October 2008

Russia nr. 1
Photo by larksflem used under a Creative Commons license.

Colin Thubron, In Siberia (HarperCollins, 2000).
An account of Thubron’s travels across Siberia, from Yekaterinburg and Omsk in the west, to Lake Baikal and Irkutsk, and east to Khabarovsk, Irkutsk and Magadan — and many spots in between. Thubron traveled after the fall of Communism and before Putin’s rise, and again and again he finds himself searching in the mess left behind by the collapse of the Soviet Union for signs of a truer Siberia that came before it, and to remember its victims. It is clear that he did impressive research before he traveled, but Thubron uses this learning judiciously. He is also quite good at finding colorful characters, and sharing their stories.

Here is a short bio of Thubron. The Times picks him as one of the 50 greatest postwar writers. Anthony Campbell says combines acute observation with a deep historical awareness. George Scialabba (The Boston Globe) likes Thubron’s individual portraits, and deft, unobtrusive historical sketches. Ken Kalfus (The New York Times) says Thubron covered a lot of ground. Nicholas Harman (The Spectator) thinks Thubron plods along even when he is not keen for the trip. Shining Love Pig appreciates Thubron’s portrait on place rather than his own experience. Mary Loosemore calls it a gem of a travel book, and it’s Rob Miller’s favorite work of travel literature. Edinburgh’s Monthly Book Group liked it. Sheila O’Malley posts an excerpt. A decade later, Sam G found a different Siberia. Nicholas Wroe interviewed Thubron for The Guardian in 2000. Here is a recent podcast of Thubron on BBC Radio 3, upon the release of his most recent book.

FootballFest, Leipzig 2006.06.11
Photo by deVos used under a Creative Commons license.

David Winner, Brilliant Orange (The Overlook Press, 2008).
This either a book about soccer with a Dutch focus, or it is a book about The Netherlands viewed through the prism of football.  As a book about soccer, I can’t think of one I’ve enjoyed more, and it sent me back to YouTube to find old clips of players like Johann Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp.  But there is an awful lot here connecting Dutch soccer — including Total Football — to other aspects of life in Holland, including steep staircases, Schiphol Airport, immigration from Suriname, land use, relations with Germany, modern architecture, and Dutch democracy. I first heard about Brilliant Orange in 2001, and have been looking for a copy ever since.  The Overlook Press has just put it back in print.

Ajax fan Jim McGough says you have to read this book. Zack Roth says the book is about how Dutch football is a reflection of Dutch culture and society and everything. Timothy Dugdale calls it a fantastic book for fans of soccer. Shriram Krishnamurthi says Winner can be too much of a booster for the Dutch and for Ajax. David Goldblatt (The Independent) calls it a kaleidoscopic examination of “the idea of Dutch football” (and that’s a recommendation). Matt Steinglass (Salon) says Brilliant Orange is terribly clever. Paul Hayward (Daily Mail) says English football fans will be envious of Dutch neurosis. Juliet Fletcher (Philadelphia City Paper) says Winner’s book (or his Holland?) is riddled with idiosyncrasy (scroll down). Plinius picks up on Winner’s discussion of Dutch landscape photographer Hans Van Deer Meer. Here is Johann Cruyff, and this was surely the highlight of Dennis Bergkamp’s career.

Buy it at Amazon.com.