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Beyond the Book Articles
Places, Cultures & Identities

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Labrador and Newfoundland (01/11)
Annabel takes place in Newfoundland and Labrador, a province of Canada. Located on the Atlantic coast, the province is divided into the mainland area of Labrador (east and north of Quebec), and the island of Newfoundland. With a total area roughly the size of Colorado, the island of Newfoundland makes up 25% of the area and 94% of the ...
The Religious "Nones" (01/11)
Because the US Census doesn't collect information about religious affiliation, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) began its own survey in 1990 with 113,000 interviews, and followed up with 54,000 in 2008.

According to the ARIS Survey, Nones make up 15% of the US adult population, up from 8% in 1990. So who are they?...
Indonesia (01/11)
Map of the Invisible World takes place during a tumultuous time in recent Indonesian history - the post-colonial turmoil that is common when empires finally relinquish territories they've been occupying for centuries. Like many areas of the world, Indonesia has been influenced and sometimes occupied by successive waves of immigration and ...
A Brief Reading List for Background on "The Jewish Question" (11/10)

Nonfiction
A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, Howard M Sacher, Updated Edition 2007, 1270 pages: Considered the definitive work on modern Israel.

It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street, Emma Williams: 2010 memoir - an invaluable book for anyone wishing to understand the tensions in the ...

Brazil's Favelas (11/10)
In his novel Heliopolis, James Scudamore candidly describes the favelas of Brazil as poor shantytown communities; 'from a distance, you can't imagine anyone living in such a place: the area has the chaotic texture of a landfill site, a rubbish dump… dense thickets of unofficial power lines; walls and roofs of remaindered breeze-block...
An Irish Lexicography (11/10)
When reading Love and Summer, American readers will encounter many Irish words and phrases with which they may not be familiar. What follows is a list of some of these, highlighted within a sentence from the book, along with the accompanying definition. Definitions come from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

1. By the time the stairs ...
The Norfolk Coast (11/10)
Norfolk is a largely rural county, located on the east coast of England, in an area known as East Anglia, about a 2 hour train ride from London. Its 43-mile coast along the North Sea is defined by a range of wide beaches, chalky cliffs, sand dunes, and salt marshes that house world-famous bird reserves. The area was designated an Area of ...
America's Most Haunted Cemeteries (11/10)
Luckily for young Bod he happened upon an abandoned graveyard that was haunted by benign, some would even say friendly, ghosts. Caspers, one and all. Apparently, not all cemeteries are so hospitable.

The Haunted America Tours website chronicles the ten most haunted cemeteries in the United States. Topping the list is the St. Louis ...
A Brief History of North Korea (10/10)
Korea's earliest known history begins around the 4th century B.C. Korea developed into several regions based around walled communities that acted somewhat like states. China controlled some southern parts of Korea, but in the 7th century A.D., one of the states, Silla, was able to drive China out of Korea's borders. As a result, Korea was...
Moundville, Alabama - Largest City in North America (10/10)
By present day standards Moundville was a small town in 1917 and still is today, but according to information presented by the Moundville Archaeological Park, 800 years ago it was the location of possibly the largest city in North America.   The present-day town is named after the 26 prehistoric burial mounds that are ...
The Australian Penal Colonies (10/10)
You might wonder why Britain would choose to send ships filled with convicts and their jailors to, quite literally, the other side of the world.  The answer is simple economics.

In the 1780s, the British population was increasing fast, as were the effects of the Industrial Revolution which led to the displacement of a great ...
Broughton Castle (10/10)
The unnamed location of William Fiennes' memoir is Broughton Castle, a medieval manor house near the village of Broughton, two miles southwest of Banbury, in the county of Oxfordshire, England.

The estate is situated at the confluence of three streams, making it an ideal location for a fortified manor house complete with ...

The Wicasa Wakan in Lakota Native Culture (10/10)
In 'Brown Dog Redux,' the second novella in Jim Harrison's The Farmer's Daughter, an enigmatic quality surrounds the character of Charles Eats Horses. At Wounded Knee he sits alone in the moonlit cemetery, arms raised to the sky; the next morning he is found unmoving in a trance-like state; and throughout the story his peers carefully ...
Iceland (10/10)
Located midway between North America and mainland Europe (map), Iceland is the same distance from New York as New York is to Los Angeles. The island is the same size as the state of Ohio, with 11% of its surface covered in glaciers. Much of the country is an other-worldly moonscape of ancient lava flows covered in moss, and tall, treeless...
Touring New York City (09/10)
Everyone knows New York! Even if you've never visited you've probably read about it in books such as Jonathan Letham's (which are all set in the City). If you haven't read about it, the chances are that one of the countless TV shows such as NYPD Blue, Friends, and Sex and the City has introduced you to a variety of its streets, apartment ...
Contemporary Saints (09/10)
Los Angeles artist J. Michael Walker thinks a lot like Antonia Labella, heroine of The Possibilities of Sainthood. In the summer of 2008 he exhibited a series of large portraits of saints whose names are commemorated in the roads and streets of many Los Angeles neighborhoods. Each large, ink on paper portrait portrays a ...
Beijing (09/10)
Many of Yiyun Li's stories revolve around her childhood home of Beijing, China's capital city. Beijing (meaning Northern Capital) is one of China's four great ancient capitals, alongside Nanjing (meaning Southern Capital), Xi'an (meaning Western Peace) and Luoyang (known during the Tang dynasty as Dongdu, meaning Eastern Capital).

...
Yiddish (09/10)
Mandelman's novel is generously peppered with Yiddish words and phrases, complete with translations. There are other Yiddish words that require no translation having found their way into common English usage; words such as bagel, maven and klutz, have become so widespread that it would be difficult to spend a day without hearing, reading ...
The Lost Boys (09/10)
While The Chosen One focuses primarily on the plight of Kyra, a young girl growing up in an unspecified polygynous fundamentalist community, it also explores the issue of the 'lost boys'.

The lost boys is a term used to describe young men raised within polygynous Mormon sects such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter...
Uruguay (09/10)
Uruguay (map of South America) is home to about 3.5 million people about half of whom live in or around the capital city of Montevideo. Montevideo was founded by the Spanish in 1726 as a stronghold. Claimed by Argentina but annexed by Brazil, the country won its independence in 1828 following a 500 day conflict.

Early 20th ...
Sitting Shiva (08/10)
The word 'shiva' (pronounced SHIHvah) is derived from the Hebrew word sheva which means 'seven.' Sitting shiva means that the family of a loved one – usually reserved for the family of a deceased spouse, parent or child – gathers in that loved one's home for seven days. Friends and family visit to support the family as they take...
100 Years of Korean Immigration (08/10)
In 2008 there were more than 1.3 million people of Korean ancestry living in the United States, making Koreans the fourth largest group of Asian Americans, after Asian Indians, Chinese and Filipinos. As of 2000, roughly one-third of Korean Americans had been born in the United States, one-third are U.S. citizens born in Korea, and one-...
The Child-Wives of the Gods (08/10)
Wife of the Gods refers to a practice in Ghana known as trokosi.  A trokosi is a young girl who is given to the village priest, also known as a fetish priest, to atone for a perceived sin committed by a family member; the custom is basically a form of sanctioned slavery.  It is practiced primarily in the Volta region of ...
A Short History of Tibet (07/10)
Tibet, a remote region along the southwestern border of China, sits at 15,000 feet above sea level between the Himalaya and Kunlun mountain ranges. The first recorded king of the region was Srong-btsan sgam-po, who is credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet around 640 AD. He and his descendants ruled over a unified Tibet through the ...
Burma (06/10)
During the time covered in Burmese Lessons, the military government in Burma was known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). This name has since been changed to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), but the behavior of the government  has not changed. Since 1962, the ruling military regime has severely ...
The Jardin des Plantes and the Changing Landscapes of Botanical Gardens (05/10)
The Jardin des Plantes in Paris was the epicenter of naturalist research in the early 1800s and is currently one of the world's foremost botanical gardens. Built in 1626, it was planted in 1635 as a medicinal herb garden for the King of France. It was opened to the public in 1640, greatly expanded under superintendent G.L.L ...
Baba Yaga (05/10)
In A Long, Long Time Ago…And Essentially True, one of the main characters, Beata, is constantly referred to by the nickname 'Baba Yaga.'

Baba Yaga is a popular figure in Slavic folk tales (Slavic language map). Also known as the 'Old Woman of Autumn,' her origins can be traced back to the ancient Slavic goddesses of birth ...
A Short History of Barcelona (05/10)
Barcelona, Spain's second largest city after Madrid, is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia in the North East of Spain (map) and a major economic center for finance, business, media, arts and international trade.  Its location on the Mediterranean coast brings it mild, humid winters and warm, dry summers.  ...
John The Revelator, The Person and The Shng (05/10)

The title of Peter Murphy's book is taken from a traditional song about John of Patmos, the name given to the author of the biblical Book of Revelation, who identifies himself as living on the Greek island of Patmos. Scholars date Revelation to between AD 54 and 96 with most believing it to have been written around AD 95.

In the 2nd...
Vory Tattoos - the mark of a Soviet fraternity of criminals (05/10)
The vory developed a complex series of coded tattoos that are still employed by the vory today. The tattoos have a bluish color and are blurred-looking due to the poor quality implements used to create them. Ink inside the prisons is usually created by burning the heel of a shoe and mixing the soot with urine and shampoo. The tattoos ...
India (04/10)
According to the U.S. Department of State, India's population is estimated at more than 1.2 billion and is growing at 1.6% a year. It has the world's 12th largest economy - and the third largest in Asia behind Japan and China - with total GDP in 2008 of around $1.2 trillion (which, to put it in context, is less than the USA's budget ...
Bethlem Hospital (03/10)
The Bedlam Hospital that appears in Revelation is no figment of the author’s imagination. It is fashioned after what is perhaps the oldest hospital for the mentally ill in the Western world, Bethlem Hospital in London. Bethlem has also gone by the name Bedlam, the root of the modern English word bedlam, meaning 'uproarious confusion....
King Arthur - history or myth? (03/10)
No one is sure if there was truly a person named Arthur who was a ruler of the Britons. Evidence for his existence is scant at best.

The first complete account of the life of King Arthur appeared in Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), written in 1137 - 1138 CE by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey surely ...
Korean Picture Brides (02/10)
Korea became the object of Japan's colonial ambitions in the late nineteenth century, culminating in Japan's annexation of the region in 1910. Koreans, escaping the abuse and heavy taxation imposed by the Japanese, began immigrating to Hawaii. Approximately 6000 migrated to the islands between 1906 and 1910, 90% of whom were male. Most ...
The Angel Island Immigration Station (02/10)
In Shanghai Girls, Pearl and May are incarcerated at the Angel Island Immigration Station after fleeing war-torn China. Angel Island was the first stop for most Chinese entering the United States during this period; 175,000 were processed there during its thirty years of operation.

Chinese immigration to the United States began in the ...
England's Black Country (02/10)
England's Black Country is currently defined as the West Midlands region encompassing Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell, though the specific borders have been previously debated. The name reputedly derives from the thick Staffordshire coal seam and from the area's industrial past. Once home to steel mills, coal mines, glassworks...
Listening to and Looking at Pakistan (01/10)
This book is Uzma Aslam Khan's third novel. One of her goals as a woman and a Pakistani is to undo formulaic assumptions about her homeland as well as to aid in the struggle for self- ownership, self-representation, and intellectual recognition of women. She writes passionately about this purpose in her essay, 'Women and Fiction Today.'

...

Britain & The USA in World War II (10/09)
Very often a parent gives life to a rebellious child and the two of them engage in a lifelong love-hate relationship - until, for health or other reasons, that parent needs help. At that point the prodigal child often returns to step in at the parent's hour of need; though not always without a little coaxing. Such was the case ...
A Short History of Kenya (10/09)
The Republic of Kenya is located on the eastern coast of the African continent (map). It is approximately 225,000 square miles (580,000 square kilometers), with a population of 38 million people (2008). The official languages are English & Swahili, and Nairobi is its capital city. Primary exports include coffee and tea.

The ...
A Short History of Papua New Guinea (10/09)
Geography
New Guinea, the second largest island in the world*, is situated approximately 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Australia. The Independent State of Papua New Guinea (aka Papua New Guinea or PNG) comprises the eastern half of the island. (The western half is the Indonesian state of Irian Jaya.) PNG has an area of 178...
The History of Russia & The Soviet Union during the first half of the 20th Century (10/09)
The history of Russia and the Soviet Union during the first half of the 20th century is complex to say the least, characterized by near-constant turmoil. The autocratic reign of the Tsars came to an end in 1917, sparked by economic hardship instigated by Russia's involvement in World War I, rapid urban growth, and the rise of ...
Hammerfest & The Snow White Project (09/09)
Global warming usually suggests images of wild tempests and massive floods, but some countries are trying to tap into what they see as potential benefits of climate change. One of the numerous fascinating places that Stephan Faris visited to collect material for Forecast is Hammerfest in northern Norway.  Billing itself as the ...
Two banks of the Congo: The Republic of Congo and The Democratic Republic of Congo (09/09)
For much of it's length, the Congo River forms the border between The Republic of Congo and The Democratic Republic of Congo (map of Africa).  Both countries and the river are named for the early settlers to the area known as the Kongo people, and for the Kingdom of Kongo which controlled much of the area between about 1400 and...
The Great Chicago Fire (08/09)
The Great Chicago Fire burned from about 9pm on October 8th to early on the 10th, 1871. The source of the blaze is unknown; for many years it was believed that the fire was caused by a cow kicking over a lantern, but more than twenty years after the fact the reporter responsible for first publishing this story admitted that he'd made it ...
Afghan Culture and Customs (07/09)
Afghanistan's 33 million people are made up of more than twentyethnic groups with their own distinctive languages and cultural mores. The largest and most dominant of these groups, politically and economically, are the Pashtuns (42% of the population), The second most populous group are the Tajiks (27%). Smaller groups include the Hazaras...
A Short History of Vietnam (07/09)
Vietnam's history has been one of repeated invasions and resistance (map of Vietnam today). For most of the first millennium AD, Vietnam was controlled by the Chinese.  A final rebellion in 938 led to Vietnam achieving independence until the mid 19th century when increasing parts of the country were defeated by the French.  The ...
Very Short Histories of Afghanistan & Iraq (06/09)
Iraq and Afghanistan are countries with deep histories and multiple ethnic and religious citizen groups.

The geographical area that today is Iraq is regarded by historians as the site of some of the earliest human civilizations, including the Sumerians (who lived between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, a ...
Australian Vernacular (06/09)
Being a novel from 'Oz', the pages of Breath are casually sprinkled with words not found in most non-Australians' vocabularies. While 'blokes' and 'fags' are easily recognized as meaning 'men' and 'cigarettes,' other descriptive terms remain cloaked in obscurity. To counteract this sense of puzzlement, here is a regional translation chart...
Interesting facts about the London Eye (06/09)
The London Eye, the fantastic and graceful Millennium structure that dominates the skyline of 21st century London, is as much a character in the novel as Ted, his sister and the mystery.
  • It took seven years and the skills of hundreds of people from five countries to make the London Eye a reality.
  • Since opening in 2000, The ...
The Cuban Bolero (05/09)
The Cuban bolero is the first internationally recognized music form to originate in Cuba. Closely related to trovador songs and habaneras, boleros are songs of romance, featuring themes of love and heartbreak. The music is most often slow, sensual and deeply romantic.

The Cuban bolero is often confused with the Spanish bolero. The ...
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