1945: During post-war efforts to bring scientists who worked for the Third Reich into the United States, the US War Department obeys President Truman’s order to exclude scientists who supported Nazism, rather than rewriting candidates’ files to conceal the evidence. The United States and the Soviet Union divide the German scientists with more equality. In particular, the Soviet Union acquires Arthur Rudolf, former operations director of the Mittelwerk factory at the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camps.
January, 1946: Rather than anticipating a post-war crisis of overproduction in the USA, Soviet economists predict that the United States will try to avoid the crisis by maintaining its wartime military industry and trying to open the new Europe and Asia to free trade. Based on their advice, Stalin now views the United States as the chief threat to the Soviet Union, instead of the reemergence of Germany or Japan. Continue reading
Current Affairs: With Pope Gregory V dying, Holy Roman Emperor Otto III seals the Sacred Palace. As Christendom awaits the end of the world, rival Cardinals plot their ascendency to the papacy.
Divergence Point: 974 A.D.: A Christian prophet in Rome introduces toothbrushes, proper sanitation and a form of the underarm deodorant. Continue reading
FLOOD OF FIRE
John Murray, May 2015, RRP $29.99; eBook RRP $16.99
Flood of Fire is the final book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy and concerns the first Opium War, the eventual Chinese defeat, and the seizure of Hong Kong by English forces. Sorry, um, spoilers I guess? It introduces some further new characters in Kesri Singh, the brother of Deeti, Bahram Modi’s widow Shireen, and Neel’s son Raju. We also catch up again with Zachary Reid, who’s had a bad time of it since last we saw him, after taking the fall for events at the end of Sea of Poppies.
RIVER OF SMOKE
John Murray, June 2011, RRP $27.95
The second in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, River of Smoke first takes up some 40 or 50 years after the events of Sea of Poppies, to reveal the ultimate fate of several of the characters. Since the end of the last book left things up in the air*, this choice threw me a bit when I started it. Perhaps I have a tendency to become complacent when reading certain things, so am particularly confused when shown an unexpected curve ball. I wondered if, perhaps, this second book took place entirely at this juncture. Fortunately for my state of mind, the novel does quickly return to the 1830s and the continuing development of the first Opium War.
SEA OF POPPIES
First published 2008
Let me tell you about buying this book. After being provided with a review copy of the third in this Ibis trilogy, I sought the first two books. I initially purchased them from the Book Depository, since despite its purchase by Amazon, it has served me well in the past, and given the size of the books, time was somewhat of the essence. Unfortunately, my order for the second book was cancelled after a few days and I was refunded. The first book, though, was ostensibly sent in early March. By the beginning of April, I had not received it. So I contacted the Book Depository and received a swift refund for that too. And I turned to Booktopia, which delivered both books promptly, albeit in rather strange jaffle-style packaging. Surprise, surprise, John Murray is a trading name of Hachette, with whom Amazon and by extention the Book Depository have been having a well-publicised tiff*.
Book finally in my hands, I expected something of a dour book. Nominated for the Man Booker Prize, Sea of Poppies is firmly targeted at a literary market. I feared it would be a worthy†, possibly depressing novel about serious issues. But while this book is certainly about the slightly serious issue of the first Opium War, it is neither dour nor worthy. In fact it is frequently hilarious.
Blum, William (Common Courage Press, updated edition October 2008, ISBN 978-1567512526)
In 2009, President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” 
Many thought the prize undeserved – on the grounds that Obama appeared too much the enemy of peace. Had he won it, they asked, for prosecuting a war in Afghanistan? Or instead for his proposal to expand the United States military? Or for his plan to send “at least” two additional American combat brigades to Afghanistan? Continue reading
THE FOUR BOOKS
Yan Lianke (Text, 2015) ISBN: 9781922184487, RRP AU$29.99
It’s been a while since I read a book that left me with the single thought, “what the fuck?” Strange as it might sound, I don’t mean this in a negative way. It’s good when a book provokes thought about what just happened and what it all means — to an extent. The Four Books is one such book. Set in a re-educational camp along the banks of the Yellow River during China’s Cultural Revolution, it certainly inspires the questions, “what did I just read? What did the author want me to get from this?” in ways that benefit it. I like the book more now than I did when I finished it, simply by virtue of having given it some consideration.
GOD’S SMUGGLER, THE LAND OF THE KANGAROO, REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE 1990s, others
Brother Andrew, Elizabeth Sherrill, John Sherrill and Pope John XXIII (Chosen Books, 2001, ISBN 9780800793012), Thomas Knox (W. A. Wilde & Company: Boston, 1896, ISBN (reprint) 9781409970385), Peter Townrow and Ron Martin (editors) (Routledge, 2002, ISBN 9780117023659)
A wearisome ancient practice requires the journalist to begin his description of any country or region by describing it as “a land of contradictions”.
The charitable view sees this as the journalist’s admission that he hasn’t comprehended his subject. That he views the disparate facets he’ll go on to describe as contradictions, comprehending too little about the country or region to harmonise them. Continue reading