WWI Shanghai Memorial

China’s Forgotten World War I

Photo: The dedication of the WWI memorial in Shanghai, in 1924.

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

World War I has always been primarily associated with Europe. That’s where the conflict began, where the major battles took place, and where the war had its most visible effect – the map of the continent was redrawn in its aftermath. But with the one hundredth anniversary of the war’s outbreak being commemorated this summer, we’re seeing more attention being paid to how non-European countries figured into “the war to end all wars.” Delhi-based writer Chandrahas Choudhury, for example, discusses India’s involvement in World War I in this Bloomberg View article, and The Guardian produced a documentary detailing the global nature of the conflict, though it’s still fairly Euro-centric. Continue reading

larb blog boom and bust

Boom and Bust and What Comes Next

Photo: Howard Street and First Street by Leo vanMunching.

Today’s post was originally published on LARB Channel Boom, and is available on their site or from their Summer 2014 issue. 

“Boom and bust is our lot and we must follow the ancient advice. . .that Joseph gave to the Pharaoh: Put away your surplus during the years of great plenty so you will be ready for the lean years which are sure to follow.”

—Governor Jerry Brown, State of the State speech, January 2014

By Celia and Peter Wiley

The red circles look like bomb splats in an illustrated history of World War II. They begin on the eastern edge of the city near the Ferry Building and spread westward along Market Street. The graphic is a map of “Tech Hot Spots” printed in the San Francisco Business Times (21-27 February 2014). Each circle represents one of the fifty largest technology companies in the city, the size of each circle determined by the number of the company’s employees. The largest tech employer, according to SFBT, is Salesforce.com with 4,000 employees as of January 2014 (an increase of a thousand from one year earlier). Currently located in the historic Southern Pacific building at One Market Street, Salesforce has plans to occupy a twenty-seven-floor tower at 350 Mission across from the new Transbay Terminal in 2015. Continue reading

larb blog opium

The Opium War Comes to America (the Book, That is): A Q & A With Julia Lovell

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

This week’s China Blog interview is with Julia Lovell, a British specialist in Chinese studies who teaches in London, lives in Cambridge, and has made her mark in several distinctive arenas.  She’s a distinguished translator of fiction (e.g., Zhu Wen’s short stories); she writes lively reviews and short essays for leading newspapers and literary reviews (including this one); and she pens scholarly yet accessible books about China’s past.  I caught up with Julia by email this summer, after talking with her in Cambridge, to ask her some questions about her activities wearing the third of those hats.  More specifically, her book about the Opium War, which came out in other countries beginning in 2011 and which Isabel Hilton described as telling the tale of the events in question “lucidly and compellingly”, is due out next month in its first American edition.  Here below are her answers to my question about a book that was short listed for the Orwell Prize and won France’s Jan Michalski Prize for Literature in 2012. Continue reading

larb blog Wodehouse

Psmith’s Art of Cool: War and Zen in P.G. Wodehouse

Photo: Cover of the Bietti edition of Leave it to Psmith (1936) – Image via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s post was originally published by Marginalia, one of our LARB Channels. 

By Ted Scheinman

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse committed his first act of civil disobedience in the nave at Saint Nicholas’ Church, Guildford within six months of being born. The author’s account has sufficient zip that no elaboration is necessary:

If you ask me to tell you frankly if I like the names Pelham Grenvillle, I must confess that I do not. I have my dark moods when they seem to me about as low as you can get … At the font I remember protesting vigorously when the clergyman uttered them, but he stuck to his point. “Be that as it may,” he said firmly, having waited for a lull, “I name thee Pelham Grenville.”

— preface to Something Fresh (1915)

However much of this anecdote we choose to believe (I choose to believe all of it), P.G. Wodehouse would spend the subsequent ninety years populating the literary universe with characters whose names were even sillier than his own: Galahad Threepwood; “Puffy” Benger; “Beefy” Bingham; the Earl of Worplesdon; Gussie Fink-Nottle; Pongo Twistleton; Major Brabazon-Plank; “Catsmeat” Potter-Pirbright. There is even a rumor, initiated by me, that Wodehouse rejected “Benedict Cumberbatch” for a lack of pep. Continue reading

Kris then and now (1)

Left Bank Books: A Literary Landmark Celebrates 45 Years in St. Louis

Photo: Left Bank Books co-owner Kris Kleindienst stands in the bookstore’s doorway, then and now. 

By Meg Cook

Last weekend, Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri celebrated its 45th anniversary. The independent bookstore serves the “Gateway to the West” with their large collection of new and used books, and a mission to offer the community “an intelligent, culturally diverse selection of titles with a focus on politics, contemporary arts and literature, high-quality children’s books, African American interest, GLBT titles and more.” Left Bank has never moved from its location in the Central West End of St. Louis – a historic literary neighborhood that has been home to William Burroughs, T.S. Elliot, and Tennessee Williams, among others. Continue reading

larb blog lit junkies 2

Literary Junkies

Photo: Elizabeth Weinberg, part of “All Summer in a Day” series.

By Amy Spies

Readers, you may relate to my addiction.

It happened to me long ago.

I didn’t mean to get hooked.  I was just craving something to whisk me to another land, a better life, a fantastic world.  No one told me that all these lines, my blissful escape, could become a lifelong habit. Continue reading

Coffee Table Talk with Sebastian Brock

The Marginalia Review of Books, a LARB Channel, does great interviews over on their main sitethis one was originally posted last week, but deserves a listen. 

MRB editor-in-chief Timothy Michael Law talks to Sebastian Brock in Oxford. Formerly Reader in Syriac Studies in the Oriental Institute in Oxford and currently Professorial Fellow at Wolfson College, Brock is widely recognized as the world’s leading authority on Syriac language and history. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and in 2009 received the honor of the Leverhulme Medal and Prize. The Medal is awarded every three years for “a significant contribution to knowledge and understanding in a field within the humanities and social sciences.” Continue reading

D8I_5215

Made in Bulgaria

Photo: A Made-in-Bulgaria Chinese pickup truck on display near the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria.

By Tong Lam

The future is all around us, hidden in physical signifiers, but we often lack the key to understanding the significations. The square around the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is  one place where the future, along with the past, is teasing us, demanding our attention and interpretation even as we are not quite sure how to make sense of what we see. Located in the city center, the monument was built in 1954 to commemorate the Soviet liberation of Nazi-allied Bulgaria. In recent years, as Bulgarian politicians debate the future of the monument, local graffiti artists have repeatedly vandalized the space, bringing their own voices into the argument. Some graffiti artists have used paint to transform the bronze statues of Red Amy soldiers into comic book characters (e.g. Superman) and icons related to global brands (e.g. Ronald McDonald). Most recently, some adorned one of the statues with the Ukrainian national colors – blue and yellow – to express their disagreement with Russian actions in that former part of the Soviet Union.   Continue reading

larb blog the wire

On Watching the Wire Again

Originally published on LARB Channel Avidly, Claire Jarvis recounts her experience of watching The Wire again. 

By Claire Jarvis

It’s deep in July, and there’s nothing on television; the season of rewatching is upon us. My partner and I have decided on The Wire. The first two times I watched The Wire, I was living in the Baltimore it claimed to represent. I had moved to the city for graduate school and the twin towers had fallen on the first full week of classes. I watched the news coverage of that event on my 13” television (with combination VCR) and hoped to God my lone pre-a-week-ago friend would come over that evening so I wouldn’t be alone. Part of the power in The Wire comes from its representation of urban destruction to a wider world that had just come into consciousness that it, too, could possibly be destroyed. Baltimore, that gorgeous nineteenth century city, with row after row of working peoples’ houses, housing that had been filled in the booming forties and fifties, had been steadily shrinking for almost a half century when the towers fell. Continue reading