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review 2017-04-25 19:36
An extraordinary adventure that can help us see the world in a different way
The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains - Choo Wai Hong

Thanks to NetGalley and I.B. Tauris for providing me with a copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This book and its author, Choo Waihong, introduce us to a fascinating tribe, the Mosuo, from the province of Yunnan in China, in the region of the lakes, where a matrilineal society has survived in an almost untouched fashion for centuries. The author, a corporate lawyer working in a big law firm in Singapore, left her job and went searching for a different life. She toured China, first visiting the village where her father was born, and during her travels read an article about the Mosuo that aroused her curiosity and she decided to investigate personally.

The book narrates her adventures with the Mosuo, how she ended up becoming the godmother (personally, I think she became a fairy godmother, as she invested her own funds to help keep the Festival of the Mountain Goddess alive, and also sponsored a number of students, helping them carry on with their educations) of an entire village, and built a home there, where she spends 6 months a year.

The book is divided into twelve chapters (from ‘Arriving in the Kingdom of Women’ to ‘On the Knife-Edge of Extinction’) and it does not follow the author’s adventure chronologically (it is neither a memoir, nor an anthropological treatise) but rather discusses large topics, using first-hand observations of the author, her conversations with the inhabitants, and the insights the writer can offer when she compares this society to the one she had grown up and lived all her life in. She acknowledges she had always subscribed to feminist ideas, but nothing had prepared her for what she saw there, and the experience helped her redefine her feminism. She has difficulty fully understanding the social mores and the organisation and inner workings of Mosuo societies (the nuclear family is unknown there, the family relations are complex and difficult to understand for an outsider and they are becoming even more complicated when the population try to adapt them to a standard patriarchal model), she cannot get used to the concept of communal property (she likes the theory of people sharing farm work and living as a community, but not so much when her SUV is used by everybody for things not covered by her insurance when she is not there), she needs indoor toilet facilities (I couldn’t empathise more), and she is dismayed at the way modernity and tourism are encroaching on the traditional lifestyle. Of course, it is not the same to be able to come and go and feel empowered in a society so different to ours whilst still being able to access and/or return to our usual lifestyle than to be born into such circumstances without any other option.

The Kingdom of Women is a fascinating read. It gives us an idea about how other women-centric societies might have functioned and it introduces concepts completely alien but quite attractive and intriguing. I might hasten to say that although, as a woman, I could not help but smile at the thought of many of the practices and the different order of things, I am sure quite a few men would be more than happy with the lifestyle of the men of the tribe (no family ties as such, dedicated to cultivating their physical strength and good looks, invested on manly pursuits, like hunting, fishing … and not having to worry about endless courting or complex dating rules).

Choo Waihong is devoted to the tribe and their traditional way of life, and she has adopted it as much as they have adopted her (the relationships is mutually beneficial, as it becomes amply clear when we read the book). She explores and observes, but always trying to be respectful of tradition and social conventions, never being too curious or interfering unless she is invited in. Her love for the place and the people is clear, and she has little negative to say (she does mention STDs with its possible sequela of congenital defects and the issue of prostitution, which is not openly acknowledged or discussed), although when she talks about her attempts at keeping the Mountain Goddess Festival alive, it is clear hers is not the scientific model of observing without personally interfering (we are all familiar with the theory behind the observer effect but this is not what this book or the author’s experience is about ). The last chapter makes clear that things are quickly changing: most of the younger generation, who have had access to education, do not seem inclined to carry on upholding the same lifestyle. They are leaving the area to study and plan on getting married and starting a nuclear family rather than moving back to their grandmother’s house and having a walk-in marriage. Young men, that as she acknowledges do not have access to varied male role models, leave their studies to become waiters and dream of opening restaurants. Many of the older generation of Mosuo men and women are still illiterate but, they have mobile phones and take advantage of the touristic interest in the area, selling their lands and leaving the rural tradition behind. As the author notes, she was lucky to have access to the Mosuo people at a time of quick social change, but before the old way of life had disappeared completely. Others might not be so lucky.

This is a great book for people interested in alternative societal models and ethnological studies, written in a compelling way, a first person narration that brings to life the characters, the place and the narrator. It might not satisfy the requirements of somebody looking for a scientific study but it injects immediacy and vibrancy into the subject.

As a side note, I had access to an e-version of the book and therefore cannot comment on the pictures that I understand are included in the hardback copy. I would recommend obtaining that version if possible as I’m sure the pictures and the glossary would greatly enhance the reading experience.

 

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review 2017-04-22 00:50
Review: The City & the City
The City and the City - China Miéville

The City & the City is essentially a police procedural in a strange and interesting setting.  The book opens up with our main character, Inspector Tyador Borlú, arriving onto the scene where a dead woman has been found.  The story follows him as he attempts to solve the mystery. 

 

The setting intrigued me from the moment we were given the first hint of it at the end of the first chapter.  The story itself was ok.  It held my interest, but I wasn’t completely absorbed by it.  What made the story interesting to me was its setting and the way the setting affected the murder investigation.  The problem for me was that the story wasn’t about the setting, and that was the part I was most interested in reading about.  There was very little background given about it, and very few tangible explanations.  It still played a huge role in the story, and was still fun to read about, but I wanted more meat.

 

I had a heck of a time deciding how to shelve this.  I don’t like to get too complicated with my shelving.  If a book crosses genres, I try to pick whichever general genre seems to fit it the best.  If a book tells a mystery story in a science fiction or fantasy setting, then I’ll shelve it as either science fiction or fantasy.  But this book?  I don’t know.  On Goodreads, the majority of members have shelved it as fantasy.  That surprises me, but maybe most people took certain aspects of this story a lot more literally than I did.  Science fiction doesn’t really fit either, although I’d buy into that more readily than I’d buy into the fantasy label.  In the end, I decided to just stick with the one thing I was sure of and shelve it as “mystery”.  :)

 

I have some more comments about the setting, but I’ll have to put them behind spoiler tags:

 

I really, really wanted to know the history of how the city came to be fractured the way it was.  We were given some very vague and generic theories, but nothing tangible.  I guess the explanation wouldn’t really have fit properly in the story, since none of the characters knew the answer themselves.  

 

As I read, I was constantly trying to decide whether or not the city was actually, physically divided in some way or if it was all psychological and cultural.  In the end, I decided it was psychological/cultural since people and objects could easily pass between the cities as if they had just walked across a normal street.  The people in Breach also didn’t seem, once we saw them in action, to have any special abilities beyond training to help them blend in and access to technology to help them keep tabs on what was going on.  I think each country at some point in the past, for some reason nobody knows, took possession of different parts of the city and built those parts up with their own architectural style.  But I wanted to know how it got that way.  It seems like there’s interesting story potential there.

 

We also weren’t really told why breach was such a big taboo either, although it’s a little easier to speculate why two different countries with tense relations would want to maintain (or simulate, anyway) strict borders.  The concept of “unseeing” was a fun one, and it added an interesting element to the murder investigation.  I could completely buy into the idea that people who grew up in this setting would find it natural to unsee the “foreign” people and their city even though they were really sharing the same city.  People in the real world also learn to unsee things they don’t want to see, although maybe not quite on this scale.

(spoiler show)

 

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review 2017-03-07 15:35
My thirty-seventh podcast is up!
Britain's Imperial Retreat from China, 1900-1931 (Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia) - Phoebe Chow

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Phoebe Chow bout her new book about the beginnings of the British withdrawal form their empire in China (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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url 2017-02-25 16:50
Ama Alchemy of Love Book Launch
A-Ma Alchemy of Love - Nataša Pantović Nuit

Press Release (ePRNews.com) - LONDON - Feb 23, 2017 - Ama Alchemy of Love Spiritual Novel by Nataša Pantović Nuit Finally Launched

 

During the last 5 years a team of spiritual researchers was working hard to complete and publish a series of 9 (nine) spiritual and self-development non-fiction books called: Alchemy of Love Mindfulness Training.

 

– The audience that is attracted to my courses and books are the many that are interested in self-development, spirituality, inner-development, esoteric or occult teachings, alchemy, Tantra, inspirational writings, and New Consciousness. I found a whole new family constantly exploring these subject.- Said Nuit. Now, after 10 years of writing A-Ma, I feel that I am ready to release her into the world of Consciousness as a historical spiritual fiction story that was from the very beginning the natural drive of the Alchemy of Love series, of the whole alchemy and mindfulness endeavor. So, to all who patently waited for this moment: Welcome to our latest publishing adventure, to my spiritual novel: Ama Alchemy of Love! ISBN: 978-9995754198

 

A-Ma is a spiritual novel set in the 16th century Macao. The main protagonist Ama is an African Queen, an incarnated Goddess, a Guru that within the magic settings of her coffee house gathers philosophers, artists, and various wisdom seekers. Travelling through space and time, we find ourselves in the time of strong religious clashes and dogmas, at the very beginning of the scientific revolution, where our protagonists join the fight of the enlightened minds of the time.

 

Within China we enter the very wisdom of the alchemy of soul and humanity, where a group of enlightened people create an energy matrix that will change the lives of generations to come. Through Ruben, a Portuguese Jesuit Priest, through Ama, her family, friends, followers and enemies, we attempt to understand the challenges of their time, we join their attempts to learn from both the Eastern and Western philosophies, and we witness their personal inner transformation.

 

All the events and manuscripts mentioned within the book: the Dutch attack to Macao 24th of June 1622, the Reform of the Chinese Calendar during 1630s, Father Schalls Appointment to the Chinese Board of Mathematicians (during 1650s), Witches Hunt, and Witches Manual, etc, are carefully researched historical facts. The book uses history to create the connection between actions of the individuals that live surrounded by magic.

 

Nataša Pantovic Nuit is Author, Yogi, and Spiritual Researcher that lives and works in Malta. Nuit has published 9 Alchemy of Love Mindfulness Training Books. The Alchemy of Love Mindfulness Training is about the alchemy of love, the alchemy of soul, and our everlasting quest to find the gold within, discovering the stone that transforms metals into gold.

 

Artof4Elements is a Mindfulness Training and self-help Publisher. Founded in 2012, we designed and launched a mindfulness training serial called Alchemy of Love Mindfulness Training. We publish books, audio, and video materials in areas of Mindfulness, Meditation, Self-Help, New Thought, Alternative Health, Vegetarian and Vegan Food and Nutrition, and Conscious Parenting.

 

Available through Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Ma-Ms-Natasa-Nuit-Pantovic/dp/9995754193 

Source: eprnews.com/ama-alchemy-of-love-spiritual-novel-by-nuit-launched-82228
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review 2017-02-20 15:57
Invisible Planets
Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation - Ken Liu

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

An interesting collection of science-fiction stories by Chinese authors—I didn't like all of them, but none was particularly bad either, and the themes and places they dealt with offered different perspectives on what I'm used to see throug a more "westernised" prism. I found both similarities and differences gathered here, making those stories familiar in parts, and a journey in unknown territories in others.

"The Year of the Rat": 3/5
Quite creepy in its theme (students without much of a job prospect are enlisted to fight mutant rats whose intelligence and abilities may be more than meet the eye), and in its conclusion, although I would've appreciated a bit more insight in the exact reasons why the whole situation turned like that.

"The Fish of Lijiang": 3/5
By the same author, and another take on a society where freedom is only an illusion, where everybody and everything is at their designed place.

"The Flower of Shazui:" 2/5
An ex-engineer who fled his designated area tries to help a prostitute whose desires aren't necessarily in check with her partner's. Still interesting, but less exciting?

"A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight": 4/5
The author later mentioned a few inspirations for this story, and I agree, for I could feel them (especially the Miyazaki-like tones of a district/street full of "ghosts", souls in robot bodies gradually getting discarded). I really liked the atmosphere in this one, and the sad ending was pretty fitting.

"Tongtong's Summer": 4/5
I read this one in another anthology already, but I liked it the second time round as well. Caretakers operate robots remotely in order to help elder people, and their increased role in society gives birth to other issues, but also to great hopes for a generation that, all in all, has still a lot to bring to the world. The characters were also attaching.

"Night Journey of the Dragon Horse": 2/5
A mechanical dragon and a bat go on a journey to bring back light to a dead world. Beautiful, but unfortunately a little boring.

"The City of Silence": 5/5
In a world become one State, what happens when so many words are forbidden that communicating becomes impossible?
Very chilling, because the way this State evolved is, in fact, extremely logical and cunning.

"Invisible Planets": 3/5
Glimpses into little worlds. I wouldn't mind seeing some of them explored more in depth... and at the same time, I feel they wouldn't have the same impact anymore if this was done? Very strange.

"Folding Beijing": 2/5
A city living in three different spaces, each alloted its own time of the day, and with inhabitants forbidden to cross from one space to the other. Which the main character wants to do, of course. Also interesting, however I felt the ending didn't have much of an impact on me. I kept expecting something more... dramatic?

"Call Girl": 3/5
The call girl's wares are fairly interesting here. I would've liked some more background about them, how she came to be able to provide such services.

"Grave of the Fireflies": 2/5
Loved the atmosphere, this rush through the stars to escape a dying universe, guided by the last queen of mankind... However the story itself felt too short and rushed.

"The Circle": 4/5
I could see where this one was going from the moment the gates were introduced, and I wasn't disappointed. I definitely liked how it was all brought.

"Taking care of God": 4/5
Depressing in a way, but dealing with a theme that I'd deem definitely different from my own 'western' vision, with taking care of one's parents and elders being part of culture in a way it isn't in my own corner of the world.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars

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