Posted in Books

Favourite Books-1


When I was around four years old, my family and I moved to Mt Abu where we lived in a huge house called Eagle’s Nest, perched on a small hill. Apart from the other aspects of the place, I remember the books I read there, in different corners of the house, or on a rock in the garden.  Among the earliest books, two were my favourites, Whose Little Bird am I?, and a book about a koala bear named Wish. The second was one I liked so much, that I requested twelve live Koala bears as a present for Christmas. I am not sure why despite living in India and not being Christians I was writing a letter to Father Christmas [no Santa Claus those days]. Was it because of the Catholic school I was going to? Or was it a family tradition, a remnant of British days?

My mother, a well-known writer used to review books for both adults and children, and many of my favourites were among those, perhaps Wish had arrived as a book for review, the year would be 1958. She also wrote about the oddities of her children, and my request for twelve koala bears formed one of her articles.

Looking up the internet I found Whose Little Bird am I. It is by Leonard Weisgard, and a second edition is still available on Amazon. But I could not find anything about Wish, the koala. I located a good site for old children’s books,, but there was nothing there on Wish.

So if anyone who reads this knows about this book, do let me know.

These two books remained my favourites, even as I progressed to more complex reading, including Enid Blyton, James Barrie’s Peter Pan, A.A. Milne’s Pooh books and poems, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. I still remember the horror I felt while reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Apart from these classics there were many more, including Wild Animals I have Known, that had several sad stories, fairy tales from across the world, poems, stories of all kinds. In non-fiction I was fascinated by The Buildings of Ancient Egypt and the Golden Book of Astronomy.

We moved from there when I was around eight or nine. Before that I had started on adult fiction. The very first adult book I read was called Capitan China. I never forgot it as for an eight-year old or perhaps eight-and-a-half, it was fascinating and scary.  Looking it up on the net I found it was by Susan Yorke, first published in 1961, it must have been one of my mother’s review books that I picked up. If I remember right, this was about a Malay peasant girl, planting rice, who looks up, finds that no one observes her, and decides to walk away. Many adventures follow, she lands up in a brothel, is sold to some king or chief, has to make a journey across the seas to him, and along the journey has an Italian guard–he teaches her about the world, answers her simple questions on life and god, and they fall in love. Was his name Cavileri? Perhaps. Anyway reaching their destination, she is given to Cavileri as a gift by the king, they are married [?], but she has this horrid job of counting heads in some war, and as Cavileri is fighting in the war,she one day gets his cut off head. Going off in grief into the jungle, she is bitten by a snake and dies.  I remember this book as its powerful story haunted me for many years, and I reread it several times, though perhaps if I had read it as an adult, it would not have meant much.

On the net I find Susan Yorke was born 24 March 1915 in Mannheim, Germany, moved to Australia in 1965, and died 4 May 1997 in Sydney, New South Wales. She wrote thirteen books.

Posted in Batya Gur, Books, writer

Batya Gur: Writer and Journalist


Batya Gur [1947-2005],  an Israeli and a writer in Hebrew is best remembered for the creation of complex, closed  worlds in her detective fiction.  Her writing reflected the social, economic and political realities of Israel.  As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said: ‘No part of Israeli reality escaped her eye: ethnic discrimination, poverty and unemployment, the life of new immigrants and all those at the margins of society.’

She taught literature for several years before writing her first novel, in which she created the sensitive and intelligent detective Michael Ohayon, whose ideas  reflected her own . Born in Morocco and educated at Cambridge, Ohayon joined the Jerusalem police, but remained to some extent an outsider. Writing in Hebrew, her Ohayon books have been translated into English and other languages. The Saturday Morning Murder [1992] takes a look at the world of psychoanalysis. In Literary Murder [1993], the background is the academic setting of Hebrew University. Murder on a Kibbutz [1994], includes an interesting sociological and historical analysis of the changes and development of the institution of the Kibbutz. A Kibbutz member recollects,  “ It’s difficult to transmit what the first contact with the land was like. The hardship, the dryness, the water, the hunger. Especially the hunger, and the hard work. Twelve hours at a stretch sometimes, clearing and ploughing and gradually building…” But as the years passed the Kibbutz movement and its communal way of life was questioned, and individual freedom became more important.

The next book, Murder Duet [1999] is about a murder in a musical family, and rich in detail on music and the life of musicians. Another in the Michael Ohayon series, Bethlehem Road Murder was published in 2004, and  Murder in Jerusalem in 2006. Gur’s other books include I didn’t Imagine It Would Be This Way and Stone For Stone.

Her novels  were also televised.

At times the troubled conditions in Israel  forced her to comment on politics.

At a  conference in Brussels in March 2004 to celebrate International Women’s Day she said, “The suicide bombers sadden me and are destroying my heart”. But,  she added, it was the Israeli leaders who were responsible for this tragic situation.

A frequent writer for  Haaretz, Gur recounted in one  article how she was arrested when she asked three young policewomen why they were harassing a Palestinian, old enough to be their grandfather. She wrote, “I found myself saying that I refuse to feel like a German walking past an abused Jew in Nazi Germany and turn away indifferently or fearfully. ‘You’re calling us Nazis!’ shrieked the soldiers, and within a minute the word became a precious possession on their lips. They rejoiced in their justice and I could already imagine all the self-righteous people gloating over the use of this word.”

The history of Israel and Palestine in some ways reminds us of India and Pakistan, and causes one to reflect on problems that seem created and fanned by political decisions. Batya Gur, both in her books and her articles,  looks beyond man-made conflicts, at the common humanity of all people. Regarding her support of  the old Palestinian, she says, “ I know very well that such an act by a woman like me, someone who avoids any political activity or any consistent struggle for human rights, is actually a sentimental act. Such a trivial act of protest is a bit like sweeping the path to my own private garden ….”. Yet it is perhaps such trivial and seemingly irrelevant acts, that could one day bring about positive change.

Unfortunately Batya Gur died on 19 May 2005 after a nine-month battle with cancer. She was 57 years old.