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Beyond the Book Articles
Places, Cultures & Identities

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German Americans (02/13)
It might surprise you to learn that in the latest census, 51 million Americans self-identified as having German ancestry (estimates suggest that about 1/3 of these are of German ancestry alone, the rest are of partial German ancestry). That's a whopping 17% of the population, more than any other heritage group - over 13 million more than...
Saskatchewan (01/13)
The vast prairies of Saskatchewan, where one can easily be 'unimaginably bored' are the perfect setting for Richard Ford's Canada. Bordering Montana and North Dakota, it is one of two Canadian provinces that is completely landlocked (Alberta is the other one) and has no geographical features distinguishing its boundaries. It is over 250,...
A Quick Guide to Egyptian Dynasties (01/13)
One of the most difficult things to keep straight about ancient Egypt is its dynastic chronologies, thirty-three families of rulers over thousands of years, full of contradictions, inaccuracies, and outright lies. To offer some assistance I have included an incomplete list of the important dynasties, with a few details about each period; ...
A Brief History of the Mojave Desert (01/13)
The Mojave Desert is located primarily in Southern California but extends into parts of Utah, Nevada and Arizona. It encompasses Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Park as well as communities such as Barstow and 29 Palms. Interstates 14 and 40 penetrate into and cross the desert.

Nearly 12,000 years ago, once the Pleistocene ...
Lagos Inspires Nigerian Writers (01/13)
Nigeria is a country fertile with writers, full of wonderful literary figures like Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and Ben Okri. But then there was a quieter spell, a time of especially intense corruption and dictatorship, when Sani Abacha was in power, and the literary scene seemed to fade. But stories never fully disappear, ...
Tokyo's Trains (01/13)
Once known as Edo and renamed in the late 1860s, Tokyo - the capital of Japan - is a densely populated metropolis that has over 12 million inhabitants in the city proper and approximately 36 million people in the larger metropolitan prefecture. Located in the Kant? region, it is comprised of 23 wards, as well as 62 municipalities, which ...
Seoul, South Korea (01/13)
Located on the southern half of the Korean peninsula between the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan, South Korea (or, officially, The Republic of Korea) is a democratic country approximately the size of Indiana. It was created in 1948, after the second World War, following a lengthy period of annexation and occupation by the Japanese. South ...
Scottish Gypsies/Travellers (01/13)
One of the plot details in Beneath the Abbey Wall involves a family of Travellers whose histories twine with the murder victim's – Jimmy McPhee, and his mother Jenny McPhee, a highly regarded storyteller.

In Scotland, the Traveller population is referred to by the government as Scottish Gypsies/Travellers (distinct from ...
Origins of the Israeli National Anthem (01/13)
Shortly before the Second World War ended and the horrors of the Holocaust slowly came to a close, Jews from all over Europe were housed in 'displaced persons' camps. These camps gave refuge to Jews who no longer had a place to call home - not Poland, not Austria, not Germany, and not even the new home state created for them, Israel.

...
Slave Healers in the Antebellum South (12/12)
Slave Healers in the Antebellum South
Polly Shine's arrival at the Satterfield's plantation is a remarkable sight to the slaves in Jonathan Odell's The Healing as she was a 'bought' slave, not bred on the plantation, and she was a costly purchase. Their astonishment continues when, soon after her arrival, she starts to give orders ...
The Ozarks (10/12)
The region known as 'The Ozarks' sprawls across southern Missouri as well as parts of northwestern and north central Arkansas, spilling over into Oklahoma and a small corner of Kansas. In area it's about the size of the state of Tennessee, in topography it's similar to the Appalachian region with rolling hills, plateaus (e.g. the ...
IG Farben Industries (09/12)
Auschwitz was a huge complex that covered 40 square kilometers (25 square miles) near the town of Oswiecim, Poland. It was comprised of three sections: Auschwitz I, the base camp and central office; Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau, a concentration camp and crematorium; and Auschwitz III, aka Monowitz or Monowitz-Buna, a labor camp adjacent to...
Norwich, England (08/12)
In John Boyne's The Absolutist, twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich, England to deliver a package of letters to Will Bancroft's sister. Norwich, a city located along the River Wensum in eastern England, is the county seat of Norfolk and was once one of the largest, most populated towns in England, ...
The Panama Canal (08/12)
Juan Gabriel Vásquez's novel, The Secret History of Costagauna, centers on the making of the Panama Canal. Constructed between 1904 and 1914, the Panama Canal is a vital shipping route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Though it only took ten years to construct the current canal, the idea for a waterway connecting ...
Le Grand Hémorragie (08/12)
Although some elements of Vandal Love seem mystical or even supernatural in their origins, one significant theme of the novel is very much rooted in history. Early in the story, Hervé - Jude and François's father - expresses disgust with the mass migration of Québécois away from the country of their birth, a journey of...
The Gabra People (07/12)
The Names of Things is set in the Chalbi, a desert in northern Kenya near the border with Ethiopia (marked 'A' on the map below).

The Chalbi, which means 'bare and salty' in the local language, was once part of Lake Turkana, the largest permanent desert lake in the world. It is an immense flat expanse of clay and white salt stretching ...
Bengaluru (Bangalore), India (06/12)
Situated on the Deccan Plateau in the south-eastern Indian state of Karnataka (aka Mysore), of which it is the capital, Bengaluru sits approximately 940 meters above sea level, and is one of India's largest and fastest growing cities.

Legend suggests that Bengaluru was named after King Veera Ballala of the Vijayanagara Kingdom (...

The Persecution of the Hazara People (06/12)
The Hazara people - a long-persecuted and long-suffering population - are an Iranian ethnic group living in central Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. First mention of the Hazara is believed to have occurred in the late 16th century when the term was used to describe the people of the geographic location bordered by Kabul, Ghor, and ...
The Mansions of Newport, Rhode Island (03/12)
During the Gilded Age (1865-1914), America experienced a boom in railroad tycoons and oil barons, and a great deal of wealth was concentrated in the real estate of Newport, Rhode Island. Wealthy families like the Vanderbilts and Astors flocked to Newport each summer, and as their appreciation for the New England coast grew, they built ...
The Gila National Forest (03/12)
As a fire lookout, Philip Connors called New Mexico's Gila National Forest home. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 1924 this nationally protected area was established (at the advocacy of conservationist Aldo Leopold) as 'the first designated wilderness in the country.'

This means that 'there are no ...
Akademgorodok (03/12)
One of the most fascinating byproducts of the Russian planned economy is the academic town of Akademgorodok (Ah-kah-DYEM-gor-oh-dok) in Siberia. It is approximately 30 kilometers south of the larger Siberian city of Novosibirsk (No-VO-see-beersk), and is the setting for some of Red Plenty's most riviting stories, featuring a genetics and ...
Coney Island (02/12)
As a budding magician in Haley Tanner's novel Vaclav & Lena, young Vaclav dreams of performing for the crowds on Coney Island. Synonymous with roller coasters and Nathan's hot dogs, Coney Island is a unique piece of the New York City metropolitan area (located in the southernmost region of Brooklyn) and has a fascinating

Construction ...
The Gaza Strip (02/12)
The Gaza Strip is the smaller of the two Palestinian territories (the West Bank being the larger). It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the east, and by Egypt in the southwest, with Israel surrounding it on all other sides. It is just 25 miles long and 7.5 miles across at its widest (map). This narrow strip of land is home to ...
Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (01/12)
The well-known tourist attraction and wax museum, Madame Tussauds, had its start in the streets of Paris just before the French Revolution. Dr. Philippe Curtius, Madame Tussaud's mentor, opened his first cabinet de cire (wax exhibition) in Paris in 1770. It proved so popular that he was forced to move to larger accommodations twice and ...
Next Generation Nepal (01/12)
According to Next Generation Nepal's website, the 1996-2006 Nepalese civil war between government forces and the insurgent Communist Party of Nepal claimed 12,000 lives and devastated the economy; and, in remote areas of the country, the Maoist rebels used intimidation and even murder to control villages and abduct children into their ...
Fort Hood (01/12)
If you've never been on a military base, you might be surprised, upon reading You Know When the Men Are Gone, at just how extensive Fort Hood, Texas, is. It's a small city unto itself, complete with all the services and conveniences that mean its residents never really have to leave if they don't want to. As Siobhan Fallon illustrates...
The Yoshiwara: Edo's 19th Century Red Light District (01/12)
Katherine Govier's The Printmaker's Daughter is historical fiction based on the real-life Japanese printmaker, Hokusai - best known for his ukiyo-e* series entitled Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji - and his daughter, Ei. The character Ei spends much of her early life in the Yoshiwara, or red light district, of Edo (...
A Look at Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, the locales of The Informationist (01/12)

Cameroon's official name is the Republic of Cameroon. It's located on the western coast of Africa on the Bight of Biafra, which is part of the Gulf of Guinea. At 183,568 square miles, the country is a little larger than the state of California. It's been called 'Africa in miniature' by the government due to its geological and ...

Historic Chicago in Bright and Distant Shores (11/11)
In Bright and Distant Shores, Dominic Smith references some of the historic people and events that helped shape Chicago around the turn of the 20th century. Read on for more information about these fascinating institutions:

  • Hull House - a resource for new immigrants to the U.S. established by two women in 1889. They offered a ...

Religion in China (11/11)
Religion in China is a hard topic to pin down. The country has been officially atheist since 1949 - a policy that was rigorously enforced through the early years of the People's Republic of China but was relaxed in the 1970s.

Since 1978 the Constitution of the People's Republic of China has guaranteed 'freedom of religion' and the ...
Gullah Culture (11/11)
The Gullah (known as Geechee in Georgia and Florida) are descendants of West African slaves, whose numbers today range from 200,000-500,000. The Gullah region traditionally extends along the coast from SE North Carolina, through Georgia to Northern Florida, including the Lowcountry region and its Sea Islands (see map at bottom left). ...
Siberian Sampler (10/11)
Ian Frazier encounters a diverse range of Siberian foodstuffs on his journey, from the salmon he helps to catch in the Bering Sea off Chukotka, to the linty sausage he pulls out of his luggage time after time on a long train trip.  Here is a sampling of morsels from the culinary landscapes Frazier explores.

Ukha – A brief ...
Menno Simons and the Mennonite Church (10/11)
Menno Simons was an Anabaptist religious leader born in 1496 in Witmarsen (the Netherlands). Although he was not the founder of this branch of religion, he was a very important figure in the organizing of the Dutch Mennonite church, and his followers became known as Mennonites.

According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite ...
Noirmoutier (10/11)
A Secret Kept is set primarily in Paris and Noirmoutier (pronounced 'nwar mooteeay'), an island off the Atlantic coast of France in the Loire region. A popular tourist destination for both beach-lovers and history buffs, Ile de Noirmoutier (literally 'island of black monastery') has several claims to fame:

It is home to La Bonnotte...
Apartheid and Race Relations in South Africa (10/11)
Apartheid ('separateness', pronounced 'apar-tate' in Afrikaans, although many English speakers say 'apar-tide') was a government-enforced system of racial segregation instituted in South Africa (map) in 1948. Control of the government at that time was held by White Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch colonists who started to arrive in ...
The Israel National Trail (09/11)
In To the End of the Land, the central characters backpack along the northern stretch of the Israel National Trail, which is also known as 'The Galilee.'

The Israel National Trail (INT) is a 597 mile long (955 km) hiking trail that crosses the entire country of Israel, north to south, running from the city of Dan on the Lebanese ...
The Tower of London (09/11)
If you've read the The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise you'll already have been taken on a veritable history tour of The Tower of London and the Yeoman Warders, popularly known as Beefeaters, who guard it. For those who haven't read the book yet or, for that matter have but would like a quick summary of some of the history of the Tower,...
Why Quebec Speaks French (09/11)
The province of Quebec is Canada's second most populous province, after Ontario. It is the only Candian province to have French as its sole official language, and has a predominantly French speaking population with 4 out of 5 ranking French as their first language, and 95% able to speak it. Eight percent state that English is their first ...
The Navajo Nation (08/11)
The Navajo Nation is a semi-autonomous political and cultural entity within the United States which covers northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and parts of southeastern Utah. This is part of the area known as the Four Corners region, where the borders of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet, which became USA territory...
A Quick Tour of Chinese Cities Found in Rock Paper Tiger (07/11)
Since the 2008 Olympics, China has become more of a tourist destination than ever. For those of us who haven't ventured that far, here is an overview of the cities where Ellie Cooper tried to elude her pursuers.

Beijing
Also known as Peking, Beijing is the capital of The People's Republic of China as well as its political, educational...
Mormon Fundamentalists (06/11)
Estimates of the number of Mormon fundamentalists residing in the western United States, Canada and Mexico range from 20,000 to 60,000 (compared with over 10 million mainstream Mormons worldwide). Although there are numerous sects, the largest two are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church) and the ...
The Philippines (06/11)
The Republic of the Philippines, a tropical archipelago in Southeast Asia, is comprised of more than 7,000 islands. The major island groups include Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, Negros, and Cebu. The country is believed to have been first settled by the Aetas (who the Spanish settlers named Negritos). Although the Aetas' short stature, ...
Bautzen, Germany (06/11)
Bautzen, located in the Upper Lusatia region, along the Spree River in Saxony, dates back to the Stone Age, though it was not mentioned in writing (as 'Budusin') until the eleventh century. The city acquired its present name in 1868.

Its history has been marked by several widely documented events, including the pogroms on ...

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (04/11)
Location is integral to Laura Bell's memoir; not only does the land around her serve as a subtle metaphor for her emotions, but it also gives her a complex and compelling backdrop for her narrative. Though Bell's memoir stretches across the state of Wyoming, the majority of her story is concentrated in and around the Absaroka-Beartooth ...
221b Baker Street (04/11)
In The Brothers of Baker Street, Reggie Heath's law office resides at 221b Baker Street, the same address as the fictional residence of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John H. Watson between 1881 and 1904, according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. Today at that location, you will find the Sherlock Holmes Museum, a non-profit organization ...
The Maine Warden Service (04/11)
'The woods. The state. Everything. More and more people keep coming up here, up to Maine, and they don't understand what's special about this place... They have these distorted ideas about nature... and I didn't want to live that way. I thought that if I joined the Warden Service maybe I wouldn't have to, and maybe I could help a few ...
Kodagu (04/11)
'Dizzying' and 'glorious' are the words Sarita Mandanna first uses to describe the Indian district that is her birthplace and the setting for Tiger Hills. Now known primarily as Kodagu rather than the anglicized name, 'Coorg,' used in the novel, the district has long been known, as Mandanna notes, as 'The Scotland of India' by the many ...
The Winds of the Pyrenees Orientales (03/11)

'The Pyrenees-Orientales is the Command Center of winds. Here they all congregate, quarrel, barter and rule. There are said to be 119 different winds in the Pyrenees-Orientales. (If you could sell wind we'd be rich, people used to say in the days before the foothills got sown with rows of gigantic new turbines, without...

The Norbulingka and Potala Palaces (02/11)
Until he was forced into exile in 1959, the Dalai Lama lived and studied in two magnificent palaces in Lhasa that housed the historical and religious treasures of his nation.
The buildings and gardens of the Norbulingka (the Summer Palace) cover over 89 acres and were at the heart of the 1959 uprising described in Talty's ...
The Appalachian Region (02/11)
According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Appalachian Region stretches along the Appalachian Mountain range from Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi up through parts of Pennsylvania and New York (see map below left). When most people refer to Appalachia, however, they are referring to the central (Virginia, West Virginia, and ...
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