The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices – Xinran

Bought for me by dad and Jean for Christmas 2004, this collection tells the real life stories of a range of 20th century chinese women, some of whom are living lives that sound, to a Western woman, like they are set centuries ago. I can’t remember where I read the review that prompted me to add this book to my Wishlist, but I’m very glad that I did. In each chapter, radio presenter and journalist Xinran, tells us about the listener’s life, and in each case highlights an issue that affects women in China, and elsewhere. In translation, the narrative sounds a little stilted, but the stories are hugely powerful, and provide an amazing insight into female chinese society and the changes China and her people have seen in the 20th century.

Buy it: Amazon link

Strange Places, Questionable People – John Simpson

A Christmas gift from TJBR, purchased from my Wishlist, this is John Simpson’s earliest-written autobiography, and the last one for me to read to get up-to-date with with what’s available in paperback. Just the thing for a holiday ‘blockbuster’, it makes me what to re-read the subsequent books where he revisits some of the narrative in this one, which covers his childhood and first marriage, both of which provide interesting backdrop to his the early days of his career.

In the later chapters, John Simpson moves on to talk about his various roles at the BBC, and the world events on which he reported – ranging from the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first Gulf War and the massacres of Tiananmen Square, as well as some private travels, including the fascinating trip to the lapis lazuli mines in Afghanistan and an expedition up the Amazon to stay with the remote Ashaninica tribe.

Buy it: Amazon link

Hearing Birds Fly: A Year in a Mongolian Village – Louisa Waugh

I can never decide whether I love or loathe books like this…. whichever, envy plays a large part! Whilst having spent almost 2 years backpacking might sound enough for some, I’ve not come close to spending the time that Louisa Waugh has done in ‘living the dream’. After travelling east on the Trans-siberian express for a second time, she spent two years living and working in the Mongolian captial, Ulaanbatur, before heading out to the remote western province of Bayan-Olgii to work as an English teacher.

This book is Louisa Waugh’s account of the 9 months she spent in and around the nomadic township of Tsengel (which means ‘Delight’ in Mongolian), home to Muslim Kazakhs, Mongol Halkhs and Altai Tuvans. In it, she tells of the people she met, the friends she made and the understanding she gained in this far flung part of the world, as well as providing marvellous descriptions of the drudgery and delights of daily life surrounded by the amazing beauty of the mountainous steppe.

More photos would have been good though, and don’t let the whimsical title put you off!

Buy it: Amazon link

The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadramaut – Freya Stark

I tried to get into this, but the traumas of the new job meant that this travelogue just didn’t hit the right spot for a relaxing bed time read – the main factors conspiring against it both stem from its being written in the ?1930s? – the narrative style and the relaince on physical geography descriptions are both hard to get to grips with.

I’ll try again sometime when I’m more relaxed.

Buy it: Amazon link

India in Slow Motion – Mark Tully

I suddenly unearthed a treasure trove of travelogues in the Barbican library, and this was the first one I tackled, purely on the basis that I’d just returned from Indian and could/should have some views of my own against which to judge Mark Tully’s analysis.

That said, my week in northern India only allowed me the slightest exposure to Indian culture and customs, nothing on a par with Mark Tully’s years of experience borne of living and working as a journalist there.

The book is a dry read, but the arguments are well put and are accompanied by anecdotes that illustate the issues and events under discussion, from corruption, to poverty, to belief.

I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to try to understand how India is today, how it got there, and what its options might be for the future. You don’t have to visit to experience the frustration!

Buy it:Amazon link