Black Panther

A fast-paced, terrific watch featuring many well-renowned and budding actors alike. While it might not have been the first black superhero film as many had pointed out, "Black Panther" brings Sub-Saharan-African culture into the spotlight by combining many elements of pan-African tradition (such as speaking Xhosa and English interchangeably) with American-style superhero story.

My rating: 8 stars out of 10.


Reading literature from most countries

By now many have heard of the Pakistani teenage girl who has vowed to read literature from every country.

I find her mission to be a noble one, and I wish her the best in fulfilling it.

Emulating her example, I would also like to read literature from most countries. Unlike her, I find it impossible to read books from every country —be they fiction or not — for the following reasons:

  1. Some smaller countries may not have had their literature translated into English yet.
  2. Even if they have had their literature translated into English, the subject of the books from that country might not interest me that much. Life is too short to be reading books in topics I have no interest in.
Since I am able to read books in English, Indonesian, Malay, and French, I am able to read many of the books in their original language.

I have no qualms against Anglophone authors. As a matter of fact, I have just finished a few novels by American authors earlier this year.

Nonetheless, to have their works translated into English, the authors from that non-English-speaking country would need to pique the interest of international publishers enough lest those oeuvre would not sell.

So the consensus is that if the book is already translated for British/Australian/North American audience, we can be rest assured that it is a quality book.


"The Core of the Sun" by Johanna Sinisalo

What an amusing story!
In this novel, the modern-day Finland is a dictatorship.

Unlike the real-life dictatorships like North Korea, however, the Finland in this story does not have an authoritarian leader to be worshipped. Instead, the Finns are always encouraged to improve their health and their standings in society. Trappings of modern technology such as internet and cellphones do not exist (presumably because of its bad radiation effects). Alcohol, tobacco, narcotic drugs, and chili peppers are outlawed.

Did you just read chili peppers? Yes, you read that right.

Chili in this novel is treated almost like a narcotic substance in our real world, where anyone caught with it is instantly sent to prison. The logic for banning chili is that it can produce a “high” that is deemed unhealthy for the public.

The Finland in this story also has legalized free sex (even sex-for-cash) for the vast majority of the population, as long as the individuals involved belong to the main social classes of “masco” and “eloi”. Mascos are the men who have desirable masculine qualities to pass to the offsprings such as strong and being of sound mind. Eloi are the feminine women who are submissive and willing to serve their masco boyfriends/husbands in anything they do.

The ones outside of the masco-eloi classes (who are called “minus men” and “morlock” respectively) are also allowed to have sex and even marry, as long as they have been sterilized beforehand. The minus men and morlock are deemed unsuitable for the “mating market” because they are seen as not possessing the stereotypical masculine or feminine traits respectively.

Being secretly a morlock who has had no desire to submit herself to any men, Vera was raised by her grandmother as an eloi so that she could receive the better things in life such as high-quality schooling and better treatments from superiors.

Everything was going fine until one day Vera’s sister Mira (who is a genuine eloi) disappeared. Vera and Jare had to do chili-dealing, to save money so they could find out what has happened to Mira (among other things).

The novel goes back and forth from Vera’s perspective to her boyfriend Jare’s, and there are some occasional peeks into Vera’s unsent letters to her sister Mira that shows what a close bond Vera has had to her empty-headed eloi sister who disappeared.

Overall, I really like this kind of dystopian story by the Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo. I had initially expected it the dystopia to be something more like Hunger Games or Divergent, but that is probably because of my overexposure to American novels and films.

There are also numerous references to different types of chilis that the characters try to cross-breed to gain a higher scoville rating (and thus, fetch a higher price when they are sold in the Finnish black market). In the course of the novel, I have read about the milder stuff such as sambal oelek and vindaloo paste, in addition to learning about super-hot chilis such as habanero and Naga Viper.

As the entire novel is told from a first-person perspective, we can also see that Vera also has a synaesthesia gets activated whenever she meets someone new or notices a mood change, among other things. When she uses her “fix” of “chili drug”, she also describes the chili themselves not just in terms of flavour or smell, but also in terms of colour and sound.

If you want to read a dystopian genre that shows a unique kind of dictatorship that is not too similar to the Hollywood-style dystopia you see littering the modern pop culture these days, you would definitely not be disappointed with this novel.

PS: in case I want to reread this novel in the future, some of the most important essence of this book is found on pages 230 to 232 of this English-language edition.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.


This review was entirely taken from my own review of the book at Goodreads.


The Department of War

On one of the episodes of Manhattan, there was the Secretary of War coming in to inspect the progress of the Manhattan Project in the New Mexico base.

I have heard of the Department of War before, but I used to think that it was created as a separate department from Department of Defense in order to handle the involvement of the United States in both WW1 and WW2.

Oh dear, I was wrong.

Apparently, up until 1947, the Department of Defense was called the Department of War.

I have always wondered why the United States has been embroiled in a war elsewhere in the world for most of its existence, but now I finally understood.

Semantics matters, people.


Discovering Natalia Lafourcade

When I was living in Bali in 2003, I remember how popular the song "Asereje" by Las Ketchup was.

The tunes were catchy, almost like a more recent version of Macarena.

Then when I visited Trinidad & Tobago and Suriname in 2014, I heard Latin pop blaring out of minibuses everywhere.

Not really my type of music, though. I have never been a fan of blaring boombox music that are often played in discotheques.

I'm more of a classical/jazz/slow pop-rock music listener.

It was from that time onwards that I chose to forswear any Latin pop from my musical preferences.

Then last month, I discovered Natalia Lafourcade from a famous tech Youtuber's Instagram story. Apparently she is a huge fan of Lafourcade.

The name sounded French, so I checked out one of her albums on Youtube.

And I instantly fell in love with her songs! She is like the Mexican Spanish version of Madeleine Peyroux or Carla Bruni. A lot of modern renditions of Latin American folk music, in addition to her own slow pop original albums.

I don't normally recommend music on my blog, so this is a first.


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