Author Archive > sunmeilan

Love and War in Vietnam

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The Lotus Eaters By Tatjana Soli, book reviewHelen Adams is a photographic journalist living and working in Vietnam during the War. We join her towards the end of her stay there and find out that she was in a relationship with a well-known photographer called Sam Darrow, whom she accompanied to war zones with the aim of photographing the horrors of the war. However, Sam died and Helen became involved with his assistant, a Vietnamese man called Linh. The story of how Helen came to be in Vietnam and met Sam and then Linh is slowly revealed. By the time of her meeting with Linh, it becomes clear that her time in Vietnam is nearly up. But having been in the country for ten years, will she even be able to leave? If she does, will Linh go with her? If she doesn’t leave, will the increasingly dangerous situations in which she finds herself be the end of her?

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The Philosophy of Serial Killers

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Serial Killers: Being and Killing (Paperback) Edited by S. Waller, Series edited by Fritz Allhoff, Foreword by John M. Doris, book reviewSerial Killers: Being and Killing is part of a series published by Wiley-Blackwell that concentrates on providing a general view of philosophy for those (including this author) who are not experts in the area. Other books in the series concentrate on everyday life issues, including beer, cannabis, porn, cycling and Christmas, amongst others. Serial Killers is probably the most serious subject out of all of them, but it is nevertheless not as hard a read as some people may expect – it really will be quite comprehensible to most people, with only a few complicated terms, such as phenomenology, thrown in every now and again. The book as a whole deals with the reasons behind serial killing: why serial killers behave in the way that they do and how they are viewed by the public. The question of whether serial killers can ever be moral is raised, as is the question of whether we can learn anything from a serial killer’s behaviour.


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Terrible Twins

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Shadow Sister by Simone van der Vlugt, book reviewLydia loves her job as a teacher in an inner city college in Rotterdam, until she is threatened by a student with a knife in front of the rest of her class. The student is suspended, but he still pops up everywhere, threatening her at every available opportunity. She seeks solace from her husband, daughter and twin sister, Elisa, but she still feels very unsettled. Then Elisa’s story begins and it skips forward a few days, explaining that Lydia was shot dead. The obvious suspect is the student with the knife, but he has an alibi, and anyway, where would he have got the gun? As the story unravels, it is clear that there is much more to Lydia’s life than perhaps even she realised. The list of suspects begins to grow and Elisa, determined to find out who murdered her twin, puts herself in danger more than once.

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This is No Sugar Coated Tale

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The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, book reviewIt is London in the 1870s and it is common practice for all men who can afford it to head for a high-class prostitute when they can. One of these prostitutes is Sugar, who has the added benefit of doing things that other girls generally won’t do. William Rackham, the heir of Rackham Perfumeries, hears of Sugar and seeks her out. Thrilled by what he finds, he moves Sugar into her own lodgings, for which he pays, so that he can ensure Sugar is his and his alone. Sugar, a clever, street-wise teenager, soon finds a way to establish herself in Rackham’s own home, as a governess to his daughter, Sophie.

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A Journalist Abroad

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Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi By (author) Geoff DyerAlthough the title of the book, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, a play on Thomas Mann’s famous Death in Venice, may appear to be one single title, it isn’t – there are two separate novellas in the book. Jeff in Venice is about a middle-aged journalist called Jeff who goes to Venice for the Biennale (a contemporary art exhibition). He is there to cover the Biennale and to interview the wife of a famous artist, but he manages to find plenty to do to entertain himself as well. As well as the huge number of parties that he has access to, he meets a beautiful American woman called Laura, with who he takes drugs and lots of sex. Will he manage to do the job that he has come to do and will the relationship with Laura go anywhere?


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Home is Where the Heart is

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The Lonely Tree By Yael PolitisTonia Shulman should be a happy-go-lucky teenager, with very few cares. Instead, living in British-mandate Palestine with her Jewish family, she is forced to see things that a teenager shouldn’t see and to live her life on a kibbutz near Jerusalem which has very few amenities. Her father, Josef has a dream of helping to establish a Jewish state and the kibbutz they live on, Kfar Etzion, is the beginning of that dream. Tonia, however, has other dreams. She wants to go to the US and is determined to do so at any cost, even if that means leaving the love of her life, Amos, and the rest of her family behind. Will her dreams ever come to fruition, or will she remain with her family to become bitter and twisted? And will Amos ever forgive her for wanting to leave him?


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Hunting the Devil

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Devil in a Blue Dress (Serpent's Tail Classics) By Walter MosleyEasy Rawlins is living in 1940’s Los Angeles. A war veteran, he has just been given the sack and, with mortgage payments to meet, he is terrified that he is going lose his house. Then his friend, Joppy, steps in with a suggestion. If Easy helps a man called Mr Albright find a woman called Daphne, Albright will cover Easy’s mortgage payment for the next month. It sounds simple enough and, after an initial foray into the illegal bar scene of Los Angeles, he manages to track Daphne down – or at least can give Mr Albright an address where he can find her. This proves to be just the start, however, and before Easy knows it, he is in the middle of a murder investigation and the theft of a large sum of money, and the police think that he is responsible.


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Travelling around India

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India in Slow Motion By Mark Tully, By Gillian WrightMark Tully wrote this book with his partner, Gillian, although his is the only name on the front cover of the version I have. Tully was born in India, but educated in the UK. He then returned to South Asia as a journalist with the BBC. He later left the BBC and became a journalist in New Delhi, working with Gillian, a translator. He has written two other books on India, also with Gillian.

The book is a description of one of Tully’s journeys around India, investigating a number of issues related to India’s governance. During their journey, they meet a number of men and occasionally women who are trying to contribute, in their individual ways, to the smoother running of the country. These issues include politics, economics, religion and culture, such as child labour in the Indian rug-making industry, corruption, Kashmir and the IT industry.

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Gothic Whitby

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The Hundred and Ninety-nine Steps By (author) Michel FaberSian has recently joined an archaeological dig in Whitby. Troubled by horrifying nightmares after an accident in Bosnia that left her badly injured, she is trying to get by one day at a time, while trying to forget about the pain in her leg that she believes could be cancer. When she meets Mack and his gorgeous dog, Hadrian, she feels a flash of life return to her again; even more so when Mack presents her with a centuries old murder mystery that she feels compelled to solve. She also hopes that the fact that she can do something so satisfying will bring her closer to Mack. Will she be successful? Will she forge a new relationship with Mack – or are her deep-rooted issues too great to overcome?

Set in Whitby around the Abbey, there is a very Gothic theme to the book, backed up by the numerous references to Dracula. This is perfect for a murder mystery, because it sets the scene perfectly.


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Hilary Spurling talks to Curious Book Fans

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Pearl Buck (1892-1973) was the first person to make China accessible to the West. She recreated the lives of ordinary Chinese people in “The Good Earth“, an overnight worldwide bestseller in 1932, later a blockbuster movie. “The Good Earth” still sells around 10,000 copies in the UK every year. Buck went on to become the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

Pearl Buck
Pearl Buck

The biography of Pearl Buck has been published by Profile Books on April 1st, 2010. Apart from reviewing the book “Burying the Bones – Pearl Buck in China” we were curious to hear a little bit more from Hilary Spurling, the author of this extraordinary biography.

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The Life and Times of Pearl S Buck

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Burying The Bones: Pearl Buck in China By Hilary SpurlingPearl Buck was born to missionary parents in America, but the family moved to Zhenjiang in China while she was still very small and Pearl grew up bilingual – in many ways, she was more Chinese than English. Her father, Absalom Sydenstricker, was a determined man and although his beliefs were frequently rejected by the Chinese, he forged ahead with his teachings. Carie, his wife, supported him as best she could, although they often argued over what was best for the children. Pearl grew up into a determined young woman herself, who also became a missionary, although her views were much less forthright. Marrying John Lossing Buck, an agricultural missionary, she lived through one of the most violent periods of unrest in Chinese history, until finally forced to move to the US permanently in 1935.

Apart from the fact that her experience of China and the Chinese people at that time was second to none, her main claim to fame is that she was an author, using her storytelling skills to educate the West about the ordinary Chinese people. Her most famous book, The Good Earth, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and she was later awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

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Part heroic, part self-absorption

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Random Acts of Heroic Love By Danny ScheinmannLeo Deakin, who has been travelling in South America, wakes up in hospital to find out that his beloved girlfriend, Eleni, died in the same coach crash in which he was injured. Devastated, he arranges for her body to be flown home to her native Greece, but her loss forces him to fall into a deep depression and he pushes his family and friends away. 75 years earlier, Moritz Daniecki is in Siberia, after surviving the Great War, and is desperately trying to make his way to his home in Poland to find the love of his life, Lotte. Yet the conditions suggest that he will never finish his journey. Will Leo eventually get over the grief of Eleni’s death? Will Moritz ever be reunited with his love? And do Leo and Moritz have more in common that being separated from the loves of their life?

Romance is not a genre that I enjoy, but in this case, the historical aspect of Moritz’s story appealed to me.


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