Nixon in China by Margaret MacMillan

Neither Nixon, nor China, have a particularly Christmassy sound.
Yet this new book by Margaret MacMillan is a wonderful Christmas
present. Written in the clear,crisp style of the best-selling author of
Paris l9l9, it gives an enthralling picture of the week in February,
l972, when U.S. President Nixon went to China and met its leaders.
The very fact of the visit changed diplomatic relations in all
directions – especially with the Soviet Union. MacMillan builds on this
one week to give background history of China which is very relevant to
events of today.

MacMillan is a Canadian who did her graduate work at Oxford, and
returned to Canada to teach (Chinese history among other things ) at
Ryerson, Toronto. She says history is story-telling and “is
very often about how a fascinating event changes should be
entertaining.” MacMillan herself went on to become Provost of Trinity
College and professor of history at the University of Toronto. In 2007,
she will become the Warden of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University.

We are fortunate that she has been able to get Nixon in China
published in the midst of such a busy academic career. It is
interesting that she makes Nixon as sympathetic as she does. She finds
him a lonely, tortured man with a longing to “dare greatly” on the world
stage combined with self-doubt and bombast which led to the notorious
Watergate lying and cheating. His meeting with Chairman Mao is quite
memorable, as described in her book.

The visit is described intimately. The Chinese were fascinated by
the preparations for the American press. They had never seen a Xerox
copier and had to be sure, for example,that there would be phone lines
at the Great Wall. Two chartered planes carried the reporters, camera
crews and support staff, just ahead of Nixon.

And then MacMillan sums up the week that changed the world -how it
affected events in the Soviet Union, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea, as well as
the two main countries, the U.S. and China. As we try to keep our
footing in our own fast-changing world, this is a book that helps you
get your bearings.

Review by Anne McDougall

Piano, Piano, Pieno

Piano, Piano, Pieno Authentic Food From A Tuscan Farm by Susan McKenna Grant Translated, the title means “Slowly, Slowly, Full.” And this offering from another Canadian turned property owner in Tuscany is a fine offering in the world of cookbooks that also try to mingle regional history and recipes. Susan McKenna Grant covers meat, fish, poultry, pasta, and deserts. Bread making, salad dressings, various stuffings, and making gnochi are featured as well.

Piano, Piano, Pieno offers recipes for those who like to cook with seasonal sensibilities and for those cooks who have no hang-ups producing a bechamel sauce for a summer’s evening dinner.

With over 420 pages of Tuscan treats Piano, Piano, Pieno covers so many culinary areas it may replace a few of your other Italian cook books. And you won’t get ‘full’ trying!

Thanks to Gary M. for the review!

About Alice by Calvin Trillin

Calvin Trillin has been writing for The New Yorker magazine for the last 44 years. Every time you see his byline you are guaranteed a witty, humorous piece, sometimes about family life but touching far and wide in American daily life. Very often he would mention his wife Alice, and in this book we see why.

It is five years now since his wife died and Trillin felt he could write about her and try to talk about his love and also his total dependence on what he calls his “muse”. Although there are funny snatches, this is a deeply sad book. The photograph shows the pair of them, newly married, and Alice is an attractive blonde with a wonderful smile and wise eyes. She wrote a bit herself and also taught at university. They had two daughters, and what Alice cared most about was giving them a good home. Illness struck in l976 when she got lung cancer. She survived until 200l, when she had a bypass operation and died shortly afterward….not however before she got out of bed to attend the wedding of her second daughter.

Although Trillin pictures her as the solid foundation of the whole family, she fought the idea of being a “dietician in sensible shoes” and was known in Greenwich Village, and also Nova Scotia where they spent their summers, as a stunning woman with beautiful clothes. After he met her, he tells us, Trillin spent his whole life trying to impress her, to make her laugh. He says he wrote this book for her, but then adds ” Actually, I wrote everything for Alice”. He has shared a true love story with us.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

The Book of Negroes was the name of a British military ledger which allowed some 3,000 Black Loyalists to leave New York for a new home in Nova Scotia. Among them was an extraordinary African woman who, at the age of ll, had been captured from her home in West Africa, force-marched for three months onto a slave ship and sold in South Carolina into a life of utter slavery, from which she made some remarkable and thrilling escapes.

This book is her story. It begins in l745 in a small village near Sierra Leone and winds up in London, where the heroine so stuns the abolitionists, including William Wilberforce, that she eventually meets the King and Queen who by this time know all about her.

The charm of the story – for it is truly a remarkable read – is the character of the heroine, Aminata Diallo, and the people who love her and rescue her along the way. Her courage and nerve are undeniable but so is her quality of caring, in the midst of ferocious danger, and this is what attracts people to her, whether in Charleston, New York, Sierra Leone, or London.

Lawrence Hill is a Canadian novelist, living in Burlington,Ontario. He has a light,but compelling touch, when writing about blacks in this country and elsewhere. With this book he has brought off a masterpiece.

Review by Anne McDougall

“The End of the Alphabet” by C.S. Richardson

This is a gem of a little book – l40 pages – both to read and to
look at.

The author is a prize-winning Canadian book-designer, which means
that every detail, from the charming cover design to the type-face, is
a pleasure to handle. The novel is a love-story, between two suitably
named London artists: Ambrose Zephyr and Zappora (called Zipper)
Ashkenazi , who work in the advertising and fashion businesses
respectively. Their names complete the alphabet, and that is the way
they feel about their relationship – complete.

Their happy existence in a Victorian terrace house near Kensington
Gardens is shattered one day when Ambrose, just turned fifty, goes for a
medical and gets the news he has only one month left to live. In
desperation they set off on an alphabetical trip of Europe:
Amsterdam..Berlin..Chartres… Their adventures are fun,
witty ,offbeat. They get to the Pyramids, then Istanbul , and
suddenly plans change and they turn abruptly for home.

The cover describes the book as a “deeply romantic story about an
everyday life defined by an extraordinary love” -and it is right.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures” by Vincent Lam

In case you ever wondered why med students say so little about
what they’re doing, Vincent Lam tells us in this remarkable book,
“Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures”.

He does it without seeming to be telling tales out of school,even
though he studied medicine in Toronto and is now an emergency doctor in
that city.

The book links short stories with the same cast of characters, some
Western,some Chinese. We learn vividly how they practise to become
surgeons. There are realistic sketches of patients in emergency, in
hospital, in police care, on a plane, when pressure and sometimes errors
in judgment prove fatal. There is an underlying sympathy for both
patients and doctors which draws the reader into the predicaments faced
in everyday medicare – predicaments we don’t always understand when all
we read in the daily paper are complaints about waiting lines.

Dr.Lam is a professional (physician) with a second string to his
bow. He writes vividly, and the book moves with breathtaking speed,much
as medicine often does. It is a great Giller prize, as well as great
credit to an expatriate Chinese from Vietnam who has made his home so
totally in Canada.

Review by Anne McDougall