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P. Kaye (Brussels, Belgium)

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Malta and Gozo (Bradt Travel Guides)
Malta and Gozo (Bradt Travel Guides)
by Juliet Rix
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A superlative guide to Malta, 20 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The best guide I could find to Malta, by a distance. Written with a clear and deep appreciation of the country, it enriched my brief time there immensely. Lots of detail. This is how guidebooks should be.

Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader
Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader
by Michael Breen
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some insights but ultimately disappointing, 10 Aug. 2004
Breen is a lively writer and has plenty of first-hand experience of North Korea, but this book is ultimately disappointing. He offers some interesting anecdotes and useful insights, but too often veers into flippant parody. The result is a patchy read - good for newcomers such as me as a primer for more serious works, but frustrating, I imagine, for anyone with more knowledge.
I get the strong impression this is a rushed-through attempt to cash in on the increased global attention being given to North Korea, rather than a considered study by a seasoned Korea-watcher. Indeed, Breen does say he had approached the publisher with a different project. This impression of hasty opportunism is magnified by some very sloppy editing - there are several typos, bad spelling mistakes and ambiguous and confusing sentences.
The chapters feel disjointed, especially toward the end of the book. One of them is devoted to a series of stories of suffering in the North Korean gulags. Harrowing, and very valuable in itself, but Breen makes no attempt to show how this illuminates Kim Jong-il's character. It feels like it's been dashed off quickly and stuffed in as an afterthought.
Some of the anecdotes relating the author's personal experiences are weak, and feel like they've been included to indulge Breen's sense of himself as an intrepid explorer of a closed country. They're in there not because they're instructive, but because they happened to him.
He has only "met" Kim twice (and then as one of a group of journalists) - not enough contact with the subject, I would have thought, to write convincingly on him. (Though I do appreciate that Kim is probably the last man on earth you could persuade to allow access to foreign biographers, so in the meantime perhaps any contact at all is impressive.)
And in the end it's his analysis of Kim that lets the book down. After a promising build-up that paints a quite favourable picture of an arts-loving "positive-active" politician quite aware of the deep hypocrisy inherent in his role as object of cult worship, he doesn't fully explain why Jong-il can't change his country's course for the better.
He suggests it is the structure of the state itself, rather than Kim, that is evil. But he fails to show why Jong-il cannot change that structure, or explain which parts of the state hierarchy would resist it. The idea that such a ruthless and absolute dictator is constrained to act radically needs more exploration.
Finally, the book promises to broach three questions: Who Kim is, what he wants, and what we should about him. I was eagerly awaiting a comprehensive answer the last of these three, but when it comes, right at the end of the book, it covers barely a page. I think the author has become too caught up in his fascination with Kim's personality to think long and clearly about a strategy to deal with him.

Ukrainian (Lonely Planet Phrasebook)
Ukrainian (Lonely Planet Phrasebook)
by James C. Dingley
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still gets five stars, 4 Jun. 2003
I've just come back from a wonderful few days in Ukraine and the evaluation is still the same: 5 stars.
But I have one comment - if you're going out there yourself, make sure you take a Russian phrasebook too, because that's the majority language, not Ukrainian.
The author's claim that Ukrainian is the native tongue of the vast majority of the country is misleading and may be the wishful thinking of a proud patriot in exile .
I spent the first few days in Kyiv frustrated that I hadn't bought the LP Russian phrasebook as well. I just got bemused looks when I tried out the Ukrainian phrases, and even a couple of people asking me tersely to speak Russian. Weirdly, all the public signs are in Ukrainian, so I found myself understanding these but unable to fathom conversations on the metro.
Things got better when I headed out west to Lviv and the Carpathians, where Ukrainian predominates. But I was put off from my original plan of going down to the Crimea and Odessa because apparently it's almost entirely Russian-speaking and I wasn't prepared. I wish Mr Pavlyshyn had given me at least a clue about that before I left.
The fact that the book is useful only for the western corner of the country makes me even more amazed (and pleased) that LP would publish it. I gave the book away to a friendly Ukrainian sharing the compartment on my final train trip back to Kyiv, knowing I wouldn't need it there. I'll be ordering another copy, but with the Russian one too this time.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2012 9:34 PM GMT

Ukrainian (Lonely Planet Phrasebook)
Ukrainian (Lonely Planet Phrasebook)
by James C. Dingley
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The only one around!, 3 Mar. 2003
The new generation of Lonely Planet phrase books published over the last few years are truly excellent. The first one I had was on Latin American Spanish; I thought then that it was the best phrase book I'd ever used. The grammar section especially is more than just cursory and in fact provides as much as you'd probably need to know to learn the language properly.
So I was delighted to discover that the only Ukrainian phrase book on Amazon (and so presumably the market) is a new LP guide. And it seems to be equally good. It has sections on things I'm interested in (hiking, environment, culture, photography) instead of the interminable lists of consumer goods produced by Berlitz, which seems to think all tourists do is shop for souvenirs.
It also has those interesting and vital boxes adding cultural background to words and the language in general. And the explanation of perfective and imperfective verbs (common to other Slavic languages) has the best clarity/concision ratio I've seen. Other phrase books don't even go into these things.
Of course I haven't actually used it yet, so who knows, I may end up telling people in Kyiv that my hovercraft is full of eels.
Some quibbles: the grammar section includes conjugations of key verbs, but inexplicably omits the essential verb "to go". It is introduced later in the book, however. Also, since Ukrainian is written in Cyrillic, it's important to learn this alphabet. But the Ukrainian words and phrases are always introduced with their Latin alphabet transliteration first, before the Cyrillic spelling. This discourages (though only slightly) the reader from getting to know the alphabet by figuring out the pronunciation of the Cyrillic first and then checking with the transliteration. Lastly, in the acknowledgements the publisher thanks the cover artist for her "innovate" illustration. I can't for the life of me see what's innovative about it. It's just a pleasant picture. There's no need to exaggerate.
But these are minor points. For producing such an excellent book, and having the courage to do it for what is still an obscure language (in tourist volume terms) it should get five stars.

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