James Brooke of Sarawak

Hahn, Emily. James Brooke of Sarawak: a Biography of Sir James Brooke. Arthur Baker, Ltd., 1953.

Reason read: I am reading this as a follow-up to by . had a whole section on James Brooke.

As a young age, James Brooke had a unique life. After he inherited a small fortune, he was interested in buying ships and starting new colonies. He imagined being able to save the souls of the Malays, but really he wanted an entire country to call his own. His confidence went out before him like a high school bully in na├»ve full swagger. From the beginning, Brooke was expecting Sultan Omar Ali to draw up papers – a deed of possession for Brooke to govern Sarawak, just like that. Once in charge Brooke was able to bring order to Sarawak. He established a council of state, an army, national flag, and a constitution. Twenty-four years after the fact he was finally recognized for his feats. He died four years after that. The end.
Hahn draws her biography of James Brooke from letters and journals that have survived time. A surprising tidbit of information was that Brooke was a mama’s boy. But after thinking about his spoiled attitude, I don’t know why I was so surprised by his letters home. Brooke never married, although there is the mystery of Ms. Angela Burdett-Coutts and the broken engagement…
I found it interesting that Hahn seemed to be, most of the time, sympathetic to Brooke. She writes with a conversational tone that is not dry or dull, but is more in defense of most of his actions and questionable character. She almost needs you to like Brooke as much as she apparently does. She uses words like “poor” and “unfortunate” to describe Brooke. She blames the reformers for having contradicting opinions about murder – almost calling them hypocrites for being against Brooke killing people of Borneo saying, “…we must try to understand how he could have acted as he did in various matters…” (p 223). Actually, if you must know, I questioned Hahn’s choice of words often. Consider this sentence, “the fate of the Middletons makes a horrible and somewhat embarrassing story” (p 213). Tell me. What is so embarrassing about absolute terror and the undeniable urge for self preservation? Mrs. Middleton remained hidden while her children were being murdered. I find the next scenario more of an “embarrassment” – a man was charged with guarding a plank but accidentally shot himself in the head. But I digress…

Quote I liked, “Strong men were proud of being able to weep like babies” (p 36). What kind of culture encouraged men to show emotion? That is practically unheard of in our society! Here’s another line I liked,

Author fact: Hahn also wrote China To Me, a Partial Autobiography. This was also on my Challenge list. I have already finished it.

Nancy said: Pearl said if you were interested in learning more about James Brooke, try reading his biography by Hahn. Pearl hints that Brooke is not a likeable character. Maybe she disapproves of him murdering Borneons.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very straightforward chapter called “Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).

All Elevations Unknown

Lightner Jr., Sam. All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo. New York: Broadway Books, 2001.

Reason read: Mount Kinabalu was first ascended in March 1851.

As an extremely accomplished rock climber, Sam Lightner was always looking for the next summit. Coming across a black and white photo of a mysterious mountain somewhere in the heart of Borneo sent his NeedToConquer heart beating a little faster and his adventurous spirit into overdrive. Where, exactly, was this mountain and how soon could he scale it? The map was labeled “all elevations unknown.” In the spring of 1999, following Major Tom Harrisson’s book, The World Within as his bible, Lightner and a team of fellow climbers, camera men, porters, and unseen spirits set off into the jungle. A total of twenty-seven men follow Harrisson’s footsteps to conquer mountain known as Batu Lawi.
What makes All Elevations Unknown different from other extreme sport memoirs is Lightner’s historical look-back of what Tom Harrisson was going through fifty-four years earlier. Every other chapter is set in 1945 as Tom and his native tribe of Kelabit fight off the enemy Japanese at the end of World War II. For Harrisson, it was a struggle to keep the Kelabit from using their own inhumane war tactics of decapitation and poisoned darts. For Lightner in present day, sponsorship makes it a struggle to keep the photographers and reporters from interfering with, or even ruining, the climb. Both men, fifty-four years apart, experience a necessary inconvenience by collaborating with men with different motives.
As an aside: evading leeches sounded like a true nightmare until Lightner mentioned centipedes….

Author fact: Lightner is an international rock climber and has been the subject of a documentary.

Book trivia: Sadly, there are no maps or real photographs relevant to the adventure in All Elevations Unknown. In the online version there is an image of the famed mountain. Additional trivia: Lightner includes climbing terms for those not in the know.

Nancy said: Pearl said All Elevations Unknown was “entertaining” (Book Lust To Go p 39).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called ” Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).

March Same As It Ever Was

This March will mark my eighth time running the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race. When I lived in town I would watch the runners race by, seemingly effortlessly. I could spy on them from my third floor apartment; while I sipped coffee I wondered what it would be like to able to run six miles knowing believing I couldn’t run a single one. Look at me now, Dad.

Here are the books I’m reading for the month of March:

Fiction:

  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – in honor of International Women’s month and to check off a category from the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge list (a cozy mystery).
  • Miss Mole by E.H. Young – in honor of Young’s birth month.
  • The Calligrapher by Edward Docx – in honor of March is Action Hero month.
  • On the Night Plain by J. Robert Lennon – in honor of Yellowstone National Park.
  • Pandora’s Star by Peter Hamilton – in honor of sci-fi month.

Nonfiction:

  • All Elevations Unknown: an Adventure into the Heart of Borneo by Sam Lightner, Jr. – in honor of the first time Mount Kinabu was ascended (March 1851).
  • Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz – in memory of the March 2003 bombing of Baghdad.

Series Continuations:

  • Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland – to continue the series started in January in honor something I can’t remember.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • The 21: A Journey into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs by Martin Mosebach (started in February).