Small Wars Permitting – Christina Lamb

Small Wars Permitting - Christina Lamb
Small Wars Permitting – Christina Lamb

Twenty years in life of female foreign correspondent, Christina Lamb, told through a series of articles and circumstances in which they came to be written.

It helps that you go to Oxford University and become friends with Benazir Bhutto, but Christina Lamb’s bravery, quick wittedness and insights are all her own. And whilst there’s a dollop of envy too,  I am not that brave.

How heartbreaking to see the book that starts and finishes with your friendship with Benazir published after her assassination.

Author page: Small Wars Permitting: Dispatches from Foreign Lands – Christina Lamb

The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

The Cruel Way - Ella K. Maillart
The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

Another wonderful Virago Modern Traveller’s tale, as Ella Maillart, last seen travelling from Beijing to Kashmir with Peter “brother of Ian ‘James Bond'” Fleming, travels from Geneva to Kabul with her friend and fellow traveller, ‘Christina‘. It’s 1939, and they make the journey in Christina’s Ford car. The book focuses on their friendship as much as their travels, and has been made into a film, The Journey to Kafiristan.

I love reading about adventurous women travellers of the last century, and before. Yes, they come from privileged backgrounds, even when they claim not to, but they are going against the expectations and conventions of the age, plus they are still making the effort to get out and explore the world and encounter different people and cultures, and all this at a time before Lonely Planet or the internet. One of Ella Maillart’s main sources for her journey was the 7th century Chinese Buddhist monk, Hsuan Tsang.

Much of the book follows their experiences in Persia, and Afghanistan – and it makes me long to go back to the former (and the north western areas of Pakistan –  ‘Kafiristan‘ was Maillart’s ultimate destination – ultimately unrealised on this trip, once World War II started), and saddens me that realistically I’ll never get to experience the ancient wonders of the latter. I love that part of the world, its ancient cultures and kingdoms, its place at the centre of the Silk Roads and encounters between east and west, north and south.

Abebooks page: The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

Fascinating science-meets-biography book about the life, and afterlife, of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman from Maryland who died of cervical cancer in 1951, but whose cancer cells were cultured for use in medical research and her HelLa cells are used by researchers worldwide.

Rebecca Skloot first follows her own fascination with the elusive Henrietta Lacks, but her 10 year investigation and writing of this book was spent mostly in the company of Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah who was only 4 when her mother died. As well as scientists and medical staff, we meet the extended Lacks family, and the book provides a real insight into the life of the poor in America and the African-American experience in particular.

Two of the key themes are the evolution of ethics relating to the use of human tissue/cells in medical research – particularly in the US where research is so commercialised and the profits from a successful outcome runs into the US$ Billions, none of which flows back the person from whom the original matter was taken – and the gradual emergence of the requirement for informed consent.

And, putting her money where her mouth is, Rebecca Skloot established The Henrietta Lacks Foundation when she published her book, which went on to be a best seller in the US. The Foundation’s mission is:

Helping individuals who have made important contributions to scientific research without personally benefiting from those contributions, particularly those used in research without their knowledge or consent.

Author page: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

Tales of the Country – Brian Viner

Tales of the Country - Brian Viner
Tales of the Country – Brian Viner

I wasn’t sure if it would be wise to read about someone else‘s move from London to Herefordshire at this stage in our version, but I am glad I did.

Light in tone (decidedly cheesy in parts) with more than a few laugh out loud moments, it was also reassuring to follow the Viner family’s first year and to see that such a move does work. And that ours is not the only Herefordshire home that comes with resident mice and flies! It also inspired me to head up to Leominster sooner rather than later.

Not sure we will be having a marquee level party if we are still here in a year, but you never know….

Publisher page: Tales of the Country – Brian Viner

Granta 87: Jubilee – Granta Magazine

Granta 87: Jubilee - Various, Granta Magazine
Granta 87: Jubilee – Various, Granta Magazine

It may have been because I’ve been so immersed in moving, and with all the subsequent sorting out and settling in, that I found this volume of Granta essays and stories much slower going than Hidden Histories.

On the other hand, it might have been the weightier subject matter. I did skip a few of the accounts relating to 21st century atrocities.

That said, I did enjoy the pieces on Benjamin Pell and Bollywood.

An easy reading novel next, I think.

Publisher page: Granta 87: Jubilee – Granta Magazine