Posted by: koolwine | December 4, 2016

Burundi: Strength in What Remains

Strength in What Remains by Tracy KidderThis is the story of Deo, a Burundian who escaped genocide in both his home country and neighboring Rwanda. A 24-year-old former medical student, he arrived in New York City with $200 and no knowledge of English. The kindness of strangers and Deo’s innate intelligence and perseverance helped him overcome the odds. Little more than a decade later, he had metamorphosed into an Ivy League-educated doctor who had established a health center in Burundi.

Country Focus: Burundi

Strength in What Remains
By Tracy Kidder
Published by Random House, 2009.
277 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

About the author: The American journalist Tracy Kidder won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1982 for The Soul of a New Machine.  He met Deo through Paul Farmer, the highly regarded physician and humanitarian he profiled in his 2003 award-winning book Mountains Beyond Mountains.

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burundi_deogratias_001

Deogratius Niyizonkiza

Tracy Kidder

Tracy Kidder

Quote:

Deo had spent a lot of time, in the classrooms and cathedrals of this rarefied piece of Manhattan, thinking about the catastrophic violence in Burundi and Rwanda. He had left Columbia believing that misery had been not the sole cause of the mayhem, but a primary cause, a precondition too often neglected  by scholars: little or no education for most and, for those who did get it, lessons in brutality; toil and deprivation, hunger and disease and untimely death, including rampant infant mortality, which justified all-but-perpetual pregnancy for women until menopause. He told me, “Women get so exhausted that by the time they are thirty they walk like, you know, old ladies. And they are the ones most of the time who do the farming. At sunset, go down the hill, get water to cook. And women are not allowed to own property…” He went on: “Almost everyone has got worms. They are there since they were born, and worms will be their friends until they die. Can you imagine that kind of life? It’s terrible. How are you going to think right? With pain everywhere. So it’s been really hard to blame the people who have been slaughtering each other, though I do blame people all the time. They were not themselves. They were something else.”

Posted by: koolwine | November 23, 2016

Tonga: Harpoon in My Hand

img_3213The author’s account of a season spent whaling with native Tongans using traditional hunting methods.

Country Focus: Tonga

Harpoon in My Hand
By Olaf Ruhen (1911-1989)
Published by Tower Publications, 1967.
185 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

About the author:  Ruhen, an adventurous New Zealander, traveled extensively throughout New Guinea, Australia and the South Pacific. His many works of fiction and nonfiction were inspired by his journeys.

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Olaf Ruhen

Olaf Ruhen

Quote:

In a finishing operation I started punching the heads of the nails that secured the gunwale  capping, but David stopped me.

“It makes a good job, Olefi. But then I have to use putty to fill the holes up, and I can’t afford putty. Drive the heads flush and leave them. They’ll rust, but they’ll last the season.”

It was the same with every finished job in Tonga. Americans particularly were quick to criticize and comment on inadequacies they saw. But these inadequacies arose not from laziness or ignorance but from the impossibility of buying supplies.  They were caused by poverty, for which Tongans have always learned to find a compensation. Not a pound of putty was bought for Velata. The small amount we used was contrived by finding old hardened chunks of putty about the site, where people had worked vessels for a century, by pounding these to a powder, and by working the powder again to the appropriate consistency after adding fresh oil from coconuts and candlenuts and the rest.

Posted by: koolwine | November 12, 2016

Fiji: On Fiji Islands

On Fiji Islands by Ronald WrightA Canadian travels the region of the South Pacific once known as the “Cannibal Isles” and shares tales of its inhabitants, history and culture.

Country Focus: Fiji

On Fiji Islands
By Ronald Wright
Published by Penguin Books, 1986.
257 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author:  Wright has written multiple award-winning works of fiction and nonfiction including The Gold Eaters, Henderson’s Spear, A Scientific Romance, A Short History of Progress, Stolen Continents, Time Among the Maya, Cut Stones and Crossroads, What Is America?, and Home and Away.

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Ronald Wright

Ronald Wright

Quote:

Numerous independent sources confirm that the ancient Fijians had an elaborate system of beliefs, rituals, special utensils, and favourite recipes for large-scale cannibalism. This could have resulted only from long development. None of the Fijians questioned by early Europeans ever tried to deny or hide the fact of cannibalism; on the contrary, they expected the whites to tolerate it as vakavanua, the “way of the land.”

Victims were most often cooked in earth ovens (lovo) made of hot stones among which the meat and vegetables were buried. A wild “spinach”—botanical name Solanum anthropopphagorum—was deemed essential to avoid the constipating properties of human flesh; and yes, the latter was was sometimes figuratively call vuaka balavu, “long pig.”

Posted by: koolwine | October 12, 2016

Free Books! (Round 15)

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. November 12, 2016 is the deadline for requesting a book from Round 15.

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

Posted by: koolwine | October 7, 2016

Brunei: Some Girls

Some Girls by Jillian LaurenAn eighteen-year-old Jersey girl jumps at the chance to earn $20K in two weeks by attending parties thrown by the insanely wealthy Prince of Brunei. The young but savvy former escort quickly becomes one of the Prince’s favorites, and winds up staying a year and a half. Lauren interweaves her exotic adventure story with the details on how an upper middle class kid from the suburbs becomes a sex worker.  

Country Focus: Brunei

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem
By Jillian Lauren
Published by Plume, 2010.
339 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author: Lauren has penned a post-Some Girls memoir called Everything You Ever Wanted and the novel Pretty.  She’s still living large with rock star husband Scott Shriner (the bassist for Weezer), and their two adopted special-needs sons from Ethiopia.

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Jillian Lauren

Jillian Lauren

Quote:

After the shops closed at nine p.m., security guards opened the doors for us. Salesgirls stayed late in the stores and we kept shopping, my arches aching in my sandals as we power-walked the dim corridors of the closed malls. I started throwing down Chanel gowns on on the counter without even trying them on. I figured I might as well go until I hit my spending limit, but I hit a wall of exhaustion first and gave up. We drove back to the hotel close to midnight. I had been shopping since eleven that morning.

“What was my limit anyway?” I asked the bodyguard when we were in the car. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t hit it. I had certainly tried.

“You didn’t have one. No limit only for some girls. Only for very special girls.”

Posted by: koolwine | September 25, 2016

Central African Republic: Song from the Forest

Song from the Forest by Louis SarnoA song on the radio inspires a middle-aged man to spend the last of his money on a one-way plane ticket to the Central African Republic in order to live with a group of Pygmies and record their extraordinary music.        

Country Focus: Central African Republic (Republique Centrafricaine in French)

Song from the Forest: My Life Among the Ba-Benjellé Pygmies
By Louis Sarno
Published by Houghton Mifflin, 1993.
301 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author: Originally from New Jersey, Sarno has spent the last thirty years living among the Bayaka Pygmies. He has a Bayakan wife and two adopted Bayakan sons. Sarno has recorded over 1,400 hours of music and forest sounds which have been digitized by Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum. Sarno’s work and life has drawn the attention of filmmakers as well as musicologists. The 2011 movie OKA! is loosely based on one of his unpublished memoirs. A 2014 documentary film (also called Song from the Forestrecords his son’s first visit to America.

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Louis Sarno

Louis Sarno

Quote:

Total darkness posed extra problems for recording these ceremonies, but it did not stop me. I learned to operate my recorder by feel. I devised a way to rotate the cassettes from pocket to pocket so that I would not record on the same cassette twice and would know in the morning the order in which they had been recorded. I was convinced I was hearing the most sublime music on earth. It no longer resembled “Pygmy” music to me — it no longer even resembled African music. It was beyond all such distinctions, a world unto itself. I recorded everything, not because I thought the opportunity unique (on the contrary, I believed I would have countless similar opportunities), but from an urge to preserve as much as I could from what I now regarded as the happiest period of my life. I will long for these days, I told myself while living them.

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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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?

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