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.
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