Andrew Shaw was for many years a “trouble shooter” television journalist in the employ of the BBC. His job required him to pick up and fly to wherever whatever piece of news was breaking. After what many would regard as an enviable pursuit of exhaustive and widely varied paid foreign travel, he tired of it largely because his calling denied him the underlying exotica of his destinations.

Under Red Skies is being plugged as the first English-language memoir by a Chinese millennial, which already sets it apart from other books about China’s younger generation. Books like Alec Ash’s Wish Lanterns or Zak Dychtwald’s Young China, for all of their merits, were written by expats. In contrast, Chinese-born Karoline Kan tells the story of her life from its beginning in her own words.

“Sensei”, a diminutive older woman, teaches Janet Pocorobba how to play the shamisen, a traditional three-stringed Japanese instrument. It is hard to tune and exactly how much “ma” or dead space to leave between the notes is constantly vexing. Sensei is of the view that the shamisen, and traditional music in general, is much neglected by the younger generation little interested their own culture. Disgusted by this attitude, Sensei turns to teaching foreigners to keep the music alive.

Commentaries on Islam in Indonesia—especially those attached to major political events such as the recent presidential election—often deal in simplistic binary terms: a uniform mass of apparently ascendant “conservative Muslims” is ranged against similarly uniform blocks of embattled urban liberals or rural traditionalists.