Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Lowy Institute books of the year 2016 (part one)

A Corpse in the Koryo, Shadow Among Splendours, and Playing the Game.

Photo: Getty Images/David Ramos
Photo: Getty Images/David Ramos
Published 20 Dec 2016 

A Corpse in the Koryo, by James Church. Selected by Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove.

Last week, with the end of 2016 finally in sight, I took up a novel. After this mad, sad year - after Brexit, Aleppo and The Donald - I needed a break from non-fiction and post-facts.

A Corpse in the Koryo is the first in James Church’s series of novels about a North Korean detective, Inspector O. James Church is a pseudonym for a former CIA Asia hand who knows North Korea well, and the book has the feel of authenticity about it. The pervasiveness of the totalitarian state seems no less suffocating than the Pyongyang heat. Truly, North Korea must be one of the most terrible places in the world.

Yet there is little politics in the novel, in fact the Kim family regime is not even mentioned by name. Despite the exotic setting, A Corpse in the Koryo is a hardboiled mystery thriller with a quirky but sympathetic protagonist. If it has a surreal edge, that only makes it the perfect summer reading for 2016.

Shadow Among Splendours: Lady Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe’s adventures among the flowers of Burma, 1897-1921, by E. Charles Nelson. Selected by Interpreter contributor Andrew Selth.

I have been collecting and reading publications about Myanmar for over 40 years. Yet, a few months ago, I discovered a book that offered me something new and exciting.

The Botanical Gardens of Ireland has produced a lavishly illustrated work about Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe, a remarkable Anglo-Irish woman who lived in Burma (as it was then known) from 1897-1921. She was a keen amateur botanist and a gifted painter of watercolours. She also helped design the botanical gardens at Maymyo, the British hill station near Mandalay.

E. Charles Nelson’s delightful account of her ‘adventures among the flowers of Burma’ is well worth reading.

Playing the Game: Life and Politics in Papua New Guinea, by Julius Chan. Selected by Lowy Institute Research Fellow Jonathan Pryke.

Sir Julius Chan is one of Papua New Guinea’s most storied politicians. Twice Prime Minister, four times Deputy Prime Minister, twice Minister of Finance (including at the birth of the nation) and current Governor of New Ireland Province, his pedigree and longevity has few rivals in the brief political history of our nearest neighbour.

Playing the Game is an unblinking justification of Chan’s track record throughout this long and distinguished career. As the only book that ties together 48 years of politics in PNG, and the first to be written by a PNG politician in 40 years, it is also unique. It is because of this that, despite lacking objectivity or possessing any self-doubt, the book has much to offer.

There are only a few ‘must read’ books on Papua New Guinean politics, and far fewer written by Papua New Guinean authors. Despite its flaws, Playing the Game should be put at the top of the list.

You can read my full review of Playing the Game for the Weekend Australian here.


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