/or their books, especially from countries not represented in this post.

#artaboutbooks #artaboutwriters #artistsandwriters #authors #booksculptures

Friday 4 August 2023

Life Beyond Us - Science Fiction & Essays

Recently I have read a very interesting anthology of Science Fiction writing with an euqally interesting twist - it also has essays about the science behind those SF stories. The book is titled "Life Beyond Us", it is edited by Julie Novakova, Lucas K. Law and Susan Forest (2023, Laksa Media).

It has stories by some of the well-known names of science fiction and is presented by the European Astrobiology Institute (EABI).

What would life be like if it evolved in a cold ocean beneath an impenetrable shell of ice? Or on a world whose haze obscured any view of the universe beyond? Is there a common template for life, or can we expect to find preciously fragile silicon creatures drifting in seas of liquid nitrogen? How would finding alien life change our society?

Life Beyond Us, a new anthology by the European Astrobiology Institute and Laksa Media, depicts the timeless quest for finding alien life in 27 science fiction stories and 27 science essays, aiming to imagine, inspire and illuminate.

I loved reading this book and would like to share some of its aspects which I found illuminating.

Science in the Science Fiction

SF is based on science and is different from fantasy. In SF writers can imagine the future or distant worlds, but they do so based on science or on scientific hypothesis.

However,understanding the science behind each SF story is not easy because it can come from different and specialised fields of expertise, from technology to physics to chemistry to medicine and innovation. I loved this book mainly because each story is followed by an essay which discusses the basic science behind that story. I loved some of the stories, but I loved even more some of the essays explaining those stories because they made me think in unexpected directions.

Below are some examples of the information in the essays which were new for me and which made me think.

Safety of Humans and All Aliens

Giovanni Poggiali in his essay about a SF story by Erik Choi wrote about the fears of humans to make sure that we don't import alien life forms to earth because we may not have immunity against them and they can decimate human and/or animal life. This is something we all understand.

However, I had never thought about the vulnerability of aliens to the pathogens from earth. When we send space-ships to moon or mars or to some other star outside our solar system, is there a danger that some of our bacteria or virus can go with them, and then infest and kill the alien life forms?

Poggiali's essay about ensuring the safety of all life forms on earth and on other planets, made me think about the difficulties of limiting contacts with our bacteria and viruses. We can't sterilise our intestines, also because our gut organisms are fundamental for our well-being and survival. In the long-term colonisation of other planets, I am not sure how this would play out.

Star-Forming Cocoons

Stefano Sandrelli in his essay about a SF story written by Renan Bernardo, talks of an astromical discovery by Bart Bok and Emily Reily in 1940s about a small black cloud which they called globule. They proposed that new stars were being formed inside that globule.

Sandrelli talks about Bok Globules to explain that the space is not empty and that approximately 2% of the total mass of our galaxy, the Milky Way, consists of low-density matter, mostly as a gas, called the interstellar medium (ISM). ISM is 91% Hydrogen and 8.9% Helium. However, 1% of ISM is made up of dust. I have always thought of space as being empty and this information was very unexpected.

Titan, Saturn's Moon

The essay by Fabien Klenner about a SF story by G. David Nordley explains that Titan is an iceball, with a thick atmosphere (4 times as dense as earth's atmosphere) and very low gravity (around 14% of earth's gravity). This information has been used to plan a Dragonfly mission to Titan in 2027 which should reach its destination in 2034.

On earth we have carbon-based life which needs water as a solvent. Titan does not have the conditions for a carbon-based life but it may have conditions for a nitrogen-based (azotosome) life.

Can azotosome based molecules create life and what kind of life it would be, is a tentalising question.

A Really Hot Venus

Sanjay is the hero of the SF story by Geoffrey A. Landis, who wants to go down from his space-ship to visit Venus. Dennis Honing, in his essay about this story explains that Venus is so hot that it cannot host earth-like life. It is hot because it is closer to sun and because it has a lot of CO2, a greenhouse gas.

He explains that on earth the long-term maintenance of climate is due to the carbonate-silicate cycle. CO2 in the atmosphere is dissolved in rainwater, forms carbonic acid, which interacts with silicate minerals. Its product, calcium carbonate, is deposited on earth in areas where tectonic plates converge. As it reaches earth’s interior, those carbonate sediments melt and CO2 is released back into the atmosphere. A main requirement for the whole cycle is the presence of liquid water on earth's surface.

I had read about acid-rain but it was the first time that I was reading about CO2 cycle and wondering if carbonic acid contributes to acid rain? Does this carbonic acid go into water bodies such as lakes and rivers? What impact does it have on the climate? It was a chapter, which left me with a lot of questions.

In Conclusion

The above are some examples of reflections and questions induced by the scientific essays in this book, written mostly by young European scientists. It was a long time that I had read a book like this one, which surprised me so much and made me stop and think so often!

If you like reading scinece fiction and are generally interested in science, this is the book for you.

#sciencefiction #science #bookreviews #europeanscientists #anthologyofsciencefiction 

Monday 31 July 2023

Writing Choices (1)

I am writing my second novel - it is in Hindi, because after trying for about 20 years, I found that I was more comfortable writing my books in Hindi. I still do not have a publishing house for my first book but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

It took me almost two and a half years to write that first book, and during that period, I rewrote it 3 times before finding a structure that I liked. It is about a young man who discovers that the woman he had thought of as his mother was not his birth-mother and then for the rest of the book he tries to find more about and locate his birth-mother.

I had a basic idea but once I started writing, new ideas came all the time, some of which I tried. The final structure of book and many of its characters and scenes, which came out in the final version, were very different from my initial ideas.

However, when I think back about the writing of my first book, I can hardly remember all those changes and the experimenting with different ideas.

I (Sunil) with my grand-daughter

It is the same with my second book. I am doing the second rewriting. It covers a long time period, more than a hundred years, and is spread across different countries. I think that I might need to do at least 2 more rewritings before I will have a proper draft. While I work on it, there are so many ideas which come to my mind and I try to incorporate some of them in my writing. 

So I have thought of occasionally noting down in this blog about my writing process. This book revolves around 4 generations of a family involved in a tea garden.

The first version of this book had alternating chapters focusing on different characters from different countries and time-periods. I wrote around 80% of it but felt that its basic premise of the story focusing on a woman of the 3rd generation was not working, it seemed kind of flat and not very exciting.

In the second version, I have grouped together the chapters according to the time-periods, to make it easier to follow. Now, its focus has shifted to 2 characters from the second and fourth generations.

I had started writing it with longer chapters and fewer voices telling the story. After writing about 70% of this version in this way, one day I changed my strategy - now the chapters are shorter and the story is told by a larger number of voices. I still have about 10% of the book to complete but I like this second approach more, though it probably has too many events all reaching their culminations in the last few chapters, so it is kind of chaotic.

My plan is to finish this version, read it and then decide if I prefer it with longer chapters and fewer voices or shorter chapters with more voices.

While writing, sometimes some characters suddenly take form, come alive and become more complex, sometimes asking for greater space in the story. For example, some old photographs taken in 1930-1940s played a key role in the story in the first version. In this second version, I have a French guy as the photographer and a few scenes with him. Then, a few days ago, while going for a walk, I thought about that French guy and I felt that he is an interesting character and thus, it is possible that he will have a bigger role in the third version.

I love writing my book. For a few hours every day I get lost in the worlds of my characters and their stories. It is an amazing feeling.


#authorsunil #sunildeepak #sunil_book #writingprocess

Sunday 11 June 2023

Art, Books & Friends

 Our reading group in Schio in the north-east of Italy meets once a month to talk about a book. Our "reading season" starts in September and ends in the following June, because in the summer, many group members go away for holidays.

This year, Michela, coordinator of our reading group, proposed a different way to end our reading season - "Let us go out somewhere and do something different." One of our group members, Carla, suggested that we go to the house of her friend Lello, who lives on a hill in Malo, a few kilometres south of Schio.

Lello (Raffaello Rossi) is a retired physical-education school teacher. His house is on Montepiano mountain, at an altitude of about 500 metres. Parts of the road leading to his house are narrow, but it is a motorable road. The house stands at the edge of a precipice looking down at a valley covered with a dense forest.

Life and Works of an Artist: Sem Giovanni Rossi (M. Rinaldi)

Our group meeting started with an introduction by Lello about his father, Sem Giovanni Rossi, who was a painter living in Rome. Seventeen years old Sem had participated in the first world war and risked dying in an Austrian prison. A self-taught painter, Sem worked with oils and tried different painting styles and subjects. He became known for his sea paintings, which he produced in large numbers, and which are today scattered across continents, especially in Italy, Germany and USA, and are signed under a paseudonym, as "M. Rinaldi".

After the introduction, Lello took us around a tour of his home where he has a permanent exhibition of about 40 paintings of his father. I love looking at the art works through the eyes of the artists, as they explain the background stories about their works. In this case, we were looking at artworks through the eyes of a son, who had seen his father make those paintings and it was fascinating.

For example, one of the paintings has a young woman sitting and sewing. Lello explained that the young woman was Alina who worked in a sewing workshop next door to his father's art studio.

For another painting of a house at the Spanish Steps in Rome, he explained that it was the house of Giorgio de Chirico, who was a friend of his father and a well known artist and writer, "de Chirico wanted this painting but my father refused", he said.

As Lello talked about the still-life, the old-walls, the old men sitting and the tiny rays of light illuminating corners of mostly dark and malinconic paintings, it said something about the time gone by, about his relationship with his father and his understanding of his father's art, that was at once very moving, deeply personal and intimate.

Walking and Talking About Books

After the visit to Lello's home and talking about his father's artworks, we decided to go for a walk along a mountain track. For this walk, Michela had prepared sheets of papers for the group members, with brief extracts from the books we had read over the past year.

As we went out, we stopped occasionally for someone to read aloud his/her paper to the others, to try to guess the name of the book and sometimes to talk about the experience of reading that book. The extracts chosen for this exercise were very different, some funny and light-hearted, some emotional and touching.

We started from a tiny church dedicated to San Valentine and then entered a mountain path, initially lined by mulberry trees, loaded with dark and inviting mulberries, full of tasty juices which coloured red our fingers and mouths.

It was not a long walk, perhaps a couple of kilomteres and did not have big altitude differences, so that everyone could do it.

Reaching back at Lello's house after the slow and lingering walk, it was time for drinking and eating. Some of our group members had prepared cakes and snacks, others had brought drinks, so we sat down to eat while Lello shared some other memories about his arrival in Schio, some forty years ago.

Friendships and Connections

As the evening arrived and we prepared to leave, I was thinking about the afternoon spent in so many intense experiences - the beautiful terrace overlooking the green valley, covered with vine trees with budding grapes, Lello's stories about his father's artworks, our walk between the mulberry trees, the taste of fresh mulberries, and the pleasures of listening to the words from the books we had read, evoking memories of their story-worlds.

A key part of the beauty of this experience was made up by the conversations, sometimes long and sometimes brief, we had with friends in the group, as we walked or sat around, sharing about our lives, our plans, our big or small sufferings and challenges. Memories of this afternoon will remain with me for a long time.


Monday 13 February 2023

Understanding and Promoting Empowerment

I have been involved in Emancipatory Disability Research (EDR) initiatives in different parts of the world. The goal of Emancipatory Research is to promote empowerment of marginalised people. Therefore, it is important to ask ourselves what is empowerment? Can it be promoted? If yes, how?

Persons with disabilities in Mongolia

This post talks about some ideas of empowerment and how it can be promoted. It includes ideas from some of my discussions with young persons with disabilities in Mongolia during 2017-2020, who had taken part in an emancipatory research.

Emancipatory Research (ER)

Normally the main goal of a research is to gain new knowledge or new understandings. The main goal of a Emancipatory Research (ER) is to help marginalised persons to gain understanding about factors which cause or worsen their marginalisation.

ER can be done by individuals (IER) or by groups or communities (CER) of marginalised persons. My professional experience relates mainly to ER conducted by groups of disabled persons.

From my experiences, my understanding is that each kind of marginalisation and thus, each specific group of marginalised persons (for example, persons with mental health issues, sex workers, persons with alternate sexualities, persons with disabilities, etc.) is associated with specific kinds of barriers - such as attitudinal, social, economic, legal, cultural and physical barriers. Each kind of marginalised group also also needs to understand its own internalised barriers (barriers located in the persons themselves).
I would like to see more research in this area of differences and similarities in barriers faced by different marginalised groups.

The ER process can help in promoting a systematic collective examination of the different barriers in understanding how they affect their individual life-experiences. The ER process conducted jointly by a group of persons facing similar marginalisations can also help in finds ways and strategies to overcome those barriers.

Apart from its impact on the barriers, this whole ER process is also expected to promote empowerment of the participants. I asked a group of 34 young persons with disabilities in Mongolia about the meaning and significance of empowerment for them. The following ideas came out from these discussions.

Meanings of Empowerment

Empowerment can be at individual level and collective level (of groups of people or communities) and of their organisations and institutions.  Empowerment of an individual usually means taking control of his/her own life, having opportunities and abilities to make their own life-choices, and, the capacity of speaking out and making their voices heard.

However, persons from different cultures can different expectations from their empowerment because they may make very different life choices. For example, in an individualistic culture, living independently and ability to say whatever we wish may be seen as an important (or even the most important) part of empowerment. In other cultures where family values are seen as more valuable, empowered persons may still prefer to stay with their parents or listen to their elders, instead of insisting on making their own choices, and empowerment may be perceived in their family status and roles.

Zimmerman (1995) proposed that empowerment is both a process and an outcome. He identified different contributing factors of empowerment, such as - control and access to resources, participation with others, and critical understanding of socio-political environment.

I feel that empowerment is a never-ending process and it relates to different facets of life, so that while we may be more empowered in one life-domain, we can still be less empowered in other life-domains. It also means that our life-circumstances can lead to a reduction or strengthening of our empowerment. For example, finding a job or receiving pension and improving our economic independence may strengthen our empowerment.

Meanings of empowerment for Persons with Disabilities

Different groups of marginalised persons may have different ideas about empowerment. For example, for persons with disabilities, physical and material barriers such as lack of wheel-chairs, lack of ramps and lifts, lack of sign language translation, and lack of Braille materials are a very significant barrier and findings ways to overcome these barriers will play an important role in their empowerment.
For an Emancipatory Disability Research (EDR) project in Mongolia conducted during 2017-2020, I asked its participants (young adults with moderate to severe disabilities of different kinds) about the meaning of empowerment and what were the barriers to empowerment for them. 

For some of them, empowerment meant overcoming fear of the negative views and opinions of others, in their families, among friends, among peers and in communities. For them the biggest barriers to empowerment were the negative attitudes in the family and in the community.

Others looked at positive qualities to define empowerment, such as having self-confidence, having courage, and to be able to hold responsibility. One person said, “We have to first recognise our own skills and show our skills to others. If we change, we can change attitudes of the society, like Stephen Hawkins did, even if he can’t speak or move.”

For most of them, making independent decisions was a key to empowerment. Most felt that having a work and being financially independent helped in the process of empowerment.

Some persons shared their life stories to explain how they had fought against family attitudes to assert their need for making their own life-decisions. This raised the question about the links between personalities of the persons and their empowerment. Some persons are born fighters, they do not give up and insist on following their decisions, so they are naturally empowered. Others do not have fighting personalities and need help in developing their empowerment skills.

For some persons, parents' love and protectiveness were the barriers to their empowerment. One person said, “Barriers are also inside us, we are sensitive and feel hurt. Lack of accessibility restricts us, forcing us to depend upon others. Going to school is important for empowerment, not only to learn to read and write, but it is an opportunity of meeting others, talking, expressing ourselves, and having friends.”

How would you define empowerment?

Some Questions

One question in my mind is: does collective empowerment automatically lead to individual empowerment? If a group of persons undertakes a joint action to correct an injustice and through their efforts they manage to change the situation, I think that it will promote feelings of value and self-confidence among all members of the group. Thus, it will promote both collective empowerment and individual empowerment. However, I feel that those persons who play a more active role will gain more self-confidence and become more empowered. Therefore, group action may promote different levels of empowerment among the group members.

On the other hand, I think that when unjust situations change, this may help other persons to become empowered by showing that a change is possible, even if they did not take part in the fight to change the situation.

Another question I ask is: does individual empowerment automatically lead to collective empowerment? If a group of empowered persons agree and come together to fight, then they can be more effective in changing the unjust situation. However, if persons are individually empowered but do not agree with each other, and do not come together to change the situation, then probably there will not be any collective empowerment. I see collective empowerment as a process of inter-action and exchange between persons.


Empowerment can have different meanings for different groups of marginalised persons and across different countries and cultures. It is not a question to which you can answer with a yes or no - it is a process. It starts when we become aware that we can also make our own decisions. It is easier for us if we are economically independent and educated, but that does not mean that without education or financial independence we can’t be empowered.

Empowerment means not just getting respect for your decisions, but also respecting the others by listening to them and allowing them to make their decisions. It also means accepting that sometimes, some of us can also decide that we do not wish to make our own decisions.
Conducting EDR in Mnadya district, India

Meeting others, learning from their life experiences, sharing our doubts and fears are all steps towards empowerment.

As Zimmerman (1995) wrote, “asking why” is a key part of promoting empowerment. Emancipatory Research (ER) approach facilitates groups of marginalised persons to come together, ask questions and understand the reasons behind their life situations, to discuss how to overcome the obstacles they face and thus promotes empowerment.


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