Posted by: koolwine | August 5, 2018

Palau: With the Old Breed

Enlisted Marine E.B. Sledge recalls the hellish battles of Peleliu (in the Palau Islands) and Okinawa in an unforgettable memoir that succeeds in conveying—as much as mere words can—the absolute horror of war on the front lines.

Country Focus: Palau

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
By E.B. Sledge (1923-2001)
Published by Presidio Press, 1981.
326 pgs.

Genre: Military memoir

About the author:  Sledge was a 60mm mortarman in K Company in the much celebrated 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. The highly decorated Marine returned safely home only to battle what we would now call PTSD; he wrote With the Old Breed and China Marine: An Infantryman’s Life After World War II to help heal his emotional wounds. He also delved into the study of the natural world and became a biologist and university professor at Alabama College.  Sledge’s combat experiences were shared in Ken Burn’s documentary The War, and formed the basis of the HBO miniseries The Pacific.

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E.B. Sledge

Quote:

I walked under a low tree that had a pair of man-o-war birds nesting in its top. They showed no fear as they cocked their heads and looked down from their bulky stick nest. The male saw little of interest about me and began inflating his large red throat pouch to impress his mate. He slowly extended his huge seven-foot wingspan and clicked his long hooked beak. As a boy, I had seen similar man-o-war birds sailing high over Gulf Shores near Mobile, but never had I seen them this close. Several large white birds similar to egrets also perched nearby, but I couldn’t identify them.

My brief escape from reality ended abruptly when a buddy scolded in a low voice, “Sledgehammer, what the hell you staring at them birds for? You gonna get separated from the patrol,” as he motioned vigorously for me to hurry. He thought I’d lost my senses, and he was right. That was neither the time nor the place for something as utterly peaceful and ethereal as bird watching. But I had had a few delightful and refreshing moments of fantasy and escape from the horror of human activities on Peleliu.

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Posted by: koolwine | July 5, 2018

Liechtenstein: Stamping Grounds

In 2002, journalist Charlie Connelly followed the fourth tiniest nation in the world’s football (soccer) team as they competed in World Cup qualifying matches against some of Europe’s most celebrated teams and athletes. For these gritty underdogs—primarily non-professionals who must ask their regular employers for days off to compete—a 0-1, 0-2 or even a 0-3 loss means a well-played game. Connelly not only covers the team, but also delves into the history and culture of Liechtenstein, trying to discover “what makes a Liechtensteiner a Liechtensteiner.” 

Country Focus: Liechtenstein

Stamping Grounds: Liechtenstein’s Quest for the World Cup
By Charlie Connelly
Published by Little, Brown, 2002.
326 pgs.

Genre: Sports nonfiction

About the author:  Connelly had written four other books about football (soccer) before Stamping Grounds attracted critics’ attention. He changed topics completely with his next book Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast, which became a bestseller in his native England. Nearly a dozen other books have followed.

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Charlie Connelly

Quote:

For the second time in the opening ten minutes, Liechtenstein had threatened the Austrian goal, and had already enjoyed more possession than they had in the whole of their last away game in Alicante. Gigon was having a fine game on the left, Frick and Beck were making nuisances of themselves up front and the Austrians were failing to exert any kind of dominance on the game. For the 13,000-strong Innsbruck crowd, this wasn’t how it was meant to be. It was then that I noticed something curious. When I first heard it, I thought it must have been my imagination. But no, it was true. Above the whistles of the home support I could definitely hear a chant of ‘Liechtenstein (clap clap clap)!’ My eyes swiveled to the other end of the pitch and there, behind Jehle’s goal, was a knot of about a hundred people grouped around a large blue-and-red Liechtenstein flag. Not only had Liechtenstein brought some fans, the encouraging start to the game for the visitors had provoked them into audible support.

Posted by: koolwine | June 23, 2018

Suriname: Wild Coast

Gimlette has penned a fascinating account of his adventures in the three places that make up the “Wild Coast” of South America—Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana—by interweaving his own experiences with the area’s colonial history and its lingering effects. He visits the major coastal cities, like Suriname’s beguiling capital Paramaribo, but also travels to more isolated (and, in some cases, ghoulish) areas, like the site of the infamous 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana, the decaying former penal colonies of French Guiana, and a reclusive community in Suriname inhabited by the Saramaccaners, descendants of runaway slaves.

Country Focus: Suriname (previously Dutch Guiana)

Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge
By John Gimlette
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
358 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author:  Gimlette is a barrister in London when he is not traveling or writing highly-acclaimed travelogues like At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels in Paraguay, Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka, Theatre of Fish: Travels Through Newfoundland and Labrador and Panther Soup: A European Journey in War and Peace.

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John Gimlette

Quote:

If I were to design the perfect city, it would be white and have a river running through it. There’d be plantations and fruit trees all around, and little canals would come seeping through the centre. There’d be no business district or overbearing banks, and nothing would be taller than a church. At the heart of it all would be a little purple fortress, like a hat full of mansions. There’d be no trains or tubes or public toilets. This would be one of the greatest cities of the eighteenth century. Everything would be built from wood and handmade bricks, and next to the fort there’d be a huge palm garden, where once an army planted beans. By day the presidential palace would glow like a wedding cake, and then by night it would turn green and flare like a planet. As for embassies, there’d be only nine, including a tiny bungalow for the United States. Temples, however, would spring up out of the foliage, along with stupas, pagodas and funeral ghats. There’d also be a mosque and a synagogue, huddled so close that they’d share a car park. This would not be a city of ghettos or new ideas. Over half the country would live here, and between them they’d speak over twenty different languages. Without parental consent no one could marry until the age of thirty, and it would be quite common to have giant rallies protesting at obesity. Meanwhile the police would be called the korps politie, and would wear white gloves and ride around on bicycles. There’d also be an alligator living in the city’s pond, eating all the strays.

That, broadly speaking, describes Paramaribo. So, what went wrong? How did it get forgotten?

Posted by: koolwine | June 10, 2018

Sao Tome and Principe: Sao Tome

It’s the year 1485. Young Marcel Saulo, along with dozens of other Jewish children, has been kidnapped by the Portuguese and shipped to São Tomé, an island off the coast of West Africa. Like his fellows he should be doomed to convert to Catholicism and toil in the sugar plantations, but good fortune enables him to become a landowner. When the island shifts from a sugar- to a slave-based economy and Saulo refuses to enslave his black workers he finds himself at dangerous odds with the Portuguese government and Catholic church. 

Country Focus:  São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé
By Paul D. Cohn
Published by Burns-Cole Publishers, 2005.
336 pgs.

Genre: Historical fiction

About the author:  Cohn recently published his second novel, The Cantora. He lives in Montana.

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Paul D. Cohn

Quote:

“In Lisbon, before those imbeciles drove you Jews out, I had much commerce with your people. So once I explain the slave-trade business, I’m sure you will understand the foolishness of your tenant scheme.” De Abreu began moving coins on the table. “A healthy male negro is worth one of these.” He set aside a gold cruz. “Let’s say he weighs 150 pounds. How much is 150 pounds of sugar worth?” He separated some silver cruzados. “About seven silvers and change, right?” I nodded. “Saulo, you haven’t been a Catholic so long that you can’t recognize a ten-to-one advantage.”

“Ten-to-one,” I said, my jest wasted. “Now I see.”

 

Posted by: koolwine | May 10, 2018

Luxembourg: The Expats

Kate never told her husband Dexter that she was a CIA agent and trained killer. She thought she was the one with all the secrets, but then Dexter, a computer security specialist, suddenly uproots their family to take a mysterious job in Luxembourg. Is Dexter really the man she thought he was? And is the new couple that’s befriended them actually spying on one or both of them? And how can she talk to Dexter about her suspicions and keep their family safe without revealing that she’s lied to them all along?  

Country Focus: Luxembourg

The Expats
By Chris Pavone
Published by Crown, 2012.
327 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author:  The Expats won author Chris Pavone both an Edgar and an Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Since then, the New Yorker has published two more best selling thrillers, The Accident and The Travelers.

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Chris Pavone

Quote:

Kate walked across the bridge, entered the long well-lit tunnel cut deep into the rock upon which the haute ville was built, the rough-hewn walls hung with derivative art, the faint stench of urine, as in every urban tunnel, even in the most well-kempt cities. It was a hundred feet worth of ascent to her neighborhood atop this rock formation, good exercise if she tramped up the hill of the rue Large, but tonight she didn’t want any. She wanted answers, not cardio; she wanted to be home, alone with her thoughts. There was a babysitter to pay and dismiss, a husband playing tennis with the FBI agent who was investigating him. What a goddamn mess.

 

Posted by: koolwine | April 27, 2018

Federated States of Micronesia: The People in the Trees

A sociopathic scientist learns that the members of an isolated Micronesian tribe add centuries to their lives by eating the flesh of a sacred turtle. After his discovery is made public and the island is plundered, the scientist begins adopting dozens of the tribe’s children in a twisted attempt at love. The novel is loosely based on Dr. D. Carlton Gajdusek, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on infectious disease in New Guinea, but was imprisoned 30 years later for sexually abusing his 56 adopted children.

Country Focus: Federated States of Micronesia

The People in the Trees
By Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Anchor, 2013.
476 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author:  Yanagihara is the editor of T, the style supplement of The New York Times. She followed her debut novel, The People in the Trees,  with A Little Life. Both novels were named “Best books of the year” by numerous critics.

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Hanya Yanagihara

Quote:

Shall I tell you how it was rumored that after Ivu’ivu had been picked clean of its wonders and exhausted of all its plants and fungi and flowers and animals and was left with only its beauty and mystery, the United States military—no, the French, no the Japanese—was using it to test nuclear warheads? Shall I tell you how the king’s son, Crown Prince Tui’uvo’uvo, now the king himself, was whispered to be a puppet of some foreign military and how he took to strutting about U’ivu in an epaulet-trimmed wool jacket that he wore atop a sarong, his face vivid with sweat? Shall I tell you how there are really no new stories in cases like these: how the men turned to alcohol, how the women neglected their handiwork, how they all grew fatter and coarser and lazier, how the missionaries plucked them from their houses as easily as one would pick an overripe apple from a branch? Shall I tell you of the venereal diseases that seemed to come from nowhere but, once introduced, never left? Shall I tell you how I witnessed these things myself, how I kept returning and returning, long after the grant money disappeared, long after people had lost interest, long after the island had gone from being an Eden to becoming what it is: just another Micronesian ruin, once so full of hope, now somehow distasteful and embarrassing, like a beautiful woman who has grown fleshy and sparse-haired and mustached?

Posted by: koolwine | April 22, 2018

The Gambia: One Plastic Bag

As more and more plastic bags littered the streets of her village and endangered her community’s goat herds, Isatou Ceesay gathered a group of friends together to pick up the refuse and turn it into plastic strands that they then used to weave beautiful purses.

Country Focus: The Gambia

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia
By Miranda Paul
Illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon
Published by Millbrook Press, 2015.
31 pgs.

Genre: Picture book

About the author:  Paul was inspired to write One Plastic Bag while she was a freelance journalist in The Gambia. She has written several other children’s picture books, including Water Is Water, which School Library Journal named as one of the best books of 2015.

Seventeen years after she started recycling, Isatou Ceesay‘s idea has evolved into the nonprofit Women Initiative the Gambia, with over 40 groups and 2000 members. Her project not only benefits  the environment, but has also enabled thousands of women to earn money and better the lives of their families. Her biggest victory came in 2015, when Gambia banned the use and importation of plastic bags.

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Isatou Ceesay

Quote:

Naka ligey be?” asks Grandmother. “How is the work?”

Ndanka, ndanka,” answers Isatou. “Slow. Some people in the village laugh at us. Others call us ‘dirty.’ But I believe what we are doing is good.”

The women crochet by candlelight, away from those who mock them…

Posted by: koolwine | April 12, 2018

Lesotho: Sometimes There Is a Void

In this somewhat amusing but overly long memoir, Zakes Mda recalls his teenage years as an exile in Lesotho (his family fled South Africa after the police targeted his father for speaking out against the apartheid regime), his growing involvement with various anti-apartheid political parties and his determination to fight the system with words rather than weapons, his success as a playwright, novelist and social critic, and, last but not least, his many tempestuous love affairs.      

Country Focus: Lesotho (formerly Basutoland)

Sometimes There Is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider
By Zakes Mda
Originally published: Penguin Books, South Africa, 2011
My edition: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2012
561 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author:  One of South Africa’s most celebrated authors, Mda won awards for We Shall Sing for the Fatherland, The Hill, Ways of Dying, The Heart of Redness, The Madonna of Excelsior, and Little Suns. He began teaching creative writing at Ohio University in 2002.

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Zakes Mda

Quote:

Lesotho was of strategic importance in that region because it was completely surrounded by apartheid South Africa. That was one of its claims to fame: the only country in the world to be completely surrounded by another country. The second claim to fame was the fact that it is a very mountainous country, hence the sobriquet the Kingdom in the Sky, and also the Switzerland of Africa. Brochures never forget to remind prospective tourists that the kingdom has the highest low point of any country in the world. Its position in relation to South Africa was of great concern to the Afrikaners because it was harboring ‘terrorists’, namely me, my father and hundreds of other South African refugees from the Pan Africanist Congress, the African National Congress, and even the Trotskyites of the Non-European Unity movement.

Posted by: koolwine | March 10, 2018

Cyprus: Bitter Lemons

Lawrence Durrell, a British ex-patriot looking for an idyllic island hideaway, finds himself in the midst of political upheaval. It’s the mid-1950s, and Greece is goading Cyprus’s Greek majority into rising up against its British colonizers in a bid for independence. Durrell takes a job as Press Adviser for the colonial government and gets an inside look at how a peaceful, sleepy community edges into violent rebellion.

Country Focus: Cyprus

Bitter Lemons
By Lawrence Durrell
Originally published by Faber & Faber Limited, London, 1957
My edition:  Axios Press, 2009.
271 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author:  Best known for his series The Alexandria Quartet, which made it onto the Modern Library’s list of “100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century,” Lawrence Durrell gathered story ideas from his world travels. His younger brother, Gerald Durrell, also became a famous author.

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Lawrence Durrell

Quote:

The whole street was ankle-deep in bottles. Across the road, on the periphery of the battlefield, the British Institute remained obstinately open, its director quietly watching from a balcony. From time to time a breathless student who had tired of throwing bottles or sprained an arm would slip into the library for a quiet spell of study as if nothing in the world were amiss. The crowds moved roaring up and down the streets, screaming for liberty like maddened bulls. An English spinster mounted rather precariously on a bicycle, however, rode straight through them; they parted, cheering, and when she dropped a parcel, a dozen members of Epsilon Alpha dived for the honor of picking it up and restoring it to her. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said a newspaper correspondent, running for his life along the moat, pursued by the Girls’ Sixth. There were brilliant scenes rich in all the unrehearsed comedy of Latin life; as when the police experimenting with the new and exciting weapon they had been given-the gas shell-filled their own headquarters with tear-gas and had to evacuate it until the wind changed. “They don’t mean any harm,” said a Greek grocer dodging adroitly as a brickbat whizzed past him into a shop window, “It is just the people expressing themselves.” Then getting down under a counter, he added, “They are very polite people really, but they want self-determination.”

Posted by: koolwine | February 18, 2018

Tuvalu: The Fragile Edge

In Part II of The Fragile Edge, Whitty travels to Funafuti, an atoll belonging to the remote South Pacific nation of Tuvalu, a group of nine small atolls known primarily for their precarious lack of elevation – a mere twelve feet. Her curiosity has taken her there: how do Tuvaluans feel about and plan for the likely total inundation of their islands?

Country Focus: Tuvalu (previously the New Hebrides)

The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific
By Julia Whitty
Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
292 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author:  Before becoming an award-winning fiction and nonfiction writer, Whitty was a documentary filmmaker with over 70 underwater and nature films under her belt.

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Julia Whitty

Quote:

There is little or no television here, only a few hours of radio a day, and most of these [Tuvaluans] have never been further than their home islands—although some have traveled to Fiji or New Zealand, and a few, working in the merchant marine, have been all over the world. But most don’t have much to compare their country to. When I mention a report issued by the U.S. State Department that describes an apparent human-rights paradise in Tuvalu, a world devoid of killings, disappearances, torture, and refugees, as well as a nation graced with universal literacy and no violent crime (the only jail is currently empty), the Funafutians smile and nod politely.

But whereas I had expected to meet a nation of people eager for me to broadcast their plight to the world, instead I am finding citizens wary of the topic of sea levels. To a person, they seem quietly disappointed that I am not a tourist. Perhaps they are afraid that too much talk of flooded islands will squash any hopes of tourism ever establishing here.

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