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The Global Soul

Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home by Pico Iyer

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The world is very connected now. Not just in the digital sense, but also in the physical sense. Someone boarding a plane right now in Cheyenne, Wyoming could be in Kuala Lumpur in under 30 hours. Looking around at the other passengers boarding, our traveller departing Wyoming may see many folks leaving for holidays, with more travelling for work. Some of those people, though, would be travelling on one way tickets, uprooting themselves and moving around the globe for a new life. The International Organisation for Migration estimates that over 3% of the world’s population are migrants, 214 million people living in countries not their own.

Global Souls are voluntary migrants, not forced to leave by strife, disaster or economic imperative. “A person like me can’t really call himself an exile (who traditionally looked back to a home now lost), or an expatriate (who’s generally posted abroad for a living); I’m not really a nomad (whose patterns are guided by the seasons and tradition); and I’ve never been subject to the refugee’s violent disruptions,” explains Iyer in his book, The Global Soul: Jet-Lag, Shopping Malls and The Search for Home. The people, who are “best characterized by the fact of falling between all categories,” Iyer calls Global Souls.

Pico Iyer is a man without a home, Indian by descent, British by birth, spending time jetting between England and California as a boy and living in Japan. In India, where he looks like the locals, he can’t speak the language. In England, where he sounds like a local, he looks foreign. In Japan, where he lives, he doesn’t fit in at all. “The only home that any Global Soul can find these days is, it seems, in the midst of the alien and the indecipherable,” Iyer says.

To examine these Global Souls, Iyer sets out on a jet setting trip across the world. Forced out of his parent’s California home by a forest fire, Iyer comes across a family of Mexican migrants, living unseen in an upper-middle class neighbourhood of Los Angeles. The contrast between the journey and experience of the family of economic migrants and Iyer’s own migrant journey sets the stage to explain the Global Soul.

From there, Iyer globe hops, examining the lives of Global Souls like himself. A Chapter on Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) looks at the moment of transition, and the hopes and dreams those migrating have of their new home. Hong Kong sets the stage for an examination of what this merging and mixing of cultures is doing to our sense of place and sense of self. Toronto, my former home and a city that prides itself on being multicultural, allows Iyer to question our sense of national identity. I found myself reflected in many of the people that Iyer meets along these chapters. They are people who are displaced, but somehow find some comfort in that displacement. Like fuzzy signals on a slightly mistuned radio, Global Souls are comfortable in being slightly out of tune with their surroundings.

A chapter on Atlanta, home to global brands Coca-Cola and CNN, allows Iyer to examine what global culture means. This is where the ten year old book starts to feel dated. Written in the late 1990s and published in 2000, I couldn’t help but feel that so much has happened since then to change our view of the wider world. Written before the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, which marked the mainstream awareness of the growing anti-globalisation movement, a movement further strengthened by the recession of 2008 to the present, I wondered what the Global Soul would make of the international brands now. What impact did September 11th, and the follow on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have on voluntary migrants views of the world, or even the experience of LAX? Technology plays a big part in the lives of many of the Global Souls in the book, allowing them to live abroad but stay connected. However, much of the tech seems positively quaint now, and I couldn’t help but wonder if high speed internet, special interest forums and social media were making us more globally connected or less. Does living in another country, but still interacting daily with your friends back in your home country make us more globally minded, or just physically distance but still locally connected? Though the chapter seems dated, at least it does raise some interesting questions to contemplate.

Iyer returns to his place of birth, England, to examine the immigrant experience there. Can a migrant, or even second and third generation immigrants, ever fit in, or are their forever doomed to feel somewhat displaced. Finally Iyer examines his own place of residence, a rural village in Japan. The final two chapters, where Iyer examines his birth home of England and current home of Japan are unfocused, and the head of steam that the book had gained in the early chapters, with observations building upon each other, seems to disperse without resolution.

However, the early chapters contain more than enough to get a Global Soul thinking about their existence, and those that live abroad or enjoy being in the company the foreign should find some interesting personal insights in the book. It could be the perfect book to keep a new migrant occupied on a flight from Cheyenne to Kuala Lumpur.

Find this book on Amazon: The Global Soul: Jet-Lag, Shopping Malls and the Search for Home

Posted by GregW 01:57 Tagged books Comments (0)

Outwitting the Gestapo

By Lucie Aubrac

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This year witnessed the 70th anniversary of the Fall of France, the event which signalled German invasion and an end to the so-called Phoney War. However, this year also witnessed the same anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's 'Appeal of June 18', where he ignited "La Flamme de la Résistance". Calling for a continuation of the war in France, against the armistice being prepared by the French government, this appeal by de Gaulle signalled a major step in the history of the resistance in France.

First published in 1984, Lucie Aubrac’s memoires Outwitting the Gestapo detail her involvement in the resistance in and around Lyon, from May 1943 to February 1944. The wife of resistance leader Raymond Aubrac, Lucie was heavily involved in the activities of the resistance, including the daring rescue of her own husband from the clutches of the Gestapo. These activities also led to numerous meetings, under false pretences, with the "Butcher of Lyon" himself, Klaus Barbie.

Aside from the humble heroism and determination illustrated by Lucie in these events, what makes this account a particularly engrossing read is the personable and sometimes poetic style in which it is written. Despite all the desperate struggles which the family and their friends find themselves in, there is a deep romanticism from the author, displaying an honest passion towards France, everyday people, and the notions of liberty and free will. The perspective of a woman in the resistance is also rewarding, as Lucie demonstrates both her feminist and maternal aspects, the latter highlighted by the fact that she is pregnant for the nine months that the book covers.

This account, although the view of just one resistor over a set period of time, embodies in it the heart of the resistance. It is a call to remember all those who played their part, whether it is Raymond Aubrac as a leader, a shop owner, or the families that help conceal resistors when they are in hiding. As the memories of the 40s begin to fade, perhaps now it is more important than ever to pick up a book such as this and remind ourselves of why we can travel through Europe in relative peace, and of the contribution to this made by the participants and supporters of the French Resistance.

Find this book on Amazon: Outwitting the Gestapo

Posted by Craggy 14:14 Archived in France Tagged books Comments (0)

Letters From My Windmill

By Alphonse Daudet

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"Letters From My Windmill" is my favourite travel campanion. I have had this book for years, and brought it on countless solitary trips, and could never bear to finish it.

Alphonse Daudet was a well known writer in his time, now over shadowed by time; and retreat into the lesser known French writers category. A native of Nimes in Provence; he had an immense love of the Provence countryside where he spent a happy childhood. This work is almost an auto biography where he described his memories of random people, experiences of the countryside while living in a deserted windmill somewhere in the region of Arles.

Daudet had a strong narrative style in his writing. The first line "It is the rabbits who have been taken aback!" sets the tone for the whole book. Every line speaks of the writer's fondness for the people and the places of Provence. He came alive in these surroundings, and he speaks with distaste of the city, Paris.

I brought this book with me when I travel to Provence last year. At the top of Les-Baux, there was the remain of a windmill, and imagine my delight in coming across it! Granted that it was not "the windmill", but it was still pretty special, especially as there was mention of Daudet in the tourists' introduction in the audio guide.

There was something enchanting in the way a forgotten time came alive in the book. Quirky characters, beautiful landscapes, humor, sadness, and a poignant sense of beauty. Every story is a gem, it was the little things that made a life; the really old couples in "The Old Couple", living on nothing more than a promise of having their beloved son back with them, and Daudet's own experience when he visited them, and was treated like their son, simply because he was a friend of their son. The dignity, longing, and humourous traits of the old couple was so powerful in allowng the characters to make an impressions, and tug at your heart.

To me, the stories in the book also speaks of the strong, resiliant, cheerful spirit of the Provence people. With the mistral ravaging through the countryside, the people of Provence are used to the rough, living their life alongside the wind; and making light of the hardship casted their way by nature. There was a certain stubborness, refusal to bow down to circumstances that characterise the people of Provence, which Daudet fully appreciated, and brought to life in his stories.

Buy Letters From My Windmill now on Amazon.com

Posted by Irise Rain 11:35 Archived in France Tagged books Comments (1)

Madam Bovary

By Gustave Flaubert

madame_bovary.jpgMadam Bovary is a tragic figure. Not just because of her ulitmate self destruction, but also because she is so tragically human. Her real tragic is not in the circumstances pushing her into desperation, but in the fact that she did not recogonised the real love and affection from her husband, and spent her life seeking impossibe romance, and fruitless passions. Because her own life was so sheltered, much like most women of her status during the era of the story, she chased a false ideal that she had nurtured as a romantic young girl, seeking impossible fullfillment into her womanhood. That passion eventually led to her downfall, and her family's.

But despite that, she also protrayed a very realistic side of human nature, we all have dreams, and ideals in our life, there are few like Emma Bovary who cast aside everything she had in relentless pursue towards it; most of us tend to be more pragmatic, bound down by fear and the realistic aspects of life. But in Madam Bovary, a human's needs to seek an ideal is magnified, and serves as mirror to our surpressed desires. All in all, Madam Bovary is a wonderful portrayal of the many facets of human characters, vividly cast in the many characters in the French countryside. It is tragic, funny at times, realistic, and give much food for thoughts. A story I would read again and again.

Buy it now from Amazon.com

Posted by Irise Rain 06:12 Tagged books Comments (0)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

by William Kamkwamba

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I don't know about you, but this year I had no idea what to ask for for Christmas. After some pressuring from certain members of the family to come up with some more gift suggestions, I headed over to Amazon.com for inspiration. Of the handful of books I looked at on the Top Sellers list, one in particular caught my interest: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

The story is simple. As a teenager in Malawi whose parents cannot pay for him to continue his schooling beyond primary level, William Kamkwamba discovers the local library. Struggling to decipher words he can barely understand, William pours through books on physics and energy, with purpose: he wants to build a windmill.

And eventually, he does, using little more than scrap metal, tractor parts and an old bicycle.

The most amazing thing of all? This is a true story.

As you can probably guess, I ended up getting this book for Christmas, and I devoured it within a couple of weeks. This is an amazing and powerful story. In the year before he built the windmill, Malawi endured a terrible famine, one made worse by a negligent government. William's narrative walks you through those terrible times, showing you just how desperate life can be for those who have so little. But above all, it brings hope, of which William's windmill is a powerful symbol.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is available from Amazon.

Posted by dr.pepper 20:46 Archived in Malawi Tagged books Comments (0)

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