In this month’s picks the story of the return of an American prisoner of the North Korean War intersects with a North Korean woman’s harrowing escape from the modern day regime to Canada. These stories reveal the devastating power of struggles that have gone unnoticed; voices unheard that are starting to confront the residual traumas that affect the present day.
30-second ancient China : the 50 most important achievements of a timeless civilization, each explained in half a minute / editor, Yijie Zhuang ; contributors, Qin Cao [and others].
“In the West, the story of Ancient China is less familiar to us than that of Ancient Egypt or Rome, but it is no less absorbing, and its rollcall of achievements is easily as impressive. [...] 30-Second Ancient China becomes the perfect introduction to one of the great ancient civilizations.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
The crime and the silence : confronting the massacre of Jews in wartime Jedwabne / Anna Bikont ; translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles.
“A monumental work of nonfiction on a wartime atrocity, its sixty-year denial, and the impact of its truth Jan Gross’s hugely controversial Neighbors was a historian’s disclosure of the events in the small Polish town of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941, when the citizens rounded up the Jewish population and burned them alive in a barn. The massacre was a shocking secret that had been suppressed for more than sixty years, and it provoked the most important public debate in Poland since 1989.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
The war came home with him : a daughter’s memoir / Catherine Madison.
“During his years as a POW in North Korea, “Doc” Boysen endured hardships he never intended to pass along, especially to his family. Men who refused to eat starved; his children would clean their plates. Men who were weak died; his children would develop character. They would also learn to fear their father, the hero. In a memoir at once harrowing and painfully poignant, Catherine Madison tells the stories of two survivors of one man’s war: a father who withstood a prison camp’s unspeakable inhumanity and a daughter who withstood the residual cruelty that came home with him.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
The hidden people of North Korea : everyday life in the hermit kingdom / Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh.
“Drawing on decades of experience, noted experts Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh explore a world few outsiders can imagine. In vivid detail, the authors describe how the secretive and authoritarian government of Kim Jong-un shapes every aspect of its citizens’ lives, how the command socialist economy has utterly failed, and how ordinary individuals struggle to survive through small-scale capitalism.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Katrina : after the flood / Gary Rivlin. Katrina: After the Flood
“Ten years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana–on August 29, 2005–journalist Gary Rivlin traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm’s lasting effects not just on the city’s geography and infrastructure–but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation’s great cities.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Afghan modern : the history of a global nation / Robert D. Crews.
“Rugged, remote, riven by tribal rivalries and religious violence, Afghanistan seems to many a country frozen in time and forsaken by the world. Afghan Modern presents a bold challenge to these misperceptions, revealing how Afghans, over the course of their history, have engaged and connected with a wider world and come to share in our modern globalized age. Always a mobile people, Afghan travelers, traders, pilgrims, scholars, and artists have ventured abroad for centuries, their cosmopolitan sensibilities providing a compass for navigating a constantly changing world.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Stars between the Sun and Moon : one woman’s life in North Korea and escape to freedom / Lucia Jang and Susan McClelland.
“Born in the 1970s, Lucia Jang grew up in a common, rural North Korean household–her parents worked hard, she bowed to a photo of Kim Il-Sung every night, and the family scraped by on rationed rice and a small garden. However, there is nothing common about Jang. [...] With so few accounts by North Korean women and those from its rural areas, Jang’s fascinating memoir helps us understand the lives of those many others who have no way to make their voices known.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Sapiens : a brief history of humankind / Yuval Noah Harari.
“One hundred thousand years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. [...] How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come? In Sapiens, Professor Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical–and sometimes devastating–breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural, and Scientific Revolutions.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Rywka’s diary : the writings of a Jewish girl from the Lodz Ghetto, found at Auschwitz in 1945 and published seventy years later / Rywka Lipszyc ; edited by Anita Friedman ; translated from the Polish by Malgorzata Markoff ; with annotations by Ewa Wiatr.
“Moving and illuminating, told by a brave young girl whose strong and charismatic voice speaks for millions, Rywka’s Diary is an extraordinary addition to the history of the Holocaust and World War II.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
The crossing : my journey to the shattered heart of Syria / Samar Yazbek ; translated by Nashwa Gowanlock and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp.
“Samar Yazbek was well known in her native Syria as a writer and a journalist but, in 2011, she fell foul of the Assad regime and was forced to flee. Since then, determined to bear witness to the suffering of her people, she bravely revisited her homeland by squeezing through a hole in the fence on the Turkish border. From the first innocent demonstrations for democracy, through the beginnings of the Free Syrian Army, to the arrival of ISIS, she offers remarkable snapshots of soldiers, children, ordinary men and women simply trying to stay alive…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)