Wednesday 30 September 2009

Book Review: Kurban Said – Ali & Nino

The title of this book piqued my curiosity when I swapped it for another book with a friend. I had never heard of it although it is described as a classic.

The pair of the title are Ali Khan Shirvanshir a young Muslim aristocrat and Nino Kipiani, a Georgian Christian living in the old-fashioned yet strangely cosmopolitan town of Baku. As childhood sweethearts, their culture, faith, political allegiances and families stand in the way of them possibly marrying.

The story is set during the years preceding and during the First World War and the subsequent creation of independent Azerbaijan and we witness the dramatic upheaval these events bring to the lives of Ali, Nino and their cast of friends and foes: Arab, Georgian, Armenian, Russian, Turkish, Persian and British.

The book paints a vivid and intriguing picture of the Central Asian town with its strategic position between the Eastern and Western world. The harems, patriarchy and strict social etiquettes of the Muslims are contrasted with the raucous parties, excesses and freedoms of the Georgians. Ali is portrayed as being enchanted by the call of the desert and Nino as feeling herself come alive amongst the rich dirt and the trees of the woodlands. The focus of the book for me was not so much East versus West as is the vogue regarding such things today, but the way the Caucasus is a mixture of East and West, of tradition and modernity and of so many faiths and cultures.

Questions are raised about what should spur a man to war: faith? Nationality? The prospect of survival? Other substantial themes touched on in this book are love, honour, faith, the role and rights of women, leaving behind childhood and duty.

Said takes us on an interesting journey through the Caucusus, via Baku, Daghestan, Karabakh, Georgia and Iran highlighting the unique character of each place and it’s people (indeed there is an Ali and Nino tour).

My reservation was the books treatment of its Muslim characters which were beyond caricature. Kurban himself was said to be a Muslim (the author is considered most likely to be Lev Nussimbaum who converted to Islam from Judaism, although the book has been attributed to various others ), which makes me wonder if his portrayal of Ali and his family is supposed to be satirical, but I really could not be sure:

“A creature without soul and intelligence has no faith anyway. No Paradise or Hell is waiting for a woman. When she dies she just disintegrates into nothing. The sons must of course be Shiites” p.89

Such passages and descriptions and dialogue abound through the book and made me wonder what Kurban was aiming at. Muslim’s are portrayed as racists, incredibly, horribly misogynist, in love with violence, snobs and hypocrites – beating themselves during Muharram and then lording it over their harems (complete with eunach) and drinking themselves into oblivion the rest of the time (no stereotypes there then).

Also, the book is narrated through Ali and so we gain a limited insight into what Nino is feeling and thinking aside from what her outbursts and impetuous actions show.

Aside from this, this is an interesting book about a little known place and events with a rather bitter sweet love story running through it.

Saturday 26 September 2009

...and More Cakes

I got through the housework in a rush this morning, with the plan that I go to visit the mother of one of Little Lady's classmates.

I have gotten to know this wonderful sister and she has honoured us by attending one of our annual Eid parties. She has been asking me to come visit her place for the last two years which I keep promising to do and have never gotten round to. So I decided today to make the effort as I think of this very friendly, generous sister so highly.

I didn't have time to buy her a gift, so thought I would take her some cakes:

I made plenty so that there would be enough to put in the neighbours plate and send it back (they originally sent us Zarda)

The rest were good to keep in the biscuit tin for when the kids needed a treat (or the hubby, who prefers them plain)

I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon at my friends house. I had ppaned to visit for half an hour and ended up staying for two hours, she is a very welcoming sister! She prepared sooo many different things, including a plate of homemade sesame snaps like the ones my gran used to make (two cups of sesames to one cup melted sugar, roll out quick). Aside from what was below she also made a cool, fresh smoothie with every fruit you can think of, ordered pizza and even served rasmalai. Despite my stern looks, the kids pigged out on biscuits, ice-cream, kids cheese and yoghurt.

She insisted I take some pyjama's her sister had bought two pairs of for her son, I refused at first and then agreed to swap for my blue blingy bangles ( I had two more at home).

The pyjama's fitted Gorgeous just perfectly (we all thought he looked hilarious).

The best thing was that the kids were so tired they came home and went to bed at 7pm!!!! Whilst my mum-in-law was here they were running rings around her and had me pulling my hair out trying to keep them in bed as late as 11pm. The boys are fast asleep, Little Lady has been helping me make her dad's dinner as he has had a very long, tough day at work and has even been folding laundry (anything to keep out of bed). My dad has just been to visit and has been enjoying the cakes too as he has been fasting today.

One thing my friend mentioned was that she really enjoyed the Eid party she attended at my house. We do one every year and this year my sisters agreed we should have one after Eid al-Adha. My friend suggested we do one jointly (ladies only of course) and book a venue locally with everyone bringing a dish, me doing the decorations (yippee!!) and any proceeds going to charity. I liked the idea and shall be runnign it past my sisters.

Party Cakes

I was invited to a party by another work colleague who insisted that I had to come. She suggested I bring along my sisters and children which was very generous of her and as it was women's only I decided to go along.

I got home from work a little late (waiting in the car whilst hubby sorted something out), but thankfully already knew what everyone was wearing (their Eid clothes again), so rushed into the kitchen to make more cakes. I only remembered to take a picture after I had cling-filmed the tray.

The food was lovely (chicken pilau rice, chicken curry, spring rolls with chickpeas inside which I had never seen before, salad, pitta bread, roast chicken legs and Lahori-style chickpea curry which was gorgeous). I had a nice time and it's nice to dress up and feel girly sometimes when there are no men around, although one of the boys seemed a bit older and had a slight moustache, when I pointed this out to Kooky Little Sister she mischeivously suggested that didn't really count as so did some of the little girls...

The kids did drive me mad with Gorgeous refusing to get off the table and causing havoc, Little Man demanding to go home because his dad would be waiting for him and Little Lady sulking because she was "booorred". She spotted a classmate luckily and perked up no end running around happily and even dancing with her friend after declaring she was too shy. We left as things got loud and rowdy much to the regret of my lovely friend (she insisted the fun was just beginning), but still had a nice time.

Dinner With The Girls

I used to go out quite often with work colleagues before I had my children, but can't remember having done so at all since I have had them. So this time when the lovely girls I work with insisted I could not say no. We settled on Yumyum in Stoke Newington which I had heard good things about and read positive reviews about in Emel magazine and the Metro paper.

The restaurant itself was stunning outside and inside with areas to sit on the floor to eat, latticed wooden screens and flocked velvet-style wallpaper everywhere.

It was way too dark inside, hence the poor quality pictures. The restaurant was halal and the waitress assured us that they did not serve pork (although they did serve alcohol). We decided to try some non-alcoholic cocktails, I chose "Abstinence on the Beach" which was a mix of mango, yoghurt and vanilla. Everyone liked mine best and ordered more of the same. I might try experimenting at home to see if I could make something similar because it was truly delicious.

We tried pad thai, noodles, green curry, spring rolls and steamed rice - all fairly typical and unadventurous. Some of the food was delicious, other parts less so. I did enjoy the meal but was still slightly hungry at the end of it. I would reccommend it to someone else, but if I were to pick somewhere to eat Thai food it would be the unnassuming little Tippy's cafe in East Ham which looks rather pokey but has the best Thai food I have ever tasted.

(Chocolate sponge and coconut ice-cream for dessert)

In any case I had an absolute blast with the girls, we giggled and joked all evening. The best bit was when one of the Muslim girls decided to try her mocktail and someone called out "Nooo that's alcoholic!", she nearly fell of her chair as she clamped her hands over her mouth in horror (it wasn't really alcoholic).

I eventually got home far later than expected because we took so long getting there (the Sat Nav decided to take us the longest way it could). I came home to find hubby had left the kids with my sister who was FUMING at their mischief. Might be sometime before I go out without the kids again I think, but it was nice for a change.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Eid ul-Fitr 2009 Day 2

After relaxing on the first day of Eid, we decided that the next day we would invite guests to ours. With this in mind, the cooking began nice and early with the two of us (I and hubby) going as quick as we could.

There was rice with peas, chicken curry, haleem and kheer (rice pudding) on top of the hob, kebabs on the grill and roast chicken in the oven. In the end, we had to dig out the biggest pot in the house and decant the rice into that to give it enough room to cook and fluff up.

We had my mum and sisters around for lunch and uncle's family around for dinner. Hubby invited a freinds family to join us for dinner too and I had to make a second pot of kheer in the afternoon (which took about 3 hours as you have to cook it till it's almost solid - I cheated by adding condensed milk).

I decided to make fairy cakes in the afternoon after all which were all eaten up after dinner.

At some point in between all the cooking I managed to get dressed in the lovely outfit Kooky Little Sister bought for me.

Today is my last day off before I go back to work, so I intend to spend the day doing....nothing!

Monday 21 September 2009

Eid Mehndhi - Henna for Eid

Eid Ke Rang - The Colours of Eid

Eid al-Fitr

You know it's Eid in my house when you stuff yourself with freshly baked cupcakes for breakfast. In pakistan Eid-ul-Fitr is called "Meethe-wali" or sweet Eid (as opposed to Eid al-Adha which is the meat eid). So we also had rice pudding (slow cooked till almost pink and mixed with pistachio, almonds and coconut) and sweet vermicelli in milk (sevaiyya) which is very traditional.

I woke early for Eid and found that my better half had decorated the house for me.

The best reaction was from the kids. Little Man came downstairs, screamed and ran back up again. Baby just stood with his mouth opened then turned around slowly taking it all in. He declared "I won't break them mummy, I'll just swing from them".

After breakfast and talking to their grandparents in Pakistan on the webcam (who were still fasting!), the kids had their photoshoot.

(I have never met anyone who loves to pose as much as this girl!)

I finally got round to getting dolled up, which I was pleased about because I only really get to dress up this much on eid, it's abaya's the rest of the year wherever I go, on Eid I get to spend the day with my parents and siblings who I don't have to cover around.

The earrings were from my husband the night before when we went out to enjoy the atmosphere of Eid that had hit our neighbourhood (tons of henna stalls, shops open till midnight, families strolling, ice-cream, corn on the cob and gol-guppay)

After getting dressed, we went to my Mum's house for lunch, which is always a treat.

There seemed to be chocolate everywhere (this wasn't all of it), although we all seemed to have lost the appetite for it a bit.

We shared gifts and cash was handed out (Long-Suffering Sister bought us the best books and then put cash in them). The best gift was from Kooky to LS, which we all though was hilarious:

The rest of the day was spent glued to the sofa, laughing, chatting and reading. After so many days of busyness and exhaustion, it was rather blissfull to do not much.