Sunday, 20 May 2018

Robert Kuok: A Memoir with Andrew Tanzer

Hardback:  Robert Kuok is one of the most highly respected businessmen in Asia.  But this legendary Overseas Chinese entrepreneur, commodities trader, hotelier and property mogul has maintained a low profile and seldom shed light in public on his business empire or personal life. That is, until now.

In these memoirs, the 94-year-old Kuok tells the remarkable story of how, starting in British Colonial Malaya, he built a multi-industry, multinational business group.

In reflecting back on 75 years of conducting business, he offers management insights, discusses strategies and lessons learned, and relates his principles, philosophy, and moral code.

Kuok has lived through fascinating and often tumultuous times in Asia - from British colonialism to Japanese military occupation to post-colonial Southeast Asia and the dramatic rise of Asian economies, including, more recently, China.

From his front-row seat and as an active participant, this keen, multi-cultural observer tells nearly a century of Asian history through his life and times.

Readers interested in business, management, history, politics, culture and sociology will all enjoy Robert Kuok's unique and remarkable story in Robert Kuok:  A Memoir (2017).

About the author:  Andrew Tanzer worked as a correspondent in East Asia for 20 years for Far Eastern Economic Review and Forbes Magazine and received the US Overseas Press Club Award for best business reporting from abroad in magazines for his work at Forbes.

He holds an MS in Journalism from Columbia University and is a CFA Charterholder.  Tanzer is currently a senior researcher, portfolio strategist and investment writer for a New York City-based private wealth manager.

About Robert Kuok:  Robert Kuok Hock Nien, is an author, a Malaysian business magnate and investor.  According to Forbes, his net worth is estimated at $14.8 billion on March 2018, making him the richest person in Malaysia and sixth richest in Southeast Asia.  As of May 2018, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Kuok has an estimated net worth of $19.9 billion, making him the 48th richest person in the world.

His business interests range from sugarcane plantations (Perlis Plantations Bhd), sugar refineries, flour milling, animal feed, oil, mining, finance, hotel (Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts), property, trading, freight and publishing.  The biggest source of his wealth is his stake in Wilmar International, the world's largest listed palm oil trader company.

Kuok is among five prominent Malaysians who will be part of a Council of Eminent Persons set up to advise the new Malaysian government.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

Hardback:  Set in the 1970s in a run-down, rainy industrial town, Jo Nesbø's Macbeth centers around a police force struggling to shed an incessant drug problem.

Duncan, chief of police, is idealistic and visionary, a dream to the townspeople but a nightmare for criminals.  The drug trade is ruled by two drug lords, one of whom - a master of manipulation named Hecate - has connections with the highest in power, and plans to use them to get his way.

Hecate’s plot hinges on steadily, insidiously manipulating Inspector Macbeth:  the head of SWAT and a man already susceptible to violent and paranoid tendencies.

What follows is an unputdownable story of love and guilt, political ambition, and greed for more, exploring the darkest corners of human nature, and the aspirations of the criminal mind.

Macbeth (2018) is translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.

About the author:  Jo Nesbø is one of the world's leading crime writers, which he claims only partly compensates for having a promising soccer career abruptly terminated when he tore ligaments in both knees at the age of eighteen.  After he studied economics and financial analysis, he worked as a stockbroker by day and played with the band Di Derre ('Them There') by night.  When commissioned by a publisher to write a memoir about life on the road with his band, he instead came up with the plot for his first Harry Hole crime novel, The Bat.  His novels are published in 50 languages and have sold over 49 million copies worldwide.

Macbeth was inspired by Shakespeare's original, which Nesbø sees as a 'thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy, noir-like setting and in a dark, paranoid human mind.'

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About the translator:  Don Bartlett completed an MA at UEA, Norwich in 2000.  He has translated, or co-translated, novels by Norwegian authors such as Karl Ove Knausgård, Lars Saabye Christensen and Gunnar Staalesen.

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 18 May 2018

Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse

Paperback:  Spanning almost a hundred years, this rich and evocative true story recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women.  Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China to newly prosperous 1930s Hong Kong and finally to the West. 

Their lives were as dramatic as the times they lived through.

A love of food and a talent for cooking pulled each generation through the most devastating of upheavals.  Helen Tse's grandmother, Lily Kwok, was forced to work as an amah after the violent murder of her father. 

Crossing the ocean to the UK in the 1950s, she eventually opened her own restaurant where her daughter, Mabel, worked from the tender age of nine.  But gambling and the Triads were pervasive in the Chinese immigrant community and they tragically lost the restaurant.

It was up to Helen and her sisters, the third generation of these exceptional women, to re-establish their grandmother's dream.

Sweet Mandarin (2007) shows how the most important inheritance is wisdom, and how recipes - passed down the female line - can be the most valuable heirloom.  It is also a memoir of survival and victories, luck and determination and perpetual mounds of dirty dishes waiting to be washed - a banquet of family stories.

About the author:  Helen Tse MBE (born 1977) is a British author and restaurateur.  Her most noted work has been Sweet Mandarin, a memoir of three generations of Chinese women, beginning with her grandmother, Lily Kwok, establishing themselves in the Manchester area.  Before she became an author and restaurateur, she studied law at Cambridge University and then worked in finance and law for Clifford Chance and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In 2006, she won a Young Accountant of the Year award and in 2008, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Staffordshire University for her "contribution to literature".  Tse is one of three granddaughters of Lily Kwok;  the others are Lisa and Janet.  All three have continued in the hospitality business with Sweet Mandarin, a Chinese restaurant they opened together in 2004 in Manchester's Northern Quarter, where "Lily Kwok's Chicken Curry" remains a menu item.

,In 2007 Helen Tse published a family memoir, also called Sweet Mandarin, about her grandmother's life and career.  In collaboration with Lisa Tse, she has also published cookbooks based on their grandmother's recipes:  Dim Sum: Small Bites Made Easy and Sweet Mandarin Cookbook.

Tse was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to the food and drink sector.

Rating:  4/5

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Out Of Thin Air: A True Story Of Impossible Murder In Iceland (True Crime) by Anthony Adeane

Hardback:  Every Icelander knows about the Gudmundur and Geirfinnur disappearances.

In 1974, in two seemingly unconnected incidents, two men vanished into thin air.

Then, out of it, came six murder confessions and six convictions.

Yet, in the decades that followed, these too would evaporate.

Anthony Adeane tells the stranger-than-fiction true crime story that has dogged Iceland for forty-five years.  In doing so, he provides a comprehensive account of the case, paints a fascinating picture of the country - covering its history, landscape, law, media, domestic politics and geopolitical importance - while placing the increasingly bizarre developments in the contexts that shaped each decade:  from the effects of World War Two, to the Cod Wars and Cold War, the 2008 economic crash and beyond.

Using unprecedented access, and fuelled by a personal obsession with the case, he uncovers the mistakes that were made, the lives that were ruined, the questions that remain unanswered, and the headlines that continue to be printed.

Out Of Thin Air (2018) is at once the shocking story of a miscarriage of justice, a brilliant portrait of a society through the lens of a tragedy, and a compelling true crime narrative.

About the author:  Anthony Adeane is a journalist based in London.  He pitched the idea for a documentary about the Gudmundur and Geirfinnur disappearances to an independent production company in autumn 2014 and then worked with them over the next three years, travelling back and forth to Iceland to conduct interviews with those involved, and to learn more about this fascinating country.

He has since built up a vast network of contacts, including the main suspects, the police who first investigated the disappearances, and the journalists who made their names with this story.

When he is not writing about bizarre Icelandic disappearances, he can be found working at the BBC as a current affairs producer.

Jean Rhys (1890-1979) Novelist

Thank God

Monday, 7 May 2018

Walking by Henry David Thoreau

Paperback:  Walking, or sometimes referred to as "The Wild", is a lecture by Henry David Thoreau first delivered at the Concord Lyceum on 23 April 23 1851.  It was written between 1851 and 1860, but parts were extracted from his earlier journals.  Thoreau read the piece a total of ten times, more than any other of his lectures.

Walking was first published as an essay in the Atlantic Monthly after his death in 1862.  He considered it one of his seminal works, so much so, that he once wrote of the lecture, "I regard this as a sort of introduction to all that I may write hereafter."

Walking is a Transcendental essay in which Thoreau talks about the importance of nature to mankind, and how people cannot survive without nature, physically, mentally, and spiritually, yet we seem to be spending more and more time entrenched by society.  For Thoreau, walking is a self-reflective spiritual act that occurs only when you are away from society, that allows you to learn about who you are, and find other aspects of yourself that have been chipped away by society.

Walking (1862, 2017) is an important canon in the transcendental movement that would lay the foundation for his best known work, Walden.  Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson's Nature, and George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature, it has become one of the most important essays in the Transcendentalist movement. (Wikipedia)

About the author:  Henry David Thoreau was born (1817), died, and lived most of his life in Concord Massachusetts, where the American Revolution against British colonial rule began.  Educated at Harvard, Thoreau was an avid reader - in five languages - of everything from classical literature and Hindu and Chinese philosophy through narratives of travel and early American settlement, to works on the flora and fauna of his native region.  Taking an active part in current political and ethical debates, Thoreau became a courageous, outspoken opponent of federal government policies, such as the expansionist war against Mexico and the refusal of Congress to legislate against southern slavery. Though he loved books about discovery and travel, Thoreau wandered neither frequently nor over a great distance.   Thoreau kept a journal of his thoughts and observations exceeding two million words by the end of his life. He died, in Concord, in 1862.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Lay Down My Sword and Shield by James Lee Burke

Paperback:  Hackberry Holland, cousin of beloved James Lee Burke hero Billy Bob Holland, made his debut in this novel, Lay Down My Sword and Shield, which was originally published in 1971.  Fans can learn about Hack’s colourful history, forged against the backdrop of the civil rights era.

In hot and sultry Texas, Hack, an attorney and Korean War POW, is being pushed by his wife, his brother, and his so-called friends in the oil business to run for political office.  But Hack would prefer to drink, look after his beloved horses, and represent the occasional long-shot pro bono case at his law firm. 

When Hack attempts to overturn a conviction for an old army buddy, he finds himself embroiled in the seamy underbelly of the Texas patronage system - and in the earliest beginnings of the United Farm Workers movement, led by a beautiful woman who speaks to his heart in a way no one else has. As Hack begins to bring justice to the underserved, he finds both a new love and a new purpose.

With his skilful blend of engaging plot lines, compelling characters, and graceful prose, James Lee Burke demonstrates the shimmering clarity of vision that has made him beloved by suspense fans all over the globe.

Lay Down My Sword and Shield is the first instalment in the Hackberry Holland series set in Texas.

About the author:  James Lee Burke is an American author best known for his mysteries, particularly the Dave Robicheaux series.  He has twice received the Edgar Award for Best Novel, for Black Cherry Blues in 1990 and Cimarron Rose in 1998.

Burke was born in Houston, Texas, but grew up on the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast.  He attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the University of Missouri, receiving a BA and MA from the latter.  He has worked at a wide variety of jobs over the years, including working in the oil industry, as a reporter, and as a social worker.  He was Writer in Residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, succeeding his good friend and posthumous Pulitzer Prize winner John Kennedy Toole, and preceding Ernest Gaines in the position.  Shortly before his move to Montana, he taught for several years in the Creative Writing program at Wichita State University in the 1980s.

Burke and his wife, Pearl, split their time between Lolo, Montana, and New Iberia, Louisiana.  Their daughter, Alafair Burke, is also a mystery novelist.

The book that has influenced his life the most is the 1929 family tragedy "The Sound and the Fury" by William Faulkner.

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Walking With Plato: A Philosophical Hike Through The Biritsh Isles (Travelogue) by Gary Hayden

Hardback:  "If one keeps on walking, everything will be alright.”

So said Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard, and so thought philosophy buff Gary Hayden as he set off on Britain's most challenging trek:  to walk from John O'Groats to Land's End.  But it was not all quaint country lanes, picture-postcard villages and cosy bed and breakfasts.

In this humorous, inspiring and delightfully British tale, Gary finds solitude and weary limbs bring him closer to the wisdom of the world's greatest thinkers.

Recalling Rousseau's reverie, Bertrand Russell's misery, Plato's love of beauty and Epicurus' joy in simplicity, Walking with Plato (2016) offers a breath of fresh, country air and clarity for anyone craving an escape from the humdrum of everyday life.

About the author:  Gary Hayden is an English journalist and popular philosopher.  He has written for several publications including The Times Educational Supplement, The Scotsman and Singaporean newspaper The Straits Times.  He is the author of You Kant Make It Up!: Strange Ideas from History's Great Philosophers.  He lives near Tokyo, Japan.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Mountain by Luca D'Andrea

Hardback:  In Luca D'Andrea's atmospheric and brilliant thriller, set in a small mountain community in the majestic Italian Dolomites, an outsider must uncover the truth about a triple murder that has gone unsolved for thirty years.

New York City native Jeremiah Salinger is one half of a hot-shot documentary-making team.  He and his partner, Mike, made a reality show about roadies that skyrocketed them to fame.  But now Salinger's left that all behind, to move with his wife, Annelise, and young daughter, Clara, to the remote part of Italy where Annelise grew up - the Alto Adige.

Nestled in the Dolomites, this breathtaking, rural region that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire remains more Austro than Italian.  Locals speak a strange, ancient dialect - Ladino - and root for Germany (against Italy) in the world cup.  Annelise's small town - Siebenhoch - is close-knit to say the least and does not take kindly to out-of-towners.

When Salinger decides to make a documentary about the mountain rescue group, the mission goes horribly awry, leaving him the only survivor.  He blames himself, and so - it seems - does everyone else in Siebenhoch.  Spiraling into a deep depression, he begins having terrible, recurrent nightmares. Only his little girl Clara can put a smile on his face.

But when he takes Clara to the Bletterbach Gorge - a canyon rich in fossil remains - he accidentally overhears a conversation that gives his life renewed focus. 

In 1985, three students were murdered there, their bodies savaged, limbs severed and strewn by a killer who was never found.  Although Salinger knows this is a tightlipped community, one where he is definitely persona non grata, he becomes obsessed with solving this mystery and is convinced it is all that can keep him sane.  And as Salinger unearths the long kept secrets of this small town, one by one, the terrifying truth is eventually revealed about the horrifying crime that marked an entire village.

Completely engrossing and deeply atmospheric, The Mountain (2017) is a thriller par excellence.

About the author:  Luca D'Andrea was born in 1979 in Bolzano, Italy, where he worked as a teacher for ten years.  The Mountain, his first novel, is being translated into thirty languages. 

About the translator:  Howard Curtis is an award-winning translator of Italian and French literature.

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 13 April 2018

City of Light by Dave Warner

Paperback:  Jesus Christ. I found one.'

These words are blurted over the phone to Constable Snowy Lane, who is preoccupied with no more than a ham sandwich and getting a game with the East Fremantle league side on Saturday.  They signal the beginning of a series of events that are to shake Perth to its foundations.

It is 1979, and Perth is jumping with pub bands and overnight millionaires.  'Mr Gruesome' has just taken another victim.  Snowy's life and career are to be forever changed by the grim deeds of a serial killer, and the dark bloom spreading across the City of Light.

City of Light (1995) is the Joint Winner of the 1996 WA Premier’s Book Award for Fiction and Winner of the Western Australian Premier's Book Award.

Author's Note:  What more perfect a backdrop, then, than crime?  For the tone of the book, I decided to use a similar aspect to that which I had used in my most successful and idiosyncratic songs like Half Time At The Football and Mugs Game, a dark slant of suburban Australia seen through the eyes of an “average” suburban bloke – my hero in the novel, Snowy Lane.

I wrote the manuscript as I toured Australia playing music and setting up karaoke shows in Sydney. The first draft was completed in late 1992.  I sent it to Fremantle Arts Centre Press and heard not a word from them for 6 months.

On the very week I had decided to call and ask for the manuscript back, they sent me a note saying they liked the manuscript but wanted a second draft.  The novel finally saw the light of day in the November of 1995.  Chillingly, the fiction of the novel has since been played out in Perth, albeit 20 years later.  A serial killer struck in the same area and under similar circumstances to what I wrote in City Of Light.

In an even more amazing twist, at one time the head of the police task force into the real killings (unsolved as of May 1998) was Richard Lane, the same name as my detective hero, Richard “Snowy” Lane.

About the author:  Dave Warner is an author, musician and screenwriter.  His first novel City of Light won the Western Australian Premier's Book Award for Fiction and Before It Breaks (2015) the Ned Kelly Award for best Australian crime fiction.  Once nominated by Bob Dylan as his favourite Australian music artist, Dave Warner originally came to national prominence with his gold album Mug's Game.  

In 2017, he released his tenth album When.  He has been named a Western Australian State Living Treasure and has been inducted into the WAMi Rock'n'Roll of Renown.

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Skylight by José Saramago

Paperback:  Lisbon, late 1940s. 

The inhabitants of a faded apartment building are struggling to make ends meet:  Silvio the cobbler and his wife take in a disaffected young lodger;  Dona Lídia, a retired prostitute, is kept by a businessman with a roving eye.  Humble salesman Emilio's Spanish wife is in a permanent rage; beautiful Claudinha's boss lusts for her;  Justina and her womanizer husband live at war with each other.

Poisonous relationships, happy marriages, jealousy, gossip and love - Skylight (2014) brings together all the joy and grief of ordinary people. 

Pilar del Rio, president of José Saramago Foundation writes in the novel's introduction that in 1953, 31-year old José Saramago sent a bundle of typewritten papers to a publishing house for their consideration.  The manuscript was ignored, not returned and lost to time for 36 years. 

When the lost novel was discovered in 1989, the publishing house respectfully asked if they could publish it and Saramago said no, not in his lifetime.  This is because the initial rejection had been so painful that Saramago, while writing poems, journals and essays, would not write another novel for 30 years. 

Meanwhile Saramago would go on to world recognition and would become a 1998 Nobel Prize recipient in literature.  Upon his death in 2010, the wheels were set in motion to publish Skylight, "the book lost and found in time".

José Saramago would become a master of character portrayal and Skylight gives the reader an introduction into the development of stories and characters to come.

Skylight is translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa.

About the author:  José de Sousa Saramago was a Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, playwright and journalist.  He was a member of the Portuguese Communist Party.  His works, some of which can be seen as allegories, commonly present subversive perspectives on historic events, emphasizing the human factor rather than the officially sanctioned story.  Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.  He founded the National Front for the Defense of Culture (Lisbon, 1992) with among others Freitas-Magalhaes.  He lived on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain, where he died in June 2010.

A foundation with his name was established in 2007;  its main aims are cultural promotion, particularly of Portuguese literature and authors.  The José Saramago Foundation is currently based in Casa dos Bicos, a Portuguese landmark building in Lisbon.  Saramago's house in Lanzarote is also open to the public.

José Saramago, together with his wife Pilar, were the subject of the award-winning documentary José e Pilar, providing us with a glimpse into their love story and life, as he was writing his A Viagem do Elefante (The Elephant's Journey (2010)), heralded as "a triumph of language, imagination, and humour". 

Rating:  5/5