Crowdsourced: More Books with a Difference — Fiction

You asked, Moonlight Reader?  To quote from one of my additional entries below:  “As you wish …”

Without any further ado:

Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
When Lillelara added A Place of Greater Safety to her list, I could have kicked myself —  because Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books were definitely among the most impressive books I’ve read in the past couple of years.  (A Place of Greater Safety as well, but the Cromwell duology even more so.)  They’ve changed my perception of Cromwell from that of a ruthless schemer to an incredibly complex and astute person (and politician): perhaps still not somebody I’d have wanted to be around all the time, but definitely someone for whom I’m caring from afar and back across several centuries.  And I’m both looking forward to and dreading the release of book 3 (now apparently scheduled for 2020).

Ben Jonson: The Alchemist
Speaking of scheming, the best evidence (if such a thing was needed) that get-rich-quick schemes are not the invention of the likes of Ponzi, P.T. Barnum, Madoff et al. — they’ve always been around.  A ribald, laugh-out-loud satire that’s best experienced on the stage rather than on the page … Philosopher’s stone, anybody?

Ellis Peters: Brother Cadfael series
MbD has already listed this series’s first book, A Morbid Taste for Bones, but really, the whole series is absolutely canon for me.  Peters condenses the complexities of the first English Civil War down to installments of roughly 200 pages, and she does so not only with great knowledge and insight but also with great empathy, through the eyes of one of literary history’s most engaging and worldly-wise characters.

Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night
And it’s the exact reverse here: I’ll be the first to get behind anybody’s adding all of Sayers’s writing to the list by way of a blanket reference, but the simple fact is that you haven’t really read Sayers until you’ve read Gaudy Night.  It’s the crowning achievement not only of her Lord Peter Wimsey series (and Wimsey / Vane subseries) but of all of her writing, not only until then — no wonder she was essentially done writing mysteries after this one.  MR rightly asked yesterday how come nobody has added Gaudy Night by name to the list, yet … it shall be so no longer!

Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express, Murder at the Vicarage, Crooked House, Witness for the Prosecution, and The Mousetrap
We already have “all of Christie” (minus Passenger to Frankfurt) and several individual titles on the list, and I swear I’ve tried to really keep a lid on things, but … look, I just don’t think I want to look at a crowdsourced BL list that doesn’t at least contain the above-named books as well.

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
My personal tetralogy of must-read dystopias consists of George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  Orwell’s and Atwood’s books are already on the list.  I’d (very grudgingly) be willing to live without  Huxley (even though the opening chapter alone should send a chill down everybody’s spine, particularly in light of the recent advances in genetic engineering).  But Fahrenheit 451 just has to be included — it’s never been more relevant than today, and it completely blows my mind that it was written in the 1950s.

Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger
I was initially going to include this in my first list, but took it off again after seeing that it was on the infamous published “1001 books” list.  Given that we’ve since clarified that this is not necessarily an exclusionary criterium, I’m happily listing it again: This is one of the funniest, most acidly satiric tough-love letters to one’s own country (packaged as a letter to a visiting foreign potentate) that you’ll ever come across.  Your laughter may be sticking in your throat a couple of times when you realize that you’ve just exposed your vocal chords to a razor blade hovering a nano-inch right above them, but even that won’t keep you from laughing out loud again and again on the very next occasion.

Louis de Bernières: Birds Without Wings
As book lists go, an exercise in contrasts vis-à-vis The White Tiger:  Just as panoramic in scope, just as searing to your various and assorted body parts, though in this instance, your guts (individually and collectively): a foray into early 20th century Turkish history as showcased in one particular community and by the friendship of two boys; Turkish-Greek (Muslim-Christian Orthodox) relations, Galllipoli, women’s roles, displacement, diaspora and all.  As gorgeously written as utterly devastating.  (Some of the characters, I’m told, resurface in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin — which I’ve yet to read, though.)

T.C. Boyle: The Tortilla Curtain
Like Adiga’s, Boyle’s sword is satire first and foremost, but there is a good deal of anger here, too:  Upper middle class gated community meets illegal Mexican immigrants — the quintessential Southern Californian culture clash.  This book, too, has never felt more relevant than today.

Edna O’Brien: In the Forest and Down by the River
O’Brien caused a stir and got herself onto her country’s censorship index with her Country Girls trilogy (and given 1960s’ morals, at least in  Ireland, that sort of figures), but it’s these two books by her that have left an indelible impression on me; on account of their topics (the prohibition of abortion — even in cases of incestual rape — in Down by the River, and a serial killing spree in In the Forest) and even more so because I’ve never before or since seen topics like these discussed in prose like O’Brien’s, with a brutal and yet lyrical immediacy that grabs you by the throat and never lets you go.

Bernard MacLaverty: Cal
If you only ever read one book on the (Northern) Irish “Troubles”, make it this one — simple as that.  Short and profoundly heartbreaking, and if afterwards you still don’t have a sense of what’s (been) going on there, you never will.

Heinrich Böll: Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum) and Irish Journal
Böll’s two sides: One, an angry polemic on one woman’s loss of privacy, employment, security, and pretty much everything else as a result of a vicious tabloid campaign following on the heels of her being falsely accused of being a member of a gang of terrorists; the other, a humorous, upbeat and downright serene account of his life in Ireland (or at least, some of its episodes).  Böll at his best in both instances, and taken together they showcase both the breadth and the depth of his writing.

Bertolt Brecht: Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui)
Brecht is best known for The Threepenny Opera, Mother Courage and, perhaps, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, but I’m not aware of any play that satirizes a demagogue’s rise to absolute power as trenchantly as this one, set in Chicago and written after Brecht had emigrated to the U.S. (There is no question that Arturo Ui is meant to be Hitler.)  Like all plays, obviously best experienced on the stage; and I swear Ian McKellen took more than a page out of Brecht’s book when transposing Richard III to a fascist version of 1930s Britain in his 1995 movie — characterization, set decorations and all.

Su Tong: Raise the Red Lantern (aka Wives and Concubines)
The first narrative actually by a Chinese author set in the world that I had previously only known through Pearl S. Buck’s novels; and it completely broke my heart.  (So did the movie starring Gong Li.)  It’s not easy being a rich man’s young minor concubine … in fact, it may clean drive you insane.

Amy Tan: The Kitchen God’s Wife
The Joy Luck Club is a good book, but it’s here, in her second novel, that Tan really gets up, close and uncomfortably personal with married life in early 20th century China.  Like most of her writing, partially informed by her own family’s experience, which adds ever so much more immediacy to the storytelling.

Colleen McCullough: The Thorn Birds
People may have watched the TV series for the romance (and, um, for Richard Chamberlain), but I’ll take any bets you like that you will read the book for the history, the sweeping canvas of Australia, and all of the characters — though there is, of course, only one Mary Carson, and that’s probably a good thing, too.

Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind
Speaking of romance tearjerkers, though … Look, I know, it’s racist to the core and Ashley is the wettest of wet towels (even if he’s played by Leslie Howard in the movie).  But Scarlett is a complete and utter badass, and that alone means she has every right to be on a list bearing that very word in its title; Rhett and Scarlett have more memorable lines of dialogue between the two of them than a whole other library’s worth of romance novels, and Mellie almost certainly is one of literary history’s most underappreciated characters.  (Also, Rhett Butler will of course always be Clark Gable.)

Elizabeth von Arnim: The Solitary Summer
MbD listed this book’s prequel, Elizabeth and her German Garden, but I think the two should be read together; and though I haven’t read everything by von Arnim yet I’ve read enough to know that her books are absolutely part of my personal canon.  Charming, witty, here also frequently contemplative — and way ahead of her time in terms of her insights on society.  (Also, there’s an obvious reason why she nicknamed her husband The Man of Wrath.)

John Mortimer: Rumpole of the Bailey
This has to be one of very few examples of storylines first developed for a TV series later being turned into book form and making their central character an icon both on the page and on screen.  Rumpole will always look like Leo McKern to me (it’s no coincidence that some of the book covers are cartoons mimicking him in the role, either); and I’ve learned more about common law criminal trials and about the differences between British and American criminal procedure than from many a textbook.  Also, the manifold ways in which Mortimer kept Rumpole from actually “taking silk” (i.e., becoming a QC — queen’s counsel — in his own right and allowed to first-chair trials), and thus keeping him safely in the disdain of his wife Hilda, aka “she who must be obeyed”, never cease to astound me.

Peter May: The Blackhouse
I’m fairly late to May’s books and, based on what I’ve read to date, I’d have no hesitation in blindly recommending the entire Lewis Trilogy and everything else he’s written that is set on the Hebrides as well.  As it is, I’m going to content me with one of the two books I actually have read so far, the first installment of the Lewis Trilogy.  (The other book by him I’ve read is The Coffin Road, which is every bit as good.)  Darkly atmospheric, gripping; just all around phantastic writing.

James D. Doss: White Shell Woman and Grandmother Spider / Tony Hillerman: Leaphorn & Chee series
Two  series focusing on Native American cops and making the most of their Southwestern U.S. setting and the culture and mythology of the Native people at their core: Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries, I’ve been aware of for a long time (though not quite from the time of its actual beginning), but Doss’s Ute tribal investigator Charlie Moon, his best buddy sheriff Scott Paris and his shaman aunt Daisy Perika are fairly new to me, and boy am I glad I finally discovered them!  I’ve read all of Hillerman’s mysteries — those by him, not the sequels by his daughter, that is — and love (or at least like) most of them well enough to recommend the entire series; my favorites are probably some of the first books after Leaphorn and Chee were first lumped together (after having initially worked alone in three books each): Skinwalkers, A Thief of Time, Coyote Waits, and Sacred Clowns, as well as the final book written by Tony Hillerman himself, Skeleton Man. — By contrast, I still have quite a bit of catching up yet to do with Mr. Doss, but he’s definitely a new favorite already, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of my journey through his catalogue.  Of the books I’ve read so far, Grandmother Spider and White Shell Woman are far and away the best.

John Le Carré: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes — who will spy on a spy; who’ll guard the guardians?  The eternal question, ever since rulers first figured out that it might be worthwhile keeping tabs on their friends and enemies, abroad as well as at home (and also keep tabs on the people keeping those tabs); and nobody before or since nailed it the way Le Carré does here.  The Spy Who Came in from the Cold may have been his breakout success (and for a reason), but to me, in setting, characters, story arc and everything else, Le Carré’s writing will always come down to this one book.  Even Stella Rimington (former head of MI 5) grudgingly acknowledged that he gets it right … and even if he had written no other book at all, his would still be one of the most important contributions to the genre — and to a wider understanding how secret services operate –, for this one book alone.

Edgar Allan Poe: The Masque of the Red Death
Heaven knows I’m no horror fan, and Poe creeped the heck out of me when we read The Tell-Tale Heart way back when in high school.  While I acknowledge his mad genius, I admire some, but not all of his writing (The Black Cat is not a story I ever want to go near again in my life, and the Dupin Tales, though of course groundbreaking in terms of genre, leave me somewhat unimpressed from a storytelling perspective); but you’ll have to look long and hard to find another as spine-chilling portrayal, in the brief span of a short story at that, of a society literally partying itself to death in complete oblivion of the peril it has conjured right into its midst.

Stephen King: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
Even more than Poe, Stephen King is able to creep me out like nobody’s business, but even if you’re not into horror, if there’s one piece of fiction writing by him that I think everybody should read it is this one, for its middle finger salute to adverse fate if nothing else.  (Also, Edmond Dantès has nothing on Andy Dufresne.  And I’m saying this as a big fan of The Count of Monte Cristo.)

James Goldman: The Lion in Winter
Modern TV has discovered the Tudors as soap opera material (and there’s a point to that, obviously), but if there’s one family in the centuries-long history of the (immediately preceding) Plantagenet dynasty, it’s Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons, not coincidentally known as “the devil’s brood”.  If you don’t believe me, watch this play … or the movie based on it.  It gives a whole new meaning to the term “family feud” — and this all actually happened!

William Goldman: The Princess Bride
This, on the other hand, is a fairy tale.  (Or is it?)  Well, at least the best bits are; “S. Morgenstern” my foot.  This one is of course worth it for the one-liners alone (as is, again and even more so, the movie — the Goldman brothers really had a run in Hollywood).  And seriously, how can we possibly have a “favorite 500” crowdsourced list without this book on it?

Jules Verne: Mich(a)el Strogoff (aka The Tsar’s Courier)
One of the first adventure novels I was seriously hooked on; a ripping great yarn set in Tsarist Russia.  It helped that there was a TV adaptation when I was in my most impressionable years in terms of hero worship, but who hasn’t ever wanted to be chosen to carry a secret message from the Tsar’s Moscow court all the way to Irkutsk in Siberia, fight bandits and Tartars on the way and have all sorts of other adventures (romantic, with a killer partner, included)?

Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped
Before there was Michael Strogoff (for me), there was David Balfour.  Replace Russia by Scotland, and you had me at “adventure”:  Jekyll and Hyde came later, but neither it nor The Treasure Island has ever occupied even remotely the place in my heart that is firmly reserved for the adventures of David Balfour.  Als, note to Mr. Dickens: See, I really like your larger than life characters, but this little book is proof positive that you can deliver this sort of story in the space of a little less than 300 pages and even include a sea voyage and some nifty swashbuckling.  It doesn’t have to be a 950-page brick like Nicholas Nickleby

Giovanni Guareschi: The Little World of Don Camillo
Another book that I discovered via its TV adaptation, starring French comedian Fernandel as Don Camillo: The daily feuds of the local Catholic priest and his friend and rival, communist mayor Peppone, in small-town post-WW II Italy.  Cheeky, funny and an all-around feel-good book — and always with an upbeat, hands-on solution to whatever problem has arisen in the course of the narrative (even if occasionally a somewhat … unusual one).  If only all politics would work like that, village setting or not!

Francis Hodgson Burnett: Little Lord Fauntleroy
Yes, it’s sentimental (then again, so are The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, which tend to get somewhat more play when it comes to “must read” lists), and I know it’s not even a Christmas novel as written — it was only tweaked that way in the TV adaptation starring Alec Guinness and Ricky Schroder –, but it’s been one of my feel-good go-to books, around Christmas especially, since practically time immemorial.

T.S. Eliot: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
Most people know it because it’s provided all except one of the song lyrics and feline characters for the musical Cats, but seriously, people — whether or not you are a cat person yourself, just read it, laugh and enjoy.  Eliot wrote this for his godchildren, and he obviously had a ball.  He also knew cats really, really well.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Letters from Father Christmas
Tolkien’s letters to his children, responding to their letters and wish lists to Santa Claus (Father Christmas) — do yourselves a favor and get the hardcover edition, which is illustrated with Tolkien’s own drawings.  This is where The Hobbit came from … and probably parts of Lord of the Rings as well.

Otfried Preußler: Die kleine Hexe (The Little Witch)
Otfried Preußler, in Germany, is sort of Frank L. Baum, Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll rolled into one — he is, or used to be, one of the most popular children’s authors for decades.  Many of his stories were inspired by the myths and legends of his native Sudeten region (today: chiefly in Poland and the Czech Republic); including this one, which has always been my absolute favorite.  Talk about a middle finger to adversity ending … —  Preußler was also the first author to whom I ever wrote a fan letter … in first grade, when I had barely learned to read and write!

Bill Watterson: The Complete Calvin & Hobbes / René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo: Asterix the Gaul
Hobbes forever. — And you couldn’t grow up in Europe when I was a kid without knowing about (and loving) Asterix and his village of crazy Gauls.

 

And since books that are on “those lists” are no longer absolutely taboo, I’m hereby also offering the following additions from the “I know they’re on all of ‘those lists’, but they’re canon to me and there’s nothing to be done about that” department:

Jane Austen: Mansfield Park and Persuasion
All of Austen, really, but if I have to pick individual books, it’s always going to be Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park.  Since Moonlight Reader has already added P&P, I’m obviously going to go with the other two.  Of course you can’t help but love Lizzy Bennet (and Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy, period), but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Austen’s quieter heroines; not least because they’re having so much more of a hard time sticking to their guns and they persevere nevertheless.

Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre
Not the only badass among the Brontë sisters’ heroines, but however much I may like The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane still takes the cake.  We first met when I was barely a teenager — I guess that kind of lengthy acquaintanceship is just a bit too long to upend, even by charracters from the pen of another member of the same family of writers.

Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford and North & South
It’s not hard to see how Gaskell and the Brontës (especially Charlotte) were friends.  But where CB kept things essentially to a personal level, Gaskell took it to a wider scope (also, I can’t read North and South without seeing Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton).  Her greatest jewel, though, is Cranford and the microcosm of its village life — nowhere else does Gaskell’s wit and insight into human nature sparkle as much as there.  Besides, how can you resist a book about a village where men are merely tolerated and nobody really dare dispute that women are the infinitely superior sex?

William Shakespeare: Macbeth, Richard III, Hamlet
For obvious reasons I’m tempted to list half his catalogue, but even if you’re not into Elizabethan theatre at all, the three plays by the Bard that you absolutely ought to see are Macbeth, Richard III, and Much Ado About Nothing.  Since Tea, Stitch, Read thankfully already listed Much Ado, I’m going to stick with the other two — plus my personal favorite (after many meanderings), Hamlet.  Nobody does the ruin of a human being — and his complete entourage — as the consequence of a single destructive character flaw like Shakespeare, and these three plays are among his very best.

Alexandre Dumas (père): The Three Musketeers
We already have The Count of Monte Cristo on the list, and I totally agree with that of course, but I met M. Dantès at around the same time as D’Artagnan and his friends, and they’ve been an item in my mind ever since.  Besides, Artos, Portos and Aramis totally rule at wisecracking while swashbuckling.  So onto the list they go!

John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck wasn’t on my high school curriculum, and that was perhaps fortunate, as no teacher had the opportunity to ruin him for me and I could discover him all by myself and in my own time.  My two “must read” entries by him are East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath; since we already have East of Eden, obviously I’m going to go with his pull-no-punches, kick-in-the-gut Depression Era masterpiece.

Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Williams named his fictional world “Dragon Country” and described it as an uninhabitable place of pain that is nevertheless inhabited — that’s really all you need to know about his plays.  These two hit me the hardest by far.

Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence
Wharton won the Pulitzer for this novel, and even if perhaps she’d already deserved one a lot earlier, there’s no question that it’s justified here.  Social conventions were never so stifling, scheming never so vicious — and all hidden under a perfect, completely scratch-proof, shining veneer.  In equal parts chilling and heartbreaking.

Virginia Woolf: Orlando and A Room of One’s Own
The first of these, Woolf’s tongue in cheek but heartfelt love letter to Vita Sackville-West (also one of the most approachable among her novels), the other one her feminist manifesto.  It’s hard, indeed, not to recognize both Sackville-West and her beloved Knole in Orlando‘s title character and key setting, and this is one of the few books where both time travel and a gender swap really work for me.  A Room of One’s Own, on the other hand, contains the famous “anonymous poet(ess)” quote, but it shouldn’t be reduced to that — it’s really quite a trenchant analysis of the history of women’s literature, and much of it still rings very true today.

Aristophanes: Lysistrata
A sex strike to prevent a war … maybe we should revive that idea, what do you think?

Sophocles / Jean Anouilh: Antigone
Antigone has been one of my heroines ever since I first came across her story, and not even a French teacher who almost managed to ruin Camus for me (whom, in turn, I had to rediscover on my own after having graduated from high school) could muddy those particular waters.  In fact, in a way I’ve even come to love Anouilh’s version of the play just a tiny bit more than Sophocles’s original.

Jean-Paul Sartre: Huis Clos (No Exit)
L’enfer, c’est les autres — hell is other people.  I didn’t have to see this play to form that particular conviction, but Sartre really nails it — and all he needs is three characters and a stage set with three chairs and a locked door.

George Orwell: Animal Farm
Yes, it’s manipulative to the nth degree, yet, “all pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others” and “four legs good, two legs bad” are far and away no longer applicable to the communist dictatorships that Orwell aimed this at.  A worthy companion to his masterpiece 1984 (which is already on our list anyway).

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go
Ishiguro’s big theme is the unreliability of memory — and indeed, nobody does unreliable narrators like him.  He deserved the Lit Nobel for these two novels alone.

Thomas Mann: Doktor Faustus, as well as Mario und der Zauberer (Mario and the Magician) / Klaus Mann: Mephisto / Heinrich Mann: Der Untertan (Man of Straw, aka The Loyal Subject)
The Mann family’s individual and collective takedown of the Nazi regime and the society that made the Nazis’ rise to power possible.  Thomas Mann’s seducer (in the novel) and magician (in the short story; in both instances, an obvious parable for Hitler — with the novel’s Faustus standing in for the German people), aided and abetted by charismatic opportunists like Klaus Mann’s Mephisto, who mesmerized a people conditioned for centuries to obey and even slavishly adore authority without question, like the eponymous protagonist of Heinrich Mann’s novel.

E.M. Remarque: Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front)
In a sense, the prequel to the above-mentioned Mann family’s writings: the story of the lost generation bamboozled into joyfully rushing into the slaughter that would be WW I.  This will make you angry, and it will also break your heart (several times).

And with that, I’ll leave it for the time being … nonfiction additions (if we still have space for them) to follow tomorrow!

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1906574/crowdsourced-more-books-with-a-difference-fiction

Xinran: The Good Women of China


Written with the Pen Grown in Her Heart

Wow.

Raw, sad, lyrical and candid — my first book of 2019, and already a huge winner; I’m pretty sure this will be one of my overall top reads of the year.  I can see few ways how this reading experience can possibly be topped.

Xinran tells the stories of some of the hundreds, perhaps even thousands of women whose stories she listened to (and, if allowed by both the women themselves and by the Party censors, broadcast) for eight years as a Nanjing radio presenter on a nightly program called Words on the Night Breeze; a combination of recorded interviews and live talk radio with musical interludes.  As a young reporter she had come to realize that, conditioned by centuries of physical and emotional suppression (far from being abolished, made even worse by the Cultural Revolution), complete and unbridled male dominance in society, and the associated deep-set mysogyny which Chinese women had even swallowed themselves, hide and hair, her countrywomen had practically no sense of self — nor any sense how to talk about their feelings, experience, traumas, hopes, dreams, disappointments, and injuries.  Indeed, as the Chinese characters explained on the book’s back cover (see below) make clear, even the words “female” and “woman”, “mother” or “girl” are not anywhere near synonymous in writing: All female substantives are “female” with a specific function: a “woman” is “a female whose job is to do the housework”, a “mother” is “a kind female” (or “a female with kindness”), a “girl” is “a female with kindness and [a sense of] tradition (or, since the second part of the sequence is identical with “mother”, “a female with a sense of tradition who is attached to her mother”) — and lastly, if a “female” has a son attached to her, the result is “good”.

In this book, which she wrote after having moved to England in 1997, Xinran takes her readers on her voyage of discovery of the lives of some of the women she met during those eight years of reporting; as well as her discovery of herself and her role as a reporter.  We meet, inter alia:

* The girl who kept a fly as a pet (and if you think that’s a euphemism for poverty and hunger, think again: the title of the chapter hints at the fact that a baby fly’s feet were the sole soft touches this girl ever felt after having “become a woman” at age 11, from which time she was brutally raped daily by her own father — so much so that she took to making herself dangerously ill, in order to be able to spend time at the hospital, where she was better (though not perfectly) protected … until she died of septicemia at age 17);

* The scavenger woman who, though well-educated, lived off scraps and in a ramshackle hut near Xinran’s radio station just so she could be near her son — an important man whose threshold she had not even crossed a single time;

* The mothers who endured an earthquake and saw their loved ones perish before their eyes, painfully and in one instance, over a period of two weeks (a young teenage girl, her lower body squashed high up in the ruins of a broken wall, with rescue coming too late to reach her and rescue equipment falling woefully short of what would have been needed); in another instance, as a double suicide of husband and daughter, after the daughter had been gang-raped by strangers in a tent near the rescue facility where she had been taken — and yet, these mothers had built a new community with the children made orphans by the earthquake and were giving all their love to these orphaned children;

* Xinran’s mother and several other women, all left emotionally and often also economically destitute as a result of their lives having been broken to pieces by the Cultural Revolution (no matter whether for reasons of their education, foreign contacts and financial independence, or similar reasons for being considered “counter-revolutionaries”, or because their youthful idealism for the new system was brutally abused and ground to shreds, and they were tossed, literally within a single day and by the Party itself, into loveless and abusive marriages with high officials);

* The childhood Xinran herself cannot leave behind and which, likewise, was replete with physical and emotional abuse for being the daughter and granddaughter of suspected “counter-revolutionaries”; as well as several other women of Xinran’s generation with similarly devastating experiences;

* The Guomindang general’s daughter, who grew up with a Chinese family after her parents had had to flee to Taiwan without being able to take her (then five years old) with them, and who was driven into insanity by a combination of seeing her foster family being tortured on her account and the torture and abuse that she herself suffered after having been “outed”; and

* The women of Shouting Hill (a remote, barren hillside area to the West of Xian), the encounter with whom was the last straw for Xinran to leave China and life as she knew it behind and seek a different life for herself and her son in London.

On this last group, Xinran writes:

“Women there [in Shouting Hill] are valued solely for their utility: as reproductive tools, they are the most precious items of trade in the villagers’ lives.  The men do not hesitate to barter two or three girl children for a wife from another village. […] After they become mothers, they in turn are forced to give up their own daughters.  Women in Shouting Hill have no rights of property or inheritance.

The unusual social practice of one wife being shared by several husbands also occurs in Shouting Hill.  In the majority of those cases, brothers from extremely poor families with no females to barter buy a common wife to continue the family line.  By day they benefit from the food the woman makes and the household chores she does, by night they enjoy the woman’s body in turn. […]

They [the women] lead an extremely hard life.  In their one-roomed cave houses, of which half the space is occupied by a kang [earthen bed heated from below], their domestic tools consist of a few stone slabs, grass mats and crude clay bowls; an earthenware pitcher is regarded as a luxury item for the ‘wealthy families’.  Children’s toys or any household items specifically for the use of women are unthinkable in their society.  […]

It is the women who greet the dawn in Shouting Hill: they have to feed the livestock, sweep the yard and polish and repair the blunt, rusty tools of their husbands.  After seeing their men off to work on the land, they have to collect water from an unreliable stream on the far side of a mountain two hours’ walk away, carrying a pair of heavy buckets on their shoulders.  When cogon grass is in season, the women also have to climb the hill to dig up the roots for use as cooking fuel.  In the afternoon, they take food to their menfolk; when they come back they spin thread, weave cloth, and make clothes, shoes and hats for the family.  All through the day, they carry small children almost everywhere with them on their arms or on their backs.

In Shouting Hill, ‘use’ is the term employed for men wanting to sleep with a woman.  […]  After being ‘used’, the women tidy up and attend to the children while the men lie snoring.  Only with nightfall can the women rest, because there is no light to work in.  When I tried to experience a very small part of these women’s lives through joining in their daily household tasks for a short while, I found my faith in the value of life severely shaken. […]

I noticed a bizarre phenomenon among the female villagers of Shouting Hill: when they reached their teens or thereabouts their gait suddenly became very strange.  They began walking with their legs spread wide apart, swaying in an arc with each step.  There was no trace of this tendency in the little girls, though.  For the first few days I puzzled over this riddle, but did not like to enquire too deeply into it.  I hoped to find the answer in my own way.

It was my habit to make sketches of the scenery I thought typified each place I was reporting on.  No colour was necessary to depict Shouting Hill, a few lines were enough to bring out its essential qualities.  While I was sketching, I noticed some small piles of stones that I could not recall having seen before.  Most of them were in out-of-the-way spots.  On closer inspection, I found blackish-red leaves under the stones.  Only cogon grass grew in Shouting Hill; where had those leaves come from?

I examined the leaves carefully: they were mostly about ten centimetres long and five centimetres wide.  They had clearly been cut to size, and seemed to have been beaten and rubbed by hand.  Some of the leaves were slightly thicker than the others, and were moist to the touch, with a fishy odour.  Other leaves were extremely dry from the pressure of the rocks and the burning heat of the sun; they were not brittle but very tough, and they too had the same strong salty smell.  I had never seen leaves like this before.  I wondered what they were used for and decided to ask the villagers.

The men said, ‘Those are women’s things!’ and refused to say any more.

The children shook their heads in bewilderment, saying: ‘I don’t know what they are, Mama and Papa say we’re not to touch them.’

The women simply lowered their heads silently.

When Niu’er [the girl with whom Xinran was staying] noticed that I was puzzled about the question of these leaves, she said: ‘You’d best ask my granny, she’ll tell you.’  Niu’er’s grandmother was not so very old, but early marriage and childbearing had made her part of the village’s senior generation.

Her grandmother slowly explained that the leaves were used by women during their periods.  When a girl in Shouting Hill had her first period, or a woman had just married into the village, she would be presented with ten of these leaves by her mother or another woman of the older generation.  These leaves were gathered from trees very far away.  The older women would teach the girls what to do with the leaves.  First, each leaf had to be cut to the right size, so that it could be worn inside trousers.  Then small holes had to be pricked into the leaves with an awl, to make them more absorbent.  The leaves were relatively elastic and their fibres very thick, so they would thicken and swell as they absorbed the blood.  In a region where water was so precious, there was no alternative but to press and dry the leaves after each use.  A woman would use her ten leaves for her period month after month, even after childbirth.  Her leaves would be her only burial goods.

I exchanged some sanitary towels I had with me for a leaf from Niu’er’s grandmother.  My eyes filled with tears as I touched it: how could this coarse leaf, hard even to the hand’s touch, be put in a woman’s tenderest place?  It was only then that I realised why the women of Shouting Hill walked with their legs splayed: their thighs had been repeatedly rubbed raw and scarred by the leaves.

There was another reason for the strange gait of the women in Shouting Hill, which shocked me even more. […]

The doctor who had come with us told me that one of the villagers had asked him to examine his wife, as she had been pregnant many times but never managed to carry a child to full term.  With the villager’s special permission, the doctor examined the woman, and was dumbfounded that she had a prolapsed womb.  The friction and infection of many years had hardened the part of the womb that was hanging outside to cutin, tough as a callus.  The doctor simply could not imagine what had caused this.  Surprised by his reaction, the woman told him disapprovingly that all the women in Shouting Hill were like this.  The doctor asked me to help him confirm this; several days later I confirmed the truth of that woman’s words after much surreptitious observation of the village women as they relieved themselves.  Prolapsed wombs were another reason why the women walked with their legs spreadeagled.

In Shouting Hill, the course of nature is not resisted, and family planning an alien concept.  Women are treated as breeding machines, and produce one child a year or as many as three every two years.  […]

I saw many pregnant women in Shouting Hill, but there was no sense of eager anticipation of a child among them or their men.  Even while heavily pregnant, they had to labour as before and be ‘used’ by their men, who reasoned that ‘only children who resist being squashed are strong enough’.  I was appalled by all this, especially at the thought of shared wives being ‘used’ by several men throughout their pregnancy.  […]

The evening after I had established that prolapsed wombs were an everyday phenomenon in Shouting Hill, I was unable to sleep for a very long time.  I lay on the earthen kang weeping for these women, who were of my generation and of my time.  That the women of Shouting Hill had no concept of modern society, let alone any awareness of the rights of women, was a small comfort; their happiness lay in their ignorance, their customs and the satisfaction of believing that all women in the world lived as they did. […]

On the day I left Shouting Hill, I found that the sanitary towels I had given to Niu’er’s grandmother as a souvenir were stuck in her sons’ belts; they were using them as towels to wipe away sweat or protect their hands.”

Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale come alive, and then some …

Obviously Shouting Hill is an extreme example even within China, distinguished from other parts of the country, as Xinran highlights, in part by its extreme remoteness, which prevents the women living there from learning anything that might induce them to question, ever so tacitly, their own living conditions.  (Or prevented them — I have no idea whether the practices described by Xinran are still going on today; shocking though they are even for the late 1990s.)  And I’m sure that at least some of the hundreds of millions of women in China, even some of those of Xinran’s and her mother’s generations, lead less traumatic or even happy lives.  But from Xinran’s account, there is no question that the lives she describes are not rare exceptions; and given the severe reticence drummed into any Chinese woman from long before she can even walk and talk, it is anybody’s guess how many there are who simply have not and never will speak out — or who may look happy and successful but in reality are far from that (and Xinran provides examples of such women as well).

In the book’s prologue, she talks about a mugging attempt in London, with the mugger trying to take away her handbag, which contained the only manuscript copy of this book then in existence.  She fought her assailant tooth and nail, even at the risk of being killed, and comments on a policeman’s later question whether her book was more important than her life:

“Of course, life is more important than a book.  But in so many ways my book was my life.  It was my testimony to the lives of Chinese women, the result of many years’ work as a journalist. […] I wasn’t sure that I could put myself through the extremes of feeling provoked by writing the book again.  Reliving the stories of the women I had met had been painful, and it had been harder still to order my memories and find language adequate to express them.  In fighting for that bag, I was defending my feelings, and the feelings of Chinese women.  The book was the result of so many things which, once lost, could never be found again.  When you walk into your memories, you are opening a door to the past; the road within has many branches, and the route is different every time.”

And in the epilogue, she concludes:

“I recalled what Old Chen had once said to me: ‘Xinran, you should write this down.  Writing is a kind of repository and can help create a space for the accommodation of new thoughts and feelings.  If you don’t write these stories down, your heart will be filled up and broken by them’.  At that time in China, I might have gone to prison for writing a book like this.  I couldn’t risk abandoning my son, or the women who received help and encouragement through my radio programme.  In England, the book became possible.  It was as if a pen had grown in my heart.”

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1826919/written-with-the-pen-grown-in-her-heart

The Dalai Lama: The Power of Compassion

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 10 – World Peace Day

Words of Wisdom


The Dalai Lama speaks about the Four Noble Truths, maximizing your inner strength, dealing with anger and death, the power of compassion, the challenges facing humanity today (including globalization, warfare, environmental protection, overpopulation), and the great world religions’ core tenets (as opposed to their elements that primarily responded to the needs of the historic societies in which they emerged).  As we’re about to begin another new year, a perfect reminder of what matters (or should matter) to us — and what doesn’t — and simple small things that each of us can implement in our own lives every day … and short of His Holiness himself (who didn’t originally set down these texts in English), there couldn’t be any better person to read his words than Sir Derek Jacobi.

 

    

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1627446/16-tasks-of-the-festive-season-square-10-world-peace-day-words-of-wisdom

Two Favorite Chinese Dishes — and Sherry Cream Dessert

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 11 – Dōngzhì Festival

Tasks for Dōngzhì Festival: If you like Chinese food, tell us your favorite dish – otherwise, tell us your favorite dessert.

Alright, I admit I haven’t made these in a while (so the pretty pics aren’t mine), but the Chinese recipes are from a cookbook I brought from a trip to Hong Kong, and which I used to cook Chinese meals for my friends after my return, and the dessert recipe was a runaway success in our family for years after I’d discovered it in one of the first cookbooks I ever owned.

(Note: metric conversions are rounded to the nearest semi-decimal.  Trust me, they work well enough on that basis.)

Chinese Food
Cha Shiu Buns

Ingredients:
Yeast Dough
1 tsp dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup (ca. 120 ml) warm water
6-7 oz (ca. 170-195 g) plain flour

Pastry
10 oz (280 g) yeast dough (see above)
3 oz (ca. 85 g) sugar
1/2 tsp ammonia powder
1/4 tsp alkali water (or just salted water)
1-2 tbsp water
1 tbsp oil
4 oz (ca. 110 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder

Filling
6 oz (ca. 170 g) roast pork (= cha shiu)
1 tbsp finely chopped chives or spring onions

Gravy
1 tsp oil
1 tsp white wine
1/2 cup (ca. 120 ml) stock
1 tsp oyster sauce (optional)
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornflour mixed with
1 tbsp water

Preparation:
Yeast Dough
Dissolve the dry yeast and sugar in warm water and leave for 10 minutes to prove.

Stift the flour on to a table and make a well in the centre to pour in the yeast solution.  Work in the flour to knead into a soft dough.  Place in a greased mixing bowl and cover with a towel.  Leave to prove for 10-12 hours.

Pastry
Place the yeast dough, sugar, ammonia powder and alkali water in a big bowl.  Add the water and oil to the mix into a thick cream.

Sift the flour and baking powder together on a table and make a well in the centre.  Pour in the yeast cream. Slowly work in the flour and knead into a soft dough.

Filling
Dice or shred the cha shiu.

Gravy
Heat the oil in a hot wok (or frying pan).  Sizzle wine and pour in the stock.   Season to taste and thicken the gravy with the cornflour solution.  Remove wok (pan) from the stove and stir in cha shiu and chopped chives / spring onions to mix well.  Dish and put into refrigerator to chill.

To complete:
Roll the soft dough into a long strip and cut into 24 equal portions.  Flatten each portion into a small round.  Place a tsp of filling in the centre of the round, then draw in the edges and form small pleats to wrap up the filling.  Stick a small squre piece of grease proof paper to the bottom of each bun.

Arrange the buns in a steamer, then steam over high heat for 8 minutes.  Remove and leave to cool.  Steam a second time for 2 minutes, then serve hot.

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Lemon Chicken

Ingredients:
2 boneless chicken breasts, about 6 oz. (ca. 170 g) each
2 lemons
1 beaten egg
1 cup (ca. 235 ml) cornflour oil for deep frying
2 parsley sprigs or chunks of broccoli


Chicken Marinade
1 tbsp ginger juice
1 tbsp white wine
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 pinch of pepper

Seasoning
1/2 cup (ca. 120 ml) stock
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp wine
1 pinch of pepper

Gravy Mix
2 tbsp custard powder
1/2 tsp cornflour
3 tbsp water

Preparation:
Wash and trim the parsley / broccoli and set aside for later use.
Mix all the ingredients of the marinade.
Slice the chicken breasts into large thin pieces, then immerse in the marinade for 30 minutes.
Toss the chicken in the beaten egg, then coat evenly with the cornflour.
Heat the wok (or frying pan) until very hot and pour in the oil to bring to the boil.  Slide in the chicken to deep fry until golden brown.  Drain, cut and dish.
Squeeze out the juice of one lemon and mix with all the seasoning except the wine.
Heat another wok (or frying pan) and bring 2 tbsp of oil to the boil.  Sizzle the wine, then pour in the lemon mixture and season to taste.  Mix the custard powder and cornflour with the water, then stream into the sauce to thicken.  Blend in the last tbsp of oil and mask over the chicken. Slice the other lemon and arrange on or around the platter with the parsley / broccoli.

 


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Dessert: Sherry Cream

Ingredients:
1 lime (or small lemon)
75 g (ca. 2 1/2 oz) icing sugar
125 ml (ca. 4 fl oz) sherry (preferably Amontillado or Oloroso)
300 g (ca 10.5 oz) double cream or crème fraîche (not: sour cream!)
2-3 drops of essence of vanilla or orange
a few slices of orange

Preparation:
Brush clean the lime / lemon in running water, then dry and julienne the peel (cut into thin tiny slices).  Squeeze out the juice of the lime / lemon and blend with the icing sugar until the sugar is dissolved.  Then mix in the sherry.

Whisk double cream / crème fraîche until foamy, then slowly mix in the lime juice and sherry blend, as well as the essence of vanilla / orange.  Fill cream into large serving bowl or small dessert bowls, sprinkle with lime / lemon peel juliennes, and decorate with orange slices.

(Note: This also works with port or madeira, if your taste runs more that way.)

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1627273/16-tasks-of-the-festive-season-square-11-d-ngzh-festival

Lorenz Books: Around the World Cookbook

Around the World in 350+ Recipes

“Holidays in far flung places have increased our awareness of different foods, and restaurants on every street corner now offer dishes that no so long ago would have been unfamiliar,” the editors of this volume say in their introduction. And indeed: This is nothing less than a lavishly illustrated and marvelously edited culinary trip around the whole world, with stops in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, India, the Middle East, Italy, Spain, France, North America, the Caribbean and Mexico.

All recipes are broken down into small, easy to follow steps, demonstrated in numerous photos. Ingredients are listed with quantities given both in the American and the metric measuring system, thus making the recipes easily accessible wherever you live. Numerous cook’s tips add to the cooking experience and ensure its success. Most of the ingredients are easy to come by, although some may require a trip to a specialty food market. You’ll find plenty of now well-known favorites from the regions represented here, as well as rare and new creations you might not have thought of yourself.

All in all, the book includes more than 350 recipes. If you’re interested in one regional cuisine in particular, you may want to get specialized cookbooks from that particular country or region in addition. But as an introduction and a primer, this volume is very hard to beat.

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Highlights
Regional and International Classics
  • Avgolemono/Aarshe Saak (Greece and several Middle Eastern countries)
  • Baklava (Iran)
  • Boreks (Turkey)
  • Boston Baked Beans (U.S.)
  • Chateaubriand with Sauce Béarnaise (France)
  • Chicken and Prawn Jambalaya (Cajun)
  • Chicken Tikka Masala (India)
  • Chilaquiles (Mexico)
  • Chimichangas (Mexico)
  • Chocolate Profiteroles (France)
  • Chorizo in Red Wine (Spain)
  • Coleslaw (U.S.)
  • Couscous (Morocco; several recipes)
  • Crème Caramel (France)
  • Crêpes Suzette (France)
  • Curries (several recipes from Indonesia, Thailand, Burma and India)
  • Deep-Fried Bananas (Indonesia)
  • Falafel (Egypt)
  • Fried Plantains (Caribbean)
  • Frijoles Refritos (Mexico)
  • Hot and Sour Soup (China)
  • Houmus (Middle East; several countries)
  • Kebabs (recipes from several Middle Eastern countries)
  • Khoresh (Iran; several recipes)
  • Lamb Korma (India)
  • Lamb Pelau (Caribbean)
  • Louisiana Seafood Gumbo (Cajun)
  • Marinated Olives (Spain)
  • Marinated Vegetable Antipasto (Italy)
  • Mole Poblano (Mexico)
  • Mulligatawny (India)
  • New England Clam Chowder (U.S.)
  • Onigiri (Japanese rice balls)
  • Onion Soup (France)
  • Oysters Rockefeller (U.S.)
  • Paella (Spain)
  • Pasta all’ Arrabbiata (Italy)
  • Pecan Pie (Cajun)
  • Peking Duck (China)
  • Penne alla Carbonara (Italy)
  • Pineapple Fried Rice (Thailand)
  • Pizza (various recipes – Italy, of course …)
  • Potatoes Dauphinois (France)
  • Potato Tortilla (Spain)
  • Quesadillas (Mexico)
  • Ratatouille (France)
  • Satés (several recipes from Indonesia and Thailand)
  • Stir-Fries (several recipes from China, Indonesia and Thailand)
  • Sweet and Sour dishes (several recipes from China, Indonesia and Thailand)
  • Szechuan Chicken (China)
  • Tabbouleh (Lebanon)
  • Tacos (Mexico)
  • Tagines (recipes from several North African countries)
  • Tandoori Chicken (India)
  • Tarka Dhal (India)
  • Tiramisu (Italy)
  • Tom Ka Gai (Thailand)
  • Tostadas (Mexico)
  • Wonton Soup (China)
  • Zabaglione (Italy)
Some Unique Recipes
  • Artichoke Rice Cakes with Melting Manchego (Spain)
  • Asparagus with Orange Sauce (France)
  • Baked Fish in Banana Leaves (Thailand)
  • Baked Fish with Nuts (Egypt)
  • Chicken and Pistachio Paté (France)
  • Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey (Morocco)
  • Crab with Green Rice (Mexico)
  • Glazed Garlic Prawns (India)
  • Monkfish Parcels (Spain)
  • Nigerian Meat Stew
  • Salmon in Mango and Ginger Sauce (Caribbean)
  • Sesame Seed Prawn Toasts (China)
  • Stuffed Peaches with Amaretto (Italy)
  • Tanzanian Fish Curry
  • Thyme and Lime Chicken (Caribbean)
  • Tomato and Onion Chutney (India)
  • Veal in Nut Sauce (Mexico)

Merken

Merken

Merken

Reginald Fleming Johnston: Twilight in the Forbidden City

Twilight in the Forbidden City - Reginald Fleming JohnstonA compelling (if biased) account reflecting unique insights

You may have heard that “Twilight in the Forbidden City” is the book that Bernardo Bertolucci’s movie “The Last Emperor” is “based” on. If at all, however, this is true only with regard to the first part of the movie (the book was published in 1934, just as Pu-Yi had ascended the throne of “Manchukuo”), and actually, the book should not be read or understood in this limited sense at all. Primarily, this is the personal account of a British diplomat and scholar of the Chinese history, society and culture who, at some point in his career, was appointed to the (for a Westerner: unprecedented) position of tutor to China’s last monarch. True, those who have seen Bertolucci’s movie will recognize individual events described in this book, such as the Emperor’s birthday and wedding ceremonies (Bertolucci obviously used Johnston’s description of the birthday rituals as a model for the spectacular coronation ceremonies at the beginning of the movie – as Johnston had not yet been made tutor at that point, he could not give an eyewitness account of that event), and Johnston’s constant battle with the corrupt and reactionary palace eunuchs, as best exemplified by the fight over the emperor’s glasses (without which Pu-Yi arguably would have lost eyesight before long).

But Johnston’s book is not merely a biography of the Emperor. Rather, it is an account of the last period of the Manchu empire, and of the Chinese society in the second half of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century. In addition to the author’s personal impressions gained inside and outside the imperial palace, up to and including Pu-Yi’s dramatic flight from the Forbidden City in 1924, which ultimately ended in the Japanese legation, the book also renders Johnston’s view of the role of the major foreign powers at the time (Japan, Russia, the U.S., Germany and, of course, his native England), and the Emperor’s predecessors and their politics, such as the powerful Empress Dowager Tzu-Hsi (named “the Venerable Buddha”), the reform attempts of the unfortunate Emperor Kuang-Hsü (which earned him, at the age of 28, lifelong humiliation, imprisonment and ultimately death in a tiny and windowless building within the imperial palaces), the Boxer Movement, and the brief and likewise unlucky interlude of the reign of Pu-Yi’s father (Kuang-Hsü’s brother), Prince Chun.

Johnston was a monarchist and fiercely loyal to Pu-Yi personally, so don’t expect him to treat any of the popular movements which ultimately brought the monarchy to an end with much sympathy or at least, objectivity. He probably also underestimated the dangers to China (and the Manchu dynasty) growing out of the Emperor’s re-installment as ruler of “Manchukuo” at the behest of the Japanese. In fact, the very title of this book is designed to reflect its author’s hope that, like the “Rising Sun” symbolized by the Japanese emperor, the Chinese monarchy would soon rise and shine again, too. Equating the 12 years between the establishment of the Chinese republic in 1912 and the Emperor’s expulsion from the Forbidden City in 1924 to a “twilight” period and the 10 years following it to the night, Johnston dedicates the book to Pu-Yi “in the earnest hope that, after the passing of the twilight and the long night, the dawn of a new and happier day for himself, and also for his people on both sides of the Great Wall, is now breaking.” In the book’s introduction, he again emphasizes that “there is a twilight of the dawn as well as a twilight of the evening” and that the dark period witnessed by China might “be followed in due time by another twilight which will brighten into a new day of radiant sunshine.”

This, of course, is not the only prediction where history has proven Reginald F. Johnston wrong. His analysis of the role of some of the key players of the time, for example that of the Empress Dowager Tzu-Hsi, is likewise not undisputed; and he himself has not remained without criticism, either (even at the time of its publication, a major purpose of the book was to defend his own actions and view of the facts). The book must therefore be read with a certain grain of salt. But few Westerners of his time had a knowledge of China equaling his, let alone his opportunities to observe and gain insights within the imperial palace. That, in itself, makes his account a compelling read.

Merken