From Sara's list on to read when visiting Russia.
5 authors have picked their favorite books about penal colonies and why they recommend each book.
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From Sara's list on to read when visiting Russia.
Sara Wheeler is a prize-winning non-fiction author. Sara is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Contributing Editor of The Literary Review, a Trustee of The London Library, and former chair of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award. She contributes to a wide range of publications in the UK and US and broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio. Her five-part series, ‘To Strive, To Seek’, went out on Radio 4, and her book Cherry was made into a television film.
With the writers of the Golden Age as her guides – Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gogol and Turgenev, among others – Wheeler travels across eight time zones, from rinsed north-western beetroot fields and far-eastern Arctic tundra to the cauldron of ethnic soup that is the Caucasus. She follows nineteenth-century footsteps to make connections between then and now: between the places where flashing-epauletted Lermontov died in the aromatic air of Pyatigorsk, and sheaves of corn still stand like soldiers on a blazing afternoon, just like in Gogol’s stories. On the Trans-Siberian railway in winter she crunches across snowy platforms to buy dried fish from babushki, and in summer she sails the Black Sea where dolphins leapt in front of violet Abkhazian peaks. She also spends months in fourth-floor 1950s apartments, watching television with her hosts, her new friends bent over devices and moaning about Ukraine.
From Ken's list on living unusual, adventurous or alternative lives.
I thought I’d finish my list with something a little different. Everyone else in the books I’ve chosen made some kind of personal decision to take their life in a different direction, but the people in this last book didn’t. The Fatal Shore is about the earliest convicts, banished to Australia to start new lives in unfamiliar, hostile territory. The first chapter alone is fascinating, documenting peoples from a ‘civilised’ part of the world struggling for survival while aboriginal ‘savages’ thrived. It’s more than just a story of survival in a new world, but also a fantastic example of where we went wrong, turning our backs and our noses up to indigenous knowledge in the assumption that we know best. This book is a brilliant example of where Western civilisation went wrong, and how dangerous assumptions can be.
From a young age, I was not only curious but obsessively driven to find some sort of purpose in life. I was also incredibly sensitive, and always felt I was put on the earth for a reason. My search took me across the world, taking many turns as I grabbed at every opportunity. Thanks to a motorbike accident in Nigeria, scattered pieces of my past suddenly began to fall into place. Finding our own purpose is exploration in its purest form, and I’ve long been fascinated by other curious minds – those that either struggle to find it, and those that find it and live it, or those that turn their back on convention.
How far would you go to find your purpose in life? Come on the unlikeliest of journeys as we follow one man's relentless search for purpose. Join him as he seeks answers in the African bush, the forests of Finland, and everywhere in between, surviving pirate attacks, near-drownings, and close encounters with lions along the way. Discover how a late-night motorcycle accident in Nigeria led to the creation of a text messaging system that would go on to benefit tens of millions of people around the world, and how a global pandemic helped uncover an incredible family history, and with it the answers to a life purpose that had laid hidden in plain sight all along.
From Peter's list on the history of Australia.
Tom is an old mate, and a magician with words. He is also a prodigious researcher. Books: yes. The bibliography in The Commonwealth of Thieves runs to seven tight-packed pages, divided between primary sources (three pages) and secondary sources. The bibliography is underpinned by no fewer than 27 pages of notes. The Australian history I was taught at school was hogwash. Tom has set it straight in this brilliantly researched and off-the-wall history of our early days.
I’ve now written four books, of which three are Australian history. My first two books were World War 2 military history. My publishers persist in calling each book a best-seller, and who am I to disagree? I live in France and my third book A Good Place To Hide is about a French community that rescued Jews from the Nazis. My fourth book Ten Rogues took me back to Australian history, telling the story of a bunch of ten convicts who in 1834 nicked a brig and sailed it from Tasmania to Chile without a map or a compass.
The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile. From the grim docks of nineteenth-century London to the even grimmer shores of the brutal penal colony of Norfolk Island, this is a roller-coaster tale. It has everything: defiance of authority, treachery, piracy and mutiny, escape from the hangman's noose and even love. Peopled with good men, buffoons, incompetents and larrikin convicts of the highest order, Ten Rogues is an unexpected and wickedly entertaining story from the great annals of Australia's colonial history.
From Nick's list on the concentration camps in Xinjiang.
Byler’s concise book is a vital read because it foregrounds the experiences of people detained in the camps, stories that overlap and cohere into a raw portrait of systematic brutality and dehumanising routines. Into these are woven an account of the digital surveillance technologies that underpin the network of detention, many of which are not unique to China, the difference between its use of them and many Western countries’ being only a matter of scale. The book also offers an important section on the increasing role of forced labour in Xinjiang, emphasising the need for greater scrutiny and accountability of supply chains that potentially rely on goods and labour from the region.
I was living in Xinjiang on 9/11 and got to witness the swiftness with which the state imposed strict regulations that harmed the Uyghur community. For me, this was an indelible lesson in the abuses of power and authority on people who just wanted to work, raise families, and enjoy their lives. Since then I’ve tried to raise awareness, first in my memoir, The Tree That Bleeds, then in my journalism. I hope my work helps people think about how to respond as both politically engaged citizens and consumers to one of the worst human rights violations of the 21st century.
My book is an introduction to the politics, history, and culture of Xinjiang, which I wrote as a corrective to the then-prevailing notion of the region as a turbulent, volatile place beset by Islamist terrorism. It argues that since 9/11 the Chinese government has been promoting an alarmist narrative for which there’s little support, an idea it has used as an excuse to inflict draconian policies on the Muslim peoples of the region.
It was also important to me to give a sense of Xinjiang as a place, and to present some of the ways in which Uyghurs and other Muslim peoples have tried to find ways to adapt to discrimination against their language, religion, culture, and right to work. Ultimately, the book’s main message is that the current policies of the Chinese government – mass internment, indoctrination, and intimidation – demonstrate that they regard the existence of Uyghur identity as an existential threat.
From Victoria's list on Australia (to read before you visit).
With such a shocking start, it is a wonder that Australia ever developed into the wonderful, successful country that it is now.
I’m Victoria Twead, the New York Times bestselling author of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools and the Old Fools series. However, after living in a remote mountain village in Spain for eleven years, and owning probably the most dangerous cockerel in Europe, we migrated to Australia to watch our new granddaughters thrive amongst kangaroos and koalas. We love Australia, it is our home now. Another joyous life-chapter has begun.
Imagine a true story that unfolds in the harshness of Australia’s outback, beginning in 1957 and spanning decades. Imagine Dulcie’s battle to keep her family and animals alive in spite of bushfires, floods, cyclones, droughts, dingo attacks and terrible accidents.
The story of Dulcie Clarke, a simple pineapple farmer’s wife, has so many twists and turns that it will leave you gasping.
From Jackson's list on swear words in the title.
Jackson Ford is the author of The Frost Files series, including The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind and Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air. He may or may not be the alter ego of author Rob Boffard, a South African author based in Vancouver, but he is definitely 100% a jackass.
Teagan Frost is having a hard time keeping it together. Sure, she's got telekinetic powers - a skill that the government is all too happy to make use of, sending her on secret break-in missions that no ordinary human could carry out. But all she really wants to do is kick back, have a beer, and pretend she's normal for once.
But then a body turns up at the site of her last job -- murdered in a way that only someone like Teagan could have pulled off. She's got 24 hours to clear her name. If she can't unravel the conspiracy in time, her hometown of Los Angeles will be in the crosshairs of an underground battle that's on the brink of exploding.
From Tahir's list on or set within Morocco.
This book haunts me in a way that almost no other published work does. It’s like one of those movies we all have on a secret list – that we adore but can’t bear to ever watch again (like the Killing Fields or Fight Club). A memoir of almost unparalleled beauty and horror, it tells the true-life tale of the daughter of General Oufkir, who was put to death for attempted regicide. Malika and her five siblings were imprisoned for fifteen years in a penal colony, from where they mounted a daring escape.
Tahir Shah has spent his professional life searching for the hidden underbelly of lands through which he travels. In doing so he often uncovers layers of life that most other writers hardly even realise exist. With a world-wide following, Tahir’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages, in hundreds of editions. His documentaries have been screened on National Geographic TV, The History Channel, Channel 4, and in cinemas the world over. The son of the writer and thinker Idries Shah, Tahir was born into a prominent Anglo-Afghan family, and seeks to bridge East with West through his work.
The wise fool of Oriental folklore, Nasrudin is known across a vast swathe of the globe – from Morocco in the west, to Indonesia in the east. Appearing under different names and in all manner of guises, he’s universally admired for his back-to-front brand of genius – so much so that at least a dozen countries insist he was one of them. Tahir Shah explores this figure while examining his life, his travel, and his thoughts.
From Bryan's list on with impossible escapes.
This is such a compelling book because you are rooting for the protagonist so much. His situation is so tragic and unfair that you’re in a constant state of anticipation. Will he succeed? Will things get better? He’s facing tremendous odds, and his chances of success are miniscule and everyone loves a good underdog story.
Frankie Percival is cashing in her chips. To save her brother from financial ruin, Frankie, a stage performer who never made it big, agrees to be assassinated on the most popular television show on the planet: Death Warrant. But once she signs her life away, her memory is wiped clean of the agreement, leaving her with no idea she will soon be killed in spectacular fashion for global entertainment. After years of working in low-rent theaters, Frankie prepares for the biggest performance of her life that could catapult her to the top, if only she lives that long.
From Rebecca's list on by women that sweep you to another time and place.
This book was my introduction to Australian literature. I loved its eloquent evocation of a world totally new and mysterious to its characters. Although I was vaguely familiar with Australia’s penal colony past and with the destruction wrought on Aboriginal lives and culture, this book brought it home. I deeply appreciated the way it took me into the minds of men and women, most of them well-meaning but ignorant, and showed me how they missed the point of where they were and how to thrive there. The tragedy of that ignorance resonates with me, since I see it all around the world.
I’ve loved fairytales, myths, and history since childhood. After graduating with honors in Russian and Chinese history, I’ve been researching and writing for decades. My work ranges from educational materials to award-winning nonfiction books for children on the theme of heroism. I’ve traveled the world, partly for research, but mostly out of a passion for discovery. My last nonfiction work was a book about women writers. I also penned a historical trilogy that started out as one book, plotted out when I was eighteen. It grew. And, returning full circle to my first loves, my most recent book for children is a traditional Buddhist tale from ancient India.
The Grip of God is the first in an epic historical trilogy set in the thirteenth century. Princess Sofia of Kievan Rus is captured by a young captain in the invading Mongol armies. Her life is shattered and put at the mercy of a mysterious prophecy; pursued by her master’s bitter rival, his half-brother; and haunted by the attentions of Mongol prince Batu Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson.
How will Sofia survive in a world of total war, much less rediscover the love she once took for granted? Always longing to escape and stalked by outer enemies and inner turmoil, where can she find a haven even if she can break free? Clear-eyed, kind, and courageous, she will find her own way.