Friday, May 16, 2008

Books and Retirements

Mila 18 is one of the most marvellous books I have read in a while. Set in the Warsaw Ghetto, it is an engaging story of Jews standing up to the Nazis. Leon Uris describes in a compelling fashion the trials of the Jews as they withstood the onslaught of heavily armed Nazi attacks with their ragged armies formed by ordinary people. With extreme determination, the Jews stood up to wave after wave of evil, endless crimes and horrors perpetrated against them by the arrogant, indifferent Nazis under the leadership of Hitler. It is really hard to describe the way I felt when I imagined a large mass of humanity struggling to survive despite the indignities being heaped on it. Such books make one appreciate life better, to realise how blessed one is not to have to suffer such atrocities.

What an irony that I was in the midst of this particular book when I heard, for the first time, about a woman named Irene Sendler. Sendler, who died recently at 98, smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto to give them a chance at life. Mila 18 describes just such people, who dedicated their lives to giving the rest of their kin a chance to live. It was an extremely risky job, and they did it really well.

Uris describes war not just through cold facts, but by delving into the hearts and minds of people who were involved in it. You can feel the grit and the anger of Andrei Androfski, the quiet determination and frustration of Alexander Brandel, the bravery of the Catholic Gabriela Rak who defied her people to come to the aid of the Jews; while most other Poles cowered under German domination, people like Rak came forward to help the Jews out of their misery. It is hard to conceive how anybody on this planet can be capable of such cold-blooded cruelty. But it has happened, and continues to.

It's rather disappointing to think Justine Henin is retiring so early. I had been expecting her to play for two more years at the least, to win a Wimbledon title, the only Grand Slam title that has eluded her. Perhaps it wasn't to be, or she would have won it last year. She capitulated in a bizarre fashion to Marion Bartoli in the 2007 semi-finals, throwing away her best chance to win arguably the most prestigious Grand Slam title and prove her skill on grass. I must admit that my loyalties had begun to get a little confused with the rise of Ana Ivanovic, but I did want Henin to win as much as possible because she had very little time ahead of her. However, she is retiring gracefully, while at the top, and she will be remembered long for her talents, playing amidst a host of female players who depend on brute force. She hasn't been having a very good season this year, and obviously she knows best if she is really going irreversibly downhill. Her announcement did come as a shock, though; perhaps her turbulent personal life hastened her decline. Alongwith fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, she came as a breath of fresh air in a women's game that was increasingly depending on power and force, rather than skill. The summit will probably belong to East Europe again, with the Russians and the Serbs leading the pack.

Another star female sportsperson, Swede Annika Sorenstam, has announced her decision to retire at the end of the season. I haven't really followed her career or exactly been a fan, but she was the first female golfer whose name I knew, and I respect her for the stature she has earned in yet another male-dominated game.

I shall go back to reading My Name Is Red now. It is pretty different from the books I've been reading all this while, and I find it pretty absorbing. The power cuts have made my progress miserably slow, for I really don't fancy holding a book for long with sweaty fingers, perspiration running into my eyes as the rain clouds stubbornly refuse to grant respite from over-40 temperatures.

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