Book Review: A Long Walk Home: A Woman’s Story of Kidnap, Hostage, Loss – and Survival by Judith Tebutt

A Long Walk Home: A Woman’s Story of Kidnap, Hostage, Loss – and Survival.

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Judith Tebutt and her husband David are on a trip to Kenya. A trip that has a lot more significance to them than just a trip to Africa. They had met thirty three years ago in Africa and been together ever since. Africa holds a special place in their hearts. This had seemed a perfect holiday, a combination of things both of them wanted to do. A safari for David and a relaxing beach holiday for Judith. A holiday that was supposed to be a good break for both of them, a holiday they had planned meticulously for, and until then had seemed perfect. The reserves in Kenya seemed just what they had thought it would be. After a perfect time at the reserves, they had come to this coastal resort in Kenya which had come heavily recommended. They were looking forward to a relaxing week at the beach.

Their dream trip turned into horror when Judith is kidnapped by Somali pirates from their cottage at the desserted beach resort they had been staying at.

Judith is kept hostage for 192 days, in subhuman conditions, with very little food or kindness, for that matter. Held for ransom, Judith has little to look forward to. Dirty surroundings, unkind people, very little food, humiliated and isolated. All she can do is hope for the best and keep her body in the best condition she could. She would walk inside her room to keep herself fit. As she walks in the small room that she is held hostage, in her mind, she is walking towards home. She is walking towards freedom, every step she takes bringing her closer to the dream of being free.

The memoir is a moving account of her time as a prisoner. Torn away from her beloved husband and held hostage, she refuses to give up or lose hope. She even tries to write down details of the places where she’s held and those of her captors in the belief that one day she would be free. Such a brave and moving account. Such a brave person. A book that reinforces how strong people can be, in the face of adversity. Judith’s love for her husband touches your heart and breaks to read what she goes through.

Not an easy read, but definitely a read that I would recommend.

About the Author
Judith Tebutt is a British woman who was abducted by Somali pirates when she had been on holiday with her husband off the coast of Kenya. This book is her memoir of her time as a hostage.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

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Book Review: The Sceptical Patriot:Exploring the Truths Behind the Zero and Other Indian Glories by Sidin Vadukut

I’ve read other books by Sidin, and enjoyed them – they have been light, fun reads, just like his tweets. Entertaining, and light-hearted. When I found out on Twitter that he was soon to publish a non-fiction book, I was intrigued. Even more so, when I read the subject of the book. Sounded just like the sort of books I love. I just had to get my hands on it. And so I did. It helped that the Kindle edition got released in the UK, which is something that never seems to happen with Indian authors’ books.

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India. A land where history, myth and email forwards have come together to create a sense of a glorious past that is awe-inspiring…and also kind of dubious. But that is what happens when your future is uncertain and your present is kind of shitty—it gets embellished until it becomes a totem of greatness and a portent of potential. Sidin Vadukut takes on a complete catalogue of ‘India’s Greatest Hits’ and ventures to separate the wheat of fact from the chaff of legend. Did India really invent the zero? Has it truly never invaded a foreign country in over 1,000 years? Did Indians actually invent plastic surgery before those insufferable Europeans? The truth is more interesting—and complicated—than you think.

That pretty much sums up the book. We’ve all come across these glorious facts about India. Of how India invented zero, and how Indians were the pioneers in Plastic Surgery, and more. How many of these are really true? Were we truly world leaders in most things until the invaders plundered our country and brought it to the state it is today? Are we being gullible by believing it all or are we being needlessly sceptical by being cynical ? Well, read the book to find out. Sceptical patriot that Sidin is, he has gone around digging into archives of libraries, read up stuff and put together a very interesting book indeed. What sets this book aside is the author’s style of writing. He includes personal anecdotes and I personally loved the way he introduces most of the chapters, and the way he ended each of his analysis- with a ‘Sceptical Patriot Score Card’, showing exactly where we stand in terms of these truths/myths. The historical facts that he recounts are fascinating, some I have read about and others which make me want to go and dig up the books he has listed and read them. Cover to cover.

His writing style reminds me a lot of Bill Bryson’s books, but is more relatable, for me, as he speaks of things which I can relate to much more, so it made a great read for me. The subject was engrossing and it was absolutely unputdownable- I actually wished I could call in sick at work and read the book at home, but better sense prevailed.

What I liked most about the book was the last chapter. The way the author ended the book. Some of the things he talks about, I wish a lot of would read and understand. India would definitely be a much better place for that.

I know that sometimes people are put off by non-fiction books, but I think this one is the one to start with if you worry about a non-interesting book putting you off.

I would easily rate it 4.5/5. A brilliant book, and one that I enjoyed immensely.

About the Author
Sidin Vadukut is a journalist, columnist and blogger. He has an engineering degree from NIT Trichy and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad.

In a career spanning around a decade he has made automotive parts, developed online trading platforms, almost set up a retailing company and had a sizeable portion of a tree fall on his head. He is currently an editor with the Mint business newspaper.

This book is available on Amazon(UK) and Flipkart.

Book Review: Please Don’t Cry by Jane Plume

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‘A family torn apart by grief. An incredible act of love’

A true story of a family torn apart by tragedies and of a friendship that went beyond all boundaries. Gina and Jane(the author) are the best of friends. They have been inseparable since they met. They celebrated together, spent holidays together, their lives were entwined in so many ways. They were more than just friends, they were sisters of choice to each other. Jane was a single mother with three children. Gina and her husband Shaun had two boys, who were close friends with Jane’s children. They were Auntie Gina and Auntie Jane to their children. Gina and her husband were also god-parents to Jane’s youngest daughter.

When Jane had some complications after the birth of her daughter, Gina was there for her. And when Gina faced the toughest tests of her life, Shaun, being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jane was right with her, supporting her, holding her hand, doing everything she could, to be there for her dear friend. Just when the family was going through a tough time, with Shaun’s illness, Gina is killed in a car accident. Life is suddenly even worse than it already was. Shaun, already ill, is now bereaved and has the responsibility ot looking after his two boys.

Jane steps in and again, does what she has to, take care of Gina’s boys for her. She helps Shaun and the boys through the harrowing time after Gina’s death. In a couple of years, it is Shaun’s turn. His cancer turned aggressive and it was clear that Shaun’s days were numbered. Jane ends up looking after Gina’s children, all the while, being a mum to her own three.

It was such a heart-breaking, and yet such an inspiring read. To see how Jane, manages to do so much for her friend and her family was just amazing. Even her children are such generous souls, never for a minute grudging the fact that their mother was doing so much for her friend’s children. All that Jane says is ‘I’m glad I could do her this one last favour. If it had been the other way round, I know Gina would have done the same for me’, and that I guess speaks volumes about the friendship that Jane and Gina shared.

A beautiful but absolutely heart breaking read. I wonder sometimes why I read such heart-wrenching tales.. but I do. All I can say is that affect me deeply. So I’m not sure if I would recommend it. But do read it, if you think you would appreciate it.

This book is available on Amazon(UK).

Book Review: Salaam Brick Lane by Tarquin Hall

After reading ‘The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken’ by Tarquin Hall, I started checking out the other books by the author. The one which caught my eye was not one of the Vish Puri series, but this one- ‘Salaam Brick Lane’. The fact that it was non-fiction, set in London’s East End sounded very interesting.

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Tarquin Hall returns to England after 10 years abroad. Returning back he realizes to his dismay that he cannot afford to live in the leafy suburbs of his childhood. He had been priced out of the nicer London areas and the only place he could afford was a tiny, squalid attic, above a Bangladeshi sweatshop in London’s East end – Brick Lane. A place whose reputation precedes it. A place which he hopes is temporary, a place from where he hopes to move from before his Indian born, American fiancee lands in London.

Things don’t quite work as he planned, as most things in life. He ends up staying for a little longer than he had planned to. It was not quite the London he had planned to introduce his fiancee, Anu to. Living on a street filled with drug peddlers and prostitutes peddling their fare, it was not quite the London to write home about. And yet, despite the unsavoury characters and the reputation of the place, Hall discovers people and their stories just as any other place in the world. He discovers the world that immigrants have made their own. Some out of choice, some because they donot have a choice at all.

East End has a history of having been the place where immigrants have settled and have got absorbed into British Socieity. From the Jews to the latest in the line, the Bangladeshis. It was funny to read how some people who had come to Britain as immigrants now consider themselves British and are ready to campaign against the new immigrants. It was interesting to read how the East End has moulded itself over the years and taken over the characteristics of it’s latest inhabitants while absorbing them into a unique but still British Identity.

Hall’s narrative is interesting and non-judgemental and is fascinating read. It has a great set of characters, a lot of variety and their stories bring out a perspective to the East End some of us might have never known about. The life some of the immigrants lead, looked at with suspicion by some, being in a place, they never wished to be in the first place, was an insightful read. For others it was still a life much better than the one they left behind in the countries they came from. He adds in his personal story as well, which just adds to the flavour. His life with his fiancee, who is initially horrified by their surroundings(being mistaken for a prostitute doesn’t help, I’m sure!) but slowly comes to terms with Brick Lane, warts and all. As they chart their lives together, Brick Lane provides a fascinating backdrop in it’s character and colour. An intriguing narration of life as an East Ender by someone as far removed as possible from it, someone who has had a privileged upbringing, in London suburbs which are as different as they can be from London’s East End.

For me, it was full of insights and bits of history, which I found very interesting. An account of London’s immigrant hub, so to speak which seemed to have been the place immigrants have always migrated to. A place which has sheltered them and taken on their idiosyncracies and flavour, transforming into Jew town when the main immigrants were Jews and now, in it’s latest avataar, Banglatown. Who knows what it’s future holds, but whatever it might be, East end promises to be interesting and vibrant.

All in all, a great read. It’s a 4.5/5 from me. I have to say, I enjoyed Hall’s non-fiction a lot more than his fiction(I’ve just read one).

About the Author
About the Author
Tarquin Hall is a British author and journalist who has lived and worked throughout South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He is the author of The Case of the Missing Servant, dozens of articles, and three works of non-fiction, including the highly acclaimed Salaam Brick Lane, an account of a year spent above a Bangladeshi sweat shop in London’s notorious East End.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

Book Review: A Last Kiss for Mummy: A teenage mum, a tiny infant, a desperate decision

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Casey Watson is a foster carer. She had been caring for several foster children over the years, when she and her husband get handed a new challenge. Caring for a teenage mother, Emma and her three week-old baby, Roman. Casey and Mike took it up, and it took them on an unforgettable journey of emotions and experiences.

Fourteen year old Emma is just a child herself, and is in the position of having to look after her baby and look after him well enough to convince social services that she is capable of looking after her baby. Emma’s own mother is an alcoholic and Emma has been in and out of care throughout her life. Emma’s mother threw her out of the house when she got to know that Emma was pregnant. Emma, at fourteen, a mother already stood the chance of repeating her mum’s mistakes. Now her baby, Roman stands the chance of having the same life ahead of him. Unless, Casey and Mike can help foster Emma and Roman and help them forge a better future for themselves.

Emma is not anything like Casey expected, but Casey and her family grow a strong bond with Emma and Roman. Initially things seem alright, although soon, Emma starts getting irresponsible leaving Casey and Mike to pick up after her. Soon it reaches a point where social services have to take the decision of whether or not to send Roman to foster care.

It is a heart-wrenching true tale of lives that are derailed by the choices that people make. It was a heart-wrenching read. But still an interesting one. A book that gave me an insight to why some people make the choices they do. I cannot imagine how tough it must be for a teenage mum with no support to bring up her child. I mean, even as adults, it can be a tough thing. And here are children, bringing up their children… It also gave me an insight into the world of foster caring. How very tough it is as well as how rewarding it could be.

I would rate it a 4/5. But it’s not a pleasant read, although in this case things did work out for Emma(and her children).

About the Author
Casey Watson is a foster carer and author of several books.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

Book Review: Little Gypsy: A Life of Freedom A Time of Secrets by Roxy Freeman

littlegypsyTGND recommended this book, and when I checked the library, there it was!

Born in 1979, Roxy Freeman grew up travelling around Ireland and England in a horse-drawn wagon with her mother and father and five siblings. Life was harsh but it was a childhood of freedom spent in harmony with nature. Roxy didn’t know her time-tables but she could milk a goat, ride a horse and cook dinner on an open fire before she was ten.

I have mentioned this before that I find it tough to review non-fiction which is somebody’s life story. But some books grab you so hard that you cannot but talk about it. Little Gypsy is one of those. I had first come across gypsies in Enid Blyton books. They seemed fascinating to me. Not aspirational, but definitely fascinating. To be reading the tale of a real life gypsy was exciting!

Roxy Freeman’s dad came from an ancestry of Romani Gypsies, possibly. His great-great grandfather suffered an injury and that resulted in them giving up their nomadic life until Dik, Roxy’s dad rediscovered his nomadic tendencies. Roxy’s mum was from a wealthy family in America who meets the love of her life, Dik, while back-packing in Ireland. They go on to live a proper nomadic life with their 6 children. Life, when Roxy was young was harsh, but fun. Roxy was born in Ireland and that was a more idyllic existence. Things changed a lot for them when the Freemans moved over to England, where prejudices ran high. They faced trouble from the local communities and had to deal with regular evictions from the police. Despite all that, the children did have a good childhood.

All that changed for Roxy and Perly, her younger sister, when they fell prey to the unwanted attention of their ‘uncle’ Tony. Tony was a friend of their parents, and a highly trusted one. They were abused for years by him, and they kept quiet, terrified by what might happen if they spoke out about what Tony did. It was years before Roxy managed to speak up about the abuse.

They had a kind of upbringing that is hard to imagine. No schooling, it was only after Roxy was over 8 that she started to recognise letters and learned to read. I find it hard to understand how her mother, who grew up well-educated never felt the need to educate her children. As for her dad, so many things I find difficult to understand. But then that just might be a different type of life, one which most of us would find tough to understand. I guess that is why that life is called unconventional. What is heart-warming is how Roxy made the most of her life. Despite her childhood, Roxy went on to educate herself and get a life for herself.

The book had me marvelling at their lives and wishing they had better at the same time. The small things that we take for granted like having a hot bath, were luxuries for them, had only when their mum’s parents came visiting. Once when she slept over at a friend’s place, she felt it odd to be in such a hot place, never having had central heating or electric blankets, it was something her body just couldn’t adjust to.

Her mother, I have to say, must have been the most gentle, adjusting person possible. To take to the life of gypsies like she did, despite being from such a different background, accepting the things her husband did.. sounds almost unbelievable to me. I can understand some from a less privileged background behaving like this but her mother, who seemingly had options.. very difficult to understand. But then, that’s people, isn’t it? Everybody functions in their own way, with their own motivations.

It was a fantastic book. It gives an insight into the nomadic way of living. The prejudice and hostility that they face from people unable to accept a different style of living. As for the abuse she faced, I guess that could happen in any sort of environment. It is heart breaking to see that child sexual abuse happens everywhere, just goes to show, I guess there are all sorts of people in all sorts of societies. The author wanted to write her story to show that even a childhood disrupted by abuse can be happy, and I guess she does do that with the book.

It is a fascinating tale of a way of life, which I would think will soon be one of the past. It makes me wonder if it is right to expect nomadic people/tribal people give up their ways and adopt the ways of the majority? While in some ways they might be at a disadvantage, I can’t help wondering if that is only true because the society is tuned to the way most of us function. So ‘lifestyle minorities’ like the gypsies would have to conform, eventually? That makes me feel a little sad.

It was 5/5 read for me. A window into a totally different life.

About the Author

Roxy Freeman was born into a travelling family. She has had an unusual life, to say the least. She was 23 before she saw the inside of a classroom. This is her first book.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

Book Review: My Secret Sister by Jenny Lucas and Helen Edwards

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Reviewing memoirs are always difficult for me. These are true life stories that the authors have been brave enough to talk about. And some of them incredibly moving, like this one was. How can one possibly do justice in reviewing them?

I found this while aimlessly searching the Kindle store. The blurb caught my interest,

Helen grew up in a pit village in Tyneside in the post-war years, with her gran, aunties and uncles living nearby. She felt safe with them, but they could not protect her from her neglectful mother and violent father. Behind closed doors, she suffered years of abuse. Sometimes she talked to an imaginary sister, the only one who understood her pain. Jenny was adopted at six weeks and grew up in Newcastle. An only child, she knew she was loved, and with the support of her parents she went on to become a golfing champion, but still she felt that something was missing. . . Neither woman knew of the other’s existence until, in her fifties, Jenny went looking for her birth family and found her sister Helen. Together they searched for the truth about Jenny’s birth – and uncovered a legacy of secrets that overturned everything Helen thought she knew about her family. Happily, they also discovered that they were not just sisters, they were twins. Inspirational and moving, this is the story of two women brave enough to confront their past, and strong enough to let love not bitterness define them.

Helen’s childhood was especially shocking and heart-breaking to read. It is unimaginable that parents can be so cruel, so heartless. Although she did have her grandma and aunts around, and being with them, did make her feel safe, they didn’t do much to protect her from her parents. After all that she went through, it came as a welcome relief to us, the readers for her to discover that she had a secret sister, actually, a twin in Jenny Lucas. Along with the happy news, she also realizes that she had been lied to, by most of her own family.

Jenny Lucas had a nicer childhood. She had been adopted by her parents and had a comfortable, normal childhood. She went on to become a professional golfer. Through the women’s childhoods, there had been times their paths almost crossed, but at that time neither of them knew of the existence of each other. Both of them had felt that there was something missing while they were growing up, but little did they think, it would be a sister!

Years later, when they discover each other, one can only be happy for the two of them. Especially Helen who had such a tough time growing up. There still are unanswered questions, some more revelations that shock them, but for the two women, it is a happy ending.

For me it was such a positive story. Helen, despite everything she went through, still managed to survive and stay positive and happy. Of course, their mother who chose to give away one twin, keep the other, and then ill-treat her so badly, is someone who I would never be able to understand in a million years. People like these, who can be cruel to helpless children, should .. I don’t know, are just the worst kind of monsters, in my opinion. It is sad that she managed to get away with it.

It is not an easy read, it is painful to read about Helen’s childhood, and yet there is so much positivity as they grow up. While not an easy read, it is a gripping read.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).