In the 19th century, long before Barack Obama’s election as the President of the United States in the face of jokes about the possibility of a black man living in the White House, the British mocked another “black man” who dared to stand in elections to be elected to the House of Commons in England. Dinyar Patel’s Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism is a biography of that “black man”. Straightforward in style, and well-detailed in approaches to a life as it intersected with multiple, complex movements, places, ideologies, Naoroji addresses the vacuum in the pre-Gandhian political history of modern India. It is a much-needed intervention in acknowledgment of the contribution of Indian freedom fighters before there were Indian freedom fighters.
In Asia, adult sun bears are poached for body parts which are thought to have medicinal properties. Many orphaned cubs, with their small size and endearing features, are kept illegally as pets. Malaysian ecologist Dr Wong Siew Te, or “papa bear”, has dedicated his life to saving the world’s smallest bear from extinction.
We first learn to swim in the womb, Bonnie Tsui writes, and while “not everyone is a swimmer … everyone has a swimming story to tell.”
Krishnadevaraya may be the most important monarch that most people (well, non-Indian people) have never heard of.
“For sothe he was a worthy man withalle.” Thus Chaucer, perhaps somewhat ironically (when Chaucer says “worthy”, there’s often a catch) describing the Merchant in the “General Prologue” to his Canterbury Tales. This brief description, minus any irony, would certainly fit Shinohara Chūemon (1809-1891), the merchant who is one lynch-pin of Simon Partner’s enjoyable, beautifully-researched and fascinating account of Japan a few years after what Western writers are pleased to call its “opening” in 1853.
Umm-El-Banine Assadoulaeff was born in 1905 into one of Baku’s wealthiest families: her peasant-born great-grandfather had discovered oil on his land. She left in 1923, after the Revolution, for Istanbul and then Paris, whence she never returned. Days in the Caucasus, originally published in Paris in 1945, is her memoir of those years.
As it does to our lives at present, death—virulent, episodic, unbidden—haunts Yan Lianke’s memoir Three Brothers. First published in 2009, and rendered into English by translator and Sinologist Carlos Rojas, it is an elegiac homage to the people and places no longer present for Yan (at least not physically), who has spent the better part of his life oscillating (both physically and emotionally) between city and countryside in search of home.