In My Hands Today…

Partition Voices: Untold British Stories – Kavita Puri

Dotted across homes in Britain are people who were witnesses to one of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. Yet their memory of India’s partition has been shrouded in silence. Kavita Puri’s father was twelve when he found himself one of the millions of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims caught up in the devastating aftermath of a hastily drawn border. For seventy years he remained silent – like so many – about the horrors he had seen.

When her father finally spoke out, opening up a forgotten part of Puri’s family history, she was compelled to seek out the stories of South Asians who were once subjects of the British Raj, and are now British citizens. Determined to preserve these accounts – of the end of Empire and the difficult birth of two nations – here Puri records a series of remarkable first-hand testimonies, as well as those of their children and grandchildren whose lives are shaped by partition’s legacy. With empathy, nuance and humanity, Puri weaves a breathtaking tapestry of human experience over a period of seven decades that trembles with life; an epic of ruptured families and friendships, extraordinary journeys and daring rescue missions that reverberates with pain, loss and compassion.

The division of the Indian subcontinent happened far away, but it is also a very British story. Many of those affected by partition are now part of the fabric of British contemporary life, but their lives continue to be touched by this traumatic event. Partition Voices breaks the silence and confronts the difficult truths at the heart of Britain’s shared history with South Asia.

In My Hands Today…

Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore – Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng, Peter Borschberg and Tan Tai Yong

Assessments of Singapore’s history invariably revolve around Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in 1819. Before this date – we’ve been told – “nothing very much appears to have happened in Singapore”. Pre-1819 Singapore was a sleepy, historically insignificant fishing village, little more than the “occasional resort of pirates”.

This ambitious book, co-written by four of Singapore’s foremost historians, offers an assertive re-evaluation of that view. Drawing on a multi-disciplinary range of archival, textual and cartographical records, as well as the latest archaeological discoveries, the authors cast a singular historical trajectory for Singapore over the past seven centuries, animating its history like never before.

Written in a compelling and accessible manner, and richly illustrated with more than 200 artefacts, photographs, maps, artworks and ephemera, this volume builds upon the foundations of an earlier book, Singapore: A 700-Year History. Extensively rewritten to incorporate ground-breaking research findings, Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore widens the historical lens and offers a vital new perspective on the story of Singapore.

In My Hands Today…

Hard at Work: Life in Singapore – Gerard Sasges and Ng Wen Shi

For most of us, work is a basic daily fact of life. But that simple fact encompasses an incredibly wide range of experiences.

Hard at Work takes readers into the day-to-day work experiences of more than fifty working people in Singapore who hold jobs that run from the ordinary to the unusual: from ice cream vendors, baristas, police officers and funeral directors to academic ghostwriters, temple flower sellers, and Thai disco girl agents.

Through first-person narratives based on detailed interviews, vividly augmented with colour photographs, Hard at Work reminds us of the everyday labour that continually goes on around us, and that every job can reveal something interesting if we just look closely enough. It shows us too the ways inequalities of status and income are felt and internalized in this highly globalized society.

In My Hands Today…

The Shanghai Free Taxi – Frank Langfitt

As any traveler knows, some of the best and most honest conversations take place during car rides. So, when a long-time NPR correspondent wanted to learn more about the real China, he started driving a cab – and discovered a country amid seismic political and economic change.

China – America’s most important competitor – is at a turning point. With economic growth slowing, Chinese people face inequality and uncertainty as their leaders tighten control at home and project power abroad.

In this adventurous, original book, NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt describes how he created a free taxi service–offering rides in exchange for illuminating conversation–to go beyond the headlines and get to know a wide range of colorful, compelling characters representative of the new China. They include folks like “Beer,” a slippery salesman who tries to sell Langfitt a used car; Rocky, a farm boy turned Shanghai lawyer; and Chen, who runs an underground Christian church and moves his family to America in search of a better, freer life.

Blending unforgettable characters, evocative travel writing, and insightful political analysis, The Shanghai Free Taxi is a sharply observed and surprising book that will help readers make sense of the world’s other superpower at this extraordinary moment.

In My Hands Today…

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson’s first travel book, The Lost Continent, was unanimously acclaimed as one of the funniest books in years. In Neither Here nor There he brings his unique brand of humour to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hammerfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to Istanbul on the cusp of Asia. Fluent in, oh, at least one language, he retraces his travels as a student twenty years before.

Whether braving the homicidal motorist of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant, window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn or disputing his hotel bill in Copenhagen, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.