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Posts tagged ‘religious’

Don’t Make Me Choose

41MwSno1CqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Confessions in the Dark: Twisted Lessons Collection – Book 2 by C. Yvette Spencer.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

This was not what I expected. Confessions in the Dark turned out to be a well written novella, with an intriguing premise, and characters that reveal themselves more deeply as the story evolves. What was unexpected, were the moral, ethical, and religious arguments that were portrayed, and the depth to which they stand out without sounding preachy or condescending.

Seven people find themselves waking up in a completely darkened chamber, not knowing how they got there, or why they were selected to be imprisoned in such a place and fashion. There is a teacher, preacher, rock musician, CEO, student, retiree, and hair dresser, that must confess there deepest secrets in order to survive. The seven individuals are from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and families. I will not say anything more about the situation, plot, or events that take place, as every chapter, and step of the way, ads another twist and food for thought.

Confessions in the Dark had me wondering who was the worthiest to be saved; who had committed the greatest evil; and which player was the most honest with themselves, and their fellow captives. Every chapter kept me guessing, and had me changing my mind, as to who I could choose, if indeed I could ever do so. In some respects, this story was like a very good sermon being acted out in a passion play, with real people playing the parts, and having to live with the consequences. Ms. Spencer writes with heart and head.

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Say It Outloud

51TNQTUdZkLThe Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name – Short Stories by Fiza Pathan. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Confession time. When I saw that this collection of short stories was over 450 pages long, I planned to skim over them and write a brief overview. After reading the first one, The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, I was hooked and ended up reading each story from start to finish. They are all excellent, different and well written. They take place in different countries (India, Canada, United States, Iran, Syria, un-named South American country, Thailand, and the United Kingdom). What they all have in common is the portrayal of someone who is not part of the stereotyped heterosexual majority.

Each person must deal with the prejudice, religious intolerance, and/or ignorance, of their family, community, friends, culture, and/or government. Oscar Wilde quotes are also part of many of the stories, and match each perfectly. Each tale in The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name begins with the primary characters name as the first word of the story, thus speaking there name out loud, and validating who they are.

Sreekanth declares his love for another man to his father. Stanford’s father is outraged when he finds out who his son is friends with. Mrs. Almeida has to deal with her ex-principal who is outraged when she hears that one of her children was born biologically a boy and changed to a girl. Salman secretly lives with his boyfriend and wife, fearing the ISIS leaders will discover them at any time and put them to death. Melody discovers that she doesn’t fit into the sexual stereotype she expected. Five-year-old Ken wants to be Wonder Woman, and starts to take drastic measures to make it so, much to the dismay of his parents.

Another confession. Being the parent of a daughter who married her long-time girlfriend, a son who married another man, and some long-time friends who are transgender, as well as living in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 40 years, made it difficult to accept all of the violence, hatred, and mis-understanding portrayed in these stories. The longer I read however, the more I realized how much of a bubble I’m in, and that many parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world still have intense prejudice, fear, and anger, towards people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, born intersex, pansexual, bi-sexual, transvestite, or anything that is not the “norm”.

It is sad, but vital, that The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name was written. Giving a voice to those who cannot speak, who are shunned, dismissed, minimized, degraded, chided, threatened, misunderstood, and sometimes killed, just for being themselves, is proudly proclaimed with each tale. Though this is a work of fiction, many of the events, and reactions within this collection have, and are, taking place throughout the world. Ms. Pathan not only understands these realities, but is also able to share them with splendid prose, insight, and dramatic effect. It is one thing to aware of others lives, and another to be able to write about them so eloquently.

Each story in Ms. Pathan’s collection of shorts could be part of its own novella, but they stand on there own just as they are. The theme of acceptance, being true to oneself, and the possibility for change, is the constant between them all. As Oscar Wilde states so knowingly, On an occasion of this kind, it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.

Unschakles the Mind

Review: The Last Conception by Gabriel Constans
Reviewed by Monica Arora. 23 September 2014
KITAAB (“Book” in Hindi) Singapore

LastConception-CoverThe oft-debated dichotomy between modern scientific research and wisdom of traditional values, religious beliefs and spiritual propensities have formed the basis of several discussions, debates, deliberations and continues to dog the human sensibility, constantly torn between the two. This conflict between science and spiritualism forms the basis of the engaging novel by Gabriel Constans, entitled ‘The Last Conception’.

The plot revolves around the young female protagonist Savarna Sikand, who is an embryologist engaged in working with fertility treatments in a high-tech laboratory in San Francisco, US. Meanwhile, her parents, hailing from the south-eastern part of India, but settled in the United States, and deeply rooted in some ancient religious cult, express their desire for their daughter to conceive and thereby continue their rare lineage. What follows is a gripping saga of the dilemma faced by the young scientist Savarna who fights very hard to tread the fine line between her parents’ spiritual beliefs and her own scientific wisdom.

Gabriel has come up with a taut narrative that is extremely simple and yet keeps the reader engaged with its fast pace and myriad topics conjuring doubts, dogmas and apprehensions in minds of young people all over the globe. Right from exploring alternate sexuality and its ramifications on the immediate family to the delicate issue of childlessness, all are dwelt upon with much thought and deliberation and ‘The Last Conception’ offers a rare insight into lives of seemingly ordinary men and women dealing with such quandaries on a day-to-day basis.

Moreover, there is this keen sense of urgency and uncertainty running throughout the narrative pertaining to Savarna’s attempts at conception and the traumas, both mental and physical, which have to be endured for accomplishing the same. The high point of the novel comes in the form of adoption of an Indian-origin baby by Savarna’s sister Chitra owing to her infertility and the feelings of joy, pleasure and pride experienced by the entire family thereafter. Such sensitive subjects are dealt with much bravado and wisdom by the author and offer a lot of information to readers regarding these subjects, thereby clearing several dogmas and misconceptions plaguing childless couples and misled elders, who succumb to mindless religious dictates and notions without studying their cause and effect in detail.

What really touched me was how the parents of the two girls, Mira and Mr Sikand, handle their daughters’ dilemmas as well as their old mother’s beliefs continuing from unwavering faith in a dwindling sect of ancient India. The maturity of their feelings and their ability to keep their family together under all circumstances stands as a pinnacle of hope in contemporary times mired under the garb of modern values or lack of them and hence, offering no emotional solace to lonely, weary souls in a confused society.

‘The Last Conception’ is indeed a very noble attempt by the author to choose such unusual and uncommon themes and write a piece of prose that unshackles the mind and offers rare insight into the much spoken and widely discussed matter of science vs spirituality. With immense care and caution, Gabriel has gently treaded around prickly territory and offered a well-researched and well-structured story which deserves to be read and preserved not just as a treasure-trove of information but also juxtaposing human emotions.

Read entire review and more at KITAAB.

Recommended Reading

LastConception-CoverReview of The Last Conception
Onely: Single and Happy
13 September 2014

“To my mother. To my wife. To my husband.” Authors commonly dedicate their books this way. Nice, but boooring. (To everyone, that is, except the mother, wife, or husband.) Gabriel Constans dedicates his book The Last Conception “To Love, in all its manifestations.”

We here at Onely are interested in all aspects of the single experience and particularly like to learn about single people from different backgrounds than ourselves (Lisa and I self-identify as white, upper-middle-class, agnostic, heterosexual women). The beginning of Constans’ novel allows us into the world of single scientist and first-generation Indian-American lesbian Savarna, whose parents–still unaware of her sexuality–have been pressuring her for years to marry and give them a grandchild. Any unmarried, child-free reader whose parents have pressured them in this way will wince along with Savarna as her parents become increasingly fervent in their matchmaking–all while Savarna is trying to figure out her relationships with two different women. (I refer to her as “single” because initially she is not part of an “official” couple.)

Appropriately, as an embryologist, Savarna spends her working hours manipulating eggs and sperm to help women conceive. She herself, however, doesn’t feel the tick-tock of her biological clock. If she did, this book wouldn’t exist. (Or it would be very boring.) We have several layers of tension going on throughout the story. Savarna the happily child-free woman vs. her grandchild-wanting parents. Savarna the American vs. her Indian parents. Savarna is not religious, but her parents who travel to India once a year for some ceremonious gathering that Savarna has never attended and vaguely considers cultish.

Through the course of the book these subtle battles wage, peak, resolve and eventually weave together into an ending so satisfying I really wish I could share it here. I’m afraid to say much more because I don’t want to put out any spoilers. Let’s just say that ultra right-wing conservatives would hate this book, especially the conclusion. (All the more reason to read it!) One of our favorite words here at Onely is amatonormative, which means the normalizing of a few specific kinds of love relationships while marginalizing all others. The Last Conception kicks amatonormativity in the ass.

Which is why it gets one thumb up from our blog. The other thumb is busy turning the pages for a second read-through.

–Christina

Read entire review and more at Onely: Single and Happy.

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Transhumanist Novel

41uUKy0oEmLThe Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books
4 February 2014

In-depth philosophical essays and visionary science dressed up as a novel.

If you enjoy philosophy, you’ll love this book. If you’re a science geek you’ll read every word. If you are religious, spiritual, or into the supernatural, you’ll probably dismiss it, misunderstand it, and/or hate it.

Author Zoltan Istvan has taken a thinly disguised autobiography and transformed it into an almost plausible new world thriller that tends to go overboard on pontification and argument by the protagonist Jethro Knights, who becomes the mover and shaker of the Transhumanist movement and literally changes the entire world.

Istvan notes on the last page, “This story, The Transhumanist Wager, is the result of two decades of thought and inquiry into transhumanism and the quest for scientific immortality. I wrote it hoping to change people’s ideas of what a human being is and what it can become.”

A Transhumanist is someone who believes that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations and can do so by means of technology and science.

The book has its moments. The love story between Jethro Knights and neurosurgeon Zoe Bach is believable and the action sequences in the book are top notch. The philosophy, debates, insights, and vision included in these pages are thought provoking and challenging, as are the observations about the clashes between religious fanatics and fundamentalists and those who believe in science, progress, choice and technology.

From a strictly literary perspective The Transhumanist Wager is nothing more than a collection of in-depth philosophical essays and visionary science dressed up as a novel. There are too many abrupt changes, events, and conclusions taking place in unrealistic periods of time without much depth or nuance to completely engage the reader.

Read entire review and others at NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS

Religions for Peace World Assembly

Every 5-6 years, Religions for Peace convenes a World Assembly of senior-most religious leaders for the purpose of forging a deep moral consensus on contemporary challenges, electing a new World Council, and advancing multi-religious action across and beyond the Religions for Peace network. Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed and Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi represented ISNA at the World Assembly. Dr. Syeed was elected Vice President for the World Council along with Shaikh Ben Beyyah to be the new Muslim representatives on the Council.

9th Assembly_0

During the Assembly, Syeed served on the Committee to draft the final declaration which was approved by the general assembly. Here is the declaration:

The Vienna Declaration
Welcoming the Other – A Multi-Religious Vision of Peace

Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America
Phone 202-544-5656 Fax 202-544-6636
110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 304
Washington DC 20002
www.ISNA.net

Call For Release

Syrian Religious Leaders Call For Release of Two Bishops
Religions for Peace
22 November 2013

At the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace, Muslim and Christian Leaders Call for Common Action Syrian religious leaders attending the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace called for the release of two abducted bishops in Syria. The Assembly, which serves as a venue for conflict transformation, brought more than 600 religious leaders representing all historic faith traditions and every region of the world to restore and build peace. Each Syrian religious leader sent a strong message of support to the abducted bishops, the demand for their release, and the hope for a peaceful resolution.

Bishops

The two Syrian bishops, Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, and Bishop Boulous Yazigi, a Greek Orthodox Bishop in Damascus, were kidnapped in Aleppo on 22 April 2013.

“These two bishops always worked for peace and a good life for all people,” H.E. Sheikh Dr. Mohamed Sohaib al-Chami, an Islamic scholar and a member of the Religions for Peace Interreligious Council of Syria, reflected. “They kidnaped our bishops but they also took our soul, our love, and our hope. We remember their big role and work. And we hope that happiness will return to the people of Syria.”

Father Samuel Gümüs, Special Representative of HB Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, called for the immediate release of the two bishops. Father Gümüs implored, “I appeal to conscience, principles, morals and ethics of all peace lovers to spare no effort to bring about a safe and dignified release of Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulous Yazigi.”

Mrs. Asmaa Kiftaro, President of the Syrian Muslim Women’s Forum, shared a message of peace. Ms. Kiftaro declared, “Syria will rise again. The sons of Syria will serve their country. Peace, happiness, and smiles will come back to the people of Syria.”

Throughout the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace, delegates from different faiths around the world have sent prayers to express concern for those who are suffering in Syria. Plenary III, beginning the Assembly yesterday, opened with a moment of silence for Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Bishop Yazigi. Dr. William Vendley, Secretary General for Religions for Peace, said, “We stand in solidarity, our hands are in your hands, and we continue to pray.”

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