In My Hands Today…

Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism – Rajiv Malhotra

India is more than a nation state. It is also a unique civilization with philosophies and cosmologies that are markedly distinct from the dominant culture of our times – the West. India’s spiritual traditions spring from dharma which has no exact equivalent in western frameworks. Unfortunately, in the rush to celebrate the growing popularity of India on the world stage, its civilizational matrix is being digested into western universalism, thereby diluting its distinctiveness and potential.

This book addresses the challenge of direct and honest engagement on differences, by reversing the gaze, repositioning India from being the observed to the observer and looking at the West from the dharmic point of view. In doing so it challenges many hitherto unexamined beliefs that both sides hold about themselves and each other. It highlights that unique historical revelations are the basis for western religions, as opposed to dharma’s emphasis on self-realization in the body here and now. It describes the integral unity that underpins dharma’s metaphysics and contrasts this with western thought and history as a synthetic unity. The west’s anxiety over difference and fixation for order runs in contrast with the creative role of chaos in dharma. The book critiques fashionable reductive translations and argues for preserving certain non-translatable words of Sanskrit. It concludes with a rebuttal against western claims of universalism and recommends a multi-civilizational worldview.

The discussions and debate within the book employ the venerable tradition of purva-paksha, an ancient dharmic technique where a debater must first authentically understand in the opponent’s perspective, test the merits of that point of view and only then engage in debate using his own position. Purva-paksha encourages individuals to become truly knowledgeable about all perspectives, to approach the other side with respect and to forego the desire to simply win the contest. Purva-paksha also demands that all sides be willing to embrace the shifts in thinking, disruptive and controversial as they may be, that emerge from such a dialectical process.

In My Hands Today…

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag – Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Rigoulot

Amid escalating nuclear tensions, Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s other leaders have kept a tight grasp on their one-party state, quashing any nascent opposition movements and sending all suspected dissidents to its brutal concentration camps for “re-education.”

Kang Chol-Hwan is the first survivor of one of these camps to escape and tell his story to the world, documenting the extreme conditions in these gulags and providing a personal insight into life in North Korea. Sent to the notorious labor camp Yodok when he was nine years old, Kang observed frequent public executions and endured forced labor and near-starvation rations for ten years. In 1992, he escaped to South Korea, where he found God and now advocates for human rights in North Korea.

Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this book brings together unassailable firsthand experience, setting one young man’s personal suffering in the wider context of modern history, giving eyewitness proof to the abuses perpetrated by the North Korean regime.

In My Hands Today…

The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History – Aida Edemariam

A hundred years ago, a girl was born in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar. Before she was ten years old, Yetemegnu was married to a man two decades her senior, an ambitious poet-priest. Over the next century, her world changed beyond recognition.

She witnessed Fascist invasion and occupation, Allied bombardment and exile from her city, the ascent and fall of Emperor Haile Selassie, revolution and civil war. She endured all these things alongside parenthood, widowhood and the death of children.

Aida Edemariam retells her grandmother’s stories of a childhood surrounded by proud priests and soldiers, of her husband’s imprisonment, of her fight for justice – all of it played out against an ancient cycle of festivals and the rhythms of the seasons.

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…

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt

Shots rang out in Savannah’s grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares.

John Berendt’s sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.

It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman’s Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the “soul of pampered self-absorption”; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.