Pieced together from Osnos’s eight years of reports on China filed with the New Yorker, Age of Ambition comes together as a complete painting of modern China’s rocky transition to modernity. Half a billion people have moved to China’s cities in pursuit of capitalism’s greatest prize: wealth. The Chinese government is gambling that the delivery of free enterprise can be exchanged for political stability and to ensure the trade goes well the Communist party forbids freedom of speech and the freedom to organize in protest on anything larger than a municipal level. Osnos focuses on the problems: jailed artists, tortured civil rights leaders, a rising desire for a moral compass, and unrelenting press censorship implying that beneath China’s meteoric economic ascent lies deep instability. It is hard to know to what extent Osnos has selected stories of the elite and overlooked an even deeper satisfaction among a generation of Chinese liberated from the threat of starvation and really quite happy to forego some freedom in order to have enough money for McDonald’s and the Internet, even if key websites are blocked. Some of the key interviewees argue rather persuasively that because nothing published in China’s media is reliable, and everyone knows that, Chinese people are much more skeptical consumers of news than Americans who all to readily believe that drinking Coke can make you happy, driving a new car can make you sexy, and whatever their politicians say must be true.
The Son by Philipp Meyer **** (of 4)
This history of Texas is told through the lives of four generations of the McCullough family. Eli, the patriarch, is captured by Comanches as an adolescent in the 1840s, and lives as an Indian for three years. Learning about Comanches as real people is as interesting as coming to understand, say, Kazahks, Bantus, or Serbs. These Comanches are conniving, jealous, courageous, jokesters trying to stave off white settlers with thoughtfulness, wisdom, and blunder. Eli’s son is neighbored by Mexicans, raises cattle, and begets generations who make it big in the Texas oil boom. To list the family tree, however, makes The Son feel like a tedious long biography. On the contrary, the stories of each generation are told concurrently with suspense and drama while the history of Texas bravado and hubris unfolds behind it. Bison are hunted to extinction, water is used to exhaustion, Mexicans are demolished and yet return, and the question of the McCullough’s self-selected prestige hangs in the balance. The audiobook performers are outstanding.
Some fermentation and some not
From left to right are an empty pot of rooibos tea, a Japanese green-tea fermenting into kombucha, and an exceptionally delicious experiment Isaac ran. He ground coffee and using cold filtered water (second from right) and tap water (right) let the coffee brew for twenty-four hours before filtering and refrigerating. The result was a very smooth, espresso-like drink that has been just the ticket for hot summer afternoons.
Seasonal fruits simmering on the stove: fresh strawberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, and a few figs. I made a couple of quarts and they are disappearing quickly over granola and ice cream.
Only 941 more practice loaves to make, but I’m getting there. Purchased some King Arthur Special Bread Flour when I exhausted my usual fare of white bread flour and found it made a huge difference. Check out the color of these baguettes.
Now look at this crumb. Not as fully riotous as it ought to be, but still better than anything I’ve made previously.
Turkey and avocado on a fresh baguette. Not quite France, but almost…
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews *** (of 4)
An American CIA agent, Nathaniel Nash, is sent to Russia to manage a key asset at the same time a Russian intelligence agent, Dominika Egerova, is tasked with spying on Nate. While each attempts to seduce the other into becoming a double agent, without, of course, giving up their real identities, they also fight not to commit the cardinal error of falling truly in love. The author, Jason Matthews, is a former CIA operative himself so the tradecraft described in great detail rings uncannily true. Likewise, his description of CIA personalities and Vladimir Putin’s Soviet style directives of Russian secret services feels like a peek into world that must be going on all the time without our ever knowing. Matthews won an Edgar award for best first novel and his second book starring the same two spies, Palace of Treason, has just been published.