When a work of non-fiction opens with “On the last day of his old life, the dinosaur hunter went to the beach,” it’s a strong hint that tragedy is in store.
The term “historical novel” usually arouses images of 18th-century swashbuckling. Sweden, however, is a historical novel set much closer to our own time. According to the official record, more than half a million American servicemen attempted to desert during the Vietnam War.
William Atkins has done extensive and presumably rather expensive research for The Immeasurable World. He writes from first hand experience of visiting eight deserts as diverse as the empty quarter of Oman and the famous Burning Man Festival in the United States. Each gets an extended essay with similar components. So, no rides for days on end with just a camel for a friend, but Atkins, to his credit, does manage at each of the deserts he visits to get some sand in his shoes and some camel hair in his oatmeal porridge.
So you’re planning a trip on the Silk Road. You’re looking for tips on what to take, routes, currencies, visas.
Now in her 10th decade, it would be understandable if Jan Morris could no longer cope with the amount of research she once so enjoyed. But she has not abandoned her craft. In her most recent work she has undertaken to memorialize the sinking of the Japanese battleship Yamato, a subject which she says has fascinated her since childhood.
A Village With My Name sounds unpromising as a title. Could this be one of those “finding my roots” tales of little interest to anyone beyond the author himself? It could have been, but happily Scott Tong uses the family tree that he uncovers to relate a worm’s-eye view of 20th century Chinese history.
The tsunami in question is of course the one generated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake—the one which destroyed 650km of Japan’s coastline, killed about 18,500 and swamped the Fukushima power station. It was a disaster by any standard. But Parry has a rather different take. He emphasizes how well-prepared Japan was, and he certainly makes a convincing case that the death and destruction would have been much worse in any other nation.