Biography, History, & Politics 2001

We started 2001 as we did 2000: In China and Vietnam. This time it was to finish our consulting work in China and then travel overland to Vietnam, where we spent three months. In late May we started four months in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. In late September we went to England and spent our time there, except a break-out to the USA in Nov-Dec.
Biography, History, & Politics 

The Brethren
The Crossman Diaries
Give War A Chance
History of Cambodia
The Perfect Storm
Les Rêveurs du Désert
Tragedy in Paradise
When Broken Glass Floats
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
The Year of Living Stupidly

Travel Guides

Fiction 2001

Adam Bede
Apocalypse Sur Commande
Are you Experienced
The Bear and The Dragon
Bleak House
Captain Corelli's Mandolin
The Children of Men
Cold Mountain
Le Comte de Monte-Cristo
The Constant Gardner
Le Grand Meaulnes
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Le Horla
Martin Eden
Moby Dick
The Pathfinder
The Last of the Mohicans
Robinson Crusoe
The Song of the Lark

The Brethren by Bob Woodward & Scott Armstrong

A very interesting inside look into the Supreme Court of the United States. Sometimes it was hard to believe the things described actually went on. Does that make us naive? If you are a cynic about government and judges your predispositions will be reinforced. The problem here is that the conservative judges are all described as being stupid or wrong-minded while the liberal judges (or more often, their clerks) were trying to protect the country from them. Are only conservative judges wrong-minded? 

The Crossman Diaries by Richard Crossman
edited by Anthony Howard

The diaries cover the years (1964-1971) in which Jan was just becoming aware of politics, first as a high-school and then a college student, so she was delighted to find this first person account of the Wilson Labour governments in a second-hand bookstore in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The author, Richard Crossman, was the Minister for Housing and Local Government in the Wilson government. Although rich, he was avowedly left-wing and his policies are amongst those Margaret Thatcher overthrew. By the end of his time in government he was sick of it and the accompanying hypocrisy and infighting. Crossman had been a journalist and when the second Wilson government fell, he became the editor of the New Statesman for the few years until his death.

Recommended for political junkies; a great soap opera 

Give War A Chance by P. J. O'Rourke

A collection of articles that appeared in various magazines over the years, now arranged by topic. O'Rourke is right wing and thinks the left needs some skewering and proceeds to skew. The intention is to be funny; whether he is or not depends upon the readers own humors. For Gerry it was mostly a good read.

A History of Cambodia by David Chandler

No, Gerry, whose middle name is "David" is not the author, and the author is not even a relative. And, the David Chandler is not the only historian with that name.

First to the positive: the book is well written, and gives a good perspective on Cambodian history. Among other interesting tidbits are how the Vietnamese, when they had supremacy over Cambodia around 1800, tried to suppress local culture. That little bit is suppressed in official histories by the current cut-throats in Hanoi who cry about protecting their heritage from colonial powers. Now the negative: the closer we get to modern times, and especially for the years after 1960 (or so it seems to these reviewers) does David Chandler let his leftist political leanings obscure his analysis. In later chapters this takes the form of writing improbabilities that contradict earlier chapters.

Still, why should we complain? We bought a knock-off copy in Siam Reap, so probably no money went to the Author.


Les Rêveurs du Désert by Barbara Glowczewski, 1996

A Polish-born, French Canadian anthropologist’s account of her five-month stay with the Aborigines in Australia’s Northern Territories as a young student and then a return visit years later. We got this book as a swap from a 40-something French woman that we met on our Mekong delta cruise in exchange for L’Espoir by André Malraux.

Although at first it seemed as though it might be a feminist tract, it turned out to be worthwhile in two very different ways. First, as an interesting first-person account of the life of Aboriginal women and second, of the growing-up process the author went through during different visits to the same tribe over a period of ten years. We have to say that it revealed our cultural prejudices: we wouldn't like people who act like Australian aborigines if they were in our milieu.

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

A best-seller that we read during one of our sojourns in England. Four men in a fishing boat set out and encounter a "storm of the century". A rescue crew is sent out and needs to be rescued. Always amazing and at times very gripping.

Tragedy in Paradise: A Country Doctor at War in Laos

by Charles Weldon

Weldon worked in Laos the decade or so before the communist takeover in 1975. He describes trying to bring health to a primitive country under war time conditions. He has nothing good to say about the communists and very little good about the American government which he thinks sold out the Laotian people. Lots of exciting moments, including helicopter crashes and hiding from people with guns.

We bought this book in Chiang Rai, Thailand, after our two trips to Laos. We both read it quite avidly and found we agreed very much with the political point of view expressed, which was avowedly anti-Communist. Having been on the very primitive roads of the country we could appreciate his descriptions of the country at a time were there were essentially no roads.

One of the stories in the book also appeared on British television in a show called "Survivors". The show included a brief shot of the ageing Weldon who now lives in northern Thailand.

Highly Recommended 

When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him

This was one of the pirated books we purchased at the Fortune Hotel in Siem Reap (the city closest to Angkor Wat). It is autobiographical and tells the story of the author's life as a 13-15-year old under the Khmer Rouge. A story of hunger, privation, and brutality, we found it a gruesome story, but one that helped us understand Cambodia better.

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
by Le Ly Hayslip and ghostwriter

This is the only book we have read so far in Vietnam about Vietnam. There are some around, but this is the first to come into our hands. It is autobiographical and describes how a Vietnamese woman, who just happens to be the same age as Jan, grows up in a central Vietnamese village and comes under the sway of the Viet Cong as a pre-teen and teenager. It then recounts how she slowly changes her allegiance until at the age of 21 she marries a 60-year old American and moves to the U.S. The story pauses there and is taken up again in 1986 when as a widow she returns to Vietnam for her first visit to find what 10 years of living under Communism has done to her family. A very easy read and quite thought provoking. For Gerry there were nagging doubts: why was it that her brother was the only one in the village that never took bribes, etc? 

Among this class of books not the best. First read Broken Glass  and Wild Swans.

The Year of Living Stupidly by James Eckhart

Harry Longman was doing pretty well as a journalist in Thailand when the economy collapsed and he was out of a job. He went next door to Cambodia and covered the end of the Pol Pot troubles and then eventually made it back to Thailand. Along the way he talks about his relations with his Thai wife in what we assume is exaggeration for comic effect; if not, wow! As we passed through many of the same places and had our own interactions with Thai in-laws it was interesting to read another's experiences of these matters.


Top | Fiction | History | Guides