-Sybil Kathigasu, No Dram of Mercy: an account of Kathigasu’s life under Japanese occupation in Malaysia, her arrest and subsequent imprisonment. Got this book via Zen Cho; and it’s intense–not in the way of gory details, of which there are very few, but truly emotionally intense (and the fact that Kathigasu provides almost nothing leaves the reader plenty of room to imagine…). It’s obvious that the author had a very strong character (I doubt other people would have held out that long); you can feel it from the page even though she doesn’t make a great deal of it; and the horrors she lived through are also quite obvious. Also full of little details–like the armband on Eurasians and the hints that they lived in a very particular world, not quite colonist but not quite “local” anymore–that are really interesting. I don’t much like using phrases like “duty of memory”, but here I think it’s very apt; especially since in the West we barely learn anything about the Japanese occupation (whereas most of Asia had to deal with it in one way or another).
The book also reminded me of why I dislike the current trend of explicit torture and rape used as voyeurism and a way to up the stakes–it’s hard to articulate, but there’s a deadly seriousness and a sense of wracking pain emanating from every page of this book that fantasy fiction about similar topics just never achieves. Maybe it’s about truth vs. fiction or something similar? Or maybe just a question of intent? I’m not sure, but I’m uncomfortable with a lot of grimdark because it never even comes close to that level of intensity, while recognising that this kind of intensity in a book is something I couldn’t bear for very long (fortunately it’s a very slim book).
-Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings. More a comment than a review, since I’m still working my way through this one. Lots of things to chew on; it’s a whirlwind tour of the basic concepts of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhism (I know he’s a Vietnamese Zen buddhist, but the precise name of his school escapes me at the moment). One of the things that spoke most to me was the discussion on the sutras, and how you need to think on them and work out which bits are appropriate; because like all sutras they’ve been written by human beings with an imperfect comprehension.