Tag Archives: China

Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom by Stephen Gowans

Of all the wars fought in the twentieth century, the one I was least familiar with was the Korean War. Odd, because my father-in-law served in Korea with Canadian Forces. With Baraka Books’ 2018 release of Patriots, Traitors and Empires by Stephen Gowans came my opportunity to learn more about the history of Korea, how it came to be divided into North and South and so on. It also helped me to understand current events, with the remote possibility of the two Koreas uniting, something the Korean peoples have wanted for decades (and the US does not want).

“The Koreans have as little use for an American Korea as they had for a Japanese one. They want a Korean Korea”

In its fourteen chapters, plus an Introduction and Conclusion, Notes and a Bibliography, Mr. Gowans, writing with great clarity, takes us back in history to the Empire of Japan and how it came to have barbaric control of Korea in 1910, enslaving the Korean people and taking the land’s resources for the island Nation. Then, with the exit of the Japanese after their defeat in WWII, came the partitioning of Korea and the entrenchment of the Americans. What came as an eye-opener for me was the number of American troops and bases presently in Korea (at the time of writing of the book in 2018):

There are “not two, but three Koreas,” observed William R. Polk: the DPRK [North Korea], the ROK [South Korea]and US Military Bases. Actually, there is only one Korea and that Polk can point to three (or even two) is emblematic of the power Washington has to create artificial political constructions and an ideology to explain them. There is, in reality, one Korea. But grafted onto the one indivisible country is an illegitimate state, the ROK, (“basically set up” by Washington as Bruce Cumings observes) and roughly two dozen US military bases on which 30,000 service personnel are stationed as an occupation force.

The above is typical of the clear logic Mr. Gowans uses to explain how South Korea is basically a puppet state of the US and the primary reason the US has not left the peninsula (as they agreed to do in 1949; the Soviets did leave as agreed) is because they need its strategic geographic location as a power projection platform in Asia.

My review copy has an abundance of highlights and dog-eared pages, indicative of a fact-filled and scholarly work. A highly recommended read for armchair historians and history scholars alike. Very informative and worth a 5-star rating. Patriots, Traitors and Empires goes on my 2018 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Non-Fiction.

Patriots, Traitors and Empire: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom by Stephen Gowans
Baraka Books

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This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Apron Strings: Navigating Food and Family in France, Italy and China by Jan Wong

Jan Wong is the author of five non-fiction bestsellers, including Out of the Blue and Red China Blues, named one of Time magazine’s top ten non-fiction books of 1996. She has won numerous journalism awards and is now a professor of journalism at St. Thomas University. A third-generation Canadian, Jan is the eldest daughter of a prominent Montreal restaurateur.

“Smart, funny and thoughtful. an utterly delectable read.”

Karen Pinchin, CBC Radio columnist and food writer

Apron Strings (2017 Goose Lane Editions) is a different kind of book. Part memoir, part travelogue and part culinary guide, it will appeal to different readers on different levels. In my case, I didn’t think I would particularly enjoy reading a book about a mother and son travelling to three different countries to see how the “average” person eats and lives, but I was pleasantly surprised how easily Ms Wong drew me into the story. I would say it is 70% memoir, 15% travelogue and 15% culinary guide, with a few recipes thrown in.

“I wanted to learn home cooking. I wanted to know how ordinary folks made dinner, whether in this time-starved world they were still sitting down to dinner with their families.”

The book quickly takes us to France where Ms Wong and her son Sam (who is a cook) get lodgings with a family in the tiny village of Allex in the south of France. There they are introduced to different foods, and methods of obtaining them. They are also surprised that in their journeys, “kitchen equipment was surprisingly crappy”, many cooking with a dinner fork, or an old wooden spatula. Pots were missing lids, knives were dull, and they used the old fashioned type of manual can openers. At breakfast, Ms Wong often found herself alone:

“I would make myself a steaming mug of English tea – I’d carried my favourite King Cole teabags from the Maritimes where the tea is always strong and the people are strong and nice.”

Ms Wong has a very engaging writing style, and humorous at times too. In Italy, she watches as Mirella bakes:

“When you cook, you rely on instincts and experience. When you bake, you measure. You had to sit up straight and pay attention. Thus, I have failed almost everytime I attempted to bake a pie or a cake. Once, my cookies stuck to Teflon!”

I found the travelogue portions most interesting, for I often wonder what day-to-day life is like in other countries. It appears that in France and Italy, most of the time is spent preparing meals: as soon as one meal is enjoyed, it is time to begin preparing the next. The dishes often require many ingredients, and there’s not just one dish or entree, there are several, all requiring a different level of preparation. In China, the nouveau riche in Shanghai hire full-time cooks, so Sam his mother spent much time interacting with them and getting their life stories. This is where the real value of Apron Strings lies, in my opinion. That is why I gave it 4 stars at Goodreads. My only negative comment about Apron Strings is the lack of pictures, either of the people, the food, or the places. Perhaps a companion volume with colour pictures and more recipes is forthcoming?

“What sets it apart is Wong’s nearly-obsessively sharp observational skills, which lead to snippets of wisdom about how culture and politics influence the kitchen.” The Toronto Star

Apron Strings: Navigating Food and family in France, Italy and China by Jan Wong
Goose Lane Editions

The Kindle edition is a real bargain at $5.20!

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved