“The Man Who Loved China” – Barga book Club

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A warm early fall evening found a dozen or so members of the Barga Book Club enjoying a glass of wine or water, speaking quietly and watching the sun set slowly behind the Duomo.  As the air chilled we gradually retreated to the warm and softly lit interior of the home of Pietro and Marijke Bianchessi. A buffet of fragrant, some Asian inspired, dishes provided by the book club members arrayed around the elegant ivory and black accented kitchen was taken to the long dining table and enjoyed before we began our lengthy discussion.

The book under discussion was “The Man Who Loved China,” the story of Joseph Needham,  the Cambridge scientist who painstakingly chronicled the rise of the many Chinese arts and sciences which preclude most western discoveries and inventions.  From astronomy through nautics, medicine, engineering and many other areas the Chinese were far ahead of the western world but the west knew nothing of their work until Needham researched and recorded it in multi-volume detail beginning in 1943.

The opinions of the readers were varied but most found the information on China, its history and culture very interesting and engaging. The author, Simon Winchester, did a thorough job of covering Needham’s work and life, balancing the two subjects well, straddling history and biography. As to the work, most readers  were appreciative of the detail with which the author explained and documented the multitude of Chinese inventions and discoveries. As in the perpetual quandary, does the Art justify the artist’s bad behaviour, some readers were very disturbed by the peccadilloes of the subject.

The discussion was greatly enhanced by the contribution of the guest speaker Frank Viviano, long time international correspondent, bureau head for The San Francisco Chronicle and correspondent (all his article are here)  who spent many years living in and/or reporting from Asia.

Drawing on his personal and professional experience in China Frank added in depth perspective and background to much of the substance of the book as well as insight about the culture and the author’s professional background, which Elisabeth Marseglia had also included in her well composed opening statement.

So, in addition to reading an interesting book, we learned a lot about the history and circumstances of which it was written.

We have selected The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood for November’s book club meeting which will be held at Kerry’s Barga address.

The next meeting will be held on 17 October at the home of Krysia at which we will discuss Swimming Home by Deborah Levy.

There were many other books to add to our suggested reading lists which include:

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson
Four Fish by Paul Greenberg
Shanterum by Gregory David Roberts
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Morakami
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiuro
anything by Dave Eggers

Thank you very much to everyone who participated and contributed and especially to our guest speaker Frank Viviano for taking the time to add his deep and fascinating perspective.

Kerry Bell – Barga Book Club

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