Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Andre Agassi's sports memoir 'Open' and tennis matches on court and in the mind

I opened 'Open' because I'm in the habit of opening every book that comes my way. I could not put this book down.  'Open' is a candid, funny, and fun read simply because Agassi, rather than giving a blow by blow account of every tennis match he ever played, gives a blow by blow account of his inner life. He is often quite snide and he is always very matter of fact. In fact the only aspect of his life Agassi is discrete about is his wife, Steffi Graff, and their children. Every thing else is fair game, be it his drug issues, his feelings about his immigrant father, his feelings about fellow players, his feelings about the sunset, his feelings about Brooke Shields, or his feelings about his hair. Brooke and his hair are, in fact, the stars. The Brooke parts are hilarious and since she apparently okayed them, I felt okay about not feeling too bad at how dim she came across as at times. As for Agassi's hair: even Agassi was in love with Agassi's  hair, which at times wasn't even his hair, but was a toupee, which he was more concerned about losing during a tennis match then the game itself. It's hilarious to think that while one was watching Agassi run around on court and thinking why has God given a man such amazing hair, Agassi was terrified that his hair piece was going to fall off and humiliate the hell out of him. 
So obviously Agassi didn't sit down one fine day and discover that he was a fabulous storyteller and writer (yes storytelling and writing are two different creatures) therefore I scrambled to the acknowledgements hoping to find the name of his ghostwriter: it's J. R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of his own memoir, The Tender Bar.
'Open' is a treat to read because of Moehringer. These are Agassi's stories but it is Moehringer's pen which brings to them such delight and tenderness for Moehringer has the great talent for taking what could have very well have been bratty whines and transforming them into heartfelt and moving accounts. Apparently, though Agassi wanted to share credit with Moehringer on the cover, Moehringer was content to take a backseat and so Agassi profusely thanks him in the acknowledgements. Here's a little piece on their collaboration in the New York Times.
If you're looking for accounts of tennis matches then read Pete Sampras's memoir, 'A Champion's Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis', but if you want something psychologically richer then Agassi's 'Open' is the way to go. For once the titles alone are indicative of the type of read one is going to get!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Kahani (Story): Indian movie/thriller recommendation.

To say anything more about Kahani (Story) other than a pregnant women arrives in Kolkata to look for her missing husband is to spoil it. This is an awesome thriller-- good pacing, stellar acting by everyone, plausible dialogue, funny moments, scary moments: every moment adding up to a very satisfying experience. I especially enjoyed the way the city of Kolkata (previously Calcutta-- a city with two names in a city where the natives have two names themselves) enfolded. Kahani shows Kolkata on the street level rather than a Kolkata of drawing rooms and witty banter. The camera allows Kolkata to live and breathe in all its hustle and bustle, tight spaces, noise, dust and dirtiness.  Of course there are moments that stretch credibility-- is Vidya Balan's heavily pregnant woman really going to traipse all over town in heeled boots!-- but these moments are few and far between and ignorable since the movie is a good, fun time.
* It's okay for kids thirteen and older. Any younger and it might get a little overwhelming as well as confusing. There is no gore per se but still plenty of elements for nightmares.   

Friday, April 6, 2012

Please Look After Mother Otherwise You will Die of Guilt

 'Please Look After Mother' the first novel by South Korean writer Kyung-suk Shin to be translated into English recently won the Man Asia Booker Prize, apparently because it illustrates life in modern South Korea. I don't know if I necessarily got this sense. Mom and Dad live in a village and go to visit their kids in big city Seoul. At the train station, Dad loses Mom and Mom goes missing. The novel is a series of first person narrations by  three of the kids (it is never explained why we don't get to hear from the fourth) as well as Dad as they try to find Mom.  Each is subsumed by guilt for not taking better care of Mom when she was around. Mom's voice also makes an appearance and her section is the most powerful of the novel. In fact this novel seemed less to me about how modern Koreans live than about how many sacrifices a Mom like Mom makes for her kids. It is a touching story and familiar in that most kids do not mollycoddle Mom the way Mom did them, but then are kids supposed to? Yes, this novel says, for kids Mom should be # 1. The thing is this novel demands that Mom's sacrifices be repaid whether the kids asked for them to be made or not. 'Please Look After Mom' not only demands you be uber-nice to your mother--always--  but beats you over the head with a guilt trip if you should feel otherwise. Is Mom a good mother? Is Mom an over protective and emotionally domineering mother? Should Mom have developed her own sense of worth in order to expect others, in this case, her own kids to respect her? Am I being ridiculously callous and unsentimental to even raise such questions? If nothing else this is a story which asks where the change occurs from one generation trembling before their parents and another eyeing their parents with disdain and for this alone is worth a read.