Books I Like

My latest read recommendations and reviews:

Travels with Charley
John Steinbeck

For those who are always desperate to be elsewhere.

Steinbeck disects what it feels like to travel, rather than to be a tourist. What it is to meet people in their real lives, see new places that might be much like many others you have seen – but are new. He writes in the early 1960s from across America, but the feelings are timeless and will strike a cord with any traveller of today – whether stuck in a Hong Kong one-bed flat or a Javanese jail – those who cannot escape will enjoy remembering just how it feels with Steinbeck.

His views are strong; his chapter on segregation in the deep south is a spectacular dissection. He is a joy to read.

Malayan Spymaster
Boris Hembry

Boris Hembry would say he fell into a life for which he was perfectly suited. Dependable, determined, driven and really rather fun by the sounds of it – Hembry was quickly climbing the corporate Rubber Planting ladder when the outbreak of war changed the direction of his contribution to the world. From his initial role as part of the “Stay at home’ party, leading an escape from occupied Malaya, to spying on Japanese posts in Burma through ingenious (but somewhat misdirected) means, Hembry contributed widely in Asia to the war effort. His tales of everyday life are equally as riveting to those of us limeys now living in the region.

Pick it up, enjoy it, hope to carry just some of the determination and optimism back with you when the cover is closed.

Jasvinder Sanghera

You’ll read this book in one or two sittings and you will cry. This is a true story of Jasvinder’s life and the lives of other young women who would often rather commit suicide than shame their family.

Jas was born and raised in Derby to high-caste Sikh parents who had emigrated from the Punjab. She saw each of her older sisters be casually shown a photo of the similar caste man from the Punjab that they would marry. When she was fifteen, she was shown her photo; she did not want to marry the man, she wanted to take A-levels. Her mother beat her, locked the doors to the house, and would not allow her out of the house alone. She escaped, aged sixteen, days before she was due to travel to India, with a friend’s brother whom she never loved, but who saved her from a life quite possibly filled with abuse and violence in the name of honour.

For years Jas called, and her family would hang up as soon as they knew it was her. She was dead to her mother, who only allowed Jas to re-enter her life on her deathbed, and even then refused to let Jas’s sisters know that she was seeing Jas. The shame of a daughter who had refused an arranged marriage and escaped, of not being the model Asian woman, could never be forgiven by her mother or her sisters, many of whom who still refuse to talk to her today.

Jas is the co-founder of Karma Nirvana, a Derby based project that saves south Asian women who suffer honour crimes and domestic violence from a life that they don’t want and that may see them dead. It helps them to find a life that they can live.

Their stories and Jas’s, told through incredible narrative, are unimaginable. One unbelievable incident in her life is often interrupted by one yet more horrendous. You will be aghast when you finish this book.

A Banker to the Poor
Muhammad Yunus

Disillusioned with the top-down policies he was lecturing at Chittagong University, Yunus began to implement bottom-up economic policies in Jobra, the village closest to Campus in an attempt to combat the Bangladeshi famine of 1976.

He realised that lending a widow 22 cents could remove her and her children from a cycle of debt, poverty and hunger. The Grameen (Village) Bank, and similar establishments in over a hundred other countries now provide micro-credit to the poorest, those who have no land, with no collateral and achieve repayment ratios in excess of 98%. The initiatives work on the contrary view to standard international development teachings that to alleviate world poverty requires absolutely no training of the poor, merely the supply of micro-capital for them to become self-employed.

Yunus ends by outlining his vision of socially responsible companies that are non-loss making but judged on their social benefits, rather than shareholder profits, in a dialogue sometimes reminiscent of Che’s “The Motorcycle Diaries”.

It is an electrifying and motivating must-read.

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