I can’t remember the last time a book hijacked my day. Middle school, maybe? That was quite some time ago. Once, shortly after we were married, my husband came home from work and we started reading The Last Battle out loud and didn’t stop until we’d finished it, sometime that night. But that was only one evening.
Nayeri’s memoir exerted its magnetism on me through multiple channels–my personal interest in Nayeri’s home country of Iran; the myths and legends he seeds throughout the narrative; and the meandering nature of the storytelling, enticing the reader on, if for no other reason than to find out, “Where is he going with this?”
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).
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
Martha Poindexter Maupin came across the Oregon Trail in 1850. Two years after the death of her husband in 1866, she bought land near the present-day town of Kellogg, about an hour southwest of Eugene, Oregon. Today her great-great-granddaughter Janet Fisher lives on the farm. A Place of Her Own is not only Martha’s story but the story of Janet’s journey of discovery as she unearths the history of her family’s land.
It is not always a heart-warming story. Martha married against her parents’ wishes. Her husband, Garrett, drank too much and abused his family. He dissuaded Martha when she filed for divorce, but he never really reformed. Fisher sensitively explores the mix of emotions that must have washed over Martha following Garrett’s accidental death, while touching briefly on struggles from her own personal life that inevitably surfaced in the course of such an undertaking. Continue reading
I wish Dorcas Smucker lived next door. I would drop by regularly to steep myself in the vibrant activity of her household, the warmth and wisdom of her conversation, and the rhythms of rural life, while sharing sharing a pot of tea with Dorcas, of course.
In the absence of this opportunity, reading Tea and Trouble Brewing is not a bad substitute. I even had company at times, as Dorcas’s wit was too good not to share. Like this, from the opening essay, “The Perfect Cup of Tea”: Continue reading
Fishing has never held exceptional allure for me. My grandparents frequently took me fishing during my childhood visits to Texas, and I found the novelty exciting. But as an adult I have never felt compelled to pack up my gear and head for the nearest fishing hole. So it wasn’t the subject matter of Erv Jensen’s book that attracted me. But in my ten years of acquaintance with my husband’s Uncle Erv, I too have come to regard him with respect and affection, and it seemed appropriate for a niece-in-law with a book blog to read and review Uncle Erv’s memoir. After all, there’s precedent for the topic to inspire great literary works, as demonstrated by Isaak Walton’s 17th-century classic The Compleat Angler (which I likewise have not read). I therefore dutifully embarked on Little Boats & Big Salmon, little suspecting I would be drawn in (and hooked) by the Alaska life, the fishermen’s banter, and mooching.
If Robert Burns is the farmer poet of Scotland, Dwight Droz is the farmer poet of the rural community of Scandia, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. My husband, who spent several of his growing-up summers working in Droz’s commercial garden, tells stories of rock-germinating fields, hearty farm-style dinners at noon, and chess games before returning to the furrows. It is only in the past decade or so that Droz (now over ninety) has been publishing his books of poetry and memoir, but it appears that he has been writing–and, at times, broadcasting–since childhood. Continue reading
Barbara Kingsolver ranks high on my list of authors with whom I would love to have a lengthy chat (along with Diana Abu Jaber and Khaled Hosseini). Besides the fact that I admire her literary artistry, I am intrigued by Kingsolver’s spiritual and religious views. I tend, for example, to think Nathan Price in The Poisonwood Bible so deranged that Kingsolver could not have intended anyone to take him seriously as representative of evangelical missionaries. … But does this character suggest Kingsolver perceives missionaries or evangelicals generally in a negative light?
In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Kingsolver frequently references her rural childhood and observes that many of the small farmers she writes about are probably church-goers (though she mentions appreciatively that they keep their religion to themselves) (204-05). I assume Kingsolver, having grown up in such an environment herself, had a fair amount of exposure to Christian spirituality, if not from her family, at least from her neighbors. Regardless, she is now an evangelist for evolution, with a graduate degree in evolutionary biology. Continue reading
Barbara Kingsolver is #74 on the list of America’s most dangerous people, according to the author of a recent well-publicized book cited in Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (p. 236). I’m not sure how Kingsolver earned her stripes in that author’s opinion, but I would agree that her linguistic artistry, self-deprecating humor, and winsome enthusiasm for her cause impart a formidable ability to win converts to just about any position.Well, maybe not any. Actually, I was already in at least theoretical sympathy with Kingsolver’s commitment to local, organic food, so I didn’t need much convincing, but Kingsolver’s treatise broadened my understanding and deepened my convictions. (I just bought some bean and pepper plants for a nascent garden on the balcony of our condominium. So I’m a little late getting started … at least I’ll get a feel for container gardening.)