China’s Hong Kong has the rare privilege of being a book made extremely timely due to current events. The anti-extradition bill protests that have raged for months have made Hong Kong’s governance—normally interesting only to those that live in the city—a topic of global concern.
What exactly is a tourist? Briefly, it means someone who travels not for a particular purpose such as exploration, pilgrimage, missionary work or archaeology, but a person who does it for fun. Tourists may have specific places in mind or specific things they want to see, but the overall “purpose” of their travels is pleasure. John van Wyhe claims that the first female tourist was the Austrian housewife Ida Pfeiffer, whose name may be known by students of travel-writing but certainly not as well-known as she should be, but this biography should set the record straight.
Krishan Kumar, who teaches sociology at the University of Virginia, is a child of empire. His parents lived in Lahore (then India) prior to the end of British rule and the subsequent partition that created the modern state of Pakistan. Kumar was himself born in Trinidad and Tobago, then part of the British Empire, and was educated in England at St John’s College, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics.
Robert Macfarlane and Kathleen Jamie are the two most critically vaunted practitioners of the wildly fertile British publishing phenomenon known as “new nature writing”—though both reportedly resist that genre designation, and both are as much writers of history and human culture as of nature. Both explore these themes in similarly exquisite prose, but their tones and emphases are quite different, and their authorial performances have at times been contrastingly—and in Jamie’s case, one suspects, deliberately—gendered. While Macfarlane was bivouacking in the mountains, Jamie was watching falcons through the kitchen window; it was she who coined the phrase surely destined to dog Macfarlane for the rest of his days: the “lone enraptured male”.
While one might expect a text on linguistics from the title, An English Made in India is fact rather closer to travel-writing: no bad thing, for Kalpana Mohan in an engaging writer and the result is a pleasant and often erudite ramble around India. Along the way, she talks to school teachers in the hills, her family chauffeur and Uber drivers, students, Delhi booksellers, a Kerala princess and some leading Indian literary lights from Jerry Pinto and Arunava Sinha to Nabaneeta Dev Sen. Mohan is very good at this.
The first Hawaiians ran late. Sumner La Croix claims they first voyaged from the Society Islands around 1250 when Kublai Khan was a boy rather than, as some others have it, twelve centuries earlier while Christ was awaiting death and resurrection. Discovery fed flood, with the long century that followed bringing new waves of immigrants to fill the land, before changing ocean currents slammed the door closed on economic migrants for four hundred years.
It requires an inventive streak to write extensively of a person whose known biography might only fill a few pages. This is the long shot taken in The Chinese Lady: Afong Moy in Early America, by historian Nancy E Davis, who refers to her as “the first Chinese woman to arrive in America.”