Of the books I’ve reviewed this year, the most somber, terrifying and menacing was The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade by Andrew Feinstein (Hamish Hamilton; reviewed in the Taipei Times Jan. 31). Not only does it give extensive information about private arms dealers — it also considers government involvement. It was reminiscent of the film The Lord of War, at the end of which the credits state that the planet’s biggest exporters of arms are the US, Russia, the UK, France and China — in other words, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It makes you think again about the kind of world we’re really living in.
Not necessarily an answer to the horror of the international arms trade, but nonetheless enormously fascinating as history, was the re-issue, finally in its complete form, of Victor Serge’s 1951 classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary (New York Review of Books; reviewed June 5). Serge joined the Bolsheviks for a time while remaining resolutely opposed to all terror tactics, not to mention being a life-long opponent of the death penalty. Later he was sentenced to internal exile, and was lucky to be released after protests from writers in the West, ending his life in Mexico. His wonderful autobiography makes for a substantial and very invigorating read.
Back in the modern world, but a long way from most people’s experience of it, was Colin Thubron’s To a Mountain in Tibet (Vintage; reviewed July 31). It describes his approach to, and circuit of, Mount Kailash, a mountain considered so sacred that no one has apparently ever been to its peak. Thubron is simultaneously skeptical and open to all impressions. The Tibetan way of death is everywhere evident, but Thubron, 73 at the time, soldiers on with one guide and one porter, and no doubt a very good pair of boots.
Taipei Times file photo
From Penguin came the paperback of Norman Davies’s Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (reviewed Nov. 27). In it, this distinguished professor revisits 14 European nations that no longer exist, and relates their destinies with considerable gusto. This is a continent, you quickly come to realize, that has been ruled and fought over by diverse dynasties for thousands of years, with men being willing to lay down their lives for “king and country” when the country, let alone the king, proves to be very much a temporary phenomenon. It’s a lesson that should be learned by us all.
Lastly, a book that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind is Taipei-resident Eric Mader’s Heretic Days: Writings from the Margins of Christianity (CreateSpace, reviewed Feb. 28). It’s simultaneously learned, wide-ranging and bizarre, combining considerations of topics as various as Leonard Cohen, William Blake, St Thomas’s Gospel and the necessity of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. It’s endlessly fascinating, but so far from my usual areas of interest that I can only put its lingering in my consciousness down to the stubborn persistence, in Mader at least, of human independence and resolution.
Taipei Times file photo
The chills were what first tipped me off that something was wrong. It was an early Thursday evening in late February and I was sitting in my office. I normally hit an energy low this time of the day but this was different, as I suddenly felt chilled, absolutely drained of energy, the lightest of achiness in my muscles and joints and a slight pain behind my eyeballs. I went home, took a long hot shower and went to bed early. After a full day of rest, I felt normal enough on Saturday to jump on my bike and enjoy
1. If you go to the hospital for a check-up, plan for the worst-case scenario — having to stay there without returning home. Have a hospital “grab bag” to either take with you or have someone deliver. Recommended items include: T-shirts, shorts and sleeping clothes, socks and underwear, sweater/fleece, personal toiletries and medications, computer (and headphones) and phone plus charging cables, towel, slippers, nail clippers and reading material. Also, have a water bottle/container that nurses can fill up with drinking water. Remember that Taiwanese hospitals generally only provide the most basic of daily necessities. 2. If you test positive, anticipate
When a man surnamed Chen discovered that his wife, surnamed Chang, was having an affair with a foreign national surnamed James, he hired private investigators to catch them having sex. Chen and three private investigators staked out James’ apartment and, when they heard moaning sounds coming from Chang, burst in and filmed the couple in flagrante delicto. A judge later found the pair guilty of adultery and sentenced them to four months in prison, and ordered the foreign national to be deported. Like anywhere, adultery is a daily occurrence in Taiwan, and rarely a day passes when an adulterous couple
Over a million people flooded Kenting National Park over two weeks in 1986 to see Halley’s Comet, massively boosting the area’s tourism industry March 30 to April 5 About 30,000 disappointed visitors lingered on the streets of Kenting National Park on the evening of March 28, 1986. Established just two years earlier, Taiwan’s first national park had never seen so many visitors — all hotels were full, hundreds of tents cramped the campgrounds and the latecomers slept in their cars. Most had traveled here just to catch a glimpse of Halley’s Comet, which only passes by the Earth every 76 years or so. That year, the comet was more visible the further to the south, and Kenting’s location at Taiwan’s southernmost tip made