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
March 27 to April 2 After placing fifth in the 1964 Miss Universe pageant in Miami, “Miss China” Yu Yi (于儀) toured the US to great fanfare. The Chinese community in San Francisco called her the “pride of the Republic of China (ROC),” and she even received the key to New York City. Taiwan’s Miss China pageant produced three winners that year who performed on the international stage. Lin Su-hsin (林素幸), the second Taiwan-born Miss China, did even better, claiming third place in London’s Miss World. She says she was elated to see
Last week, the huge news broke that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would not host an open primary for its presidential nominee, but instead pick a candidate through a committee process. KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) sent forth a few polite meaningless words about party unity in making the announcement. There’s great commentary on this momentous move, so I will say only that for those of you who think the KMT will “never be that dumb,” I have three words for you: Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the unelectable candidate the party chose for the 2016 presidential race. Criticism of the Democratic Progressive
Pingtung County was home to many of Taiwan’s earliest Hakka immigrants. Jiadong Township (佳冬鄉), now little more than a small rural outpost along the road to Kenting with a slowly dwindling population and a local economy supported mainly by aquaculture, was once a thriving Hakka stronghold. Evidence of the residents’ strong family ties, self-reliance and, in some cases, keen business sense, still remains. At the time of the Japanese takeover in 1895, it was still an important enough center that the incoming colonists sent a special military mission to capture it. Nowadays, much has been done to preserve the cultural
The opportunity that brought Ming Turner (陳明惠) back to Taiwan a decade ago had an environmental theme, but since then, she admits, paying attention to environmental issues “hasn’t really been my thing.” Turner, who attended graduate school in the UK, initially returned to curate an event in Kaohsiung’s Cijin District (旗津), not far from where she grew up. Some years after she and her husband decided they’d stay in Taiwan, they moved to Tainan’s Annan District (安南) with their two young children. Turner is now an associate professor in the Institute of Creative Industries Design and director of visual and performance