What were the Americas like in 1491, before Columbus landed? Our founding myths suggest the hemisphere was sparsely populated mostly by nomadic tribes living lightly on the land and that the land was, for the most part, a vast wilderness. That’s what most of us learned in school, along with a few paragraphs about more highly developed cultures in Central and South America. Research of the past few decades suggests, though, that the Americas were home to more people than Europe when Columbus landed and that most lived in complex, highly organized societies. In his new book titled “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,” Charles C. Mann compiled evidence of the sophistication of pre-Columbian America.
-Gregory David Roberts
I was given a chance to reinvent myself, to follow that river within, and become the man I’d always wanted to be. On the very day that I learned about the wooden stakes of the flood-game, not three hours before I stood alone in the rain, Prabaker’s mother had told me that she’d called a meeting of the women in the village: she’d decided to give me a new name, a Maharashtrian name, like her own. Because I was in Prabaker’s house, it was decided that I should take the family name of Kharre. Because Kishan was Prabaker’s father, and my adoptive father, tradition decreed that I should take his first name for my middle name. And because they judged my nature to be blessed with peaceful happiness, Rukhmabai concluded, the women had agreed with her choice for my first name. It was Shantaram, which means man of peace, or man of God’s peace.
They nailed their stakes into the earth of my life, those farmers. They knew the place in me where the river stopped, and they marked it with a new name. Shantaram Kishan Kharre. I don’t know if they found that name in the heart of the man they believed me to be, or if they planted it there, like a wishing tree, to bloom and grow.
Whatever the case, whether they discovered that peace or created it, the truth is that the man I am was born in those moments, as I stood near the flood sticks with my face lifted to the chrismal rain. Shantaram. The better man that, slowly, and much too late, I began to be.
One fine day, and I know how romantic and old-fashioned that sounds, but it is what happened in my case, I packed a rucksack, took leave of my mother, and caught the train to Breda. An hour later – you know how small the Netherlands is – I was standing at the side of the road on the Belgian border sticking my thumb in the air, and I have never really stoppped since.
After making his first voyage as a sailor – to earn his passage from his native Holland to South America – Cees Nooteboom has never stopped travelling. Now, his most remarkable travel pieces are gathered together in a fascinating collection: from exotic places like Isfahan and Mali, to seemingly domesticated places like Australia and Zurich, Nooteboom gives us his unique view of the world, using his penetrative observation to show us the strangeness in places we thought we knew and the familiarity of places most of us will probably never see.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
-Robert M. Pirsig
You see things on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.
Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War
First printed 2006
“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”