On a map, Taiwan does not seem very remarkable as a small island off the coast of China. But despite being smaller than the Netherlands and neighboring countries, Taiwan features Northeast Asia’s highest mountains and a rich biodiversity. In Two Trees Make A Forest: In Search of My Family’s Past Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts, Jessica J Lee explores this natural landscape, while tracing her family heritage and history. 

Amid the plethora of China memoirs by Western writers over the years, this new one set in Shanghai from 1978 to 1979 stands out a little because it takes place during a time of transition in China. But Anne E McLaren’s Slow Train to Democracy is more than just a record of her time in China or the transition; it’s an account of a little-known democracy movement in Shanghai —around the time the government coined the term “socialism with Chinese characteristics”—that was eclipsed by Tiananmen a decade later.

“Historians”, wrote Simon Schama, “are painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness however thorough or revealing their documentation,” but Amy Stanley succeeds as well as anyone could hope in her masterfully told and painstakingly researched evocation of an ordinary Japanese woman’s life in Edo on the eve of the opening of Japan.

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.

 Saving Sun Bears: One Man’s Quest to Save a Species, Sarah Pye (Signal8Press, June 2020)
Saving Sun Bears: One Man’s Quest to Save a Species, Sarah Pye (Signal8Press, June 2020)

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.