In My Hands Today…

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity – Katherine Boo

11869272Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting“ in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter — Annawadi’s “most-everything girl” — will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

In My Hands Today…

The 8:55 to Baghdad – Andrew Eames

1164129In 1928, Agatha Christie, the world’s most widely read author, was a thirty-something single mother. With her marriage to her first husband, Archie Christie, over, she decided to take a much needed holiday; the Caribbean had been her intended destination, but a conversation at a dinner party with a couple who had just returned from Iraq changed her mind. Five days later she was off on a completely different trajectory.

Merging literary biography with travel adventure, and ancient histroy with contemporary world events, Andrew Eames tells a riveting tale and reveals fascinating and little-known details en route in this exotic chapter in the life of Agatha Christie. His own trip from London to Baghdad–a journey much more difficult to make in 2002 with the political unrest in the Middle East and the war in Iraq, than it was in 1928–becomes ineluctably intertwined with Agatha’s, and the people he meets could have stepped out of a mystery novel.

In My Hands Today…

The River’s Tale: A Year on the Mekong – Edward Gargan

402237Along the Mekong, from northern Tibet to Lijiang, from Luang Prabang to Phnom Penh to Can Lo, I moved from one world to another, among cultural islands often ignorant of each other’s presence. Yet each island, as if built on shifting sands and eroded and reshaped by a universal sea, was re-forming itself, or was being remoulded, was expanding its horizons or sinking under the rising waters of a cultural global warming. It was a journey between worlds, worlds fragiley conjoined by a river both ominous and luminescent, muscular and bosomy, harsh and sensuous.

From windswept plateaus to the South China Sea, the Mekong flows for three thousand miles, snaking its way through Southeast Asia. Long fascinated with this part of the world, former New York Times correspondent Edward Gargan embarked on an ambitious exploration of the Mekong and those living within its watershed. The River’s Tale is a rare and profound book that delivers more than a correspondent’s account of a place. It is a seminal examination of the Mekong and its people, a testament to the their struggles, their defeats and their victories.

In My Hands Today…

A Long Way Gone – Ishmael Beah

1920581At the age of twelve, Ishmael Beah fled attacking rebels in Sierra Leone and wandered a land rendered unrecognisable by violence.

By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation centre, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and, finally, to heal.

At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation centre, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and, finally, to heal.

This is an extraordinary and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

In My Hands Today…

In Siberia – Colin Thubron

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In the early 1980s, Colin Thubron wrote a book about his travels around the Soviet Union in an old Morris Minor. In the late 90s, post–Soviet Union, he decided to explore Siberia—this time by truck, by bus, by boat. The result is an evocative account of an extraordinary region. He travels through exotic cities and deserted villages, meets nostalgic old Stalinists and aggressive Orthodox churchmen, and generally interweaves Siberia’s fascinating history with a description of the place today.

In My Hands Today…

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam – Andrew X. Pham

4370Catfish and Mandala is the story of an American odyssey—a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam—made by a young Vietnamese-American man in pursuit of both his adopted homeland and his forsaken fatherland.

Andrew X. Pham was born in Vietnam and raised in California. His father had been a POW of the Vietcong; his family came to America as “boat people.” Following the suicide of his sister, Pham quit his job, sold all of his possessions, and embarked on a year-long bicycle journey that took him through the Mexican desert, around a thousand-mile loop from Narita to Kyoto in Japan; and, after five months and 2,357 miles, to Saigon, where he finds “nothing familiar in the bombed-out darkness.” In Vietnam, he’s taken for Japanese or Korean by his countrymen, except, of course, by his relatives, who doubt that as a Vietnamese he has the stamina to complete his journey (“Only Westerners can do it”); and in the United States, he’s considered anything but American. A vibrant, picaresque memoir written with narrative flair and an eye-opening sense of adventure, Catfish and Mandala is an unforgettable search for cultural identity.

In My Hands Today…

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure – Sarah Macdonald

3858In her twenties, journalist Sarah Macdonald backpacked around India and came away with a lasting impression of heat, pollution and poverty. So when an airport beggar read her palm and told her she would return to India—and for love—she screamed, “Never!” and gave the country, and him, the finger.

But eleven years later, the prophecy comes true. When the love of Sarah’s life is posted to India, she quits her dream job to move to the most polluted city on earth, New Delhi. For Sarah this seems like the ultimate sacrifice for love, and it almost kills her, literally. Just settled, she falls dangerously ill with double pneumonia, an experience that compels her to face some serious questions about her own fragile mortality and inner spiritual void. “I must find peace in the only place possible in India,” she concludes. “Within.” Thus begins her journey of discovery through India in search of the meaning of life and death.

Holy Cow is Macdonald’s often hilarious chronicle of her adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction, of encounters with Hinduism, Islam and Jainism, Sufis, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians and a kaleidoscope of yogis, swamis and Bollywood stars. From spiritual retreats and crumbling nirvanas to war zones and New Delhi nightclubs, it is a journey that only a woman on a mission to save her soul, her love life—and her sanity—can survive.