Posted by: koolwine | February 17, 2019

East Timor: From the Place of the Dead

Country Focus: East Timor

From the Place of the Dead: The Epic Struggles of Bishop Belo of East Timor
By Arnold S. Kohen
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
331 pgs.

Genre: Biography/History

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Bishop Belo


After his homily, he led the Prayer of the Faithful, when suddenly a priest came to his side and put a piece of paper on the altar telling him that he had received the Nobel Peace Prize together with Ramos-Horta. He immediately put the piece of paper into his side pocket and continued with the Mass. Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo was impassive: he did not even smile: “The responsibilities are all the heavier now,” he said later, recalling his thoughts at the time, “to become more of a man of peace—in my actions, my thoughts, and my words, to be more patient, not to be angry, not to shout at others.”

During Communion, the vicar general asked Belo if he wanted to have the message announced. The bishop declined. Some wanted to have an impromptu jamboree, others wanted to pay homage, but Belo simply wanted to be left alone, to avoid the slightest move that might create havoc.

Posted by: koolwine | January 3, 2019

Nauru: Paradise for Sale

The South Pacific island of Nauru—a former island paradise turned almost entirely into a phosphate mine—has proved to be a cautionary example of what can wrong when humans place more value on money than on the environment.

Country Focus: Nauru

Paradise for Sale: A Parable of Nature
By Carl N. McDaniel and John M. Gowdy
Published by University of California Press, 2000.
225 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction/Environmental Studies & Economics

About the author: Carl N. McDaniel founded the undergraduate environmental science degree program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He has also written Wisdom for a Livable Planet. John M. Gowdy is a Professor of Economics and Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the same institution and has authored ten books on economics.

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Carl N. McDaniel

John M. Gowdy


By the time independence came in 1968, the tremendous financial wealth from phosphate mining had done its deed—a radically altered Nauruan culture, seduced by the promises of phenomenal monetary wealth, entered a global market economy that has no long-term capacity to ensure human well-being or to foster enduring habitation. In a mere century the island home of this once self-sufficient culture has been transformed into a wasteland of mined-out ruins devoid of much of its initial biological diversity—the ten thousand inhabitants are absolutely dependent upon the outside world for their very survival. Nauru exquisitely illuminates the ruinous course of our global market culture.

Posted by: koolwine | December 9, 2018

Guinea-Bissau: The Greats

The guitarist of a 1970s supergroup must come to terms with the death of Dulce, his ex-lover and the singer who catapulted his politically conscious band to fame. He also overhears rumors that Dolce’s husband, the army chief of staff, is planning to stage a coup on the same night as the band’s tribute concert for Dolce.

Country Focus: Guinea-Bissau

The Greats
By Sylvain Prudhomme
Translated by Jessica Moore
Originally published in Paris by Gallimard as Les grands, 2014.
My edition: BookThug, 2017
205 pgs

Genre: Fiction (based on a real hit band, Super Mama Djombo)

About the author: A French novelist, Prudhomme has lived and worked in Cameroon, Nigeria, Burundi and Senegal. Les grands won several literary awards in his native country, as has his most recent book Légende.

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Sylvain Prudhomme


Couto would grab her, laughing. Tell her to listen to Tundo’s solo, Armando’s congas. Lift a finger to make her hear one note he played that he was proud of, one note just dissonant enough from the rest of the band, did she hear it, there, that note in the major while everyone else at that moment was in the minor, ah if she could have seen him onstage with his hair his beard his tight pants, ah if she could have known him when he was handsome, she who was happy enough to love him a little now when he was nothing but a washed-up old man.

Esperança didn’t give a damn about his note, didn’t give a damn that he had a beard and wore tight pants.

That she-devil only has to sing for ten seconds and she’s got you again.

Posted by: koolwine | November 18, 2018

Montenegro: Montenegro

English spy Auberon Harwell travels to a remote area in Montenegro in 1908 to assess the increasingly volatile situation brewing between the Austrians, Turks and Serbs. At the edge of a contested valley, he uses his cover as a botanist to befriend a Serbian family headed by a taciturn war hero. Harwell soon finds himself falling in love with the man’s wife and in the middle of a tug-of-war for their teenage son’s future.

Country Focus: Montenegro

By Starling Lawrence
Originally published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1997
My edition Harper Perennial, 2006.
305 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author: Starling Lawrence wrote Montenegro, The Lightning Keeper and Legacies while while he was editor in chief and vice chairman at American publishing company W.W. Norton & Company.

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Starling Lawrence


Only recently have I come to understand two things: first, that the war may very well come whatever Danilo does or does not do, and whether Toma stays or goes, and in spite of everything Sofia might do. All I have seen and learned here points only in that direction, though I am hardly an expert in political predictions. And the second realization is how absolutely marginal I am in these affairs. This is the rock upon which the romantic illusion founders, at least the version I brought with me. For if one imagines an adventure in such a place—and what landscape more suited to that than these wilds?—one imagines oneself at the center of it, rising above one’s limitations to heroic actions worthy of Rider Haggard or Kipling. That is the model on which I was reared, implicit in books and bedtime stories and even sermons, and it now fails me. I can see no course of action, no heroic sacrifice, that would put things right. It is true that I am somewhat uncomfortably placed between Danilo and Sofia, a kind of fulcrum in their struggle for the soul of Toma. But there is no glory in this, and I am simply waiting to be told what I must do.


Posted by: koolwine | November 4, 2018

The Maldives: Gatecrashing Paradise

For years, only one hundred “resort” islands of The Maldives were open to foreigners, so when the author heard that the “real” Maldives (198 inhabited islands) had dropped their tourist restrictions, he traveled 600 miles around the archipelago using cargo ships and ferries as transportation and staying at the simple guest houses of people who had never before hosted an outsider. 

Country Focus: The Maldives

Gatecrashing Paradise: Misadventures in the Real Maldives
By Tom Chesshyre
Published by Nicholas Brealey, 2015.
276 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author: British journalist and world traveler Tom Chesshyre has written seven travelogues. His most recent is From Source to Sea: Notes from a 215-Mile Walk Along the River Thames.

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Tom Chesshyre


I caught a 20-minute ferry to Hulhumale. It was, by all accounts, a peculiar place. Until 1997 it had been no more than an area of reef at the far end of Airport Island. In the years since, more than US$30 million had been spent on land reclamation to create a new island. The purpose was twofold: to provide an area of overspill housing for Male, one of the most densely populated places on the planet, and also to have a higher landmass than the capital should waves rise as climate change scientists foresaw.

Posted by: koolwine | October 8, 2018

Tajikistan: Tajikistan, Pearl of Central Asia

The authors provide an overview of the geography, history, and archaeological significance of Tajikistan, accompanied by compelling photographs of the Pamir mountain range.

Country Focus: Tajikistan

Tajikistan: Pearl of Central Asia
By Mehrdad Kia, Ardi Kia, and Rick and Susie Graetz
Photos by Rick and Susie Graetz
Publisher: University of Montana Press, 2007.
64 pgs.

Genre: Geography/History

About the author:  Mehrdad Kia is an award-winning history professor and director of the Central and Southwest Asian Studies Center at the University of Montana. Ardi Kia is the assistant director of the same program. Rick and Susie Graetz are the founders of Montana Magazine and have contributed photos and articles for many different publications.

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Mehrdad Kia


Modern Tajikistan, with its present political boundaries, emerged in the 1920s as the Soviet government partitioned Central Asia into five separate republics. This partition stripped the Tajik people of their traditional cultural and economic centers, namely the cities of Bukhara and Samarqand, which were handed to the newly established Republic of Uzbekistan. The new Tajik Republic was further weakened when its historical, cultural, and economic links with its two natural brother states of Afghanistan and Iran were severed. One of the principal means of destroying Tajikistan’s cultural links with its neighbors to the south was the change in alphabet, which forced the Tajik people to abandon the Arabic-Persian script in favor of Cyrillic.

Posted by: koolwine | September 25, 2018

Malta: The Kappillan of Malta

In this epic saga of World War II, Father Salvatore, a kappillan, or parish priest, strives to keep his flock safe in the Maltese catacombs while the Axis powers rain thousands of bombs down upon the then British colony. In the hopes of inspiring them all, “Dun Salv” tells the catacomb dwellers six rousing tales from Maltese history. Not only must this dedicated kappillan care for his people; he must also attend to his noble family: his widowed mother, a baroness trying desperately to keep up appearances in the family’s grand palazzo, his sister whose husband is found guilty of treason, his niece Maria, who falls in love with a daring R.A.F. pilot, and his young impressionable nephew Pietru. 

Country Focus: Malta

The Kappillan of Malta
By Nicholas Monsarrat (1910-1979)
Published by William Morrow & Company, 1974.
503 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author:  Monsarrat was a British novelist who served in the Royal Navy during World War II. He parlayed his shipboard experiences into several popular novels, including the bestselling The Cruel Sea. His novels The Tribe That Lost Its Head and Richer Than All His Tribe were based on his post-war diplomatic service in South Africa. In his later years, Monsarrat wrote The Kappilan of Malta while living on the Maltese island of Gozo.

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Nicholas Monsarrat


We have lived through a terrible day, full of blood and slaughter and weeping.

We end it hiding in the rocks among the dead, as if forgotten by God, as if we were nobody.

We MUST NOT hide tomorrow.

We are NOT dead.

We are NOT forgotten

We are NOT nobody.

We have a thousand ancestors to be proud of. Bravery and adventures is in our blood and bone.

We have been conquered before. But NOT for ever. We have always survived, and overcome. We are Maltese.

We have a shining, glittering history. We MUST earn it again, and live it again.

We MUST know, and remember, what that history is.


Posted by: koolwine | September 9, 2018

The Bahamas: Body of Water

The author, a struggling flyfishing guide in the American West, accepts a free fishing trip to the Bahamas and quickly gets hooked on bonefishing and the life story of Bahamian David Pinder, Sr., one of the sport’s first and best guides.

Country Focus: The Bahamas

Body of Water; A Sage, A Seeker, and the World’s Most Alluring Fish
By Chris Dombrowski
Published by Milkweed Editions, 2016.
215 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction/Nature

About the author: Poet, teacher and flyfishing guide Chris Dombrowski is the founder and co-director of the Beargrass Writing Retreat in Missoula, Montana.

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Chris Dombrowski


[David Pinder, Sr. said] “One day I had taken some guests out to the Cross Cays and was starting back for the lodge when the motor gave out. I had to pole over fifteen miles back to the lodge. We slipped through the smallest creeks. Those are my favorite places, the little lagoons that run through the mangroves. I told the guests not to worry, that we could eat conch and fish if we had to sleep out, but near dusk the water started to glow with phosphorescence. There was some commotion out in the channel, water thrashing everywhere: a hammerhead, about fifteen feet long, attacking a lemon shark as long as the boat was wide.

“Those men got real quiet. By the time we got home, Mr. Drake was pacing up and down the dock, shaking the ice in the bottom of his glass. The guests looked like ghosts. But they both thanked me. One of the men wrote me a letter a lot of years later, to say he still hadn’t forgotten about it.”

Posted by: koolwine | August 18, 2018

Turkmenistan: Sacred Horses

Despite the fact that in 1991 the Central Asian Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan, a Muslim area sandwiched between Iran and Afghanistan and part of the U.S.S.R., was largely off-limits to foreigners, the author wangles a visit with the hopes of seeing and riding a rare and magnificent breed of horse called the Akhal-Teke, believed by many to be the progenitor of the modern thoroughbred.

Country Focus: Turkmenistan

Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy
By Jonathan Maslow (1948-2008)
Published by Random House, 1994.
342 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author: American journalist and naturalist Jonathan Maslow also wrote about the quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird in Bird of Life, Bird of Death and owls in the northeastern U.S. in The Owl Papers. He was an editor and columnist at The Herald News in West Paterson, New Jersey at his untimely death.

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Jonathan Maslow


In the uncovered concrete grandstand sat three thousand or four thousand boys, men, and bearded elders, almost all of them keeping cool in their big fur hats* as they followed the races. When the horses closed in on the finish line, the boys jumped to their feet, yelled, pounded the air with their fists, and slapped their programs against their sides. The elders stroked their wispy white beards and waved their cigarettes, which they smoke in holders. No one paid the slightest attention to the heat; they were exposing themselves to the cruelest of suns for no other reason than their love of fast horses. The trainers brought Akhal-Tekes from the state and collective farms all over the Turkmen republic, not to run for the gold—there were no stakes, no purses, no claiming races, no trophies—but for the pure pleasure of the competition, the chance to go home knowing that your horse was the swiftest. Only the jockeys stood to gain materially, the winners receiving a new carpet, television set, or, once, two hundred rubles cash, about an average month’s wage.

*Turkmen wore their brown sheepskin hats, which they believe keeps their heads cool.

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


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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