These are some of the books I found most memorable this year.
Outsider II: Always Almost, Never Quite (reviewed Jan. 9) by Brian Sewell [Quartet Books]. This is the concluding volume of the autobiography of the gay London-based art critic as well-known for his trenchantly traditionalist views on art as for his ability to name names and scandalize generally. A magnificent read, and my Number One choice for 2014.
The Establishment: And how they get away with it (reviewed Oct. 16) by Owen Jones [Allen Lane]. Here a young UK journalist with strong left-wing sympathies analyzes how the rich, despite living in a democracy, continue to influence government for their own ends. Jones’s central point is that the right wing persuades the populace to put the blame on immigrants and the unemployed, instead of on the real culprits — bankers, high-end tax dodgers, and the wealthy in general. With his northern accent and youthful face, Jones is becoming well-known on TV in the UK, and he’s the just sort of polemicist the Labor Party, soon to face a crucial election, needs. This is his credo
The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman (reviewed Aug. 21) by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert [Belknap, Harvard University Press]. Not an easy read, but the descriptions of encountering dancing spirits and opposing foreigners intent on a land-grab makes it worth the effort. Claude Levi-Strauss helped Albert, a French anthropologist, in the book’s early stages.
Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China (reviewed April 3), edited by Tom Carter [Earnshaw Books]. Here are 28 highly enjoyable tales of extraordinary variety — traveling by train from Urumqi to Hong Kong without a ticket, exploring the ancient Tea Horse Road from Lhasa to Yunnan, deciding whether to pen stories for students that will be presented as their own work in university applications, and visiting some not very prepossessing prostitutes along with even less prepossessing foreign colleagues. Unremittingly entertaining.
Nazi Goreng (reviewed March 6) by Marco Ferrarese [Monsoon Books]. This is an eminently readable and intelligent novel set in Penang, written by an Italian-born author resident in Asia. Ferrarese is also a punk-rock guitarist, and he met many of the “Malay supremacist” youths he describes at his gigs. They mouth anti-immigrant sentiments without having any knowledge of the people they so casually vilify, but they’re central to the plot which, though extensively concerned with drug dealing, also includes police corruption. I found the whole book astute and very insightful.
An Officer and a Spy (reviewed Dec. 11) by Robert Harris [Arrow Books]. This powerful novel is about the Dreyfus Case in 19th century France in which a Jewish army officer was wrongly convicted of passing state secrets to Germany. The campaign for his release quickly divided the country, and Harris presents a detailed picture of the characters within the state apparatus who worked against Dreyfus’s re-trial. This is a novel that looks like a blockbuster but is actually the work of an intelligent and gifted writer. I’m currently eagerly seeking out his other books.
With listicles of local attractions including Costco and numerous children’s playgrounds, I was not expecting much. Opened on Jan. 31, the Taipei MRT’s Circular Line, or Yellow Line, made life in the nation’s capital even more convenient. But judging from Internet search results, it hasn’t opened up many new tourism opportunities, unsurprising as the route mostly crosses densely populated areas and industrial parks. Places like a sports stadium with rainbow colored bleachers perfect for Instagram selfies wouldn’t do it for me either, and it’s pointless to list attractions at the connecting stops that have existed for years. As a history nerd, there
June 1 to June 7 In February 1988, Robert Wu (吳清友) set aside NT$17.5 million to purchase two Henry Moore sculptures from London’s Marlborough Gallery. He never bought the pieces. Feeling slighted that the gallery manager initially looked down on him as a Taiwanese, he decided that night to use the money to open his own art space back home. “Without selling any art, that money could support the gallery for four years. If I feature one artist per month, that provides a stage for at least 100 artists,” Wu said in the book Eslite Time (誠品時光) by Lin Ching-yi (林靜宜).
The Lunar New Year vacation had just ended when Alice Wu began to worry about COVID-19. Not long after, on Feb. 10, Wu — who didn’t give her Chinese name to speak freely for this story — received the first of several coronavirus-related sales messages through her smartphone. The pitch came from an acquaintance who represents Amway, an American multi-level marketing (MLM) company that’s been active in Taiwan since 1982. “I’ve only met her once, and I’ve never bought from her. If her sister wasn’t one of my daughter’s teachers, I’d probably block her,” says Wu, who lives in Taichung. MLM, sometimes
It’s difficult to watch Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, a four-hour Netflix series on the now-deceased convicted sex offender without a choking sense of outrage. How many girls had to suffer to get attention? How perversely twisted is the American justice system that a Gatsby-esque billionaire, friends with such powerful figures as Bill Clinton , Prince Andrew and Donald Trump, a longstanding donor to Harvard and MIT, could buy his way out of an almost certain life sentence for child sex abuse and trafficking? Filthy Rich arrives, of course, less than a year after Epstein, 66, died, officially by suicide, in a New