Asia Archive

Barbara Demick on North Korea

Earlier this month, the short list was announced for the “Winner of Winners” award, drawn from the previous 24 winners of the annual Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction. Among the six titles is Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, in which Barbara Demick — who was based as a journalist in South Korea — talks to  defectors about love, family life and the terrible cost of the 1990s famine. Demick told Tom Sutcliffe in Front Row on Radio 4 yesterday that the book was “a work of obsession and frustration”.

The Himalayas, minus the clichés

In The Guardian on Saturday, Anna Fleming (author of Time on Rock: A Climber’s Route into the Mountains) reviewed High (MacLehose Press), an account of a journey through the Himalayas by the Norwegian writer Erika Fatland. It’s a book, she says, that steers clear of clichés about the region and comes to life through conversations. “Fatland, as traveller and anthropologist, establishes a unique rapport with girls and women, leading to precious insights into lives rarely recorded.”

Fatland will be speaking about her book at Stanfords bookshop in London on October 6 and at the Cheltenham Literature Festival a couple of days later.

On this day…

There never was such delicious weather… and there is an English cuckoo talking English — at least, he is trying, but he evidently left England as a cadet, with his education incomplete, for he cannot get further than cuck — and there is a blackbird singing. We pass our lives in gardening. We ride down into the valleys, and make the Syces [servants] dig up wild tulips and lilies, and they are grown so eager about it, that they dash up the hill the instant they see a promising-looking plant, and dig it up with the best possible effect, except that they invariably cut off the bulb. It certainly is very pleasant to be in a pretty place, with a nice climate. Not that I would not set off this instant and go dâk* all over the hot plains, and through the hot wind, if I were told I might sail home the instant I arrived at Calcutta; but as nobody makes me that offer, I can wait here better than anywhere else — like meat, we keep better here.

Emily Eden, Journal, 1838

*A Hindi name for a transport system at the time carrying mail and passengers.

Emily Eden (1797-1869), an English novelist who travelled to India with her brother, the 1st Earl of Auckland, when he was governor-general there, wrote a series of letters to her sister, later published in two volumes as Up the Country: Letters Written to her Sister from the Upper Provinces of India (Richard Bentley, 1866).

‘Eat the Buddha’ on Radio 4

Book of the Week on Radio 4 from today is Eat the Buddha (Granta), Barbara Demick’s account of modern Tibet told through the lives of the people of one town.

Staying virus-free in Chengdu

Peter Hessler, one of the finest chroniclers in English of modern China, is currently living with his family in Chengdu, where he is teaching writing at a local university. Chengdu is not only separated by several hundred miles from Wuhan, where the epidemic started; in the aftermath of the outbreak, he says in a piece for The New Yorker, the two cities “seemed to belong to different worlds, different eras”. His piece begins:

On the twenty-seventh day of the coronavirus lockdown in Chengdu, in southwestern China, five masked men appeared in the lobby of my apartment building in order to deliver a hundred-inch TCL Xclusive television.

A voice for the silenced in Burma

Burma is a country where minority groups have long been silenced, but David Eimer gives them a voice in his new book, A Savage Dreamland (Bloomsbury). I wrote a review of it for The Daily Telegraph that appeared at the weekend but isn’t (so far, anyway) online. You can read it here on Deskbound Traveller.

Win a copy of the acclaimed ‘Lands of Lost Borders’

Lands of Lost Borders, Kate Harris’s frontier-crossing, genre-defying account of her cycle trip along the Silk Road, was one of my favourite books of 2018. It’s been critically acclaimed both in her native Canada and the United States. It’s received rather less attention in Britain, mainly because it didn’t appear until late in the year, when literary desks and reviewers were preoccupied with compiling Christmas lists of books already read. Having won its author the Banff Mountain Book Award for Adventure Travel, it was last night short-listed for Canada’s RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction.

  Thanks to Kate Harris’s publisher, HarperCollins, I have four copies to give away. To be in with a chance of winning one, all you have to do is retweet my pinned tweet about the prize (“Win a copy of the acclaimed Lands of Lost Borders…”) on Twitter from both @deskboundtravel and @kerraway. While you’re waiting to hear whether you’ve been lucky, you can read a brief extract here on Deskbound Traveller

Terms and conditions
Entrants must retweet the mention of the prize on Twitter from both @deskboundtravel and @kerraway by midnight on Thursday, January 17, 2019. Each winner, who must be resident in the United Kingdom, will receive one copy of the book. Winners will be selected at random and notified by Monday, January 21, 2018. Unsuccessful entrants will not be contacted. For more about Kate Harris and her work, see her website.

Match-ready on the Volga

Four of the 11 host cities for this summer’s World Cup sit on the Volga. Andrew Roth of The Guardian, who journeyed downriver “on a floating Soviet sanatorium” with the photographer Dmitri Beliakov, reports on what visiting fans can expect to find.

‘Shepherdess of the Glaciers’

Thanks to Village Ways (with which I’ve headed into the hills in India and Ethiopia) for pointing me on Twitter towards a trailer for Shepherdess of the Glaciers, a documentary telling the story of Tsering, one of the last shepherdesses in Ladakh. You can read more about her and the making of the film on the website Feminism in India. The writer Rose George, another lover of the hills (who pounds up them a bit faster than I do), was equally taken with the film. As she put it on her own Twitter feed: “And us fell runners think we’re hard. This woman and her life are transfixing.”

Back with Matthiessen in the mountains

It’s 40 years since Peter Matthiessen published The Snow Leopard, his celebrated account of a “journey of the heart” to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. In a piece yesterday for The Observer, Tim Adams reported on what the book has meant both to readers and to Matthiessen’s son, Alex, who has a walk-on part in its pages.