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Xinran: Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet (2005)
Discussion: Tuesday, October 10, 2017, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Ann and Roger Crockett, 1922 NE 12th Ave in Portland, 801-388-8235. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Publishers Weekly: Inspired by a brief 1994 interview with an aged Chinese woman named Shu Wen, Beijing-born, London-based journalist Xinran (The Good Women of China) offers a delicately wrought account of Wen’s 30-year search for her husband in Tibet, where he disappeared in 1958. After less than 100 days of marriage, Wen’s husband, Kejun, a doctor in the People’s Liberation Army, is posted to Tibet and two months later is reported killed. Stunned and disbelieving, 26-year-old Wen is determined to find Kejun herself; a doctor also, she gets herself posted to the isolated Tibetan area where Kejun had been. There, as one of the few women in the Chinese army, she endures much hardship and rescues a Tibetan noblewoman named Zhuoma. After being separated from her fellow soldiers in the wake of an ambush by Tibetan rebels, Wen, accompanied by Zhuoma, sets off on a trek through the harsh landscape. Years later, after going native with a tribe of yak herders, Wen learns the circumstances of Kejun’s death and understands that her husband was caught in a fatal misunderstanding between two vastly different cultures. Woven through with fascinating details of Tibetan culture and Buddhism, Xinran’s story portrays a poignant, beautiful attempt at reconciliation.
Kaplan, Robert D.: In Europe’s Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond (2016)
Discussion: Tuesday, September 12, 2017, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Jerry Gabay, 4238 SE Ash St in Portland, 541-578-0051. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Kirkus Reviews: Romania was a journalistic backwater when the author’s bestselling Balkan Ghosts appeared in 1993. In this equally captivating sequel, veteran journalist Kaplan (Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, 2014, etc.) brings matters up to 2015. The Ukraine is across the border, Russia and the Middle East just beyond; all are hot spots putting increasing stress on Romania, which is making remarkable progress after 40 miserable years as a Soviet satellite following 10 as a Nazi ally. Its leader during the final 24 years of Soviet rule, Nicolae Ceaușescu, enjoyed praise from the free world for his independence from Moscow, but he ran a particularly oppressive and corrupt government, “nothing less than a very Latin-style tyranny, a blend of Joseph Stalin and Juan Perón in the underbelly of Eastern Europe.” His murder by revolutionaries in 1989 left an impoverished nation with no democratic traditions, a situation that Kaplan described vividly in Balkan Ghosts. Repeating his technique in this book, the author zigzags around the country and occasionally beyond, admiring the landscape, describing the cities (crumbling Stalinist architecture giving way to vast malls and apartment complexes, with the occasional jewel from earlier centuries), and interviewing government officials, surviving apparatchiks, intellectuals, historians, and fellow journalists. He seems to have read every novel, history, and scholarly work on his subject and quotes liberally, delivering a scattershot, often contradictory, and always entertaining avalanche of opinions on Romania’s history, national character, and worries (mostly, again, about Russia). Kaplan does not promote Romania, but he has written a journalistic tour de force that will convince readers that it’s a fascinating place whose people, past, and current geopolitical dilemma deserve our attention.