December 2008: Book Reviews

CHINA

Beware the Dragon: China 1,000 years of Bloodshed by Erik Durschmied

Andre Deutsch, ISBN 978-0233002316, £18.99

Beware the Dragon is a fast-moving tale of historic events, the reasons behind them, the decisive battles, and the bloodshed they have caused. Erik Durschmied’s vivid survey of the fateful centuries presents a dramatic picture of how new political entities were born out of the ruins of bankrupt empires, and the borders of the world redrawn. The story is a saga of mayhem and confusion, blunders and mistakes; in telling it the author paints a fascinating and coherent picture of China’s rise from isolation to its emerging superpower position. Modern China faces daunting challenges – mounting internal social protest, and foreign trade wars – that could derail its phenomenal rise and deliver a crippling shock to global economy.

 

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed by Michael Meyer

Walker & Co; 1st U.S. Ed edition, ISBN 978-0802716521

Journalist Michael Meyer has spent his adult life in China, first in a small village as a Peace Corps volunteer, the last decade in Beijing – where he has witnessed the extraordinary transformation the country has experienced in that time. For the past two years he has been completely immersed in the ancient city, living on one of its famed hutong in a century-old courtyard home he shares with several families, teaching English at a local elementary school – while all around him ‘progress’ closes in as the neighbourhood is methodically destroyed to make way for high-rise buildings, shopping malls, and other symbols of modern, urban life. The city, he shows, has been demolished many times before. However, he writes, ‘the epitaph for Beijing will read: born 1280, died 2008.What emperors, warlords, Japanese invaders, and Communist planners could not eradicate, the market economy can’.

 

The Meaning of the Graph Yi and its Implications for Shang Belief and Art by Elizabeth Childs-Johnson

Saffron Books, (EAP), ISBN 9781872843636, £16.50 in UK

In this monography, in a departure from previous analyses, the author uses a combination of written and graphic dates to identify the meaning of the so-called taotie mask and the basis of Shang religion.  By utilising paleographic and representational evidence, Childs-Johnson puts into perspective for the first time that Shang belief was not limited to the worship of royal dead ancestor spirits. She analyses the meaning of several pivotal oracle bone graphs, in particular yi, illustrating that Shang belief was founded on the concept of spirit metamorphosis. She identifies yi as meaning ‘to undergo metamorphosis of/by a spirit’.  The significance of these analyses is monumental in explaining that early Chinese belief embraces mre than the worship of dead ancestor spirits, that the setting for the birth of Chinese civilisation is more complex in incorporating the basic belief in the power to take on the power of another spirit realm.

 

The Bloody White Baron by James Palmer

Faber & Faber, ISBN 978-0571230235 £18.99

Ungern von Sternberg was a Baltic aristocrat, a violent, headstrong youth posted to the wilds of Siberia and Mongolia before the First World War. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Baron – now in command of a lethally effective rabble of cavalrymen – conquered Mongolia, the last time in history a country was seized by an army mounted on horses. He was a Kurtz-like figure, slaughtering everyone he suspected of irreligion or of being a Jew. A story that rehearses the later horrors played out in Russia and elsewhere.

 

The Imperial Capitals of China: An Inside View of the Celestial Empire by Arthur Cotterell

Pimlico, ISBN 978-1845950101, £14.99

A history of China’s ruling dynasties and their extraordinary achievements in architecture.The author’s knowledge of Chinese dynasties is near encyclopaedic, and readers are assumed to have a basic grounding in the chronology. Imperial capitals were laid out according to cosmic principles, and Cotterell explains the cosmology of northern China’s ancient Shang kings, who established the capital in Anyang across the Yellow River on the advice of divination. The first emperor, in 256 BC, Qin Shi Huang Di, was much influenced by Daoism and the Five Elements; he commissioned extensive building, from the Great Wall and the national road system to a grand palace called Er Fang and his terracotta army at Mount Li. The Qin dynasty, under the sway of Confucianism, moved between Xianyang and Chang’an. The subsequent Han dynasty moved to Luoyang, the second largest city in the world after Rome. After the invasion of the steppe people, the Jin abandoned Luoyang in favour of Nanjing, though it never attained the glory of the previous imperial capitals. During the Sui and Tang dynasties, Chang’an flourished without rival in the world. The war of succession among the Five Dynasties gave rise to Zhang Zeduan’s legendary painting of the thriving city of Kaifeng, Spring Festival on the River, reproduced in part here. Hangzhou, capital of the seagoing Southern Song, in the 13th century fell to Mongol invaders; their capital at Dadu (later called Beijing) was admiringly portrayed by Marco Polo. The Ming dynasty that followed ruled at first from Nanjing, but in the early 15th century returned the capital to Beijing, enriched by the construction of the emperor Yongle’s Purple Forbidden City. Cotterell’s work takes the traveler deep into the fascinating recesses of each dynasty.

 

China: A History by John Keay

Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0007221776, £25

An accessible, authoritative single-volume narrative history of China, from the earliest times to the present day, designed both to engage the general reader and to challenge the horizons of the China specialist. Modelled on the author’s India: A History, China: A History is informed by a wide knowledge of the Asian context, an approach devoid of Euro-centric bias, and acclaimed narrative skills. Broadly chronological, the book presents a history of all the Chinas – including those regions (Yunnan, Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia, Manchuria) that account for two thirds of the People’s Republic of China land mass but which barely feature in its conventional history (which tends to concentrate on the succession of mainly north China imperial dynasties).The book also examines the many non-Chinese elements in China’s history – the impact of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity; the effects of trade; the nature of ‘barbarian’ invasion; the relevance of many imperial dynasties being of non-Chinese origin. Major archaeological discoveries in the last two decades afford a chance to flesh out and correct much of the written record. The book tells the epic story from the time of the Three Dynasties, San Dia (circa 2100-220 BC) to Chairman Mao and the current economic transformation of the country.

 

City of Heavenly Tranquillity Being in the History of China by Jasper Becler

Oxford University Press, USA, ISBN 978-0195309973, US$27.95

The City of Heavenly Tranquillity explores how and why the Chinese buried their history and destroyed one of the world’s most fabled cities, virtually extinguishing the culture of one of the greatest and oldest civilizations within the span of a single lifetime. Becker mixes his own experiences with poignant stories from those who were destroyed in the tornado of destruction as they tried to rescue something from the past.

 

The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power 1850-2008 by Jonathan Fenby

Allen Lane, ISBN 978-0713998320, £30

In the second half of the 19th century, China appeared as the sick man of Asia, rocked by recurrent revolts and huge natural disasters, ruled by an anachronistic imperial system and humiliated by foreign invasions. Karl Marx saw it as bound to disintegrate, like ‘any mummy carefully preserved in a hermetically sealed coffin’. The first half of the 20th century was even worse, culminating in 14 years of invasion by Japan, four years of civil war and three decades of chaotic, oppressive rule by Mao Zedong that killed tens of millions. Now, at the start of the 21st century, China is a major global force, booming economically and confident that it holds the keys to a future in which it will rival the US.

 

Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary by Gao Wenjiang

Public Affairs US, ISBN 978-1586486457. £17.99

Based on long-secret documents smuggled out of the country, this is the first authoritative biography of one of the most important, most mythologised leaders in communist China’s history. Works about Zhou Enlai are heavily censored in China, and every hint of criticism is removed. Research on Zhou at Chinese universities is effectively at a standstill because it is so politically sensitive that academics who insist on writing about him are forced to publish overseas, using fake names. Gao Wenjiang was in a unique position to collect information on his subject because he handled documents at the party’s Central Documents Office relating to Zhou’s life and work during the Cultural Revolution.When Gao decided to leave China after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, he determined to take with him the source materials to write a real story of a pivotal figure during the Cultural Revolution. He began to copy some documents related to Zhou onto cards and memorized others. For four years, he amassed an enormous collection of notes. He wrote the book in Chinese then revised it for this, the first English language edition.Why then is the subject of Zhou so sensitive to even the mildest and most judiciously expressed criticism? Not only was Zhou the internationally known face of China until his death in 1975, he is the one man whose reputation has survived, the last hero of the Cultural Revolution, an icon who allows modern Chinese to find an admirable figure in what was a traumatic and bloody era. Gao Wenjiang offers an objective portrait of the real Zhou, a man who lived his life at the heart of Chinese politics for 50 years, who survived both the Long March and the Cultural Revolution, but not thanks to ideological or personal purity, but because he was artful, crafty and politically supple.

 

China Road by Rob Gifford

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-0747593355, £8.99

Journalist, long term resident in China and fluent Mandarin speaker, Rob Gifford takes one last journey along the old Silk Road (modern day route 312) before leaving China for a posting in London. Travelling the route using a combination of hitching, public transport and taxis, he contemplates and talks to the people he meets about the state of China, how it got there, and where it might be going. Gifford’s journey and his desire to get to the heart of this country make China Road an outstanding and funny travel narrative – part pilgrimage, part reportage – which illuminates a country on the move.

 

Juanqinzhai In the Qianlong Garden by Nancy Berliner et al

Scala, ISBN 978-1857595468, £8.95

One of the five most important interiors to survive China’s imperial past, Juanqinzhai (Lodge of Retirement), situated in the exquisitely designed Qianlong Garden, was all but abandoned when the last emperor left the Forbidden City in 1924. Built in 1771-76, the lodge was designed by China’s longest-reigning emperor for his personal use. Built when China was the largest and most prosperous nation in the world, the interiors of Juanqinzhai are the epitome of Chinese design and craftsmanship, constructed with the finest materials and artistry available. In 2003, Juanqinzhai, largely derelict and in a state of disrepair, became the subject of an international restoration project organised by the World Monuments Fund and the Palace Museum. This visually rich book celebrates the completion of the project in 2008, bringing this spectacular building into public light for the first time.

 

Kizil on the Silk Road edited by Rajeshwari Ghose

Marg Publications, ISBN 978-8185026855, US$65

The Kizil complex – on the banks of the Muzat River, in the Xinjiang province of China – comprises more than 230 Buddhist rock-cut caves, and was once an important conduit of commerce and intellect along the Silk Road. This book brings together a collection of works – from a number of renowned scholars – to explore the unique history of the caves, offering insights into the Buddhist artefacts that have been found there, as well as pieces that have become scattered throughout museums and private collections across the world.

 

The Landscape of Words Stone Inscriptions from Early and Medieval China by Robert E Harrist Jr

University of Washington Press, ISBN 978-0295987286, £42

In this meticulously researched book on the Chinese landscape as a medium for literary inscription, Robert E. Harrist Jr. focuses on the period prior to the 8th century to demonstrate that the significance of inscriptions on stone embedded in nature depends on the interaction of words with topography. Visitors do not simply climb inscribed mountains, they read them, as the medium of the written word has transformed geological formations into landscapes of ideological and religious significance. The widespread use of stone as a medium for writing did not begin in China until around the 1st century – later than in the ancient civilisations of Egypt, the Near East, Greece, and Rome – but by the 20th century, more inscriptions had been carved in natural stone in China than anywhere else in the world. This book  is the first study in a Western language devoted to these texts, moya or moya shike, carved into the natural terrain on granite boulders and cliffs at thousands of sites of historic or scenic interest.

 

Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation edited by Christoph Noe et al

 

Prestel, ISBN 978-3791341088, £30

This generation of artists accept materialism and economic growth as a part of the Chinese experience (unlike their parents) – and this paradigm is apparent in their arresting and often shocking works of art. This book also gives voice to other representatives of this generation outside the art world, which puts the artists presented here and their works in a broader cultural context. This volume features nearly thirty artists, examples of their work, and short texts about their art and lives in China.

 

How to Read Chinese Paintings by MK Hearn

Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale, ISBN 978-0300141870, £18

The Chinese often use the expression du hua, ‘to read a painting’, in connection with their study and appreciation of such works. This volume closely ‘reads’ 36 masterpieces of Chinese painting from the encyclopaedic collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to reveal the major characteristics and themes of this rich pictorial tradition. Using accessible texts and numerous large colour details, this book examines multiple layers of meaning: style, technique, symbolism, past traditions, and the artist’s personal circumstances. A dynastic chronology, map, and list of further readings supplement the text.Spanning a thousand years of Chinese art, these landscapes, flowers, birds, figures, religious subjects, and calligraphies illuminate the main goal of every Chinese artist: to capture not only the outer appearance of a subject but also its inner essence.

 

Chinese Calligraphy by Ouyang Zhongshi and Wen C Fong

Yale, ISBN 978-0300121070, £40

Chinese calligraphy, with its artistic as well as utilitarian values, has been treasured for its formal beauty for more than three millennia. This lavishly illustrated book brings to English language readers for the first time a full account of calligraphy in China, including its history, theory, and importance in Chinese culture. Representing an unprecedented collaboration among leading Chinese and Western specialists, the book provides a definitive and up-to-date overview of the visual art form most revered in China.The book begins with the premise that the history of Chinese script writing represents the core development of the history of Chinese culture and civilization. Tracing the development of calligraphic criticism from the 2nd century to the 21st, the 14 contributors to the volume offer a well-balanced and readable account of this tradition. With more than 600 illustrations, including examples of extremely rare Chinese calligraphy from all over the world, and an informative prologue by Wen C. Fong, this book will make a welcome addition to the library of every Western reader interested in China and this revered art form.

 

JAPAN AND KOREA

 

The Diary of Charles Holme’s 1889 visit to Japan and North America edited by Toni Huberman, Sonia Ashmore, Yasuko Suga

Global Oriental, ISBN 978-1905246397, £65

A key figure in Europe’s art world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and founder of the The Studio magazine, Charles Holme was a significant disseminator of Japanese art and art goods in the West, notably through his business association with the designer Dr Christopher Dresser. Famously, he visited Japan in 1889 in the company of the painter Alfred East and Arthur Lasenby Liberty – whose wife, Emma, was the ‘official’ photographer of the trip (taking more than a thousand photographs). Holmes’s account of his travels in Japan provides a rare illustrated record of an encounter with a part of the world that fascinated but was still little known in the West. His sensitive and detailed observations offer valuable new insights into the many places he visited as well as aspects of everyday life in early Meiji Japan.

 

The Power of Japanese Contemporary Art by Yumi Yamaguchi

 

ASCII, ISBN 978-4756151551, Yen3,800

This book documents many of the top artists working in Japan today. Invaluable if you want to know what’s happening inside Japan as well as in the international markets. In Japanese and English.

 

North Korean Posters: The David Heather Collection

Prestel, ISBN 978-3791339672, £12.99

This glimpse into North Korean society is the first book of its kind: a collection of state-sponsored propaganda posters that presents the graphic sensibilities of this little-known country. Seldom seen by the outside world, North Korea’s propaganda art colours the cities and countryside with vibrant images of brave soldiers, happy and well-fed peasants, and a heroic and compassionate leader. More than 250 of these posters are collected here for the first time, showing the wide range of North Korean propaganda art. Hand-painted pieces of art, these posters display the latest political slogans that are repeated in newspaper editorials, government declarations, and compulsory study sessions throughout the country.

 

The Art of Japanese Craft 1875 to the Present by Felice Fischer

Philadelphia Museum of Art/Yale University Press, ISBN 9780876332023

Created in memory of Philadelphia’s late Director and Chief Executive Officer, Anne d’Harnoncourt 1943-2008, this exhibition and catalogue by the Curator of Japanese Art, Felice Fischer, concentrates on the Japanese creative genius, principally in the 20th century. The first piece of Japanese art acquired by Philadelphia was in 1875 from the great Centennial Exhibition. Beginning in the 1980s, the Museum began to aggressively collect contemporary ceramics from such artists as Okada Kenzo, Morino Taimei and Kawase Shinobu. In 1992, as the first step in ‘filling the 20th-century gap’, the museum acquired three pieces of metalwork by Yamamuro Hyakuse and since then has added extensively to its collection, together with the support and donations from the California collector, Frederick R. McBrien, III. The 68 works of art include a wonderful variety in stoneware, porcelain, wood, lacquer and metal. The catalogue descriptions are clear and informative. Twenty-five works of art are treated to large formats and descriptions, but the comprehensive checklist of the complete 68 works include illustrations and descriptions of the remainder. Additionally, there is an extremely useful biographical section with illustrations of artists’ signatures and seals. The exhibition is small by number, but large by importance because it displays and explains the genius of modern and contemporary Japanese art and its influential place in the growth and expansion of the international decorative arts.

 

SOUTH ASIAN

 

Empires of the Indus: The Story of  A River by Alice Albinia

 

John Murray, ISBN 978-0719560033, £20

One of the largest rivers in the world, the Indus rises in the Tibetan mountains, flows west across northern India and south through Pakistan. For millennia it has been worshipped as a god; for centuries used as a tool of imperial expansion; today it is the cement of Pakistans fractious union. Five thousand years ago, a string of sophisticated cities grew and traded on its banks. In the ruins of these elaborate metropolises, Sanskrit-speaking nomads explored the river, extolling its virtues in India’s most ancient text, the Rig-Veda. During the past two thousand years a series of invaders: Alexander the Great, Afghan Sultans and the British Raj all made conquering the Indus valley their quixotic mission. For the people of the river, meanwhile, the Indus valley became a nodal point on the Silk Road, a centre of Sufi pilgrimage and the birthplace of Sikhism. Empires of the Indus follows the river upstream and back in time, taking the reader on a voyage through 2,000 miles of geography and more than five millennia of history redolent with contemporary importance.

 

Clearing a Space: Reflections on India, Literature and Culture by Amit Chaudhuri

Peter Lang, ISBN 978-1906165017 £13.99

The essays assembled in this book, written over the last 15 years, cover an astonishing range of subjects. The writer treats himself as a specimen for an exploration of what it means to be a modern Indian in relation to the West. Personal memoir gives readers a glance into a nation’s history; his relationship to the West provides insight into India’s national relationship to the West; and, his struggle to define ‘Indianness’ for himself becomes a paradigm of searching for Indian identity. Chaudhuri writes anecdotally in these essays about Indian popular culture and high culture, travel and location in Paris, Bombay, Dublin, Calcutta and Berlin, empire and nationalism, Indian and Western cinema, music, art and literature, politics, race, cosmopolitanism, urban landscapes, Hollywood and Bollywood, Anglophone India, internationalism, globalisation, the Indian English tradition that pre-dates Rushdie, post-colonialism and much more.

 

Taj Mahal by Giles Tillotson

Profile Books, ISBN 978-1861978905, £15.99

The latest book on this iconic building draws on a huge range of sources from the Padshahnama to Bollywood and Princess Diana to illustrate its history and meaning. The author explores the human story behind the building, particularity the relationship between Shaj Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Also explored is its representation in art and analyses the secrets of its architectural success. He concludes with the troubled story of conservation, first by Lord Curzon and discusses recent disputes about its ownership, treatment and exploitation.

 

India Now New Visions in Photography edited by Alain Williaume with Devika Daulet-Singh

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500287125, £24.95

India recently celebrated 60 years of independence. The country, almost a continent in its own right, has become a great economic power, yet its image is still all too often limited to colourful cliches of brightly coloured saris and postcards of the Taj Mahal. This book sweeps away such idealized visions by presenting the work of 29 Indian and Western photographers, both internationally renowned artists and rising talents, who focus their gaze on India today. Intimate images, urban settings, a burgeoning middle class: an unknown India is revealed in this landmark photographic anthology of the country today.

 

The Coming of Photography in India by Christopher Pinney

 

The British Library, ISBN 9780712349727, £45

Although photography reaches back as far as the 16th-century’s camera obscura projects, it was not until the British colonial period that amateur photographers introduced their technology to the Indian subcontinent. By the end of the 19th century, however, India was at the centre of a representational revolution. Was photography in India simply a void, waiting to be filled by pre-existing cultural and historical practice? Or was it disruptive, throwing up new opportunities, prophesying new social formations, and bringing anxieties about formerly secluded events and practices into a newly visible sphere? The Coming of Photography in India transcends traditional cultural and technological narratives in order to present a subtle and compelling account of the limits, possibilities, and consequences of photography.Examining technology in order to explain the dynamic incarnation of photographic practice as cure, poison, and prophecy, Pinney presents a bold account which will reward anyone with an interest in India, photography, or the history of the book.

 

Vijayanagara: Splendour in Ruins edited by George Michell

Mapin, ISBN 978-0944142769, £35

This book, published by the Alkazi Collection of Photography, uses photographs from the collection to examine the history and architecture of  Vijayanagara. The first photographer to reach the ruins in 1855 was probably the army officer Alexander Greenlaw. While Greenlaw’s response to the architecture within its spectacular natural setting is the principal focus of the book, the work of subsequent photographers at the site is also explored.

 

Expedition Naga Diaries from the Hills in Northeast India 1921-1937 and 2002-2006 by Peter van Ham and Jamie Saul

Antique Collectors’ Club, ISBN 978-1851495603, £35

Diaries written by British administrators/explorers during punitive expeditions in the 1920s and 30s against the Naga, a people once notorious for their headhunting activities, are compared with contemporary notes written during the last 5 years when the authors were given special permission to do fieldwork in the long forbidden border areas between India and Myanmar (Burma). Four hundred contemporary and historic photographs, most of which are published here for the first time ever, along with film and sound material on the enclosed free DVD, allow the reader to explore both the present and the past of one of the least known, yet most interesting cultural realms as it has never been possible before.

 

Indian Textiles by John GIllow and Nicholas Bernard

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500514320, £29.95

This is a comprehensive survey of the handmade textiles of the whole of the South Asian subcontinent, bringing to life in hundreds of glorious photographs their vibrant colours, textiles and motifs. The book examines the histories of textiles traditions throughout the whole area, as well as analysing the techniques of dyeing, weaving and embroidering. The sub-continent is traversed from region to region to explore and highlight the centres of traditional textile production.

 

HIMALAYAS

 

A Year in Tibet by Sun Shuyun

HarperPress, ISBN 978-0007265114, £20

A Year in Tibet follows the author as she lives for 18 months in a remote village in Tibet. Sun Shuyun grew up in China and has always been fascinated by Tibet and Buddhism. Now, accompanied by a television crew of Chinese and Tibetans, she spent a year in a remote town in the Tibetan mountain area and recorded what life is like for the people there. After half a century of Communist rule, Gyantse, once celebrated by early 20th-century British explorers, has like the rest of Tibet seen the return of religion and much of the traditional way of life – but for how long? Sun Shuyun explores the intimate details of the lives of a shaman and his family, or monks, a village doctor, a Party worker, a hotel manager, and a rickshaw driver. Through them she captures the tensions between Chinese and Tibetans, between an ancient and an alien culture, faith and science, continuity and modernisation. This is a book with a difference: unusually, a realistic Chinese voice is calling for better understanding of a people who try to carve out the path they desire, often against the odds, often with joy and hope.Vivid, fascinating and visually brilliant, a Year in Tibet provides a rare insight into a Tibetan community under the pressure of change: from centuries of isolation through a difficult past to an uncertain present. The book accompanies the television series was shown on the BBC earlier this year.

 

The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama by Pico Iyer

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-0747597261 £12.99

Pico Iyer has been engaged in conversation with the Dalai Lama (a friend of his father’s) for the last three decades a continuing exploration of his message and its effectiveness. Now, in this insightful, impassioned book, Iyer captures the paradoxes of the Dalai Lama’s position: though he has brought the ideas of Tibet to world attention, Tibet itself is being remade as a Chinese province; though he was born in one of the most remote, least developed places on earth, he has become a champion of globalism and technology. He is a religious leader who warns against being needlessly distracted by religion; a Tibetan head of state who suggests that exile from Tibet can be an opportunity; an incarnation of a Tibetan god who stresses his everyday humanity. Moving from Dharamsala, India the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile to Lhasa, Tibet, to venues in the West where the Dalai Lama’s pragmatism, rigour, and scholarship are sometimes lost on an audience yearning for mystical visions, this book aims to illuminate the hidden life, the transforming ideas, and the daily challenges of a global icon.

 

Holder of the White Lotus: The Lives of the Dalai Lama by Alexander Norman

Little Brown, ISBN 978-0316859882, £20

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is renowned the world over for an unswerving dedication to non-violence in his efforts to achieve justice for Tibet. In the 20 years he has known and worked with him, Alexander Norman has seen at first hand this extraordinary man’s courage, compassion and honesty. But the current Dalai Lama is 14th in a lineage whose history is every bit as bloody and intrigue-laden as that of the Papacy. The ‘first’ Dalai Lama was in fact the third; the second described himself as ‘a mad beggar monk’; the fourth was not Tibetan at all but a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. The sixth was a notorious womaniser, while four successive Dalai Lamas were almost certainly murdered. The present Dalai Lama has himself been the target of attacks that resulted in the brutal murder of a close colleague. He readily admits that Tibet never was Shangri La.

 

Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet and the World by Robert Thurman

 

Atria Books, ISBN 978-1582702209, £16.99

Robert Thurman explores just why His Holiness the Dalai Lama has earned the world’s love and respect, and how restoring Tibet’s autonomy within China is not only possible, but highly reasonable, and absolutely necessary for all of us together to have a peaceful future as a global community. In the few decades since the illegal Chinese invasion of Tibet, Tibetans have seen their ecosystem destroyed, their religion, language, and culture repressed, and systematic oppression and violence against anyone who dares acknowledge Tibetan sovereignty. Yet, above it all, the Dalai Lama has been a consistent voice for peace, sharing a ‘Middle-Way’ approach that has gathered accolades from the Nobel Peace Prize to the US Congressional Gold Medal. Why the Dalai Lama Matters is not merely a book about Tibet or the Dalai Lama. It is a revealing, provocative solution for a world in conflict, dealing with the very fundamentals of human rights and freedoms. This book prompts China to take action now, as the world’s attention is focused on the Beijing Olympics.

 

Buddhist Himalayas: People, Faith and Nature by Matthieu Ricard

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500287750, £18.95

Newly available in paperback, this sumptuous volume presents a dazzling collection of photographs of the majestic landscape and Buddhist people of the Himalayas. The authors profound intimacy with their subject is immediately apparent in their awe-inspiring images, which present a harmonious mosaic of the unmatched richness of the civilisations on the Roof of the World. The pictures are accompanied throughout by contributions from nineteen eminent specialists on the region, who discuss the faith, culture, politics and traditions of the Himalayan world. Reflecting not only the cycle of human existence but also the history of the Himalayas, this lavish volume offers an unparalleled insight into Himalayan Buddhism in the 21st century.

 

Bhutan The Land of Serenity by Matthieu Ricard

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500514481, £29.95

Nearly 30 years ago, Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk and photographer, went to Bhutan to study with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a highly revered Tibetan Buddhist master. He spent eight years in Bhutan with him, and has continued to return to the ‘land of the thunder dragon’, (or Druk-yul as Bhutan is known in Bhutanese) throughout his life, discovering on each occasion more of its invaluable treasures. As a Buddhist monk, he has not only witnessed private religious ceremonies, the life of a great Buddhist master, and exceptional works of art, but has also participated in the daily lives of local villagers. His encounters and experiences are recorded here in this exceptionally beautiful book, a sublime voyage to the heart of Bhutan, a land where spirituality and daily life are intimately linked.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

 

Cambodian Dance Celebration of the Gods by Denise Heywood

River Books, ISBN 978-9749863404, £19.95

Classical dance is the quintessence of Cambodia’s identity. Religious in origins, its traditions date back more than a thousand years to the great Khmer Empire, when dancers performed in temples at Angkor and were the living embodiment of those celestial dancers carved on the temple walls. The history of Cambodian dance, the relationship with Siamese costumes, the role of the French in introducing the dancers to the West, the Reamker epic from which many of the dances are drawn and the stories of dancers who survived the recent extremely black period in Cambodian history serve to revive classical dance today.

 

 

ISLAMIC WORLD

 

The Minbar of Saladin

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500238431, £29.95

The minbar of Saladin, an intricately designed wooden pulpit, was one of the masterpieces of Islamic art. Made in the 12th century, on Saladins conquest of Jerusalem, it was placed in the al-Aqsa Mosque, where it remained for almost 800 years. Then, in 1969, it was burned down by an Australian fanatical Christian. This book charts the difficult process of reconstructing the minbar from scratch, a challenge made even more difficult by the lack of the necessary skills and the loss of the secrets of its original construction and decoration. Thus, it covers both Islamic art and the revival of lost traditional skills.

 

The Ismailis: An Illustrated History by Farhad Daftary and Zulfikar Hirji

Azimuth Editions, ISBN 978-1898592266, £39

The Ismailis are a geographically, linguistically and ethnically diverse Shia Muslim community the second largest in the world. Scattered in more than 20 countries of Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, they are currently led by their 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. In four chapters, this book traces their history within the wider context of Islamic history and the world in general, over the better part of 1,400 years. Each chapter is fully illustrated and accompanied by relevant maps and diagrams such as genealogical charts. The book has more than 300 illustrations, most in colour, consisting of images from illustrated manuscripts, artefacts, architecture, community documents, as well as important historical and contemporary photographs of members of the Ismaili community (many from private collections and archives) and the varied geographical contexts in which they live. A chronology of key events, a glossary of important terms, and a bibliography are also provided.

 

Damascus Hidden Treasures of the Old City by Brigid Keenan

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500019467, £35

Damascus has enjoyed a long history of immense artistic achievement. Alongside some of Islams most magnificent architecture, the capital city of Syria can also boast a heritage of fairytale palaces and sumptuous private houses of comparable splendour. Brigid Keenan and Tim Beddow record these priceless architectural gems in this classic book, now available again in hardback after some years out of print. The text describes the history of Damascus and life in the city today, and then proceeds to describe the houses themselves, their creators and occupants.

 

The Qur’an: A New Translation by Tarif Khalidi

Penguin Classics, ISBN 9781846140211, £25

Considered in Islam to be the infallible word of God, The Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel in a series of divine revelations over many years after his first vision in the cave. In 114 chapters, or surahs, it provides the rules of conduct that remain fundamental to Muslims today – most importantly the key Islamic values of prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and absolute faith in God, with profound spiritual guidance on matters of kinship, marriage and family, crime and punishment, rituals, food, warfare and charity. This new translation by Tarif Khalidi, a professor of Islamic studies at the American University of Beirut, is considered by many as one of the best around.

 

The Great Arab Conquests by Hugh Kennedy

Phoenix, ISBN 978-0753823897, £12.99

Today’s Arab world was created at breathtaking speed. Whereas the Roman Empire took over 200 years to reach its fullest extent, the Arab armies overran the whole Middle East, North Africa and Spain within a generation. They annihilated the 1,000-year-old Persian Empire and reduced the Byzantine Empire to little more than a city-state based around Constantinople. Within a 100 years of the Prophet’s death, Muslim armies destroyed the Visigoth kingdom of Spain, and crossed the Pyrenees to occupy southern France. This is the first popular English language account of this astonishing remaking of the political and religious map of the world. Hugh Kennedy’s sweeping narrative reveals how the Arab armies conquered almost everything in their path. One of the few academic historians with a genuine talent for story telling, he offers a compelling mix of larger-than-life characters, battles, treachery and the clash of civilisations.

 

Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West by Benazir Bhutto

Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-1847393197, £17.99

A former Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto was seen by many as an important element in Pakistan’s future. In exile for years, in late 2007 she felt the time had come to actively re-engage and to return to the country she loved. Part of that process was a clear-eyed assessment of where Pakistan was, and of the nature of its relationship with the West, with Islam, and with extremism. In this book, completed just days before her assassination, Ms Bhutto demonstrates that extremism is not inherent to Islam, but that various factors, including some policies of the West, have empowered Islamic fundamentalists and are responsible for the current battle for the hearts, minds and bodies of the Umma (the Islamic nation around the world). Reconciliation was her compelling and convincing prescription for the country at the heart of the so-called ‘clash of civilisations’. It argues that democracy, economic development, moderation and modernity are the greatest threats to international terrorism.

 

MUSEUM CATALOGUES

 

Kimono as Art by Dale Carolyn Gluckman et al

San Diego Museum of Art, ISBN 978-0500976852

The first major book on Japanese textile artist Itchiku Kubota, published to accompany a touring exhibition. This lavishly illustrated book showcases 55 masterworks by Japanese kimono artist Itchiku Kubota (1917-2003). Initially determined to unlock the secrets of dyed and painted Japanese textiles of the 14th to early 17th centuries, Kubota ultimately invented a unique method of decoration. His work combines stitch-resist and ink drawing with a complex layering of colour to achieve hauntingly beautiful landscapes with richly textured surfaces and an impressionistic rendering of nature never before seen in the textile arts.

 

The Ramayana: Love and Valour in India’s Great Epic by J P Losty

British Library, ISBN 978 0 7123 5014 3, £15.95

This book was tied in with the major British Library exhibition, Ramayana: Love and Valour in India’s Great Epic in mid 2008, which unveiled nearly 120 paintings from the British Library’s lavishly illustrated 17th century manuscripts of the Ramayana epic commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar (1628- 652). The Mewar Ramayana manuscripts on display at the British Library were produced between 1649 and 1653 for Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar in his court studio at Udaipur. Illustrated on the grandest scale, the vivid, brightly coloured scenes are packed with  narrative detail and dramatic imagery, with no episode of the great epic overlooked. This new Ramayana publication includes illustrations of all of the Mewar Ramayana paintings on display in the British Library’s major summer exhibition, as well as some additional unexhibited illustrations.

 

The Elephant and the Lotus; Vietnamese Ceramics in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, by Phillippe Truong

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ISBN 978-0878467174, US$85

The tradition of sophisticated ceramics originating in VietNam’s Red River Valley goes back 2,000 years.  Recent archaeological excavations have generated the interest of sophisticated collectors world-wide. Truong’s book, details over 200 examples from the museum’s collection, which ranges from the earliest practical vessels to fine blue and white porcelains.  This is the first complete publication on the museum’s collection.

 

Japanese Masterworks from the Price Collection by Tsuji Nobuo, John M. Rosenfied, Joe D. Price, Frank O. Gehry contributors

Collins, ISBN 978-1588342584, US$45

Joe Price purchased his first Japanese painting in the 1950s, under the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright. Over the next five decades, he and his wife Etsuko would collect more than 200 masterpieces from the Edo period (1615-1868), a time when Japan had isolated itself from the rest of the world. Curiously, during that period of national seclusion, independent and diversely creative artists flourished as never before. Today, the Etsuko and Joe Price Collection is placed among the finest in the world. At the collection’s core are screens, hanging scrolls, fans, and some of the finest examples of the distinctive, hauntingly preternatural renderings of animal life by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800), one of the most innovative and imaginative of Kyoto’s 18th-century painters. Jakuchu’s prominence in recent decades has been greatly aided by the Price’s intensive interest in his work.

 

Picture Paradise: Asia-Pacific Photography 1840s-1940s by Gael Newton

National Gallery of Australia, ISBN 978-0642541758, £15.95

This book chronicles developments in photography from India and Sri Lanka through East and Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands to the west coast of North America. Accompanied the exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Australia, Canberra, earlier this year.

 

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul edited by Fredrik Heibert and Pierre Cambon

National Geographic Society, ISBN 978-1426202957, US$30

A catalogue to accompany this major travelling exhibition in the US. The book focuses not only on the cultural significance of the artworks in the exhibition but also relays the story of their discovery, excavation, and heroic rescue in modern-day Afghanistan.

 

Power and Glory: Court Arts of China’s Ming Dynasty by He Lei and Michael Knight

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, ISBN 978-0939117420, US$39.95

Cataloguing the exhibition at the Asian Art Museum (and travelling elsewhere in the US), the book offers a fresh look at the court arts of the Ming dynasty – featuring exceptional objects from the Palace Museum, Beijing; the Nanjing Municipal Museum; the Shanghai Museum; and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco – many of which have never before been exhibited in the US.

 

Art and China’s Revolution

Yale, ISBN 978-0300140644, US$55.95

This book is the first to focus on artwork produced from the 1950s to the 1970s, when Mao Zedong was in leadership, and argues that important contributions were made during this period that require fuller consideration in Chinese art history, especially with relevance to the contemporary world. Previously, historians have tended to dismiss the art of the Cultural Revolution as pure propaganda. The authors of this volume argue that while much art produced during this time was infused with politics, and individual creativity and displays of free thought were sometimes stifled and even punished, it is short sighted to overlook the aesthetic sophistication, diversity, and accessibility of much of the imagery.

 

The Revolution Continues: New Art In China

Jonathan Cape, ISBN 978-0224084994, £20

The Revolution Continues, the  inaugural exhibition at the new Saatchi Galleries, provides a link between the rebellious spirit of the current generation of Chinese artists and the mood of rebellion that was so explicitly evident during the years of the Cultural Revolution that ran from 1966 to the death of Mao and the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976. In his text Jiang Jiehong argues that the widespread destruction of traditional Chinese treasures by the Red Guards, especially in the early period of 1966, overshadows the entire period. Today’s rebellious artistic spirit is, in fact, an extension of Mao’s legacy.

 

Tribal Cultures in the Eastern Himalayas: Through the Eye of Time: Photographs of Arunachal Pradesh, 1859–2006 by Michael Aram Tarr and Stuart Blackburn

Brill, ISBN 978-9004165229, £59.61

This is the first visual history of Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India, which borders Tibet/China, Burma and Bhutan. Based on ample archival and field research, it illustrates a century and a half of cultural change in this culturally diverse and little-known region of the Himalayas. The book accompanies the current exhibition at the British Museum.

 

CHINA DESIGN NOW edited by Zhang Honxing & Lauren Parker

V&A Publications, ISBN 978-1851775316, £24.99

The catalogue looks at the development of a vibrant Chinese design culture within the context of China’s recent history of industrialisation, consumer revolution and rapid urbanisation. Focusing on China’s hopes and dreams – from the entrepreneurial spirit of individual designers, to society’s aspirations at a moment of tremendous change, to the global ambitions of a nation, the book explores how China’s new design culture began, what its driving forces are, and how it is developing.Within the framework of three cities – Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing – from the early 1990s, to the present day and beyond, a broad range of topics is covered, including graphic design, branding, new media such as advertising, television and blogs, the family and the home, fashion, youth cultures, luxury goods and everyday objects, architecture and urban planning, vehicle design and transportation.

 

Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, c. 1600-1900 by M McWilliams

Yale, ISBN 978-0300126327, US$24.95

In Islamic culture, calligraphy has long been considered a quintessential art form. This beautiful writing practice constitutes an expression of piety, and calligraphers are among the most highly esteemed artists. Traces of the Calligrapher portrays the intimate world of the calligrapher during the early modern period of Islamic culture. It brings together the ‘tools of the trade’ – works in their own right that are rarely exhibited or published – and the exquisite art made with these functional objects in India, Iran, and Turkey. This richly illustrated and book presents exceptional works of the 7th through 19th centuries, drawn primarily from an unrivalled private collection. It features pens, pen boxes, chests, tables, paper scissors, knives, burnishers, and book bindings of superb manufacture and design, accompanied by examples of calligraphy that were executed as practice exercise, occasional works, wall hangings, and manuscripts. Accompanies the travelling exhibition, currently at Asia Society, New York.

 

The Last Emperor’s Collection: Masterpieces of Painting and Calligraphy from the Liaoning Provincial Museum

China Institute, ISBN 978-0-9774054-3-5, US$59

This catalogue includes illustrations of 34 works of painting and calligraphy from the exhibition, as well as illustrations of portraits of emperors, painting, and calligraphy from the imperial collection, as featured in renowned Chinese museums, as well as American museums such as The Princeton University of Art Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Though the imperial collection had suffered many misfortunes over time, it was finally dispersed through the removal of large quantities of art works by the last emperor, Pu Yi, in the early 20th century. In spite of this, the imperial collection of paintings and calligraphy became an important form of cultural transmission, both directly and indirectly. It condensed the essence of Chinese culture, demonstrated the distinctive character of that culture, and legitimised the authority of the dynastic rulers.

 

The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan by Terese Tse Bartholomew and John Johnston

Serindia, ISBN 978-1932476354,£40

A catalogue to accompany the travelling exhibition The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan. For over five years, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, under the direction of Dr. Stephen Little, has conducted ambitious fieldwork and research in Bhutan. Enjoying a close working relationship with the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Honolulu Academy of Arts research teams have been given unprecedented access to the nation’s treasuries of sacred art and dance. The Dragon’s Gift offers a rare opportunity to introduce, to the wider international audience, some of the most sacred Buddhist images of Bhutan. Nearly all of the works of art presented in this catalogue are from active temples and monasteries and remain in ritual use. Most of the items are painted or textile thangkas or gilt bronze sculptures which date primarily from the 17th to the 19th centuries, a golden age in the Buddhist arts of Bhutan. Ranging from depictions of Tantric deities to individualised portraits of Buddhist masters, the exhibition and catalogue present outstanding works of art with a wide iconographic scope. Complementing the presentation of sacred works of art is the documentation of the ancient Cham dances of Bhutan, to which the dance preservation team was given privileged entrée. Having documented over three hundred hours of sacred and secular dances, they have made a first assay of one of the few surviving treasures of the trans-Himalayan movement tradition. These differing approaches to the visual and moving arts provide further insight into the unique experience of Buddhism in Bhutan. A brief sampling of the variety of extant dance lineages, some many centuries old is included on the DVD contained within the catalogue.

 

Cai Guo Qiang: I want to Believe by David Joselit, Miwon Kwon, Alexandra Munroe, Wang Hui

Guggenheim Museum Publications, ISBN 978-0892073719, £38

This exhibition was the most comprehensive exhibition to date of the innovative body of work by Chinese-born artist Cai Guo-Qiang – best known for his spectacular artworks using gunpowder. It presents a chronological and thematic survey that charts the artist’s creation of a distinctive visual and conceptual language across four mediums: drawings made from gunpowder fuses and explosive powders laid on paper and ignited; explosion events, documented by videos, photographs, and preparatory drawings; large-scale installations; and social projects, wherein the artist works with local communities to create an art event or exhibitions site, documented by photographs. Featuring works from the 1980s to the present, this volume illuminates Cai’s significant formal and conceptual contributions to contemporary international art practices and social activism. It is the defining scholarly publication of the artist thus far.

 

Muraqqa: Imperial Mughal Albums from Chester Beatty Library edited by Elaine Wright

Art Services International, ISBN 978-0883971543, £57.95

Throughout history, people have assembled albums that record their lives and the world around them. Among the most remarkable of all albums ever created are those made in the years 1600-1657 for the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The period of greatest artistic production was that of these two great emperors, and the albums of paintings and calligraphy (called muraqqa’ in Persian), that they assembled now serve as a window to understanding the history and culture of this important period of Indian history. The paintings in the albums include formal (often symbolic) portraits of the emperors themselves, depictions of members of the royal family in relaxed private settings, portraits of courtiers, Sufi saints and mystics, genre scenes, and natural history subjects.

 

Asian/American/Modern Art:  Shifting Currents 1900 – 1970 by Daniell Cornell and Mark Dean Johnson

University of California Press, ISBN 978-0520258648, US$45

A companion book to the exhibition of the same name, it presents the first comprehensive survey of work produced by artists of Asian descent in America during the first seven decades of the 20th century. The book follows the exhibition’s multiethnic and multidisciplinary approach. Rather than defining an Asian American art aesthetic, Asian/American/ Modern Art highlights the stylistic tensions and artistic influences apparent in the work of major artists including Chiura Obata, Yun Gee, Ruth Asawa, Isamu Noguchi, Nam June Paik, and Carlos Villa. Two areas of emphasis, the modernist matrix of the early 20th century and the post-World War II period wherein artists developed new approaches, support the book’s recurring themes of war and peace, urban life and community.

 

Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui (1632-1717) by M K Hearn

Yale University Press, ISBN978-0300141443, £40

Wang Hui, the most celebrated painter of late17th-century China, played a key role both in reinvigorating past traditions of landscape painting and in establishing the stylistic foundations for the imperially sponsored art of the Qing court. An artist of protean talent and immense ambition, Wang developed an all-embracing synthesis of historical landscape styles that constituted one of the greatest artistic innovations of late imperial China. This comprehensive study of the painter’s career, the first published in English, features essays examining his life and achievements as well as his masterwork, the monumental scroll depicting the Kangxi emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour. Twenty-seven of Wang Hui’s paintings, drawn from the Metropolitan Museum and from museums in Beijing, Taipei, Shanghai, and Tokyo, are supplemented by a wealth of images ranging from ancient Chinese paintings to works by Wang’s contemporaries. Accompanies the exhibition of the same name.

 

Displacement: The Three Gorges Dam and Contemporary Chinese Art by Wu Hung

Chicago University Press, ISBN 978-0935573466, US$30

When it is completed in 2009 the Three Gorges Dam, a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangzi River in China, will generate enough electricity to power four cities the size of Los Angeles. Despite the fact that it will drastically reduce coal consumption and eliminate 100 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, the project is enmeshed in controversy. Since construction began in 1994, nearly one thousand neighbouring towns and villages have been submerged and over one million people have been displaced by the dam’s 375-mile reservoir. This project reveals how four leading Chinese artists – Chen Qiulin, Liu Xiaodong, Yun-Fei Ji, and Zhuang Hui – have confronted the Three Gorges Dam, employing a variety of contemporary techniques to respond to the massive forced migration of people, the demolition of ancient architecture, and the devastation of the local landscape.Alongside the catalogue’s lavish illustrations are three essays, penned by Wu Hung, Stephanie Smith, and Jason McGrath, which range in topic from contemporary art and environmental sustainability to Chinese film and its treatment of the dam.

 

Yosa Buson: On the Wings of Art

Miho Museum, ISBN 4+903642003, Yen 2900

A catalogue to accompany the exhibition earlier this year of more than 150 objects examining the work and life of Yosa Buson (b. Kema 1716-1783). The exhibition  showed paintings from all phases of Buson’s career as well as other objects, including haikai-related materials and personal letters. In Japanese and English.

 

Rhythms of India The Art of Nadalal Bose by Sonya Rhie Quintanilla

San Diego Museum of Art, ISBN 9780937108413

Catalogue to accompany the retrospective of Bose’s (1882-1966) career. The exhibition explored, through Bose’s work, the crucial period of transition from colony to independent nation through the lens of one of the prominent artists of the time.

 

Garden & Cosmos The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500514436, £36

This well-illustrated volume surveys the fusion of religion and art in India and addresses the social, political and religious trends that existed in the royal courts of Jodhpur from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Newly discovered paintings from the Royal Collection of Jodhpur, superbly reproduced here, reveal the emergence of a uniquely sensuous garden aesthetic in the 18th century; these images present royal pastimes and the divine exploits of Hindu deities Krishna and Rama. The exhibition marks the first time these works have been published or  viewed outside the royal court.

 

Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui (1632-1717) by MK Hearn

Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale, ISBN 978-0300141443, £40

Wang Hui, the most celebrated painter of late 17th-century China, played a key role both in reinvigorating past traditions of landscape painting and in establishing the stylistic foundations for the imperially sponsored art of the Qing court. An artist of protean talent and immense ambition, Wang developed an all-embracing synthesis of historical landscape styles that constituted one of the greatest artistic innovations of late imperial China. This comprehensive study of the painter’s career, the first published in English, features essays examining his life and achievements as well as his masterwork, the monumental scroll depicting the Kangxi emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour. Twenty-seven of Wang Hui’s paintings, drawn from the Metropolitan Museum and from museums in Beijing, Taipei, Shanghai, and Tokyo, are supplemented by images ranging from ancient Chinese paintings to works by Wang’s contemporaries.

 

FICTION

 

Tao: On the Road and On the Run in Outlaw China by Ava Goda translated by Alison Watts

Portobello Books, translated from Japanese, ISBN 978 1 84627 024 6, £16.99

As protests swirl in the cities and all foreign faces arouse suspicions, venturesome young Japanese student Aya Goda travels deep into the interior of China. There she falls in with the charismatic and combative wandering painter Cao, whose work is initially tolerated by the Chinese authorities and then banned, suddenly flipping the couple over onto the wrong side of the law. With the police on their tails, the pair criss-cross the vastnesses of middle China and push into Tibet, where Cao has been trained as a sky-burial master. By truck and by jalopy, biplane and train, dodging bandits and bureaucrats alike, the pair take a high-speed, high-risk journey through this fast-changing country. Like some East Asian Cassady and Kerouac, Cao and Goda are wild kindred spirits in search of enlightenment and freedom, and Goda’s prose – clear and metallic as a Himalayan stream – permits the reader to share their every intrepid step and twist and to experience the different flavours of contemporary China.

 

Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

Penguin Press, ISBN 978-1594201844, US$18

Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen volunteers to live in a remote settlement on the border of Inner and Outer Mongolia, where he discovers life of apparent idyllic simplicity amongst the nomads and the wild wolves who roam the plains. But when members of the People’s Republic swarm in from the cities to bring modernity and productivity to the grasslands, the peace of Chen’s solitary existence is shattered, and the delicate balance between humans and wolves is disrupted. Only time will tell whether the grasslands’ environment and culture will ever recover. A beautiful and moving portrayal of a land and culture that no longer exists, it is also a powerful portrait of modern China and a fascinating insight into the country’s own view of itself, its history and its people. Winner of the Man Booker Asian Book Prize 2007.

 

Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden

HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0007201785, £18.99

This is the third novel in Conn Iggulden’s bestselling Conqueror series, following the life and adventures of the mighty Genghis Khan. The sense of his ambition and his power, the relationships with his wives, sons and trusted aides, the sweep of his conquests, is all brought together by epic storytelling.

 

20 Fragments of Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo, translated by Rebecca Morris and Pamela Casey

Chatto & WIndus, ISBN 978-0701181550, £12.99

As Fenfang, the character at the centre of the book states, ‘So I was the 6787th person in Beijing wanting to act in the film and TV industry. There were 6786 young and beautiful, or ugly and old people before me trying to get a role. I felt the competition, but compared with 1.6 billion people in China, 6786 was only the population of my village. I felt an urge to conquer this new village.’ Life as a film extra in Beijing might seem hard, but Fenfang – the spirited heroine is not defeated. She has travelled 1800 miles to seek her fortune in the city, and has no desire to return to the never-ending sweet potato fields back home. Determined to live a modern life, Fenfang works as a cleaner in the Young Pioneer’s movie theatre, falls in love with unsuitable men and keeps her kitchen cupboard stocked with UFO instant noodles.

 

A Free Life: A Novel by Ha Jin

Pantheon Books, ISBN 978-0375424656, US$26

We follow the Wu family (father Nan, mother Pingping, and son Taotao) as they fully sever their ties with China in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and begin a new, free life in the US. At first, their future seems well-assured – Nan’s graduate work in political science at Brandeis University would guarantee him a teaching position in China – but after the fallout from Tiananmen, Nan’s disillusionment turns him towards his first love, poetry. Leaving his studies, he takes on a variety of menial jobs while Pingping works for a wealthy widow as a cook and housekeeper. As Nan struggles to adapt to a new language and culture, his love of poetry and literature sustains him through difficult, lean years. Ha Jin creates a moving, realistic, but always hopeful narrative as Nan moves from Boston to New York to Atlanta, ever in search of financial stability and success, even in a culture that sometimes feels oppressive and hostile. As Pingping and Taotao slowly adjust to American life, Nan still feels a strange, paradoxical attachment to his homeland, though he violently disagrees with Communist policy. And severing all ties – including his love for a woman who rejected him in his youth – proves to be more difficult than he could have ever imagined.

 

Beijing Coma: A Novel by Ma Jian translated by Flora Drew

Chatto and Windus, ISBN 978-0701178079, £17.99

Dai Wei has been unconscious for almost a decade. A medical student and a pro-democracy protestor in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, he was struck by a soldier’s bullet and fell into a deep coma. As soon as the hospital authorities discovered that he had been an activist, his mother was forced to take him home. She allowed pharmacists access to his body and sold his urine and his left kidney to fund special treatment from Master Yao, a member of the outlawed Falun Gong sect. But during a government crackdown, the Master was arrested, and Dai Wai’s mother—who had fallen in love with him – lost her mind. As the millennium draws near, a sparrow flies through the window and lands on Dai Wei’s naked chest, a sign that he must emerge from his coma. But China has also undergone a massive transformation while Dai Wei lay unconscious. As he prepares to take leave of his old metal bed, Dai Wei realises that the rich, imaginative world afforded to him as a coma patient is a startling contrast with the death-in-life of the world outside. At once an allegory of a rising China, racked by contradictions, and a seminal examination of the Tiananmen Square protests, Beijing Coma is Ma Jian’s masterpiece.

 

The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery

Vintage, ISBN 978-0099516187, £7.99

Ellis Avery studied the Japanese tea ceremony for five years in New York and Kyoto, and now teaches Creative Writing at Columbia University. This debut novel is in the vein of Memoirs of a Geisha.

 

I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying for  a While by Taichi Yamada, translated by David James Karashima

Faber and Faber, ISBN 978-0571234974, £10.99

After an accident, illness and the loss of his job and marriage,  48-year-old Taura meets Mutsuko, setting his already derailed life even further off course. Their first encounter is, unseen, in an overcrowded hospital. It later transpires that the mysterious Mutsuko is in her late sixties, but when they next meet she is younger, in her forties, and the two seemingly fall in love. With Mutsuko’s age decreasing each time they meet, however, time rapidly starts to run out for these two damaged souls. Short and enigmatic, Yamada’s novel is a bold and disturbing exploration of love and loss.

 

Meeting Mr Kim by Jennifer Barclay

Summersdale Publishers, ISBN 978-1840246766, £7.99

Feeling burned out at 30 in her high-pressure job, Jen’s itching to leave her hectic life and experience something different. So when her laid-back musician boyfriend and his band get a contract to play funk at a Seoul hotel, she drops everything and goes to South Korea.But life in Seoul is lonely, bewildering and far from the adventure she had hoped for. Desperate to connect with Korean life and the people, she says goodbye to the boozy bars and busy roads of the capital and heads off alone to explore the rest of the country. With patience and determination she finds her way to ancient tombs and Buddhist temples, fish markets and strangers’ homes and on breathtaking beaches and mountain tops, where people’s kindness and pride in their culture begin to work magic.

 

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Jonathan Cape, ISBN 978-0224082044, £12.99

The book tells the story of why a Hercules C130, the world’s sturdiest plane, carrying Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia ul Haq, goes down on 17 August, 1988. Was it because of: mechanical failure; human error; the CIA’s impatience; a blind woman’s curse; generals not happy with their pension plans; the mango season, or could it be your narrator, Ali Shigri? Here are some of the circumstances: a military dictator reads the Qur’an every morning as if it were his daily horoscope; under officer Ali Shigri carries a deadly message on the tip of his sword; his friend Obaid answers all life’s questions with a splash of eau de cologne and a quote from Rilke; and a crow has crossed the Pakistani border illegally. As young Shigri moves from a mosque hall to his military barracks before ending up in a Mughal dungeon, there are questions that haunt him: What does it mean to betray someone and still love them? How many names does Allah really have? Who killed his father, Colonel Shigri? Who will kill his killers? And where the hell has Obaid disappeared to? Teasing, provocative, and very funny, Mohammed Hanif’s debut novel takes one of the subcontinent’s enduring mysteries and out if it spins a tale as rich and colourful as a beggar’s dream.

 

The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978- 0747591795, £14.99

India, 1955: as the scars of Partition are just beginning to heal, seventeen-year-old Meera sits enraptured on the balcony of a college auditorium in Delhi. In the spotlight is Dev, singing a song so infused with passion that it arouses in her the first flush of erotic longing. She wonders if she can steal him away from Roopa, her older, more beautiful sister. When Meera’s reverie comes true, it does not lead to the fairy-tale marriage she imagined. Dev’s family is steeped in the very kind of orthodoxy her father has spent his life railing against. Meera has no choice but to obey her in-laws, tolerate Dev’s drunken night-time fumblings, even observe the most arduous of Hindu fasts for his longevity. She must also fend off Dev’s brother, Arya, whose right-wing zeal and lascivious gaze she finds repellent. Her only solace is in her sister-in-law Sandhya, with whom she comes to share a tenderness that is as heartbreaking as it is fleeting.A move to Bombay, so that Dev can chase his dream of success as a Bollywood singer, seems at first like a fresh start, but soon that dream – and their marriage – turns to ashes. It is only when their son is born that things change.

 

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-0747590002, £14.99

Beginning in America, and spilling back over memories and generations to India, ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ follows new lives forged in the wake of loss. These are stories in which deeply sympathetic characters reach pivotal moments in their frayed relationships and are forced to navigate their way in unfamiliar landscapes.

 

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

John Murray, ISBN 978-0719568954, £18.99

At the heart of this epic saga, set just before the Opium Wars, is an old slaving-ship, The Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its crew a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed villager, from an evangelical English opium trader to a mulatto American freedman. As their old family ties are washed away they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races and generations. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of China. But it is the panorama of characters, whose Diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself.

 

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

Jonathan Cape, ISBN 978-0224061636, £18.99

A young European traveler calling himself ‘Mogor dell’Amore’, the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the real Grand Mughal, the Emperor Akbar, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the whole imperial capital. The stranger claims to be the child of a lost Mughal princess, the youngest sister of Akbar’s grandfather Babar: Qara Koz, ‘Lady Black Eyes’, a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who is taken captive first by an Uzbek warlord, then by the Shah of Persia, and finally becomes the lover of a certain Argalia, a Florentine soldier of fortune, commander of the armies of the Ottoman Sultan. It brings together two cities that barely know each other – the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire and the treachery of sons, and the equally sensual Florentine world of powerful courtesans, humanist philosophy and inhuman torture, where Niccolo Machiavelli is learning, the hard way, about the true brutality of power. These two worlds, so far apart, turn out to be uncannily alike, and the enchantments of women hold sway over them both. Readers who succumb to the spell of Rushdie’s convoluted, cross-continental fable may find it enchanting; those with less patience could consider it interminable.

 

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Atlantic, ISBN 978-1843547204, £12.99

Balram Halwai is the White Tiger – the smartest boy in his village. His family is too poor for him to afford for him to finish school and he has to work in a teashop, breaking coals and wiping tables. But Balram gets his break when a rich man hires him as a chauffeur, and takes him to live in Delhi. The city is a revelation. As he drives his master to shopping malls and call centres, Balram becomes increasingly aware of immense wealth and opportunity all around him, while knowing that he will never be able to gain access to that world. As Balram broods over his situation, he realizes that there is only one way he can become part of this glamorous new India – by murdering his master. The White Tiger presents a raw and unromanticised India, both thrilling and shocking – from the desperate, almost lawless villages along the Ganges, to the booming Wild South of Bangalore and its technology and outsourcing centres. The first-person confession of a murderer, The White Tiger is as compelling for its subject matter as for the voice of its narrator – amoral, cynical, unrepentant, yet deeply endearing. Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2008.

 

Bone China by Roma Tearne

HarperPress, ISBN 978-0007240739, £16.99

An epic novel of love, loss and a family uprooted, set in the contrasting landscapes of war-torn Sri Lanka and immigrant London. Grace de Silva, wife of the shiftless but charming Aloysius, has five children and a crumbling marriage. Her eldest son, Jacob, wants desperately to go to England. Civil unrest is stirring in Sri Lanka and Christopher, the youngest and the rebel of the family, is soon caught up in the tragedy that follows. As the decade unfolds against a backdrop of increasing ethnic violence, Grace watches helplessly as the life she knows begins to crumble. Slowly, this once happy family is torn apart as four of her children each make the decision to leave their home. In London, the de Silvas are all, in their different ways, desperately homesick. Caught in a cultural clash between East and West, life is not as they expected.

 

The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam

Faber and Faber, ISBN 978-0571238774, £17.99

Nadeem Aslam’s new novel takes place in modern-day Afghanistan. A Russian woman named Lara arrives at the house of Marcus Caldwell, an Englishman and widower living in an old perfume factory in the shadow of the Tora Bora mountains. It is possible that Marcus’ daughter, Zameen, may have known Lara’s brother, a Soviet soldier who disappeared in the area many years previously.But like Marcus’ wife, Zameen is dead; a victim of the age in which she was born. In the days that follow, further people will arrive at the house: David Town and James Palantine, two Americans who have spent much of their adult lives in the area, for their respective reasons; Dunia, a young Afghan teacher; and Casa, a radicalised young man intent on his own path. The stories and histories that unfold – interweaving and overlapping, and spanning nearly a quarter of a century – tell of the terrible afflictions that have plagued Afghanistan.

 

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-0747597070, £14.99, to be published in March 2009

In a prison cell in the US, a man stands trembling, naked, fearfully waiting to be shipped to Guantanamo Bay. How did it come to this, he wonders. August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes with the sound of fire and the horror of realisation. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost.In search of new beginnings, she travels to Delhi. There she walks into the lives of Konrad’s half-sister, Elizabeth, her husband James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu. As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts.But the shadows of history – personal, political – are cast over the entwined worlds of the Burtons, Ashrafs and the Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York, and in the novel’s astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. The ties that have bound them together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences.

 

Other Rooms, Other Wonders: Connected Stories by Daniyal Mueenddin

Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-0393068009, £13.50, published January 2009

This literary debut explores class, culture, power, and desire amongst the ruling and servant classes of Pakistan. In the spirit of Joyce’s Dubliners, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s collection of linked stories illuminates a place and a people through an examination of the entwined lives of landowners and their retainers on the Gurmani family farm in the countryside outside of Lahore, Pakistan. An aging feudal landlord’s household staff, the villagers who depend on his favour, and a network of relations near and far who have sought their fortune in the cities confront the advantages and constraints of station, the dissolution of old ways, and the shock of change. Mueenuddin explores the complexities of Pakistani class and culture and presents a vivid picture of a time and a place, of the old powers and the new, as the Pakistani feudal order is undermined and transformed.

 

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Picador, ISBN978-0330458511, £16

The book takes us back to a time that is half-history, half-myth, and wholly magical; narrated by Panchaali, the wife of the five Pandava brothers, we are – finally – given a woman’s take on the timeless tale that is the Mahabharata. Tracing Panchaali’s life, from fiery birth and lonely childhood, where her beloved brother is her only true companion; through her complicated friendship with the enigmatic Krishna; to marriage, motherhood, and Panchaali’s secret attraction to the mysterious man who is her husbands’ most dangerous enemy, The Palace of Illusions is a deeply human novel about a woman born into a man’s world: a world of warriors, gods, and the ever-manipulating hands of fate.

 

The Assassin’s Song by MG Vassanji

Canongate, ISBN 978-1847672827, £12.99

Karsan Dargawalla, heir to the shrine of a mysterious, mediaeval sufi begins to tell the story of his family and the destroyed shrine in the aftermath of the violence that gripped western India in 2002. His tale begins in the 1960s, and young Karsan wishes above all else to be ordinary. and when he is accepted to Harvard he can’t resist the opportunity to escape his hereditary obligation. After a bitter quarrel with his father that leads him to abdicate his successorship, he marries and has a son in Canada, but after tragedy strikes in Canada and India, he is drawn back after thirty years to see if anything is left for him. A story of grand historical sweep and intricate personal drama, a stunning evocation of the physical and emotional landscape of a man caught between the ancient and the modern, between legacy and discovery, between the most daunting filial obligation and the most undeniable personal yearning, The Assassin’s Song is a heartbreaking ballad of a life irrevocably changed.

 

The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux

Penguin, ISBN 978-0141029580, £8.99

Theroux gives us vignettes of his India through a series of stories. A holidaying middle-aged couple veer heedlessly from idyll to chaos. A buttoned-up Boston lawyer finds relief in Mumbai’s slums. A young woman befriends an elephant in Bangalore; an executive who yearns to become a holy beggar, an earnest young striver whose personality is transformed by acquiring an American accent, a miracle-working guru, and more.

 

The Blue Manuscript by Sabiha Al Khemir

 

Verso Books, ISBN 978-1844673087, £17.99

The Blue Manuscript is the ultimate prize for any collector of Islamic treasures. But does it still exist, and if so, can it be found? In search of answers to these questions, an assortment of archaeologists heads for a remote area of Egypt, where they work with local villagers to excavate a promising site. But as social and cultural preconceptions amongst both visitors and hosts start to unravel, the mystery seems only to deepen and darken…What do the fables of the village storyteller mean for the Westerners, and can their emotional equilibrium and scholarly integrity survive exposure to the realities of the world they have studied from afar? Interspersed with the testimony of the early mediaeval calligrapher who created the Blue Manuscript, Sabiha Al Khemir’s narrative builds into a rich tapestry of human love, hope, despair, greed, fear and betrayal.

Verso Books, ISBN 978-1844673087, £17.99

 

Following the Manuscript Voyage to the Land of Siam  by Jean-Michel Beurdeley

Privately published by Piphitmaya Public Co Ltd,, Thailand, tel +66 27185520

This illustrated novel, the author draws upon his experience as an antiquarian in Thailand. The story follows in chapters in the form of two personal diaries: one from the 17th century,  the other from the present day – each chapter telling the story of a different object.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

 

The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage by Alexandra Harney

Penguin Press, ISBN 978-1594201578, £15.99

Financial Times correspondent, Alex Harney, uncovers the truth about how China is able to offer such amazingly low prices to the rest of the world. What she has uncovered is a brutal, Hobbesian world in which pricing pressure from Western companies combines with ubiquitous corruption and lack of transparency to exact an unseen and unconscionable toll in human misery and environmental damage.

 

The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East by Kishore Mahbubani

Public Affairs, ISBN 978-1586484668, US$26

In this book, one of Asia’s leading intellectuals illuminates what will be on the agenda as Western domination ends and the Asian renaissance impacts world politics, markets and history.For centuries the Asians (Chinese, Indians, Muslims and others) have been bystanders in world history. Now, they are ready to become co-drivers.Asians have finally understood, absorbed and implemented Western best practices in many areas: from free-market economies to modern science and technology, from meritocracy to rule of law. They have also become innovative in their own way, creating new patterns of cooperation not seen in the West. Will the West resist the rise of Asia? For a happy outcome to emerge, the West must gracefully give up its domination of global institutions, from the IMF to the World Bank, from the G7 to the UN Security Council.

 

How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape our Next Decade by Bill Emmott

Harcourt, ISBN 978-0151015030, £20

Fifteen years after The Sun Also Sets predicted the decline of Japan in the 1990s, Emmott returns not only to the Far East, but to the wholly new and different challenges which have arisen from the economies of China, India and Japan. The book aims to define the geo-politics of the world’s most rapidly evolving economies and nation states and assess the challenge to America’s global economic and military leadership posed by the emerging Asian superpowers. It is not just, as many seem to argue, a question of the rise of China. For the first time in history Asia will not be dominated by just one country or by outside powers. It will contain three large, economically powerful countries, all with interests and ambitions that range across the whole region, and the world. The future of the world economy will be determined by the competition between these three countries, as will world politics.

 

The Art of Buddhism An Introduction to its History and Meaning by Denise Patry Leidy

Shambhala Publications Inc, ISBN 978-1590305942, US$45

More than 200 photographs provide the visual context for this tour of the world of Buddhist art. From the earliest second-century BC archaeological evidence to the nineteenth century, this book showcases the marvellous variety of Buddhist art through the ages, from every country and region where Buddhism has influenced the culture in a significant way, including India, Afghanistan, Central Asia, China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Burma and all the regions of Southeast Asia. Included in the rich variety of forms are architecture and monumental art, statuary, paintings, calligraphy, fresco, brushwork, and textile arts. Denise Leidy’s guide is a perfect text for courses on Asian and Buddhist art – but it is also accessible enough to be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in Buddhism or Asian art.

 

When Asia Was the World by Stewart Gordon

Da Capo Press Inc, ISBN 978-0306817397, £9.99

While European civilisation stagnated in the Dark Ages, Asia flourished as the wellspring of science, philosophy, and religion. Linked together by a web of spiritual, commercial, and intellectual connections, the distant regions of Asia’s vast civilisation, from Arabia to China, hummed with trade, international diplomacy, and the exchange of ideas. Stewart Gordon has fashioned a compelling and unique look at Asia from 700 to 1500 – a time when Asia was the world – by relating the personal journeys of Asias many travellers.

 

The International Art Markets  by James Goodwin

Kogan Page, ISBN 978-0749448356, £55

This book covers the whole sweep of international art markets and aims to provide an outline to each country’s art market. Markets include China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the US.

 

Asian Art History in the Twenty-First Century edited by Vishaka N Desai

Clark Studies/Yale, ISBN 978-0300125535, £18

Since its beginnings in the early 1900s, the study of Asian art has dramatically changed and has constantly been shaped by shifting world politics. Asian Art History in the Twenty-First Century explores the field of Asian art and its historiography, tensions, and possible future directions. It features essays by 14 leading authors specialising in Chinese, East Asian, Indian, and Japanese art history. They consider what is meant by the term ‘Asian art’; how it is manifested in museums, exhibitions, and galleries; and how it should be understood in relation to shifting geopolitics. Among the many fascinating topics discussed are the Zen portrait in mediaeval Japan, the influence of Asian art on American art, and public art and memory of war in contemporary China. The authors also consider what new theoretical structures must be created to suit the realities of the 21st century and Asian art today.

 

Footpaths in the Painted City: An Indian Journey by Sadia Shepard

Atlantic, ISBN 978-1843546047, £12.99

Sadia Shepard’s mother was Muslim, her father Catholic. But when she found out her Pakistani grandmother had been born Jewish in Bombay, she set out to discover the disappearing Jews of India – and uncover her own roots. Her father, a white Protestant from Colorado, and her mother, a Muslim from Pakistan, cherished their disparate customs and religious backgrounds, and created a household full of stories and storytellers, where cultures intertwined. But at the age of thirteen, Sadia learned that there was another story which she had never been told. Her beloved maternal grandmother was not born a Muslim like the rest of her Pakistani family. Instead, she had begun her life as Rachel Jacobs – a member of a tiny Indian-Jewish community. The Bene Israel believe they are descended from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, shipwrecked on India’s Konkan coast over two thousand years ago.Sadia headed to India in search of the Bene Israel community, wanting to understand their unique traditions, and to fulfil a promise she made to her grandmother before she died.

 

The World is What it Is: The Authorised Biography of VS Naipaul by Patrick French

Picador, ISBN 978-0330433501 £20

Patrick French has been granted unique access to V.S. Naipaul’s private papers and his personal recollections. With great feeling for Naipaul’s formidable body of work, he has produced a luminous account of the most compelling literary figure of the last 50 years. Beginning in rich and evocative detail in Trinidad, where V.S. Naipaul was born into an Indian family, French examines early privations, Naipaul’s first recollections, his life within a displaced community, and his talent and fierce ambition at school, which won him a scholarship to Oxford at the age of seventeen. Naipaul’s extraordinary gift – producing, masterpieces of both fiction and non-fiction – is born of a forceful, visionary impulse, whose roots Patrick French traces with a sympathetic insight that does full justice to this enigmatic genius.

 

Seeds of Adventure: In Search of Plants by Peter Cox and Peter Hutchinson

Garden Art Press, ISBN 978-1870673587, £35

This book is the story of the extensive travels made by two Peters in search of plants in Turkey, India, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Tibet. On nearly every expedition, they explored territory where no western plant hunters had been since such great explorers as Frank Kingdon Ward, and some of the trails they followed were so remote and rough that they had never before been botanised. Every trip was an adventure, and every adventure bore the seeds of success. Where the Himalayan range meets the gorge country of southwest China lies the richest temperate flora in the world. Here the plant life can mate, mutate and migrate in an evolutionary stew that challenges the botanist to classify it. With their Chinese and Indian colleagues, the Peters introduced many plants, especially rhododendrons, new or lost to cultivation, often saving them from extinction, many of which can be grown outside in the temperate regions of Europe and the US.

 

Travels in China: A Plantsman’s Paradise by Roy Lancaster

Antique Collectors Club, ISBN  978-1851495153, £39.95

This book provides a practical assessment of the plants that are either of ornamental merit or botanical interest to gardeners in the West. Roy Lancaster describes some 1,000 different plants in their natural habitat and provides an eminently readable account of a fascinating country, its people, and the plants that have enriched the gardens of Europe and North America.

 

Frank Kingdon Ward’s Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges

Antique Collectors’ Club, ISBN 978-1851495160,  £35

Little explored and virtually inaccessible, the Tsangpo Gorge in south-east Tibet is the world’s deepest gorge. Through it twists the Yarlong Tsangpo, Tibet’s great river, emerging from below on the plains of India. This is the story of its exploration and the rich plant and animal life found there. Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges, first published in 1926, is the fascinating account of plant-hunter and explorer Frank Kingdon Ward’s most important expedition. Kenneth Cox, Kenneth Storm, Jr. and Ian Baker spent over ten years retracing the route of the 1924-25 expedition and managed to reach further into this magical and only partly explored land. The book contains the original Kingdon Ward text and extensive additional material, including a history of the exploration, geography and religious significance of the area and more than 250 colour photographs with detailed captions on the plants of the area, most of which are described by Kingdon Ward in the original text. There are first person accounts of expeditions to the area by Kenneth Cox and Kenneth Storm. Jr. and a photographic essay documents, for the first time in a book, the new Hidden Falls located in the portion of the gorge left unexplored by Frank Kingdon Ward and Lord Cawdor in 1924.

 

Kipling Sahib by Charles Allen

Abacus, ISBN 978-0349116853, £9.99

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay in 1865 and spent his early years there, before being sent, aged six, to England, a desperately unhappy experience. Charles Allen’s great-grandfather brought the sixteen-year-old Kipling out to Lahore to work on The Civil and Military Gazette with the words ‘Kipling will do’, and thus set young Rudyard on his literary course. And so it was that at the start of the cold weather of 1882 he stepped ashore at Bombay on 18 October of that year ‘a prince entering his kingdom’. He stayed for seven years during which he wrote the work that established him as a popular and critical, sometimes controversial, success. Charles Allen has written a brilliant account of those years – of an Indian childhood and coming of age, of abandonment in England, of family and Empire. He traces the Indian experiences of Kipling’s parents, Lockwood and Alice and reveals what kind of culture the young writer was born into and then returned to when still a teenager. It is a work of fantastic sympathy for a man – though not blind to Kipling’s failings – and the country he loved.

 

Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China by Simon Winchester

Viking, ISBN 978-0670913787, £20

Before fate intervened, Joseph Needham was a distinguished biochemist at Cambridge University, married to a fellow scientist. In 1937 he was asked to supervise a young Chinese student named Lu Gwei-Djen, and in that moment began the two greatest love affairs of his life – Miss Lu, and China. Miss Lu inspired Needham to travel to China where he initially spent three dangerous years as a wartime diplomat. By the end of his life, Needham had become the pre-eminent China scholar of all time, a truly global figure, travelling endlessly and honoured by all. And in 1989, after a 52-year affair, he finally married the woman who had first inspired his passion.

 

A Blue Hand: The Beats in India by Deborah Baker

Avery Pub., US, ISBN 978-1594201585, US$25

It was 1961, and Allen Ginsberg was in search of life’s meaning. His quest would lead him to the gurus and ashrams of India, to its streets and heady opium dens. It is a journey that Deborah Baker tells through journals, letters, memoirs and other documents collected for this book.

 

On the Road to Angkor  by Maragret Hargreaves-Allen

www.iuniverse.com, ISBN 0-595 42654-9, US$17.95

In this memoir, the author travels through Southeast Asia: her quest is to explore Asian and to learn more about the ways of Buddhism, its great temples and Buddhist life. This odyssey takes her through Thailand, into Laos and Cambodia and finally into India, the source of Buddhism.  The author paints a vivid picture of every-day life in these countries with an acute and detailed eye. Ultimately, the journey ends in sadness, in a friend’s death. However, this brings the journey full circle, through personal experience, back to the rights of Buddhism.

 

Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper: A Sweetsour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop

Ebury Press, ISBN 978-0091918309, £16.99

The British cook and food writer Fuchsia Dunlop recalls her evolving relationship with China and its food, from her first rapturous encounter with the delicious cuisine of Sichuan Province, to brushes with corruption, environmental degradation and greed. In the course of this journey, she undergoes an apprenticeship at the Sichuan cooking school, where she is the only foreign student in a class of nearly 50 young Chinese men; she attempts, hilariously, to persuade Chinese people that ‘Western food’ is neither ‘simple’ nor ‘bland’. She also samples a multitude of exotic ingredients, including dogmeat, civet cats, scorpions, rabbit heads and the ovarian fat of the snow frog.