This year’s 75th anniversary of the end of WW2 and, in particular, the end of the War in the Pacific, has coincided with a number of books, some broad, some focusing on individuals. But few perhaps look at what is—at first glance—as unlikely a corner as Kelly A Hammond’s China’s Muslims & Japan’s Empire.
When we think of Indian rivers, it’s usually the Ganges that comes to mind, that mysteriously holy river now polluted by sludge and city waste. It also features the half-burnt corpses of devout Hindus floating down it on their final journeys and people bathing in it to purify themselves. Like all rivers, the Ganges was, of course, a river of life as well as death, the reason for people settling along its banks and nurturing themselves with its flowing waters. The West has long been fascinated by the Ganges; writing in the late 1640s, the poet and MP Andrew Marvell imagined his “coy mistress” wasting her time, of which he imagines they had an eternity, in India instead of responding to his advances; “Thou by th’Indian Ganges side shouldst rubies find,” he whinges, while he is left in England “by the tide of Humber” to bemoan his enforced celibacy. But who in 1645 had heard of the Hooghly, a fairly short distributary of the Ganges which eventually finds its way south to the Bay of Bengal? Probably not even Andrew Marvell, writing a hundred years or so after the Portuguese merchant Pedro Tavares first set foot on its bank in 1578, and born a year after the English arrived in Bengal (1620).
When confronted with the now oft-cited statement that China has 5000 years of history or civilization, it is worth keeping in mind Heraclitus’s dictum that “You cannot step twice into the same river.” Or, as one of Bill Hayton’s interlocutors puts it in the introduction to The Invention of China, “It depends what you mean by China.”
In a year when the world is being seriously beleaguered by a never-ending pandemic, conflicts, economic recessions, and natural disasters, Adrift by French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf seems an appropriate read. Focusing on the Middle East, especially the unravelling of the author’s native Lebanon, Maalouf attempts to explain how the world has become the way it is now through a set of interconnected crises.
If 2020 ends up being remembered as a pivotal year along the lines of 1914, perhaps as the year the 21st century actually began, COVID-19 is likely to be the main cause. Much of what was considered “normal” in everything from everyday life to geopolitics has been swept away. What hasn’t changed, however, is that publishing, like nature, abhors a vacuum: books on the subject have already started to arrive.
Young Mongols is a book full of energy. Aubrey Menard has interviewed young Mongolian activists at work across different sectors of society; these she profiles together on the basis of a common commitment to make society more equal, more functional, more inclusive. Their participation in Mongolia’s social and political betterment is told with respect and enthusiasm, and most readers will find their passion irresistible.
Introducing Hinduism to those not familiar with the religion risks oversimplification. Martin J Dougherty cleverly navigates the pitfalls by sticking to the subjects of origins and central figures of mythology in his fairly comprehensive (for an introduction) Hindu Myths: From Ancient Cosmology to Gods and Demons.