Tag Archives: books

19th-century Travel in Russian Turkestan

This post returns to the subject of some my Central Asia resource reviews from 2014 (Ole Olufsen, Bukhara and Khiva photographic archivesThrough Khiva to Golden Samarkand, and In Russian Turkestan). A desire to redeem the inordinate amount of time I spent chasing down fascinating facts last Friday is partial motivation. But I also hope what I discovered will interest and assist others as well. Continue reading

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True Grit, by Charles Portis

Watching True Grit with my parents just before being quarantined inspired my husband, thirteen-year-old daughter, and me to borrow the book from my sister (this was really a family affair) and read it together. I have to confess that the three of us gave it rather lukewarm reviews. However, as my sister referred to it as one of her favorite books (a far more important recommendation than its literary accolades), I thought I should investigate further before posting a two-and-a-half star review.

As it turns out, listening to the Close Reads podcast discussion of True Grit boosted my regard not only for Charles Portis but a for whole genre of American writing that is little on my radar. The commentators, Tim McIntosh, Angelina Stanford, and David Kern, alerted me to a rich subtext that I was largely unconscious of. Well, to be perfectly accurate, I was fairly certain the content of Rooster’s stories (among other things) carried significance but had difficulty identifying it. Continue reading

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Fairy stories of George MacDonald

The intuitive outcome of my February 2020 reading was a resolution to make George MacDonald a literary staple of future winters. A logical accounting of what makes his fairy stories particularly suitable for the season, however, has proved more elusive.

MacDonald’s fairy tales are by no means escapist. Some, like “The Wise Woman,” are unscrupulously didactic. Nor does it do them justice merely to call them “hopeful,” in contrast to much contemporary literature I have run across of late. Continue reading

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The Shattering of Loneliness: On Christian Remembrance, by Erik Varden

I read this short volume a month or so ago, but Holy Week strikes me as an appropriate time to review it. The title is a trifle misleading, in that Varden (b. 1974), a Benedictine monk from Norway, writes not so much about loneliness as about the whole of the Christian life. Loneliness, nevertheless, provides an apt starting point from which to approach theology; the basis of Christianity is God’s drawing near to us and, thus, drawing believers into fellowship with one another.

Loneliness is also uniquely relevant during these weeks and months in which people all over the world have intentionally, and largely voluntarily, isolated themselves as a precaution against COVID 19. Nevertheless, viewed from another perspective, not since WWII have people around the globe been united in their vulnerability and response to a single crisis.  Continue reading

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Pandemic Reading: Free Literature Online

If you’re like me, all that “down time” you anticipated when quarantine began has quickly filled up with house and yard projects and cooking the sort of meals one doesn’t have time to prepare when running kids around to activities. But in case you–and your kids–are looking for books online, Audible is offering a selection of free audiobooks in multiple languages for elementary kids, tweens, and teens, as well as a limited selection of classics: https://stories.audible.com/discovery. Some of the tween and teen books have adult appeal as well, like Jane Eyre and several titles by C.S. Lewis.

In addition, Revelation Media released an animated “Pilgrim’s Progress” last year that is worth watching. It is available free for streaming until April 30: https://www.revelationmedia.com/watchpilgrims/CTWP1/. I recommend it for upper elementary/middle schoolers and up.

I’m reading Pride and Prejudice with my thirteen-year-old, and all three of us are reading True Grit as a family. Here’s something to contemplate while wrapping my saplings in deer-proof fencing: What do Elizabeth Bennet and Mattie Ross have in common?

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The Lowenskold Ring, by Selma Lagerlof*

Several years ago our family enjoyed the beautifully animated series “Ronja the Robber’s Daughter.” Upon investigating its sources I discovered it was based on a book by the same name written by Astrid Lindgren, Swedish author of Pippi Longstockings. I had read one or two of the Pippi books as a child and found them a bit disorienting. Having read mostly straight fantasy or realistic fiction, I didn’t know how to receive the intrepid Pippi with her impossible personal history. Continue reading

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Forty Women and Me: Musings on Loss and The Wonder Years, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields  

In this season in which I and my home are being inundated with belongings, it is loss that I feel most keenly: the house that was my husband’s childhood home and mother-in-law’s abode for 55+ years; family history in the form of heirlooms, papers, books, and embroidered linens; and the woman who has been slowly slipping away from us for the past three years.

Me

In the shuffle of moving, bringing home, and sending away, countless things have been lost, overlooked, or misplaced. Keys, library books, homework, Benjamins, memories (literally), sick chickens, broken mirrors, spilled milk, burnt rice, “the Alaska Letters,” and the book Leslie Leyland Fields gave me to review just before this whirlwind of relocation descended upon us. Continue reading

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Through Khiva to Golden Samarkand, by Ella R. Christie

Ella Christie, identified on the title page of her books as a Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, traveled in Central Asia in 1910-11. The most attractive aspect of her book, for me, were her notes on daily life, such as a rather gruesome description of an outdoor barber extracting a long parasitic worm from a patient’s leg. Christie identifies the parasite as “guinea worm” or “filaria” (p. 128). Other sources corroborate her account of this reportedly common affliction, as well as the treatment.  

Christie’s visit to present-day Istaravshan, formerly Uro Teppa (Christie calls it “Ura Tiubbe” and comments on the wild variations in spelling) caught my attention because of my translation work on the memoirs of Tajik folklorist Rajab Amonov (see that review here: ). We had the opportunity to spend two nights there in 2010, but I have run across few accounts from 19th-century travelers to that city. Christie describes the town’s situation on a mountain slope, the ruins of the fort, and the winding streets of the bazaars. I was intrigued by her report of encountering an “agent” for Singer sewing machines in this rather off-the-beaten-path location (pp. 197-199).

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Ole Olufsen Part II, Exploring Central Asia, by Esther Fihl

A valuable companion to Olufsen’s personal works is the two-volume Exploring Central Asia, by Esther Fihl (University of Washington, 2010). Partially a commentary on Olufsen’s travels, the work is largely a photographic tour of the museum artifacts Olufsen brought back to Denmark (see Olaf Olufsen Part I for more about the mission). A text box on page 140 (Vol. 1) contains an interesting account from his previously unpublished writings of how he acquired artifacts from the bazaar in Bukhara with the help of one of the emir’s men.

Exploring Central Asia contains numerous vibrant color photos of household items, clothes, shoes, ornaments, jewelry, accessories, tools, and so forth, from various regions. The captions for many of these include excerpts from Olufsen’s writings, both published and unpublished, describing their use or manner of acquisition. Fihl reports that Olufsen was instructed not to return with worn or cast off items ( p. 138). Accordingly, many of the artifacts are gorgeously decorated and in excellent condition, especially considering they are more than one hundred years old (of course, they have spent their entire lives in a museum). Thus, they may not be representative of articles of everyday use, but they at least give one an idea of some of the handicrafts in circulation at the time. Continue reading

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Ole Olufsen Part I, The Emir of Bokhara and His Country

The title page of Ole Olufsen’s book identifies him as Professor and Secretary to the Royal Danish Geographical Society. He commanded Danish expeditions to Central Asia in 1896-97 and 1898-99. His personal account of these travels, The Emir of Bokhara and His Country, is one of the more readable and detailed volumes of its kind that I have perused. (See previous posts on 19th- and early 20th-century Central Asia travelogues.)

While exhibiting the Eurocentric biases exhibited by virtually all Western travelers of his time (OK–let’s be honest–we’re all a bit biased, even in these enlightened times!), Olufsen displays extensive knowledge of the area and gives evidence of having read all the relevant literature available in his day, dating back to ancient times. He possesses an impressive command of the topography and appears to have traversed much of it, though I’m not able to weigh in on his geographical accuracy. The edition of The Emir of Bokhara that I perused (William Heinemann, 1911) claimed to include a map, but I never located one (see part II of this post for more on that). Continue reading

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