Read any Good Books Lately (#17) – Anthony Grey

Anthony Grey OBE (born 5 July 1938) is a British journalist and author. As a journalist for Reuters he was imprisoned by the Chinese government for 27 months from 1967 to 1969.  He has written a series of historical novels and non-fiction books, including several relating to his detention.  Three of his most successful novels are Peking, Saigon, and Tokyo Bay.

Peking: An Epic Novel of Twentieth-Century China (1982)

“This epic novel of a wide-eyed missionary and a rebellious woman thrust into China’s Communist revolution is “an excellent read, panoramic in scope” (Financial Times).

In 1931, young English-born missionary Jakob Kellner brings all the crusading passion of his untried Christian faith to a China racked by famine and bloody civil war. He burns to save the world’s largest nation from Communism.

But when he is swept along on the cold, unforgiving Long March, Jakob becomes entangled with Mei-ling, a beautiful and fervent revolutionary. Soon, powerful new emotions challenge and reshape his faith—and entrap him forever in the vast country’s tortured destiny.

Once held hostage by Red Guards in Peking for more than two years, author Anthony Grey traces the path of China’s Communist party from its covert inception through purge and revolution. He crafts a portrait of China as a land of great beauty and harshness—of triumph and tragedy—in a sweeping narrative, rich in historical and cultural revelations” …… Amazon books

Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam (1988)

“An epic saga of love, blood, and destiny in twentieth-century Vietnam: “This superb novel could well be the War and Peace of our age” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Joseph Sherman first visits Saigon—the capital of French colonial Cochin-China—as a young man on his father’s hunting trip in 1925. But the exotic land lures him back again and again as a traveler, soldier, and reporter. He returns because of his fascination for the enchanting city—and for Lan, a mandarin’s daughter he cannot forget.

Over five decades Joseph’s life becomes enmeshed with the political intrigues of two of Saigon’s most influential families, the French colonist Devrauxs, and the native Trans. In this sweeping saga of tragedy and triumph, Joseph witnesses Vietnam’s turbulent, war-torn fate. He is there when millions of coolies rise against the French, and during their bloody last stand at Dien Bien Phu. And he sees US military “advisors” fire their first shots in America’s hopeless war against the Communist revolution.

A story of adventure, love, war, and political power, Saigon presents an enthralling and enlightening depiction of twentieth-century Vietnam.”  …….. Amazon Books

Tokyo Bay: A Novel of Japan (1996)

“This is a thrilling novel of the West’s first journeys to Japan from “a master storyteller” and the acclaimed author of Saigon and Peking (The Kansas City Star).

A fleet of ships billowing black smoke steam past Japan’s tributary islands in July 1853, setting off panic among a people who have been sealed off from the rest of the world for over two hundred years. Commodore Matthew Perry has arrived, sent by the US president to open Japan to American ships and trade—by force, if necessary.

Navy lieutenant Robert Eden, an idealistic New Englander, immediately recognizes that the colonial intentions of his countrymen will ignite a violent conflict with the feudal, sword-wielding samurai. Inspired to pursue peace, he jumps ship and finds himself plunged into a world of frightful and noble warriors, artfully exotic geishas, and a distraught populace who view the Americans as monsters.

Eden tries to bridge the divide between two proud, unyielding cultures in the name of morality, but he may not survive to see the lasting harmony he hopes to create.” ….. Amazon Books.

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I have read both Peking and Saigon and I can recommend both without  hesitation or reservation. The third novel,  Tokyo Bay is on my must read list. I like historical novels. I suppose it is because of an urge for self improvement. So if it is a good read and I feel that I have learnt something relevant then I am more than happy to enjoy the experience and pass on a recommendation. Both of these novels fall into that category.  Of the two Saigon, for me, is the most rewarding. I have lived through a significant portion of the period portrayed in the  novel. The Vietnam War was a major political event of my youth. I remember the conscription of my buddies into the army. Many of my friends were lucky to survive the war unharmed.  Outside of Australia few people are aware of Australia’s role in the war and the political turmoil and demonstrations associated with the military conscription of Australian youth to fight a war that most Australians did not understand. The American and Vietnamese military causalities were high and as a nation Vietnam was devastated at every level.  America was humiliated and still bears the scars this foolish military and political venture. Every day this horror story was played out before ours eyes on TV and in the newspapers.  Anthony Grey’s novel of the era reflects the issues and emotions of the day. In retrospect it is hard to realize that while I was living a fairly uneventful life in Sydney Australia there was this horror show going on all around us.

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Some afterthoughts about the novels. America’s involvement in China and Vietnam demonstrate the uncanny ability the Americans have of “backing the wrong horse”. Despite their revolutionary history, espousal of democratic ideals and ample opportunities to do the “right thing”  the USA seem to be hell bent on making bad decisions. The history of American foreign policy is littered with toppled democratic regimes and gross interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. Here is a short list – Overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy; Annexation of the Philippines; Political interference in Central America; The 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government; Support for the Shah of Iran; The fall of the Allende government in Chile; The war on the Taliban; and the list just goes on and on. Of course there were success stories. World War II had some good outcomes even if the US was more or less forced to do the right thing. I think Winston Churchill said something like “the Americans will do the right thing, eventually”.

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Postscript:

Also well worth reading is Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam : A History – The First Complete Account of Vietnam at War

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YouTube Picks (#39) – Celtic Stories

Songs. There millions of songs out there. There are songs of love and songs of angst. There are political songs and protest songs. Nostalgic songs, songs of humor,  songs of homesickness, confessional songs and songs about every nuance of the human condition imaginable. For me the most successful songs are those that tell a story and, in my opinion, the most successful songs and song writers are the ones that tell memorable stories. I call them narrative songs and here are a couple of examples. These two performers are musicians of exceptional talent in the Celtic tradition. The accompanying instrument is the Irish Bouzouki. This instrument is a relative newcomer to traditional Irish Music scene. Irish musicians traveling in Easter Europe in the mid sixties became enamored with the Greek Bouzouki and  music from the Balkans. The instrument, and elements of Balkan music, started showing up on the traditional scene. To accommodate the local demand British and Irish Luthiers turned their hand to building instruments and in doing so they made changes to the Greek instrument by building them with a flat back and experimenting with the tuning systems. What emerged at the end of this process was the Irish Bouzouki. Andy Irvine is one of the legends of modern traditional Irish music and was  one of the first traditionally inspired musicians to adopt the Irish Bouzouki. Fortunately for us here in Cranbrook we got to hear Andy perform at the Studio Stage Door way back in the 1990s. The Close Shave is a reworking of one of those traditional songs that relates the misadventures of sailor home from the sea and out on the town.

Daoiri Farrell  is one of the younger musicians that has vitalized the modern Irish music scene. He spent ten years working as an electrician before deciding to pursue his interest in music full-time. He returned to education to gain a Ceoltóir Diploma in Irish Music Performance at Ballfermot College. During this time he released his first album The First Turn in 2009. Farrell continued in education with studies in Applied Music at Dundalk’s Institute of Technology followed followed by an MA in Music Performance at the World Academy of Music in the University of Limerick.

After completing his MA, he returned to touring and recording. He won the All Ireland Champion Singer award at the 2013 Feadh Cheoil. Since 2013, Farrell has also toured as part of the group Four Winds. In 2015, the group won the Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections and released their debut album.

In both of these songs the Bouzouki adds a flavor to the music that is unavailable with conventional guitar accompaniments. The rhythm is bouncy and driving and there is lots of neat cross picking and counter melodies.

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Back Country

If you live in the interior of British Columbia, Canada, then everything just beyond your back yard fence is “Back Country”. In the summer if you step off any back country road you are surrounded by nothing but magnificent forests and spectacular mountains and in the winter, piles and piles of deep snow. It is a playground for hikers, runners, climbers  and cyclists in the summer and in the winter, deep powder nirvana for skiers and snowboarders.  The end result is that for us British Columbians we have a preconceived notion of what “Back Country” and “Back Country recreation” looks like. In Scotland those notions are turned completely on their head. For starters all land in Scotland is owned by someone. It’s an historical thing that dates dates way back to the old Clan system and earlier. So, technically by indulging in back country pursuits in Scotland you would be trespassing but it’s not really like that. There is the notion of common usage and access that has been re-enforced in recent years by legislation. So provided you adhere to some simple basic rules  there is a “Freedom to Roam” where you will. But given that, these videos would lead us to believe that “Scottish Back Country recreation” requires stamina and dedication that is a bit beyond the Canadian experience.

So here are a couple of videos about Scottish Back Country…….. without a helicopter in sight and with the added bonus of some haunting music.

It is summer time in this following video it is an out right lie. There is never that much sunshine on the Isle of Skye. I’ve been there so take my word for it. But, with the right amount of Drambuie,  the spectacular scenery can be a very pleasurable experience.

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POSTSCRIPT:

These  two videos hit my nostalgia buttons big time. My wife took me to Scotland in the early 1970s to meet her family. This was followed up by a number of family trips in the  mid to late 1970s. During the trips we did some touring around the highlands and some hiking through some of pretty spectacular country. We did a trip to the Isle of Skye and my memories include learning that in the north the “wee free church” of Scotland locks down the entire countryside on Sunday. People go to church twice a day, spend time praying and it is impossible to even get a meal until things return to normal on Monday. I remember being cold. Coming from Canada I didn’t think it would be possible to actually feel the  cold like I felt on the Isle of Skye. We were staying in a youth hostel at Uig and every evening it required a walk down the road to a pub for a Drambuie to get a “wee heat” before going off to bed.

Hiking in Scotland tends to be a soggy affair. Gum boots are more useful than hiking boots.    

I did a number of solo trips including a a ridge walk on the Five Sisters of Kintail plus a hike through Glenn Afric.

Scotland is a very special place. Ahh ………. The lost days of our youth.

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