Posted by: koolwine | September 10, 2016

Zambia: Secrets of the Savanna

secrets of the savanna by mark and delia owensAn American couple who planned to study lions North Luanga National Park are shocked by poachers’ decimation of the rhino and elephant populations. They design a conservation project aimed at finding poachers other means of livelihood, and observe the behavior of the remaining elephants.        

Country Focus: Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia)

Secrets of the Savanna: Twenty-Three Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries of Elephants and People
By Mark and Delia Owens
Foreward by Alexandra Fuller
Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
230 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the authors: Americans Mark and Delia Owens arrived in Botswana in 1974 and chronicled their adventures with lions and hyenas in Cry of the Kalahari. After moving to Zambia, they co-wrote The Eye of the Elephant. Secrets of the Savanna is their third book. The couple claims that corrupt officials forced them to leave Zambia in 1997. In a blistering New Yorker article, reporter Jeffrey Goldberg claims there was more to the story than that, and that the couple’s actions against Zambian poachers went much too far.

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Mark and Delia Owens

Mark and Delia Owens

Quote:

And now, at eight-thirty at night, I listened to the lionesses pacing back and forth behind my tent. The lazy moon would not rise until after ten o’clock, so camp was dark except for my little flashlight beam bouncing around the shadows, illuminating one blond body after another. Ears erect, tails lashing about, each one walked about ten steps east, whirled around, and walked back again, sniffing the ground like a bloodhound. As always, the cats wore their thoughts on their tails: agitated, alert, definitely curious, probably hungry. This was not good. One lioness could topple my tent with a single blow; ten could demolish it like tissue paper – with me wrapped inside. They were not simply passing by, satisfying their curiosity. They were focused on my tent.

I sat in my small folding safari chair for more than an hour, listening to the lions, loving it and hating it at the same time. Meanwhile, the hippos sounded as if they were having a small war down by the river. Their loud splashing sounds and territorial roars mingled with the soft footfalls of lion paws. Great night out.

 

Posted by: koolwine | August 23, 2016

Eritrea: I Didn’t Do It for You

I Didn't Do It for You by Michela WrongThis highly readable history of modern Eritrea begins with Italy’s colonization in 1890. The plucky Eritreans overcame both Italian and British rule, U.N. neglect, and Ethiopian invasion to gain independence in 1993, but a violent 1998 border conflict with Ethiopia plunged them back into misfortune. The book ends in 2003 with Eritrean President Isaias’s repressive regime.

Country Focus: Eritrea (Ertra in Tingrinya)

I Didn’t Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation
By Michela Wrong
Originally published in Great Britain by Fourth Estate, 2005
My edition: Harper Perennial, 2006
432 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

About the author: Wrong, a British journalist, has also written In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobuto’s Congo, and It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-blower.

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Quote:

Michela Wrong

Michela Wrong

But it is for his stance on education that Martini is chiefly resented by Eritreans today. The former education minister violently rejected — “No, no and once again, no” — any notion of mixed-race schooling. His justification was characteristically quixotic, the opposite of what one might expect from a man who had embraced the credo of racial superiority. “In my view, the blacks are more quick-witted than us,” he remarked, noticing how swiftly Eritrean pupils picked up foreign languages. This posed a problem at school, he said, where “the white man’s superiority, the basis of every colonial regime, is undermined.” No mixed-race schooling meant there would be no opportunity for bright young Eritreans to form subversive views on their dim future masters. “Let us avoid making comparisons.” The natives must be kept in their place, taught only what they need to fulfill the subservient roles for which Rome thought them best suited.

Posted by: koolwine | August 7, 2016

Mauritania: Guantanamo Diary

Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould SlahiGuantánamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi voices his innocence and describes what it’s like to be on the wrong end of the American war on terror. No charges were ever filed against this Mauritanian citizen; nevertheless, Slahi was forced to endure years of interrogation, torture and imprisonment by the United States government.       

Country Focus: Mauritania (Muritaniyah in Arabic)

Guantánamo Diary
By Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Edited by Larry Siems
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2015.
379 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author: Slahi taught himself English and wrote Guantánamo Diary in 2005, but it took ten years and hundreds of redactions for the government to allow its publication. He finally received word in July 2016 that he has been recommended for release from the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.

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Quote:

Crisis always brings out the best and worst in people—and in countries, too. Did the Leader of the Free World, the United States, really torture detainees? Or are stories of torture part of a conspiracy to present the U.S.  in a horrible way, so the rest of the world will hate it?

Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Mohamedou Ould Slahi

I don’t even know how to treat this subject. I have only written what I have experienced, what I saw, and what I learned firsthand. I have tried not to exaggerate, nor to understate. I have tried to be as fair as possible , to the U.S. government, to my brothers, and to myself. I don’t expect people who don’t know me to believe me, but I expect them, at least, to give me the benefit of the doubt. And if Americans are willing to stand for what they believe in, I also expect public opinion to compel the U.S. government to open a torture and war crimes investigation. I am more than confident that I can prove every single thing I have written in this book if I am ever given the opportunity to call witnesses in a proper judicial procedure, and if military personnel are not given the advantage of straightening  their lies and destroying evidence against them.

Human beings naturally hate to torture other human beings, and Americans are no different. Many of the soldiers were doing their job reluctantly, and were very happy when they were ordered to stop. Of course there are sick people everywhere in the world who enjoy seeing other people suffering, but generally human beings make use of torture when they get chaotic and confused. And Americans certainly got chaotic, vengeful, and confused, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack.

Posted by: koolwine | July 31, 2016

Lithuania: Stalemate

lithuania _stalemateA terrible bargain has been struck in the Vilna Ghetto. The lives of the ghetto’s children are at stake. Isaac, a young Jew, will play Nazi Commandant Schoger in a chess match. If  Isaac wins, Schoger will shoot him, but the children will be saved from the death camps. If Isaac loses, Schoger will show Isaac mercy, but will send the children off to die. Will Isaac be able to pull off a stalemate?

Country Focus: Lithuania (Lietuva in Lithuanian)

Stalemate: A Novel
By Icchokas Meras
Translated by Jonas Zdanys
Originally published in Lithuania as Lygiosios Trunka Akimirka in 1963.
My edition: Other Press, 2005
160 pgs
.

Genre: Fiction

About the author: In 1941, Meras’s family perished in the holocaust. Only seven years old at the time, Meras survived by chance and was taken in by a Lithuanian family. Stalemate was the award-winning author’s most famous novel.

Icchokas Meras

Icchokas Meras

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Quote:

Everyone understands about weapons. We don’t have to discuss them.

I understand why it’s forbidden to bring food into the ghetto. Schoger wants us all to go hungry.

I understand why we are not allowed to bring in clothing. They want us to be ragged and tattered so we will be cold.

But why has Schoger forbidden flowers?

I can’t understand that.

A flower. A thin stalk, colored blossoms, and an affecting smell.

Who can forbid flowers?

Posted by: koolwine | July 30, 2016

Panama: Panama Fever

panama fever by matthew parkerAn in-depth look at the 34-years of hardship, engineering, and political intrigue that went into the construction of the Panama Canal.

Country Focus: Panama

Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time—the Building of the Panama Canal
By Matthew Parker
Originally published as Hell’s Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal by Hutchinson, 2007
My edition published by Doubleday, 2007.
530 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

About the author: Parker’s other works of nonfiction include: Willoughbyland: England’s Lost Colony, Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica, The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies, Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II, and The Battle of Britain: July-October 1940.

Matthew Parker

Matthew Parker

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Quote:

The [Culebra] Cut was the “special wonder” of the canal,” “one of the great spectacles of the ages.” Over 70 percent of the vast total canal excavation cam from its nine miles. For the increasing number of tourists, gazing down into the great man-made canyon from its edge high above, it was an inspiring sight. “The Cut is a tremendous demonstration of human and mechanical energy,” wrote a British visitor. “It is simply the transformation of a mountain into a valley.” It was more than “heroic human endeavor,” said another. It was a “geologic event.” The scale was overwhelming. “From the crest,” wrote an American tourist, “you looked down upon a mighty rift in the earth’s crust, at the base of which pygmy engines and antlike forms were rushing to and fro without seeming plan or reason. Through the murky atmosphere strange sounds rose up and smote the ear of the onlooker with resounding clamor.” These included the “strident clink, clink, clink of the drills…the shrill whistles of the locomotives…the constant and uninterupted rumble” of the ever-moving dirt trains, the “clanking of chains” of the shovels, “the cries of men, and the booming of blasts. Collectively the sounds were harsh, deafening, brutal such as we might fancy would arise from hell.”

Posted by: koolwine | June 14, 2016

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Posted by: koolwine | June 2, 2016

Armenia: Passage to Ararat

passage to ararat by michael j arlenA visit to his father’s homeland sparks a shift in the author’s attitude towards Armenia and its long-persecuted people.

Country Focus: Armenia

Passage to Ararat
By Michael J. Arlen
Introduction by Clark Blaise
Originally published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975
My edition published by Ruminator Books, 2002.
293 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author: Before winning the National Book Award in 1976 for Passage to Ararat, Arlen was nominated for the same prize in 1970 for the memoir Exiles.  A television critic for The New Yorker, he also published several books on the television industry.

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Armenia claimed Christianity as its official religion way back in 301, earning it the distinction of being the world’s first Christian nation. Armenia’s Muslim neighbors never took a shine to their religious preference and have taken their displeasure out on the Armenians for centuries. The worst of these persecutions occurred in 1915, when the Ottoman Turks killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. Although the Turks dispute it, many historians describe this mass bloodshed as one of the first genocides of the modern world.

The author’s father escaped this grim fate by emigrating to England. He then changed his name and effectively renounced his Armenian heritage. This walling off of his past caused his son Michael to disassociate from Armenians and even to view Armenians with disdain for so often playing the victim. It wasn’t until after his father had died and he was in his early forties that Michael felt compelled to explore his Armenian-ness. A chance invitation to speak to an Armenian group about writing ultimately led Michael and his wife to travel to Armenia (then the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic). There, he faced his complicated feelings toward his father and the challenge of overcoming ingrained cultural stereotypes.

Passage to Ararat is both a historical look at Armenia and an emotional journey of self-discovery. Slow and reflective, its value for me came from learning, first of all, how badly a person can be wounded both by history and stereotypes and second of all, how that wounded person might eventually turn their cultural self-loathing into cultural pride.

Michael J. Arlen

Michael J. Arlen

Quote:

Wily Armenians! Rug merchants! Traders! What in hell did those things matter, I thought, trying to be more rational about it. But something had been let loose inside me—a shame, an anger. And I knew suddenly how it mattered. It mattered because it was supposed to matter. It mattered because I had said that it couldn’t, mustn’t matter. It mattered because my father had said that none of it existed.

We were walking with Sarkis through a museum, a museum of Armenian art objects: ancient pots and urns, crude wooden chariots and spears. I could hardly see any of the exhibits, let alone think about them or listen to Sarkis’s incessant commentary, for I was still consumed by rage. I remember staring dumbly at an enormous orange-colored wine jar, peering at it studiously, and thinking, My secret is that I have always hated being an Armenian. I haven’t ignored it or been shy about it—I have hated it. Because I was given the values of Europeans and they despised the Armenians. And I have hated my father not, as I have thought for all these years, for being too strong a figure or too authoritarian but because he, so to speak, stepped back and gave me to the Europeans.

Posted by: koolwine | May 4, 2016

Niger: Riding the Demon

riding the demon by peter chilsonAn American journalist goes on a seven month ride-along with a Nigerien bush taxi driver.

Country Focus: Niger

Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa
By Peter Chilson
Published by University of Georgia Press, 1999.
195 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

About the author: Chilson was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger from 1985 to 1987. He returned in 1992 as a journalist to gather information for a book that would become Riding the Demon. He continues to visit and write about West Africa, and in 2013 published the e-book We Never Knew Exactly Where: Dispatches From the Lost Country of Mali.

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Riding the Demon is an entertaining and eye-opening look at the perilous nature of road travel in Niger.

Peter Chilson

Peter Chilson

Bush taxis were the primary mode of motorized transportation in Niger during the 1990s. Rides were cheap and egalitarian but dangerous. Consider this: the bush taxi was usually a vehicle so decrepit that its parts were often tied into place with rope and/or patched with pieces of old Coke cans; impure, black market fuel was often packed in among baggage, ready to explode in case of an accident; drivers routinely tore along at speeds over 85 mph, regardless of road condition, weather, or likelihood of collision with human, beast or object; soldiers searched and detained travelers at numerous checkpoints; breakdowns were inevitable; and departure and arrival times depended solely on good fortune. This seat-of-your-pants method of travel both exhilarated and terrified author Peter Chilson. Chilson spent seven months in a 1978 Peugeot 504 driven by Issoufou Garba on Niger’s Route 1, which stretches east from Mali and west to Lake Chad. Issoufou, a middle-aged devout Muslim with no formal education, two wives, ten children and a fleet of three bush taxis, faced all of the trials of his line of work with a patience and self-possession admired by his American passenger.

Not only does he recount his adventures on the road with Issoufou, but Chilson also entertainingly relates the history and culture of all things related to the Nigerien road system and automobile travel. Chilson’s unique look into a country neglected by most writers deserves a larger readership.

Quote:

Once in a while a crash illuminates the night in the bush, to the pleasure of the gods, when some poor driver hits a lightless vehicle, releasing the demons in the gasoline barrels. Charred remains line the road shoulder for the thirty-two miles from Takiéta east to the old provincial capital and market city of Zinder.  Fresh flames of wrecks sometimes startle the dark night on Route 1, flashing bright stains on the air. Villagers comb the the wrecks for salvageable spare parts to sell—a hubcap, a fuel filter—the moment the metal cools.

Posted by: koolwine | March 27, 2016

Kazakhstan: Above the Clouds

Above the clouds by Anatoli BoukreevA professional mountaineer’s introspective journal entries provide insight into his daring ascents of Himalayan peaks.

Country Focus: Kazakhstan (Qazaqstan in Kazakh)

Above the Clouds: The Diaries of a High-Altitude Mountaineer
By Anatoli Boukreev
Translated by Natalia Lagovskaya and Barbara Poston
Collected and edited by Linda Wylie
Foreward by Galen Rowell
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001
239 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author: Boukreev perished in an avalanche on Annapurna in 1997. At Annapurna’s basecamp lies a memorial bearing his words: “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”

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Anatoli Boukreev made 18 ascents over 8,000 meters, ten of those without the use of supplemental oxygen. His climbs included speed ascents, solo ascents and winter ascents. His strength and endurance were so incredible that in 1997 he climbed four 8,000 meter peaks (Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak, Mount Everest and Lhotse) in 80 days. Boukreev may be familiar to some readers; he served as a guide on Scott Fischer’s ill-fated Mountain Madness expedition to Mount Everest in May 1996. A blizzard killed eight climbers, including Fischer. In his bestselling novel Into Thin Air, John Krakauer found fault with Boukreev’s actions during the crisis. His criticisms greatly disturbed Boukreev and spurred him to write his own account of events called The Climb.

Friends Lynda Wylie and world-renowned photographer Galen Rowell contributed helpful introductions to Above the Clouds, providing context for readers unfamiliar with Boukreev. Although his journal entries, which span the years 1989-1997, include descriptions of his various climbs, Boukreev’s writing not only relays the details of these athletic feats, but also reveals a sensitive heart. One of his greatest frustrations and sorrows was that the breakup of the Soviet Union led to a failure in support and funding for alpine schools and alpinists. However, nothing could stop him from climbing the world’s highest peaks: not finances, not health concerns, not language barriers. Boukreev believed that the mountains brought out the best in him, and that through them, he could recognize his true potential as a human being. An inspiring read.

Quote:

Anatoli Boukreev

Anatoli Boukreev

Now, recalling Kachenjunga’s storehouses of snow makes my heart ache like memories of a love that has been lost. Six years, not six months, will pass and I know that I will feel this same way. She possessed a purity and grandeur that are incomparable. Her summits provide reasons that make the human struggle for physical and spiritual perfection meaningful, motivators that are more profound than vain aspirations for fame or wealth. Perhaps this sounds idealistic, but my experiences on Kachenjunga make these reasons seem shallow and vulgar.

Confronted with the petty concerns of my ordinary life, I feel empty, as if I am wasting a priceless gift…the brief time that is allotted to each human for creativity. Days pass and my work does not generate the strength and eagerness to live, which memories of the mountain inspire in me. Perhaps this melancholy will pass when there is another magnificent peak. In truth I do not know. Can this longing and restlessness be the price that mortals pay for daring to trespass in the houses of the Gods…the price you pay for disturbing the peace of God?

 

Posted by: koolwine | March 5, 2016

Free Books! (Round 14)

For every ten books I read, I’ll hold a book giveaway. Here’s how to claim a free book:

  • Check out the list of books up for grabs.  There is only one copy of each book available (I am giving away my used copy of each book).
  • If you see one you want, comment on this page.  Your comment must include the name of the book you want, and at least a word or two about the country that the book concerns.  First person to comment gets the book.
  • I’ll mail the book out to you (at no cost you you whatsoever) if you have an address within the continental United States.  The book will ship out at book rate, which means it might take ten or more days to reach you.
  • Keep in mind that most of the time I buy my books used, which means they may be marked up, covers bent, etc.  Book condition will be variable.
  • Claims must be made no later than one month after posting date. April 5, 2016 is the deadline for requesting a book from Round 14.

Here’s the current round of books up for grabs:

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