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What I read (2020 edition)

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12. I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a brand that looms large in modern European football. He often projects an image that is larger than reality but the fact is that the reality itself is quite huge. Football autobiographies are often very bland projects as the subjects are excessively coached by PR agents that they end up sounding alike and saying nothing. Zlatan projects and image of courage, defiance and bravery and the book I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic lives up to that brand image.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s whole life is one of an outsider crashing a party he is uninvited to, becoming the star of the party and all the while playing according to his own rules. Those rules of his include holding a grudge and exerting vengeance at any time of his choosing no matter how long after, not being at fault even when he breaks rules accepted by others. Zlatan’s childhood and upbringing of which he is brutally candid about is the canvas on which his life story is painted. His father, a Bosnian Muslim married his mother, a Croat Catholic. The marriage was turbulent and toxic as his father’s alcoholism took the better of him. Its failure saw Zlatan and his sister being bounced around between both parents. The toxicity and dysfunctionality of the home life were enough to break any migrant kid trying to fit into an environment where he was a cultural outsider but Zlatan is no ordinary kid and never had been. Rather the adverse conditions fuelled his anger and drove him to excel in football as he permanently had a ‘me against the world’ mentality. He was mostly below average in school and when the school system classed him as a special needs student, lashed out in ways only Zlatan can.

His huge ego was not a recent development. He has always been like that and every success had fuelled bigger bragging rights. Like when as a teenager, he walked out on a date because the girl was twenty minutes late. Turned out that the girl was delayed by a late bus whose driver had taken a longer than usual smoke break. The same ego is at the root of his acrimonious relationship with Pep Guardiola. It is evident from Zlatan’s account that Pep has an issue dealing with big characters who refuse to conform but a deeper issue was Zlatan’s unwillingness to be one of the boys even in a Barcelona team that was the best of the generation. In his books, as long as Zlatan is delivering, rules of conformity must not apply to him. His whole life has been about the boy from Rosengard entering spaces where he is not invited and conquering those spaces on his own terms. He conquered Malmo, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG and even Manchester United.

Asides his animosity for Pep, he is effusive with praise for Mourinho and Capello. He is also candid about his bust-ups with Van Der Vaart and Oguchi Onyewu, although, in a typical hypocritical manner, it is never his fault. His admiration for Maxwell the Brazilian defender who was his roommate in Ajax and Inter Milan shines through as a rare case where he likes a person with a totally opposite personality. Zlatan often gravitates towards persons like himself – outsiders who crash the party and become the star of the party with total disregard to existing rules. Mino Raiola is the Zlatan of football agents of sorts and it is no surprise that Ibrahimovic is full of praise and admiration for his agent. The pair are a match made in heaven and while the book chronicles their time up to his first stint at AC Milan (he is back there now), the bromance runs till date.

I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an interesting read that lives up to its hype. I only which Zlatan was more accepting of the fact that in all his quest for rightful vengeance and anger fuelled success, some of his acts would not be accepted from lesser mortals. Anyway, that is acceptable as in the world of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Zlatan is almost immortal.

3.6/5

*Just before the lockdown, while shopping for groceries I found way too much Corona Extra beer in the shop and decided to help reduce the stock. Good company for this virus-induced lockdown. I have always had a thing for Mexican beers (Sol is my favourite). Light, crisp, fresh lemony taste and not too matured. Apt for my beer palate.

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11. Surprised by Hope

Tom Wright (otherwise known as N.T. Wright) is one of the foremost New Testament scholars and certainly one of the most popular faith-based authors in my growing library. I read two of his books last year (here and here) and this year another one of his randomly found its way into my TBR.

10. The Kite Runner

This is an interestingly complex book. Simple yet complex. The Kite Runner is a tale of two friends, Amir and Hassan. It traces a lifelong friendship that explores layers comprised of betrayal, love, redemption, guilt and atonement. The complexity of the book lies in its characters. All apart from Hassan (who is incredibly flat and uncomplicated) is morally compromised, either seeking redemption from a past they were running from or holding on to a past that has long gone.

Amir is an only son of the widely loved Baba, grows up with Hassan, a member of the abused and marginalized Hazara minority in Afghanistan. Hassan is both a servant and best friend to Amir. His loyalty to Amir is unquestionable and pure but Amir with his inherent class privilege struggles to replicate the same loyalty to Hassan. His struggle comes to a head when he betrays Hassan when he (Hassan) is sexually violated by a local bully. The rest of the book is an attempt at atonement and redemption.

As a travelogue, the book is a refreshing exploration of Afghanistan just before and during the start of the Taliban reign. On another level, it has its pulse on the migration of middle-class persons from a failing republic to the West. On that note, a bulk of it is a very observant work of migrant fiction. The choices that Baba and the General have to choose from, the new status in a new country that their egos have to adjust to and the cultural shocks that they all have to contend with are all subplots in this well-written novel.

While the last chapters of the book verge more towards melodramatic action than anything else, the end is salvaged by the willingness of the author to give an untidy closure to the open points rather than tie it all up to give a happy ending. Issues of morality rarely have clean closures in real life and in The Kite Runner, the protagonist, Amir, does not get the happy ending he desires. Good read and recommended.

3.6/5

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9. What Dementia Teaches Us About Love

This was one of the only two books I deliberately chose in my 2020 TBR list. Late last year I stumbled on a podcast where the author, Nicci Gerrard was featured and I knew I had to read it this year. Dementia had never been on my mental health radar but over two years ago when my dad was diagnosed with early-stage dementia, it became a constant theme in my life and our family.

My dad had worked long past the usual retirement age. This was mainly because his professional vocation occupied his life to the extend that he had almost no life outside it and was scared of the boredom that he anticipated retired life would entail. When he finally retired, he was looking forward to the living out the rest of his life in leisure and the company of my mother and doting on his grandkids. Like a thief in the night, dementia struck and his cognitive abilities deteriorated, the dynamics of his relationships took a sharp downward turn, most of all, with my mother who is now his full-time carer.

What Dementia Teaches Us About Love is a book that deftly and delicately explores the depth of dementia and its impact on those who love and are loved by its sufferers. With touching and delicately told anecdotes, it raises and explores questions that examine what it is to be human, to see life disintegrate at the onset of memory loss and dying gradually as the sufferers try to embrace a past that continually eludes them. The role of carers in the life of dementia sufferers is critical because the story of dementia is also the story of those who care for people living with the illness. I know from firsthand knowledge of my mother’s life and the delicately told anecdotes in the book, how caring for a dementia patient can be exhausting. They have to enter the sufferer’s world and do thankless acts of love for a person who is often unable to properly acknowledge. The hardest part must be when they hate themselves for resenting the sick person.

Other aspects of dementia explored in the book include shame, memory and forgetting. Shame is a central concept in dementia as the illness entails a loss of self and meaning. The unravelling of that loss is unsettling. Like the sensitively detailed anecdotes in the book, I have seen my father’s confidence in himself unravel. Sadly, this shame is often inherited by their loved ones. What Dementia Teaches Us About Love is an expertly written labour of love that is essential reading as we seek to enter into the world of dementia sufferers and make sense of this journey that seems to creep in on us unannounced. For such a delicate topic, the prose soars and rich in equal measure.

3.8/5

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6. The yNBA

For all their famed learnedness, members of the Nigerian legal fraternity are an incredibly docile lot who have normalized a toxic work environment to levels bothering on absurdity. The yNBA is a very decent work of fiction that Xrays the abuse that junior lawyers suffer in the hands of their principals.

The premise of the commentary is the toxic relationship between Otunba Yemi Carrington, an egomaniac  Senior Advocate and the young lawyers in his elite practice. The awful relationship comes to a head one morning when he wakes to a mass resignation of all twenty-eight employees. With his inflated ego deflated by the desertion of his subjects, Otunba Yemi goes about to correct what he considers an insult to his image and his prime opponent is Jiboye, the brave and stellar young associate who has more than one score to settle with his former boss. With matters of the heart muddling the waters, each man feels slighted and their manhood questioned.

The battle between Otunba and Jiboye is merely a frame in a larger canvas which The yNBA paints exquisitely. The abuse of power dynamics within the Nigerian legal fraternity is explored in depth. With physical, verbal and even sexual abuses all par for the course in the industry. As the book rightly depicts, while a few brave ones like Dele and Fireman (both are forerunners to Jiboye in the struggle for liberation) have made a statement against the tyranny of senior lawyers in the profession, the majority remain emasculated by the abuse that young lawyers have to put up with.

The yNBA is a well-structured book as it goes back and forth from the present (2016) to the past (2006) seamlessly. The writing is easy and wit ha decent dose of humour. A downside is the pursuit of linguistic purity that the author and her editor embark on when it comes to Yoruba names. I appreciate the use of accents to denote the tonal pronunciations of Yoruba names but it grates when even words like Oga are accented yet a basic non-Yoruba word like “Igbo” is repeatedly spelt as “Ibo”. With such errors, the accents in the Yoruba names then appear pretentious and slightly distracting. Another downside in the book is a tendency to overindulge in flowery descriptions. There is really no need for the reader to be reminded that Orange juice is mustard yellow in colour or that a bank card is a plastic rectangle. This tendency to overindulge in adjectives chips away at the conciseness of the book. In all, The yNBA is a very good easy read and is recommended.

3/5

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5. FACTFULNESS

The prevailing view around the world is that our world is an awful place and that it is getting worse each passing day. The premise of this book is that while the world is bad, that there is steady progress in almost every imaginable index. In summary, it is getting better.

4. Mr. Loverman

This impressive sixth novel of the current Booker prize winner Bernadine Evaristo is a family tale of secrets, deception and new beginnings. At the centre of it all is the 74-year-old dandy, Barrington (Barry) Jedidiah Walker, and the crux of the book is his secret love relationship with Morris his childhood friend.

3. BEEF

In recent times I have often wondered how certain items evolved into their current status in the food chain. Items like beef, bread and even beer. What aided their popularity, production and even by-products? The more beef I eat, the more curious I am of how this ubiquitous food item has shaped the world and altered culinary tastes. This curiosity led me to BEEF; The Untold Story of How Milk Meat and Muscle shaped the World.