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Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats
Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats
by Barry Miles
Edition: Paperback
54 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly compelling, January 21, 2004
With Kerouac an industry these days, it is hard to imagine anything new being offered, particularly from a biographer who never (on the strength of this text) even met him.
Well stick with it. As a review on the back on my copy puts it "this is an excellent portrait of a ghastly man."
Barry Miles does not understate Kerouac's influence. He takes him seriously as a writer and stylist, despite the patchiness of his output. His importance, says Miles, lay in his popularising the break with American post-war conformity (On the Road) and his prophesizing a Zen-infused "world full of rucksack wanderers" (The Dharma Bums), which underpinned the more thoughtful end of hippiedom.
No doubt such things would have happened without Kerouac, or any of the beats, but this odd mother-lovin' alcoholic redneck from the small-town north-east undoubtedly flavoured the 60s and 70s and inspired countless thousands of wanderers and artists.
Barry Miles's contribution is to sort through the myth, delivering a freshness to a now largely stale story of genius, self-obsession, and fatal loathing. The accounts of the cold-water flats of 1940s New York are especially vivid, where the beat ethos - much rougher than its hippie godchild - was formed.
With so much sentimentalising of the Kerouac story, this is one for readers who've been moved by the man but want more than the literary postcard.


Emma's War: An aid worker, a warlord, radical Islam, and the politics of oil--a true story of love and death in Sudan
Emma's War: An aid worker, a warlord, radical Islam, and the politics of oil--a true story of love and death in Sudan
by Deborah Scroggins
Edition: Hardcover
87 used & new from $0.01

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and aid - where nothing is as simple as it seems, December 2, 2003
This is a wonderful book. It takes two of the most tricky subjects around, wild romantic love and the Western instinct to "aid" the stricken, and renders them in all their rich contradictions and complexity.
By focusing on the short life of Emma McCune, Ms Scroggins gains a narrative structure on which she can hang many coats. She is revealing in her insights into both the nobility and folly of the "aid" industry. She evokes the strained English gentility in which Emma was raised, and the louche milieu of the Nairobi whites where she later became a star, beautiful, passionate and promiscuous.
Over each of those options, she preferred life in the swamps and savannahs of southern Sudan - "not a beautiful country," as she told an interviewer, but a place where the "people are so charming."
Her passion for the velvet-smooth warlord Riek Machar is her triumph and her undoing, and arguably contributes to the needless death of thousands of people.
Strung along her narrative, Ms Scroggins writes the most accessible account of the dread realities of Sudan's civil war yet. It is an awful, awesome, compelling place, riven with famine, religious slaughter, slavery, oil, and treachery at every turn. And yet it is not - finally - a pessimistic account.
Another reader complained that Scroggins spent too much time recounting her hotel rooms and conversations with taxi drivers. I don't recall a single taxi driver mentioned. The few first-person references all seemed relevant and useful to me.
This is so well written, so smoothly accommodating of a love story, frontline journalism, and dark history - and so honest about the confusions that are inevitable in this mix that it should be required reading for anyone drawn to aid work, Africa, or to rampant, improbable love.


Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins Of...
Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins Of...
by Sven Lindqvist
Edition: Hardcover
20 used & new from $33.00

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Horror, June 6, 2001
This short book doesn't attempt to say it all about genocide, racism, imperialism or the current state of Africa - but once you've read it, all those subjects will make a lot more sense.
It's beautifully written. In part it is a travel journal recounting Lindqvist's own slow journey across the Sahara. This is the least developed piece of the narrative, but it gives light relief to the other material. More substantial is Lindqvist's deconstruction of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," the iconic European novel of Africa. With a light touch, Lindqvist sets Conrad's writings in the context of Europe's developing ideas of Africa in the 1890s, as a glorious playing field, a treasure-house to be looted, a distant extension of the intrigues of the European capitals.
At its heart, Lindqvist's extended essay is a history of Europe's colonial instinct for genocide. He argues that Hitler's Holocaust was not an aberration in European history, but rather a logical extension of the policies used by the British in Sudan, the Belgians in the Congo, the French in Mali, and so on. Hitler's only difference was that he sought colonial expansion within the boundaries of Europe (a crime against humanity), rather than overseas (the spread of civilisation).
Lindqvist charts how European imperialists seized on the emerging theories of Charles Darwin to justify genocide on pseudo-scientific grounds. And also how Germany, not initially among the imperialists, spawned the most articulate opponents of colonialism. Later, when Bismarck set out to get an empire of Germany's own, funded by Germany's rising industrial might, the prevailing scientific philosophy in Germany became increasingly racist - setting the ground for Hitler.
People argue that since Lindqvist published this book, monstrous slaughters in Cambodia and Rwanda have destroyed his thesis. Not so. It is not hard to argue that both Cambodia and Rwanda's genocides were a reaction, at least in part, to European or American policies. Even if you choose not to accept that argument, there can be no denying that Lindqvist's fundamental thesis remains. Europeans in Africa (and elsewhere, including Australia) brought with them the civilisation of racism and the gun. All else is unimportant.


Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
by Eric Hansen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.02
146 used & new from $0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars where waiting is the destination, April 20, 2001
Within three hours of finishing this book, my copy was flogged by a friend who's off for a year in India on an antique motorbike. These adventurers must have some kind of tribal recognition.
"Motoring with Mohammed" is a book in three parts. The first bit is true adventure, storms at sea, a shipwreck, a desert island, the revelation of character among the survivors, brigands, and an unlikely rescue. It's great writing, deft and light, touching beauty and terror.
The second, and major, part of the book recounts Hansen's return to Yemen ten years later to look for a personal treasure he left on the island. In truth, not much happens, but in Eric Hansen's hands it always manages to not happen in an interesting way. His introduction to the local narcotic "qat", his subtle dance with intransigent bureaucracy, his unwise wanderings in high, misty mountains and along the edge of great deserts of The Empty Quarter make this a great read.
Hansen never meets an uninteresting person. Even the hostile and the dull are intriguing or comical in his hands. He gets to travel with sheep and mystic woodsmen, to meet an ageing Frenchwoman under a tragic spell, a toilet inspector, and the ghost of his grandmother. Along the way, he gets to play with his favorite theme: the essence of "destination". He doesn't labour it, but you know what he means.
The third, and briefest, part of his story is an unexpected twist, which neatly closes the circle even if by that stage we hardly require it.
A friend of mind informed me that Yemen ranks bottom of the world for gender equality. Certainly no woman could have written this book. The more reason for us to be grateful for this window on a little-known world. Eric Hansen has written a beguiling and joyous story. When you've finished enjoying it, seek out his even more extraordinary account of his Borneo travels, "Stranger In the Forest". But with all these books, don't expect to hang on to your copy for long.


Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
by Eric Hansen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.02
146 used & new from $0.01

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars where waiting is the destination, April 20, 2001
Within three hours of finishing this book, my copy was flogged by a friend who's off for a year in India on an antique motorbike. These adventurers must have some kind of tribal recognition.
"Motoring with Mohammed" is a book in three parts. The first bit is true adventure, storms at sea, a shipwreck, a desert island, the revelation of character among the survivors, brigands, and an unlikely rescue. It's great writing, deft and light, touching beauty and terror.
The second, and major, part of the book recounts Hansen's return to Yemen ten years later to look for a personal treasure he left on the island. In truth, not much happens, but in Eric Hansen's hands it always manages to not happen in an interesting way. His introduction to the local narcotic "qat", his subtle dance with intransigent bureaucracy, his unwise wanderings in high, misty mountains and along the edge of great deserts of The Empty Quarter make this a great read.
Hansen never meets an uninteresting person. Even the hostile and the dull are intriguing or comical in his hands. He gets to travel with sheep and mystic woodsmen, to meet an ageing Frenchwoman under a tragic spell, a toilet inspector, and the ghost of his grandmother. Along the way, he gets to play with his favorite theme: the essence of "destination". He doesn't labour it, but you know what he means.
The third, and briefest, part of his story is an unexpected twist, which neatly closes the circle even if by that stage we hardly require it.
A friend of mind informed me that Yemen ranks bottom of the world for gender equality. Certainly no woman could have written this book. The more reason for us to be grateful for this window on a little-known world. Eric Hansen has written a beguiling and joyous story. When you've finished enjoying it, seek out his even more extraordinary account of his Borneo travels, "Stranger In the Forest". But with all these books, don't expect to hang on to your copy for long.


My War Gone By, I Miss It So
My War Gone By, I Miss It So
by Anthony Loyd
Edition: Paperback
113 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A face from the other side of the mirror, April 12, 2001
"I did not know the details but I decided to go there...I felt young and lucky."
Few war correspondents of any age have been as devoid of a sense of calling as Anthony Loyd. In 1992 he went to Sarajevo with a diploma in photography as his "cover" and an adolescent's fascination with war as his real motivation. If he went there to find himself, he succeeded. He lost himself as well.
A cameraman friend of mine remembers Anthony Loyd in Bosnia as friendly, modest and generous. These qualities might have driven an entirely worthy account of the Yugoslav wars. But it is Loyd's other side, his darkness, that makes this such an extraordinary and essential account. Prostitute the values of home, he writes, and "your wisdom multiplies". He hangs with crims and victims, romantics and murderers. In time his ignorance and cynicism metamorphisises to awareness, to rage, to disillusionment, and ultimately to his own dark clarity.
This is a helluva book about war, and of the high price of the knowledge of it.. It looks unflinchingly at atrocity, at notions of courage and idealism, at the instinct to attend wars that are none of your business, and the other instinct of powerful nations to avoid wars that should be their business.
It gives a belly-up view not only of the Bosnian conflict in all its varied guises, but of Chechnya as well. Loyd, inevitably, becomes a casualty himself. The sane man's response to such things is to act in an insane way. Heroin does it nicely.
Give this man a mug of sljivovica and a pillow for his head. The prices he has paid are his, but he has written a roiling, shrapnel-blasted cracker of a book that renders most everything else in the genre pale: a terrifying, compelling, inverse morality tale. It is indecent that awfulness on such a scale should be such a good read.


My War Gone By, I Miss It So
My War Gone By, I Miss It So
by Anthony Loyd
Edition: Paperback
113 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A face from the other side of the mirror, April 12, 2001
"I did not know the details but I decided to go there...I felt young and lucky."
Few war correspondents of any age have been as devoid of a sense of calling as Anthony Loyd. In 1992 he went to Sarajevo with a diploma in photography as his "cover" and an adolescent's fascination with war as his real motivation. If he went there to find himself, he succeeded. He lost himself as well.
A cameraman friend of mine remembers Anthony Loyd in Bosnia as friendly, modest and generous. These qualities might have driven an entirely worthy account of the Yugoslav wars. But it is Loyd's other side, his darkness, that makes this such an extraordinary and essential account. Prostitute the values of home, he writes, and "your wisdom multiplies". He hangs with crims and victims, romantics and murderers. In time his ignorance and cynicism metamorphisises to awareness, to rage, to disillusionment, and ultimately to his own dark clarity.
This is a helluva book about war, and of the high price of the knowledge of it.. It looks unflinchingly at atrocity, at notions of courage and idealism, at the instinct to attend wars that are none of your business, and the other instinct of powerful nations to avoid wars that should be their business.
It gives a belly-up view not only of the Bosnian conflict in all its varied guises, but of Chechnya as well. Loyd, inevitably, becomes a casualty himself. The sane man's response to such things is to act in an insane way. Heroin does it nicely.
Give this man a mug of sljivovica and a pillow for his head. The prices he has paid are his, but he has written a roiling, shrapnel-blasted cracker of a book that renders most everything else in the genre pale: a terrifying, compelling, inverse morality tale. It is indecent that awfulness on such a scale should read so well.


Killing Me Softly
Killing Me Softly
by Nicci French
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
163 used & new from $0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sure to grab you by the throat, March 9, 2001
Thrillers are not my normal read, but I'd heard intriguing things about the husband-and-wife team that writes as "Nicci French" and I had a longish flight to catch, etc etc.
Glad I took the plunge. Middle class, 30-ish, bright and pretty, Alice locks eyes with a devilishly handsome stranger on a wintry London street and within a few pages has abandoned her safe existence in the grip of a sexual obsession. Doesn't hurt that he's a legitimate mountaineering hero, or that his bedroom technique takes her to places where she's never been.
We see the pitfalls long before Alice seems able to, but the story still comes at us dense with dread. This is not so much a horror-thriller, as a story of adult life - complete with Nick Hornby-like musings on the contradictions of modern love - that spirals down into a fairly credible darkness. Think of it as "Bridget Jones' Dairy of Death."
I still have a question about the climbing rope, but what the hell... This book had me reaching for it in the spare moments when the lights were red. And you don't get THAT everyday!


Malinche's Conquest
Malinche's Conquest
by Anna Lanyon
Edition: Paperback
29 used & new from $8.10

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentle elegy for the bruised woman of Mexican history, December 28, 2000
This review is from: Malinche's Conquest (Paperback)
For a brief moment in the 16th century, a teenage slave was the most influential woman in the world. Malinche, to use one of her many names, was the translator and go-between in perhaps the pivotal cultural drama of the last millennium - the moment when the Old World represented by Hernan Cortes, conquered the New World in the form of Montezuma's Mexico.
Anna Lanyon, an Australian backpacker, stumbled onto the story of Malinche while travelling in Mexico in the 1970s. Intrigued, she returned home, studied Spanish and Portugese to literary translation level, and revisited Mexico in search of this enigmatic woman.
So few are the clues, and often so contradictory, that Lanyon works like an archeologist with a soft-haired brush to bring Malinche's life into relief from its bedrock of myth.
In official Mexican history, Malinche is the "betrayer". Her name forms the root of a modern-day word for traitor. Lanyon finds a teenager blessed with intelligence, intuition and a sharp instinct for survival. Her options were few. Given as a sexual slave to the conquistadors, Malinche became Cortes's concubine, adviser, and mother of his first child. She died in obscurity, probably before she was 30.
But those close to her admired her. Lanyon makes the point often forgotten in facile renderings of the conquest: to vast numbers of people in what now is Mexico, Montezuma's "Aztecs" (more accurately, the Culua-Mexicans) were the feared and hated enemy. Malinche was therefore not a betrayer so much as a warrior, within her own context. But even more than that, she was a woman, condemned to slavery as a child, "assigned" to alien men when not yet 20, who simply did the best she could.
While the full personality of Malinche may be irretrievable from what history has left us, Lanyon does great work in debunking many of the myths about her and in exploring how national myths come about. And tantalisingly an impression emerges of this accidental figure of history: a woman we would like to have known, a woman from the lowest rungs who took a hand, for better or worse, in changing the world.


Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo
Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo
by Eric Hansen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.94
91 used & new from $0.01

45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gentle Man of Borneo, December 27, 2000
What a little beauty this is!
Nearly 20 years ago, a gangling, footloose American gets boozed with a bunch of Borneo river-dwellers, and finds himself bound in a gentle obsession.
Soon after, he takes off across the island of Borneo on foot armed with a quick schooling in tribal bartering systems and not much else. He has no visa, no valid passport, an unreliable map, and a few sentences of Bahasa Indonesian.
He can survive in the rainforest only as long as he maintains the trust of the people he meets, as guides, tutors, friends. He does far more than survive, and it is clear from the modesty, resilience and humor that comes through in his writing, that he was made for just this journey.
For months on end he immerses himself in a world of exquisite natural richness, among a people who are white-skinned in the permanent shade of the forest canopy, who have no tradition of stories of the moon or stars because they are almost never seen.
For weeks at a time he and his hunter guides are - in a Western sense - utterly "lost", moving apparently aimlessly through trackless bush. When Hansen asks one of his companions how they will find their way to their destination, the Penan hunter says simply: "We will follow our feelings." Without ever labouring it, Hansen has written a travel book that is deeply satisfying to the spirit, full of wonder and rich in humor. He also captures the moment at which an ancient, closed culture hears the first troubling thunder of global economics.
When finally he reaches the coast, Hansen is so depressed by "civilisation" that he does the sane thing - slipping back into the jungle to retrace his steps, all the way back to Sarawak.
So truly does he tell his story, I find myself missing him - wondering what he got up to when he finally returned to the US, what travels he might have done since. As I was finishing this book, I saw a travel brochure extolling Kuching, the Sarawak trading town that was Hansen's first step-off point. The glossy explained how easy it was nowadays to travel inland, with the interior "opened up by good logging roads".
Eric Hansen, lead the weeping.


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