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Mr. N. Foale "electronic word" (Devon, UK)

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by Jonathan Raban
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Lost in the souk, 17 Feb 2010
This review is from: Arabia (Paperback)
The author only stares at Saudi Arabia from a plane window. That is a bridge too far for this book. However his journeys - including in the U.A.E., Jordan, and poor-relation Yemen - tell a universal tale of people balancing traditional and modern values. In particular he describes how the region has managed its oil wealth. His meditations on Arabian labyrinthine architecture suggest that you blink away the mirage of Arabia in your head, take a meander, feel the reality of the dry desert sand in your nostrils instead.

Read this book if:

- you have travelled to Arabia and recently suffered an attack of xenophobia (its not easy to be an economic underclass after all)

- you've watched too much Western TV / read too many Western newspapers of late

- you're back from Arabia and can't sus what it was all about

In conclusion this book is as relevant today as when it was written, and no doubt will remain so (at the very least) until the oil stops flowing.

The Tree Where Man Was Born (Penguin nature classics)
The Tree Where Man Was Born (Penguin nature classics)
by Peter Matthiessen
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mighty Baobab, mighty book, 17 Feb 2010
The "tree where man was born" is the ancient baobab, the thick-trunked 'upside down' tree (as if its roots spread out from its top). This arboreal oddity saw our oddity of a species descend from the branches and out onto the African plains.

This book will bounce you over Africa's washboard roads. It describes Africa's broad 360-degree panoramas, the intimacies of its wildlife, and its crazy locals (of all colours). Matthiesson is naturalist poet and this book is as beautiful to read as it is informative. More than any other it evokes the spirit of Sub-Saharan Africa.

I still have my paperback that I read on on the road from Nairobi down to South Africa. Since then I have also since picked up a hardback copy which entwines Eliot Porter's equally resonant "African Experience" photography. Definitely, though, pack the paperback in your rucksack should you set off to discover, or to rediscover, Africa.

P.S. Africa fans will also love Africa: A Biography of the Continent and Congo Journey

America's Boy: The Marcoses and the Philippines
America's Boy: The Marcoses and the Philippines
by James Hamilton-Paterson
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for the Filophile, 17 Feb 2010
As Brits we'd do well to read and reflect upon this book. After all both Britain and The Philippines have a so-called 'Special Relationship' with Uncle Sam. Britain first seeded then ceded The States who in turn turned The Philippines into a base for their South East Asian neo-Imperialist project. After WWII America poured huge amounts of money into both Britain and The Philippines. Marcos, more than previous or subsequent Philippine Presidents and perhaps more than our own Prime Ministers (think Thatcher, think Blair), had to use wile to make the most of an unequal relationship, and to extract the most he could from America.

I read this book while in The Philippines and it got me up to speed on the country's background most effectively. The writer has a flexible mind, and transcends the pat Western commentaries of this singular nation & singular man. He points out that central control is impossible in The Philippines and that Manila is as foreign to the far flung islands as are Hong Kong or Singapore. Perhaps even Britain is on a parallel track with its own devolution.

If, like me, America's Boy helps you to become a Filophile you may well (again, like me) want to read everything he's written. If so you won't be disappointed. If you read this book you may well be drawn to the 'wacky' Philippines, and it will certainly take you deeper inside the Pinoy world than your Lonely Planet ever will.

Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man's Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Ge
Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man's Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Ge
by Sven Lindqvist
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read in a day, improve your attitude in a day, 8 Feb 2010
Quite Eurocentric - but then we are trailblazers of mass murder aren't we? A short and disturbing read, it shows you the depth and danger of our tribal intolerance. Just remember its not just Europeans/Westerners slaughtering others; never has been.

As a Brit it was fascinating to learn the nastiness of Stanley's expeditions, of Darwin's 2-faced part in Western racist thought, and of the imperialism to which Joseph Conrad and H.G. Wells responded.

I read it in half a day. Its a pacy fusion of travelogue, history, and comment. I'd snap up any book by this author.

Ghosts of Manila
Ghosts of Manila
by James Hamilton-Paterson
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dame Edna and J.G.Ballard say o-o, 21 Jan 2010
This review is from: Ghosts of Manila (Hardcover)
Botswana has Alexander McCall Smith; the Philippines have James Hamilton-Paterson. So while Botswana gets cloying candy floss the fortunate Philippines get a 5 course banquet:

Canapes: Seven-tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds

Starter: Playing with Water: Passion and Solitude on a Philippine Island (Twentieth Century Lives)

Main: America's Boy

Dessert: Ghosts of Manila

Cheese Board: Loving Monsters

For decades James Hamilton-Paterson has sojourned in, studied, and lionised the Philippines. He has drunk much cheap Filipino gin around flickering lanterns with poor fishermen, he has internalised their worries.

If you've been to Manila then do read Ghosts Of Manila. It shows you the daily struggles of proud but poor squatter camp inhabitants, counterposed with their rich dead neighbours over the wall in the Chinese Cemetery - and the corrupt, corrupting city beyond. It also takes you variously inside the minds of: wayward Westerners sweltering in the city heat, a cop the least of whose worries is the grid-locked traffic, a priest hacking a moral trail through Roman Catholicism and Philippine social strife.

As the South China Sea quaffs the pollution burnished sun and you are tempted by dusk-time street barbecue aromas, you might peer down an alley curving into the darkness and wonder what people's lives are like down there - but sensibly not go. From page one this book grabs your arm and pulls you in.

As a taster here's Scenes 1-4 of my action screenplay adapted from the novel:



All Filipinos:

Sonny married to Josie

Manny & Spain: Sonny's buddies

Caesar & Boy - a lowlife & his batman respectively.

Nathan - a hood


Manila airport, skirted by a high wall. To one side is the wide open space of the runways, to the other the tightly packed shanty town. Planes taxi, take off and land. Screaming engines.

Zoom in to a patch of waste ground some way beyond the shanty. Here an oil drum is suspended from a harness. There is a lock-up. Two men (Caesar & Boy) in shorts, sandals, bare-chested sit at a plastic table.

A car (station wagon?) pulls up with a skid. A well dressed man (Nathan) gets out.

Nathan walks over to Caesar and says 'Pare' and shakes his hand.

Caesar grunts and shakes.

Nathan motion with his lip at his car's trunk.

Caesar: 'More?'

Nathan 'o-o'

The 2 low-life get up, remove a corpse from the trunk & manhandle it into the drum. Boy lights sticks under the oil drum.

Nathan; 'Have you one ready?'

Caesar nods: 'Now?'

Nathan: 'o-o. Medical college.'

The 2 low-life open the lockup and bring out a skeleton.

Boy: 'OK for the students?'

Nathan walks in a circle around the skeleton, surveying it.

Nathan: 'Wrap it.'


Outside the hospital. A sign says 'Mary of Mercy Medical Centre'. There is a McDonalds or Starbucks (etc) in prime position. Cabs come and go.

Nathan's car pulls up and Nathan gets out with his wrapped skeleton. A woman, Josie, passes him on her way out of the hospital. We see her walk through the cabs and out onto the jammed highway. She jumps into the back of a jeepney.


Aerial shot. We see the Chinese Cemetery, empty of people. Over a high barbed wired wall again we see a closely packed shanty town. By the wall Josie jumps out of a trike & walks the short distance to a shack with 3 men sat asleep outside around a table. The table is full of empty San Mig Pale and gin bottles.

Josie looks at the men with contempt. Then she kicks one of the chairs. Man and chair fall over.

Josie: 'Wake up Sonny!'

Sonny: 'Josie?'

Josie: 'So, where is my breakfast?'


Josie: 'I have worked a long night. I must sleep. Merienda. Noon. Make it so!'

Sonny: 'Night Josie'

Sonny scratches his head as Josie disappears into the shack. He picks himself up and kicks another chair. Again man (Manny) & chair fall to the ground. Still Manny sleeps.

Sonny grabs a bottle from the table, slips though a gap in the cemetery wall, and returns. He pours a bottle of water over Manny's face.

Sonny: 'Manny, wake up.'

Manny: 'Wha...?'

Sonny: 'Josie! Merienda'

Manny: 'The usual'

Sonny: 'No Mozarella'

Manny looks across at the still sleeping man (Spain).

Manny: 'Spain?'

Sonny: 'Leave him. This is no job for boys. Josie is serious this morning.'

They get into Manny's beaten up cab.


A traffic jammed street. Pedestrians walking to work. Manny's cab crawls in the traffic.

Manny: 'There'

Sonny slaps away Manny's pointing finger.

Sonny: 'Hindi chihuahua. Josie is on the war path. I told you'

They approach another woman walking a small fluffy dog.

Sonny: 'There! Shiatsu! That side street'

Sonny points. Carlos pulls the cab in next to a junction off to a side street.

Manny: 'Now!'

Sonny jumps out, runs and bundles the shiatsu into his t-shirt. He dashes back to the rear of the cab but can't get the rear door open. Finally scrambles back into his seat with the dog.

Sonny: 'When will you fix your sucking doors Manny!"'

Manny: 'Soooory' laughs and roars away down the side-street. But they get stuck behind a blacked out 4X4. The now hysterical woman is chasing them. Manny beeps his horn. In the nick of time the 4X4 pulls into the side of the road. Mannys's cab escapes & takes another 2 quick turns into the maze of back alleys.

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