The Silk Road, that myriad of trade routes crisscrossing Asia in the middle ages, has always held a certain fascination for me. The imagery alone is spellbinding: trackless deserts, vast mountain ranges and endless steppe and in this massive space, caravans of camels and yaks carrying the luxury goods across centuries. That’s what first drew me to Stewart Gordon’s When Asia Was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors and Monks who Created the “Riches of the East.” But what fascinated me even more when I got the book was how a scholar writes a book about an area that covers hundreds of thousands of miles and a thousand years of history and gets it into a book that’s less than 200 pages.
What is unique about When Asia was the World is its format. Rather than try to encompass the whole of the history of Asia in the middle ages Gordon focuses on vignettes that illustrate the major themes of the time. Each of these vignettes focuses on a particular time period, a particular person and illustrates a particular point. For example the book opens with the story of a Buddhist monk from the 7th century traveling from China to India in search of knowledge to demonstrate the movement of ideas across huge distances that was common in this time. Or the story of Muslim spice trader of the coast of India in 11th century fretting over the loss of a consignment of cardamom to show the complexities of trade in the Asian world. These stories are derived mostly from travel narratives and business records although he also utilizes archeological sources. These beautifully written stories taken together reveal a region knitted together by a vast network of ideas and merchandise almost like a physical internet.
The individuals this book would most obviously appeal to would be those interested in Asian history, Medieval history and Middle Eastern history. However there is a literary quality to the book that might even appeal to readers of historic fiction. Listen to some interviews with Stewart Gordon talking about his work
About the book:
“Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat diner in Plainview, Indiana is home away from home for Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean. Dubbed “The Supremes” by high school pals in the tumultuous 1960s, they’ve weathered life’s storms for over four decades and counseled one another through marriage and children, happiness and the blues.
Now, however, they’re about to face their most challenging year yet. Proud, talented Clarice is struggling to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband’s humiliating infidelities; beautiful Barbara Jean is rocked by the tragic reverberations of a youthful love affair; and fearless Odette is about to embark on the most terrifying battle of her life. With wit, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together three devoted allies in a warmhearted novel that celebrates female friendship and second chances.”
Our staff member said: “It’s a heartwarming, humorous, and well-told story.”
by Jake Adelstein
One of the many things I like about being a librarian is the serendipitous way reading material falls into your hands. This is a good thing for me since, left to my own devices, I will go to the history section and not leave. One day a few months ago I was working at the circulation desk when someone returned Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein. It caught my eye because I had just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s After Dark and was fascinated by the often seamy underbelly of Tokyo it presented. I was interested in finding something like that (incidentally if you are interested in reading Murakami and are intimidated by 1Q84, After Dark is a good place to start). Then, just as fast as Tokyo Vice appeared, it vanished. The desk was busy and it went on a cart and I forgot it. A couple weeks ago, I was up in the HV section hunting for a misshelved book. I couldn’t find the book but while kneeling there on the floor staring at the shelf I saw Tokyo Vice. This time I didn’t let it get away.
On its surface Tokyo Vice is a memoir of Jake Adelstein’s decade of working as the only American police reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper in Tokyo. The book however would appeal to a lot of different readers. It works as a “true crime” book with lots of edge-of-your-seat stories of murders, extortion, sexual crime and interactions with the Yakuza (the Japanese mob). The book actually opens with Adelstein being threatened by a Yakuza enforcer. The book is also an examination of Japanese culture from the perspective of a person who is both an outsider and an insider. Adelstein immersed himself in Japanese culture for the years he worked on the newspaper. At one point he finds himself stumbling over his native tongue when he has to interact with English speakers. Yet he still is very conscious of the fact that he is a foreigner and spends a great deal of time with the fascinating minutia of Japanese culture. He devotes a whole chapter to the Japanese love of how-to manuals and how that affected his work. The book is also an indictment of human trafficking in Japan. He is now the public relations director of the Polaris Project Japan which fights human trafficking and you see in his book how he came to that role.
The book itself is written in a relaxed off the cuff often humorous style. This takes some of the edge of what is a very gritty subject. Adelstein is very forth coming about what he did as a reporter from giving gifts to cops to his close encounters with Japan’s adult entertainment industry. If you want to hear more about this book here is an interview with Jake Adelstein on NPR’s Fresh Air.
Reviewed by Jim
I had actually been waiting for this book to be translated into English for some time. It was written by a Italian writers collective Wu Ming (aka Luther Blisett). Altai is a loose sequel to their book Q published in 1999. Because it is a translation the tone of the writing can be jarring. What was probably written of an older prose style in the Italian was translated into modern English. The story itself opens with the main character Emmanuele De Zante agent for the Venetian secret service investigating a fire in the state run armory in 1569. However the reader doesn’t stay in Venice for long. A long kept secret forces De Zante to flee across the Mediterranean where he falls in with the very people he used to hunt.
The real strength of this book is the scenery. The authors write beautiful descriptions of 16th century Venice, Thessalonica, Istanbul. A person who loves armchair travel would enjoy the sense of place the authors impart the reader. Although I didn’t always find the main character believable (De Zante goes from being a loyal servant of Venice to one of its enemies a little too quickly to be believed) the secondary characters are very compelling. I think this is partly because the secondary characters are mostly carry overs from Q and are much better developed.
In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.
1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.
At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.
An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.
If you’ve already read Tell the Wolves I’m Home, try one of these:
- Where’d You Go Bernadette
“Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.”
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
“Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live. A novel of charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.”
Jessica Brockmole’s debut novel written in letters sparkles from the start. Don’t let the format put you off. If you are thinking of long-winded letters from the 18th Century, think again. These letters move the pace along in this historical novel often leaving the reader hanging and highlighting the desperation of the time period. Brockmole creates parallel narratives one starting in 1912 and the other during the second World War.
In the earlier time period we meet Elspeth Dunn, a young poet who is isolated on the island of Skye. A plucky, young, American college student writes a fan letter to Elspeth, her very first. The unlikely pair strike up a friendship despite the ocean that divides them. Both writers are witty and charming and it was easy to fall in love with both.
The second narrative follows Elspeth’s daughter Margaret who has been escorting children into the country to escape the bombings in World War II. When she visits her mother in Edinburgh, she finds one of her mother’s letters. A bomb hits Elspeth’s house and Elspeth disappears. Margaret is in love with a soldier and writes to him about her efforts to find Elspeth and to piece together her story and to find out the truth about her own father. Margaret calls upon what little family she can find and starts up a correspondence with her curmudgeonly, long lost uncle.
Letters from Skye grabbed me from the first and I didn’t want to put it down. Brockmole doesn’t bog the reader down with details, but still manages to bring her settings to life. The characters are brave and headstrong, but also endearing. This love story that spans to World Wars is a great read for some of our rainy summer days.
About the book:
“Gone Girl meets Before I Go to Sleep in Sophie McKenzie’s Close My Eyes, a riveting psychological thriller about a grieving mother who finds out years after her daughter’s death that her child may still be alive
When Geniver Loxley lost her daughter at birth eight years ago, her world stopped… and never fully started again. Mothers with strollers still make her flinch; her love of writing has turned into a half-hearted teaching career; and she and her husband, Art, have slipped into the kind of rut that seems inescapable.
But then a stranger shows up on their doorstep, telling Gen the very thing she’s always wanted to hear: that her daughter Beth was not stillborn, but was taken away as a healthy infant and is still out there, somewhere, waiting to be found. It’s insane, unbelievable. But why would anyone make that up? A fissure suddenly opens up in Gen’s carefully reconstructed life, letting in a flood of unanswerable questions. Where is Beth now? Why is Art so reluctant to get involved? To save his wife from further hurt? Or is it something more sinister? And who can she trust to help her?
Ignoring the warnings of her husband and friends, Gen begins to delve into the dark corners of her past, hopeful she’ll find a clue to her daughter’s whereabouts. But hope quickly turns into fear and paranoia, as she realizes that finding the answers might open the door to something even worse than not knowing. A truth that could steal everything she holds close – even her own life.”
“Welcome to Mattagash, the last town in the middle of the northern Maine wilderness. The road dead-ends here, but Mattagash’s citizens are fiercely proud.
Yet this simple town connected by a single one-way bridge is anything but tranquil. While neighbors bicker publicly over trivialities such as offensive mailbox designs and gossip about suspicious newcomers, they privately struggle to navigate deeper issues—scandals, loss, failed ambitions, the scars of war…and a mysterious dead body in the woods.
With her trademark wit and keen eye for detail, Pelletier has assembled an unforgettable cast of endearing and eccentric characters, from scheming mailmen and peeping toms to lovesick waitresses and loggers whose underhandedness belies their ingenuity. The citizens of Mattagash will make you laugh and cheer for them as they stumble into one another’s lives and strive to define themselves in a changing world that threatens to leave them behind.
The One-Way Bridge is an extraordinary portrait of family, loneliness, and community—and the kinds of compromises we all make in the name of love.”
Jan said, “It’s hilarious. If you go to Maine, you’ll love it.”
Check the Catalog for Availability
Heading to the beach one of these bright, summery days? Consider bringing along one or all of the novels in Roxanne St. Claire’s Barefoot Bay series. Our staff member thought these books would make for non-demanding and entertaining company.
About Barefoot in the Sand, book one in the series:
When all you hold dear is taken away . . .
When a hurricane roars through Lacey Armstrong’s home on the coast of Barefoot Bay, she decides all that remains in the rubble is opportunity. A new hotel is just what Mimosa Key needs, and Lacey and her teenage daughter are due for a fresh start. And nothing, especially not a hot, younger architect, is going to distract Lacey from finally making her dreams a reality.
A second chance is the only thing you have left.
Love has already cost Clay Walker everything. And if he’s going to have any chance of picking up the pieces of his life, he needs the job as Lacey Armstrong’s architect. What’s not in the plans is falling for the headstrong beauty. Her vision of the future is more appealing than anything he could have ever drafted for himself. Will Clay’s designs on Lacey’s heart be more than she can handle, or will she trust him to build something that will last forever?
Check the catalog for availability:
“Like all mothers, Emily Rapp had ambitious plans for her first and only child, Ronan. He would be smart, loyal, physically fearless, and level-headed, but fun. He would be good at crossword puzzles like his father. He would be an avid skier like his mother. Rapp would speak to him in foreign languages and give him the best education.
But all of these plans changed when Ronan was diagnosed at nine months old with Tay-Sachs disease, a rare and always-fatal degenerative disorder. Ronan was not expected to live beyond the age of three; he would be permanently stalled at a developmental level of six months. Rapp and her husband were forced to re-evaluate everything they thought they knew about parenting. They would have to learn to live with their child in the moment; to find happiness in the midst of sorrow; to parent without a future.
The Still Point of the Turning World is the story of a mother’s journey through grief and beyond it. Rapp’s response to her son’s diagnosis was a belief that she needed to “make my world big”—to make sense of her family’s situation through art, literature, philosophy, theology and myth. Drawing on a broad range of thinkers and writers, from C.S. Lewis to Sylvia Plath, Hegel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Rapp learns what wisdom there is to be gained from parenting a terminally ill child. In luminous, exquisitely moving prose she re-examines our most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be a good parent, to be a success, and to live a meaningful life.”
If you’ve already read The Still Point of the Turning World, try one of these memoirs:
- Her: A Memoir by Christa Parravani
“Christa Parravani and her identical twin, Cara, were linked by a bond that went beyond siblinghood, beyond sisterhood, beyond friendship. Raised up from poverty by a determined single mother, the gifted and beautiful twins were able to create a private haven of splendor and merriment between themselves and then earn their way to a prestigious college and to careers as artists (a photographer and a writer, respectively) and to young marriages. But, haunted by childhood experiences with father figures and further damaged by being raped as a young adult, Cara veered off the path to robust work and life and in to depression, drugs and a shocking early death.
A few years after Cara was gone, Christa read that when an identical twin dies, regardless of the cause, 50 percent of the time the surviving twin dies within two years; and this shocking statistic rang true to her. “Flip a coin,” she thought,” those were my chances of survival.” First, Christa fought to stop her sister’s downward spiral; suddenly, she was struggling to keep herself alive.”
- Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
“On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since. She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her.”