Saturday, May 19, 2012

by Paul French

Peking in 1937 was a wealthy city. Out of a population of one and half million people, two thousand were foreigners. They congregated in an area called the Legation Quarter which is where the embassies and consulates were. Within the huge gates, it could have been Europe: clubs, hotels, bars, jewelers, bakeries, bookshops, etc. Outside of it were opium dens, brothels, and an unsavory underworld. The Japanese were circling planning to take over and the residents were quite fearful. In this midst, a young woman is murdered. It is appalling and gruesome. Her body is mutilated with internal organs ripped out.
Two detectives, Colonel Han Shih-ching and Richard Dennis (he trained at Scotland Yard), collaborate together to try and solve the case.
Paul French has written an incredible book. It took him seven years of research from both the archives of China and England. It's fascinating reading about pre-Communist China. For true-crime, it can't get much better. Midnight in Peking is impossible to put down (I read it in two days). If you want suspense, it will be delivered.
Very highly recommended.

Monday, May 14, 2012

by Imran Ahmad

Imran Ahmad was born in Pakistan but one year later he and his parents moved to England in the early 1960s. Jobs were scarce in Karachi and the British government were encouraging migration. It was a rude awakening. Imran's parents were educated professionals but not in the eyes of the English. To them, they were lower-class manual workers and if they accepted this, it was the only way that they could acquire jobs. It was this defined class system that Imran, a Muslim, grew up in.  As a young boy and beyond, he's anxious to fit in. Imran is constantly confused about many things. He's proud of his Islamic identity but he always seeks the truth and so religion is a constant factor.
Imran plans on going to medical school but his grades aren't good enough. He ends up at Stirling University in Scotland majoring in chemistry. Imran does quite well with it. Now his goal is to meet women and the best way (in his mind) to do that is to be cool, suave, and extremely well-dressed (think James Bond). Also a car would help (Jaguar XJS) but he settles for an Alfa Romeo.
Eventually chemistry doesn't do it for him and he starts reading up on recruitment brochures. He sees pictures of people in business suits which really impresses him. Imran convinces Unilever to hire him and begins working in finance and then management consulting which takes him all over the world.
The Perfect Gentleman is not your conventional memoir. It's written quite differently. Each chapter has a title which signifies some kind of event that happened to him or something that was quite significant, a two-year spread, and his age. They are short comprising only a couple of pages.
The book is extremely readable and thought-provoking. Imran Ahmad is honest, direct, funny, sensitive and his writing showcases his personality and emotions. The prose is beautiful. If you want a clear-cut description of Islam, get this book.
Highly recommended.