Lessons from the Kafeneon

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Alex Christofi’s Cypria is a remarkable book about a beautiful island that has lain in the path of every Mediterranean storm. The ancients coveted Cyprus for its copper and olive oil. The British, who relinquished Cyprus in 1960, retain their military bases there, along with their antennae in the mountains to eavesdrop on Russian vessels […]

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Tale of Two Chinas

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In this excellent and timely book, Sulmaan Wasif Khan unpeels the decades of paranoia and misunderstanding that have led to the current Taiwan imbroglio. He re-examines diplomats’ and national leaders’ choices over the last eighty years, describing how a combination of great events, happenstance and ill-informed decisions has made Taiwan the conflict zone it is […]

Soldiers, Pilgrims & Brigands

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Mobility can feel like a modern marvel. We missed it during the pandemic. Now it’s back. Received opinion laments its effects: it exhausts our bodies and the planet. Being mobile still seems so cutting edge, though. Who in past ages could travel so far or so fast? Which generation of yore could see the world […]

Democracy Derailed

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In 2014, the financial journalist Clare Hammond left her desk in Hong Kong to fly to Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in Myanmar (formerly Burma) to seek work as an investigative reporter. The suppression of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement was being extensively covered by others. Hammond, British and just twenty-six, sensed that events in Myanmar were […]

Rule & Divide

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In India, the world’s largest election is underway, with almost one billion people eligible to vote. Narendra Modi is expected to win a third term in a row as prime minister. Observers from around the world have raised concerns about a severe decline in democratic standards in India during his rule. Two chief ministers of […]

Do Not Come

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Speaking in Guatemala during a three-day trip to Central America in June 2021, America’s vice president, Kamala Harris, delivered a stark message to those planning to risk the dangerous journey to the US–Mexican border. ‘Do not come,’ she told them bluntly. ‘Do not come.’ During his tenure as president, Donald Trump called those who’d migrated […]

Apartheid in the Family

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In my primary school in South Africa, history was taught by rote and through dates that catalogued the stages of the white capture of the country. First up was 1652, when Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape. Next was 1691, when Simon van der Stel was proclaimed governor of Cape Colony. The next two […]

Land Where Allegories are Banned

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Why would anyone want to destroy a highly successful, freewheeling society? Nobody familiar with the recent history of Hong Kong can avoid that question. After a century and a half of British colonial rule, Hong Kong had achieved a surprisingly high degree of liberty by the late 1990s, a situation made all the more surprising […]

Hail to the Generalissimo

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Among the many curious features of American conservatism, one of the oddest is the enthusiasm for European autocrats and strongmen, up to and including Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán. Putin’s fan club includes ex-president Donald Trump, while Orbán is much admired by Ron DeSantis, whose avowed ambition is to turn Florida, of which he is […]

New Delhi Confidential

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In September last year, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said he had credible information about Indian state involvement in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian-based campaigner for an independent Sikh state. Nijjar had been shot dead in his pickup truck outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia. ‘Absurd,’ said India in an […]

Meth Comes to Myanmar

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In the late 1990s a wave of pink methamphetamine pills washed through the illegal drug markets of Southeast Asia. The pills, the journalist Patrick Winn tells us, smelled faintly of vanilla and were stamped with the letters WY. They were a cut above the average meth pill – sturdier and more resistant to flame. When […]

Comedian Who Got Serious

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As someone who has to consume quite a lot of Russian media, I can tell you that if there is one common denominator, it’s that whether we’re talking about a shouty TV news programme (less Newsnight, more a kind of geopolitical Jeremy Kyle Show), a stodgy government newspaper of record or a racy tabloid, no […]

The Light of Asia: A History of Western Fascination with the East

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

A recurring sketch in the BBC comedy show Goodness Gracious Me, on television a quarter of a century ago now, involves Sanjeev Bhaskar clad in the robes, long hair and long beard that mark out a purveyor of the timeless wisdom of the East. Surrounded by a circle of earnest Western admirers, he spouts repurposed pop-culture […]

Mona Lisa of Pyongyang

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The title of this book might lead readers to expect a biographical study of Kim Yo Jong, the 36-year-old sister of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader. The book in fact offers only the barest of biographical detail, however. In the opening chapter, Sung-Yoon Lee states that the focus of his work will be Kim […]

Sultans Old & New

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The sometimes-fraught question ‘Where are you really from?’ raises no eyebrows in Istanbul. As Alexander Christie-Miller points out, almost everyone there is from somewhere else, and long has been. The Roman emperor who founded Constantinople in AD 330 was born in Serbia and proclaimed emperor in York. The Turks who seized the city more than […]

The Prophet & the Pretenders

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Barnaby Rogerson’s new book has come along at precisely the right time. The House Divided, a vast history of the Sunni–Shia divide, is a balanced, sweeping, hugely ambitious work that delves into the long and tangled roots of the modern Middle East. Rogerson examines both what divides Sunni, followers of the ‘way’ of Muhammad, and […]

Among the Pirates of the Grasslands

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

We are used to seeing the Balkans as a metaphor for atomisation and complexity, but the Balkans are nothing compared to the Caucasus: home to thirty or so groups, each with its own ethnic, linguistic and religious identity, all with different ambitions and all resisting or succumbing to the encroachments of great powers. In this […]

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A Mercedes in Every Garage

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The philosopher Karl Jaspers was dismissed from his university post by the Nazis in 1937 but refused to leave Germany, even though he had a Jewish wife. In 1946 he lectured at Heidelberg University on ‘German guilt’. Frank Trentmann introduces those lectures with a vignette of Jaspers at the end of the war: ‘In March […]

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Beijing’s Number One Pushkin Expert

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Who is Xi Jinping? Now seventy, he has served as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 2012 and state president since 2013. He is the second most powerful – or the perhaps most powerful – person in the world. One of his edicts can affect a quarter of humanity and there is […]

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