Book Review : Velvet & Cinder Blocks by Ioannis Gatsiounis

Velvet & Cinder Blocks
Velvet & Cinder Blocks by

Product Details
  • Paperback: 171 pages
  • Publisher: ZI Publications (September 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 967526604X
  • ISBN-13: 978-9675266041
  • Available at: Amazon / Abebooks / Silver Fish
Ioannis Gatsiounis' debut collection of short stories brilliantly captures the spirit of the individual who struggles to define himself in a world where the idea of identity is both concrete and perpetually fleeting, a world where loyalties, friendships and family ties can alter in an instant. A young painter follows a false prophet deep into a desert. A pious rape victim struggles to see past her faith in the aftermath of a tsunami. A Chinese-American s Chineseness is put to the test in multi-racial Malaysia. A young Malay caretaker and his lone guest at a remote guest house struggle to find direction and compassion in an era of stark civilizational divides. With these ten beautifully imagined and decadently engrossing stories, Gatsiounis offers us a timely, penetrating meditation on intimacy, alienation and triumph in the post 9/11 world.

It is really hard for me to review this book, and I admit that this book is not in the usual scope of my reading tastes. The themes of the stories in this book will resonate with those who yearn to fit in a society that is entirely different from their own. I appreciate the author's attempt to make his characters real and believable, but sadly, many of the stories are not to my liking. I find myself confused by the plot of the stories.

However, I did find some interesting quotes in this collection:

"You struggle in the name of vision and integrity only to have the world strip you of hope and a sense of belonging. Materialism and conformity are not to be frowned upon. They can save you from your barmy dreams. Some of us pursue the high road of "art" not because we have a particular passion for it but because we don't think we have what it takes to win the rat race.

"We have glossy buildings and good roads. But we're virtually void of intellectual and creative spirit. And without love for each other. The worst part? We want the world to respect us as a progressive democracy - and an exemplary Islamic one at that - without doing what it takes to actually be one.

The most memorable story in this collection would be The Guesthouse, which successfully shows the contradictory views between Westerners and Muslims. It also questions the truth behind some almost-misleading verses in the Qur'an, and whether these so-called Holy verses serve to guide its believers towards creating a better society or converting to extremism which is backed by a distorted version of justice.

It is easy to observe the author's excellent command in English, but there is still room for improvement, plot wise. I'm sure it is every author's wish to see readers developing a bond with the characters in his stories, but every reader's opinion will surely differ from one to another. I may not love this book, but that does not mean that others won't find it enthralling.

Rating:2 out of 5

Warning: This book contains some adult contents. Parental guidance recommended for young readers.

Note: Thanks to Lori Lee from ZI Publications for sending me a copy of this book for review!

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