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Autobiography Book Review Dignity Forgiveness Global Human-trafficking International Development Non-Fiction Purpose Reconciliation

Book Review: “The diary of Bua Geow” by JC Shaw

“The diary of Bua Geow” is a heartfelt and enlightening read about the simple pleasures Bua, a northern Thailand country girl, finds in her home town and how they supersede all the desires of the bright lights of Bangkok. It serves as testament to the intelligence, wisdom, beauty and depth all people are capable of, regardless of their education  or social status. For me personally, it is a reminder that language is not a barrier to intelligence, it is only a barrier to communication.

The story is beautiful. One of the most touching I have ever read. The diary deals with atrocities that befall Bua and how she acts with bravery beyond her means to save herself and others and finds hope and love in the process. Reading the diary and experiencing northen Thailand at the same time, I feel that Bua’s life must be similar to many other Thai girls and I can’t help but think that the wisdom that is behind the diary is also behind many of the beautiful smiles I see on the road.

Bua’s brave actions are not without cost, as she is disabled from the waist down after her leap to freedom, which saves not only herself but a roomful of girls. In an amazing way, she casts aside any righteous anger and with the help of family and friends, she finds a purpose and starts on a path to hers and many others salvation. A salvation, which many knitters and sewers will appreciate, begins with a needle and thread and traditional hill-tribe costumes.

The reinforcing lesson here for development folk is that sometimes helping someone find the path to dignity and purpose is enough, if not more valuable, than the path to economic success.

The book is unfortunately in limited print, however it is apparently available from Amazon sellers and Google Books. I read the copy available in Gins Maekhong Resort and Spa reading room in Chiang Saen.

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Book Review Culture Ethics Fiction Global International Development Moral dilemmas Societal value

Review: “The satanic verses” by Salman Rushdie

Literature is an art. In art, there is no right or wrong answers. There is only the impact, the resulting inspiration, the feelings and emotions created by the art. In terms of impact, this book created a storm.

If you’re looking for a technical review that sheds light on that storm, your reading the wrong review. If you want to know why Muslims considered it insulting you can read this post from the Islamic Centre. Be warned, it’s hardly objective.   This review on  Goodreads by Riku Sayuji probably does a better job of saying what I’m trying to say but you need to know a little Shakespeare to understand it, and probably to have read the book already!

Enough caveats. This book is hard to read, yet strangely hard to let go. Even if it is a struggle it seems many people try, try and try again to read it. It is compelling and rewarding. Once I got past about pg 60 it become hard to ignore. The mix of dark and light, evil and goodness is obvious enough after a while for a layperson like me to understand. And yet, that same battle of hero and villain is sufficiently convoluted and complicated by the doubts, transformations and schizophrenia in its characters to represent reality, to have application in today’s morally complicated world. This is one of my favorite topics and has been covered before in the travel blog in such posts as a Guiding Light and the Genealogy of morals.

There was once a time that I thought it was possible to keep light and dark separate in this world. No doubt the definition of naïve. No doubt also, at that point, when on the moral high horse, we all have the capacity to be  “the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze?”. The kind of notion that would not permit integration, that would never be grey.

Rushdie goes on to show us that we need to accept that everyone, including ourselves, has the capacity for evil inside them. It is one of our challenges as conscious, empathetic beings to recognise when “Something [is] badly amiss with the spiritual life of the planet…Too many demons inside people claiming to believe in God.” Where God represents strict moral righteousness. The 10+ commandments of your choice, your cultures choice, your societies choice.

Whats the message for sustainability and development? Societal values and morals are influenced by culture. When working in unfamiliar cultures we need to take care to ensure our programs benefit from values that are consistent with the local societal values, where appropriate. And they wont always be appropriate – there are lots of grey areas out there and change is just as certain as death and taxes.