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The Page Boy

By Lavender June 20, 2008

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Beyond the Great Wall
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Artisan
$40

Beyond the Great Wall serves up a rich dish of travel, politics, history, sociology, photography, memoir, and cuisine. The authors—culinary anthropologists who have traveled in China since 1980—focus on the cultures and cuisines of the roughly 130 million non-Han Chinese peoples.

“Tibetan” is recognizable to Westerners, but there are Hui, Uighur, Kazakh, Tuvan Yi, and others, with a vast array of languages. Alford and Duguid, through chronological “stories” of their trips, profiles of 13 of the ethnic groups, and striking photos, weave a tapestry that illustrates clearly how geography dictates the diet of peoples relying on their own resources (no Kiwi fruit from Australia). Offsetting the exoticism of this armchair travel is the wonderfully pragmatic accessibility of the recipes. The pair photographed each preparation, then wrote the recipes afterward. As they point out, most of the foodstuffs consumed by the Uighui, Tuvans, etc., are readily available here in the States. Great Wall is a feast for all the senses.

Hiding In Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr
Michael Seth Starr
Applause
$24.95

Tall, dark-eyed, brooding Raymond Burr (1917-1993) played villains in numerous films starting in 1940, perhaps most memorably as wife-killer Lars Thorwald in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 Rear Window, before morphing (1957) into his TV signature Perry Mason, the detective who never lost a case. At the actor’s death, his obituaries dutifully mentioned his three wives—one who died in a plane crash with British actor Leslie Howard, another who died of cancer—and a tragically deceased 10-year-old son, Michael Evan. The only trouble is that no one ever met either of these women, nor the phantom son—not even his one actual wife, Isabella Ward (“Michael Evan” would have been about 5 during their brief marriage). As author Michael Starr makes clear, where other gay stars had “dates” or “beards,” Burr constructed an entire dynasty while living for 35 years with his partner, Robert Benevides. A highly readable peek into a closet that is no longer sustainable in these days of Internet intrusion.

The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
Pico Iyer
Knopf
$24

Pico Iyer met the 14th Dalai Lama when he was 17, introduced by his father, a friend of His Holiness since the two were in their 20s. Iyer quotes a journalist who opined the Dalai Lama “was not the brightest bulb in the room,” then deftly reveals this seeming transparency and simplicity is necessary to relate to the millions worldwide who have no concept of the demanding and arcane Buddhist disciplines in which the man has been immersed since he was chosen for his role as a 4-year-old. The author observed His Holiness during his first US visit at Harvard in 1979, as well as various times at his home-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, and other venues over the years. Working in sections titled “In Public,” “In Private,” and “In Practice,” Iyer, if not making the complexities clear (not his fault—there is too much to comprehend), at least sets forth the vast web encompassing the Dalai Lama’s daily life embracing icon, monk, globalist, and politician—plus Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Undiscovered Country
Lin Enger
Little, Brown
$23.99

Hunting with his Dad in the Northern Minnesota woods, Jesse Matson finds his world shattered when his father is shot dead. The death is ruled a suicide, though his father’s ghost, like Hamlet’s, makes it clear to him that the murderer was Jesse’s uncle, who coveted his brother’s wife. The Hamlet connection is explicit, though it hovers, ghost-like itself, and is not forced ham-handedly home by Enger. Jesse devises a trap for his uncle, and…. The story unfolds a decade later, told in the first person by Jesse when he and his brother, Magnus, are living together in California. Enger uses this ingenious device to frame the tale, revealing from the beginning that whatever happened concerning his father’s death, his uncle’s culpability, and his mother’s involvement with his uncle, Jesse is still free, and caring for his brother as he had earlier. Enger is thus at liberty to engage the reader’s imagination, and to build suspense in an entertainingly oblique fashion.

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