At the beginning of the 20th century, nice Indian girls did not sing in public. Female musical performances were restricted to tawaifs, of a slightly sulfurous reputation, during soirées frequented by cultivated male patrons. If the tawaif wound up getting married, the husband almost invariably required his bride to abandon her art. Men, on the other hand, had for centuries been honored as musicians, patronized by padishahs and maharajas. Their craft was handed down from father to son, and still is today.

When Hazel Selzer Kahan’s parents left their homes in Germany and Poland in the early 1930s to study medicine in Rome, they envisioned spending the rest of their lives helping patients in Europe. But as Fascist governments deepened their hold in both Germany and Italy during their medical studies, Hermann and Kate Selzer did not see a future as Jewish doctors in Europe, at least for the time being. Hermann sailed to India, thinking it would be safe to live under the British. In 1937, he traveled from city to city in India, looking for a hospital that would take in a couple of Jewish doctors. When he finally reached Lahore, he found acceptance. Kate joined him six months later and a couple years after that Selzer Kahan would be born, followed by her brother Michael two years later.

It helps to come to Islands & Cultures—a collection of essays focusing largely if not exclusively, as goes the subtitle, on “sustainability”—with at least some background on Polynesia, not because such background is necessary to follow the arguments in the various papers, but because otherwise one will be spending a great deal of time on the Internet chasing down one interesting reference after another.

Ashoka the Great (3rd century BCE) of the ancient Indian Mauryan dynasty (4th to 2nd century BCE) remains something of a mystery. He was emperor of one of the largest and richest kingdoms of the ancient times that covered Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern parts of India. However, he was forgotten in India (while continuing to be revered in China and Southeast Asia, thanks to his appearance in Buddhist narratives) until the 19th century British scholars researching Indian antiquity discovered him as texts and inscriptions in the previously unreadable Brahmi script came to be newly deciphered.

Since the coup on 1 February 2021, Burma (the author’s term) has seen a humanitarian crisis in all regions of the country, with mass displacement and a myriad of human rights abuses. What happened in Burma and how the situation deteriorated to this point is the topic of Amitav Acharya’s new book Tragic Nation Burma: Why and How Democracy Failed.  The book is a mixture of analysis and opinion, liberally layered with numerous quotations and interviews with members of Burma’s Civil Disobedience Movement, which Acharya dubs “thought warriors”. 

The World of the Ancient Silk Road describes what once represented the epicenter of civilization, before being swallowed up and forgotten, like the Library of Dunhuang, by invading sands. In the last thirty years or so, researchers have increasingly brought this world back to light. The operative word in the title is “world”, for it is really on an expansive scale that editor Liu Xinru has structured this volume. 32 different academic papers cover topics as varied as the merchandise of an ancient caravan. Fittingly, many of these papers use the dispersed manuscripts of Dunhuang as their sources.

After years of diplomatic pressure from the United States, China placed all fentanyl-related chemicals under an enhanced regulatory regime in 2019… only to see India emerge as a new source for the drug’s precursors the next year. Since then overdose deaths have continued to surge, prompting one US Senator to declare that “The flow of deadly synthetic opioids across our southern border is a public health crisis and a national security threat.” Peter Thilly’s new book, The Opium Business: A History of Crime and Capitalism in Maritime China, shows that a rising tide of addiction can indeed threaten a nation. It also shows why government attempts to disrupt the drug trade so often fail.