Those Twinings cans may be decorative, but the history of their contents is not always so pretty, even as it makes for an...

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THE EMPIRE OF TEA

THE REMARKABLE HISTORY OF THE PLANT THAT TOOK OVER THE WORLD

Somewhat stiff but unfailingly informative history of tea, from the widow and son of a tea planter.

Though the Macfarlanes’ prose cannot be said to be as liquid as its subject (“The idea of adding a leaf to boiling water, however, is not a very obvious one, and certainly not an option open to the monkeys . . . that first consumed tea”), the story of tea can’t help but fascinate due to the sheer scope of its influence. Tea played a critical role in the evolution of Japanese porcelain and British ceramics; it fueled the expansion of the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution, keeping workers alert beyond the toil and drudgery. It both soothes and invigorates, and its medicinal properties are little short of miraculous: antiseptic and antibacterial, tea “lowers cholesterol levels, reduces blood pressure, helps strengthen the walls of arteries, and consequently reduces the level of strokes and heart disease.” It may inhibit cancer and diabetes; the simple boiling of its water helped free humans of waterborne disease. What really captures the reader’s attention, though, is the authors’ description of the tea plantation, palatial for the managers, squalid and miserable for the workers, from the early colonial farms in Assam to contemporary tea plantations. (The Macfarlanes concentrate on India, though circumstances can't be much different in Sri Lanka, Java, or China.) Tea pickers are mostly women, harvesting approximately 3,000 shoots an hour, “co-ordinated into a reaching-plucking-and-depositing set of movements every second or less for many hours a day, six days a week.” They also reap boredom, rotten pay, occasional rape by employers, and the opportunity to be held in contempt by their colonial masters, who once described Indians, for example, as “chilarky . . . a word that covered lying, cheating and a general (innate, of course) inability to resist being saucily devious.”

Those Twinings cans may be decorative, but the history of their contents is not always so pretty, even as it makes for an absorbing read. (14 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: April 12, 2004

ISBN: 1-58567-493-1

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2004

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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