Posted by: koolwine | March 23, 2019

United States of America: There There

Country Focus: United States of America

There There
By Tommy Orange
Published by Knopf, 2018.
294 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

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Tommy Orange


You didn’t think of any of the tapping or knocking as drumming until you actually started drumming many years later. It would have been good to know that you’d always done something naturally. But there was too much going on with everyone else in your family for anyone to notice you should probably have done something else with your fingers and toes than tap, with your mind and time than knock at all the surfaces in your life like you were looking for a way in.

Posted by: koolwine | March 16, 2019

United Kingdom: The Panopticon

Country Focus: United Kingdom

The Panopticon
By Jenni Fagan
Originally published in Great Britain by William Heinnemann, 2012.
My edition: Hogarth, 2014.
282 pgs

Genre: Fiction

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Jenni Fagan


The polis dinnae get it—we compare notes just as much as they do. We know if there’s a psycho in the unit, or a right bastard pig who’ll always batter you at the station. We know if somebody’s been stabbed, or hanged themselves, or who’s on the game, or which pedos in town will lock you in their flat and have you gangbanged until you turn fucking tricks. We send e-mails, start legends—create myths. It’s the same in the nick or the nuthouse: notoriety is respect. Like, if you were in a unit with a total psycho and they said you were sound? Then you’ll be a wee bit safer in the next place. If it’s a total nut that’s vouched for you, the less hassle you’ll get. I dinnae need tae worry about any of that. I am the total nut.

Posted by: koolwine | March 9, 2019

San Marino: San Marino

San Marino: Ancient Land of Liberty
By Marino Cardinali
Published by ITALCARDS, 1988.
127 pgs.

Genre: Travel Guide

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On top of Mount Titano rise the Three Fortresses or Towers-Guaita, Cesta and Montale-which during the past centuries defended San Marino’s freedom and independence.

They were never taken by storm and when they were seriously damaged and nearly wrecked it was only because of the negligence of the Republic’s inhabitants. In fact they even plundered their walls in order to take stones which were employed to pave streets and to build houses.

Only when a national spirit was revived, at the beginning of this century, did they start the restoration works were finished in the late 20s. Today the impressiveness of these buildings, which can be seen even from the sea, is a matter of pride for San Marino and every year they draw millions of tourists from all over the world.

Posted by: koolwine | March 2, 2019

Bahrain: In the Country

Country Focus: Bahrain

In the Country: Stories
By Mia Alvar
Published by Knopf, 2015.
349 pgs.

Genre: Short stories

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Mia Alvar


Outside the walls of Luz Salonga’s house, beyond the fence around her yard, past her street and the gate to our compound, lay the oil fields and refinery that employed most of our husbands. We lived and worked in Bahrain at the pleasure of a people who mystified us. Everything we knew about the Arabs one day could by voided by what we learned in the next. Luz Salonga, the most religious one of us, admired their devotion. “I see them kneeling by the highway all times of day,” said, “while I can barely sell the kids on bedtime prayers.” But the Arabs that Fe Zaldivar knew worshiped only sports cars and gold jewelry, mansions and shopping trips to London. To Dulce deLumen, who worked in an emergency room, Arab meant incompetent and backward. “The best of their doctors couldn’t heal a paper cut, ” she said. But Rosario Ledesma didn’t think a country could get this rich, and have all of Asia at its feet, without some special brand of intelligence. Every morning Vilma Bustamante passed their marble palaces in Saar. Every afternoon Paz Evora drove by crumbling concrete village in A’ali. It didn’t matter that our own community had its kings and hobos, geniuses and fools, heathens and believers; this didn’t keep us from wanting a more perfect knowledge of our hosts, a clearer definition. We’d arrived on their island like the itinerant father in the fairy tale about a beauty and a beast, our houses fully furnished by some unseen master. Would he reveal himself to be a prince or a monster? We decided early to behave ourselves rather than find out. In their shops and on their streets, we wore hems no higher than the knee, sleeves no shorter than the elbow, necklines that would please a nun. We lived like villagers at the foot of a volcano, hoping never to offend the gods who governed our harvest and our wealth.

Posted by: koolwine | February 24, 2019

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Tales of Becquia

Country Focus: St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Tales of Becquia
By Thomas Carl Thomsen
Published by Cross River Press, 1988.
149 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

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The whale circled and then came straight at the boat from the port side. A hundred feet away it sounded.

We rowed in near panic, pulling as hard and as fast as we could to get out of its way. Everyone was shouting. We tried to get the cadence back. No way. We were stunned. It was like being stuck on a railroad track with a huge locomotive bearing down.

It happened quickly. The huge black churning body dove under the boat and lifted it clean out of the water. For a very brief moment the boat was perched on its back. The whale shook and the boat nearly came apart. Not a sound was uttered by the men. We were too stunned to do anything to save ourselves. We sat rigidly for what seemed like a long time. The whale’s flukes were out of the water. One swipe and it would all be over. The whale shook again and the boat groaned and then the whale slipped below the surface and the boat slid off its back and dumped into the sea. The men grabbed at anything stationary to keep from falling into the sea. The boat heeled over sharply and then righted itself and settled down.

Posted by: koolwine | February 17, 2019

East Timor: From the Place of the Dead

Country Focus: East Timor

From the Place of the Dead: The Epic Struggles of Bishop Belo of East Timor
By Arnold S. Kohen
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
331 pgs.

Genre: Biography/History

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Bishop Belo


After his homily, he led the Prayer of the Faithful, when suddenly a priest came to his side and put a piece of paper on the altar telling him that he had received the Nobel Peace Prize together with Ramos-Horta. He immediately put the piece of paper into his side pocket and continued with the Mass. Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo was impassive: he did not even smile: “The responsibilities are all the heavier now,” he said later, recalling his thoughts at the time, “to become more of a man of peace—in my actions, my thoughts, and my words, to be more patient, not to be angry, not to shout at others.”

During Communion, the vicar general asked Belo if he wanted to have the message announced. The bishop declined. Some wanted to have an impromptu jamboree, others wanted to pay homage, but Belo simply wanted to be left alone, to avoid the slightest move that might create havoc.

Posted by: koolwine | January 3, 2019

Nauru: Paradise for Sale

The South Pacific island of Nauru—a former island paradise turned almost entirely into a phosphate mine—has proved to be a cautionary example of what can wrong when humans place more value on money than on the environment.

Country Focus: Nauru

Paradise for Sale: A Parable of Nature
By Carl N. McDaniel and John M. Gowdy
Published by University of California Press, 2000.
225 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction/Environmental Studies & Economics

About the author: Carl N. McDaniel founded the undergraduate environmental science degree program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He has also written Wisdom for a Livable Planet. John M. Gowdy is a Professor of Economics and Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the same institution and has authored ten books on economics.

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Carl N. McDaniel

John M. Gowdy


By the time independence came in 1968, the tremendous financial wealth from phosphate mining had done its deed—a radically altered Nauruan culture, seduced by the promises of phenomenal monetary wealth, entered a global market economy that has no long-term capacity to ensure human well-being or to foster enduring habitation. In a mere century the island home of this once self-sufficient culture has been transformed into a wasteland of mined-out ruins devoid of much of its initial biological diversity—the ten thousand inhabitants are absolutely dependent upon the outside world for their very survival. Nauru exquisitely illuminates the ruinous course of our global market culture.

Posted by: koolwine | December 9, 2018

Guinea-Bissau: The Greats

The guitarist of a 1970s supergroup must come to terms with the death of Dulce, his ex-lover and the singer who catapulted his politically conscious band to fame. He also overhears rumors that Dolce’s husband, the army chief of staff, is planning to stage a coup on the same night as the band’s tribute concert for Dolce.

Country Focus: Guinea-Bissau

The Greats
By Sylvain Prudhomme
Translated by Jessica Moore
Originally published in Paris by Gallimard as Les grands, 2014.
My edition: BookThug, 2017
205 pgs

Genre: Fiction (based on a real hit band, Super Mama Djombo)

About the author: A French novelist, Prudhomme has lived and worked in Cameroon, Nigeria, Burundi and Senegal. Les grands won several literary awards in his native country, as has his most recent book Légende.

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Sylvain Prudhomme


Couto would grab her, laughing. Tell her to listen to Tundo’s solo, Armando’s congas. Lift a finger to make her hear one note he played that he was proud of, one note just dissonant enough from the rest of the band, did she hear it, there, that note in the major while everyone else at that moment was in the minor, ah if she could have seen him onstage with his hair his beard his tight pants, ah if she could have known him when he was handsome, she who was happy enough to love him a little now when he was nothing but a washed-up old man.

Esperança didn’t give a damn about his note, didn’t give a damn that he had a beard and wore tight pants.

That she-devil only has to sing for ten seconds and she’s got you again.

Posted by: koolwine | November 18, 2018

Montenegro: Montenegro

English spy Auberon Harwell travels to a remote area in Montenegro in 1908 to assess the increasingly volatile situation brewing between the Austrians, Turks and Serbs. At the edge of a contested valley, he uses his cover as a botanist to befriend a Serbian family headed by a taciturn war hero. Harwell soon finds himself falling in love with the man’s wife and in the middle of a tug-of-war for their teenage son’s future.

Country Focus: Montenegro

By Starling Lawrence
Originally published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1997
My edition Harper Perennial, 2006.
305 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author: Starling Lawrence wrote Montenegro, The Lightning Keeper and Legacies while while he was editor in chief and vice chairman at American publishing company W.W. Norton & Company.

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Starling Lawrence


Only recently have I come to understand two things: first, that the war may very well come whatever Danilo does or does not do, and whether Toma stays or goes, and in spite of everything Sofia might do. All I have seen and learned here points only in that direction, though I am hardly an expert in political predictions. And the second realization is how absolutely marginal I am in these affairs. This is the rock upon which the romantic illusion founders, at least the version I brought with me. For if one imagines an adventure in such a place—and what landscape more suited to that than these wilds?—one imagines oneself at the center of it, rising above one’s limitations to heroic actions worthy of Rider Haggard or Kipling. That is the model on which I was reared, implicit in books and bedtime stories and even sermons, and it now fails me. I can see no course of action, no heroic sacrifice, that would put things right. It is true that I am somewhat uncomfortably placed between Danilo and Sofia, a kind of fulcrum in their struggle for the soul of Toma. But there is no glory in this, and I am simply waiting to be told what I must do.


Posted by: koolwine | November 4, 2018

The Maldives: Gatecrashing Paradise

For years, only one hundred “resort” islands of The Maldives were open to foreigners, so when the author heard that the “real” Maldives (198 inhabited islands) had dropped their tourist restrictions, he traveled 600 miles around the archipelago using cargo ships and ferries as transportation and staying at the simple guest houses of people who had never before hosted an outsider. 

Country Focus: The Maldives

Gatecrashing Paradise: Misadventures in the Real Maldives
By Tom Chesshyre
Published by Nicholas Brealey, 2015.
276 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author: British journalist and world traveler Tom Chesshyre has written seven travelogues. His most recent is From Source to Sea: Notes from a 215-Mile Walk Along the River Thames.

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Tom Chesshyre


I caught a 20-minute ferry to Hulhumale. It was, by all accounts, a peculiar place. Until 1997 it had been no more than an area of reef at the far end of Airport Island. In the years since, more than US$30 million had been spent on land reclamation to create a new island. The purpose was twofold: to provide an area of overspill housing for Male, one of the most densely populated places on the planet, and also to have a higher landmass than the capital should waves rise as climate change scientists foresaw.

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