In My Hands Today…

Cooking with Fernet Branca – James Hamilton-Paterson

40Gerald Samper, an effete English snob, has his own private hilltop in Tuscany, where he whiles away his time working as a ghostwriter for celebrities and inventing wholly original culinary concoctions — including ice cream made with garlic and the bitter, herb-based liqueur of the book’s title.

Gerald’s idyll is shattered by the arrival of Marta, on the run from a crime-riddled former soviet republic. A series of hilarious misunderstandings brings this odd couple into ever closer and more disastrous proximity.

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In My Hands Today…

The Love Wife – Gish Jen

58306The Wongs describe themselves as a “half half” family, but the actual fractions are more complicated, given Carnegie’s Chinese heritage, his wife Blondie’s WASP background, and the various ethnic permutations of their adopted and biological children. Into this new American family comes a volatile new member.Her name is Lanlan. She is Carnegie’s Mainland Chinese relative, a tough, surprisingly lovely survivor of the Cultural Revolution, who comes courtesy of Carnegie’s mother’s will. Is Lanlan a very good nanny, a heartless climber, or a posthumous gift from a formidable mother who never stopped wanting her son to marry a nice Chinese girl?

In My Hands Today…

The Fourth Treasure – Todd Shimoda

142727Tina Suzuki has just begun her first year of graduate study. Born and raised in San Francisco by her Japanese immigrant mother, Tina knows nothing about the rest of her family and very little about her cultural heritage. But when her boyfriend’s Japanese calligraphy teacher suffers a stroke, loses his ability to communicate, but continues to create magnificent calligraphic art, Tina knows she has stumbled across an ideal research subject. Getting people to cooperate with her research is an entirely different matter. The blank personal history presented by her mother is in fact, a tightly wound scroll full of scandalous secrets. Tina’s studies lead to revelations about her own family – secrets she would never have expected. Juxtaposed with Tina’s story is that of the stricken calligraphy teacher as a young man in Kyoto, and the history of the ancient inkstone he carries with him.

In My Hands Today…

The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905 – Ferdinand Mount

25124590The Tears of the Rajas is a sweeping history of the British in India, seen through the experiences of a single Scottish family. For a century the Lows of Clatto survived mutiny, siege, debt and disease, everywhere from the heat of Madras to the Afghan snows. They lived through the most appalling atrocities and retaliated with some of their own. Each of their lives, remarkable in itself, contributes to the story of the whole fragile and imperilled, often shockingly oppressive and devious but now and then heroic and poignant enterprise.

On the surface, John and Augusta Low and their relations may seem imperturbable, but in their letters and diaries, they often reveal their loneliness and desperation and their doubts about what they are doing in India. The Lows are the family of the author’s grandmother, and a recurring theme of the book is his own discovery of them and of those parts of the history of the British in India which posterity has preferred to forget.

The book brings to life not only the most dramatic incidents of their careers – the massacre at Vellore, the conquest of Java, the deposition of the boy-king of Oudh, the disasters in Afghanistan, the Reliefs of Lucknow and Chitral – but also their personal ordeals: the bankruptcies in Scotland and Calcutta, the plagues and fevers, the deaths of children and deaths in childbirth. And it brings to life too the unrepeatable strangeness of their lives: the camps and the palaces they lived in, the balls and the flirtations in the hill stations, and the hot slow rides through the dust.

In My Hands Today…

July – Karen Roberts

3146634Priyanthi Silva is born in Sri Lanka into a peaceful, loving Sinhalese family, but into a turbulent country dogged by religious and political tensions. She and her rebellious brother, Hemantha, grow up in Araliya Gardens, a tropical paradise full of orchids, araliyas and mango trees. Their neighbours Bala and Violet are Christian Tamils whose gentle, handsome son Niranjan is Hemantha’s best friend.

When Priyanthi is older, the two families spend a holiday together by the sea. Priyanthi and Niranjan’s eyes are opened up to a strange world outside their protected existence. While Hemantha smokes cigarettes and chases girls, they meet Sena, a toddy tapper who swings through the coconut trees to collect sap and surprises them with his quiet wisdom. Their friendship with him marks their lives indelibly.

When Priyanthi and Niranjan return home they have fallen in love. But it is an unthinkable match for both their families and to a society riven with ethnic divisions. On a hot July day that year the streets of Colombo explode into frenzied violence as mobs begin to hunt and murder Tamils and burn and loot their property. The dark secret Priyanthi and Niranjan have been hiding leads to betrayal and tragedy, as an inferno of hatred from which none of them will escape unscathed, overcomes their peaceful neighbourhood.

In My Hands Today…

The Storyteller and his Three Daughters – Lian Hearn

18487023Tokyo 1884: Sei has devoted his life to storytelling, captivating audiences with his tales. But now he is starting to wonder if the new world has left him behind.

Just when he thinks he will never write again, his own life and the lives of the people around him begin to spiral out of control – providing the inspiration for the greatest story he has ever told. A story of love, jealousy, intrigue, and betrayal.

Set against the background of Japan’s first incursions into Korea, Sei offers a wise and witty reflection on the nature of storytelling, its perils and delights, its lies and, ultimately, its truth.