For readers who share Gargan’s fascination with the region, an excellent travelogue.

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THE RIVER’S TALE

A YEAR ON THE MEKONG

A colorful and closely detailed account of travels along Southeast Asia’s contested lifeline, from former New York Times correspondent Gargan (China’s Fate, 1990).

Aiming for a more primal Asian experience than he’d experienced as a foreign bureau chief, Gargan planned a yearlong voyage combining scholarship, passion, and adventurous exploration on the Mekong River, which propelled him through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Chinese-occupied Tibet. He depicts vast cultural differences and bitter political squabbles among these nations, bound together only geographically by the Mekong. Everywhere Gargan finds the unhealthy aftertaste of colonialism: “Whether the French, or the Americans who followed them, it was the foreign presence that had largely underpinned the course of events in 20th-century Southeast Asia, mostly for the worse.” Wisely keeping his journalistic eye trained on the human aspects of his journey, the author describes encounters with a variety of Asian citizens, from Tibetan master potters and Buddhist monks to rogues who pilot battered vessels, all of whom are pleased to practice their English on him. These conversations reveal resigned acceptance of authoritarian regimes incongruously combined with enthusiasm for European tourism and American pop culture. Although Gargan’s narrative meanders almost as slowly as his actual voyage, it accrues power as he travels through successive countries, assessing the harsh costs of war and kleptocracy. In Cambodia, for example, he finds the social destruction wrought by genocide lingering beneath the surface of optimistic recovery, while a popular nightclub in Saigon patterned after the film Apocalypse Now demonstrates that the Vietnamese remain dominated by the conflict they supposedly “won.” Elsewhere, the author’s portraits of impoverished rural Chinese and Tibetans chafing under the central Communist government’s Kafkaesque privations are extremely affecting, as is his journey through xenophobic, still-isolated Laos.

For readers who share Gargan’s fascination with the region, an excellent travelogue.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-40584-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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