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.
Last week the Transitional Justice Commission proposed taking down the statue of Chang Kai-shek (蔣介石) at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in central Taipei. It depicted the move as part of a plan for excising markers of authoritarianism from the park. The most important task, the commission said, would be removing the hall’s “axis of worship,” the 6.3m-tall bronze statue of Chiang. Let us hope that if and when that obscenity is finally removed from the memorial, it is placed in the famed Cihu Memorial Sculpture Garden in Taoyuan’s Dasi District (大溪), where it can be properly mocked for all eternity. CHIANG,
The pandemic seems to be far from over, but the Post Pandemic Renaissance Theater (PPRT) is getting a head start by putting on its first event last Friday: the first round of the Taiwan Monologue Slam. Ten contestants delivered passionate and nuanced pieces on stage, and the audience voted with their phones for two winners who will advance to the local finals in November. There will be four finals in the next year, and each winner is automatically entered into the World Monologue Games regional finals, bypassing the preliminaries. The goal is to eventually get a Taiwan team to next summer’s games,
In an industrial unit on the outskirts of Taipei chefs are plating meals that will never be served in a restaurant: welcome to the world of “ghost kitchens.” Even before the pandemic sent an earthquake through the global restaurant trade, the “Amazonification” of commercial kitchens was well underway, but coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions have fueled explosive growth in Asia. The recent boom in food delivery apps meant customers were already used to having restaurant quality meals quickly delivered to their homes. To meet that demand a growing number of restaurants set up delivery only kitchens — also known as “cloud kitchens”
Worried his appearance would detract from opportunities in China’s competitive society, Xia Shurong decided to go under the surgeon’s knife to reshape his nose — one of millions of young men in the country turning to cosmetic surgery. The 27-year-old researcher wanted medical procedures to transform his look from “engineering geek” to something he thinks will boost his life chances. Beauty standards in China can be exacting, from pressure over skin tone, eye and nose shape to the controversial “little fresh meat” look — a buzzword used to describe handsome young men with delicate features. “I feel I should be ‘fresh meat’