In My Hands Today…

Watching the Tree – Adeline Yen Mah

Adeline Yen Mah was born in Tianjin, and through the conversations and wisdom of her grandfather and aunt learnt a great deal of traditional Chinese thought, history and religion. Through her father’s second marriage to a Eurasian woman, and their subsequent move to Hong Kong, she learnt more about the Chinese attitudes to business and to family, and the strength of the Chinese in exile.

Since living in London and California, Adeline Yen Mah has studied Chinese thought, looking at both the strengths and weaknesses which it gives those who follow it and now, in ‘Watching the Tree’, she takes us on a journey through the Chinese language, religions and history, using both Chinese proverbs and her own experiences, to bring to us an understanding of the richness of China and the ways that we can take and use some of the wisdom for ourselves in the West.

In My Hands Today…

Orphan of Islam – Alexander Khan

“I’ve told you before, and I will tell you again, if you are unable to read the Holy Book you will be punished.” The teacher’s face was a mask of anger. “Understand?”

Born in 1975 in the UK to a Pakistani father and an English mother, Alexander Khan spent his early years as a Muslim in the north of England. But at the age of three, his family was torn apart when his father took him to Pakistan. Despite his desperate cries, that was the last he saw of his mother – he was told she had walked out and abandoned them; many years later he learned she was told he’d died in a car crash in Pakistan.

Three years on Alex is brought back to England, but kept hidden at all times. His father disappears to Pakistan again, leaving Alex in the care of a stepmother and her cruel brother. And it is then that his troubles really begin. Seen as an outsider by both the white kids and the Pakistani kids, Alex is lost and alone.

When his father dies unexpectedly, Alex is sent back to Pakistan to stay with his ‘family’ and learn to behave like a ‘good Muslim’. Now alone in a strange, hostile country, with nobody to protect him, Alex realises what it is to be truly orphaned. No one would listen. No one would help. And no one cared when he was kidnapped by men from his own family and sent to a fundamentalist Madrassa on the Afghanistan border.

A fascinating and compelling account of a young boy caught between two cultures, this book tells the true story of a child desperately searching for his place in the world; the tale of a boy, lost and alone, trying to find a way to repair a life shattered by the shocking event he witnessed through a crack in the door of a house in an isolated village in Pakistan.

In My Hands Today…

Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child – Noël Riley Fitch

Julia Child became a household name when she entered the lives of millions of Americans through our hearts and kitchens. Yet few know the richly varied private life that lies behind this icon, whose statuesque height and warmly enthused warble have become synonymous with the art of cooking.

In this biography we meet the earthy and outrageous Julia, who, at age eighty-five, remains a complex role model. Fitch, who had access to all of Julia’s private letters and diaries, takes us through her life, from her exuberant youth as a high-spirited California girl to her years at Smith College, where she was at the center of every prank and party. When most of her girlfriends married, Julia volunteered with the OSS in India and China during World War II, and was an integral part of this elite corps. There she met her future husband, the cosmopolitan Paul Child, who introduced her to the glories of art, fine French cuisine, and love. Theirs was a deeply passionate romance and a modern marriage of equals.

Julia began her culinary training only at the age of thirty-seven at the Cordon Bleu. Later she roamed the food markets of Marseilles, Bonn, and Oslo. She invested ten years of learning and experimentation in what would become her first bestselling classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Now, her career is legend, spanning nearly forty years and still going strong. Generations love the humor and trademark aplomb that have made Julia a household name. Resisting fads and narrow, fanatical conventions of health-consciousness, Julia is the quintessential teacher. The perfect gift for food lovers and a romantic biography of a woman modern before her time, this is a truly American life.

In My Hands Today…

Wanderlust: The Amazing Ida Pfeiffer, the First Female Tourist – John van Wyhe

I found no one to accompany me, and was determined to do; so I trusted to fate, and went alone”.

In 1797 in Vienna, Ida Pfeiffer was born into a world that should have been too small for her dreams. The daughter of an Austrian merchant, she made clear from an early age that she would not be bound by convention, dressing in boys’ clothing and playing sports. After her tutor introduced her to stories of faraway lands, she became determined to see the world first-hand. This determination led to a lifetime of travel —much of it alone — and made her one of the most famous women of the nineteenth century.

Pfeiffer faced many obstacles, not least expectations of her gender. She was a typical nineteenth century housewife with a husband and two sons. She was not wealthy nor well connected. Yet after the death of her husband, and once her sons were grown and settled, at the age of forty-one she set off on her first journey, not telling anyone the true extent of her travel plans. Between that trip and her death in 1858, she would barely pause for breath, circling the globe twice—the first woman to do so—and publishing numerous popular books about her travels. Usually traveling solo, Pfeiffer faced storms at sea, trackless deserts, plague, malaria, earthquakes, robbers, murderers, and other risks.

In Wanderlust, John Van Wyhe tells Pfeiffer’s story, with generous excerpts from her published accounts, tell of her involvement with spies, international intrigue, and more. The result is a compelling portrait of the remarkable life of a pioneer unjustly forgotten.

In My Hands Today…

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary – Simon Winchester

The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history.

The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand.

When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.