Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spice Wars, Opium Wars, Slave Traders: the Past is Still Present

A recent story on the BBC about Afo, the mother clove tree in Indonesia that survived Dutch 'extirpation', rounded out a number of stories about the early days of European exploration and trade development and exploitation that I have found compelling and thought provoking.  Barry Unsworth, who died 5 June 2012, wrote Sacred Hunger, for which he won the Booker Prize in 1992.  Sacred Hunger is a journey through the Atlantic Slave Trade, from the building of a slave ship to picking up and delivering the 'cargo' to the destruction of the slave ship.  The characters are not stereotypes, the tension and drama is palpable on every page.  This exploration of greed, selfishness, moral and philosophical blindness in the name of 'sacred hunger'...the profit a cautionary tale for our times.

Four other books on the general theme of Europeans displacing Arabs in controlling the spice and slave trades, are The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, Kalimantaan by C.S Godshalk (a terrible piece of fiction, but fascinating story of a real-life person/situation), and Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke.

All of the authors mentioned above spent quality and quantity time and energy researching these topics:  the reader has no excuse for ignorance!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Another triumph for Toni Morrison

HomeHome by Toni Morrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Toni Morrison has done it again:  think The Bluest Eye and Beloved...this little book is as powerful, beautiful, horrific, and painful as both of those.  It is hurtful and healing. The appalling violence on so many levels, the damage done to people:  it is all there, told in an unforgettable voice and language to die for.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Land Grabs in Africa

The Chinese are making resource and land grabs in Africa and South America (I have pointed this out in previous posts).  Adding insult to injury, investors from various parts of the world looking for places to park their money have chosen, in this case, Mozambique.  Dan Charles, an NPR reporter, did a two-part story on this topic.  Part One was on 14 June and Part Two on 15 June.  Here is a quotation regarding from those who are concerned about this:
"This spring, 750 Wall Street types crowded into New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for a conference on investing in global agriculture. Philippe de Laperouse, managing director of HighQuest Partners, which organized the event, says those investors started out just looking for a safe haven for their money. But with food demand up and future production uncertain, many of them have caught the scent of future profits.
Many development NGOs and advocacy organizations have sounded an alarm about this surge of private money. (Here are critical reports from GRAIN, Oxfam, the Oakland Institute and even that paragon of mainstream thinking, the World Bank.) Many of them call it a global "land grab."

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Snap Judgement, a very interesting show hosted by Glynn Washington, is a program of stories, usually grouped around a theme.  This last week the theme was "Apocolypse...the end of the world as we know it".  These themes are often not what they appear to be and the stories can be intensely personal or more general.  One of the storytellers on this show was a poet, Gypsee Yo (Jonida Beqo), who emigrated from Albania.  Her story, in the form of a poem, was about two boys in her childhood whose personal violence stemmed from the horrors of the communist era in Albania. Jonida Bego has published collections of poetry in English and audio collections in Albanian.  For many years, Albania was as isolated as North Korea.  I have written about Albania twice before (1 October 2008 and 21 September 2010) and referred to it in a larger literary context on 23 October 2008.