Monday, April 23, 2012

China is a Big Country

In a moment that out did Yogi Berra, General De Gaul is quoted as saying, "China is a big country inhabited by many Chinese."  

I'll say the same with books-China is a big country with many books written about it.  I've mentioned books on China from my other lists (Paul Theroux, Colin Thubron, Ella Maillart and others) but this is a short list of  western writers and travelers who shared their insight and passion about the country.  

1.  River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler (2001).  Hessler is a gifted writer and patient observer--two qualities that were well suited to his two years in the Peace Corps in a backwater of China.  His travels and experiences teaching English literature in China are wonderful and rewarding.  Hessler has since gone onto write other books on China and pieces for The New Yorker.  Bought new.

2.  Frontier of Heaven, Stanley Stewart: A Journey to the End of China, Stanley Stewart (2004).  Stewart exits the civilized part of China to adventure into the remote western provinces of China to find lost cities of the Silk Road, Buddhist monasteries, and the legacy of Genghis Khan.  His narration is compelling, making his travels a page-turner.  Filled with black and white photos.  A gift from the author for inspiration when I was attempting my own book.  On a personal note, Mr. Stewart was one of those writers who was generous with his time and advice.  He he encouraged me to push on with my book on Turkmenistan.

3.  China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power, Bob Gifford (2007).  Gifford, a correspondent for NPR, traveled China's National Route 312--the equivalent of our Route 66.  His journey from the innovative east to the rugged west shows the full spectrum of diversity in China.  What I learned from his book is that Americans and Chinese have two things in common--optimism about the future.  Bought new. 

4.  The Man Who Loved China: The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, Simon Winchester (2008).   The story of Joseph Needham, an English scientist who rediscovered the secrets of China.  He introduced many of the ideas we understand to be associated with China to the West.  The book describes his lifelong love affair with the country.  Audio book.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Two Views of Central Asian Journeys

For a while my obsession was collecting travel books about central Asia.  Rather than do one long list, I'm always looking for new categories.  Here's a new sub-sub category: One trip--two views. 

1.  News From Tartary: A Journey from Peking to Kashmir, Peter Flemming (1936; Library of Travel Classics).  One of the most difficult routes that can be taken, Flemming and his traveling companion Ella Maillart, a Swiss journalist traveled through western China over the Taklaman desert and the Himalayans.  Flemming was the brother of Ian Flemming, author of the 007 James Bond novels.   Bought used, State Department Book Store.

2.  Forbidden Journey, Ella Maillart (1937; The Century Travel Series).  Ella Maillart was told the journey she was about to undertake was impossible for a westerner and certainly impossible for a western woman. Maillart was instrumental in getting Flemming through with her amateur medical skills.  A remarkable explorer, she went on to be a great solo adventure in her own right.     Her contrasting views to Flemming, calling him erratic, make a great the two books great companions.  Bought used but cant' remember where.

3.  Turkestan Solo: One Woman's Expedition from the Tien Shan to the Kizil Kum, Ella Maillart(1934: Century Travelers).  Maillart travels alone through unknown areas of Central Asia. A great line, that adventure and romance have the same thing in common--the unknown.  Bought used but can't remember where.

  4.  Desert Road to Turkestan, Owen Lattimore (1929; Kodasnsha Globe Series).  A linguist, explorer and China scholar, Lattimore set off for the wilds of western China--known as Turkestan for his honeymoon.   Lattimore made extensive use of camel caravans.  Bought used State Department Book Store. 

5.  Turkestan Reunion, Eleanor Holgate Lattimore, (1934 Kodasnsha Globe Series). Wife of Owen, her book is a series of letters that serve as a softer counterpoint to the couple's travels across the deserts, steppes and mountains of Central Asia.  Bought used State Department Book Store.