What are you reading? – 31 May 2018

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

May 31, 2018
Source: istock

Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor, University of Birmingham, is reading Christopher Goscha’s The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam (Allen Lane, 2016). “As Vietnam seeks to emulate China in seeking a communist-lite path to prosperity, and as tourists luxuriate where troops brutally fought, so the visceral power of Vietnam’s history fades. It should not. Its complex state-making, its multiple colonialisms and wars of staggering brutality have lessons that demand to be heard. Moreover, to understand Vietnam is to understand much of what has made and remade global history over a millennium, and the legacies we now confront. Goscha’s history is remarkable not simply for its breadth and the depth of its scholarship, but also for the subtlety of its sympathies, its refusal to seek analytical solace in reductionism and the powerful clarity of its prose.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Southampton Solent University, is reading Sarah Winman’s When God Was a Rabbit (Headline, 2011). “What does it take for you to be able to start again? When Elly and her family relocate to Cornwall, they leave behind an unspeakable pain and Elly’s best friend, Jenny Penny. But for Elly and her brother Joe, some things can’t be left behind, no matter how far they run or how hard they try to forget. Described by its author as a love story between a brother and a sister, this is a captivating and tender exploration of what it means truly to share your life with someone – to be known and loved despite everything. By turns lyrical, lighthearted and devastating, with the right amount of magic, the vividly drawn characters resonate with the frailties, foibles and strengths of a family, broadly defined, choosing to face the world together.”

Lincoln Allison, emeritus reader in politics, University of Warwick, is reading Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood (translated by Jay Rubin; Vintage, 2003). “Murakami is internationally the best-known contemporary Japanese novelist, and Norwegian Wood is the book that made it so. He is also a contemporary of mine, so this is the obvious novel for me to read in Japan. It’s about a student, Toru Watanabe, in the late 1960s, who is torn between a depressive girl he has known since childhood and some easier routes to happiness. Those who criticise Murakami’s work generally do so on the grounds that he is a ‘popular’ rather than a ‘serious’ novelist (Dickens?) or that he is insufficiently Japanese: the title is taken from a Beatles song. I can only say that I am a stern test for novels as I finish very few. But I found this gripping and atmospheric, and it offered an insight into the Japanese of my generation. I will read Murakami again.”

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