At the beginning of Once Our Lives, Qin Sun Stubis’s family memoir, the author’s grandmother feeds a beggar because she feels sorry for him. She is pregnant with the author’s father at the time and goes on to break the traditional month-long confinement after giving birth in order to continue giving food to the beggar. What ensues, according to the grandmother, is a curse that plagues her son throughout her life, and the family indeed meets with much hardship. But so did most people in China between the years of 1942 and 1975, the time in which most of the multi-generation story takes place.
Category Archive: Non-Fiction
“Angels Tapping at the Wine-Shop’s Door: A History of Alcohol in the Islamic World” by Rudi Matthee
Why are we surprised that, while Islam forbids wine, Muslims have been known to imbibe? Doesn’t Christianity prohibit adultery? In Angels Tapping at the Wine-shop Door, Rudi Mathee explores the contradiction between the formal ban on alcohol and the essential cultural role of wine in Muslims societies over the ages.
Korea was a unified, homogeneous country from the seventh century CE until 1945 when in the wake of the Second World War it was partitioned by the United States and the Soviet Union and formally became two separate states in 1948. Since that time, writes James Madison University history professor Michael J Seth, Korea has been a nation divided into vastly different social systems and “perpetually at war” with itself. Seth’s new book Korea at War attempts to describe and explain this geopolitical transformation.
“An Afterlife for the Khan: Muslims, Buddhists, and Sacred Kingship in Mongol Iran and Eurasia” by Jonathan Z Brack
In the Middle Ages when representatives of different religions met for formal disputations, they did not cite chapter and verse from their own scriptures, knowing full well that their opponents would not consider these sources credible. Instead, they used common sense. They shared many common assumptions about the nature of reality, the sacred and the profane. They mostly agreed that God created the world, and humans had been set inside that world in order to fulfill their destiny. The question was how best to do this, and which religion offered the best guidance for that.
There is nothing, really, in the title of Fortune’s Bazaar: The Making of Hong Kong to indicate that Vaudine England’s new history centers neither the British colonialists nor the (to a greater or less extent) native Chinese, but rather everyone else—Parsis, Armenians, Baghdadi Jews, Portuguese and Macanese and, in particular, “Eurasians” (a term which merits the inverted commas)—who, she writes, “through their lives have accidentally created the place.”
On the Jewish festival of Purim, revelers are encouraged to get so drunk that they cannot distinguish between Mordechai and Haman, the hero and the villain of the Book of Esther. Sobriety is required to appreciate Llewellyn-Jones’s erudite and encyclopedic retelling of the story. By piling detail upon detail, Llewellyn-Jones brings to life the sumptuous feasts and intrigues of the court of Susa, the seat of Persia’s great kings. While a veritable renaissance in the study of ancient Persia has been going on for a while, this is the first time a scholar has used the Jewish Bible as a primary source. The Book of Esther is easily dismissed as a trite, orientalizing fairytale. What if it turns out the author wrote from direct experience of the great king’s court?
Despite a reputation for abstruse thought, the French intellectual Michel Foucault once explained his research in a straightforward manner: “I set out from a problem expressed in the terms current today and I try to work out its genealogy. Genealogy means that I begin my analysis from a question posed in the present.” Keyu Jin took that approach to heart in The New China Playbook, a work that explains China’s present by tracing its economic genealogy since 1978.