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Beyond the Book Articles
Places, Cultures & Identities

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The Bedouin of Saudi Arabia (05/09)
Once the undisputed masters of the desert, Bedouin tribes have diminished over the last couple of centuries – mostly due to governments intent on taxation and political control – to become only about 10% of today's Saudi population. They are still a distinct sect and although Nayir al-...
A Short History of Penang (05/09)
Most of the action in The Gift of Rain occurs on the island of Penang (part of the Malayan state of Penang) situated off the northwest corner of the Malay Peninsula, in the Strait of Malacca (maps of South-East Asia, Malaysia and Penang). The small, turtle-shaped island has a total area of approximately 293 square kilometers (183 ...
The Fisher House Program (05/09)
War veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are coming back with injuries that would have been fatal a few years ago. Medical advances mean that more young men and women are returning home with serious brain injuries and requiring artificial limbs. These vets need long periods of rehabilitation. To assist them and their families, the...
A Short History of the Channel Islands, including Guernsey (05/09)
The Channel Islands are a group of islands approximately 30 miles off the coast of Normandy, France (map). They are organized into two bailiwicks: The Bailiwick of Guernsey (made of up of the islands of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou and Lihou), and the Bailiwick of Jersey (containing the island of Jersey and a few ...
Sindoor and Arranged Marriages (04/09)
With supreme and economical skill, Jhumpa Lahiri uses only a few cultural signifiers to situate her characters in space and time. Almost all of the mothers in her stories, the women from the older generation who emigrate from India to the United States with their husbands, wear vermilion powder in their hair. Called sindoor, this powder ...
Surrey (04/09)
The landscape in which The Outcast is set plays a large role in the overall feel of the novel.  Much of the story takes place in the county of Surrey, just south of London.  Most of Surrey lies in the 'Green Belt' (a ring of rural land around London protected from excess development), making it a popular place of residence for ...
The Chindits (04/09)
Major General Orde Charles Wingate was a controversial figure in the British military during WWII. He was abrasive and opinionated, with ideas about warfare that struck those around him as either idiotic or sheer genius. Many of his superiors were impressed by him; others thought him a madman.

Wingate was born in India in 1903. ...
Interesting Facts About Botswana (04/09)
Since independence in 1966, the former British Protectorate of Bechuanaland has transformed itself from one of the continent's poorest nations into one of its most prosperous. Botswana (map) has vast diamond wealth which has underpinned this boom (Jwaneng, the world's largest and richest diamond mine, was discovered when termites looking ...
Beaufort Castle and the Four Mothers Movement (02/09)
Beaufort Castle, the setting for Beaufort, sits on a high, rocky outcropping in southern Lebanon (map). Known in Arabic as Shqif Arnun ('High Rock'), it soars 1000 meters (more than 3000 feet) above the Litani River Valley. Its commanding, 360-degree views have made it perfectly suited for a command post or lookout, and it has been used ...
East Prussia (02/09)
The Central European region known as Prussia extended from the south-eastern coast of the Baltic Sea to the Masurian Lake District which is now divided between Poland, Russia, and Lithuania. East Prussia was a province in the Eastern part of the region which, along with the rest of Prussia, became part of the German Empire during...
A Scenic Tour of Cooperstown, New York (11/08)
Though Groff's preface to The Monsters of Templeton clearly defines her book as a work of fiction, she also admits that it is a love story of sorts for her childhood hometown ofCooperstown, New York. Cooperstown, a village in Otsego County, has several claims to fame, the most prominent of which is theNational Baseball Hall of Fame. In ...
About The Dreamtime (11/08)
In Lost Paradise, Nooteboom introduces us to Alma and Almut, best friends barely out of teenagehood, as they leave their childhood homes in Sao Paulo, Brazil for Australia. They're on a rather listless quest in search of The Dreamtime, an Aboriginal concept of creation and spiritual existence with which the two best friends have ...
A Short History of Mongolia (11/08)
Mongolia (map) is located in Northern Asia between China and Russia. It should not be confused with the Mongol autonomous region of the People's Republic of China (known as Inner Mongolia), which is located in the north of China, bordering southern Mongolia.

The name 'Mongol' was first recorded by the Chinese during the Tang ...
A Short History of Afghanistan (11/08)
Afghanistan lies on the historically important trading routes between the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. As a result of numerous invasions and migrations it is made up of many different ethnic groups including Baluch, Chahar Aimak, Turkmen, Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Nuristani, Arab, Kirghiz, Pashai and Persian.

Historically...
Rowan County, North Carolina (10/08)
Rowan County, North Carolina (official website), the setting for King of Lies and Down River, is seeped in fascinating early American history. According to Indian Tribal Records, theSaponi Indian Tribe was found dwelling on theYadkin River in 1701, near the present site ofSalisbury; they had moved to the area to escape attacks by their ...
The Lost Empire of Khazaria (10/08)
Khazaria (map) was an empire founded by semi-nomadic Turks in the 7th century. Khazaria was a strong ally of the Byzantine Empire and enemies of the Crimean Goths. By the time of its decline in the 10th century, Khazaria covered much of what is now southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, large portions of the ...
A Short History of Haiti (09/08)
The Republic of Haiti occupies about one-third of the island of Hispaniola (the second largest island in the Carribean;map); the remainder being the Dominican Republic (Hayti means mountainous land in the native Arawak* language).

In 1697, the French colonized the island and imported African slaves to work the lush coffee and sugar ...
A Short History of the Dominican Republic (09/08)
The Dominican Republic occupies two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti (map). Claimed by Christopher Columbus in 1492, Hispaniola became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland. In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which became ...
Laos and the Hmong (09/08)
A Brief History of Laos

The Lao People's Democratic Republic, commonly known as Laos (sounds like 'louse') is located in South-East Asia where it is sandwiched by Vietnam on the East and Thailand on the West. It shares its northern border with China and Burma/Myanmar, and its southern border with Cambodia (map). It's population...
A Short History of Saudi Arabia (09/08)
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia covers an area about the third of the size of the USA, and occupies most of the Arabian peninsula (map), most of which is desert. Its population is about 27 million, of which 5 million are foreigners (technicians, merchants, diplomats and soldiers). 90% of citizens are Arabs and all are Muslims (...
A Short History of Jamaica (09/08)
The island nation ofJamaica is in the Greater Antilles about 385 northeast of the Central American mainland, and about 90 miles south of Cuba. Within a century of Columbus sailing the ocean blue and the subsequent Spanish occupation of the island in 1494, the native Arawaks (who called the island Xaymaca) had effectively died out, due to ...
The Republic of Sierra Leone (08/08)
The Republic of Sierra Leone is a small country with a population of about 5.3 million on the west coast of Africa bordered by Guinea and Liberia. The life expectancy of men is 39 years and women 42 years. The name is an adaptation of the Portuguese, 'serra leoa' (lion mountains). During the 18th century it was an important center for the...
Rankin Inlet & The Inuit (08/08)
Rankin Inlet (picture) has a population of about 2,200. It is located on the 63rd parallel on the west shore of Hudson Bay (map) approximately 1,100 miles north of Winnipeg in the recently formed territory of Nunavut, which was ...
A Short History of Lebanon (08/08)
The area now known as Lebanon (map) was settled by the seafaring Phoenicians (also known as Caananites) around 3,500 BCE. They established city states such as Beirut, Tyre and Sidon. Over the next five millennia the area would come under the control of numerous empires including the Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader and ...
Yiddish Theatre in America (07/08)
More than 200 Yiddish theatre troupes performed in the United States between 1890 and 1940 (photo of a theater group in 1909). In their heyday in the 1920s, twelve troupes resided in New York City alone, with 22 Yiddish theatres on the Lower East Side, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Their repertoires spanned a variety of genres including ...
Silk, and The Silk Road (07/08)
The Silk Road (map) starts at the western gate of old Changan in Xian which, in the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), was the greatest city in the world. The Xian municipality commissioned a red sandstone sculpture of twice life-size camels in commemoration, but the site is now engulfed by a supermarket - so the camels have been relocated to a ...
Nocturnal Climbing at Cambridge University (06/08)
Cambridge, the second oldest university in the English-speaking world, is located in the East of England. It is said that it was established by a group of scholars in the early 13th century who left Oxford (which was established in the 11th century) after two of their number were accused of murdering a local and hung by town authorities. ...
A Short Guide to Notable Historic Barriers (06/08)
Hadrian's Wall was built in AD 122. It measures 80 Roman miles (73.5 miles/117 km). It was the second of three stone and turf fortifications the Romans built across Britain to prevent military raids by the Picts (who inhabited what is now Scotland) but is best known as it is the best preserved. The lesser known walls areGask Ridge, built ...
Shah Abbas I and the founding of modern Iran (06/08)
Evidence of settled communities in Iran date back to at least the 5th millennium BC (as evidenced by 7,000 year-oldwine jars that have been excavated in the Zagros Mountains).

Cyrus the Great is credited with establishing the first unified empire during his 21 year reign beginning in 550 BCE. He is also remembered for theCyrus Cylinder (...
Jewish Homelands (05/08)
Over the years a number of different plans for a Jewish homeland have been proposed. A 1903 British proposal offered 5,000 square miles of the Mau Plateau (in what is now Kenya) to the Jewish people as a homeland. This offer, presented at the sixth Zionist Congress in Basel, was in response to pogroms against the Jews in Russia. The ...
A Short History of Norway (05/08)
Norway is one of the three kingdoms in the geographical region known as Scandinavia (map); the others being Denmark and Sweden. Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands are sometimes described as Scandinavian because of their close geographical and historic connections with Scandinavia, although technically speaking these countries belong ...
The Indian Caste System (05/08)
Without his violent act Balram Halwai, the hero of The White Tiger, would have had trouble accessing upward social mobility because of the strict caste system in India. Many Westerners believe, because India is officially a democracy and the Indian constitution of 1949 banned it, that the caste system is a thing of the past, but in many ...
Argentina: The Jewish community and the "Dirty War" (04/08)
Jews in Argentina
After being expelled from Spain in 1492, a number of Jews settled in Argentina where they assimilated into the general population, so by the mid 1800s there were few overt Jews in Argentina. When Argentina gained its independence from Spain in 1810, the first president officially abolished the Inquisition and encouraged ...
A Short History of Czechoslovakia (04/08)
The lands now known as The Czech Republic and Slovakia were ruled by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire for about 300 years until the end of World War I and the collapse of the empire. In 1918, a union was proclaimed between the Czech lands and Slovakia to form the Czechoslovakian state, an idea that had been advocated by Czech and Slovak ...
A Short History of Colombia (04/08)
About twice the size of Texas with a population of 44 million, Colombia is located just south of Panama (map).  ith a per capita GDP of $8,400, 49% of the population live below the poverty line. From 1510 the area that is now Colombia was part of the Spanish empire until a nine year uprising led by Simon Bolivar resulted in the...
A Short History of Vietnam Since 1975 (04/08)
Vietnam's history has been one of repeated invasions and resistance (historic maps). For the millennium up to the early 10th century, Vietnam was controlled by the Chinese, until a final rebellion in 938 led to Vietnam achieving independence. Over the following centuries it repelled a number of Chinese invasion attempts, including three ...
Thailand (03/08)
A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand (map) is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. Thailand allied itself with Japan during WWII but has been an ally of the US since....
A Short History of Libya (02/08)
Libya is located on the Mediterranean coast in the North of Africa to the West of Egypt (map). Much of the country lies within the Sahara Desert but the coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate with arable land in the plateaus. The earliest known settlers of the area were the Berber people, known as Libyans to the Greeks. Around the 7th...
The Tropics (02/08)
  • The tropics are the geographic region of the Earth centered on the equator and limited in latitude by the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere, at approximately 23°30' (23.5°) N latitude, and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere at 23°30' (23.5°) S latitude. This region is also referred to as the ...
A Short History of Northern Ireland (02/08)
English involvement in Ireland began around 1170 when Dermot Mac Murchada, King of Leinster (one of 4 Irish provinces) asked for Henry II's help to return him to the throne from which he'd been ousted (for more about Henry II, read A Plantagenet Primer). Henry (great-grandson of William the Conqueror of Normandy) invaded but in the ...
Interesting Facts about Wales (01/08)
  • Wales, located on the south-west peninsula of Great Britain (the main island of the United Kingdom - map) is one of the four constituent nations of the UK, the others are England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Its population is about 3 million (5% of the UK).
  • The Welsh language is a Celtic language, that traces its roots back at least ...
A Short History of Palestine (01/08)
The Canaanites are the earliest known civilization to live in the area of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, living in city-states such as Jericho around 3,000 BCE. Positioned close to Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor the area was not only a meeting point for different cultures but also a battleground for various ...
A Short History of Mumbai (Bombay) (01/08)
The port city of Mumbai, on the West coast of India, originally consisted of a series of islands which are now joined together through reclamation. Although the area had been inhabited for many thousands of years and had been an important trading port and a center for Hindu and Buddhist culture, the city as we know it today was founded by...
The Tsengel Tuvans (11/07)
To reach the homeland of the Tsengel Tuvans one has to travel to the furthest western corner of Mongolia, to the High Altai mountains to a province the size of the Netherlands, bordering China. More than 90% of the population of the area are Kazakh Muslims, the remaining 10% are Khalkh, Urinakhai, Khoshuud and Tuvans.

The Tuvans are a ...
The Knowledge (11/07)
It takes a central London cab driver an average of 34 months to gainThe Knowledge required to drive a licensed London taxi. Before they can receive their license they must know every street and the route between every street in a 6 mile radius of Charing Cross station (that's about 113 square miles) - and they need to be able to describe ...
A Brief History of Auschwitz (11/07)
Auschwitz was the name the Germans used for the Polish city of Oswiecim when they occupied it in WWII. The concentration camp was established nearby in June 1940, taking the name of the nearby town. The camp quickly expanded into three main parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz - a group of about 40 sub-...
A Short History of Modern China (10/07)
  • In 1911 the Qing Dynasty was overthrown, ending 2000 years of imperial rule. There were many revolutionary groups but the most organized was founded by Dr Sun Yat-sen.
  • In WWI the Chinese government sided with the Allies. In return ...
A Short History of Ethiopia (09/07)
The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (historically known as Abyssinia) is located in east Africa, on the 'Horn of Africa' (map). Once an important trade route due to its location on the Red Sea, it has been landlocked since 1993, when the province of Eritrea gained independence. It is the oldest independent country in Africa (and...
A Short History of Kenya (09/07)
Kenya is located on the East Coast of Africa, bordered by the Indian Ocean, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia (map). The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was the first European on record to visit the area in 1498. Portuguese rule officially began in 1505, bringing the Portuguese a useful revenue source from tribute payments, ...
A Short History of Sierra Leone (09/07)
The Republic of Sierra Leone is a small country with a population of about 5.3 million on the west coast of Africa (map) bordered by Guinea and Liberia (For more about Liberia visit The Darling at BookBrowse and click the 'BookBrowse Says' link). The life expectancy of men is 39 years and women 42 years. The name is an adaptation ...
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