The Man on Mao’s Right

The Book of the Week is “The Man on Mao’s Right, From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry” by Ji Chaozhu, published in 2008.

Born in 1929 in the Chinese village of Taijun, Ji lived a charmed early childhood, as his politically connected father was a law professor and commissioner of education. In 1937, his family was forced to move in with his paternal grandfather in Fenyang when the Japanese continued their siege of China.

By the end of the 1930’s, the family had fled from their palace to the United States. They moved into a tiny tenement in the East Village in Manhattan. One aspect of their living standards that was actually higher, was the modern plumbing.

Ji had a much, much older, politically connected brother– old enough to be his father– who purported to aid the Chinese Communists, then Americans, alternating between the two throughout his life. But his loyalties truly lay with the Communists.

Ji’s father behaved similarly, translating between English and Japanese for the U.S. Office of War Information after the Pearl Harbor attack, but also starting a secret pro-Communist Chinese newspaper sold in Chinatown. In 1946, he returned to China to become president of Peking University.

Ji learned English in a progressive private school. As he got older, he too began to believe that the Americans were imperialists, as they invaded Korea. He therefore quit Harvard in his junior year to return to China.

Ji had no problem enduring mean living conditions there– more than a hundred students in his Tsinghua University dorm had to share one bathroom. They had a communal bathhouse. A food shortage meant that his diet consisted of only sorghum, corn millet, dried sweet potato flour and pickled vegetables. There were no chairs in the cafeteria– students ate standing up.

When Mao Tse Tung’s Communist party took over China in 1949, the U.S. Seventh Fleet in Taiwan protected Chiang Kai-Shek, the corrupt, exiled leader of the defeated Nationalist party.

In April 1951, Douglas MacArthur was dismissed from his military leadership position by president Harry Truman for having grand plans to wage nuclear war against the Communists. Congress member Albert Gore, Sr. echoed MacArthur’s hawkish sentiments, proposing that the United States warn people to evacuate Korea, and then showering it with nuclear waste to force a stop to the war.

Ji began to attend self-criticism meetings and worship Mao as though he were a supreme being. But Ji wasn’t automatically accepted as a member of the Communist party because his reputation was tainted with Western values. His father and much, much older brother had worked for the American government in various capacities, and his family had lived in America for a time.

Nevertheless, Ji’s fluency in English, high-level education, and understanding of Western culture were major assets that few Chinese people had. So China’s Foreign Ministry recruited him to translate and take notes at the Korean peace talks in spring 1952. He and his fellow interpreters risked their lives in traveling to the site of the negotiations in Panmunjon in North Korea. They survived shelling, strafing and bombing.

Ji then survived the pressure to perfectly, manually type up the excessive number of revisions in Korean, English and Chinese that led to an almost-final written agreement in July 1953. This, after about two million war deaths over the course of two years, with neither of the multi-national sides making any significant progress geographically.

After a short stop at home, Ji was then sent to Geneva for more abuse, but without life-threatening dangers overhead.

Back in China, the landlords and the capitalists were under physical siege by the peasants in rural farming villages. Mao egged on the violence. However, in late 1956, after the common Hungarian people staged an uprising against their Communist oppressors, Mao realized he needed to take steps to avoid that kind of situation in China. So, “… for the first time, American magazines, books, and the occasional film became available. Before that, any Western literature or movies were banned.”

In a move that was nothing new under the sun, Mao gave the Chinese people a chance to air their grievances. One professor complained that Party members and cadres were living high on the hog while the peasants were starving.

Mao then wrote articles saying that the government then knew who the infidels were. He launched his Anti-Rightist campaign. A lot of bourgeois people were fired from their jobs, and sent to reeducation camps. Many people suicided, were executed or never heard from again. Unsurprisingly, the famine in China resulted in about thirty million deaths.

Beginning in the late 1950’s, over the next decade, Ji dutifully did the jobs he was assigned. For months at a time, he alternated between going to rural areas to help with manual labor, and sitting at Zhou Enlai’s side, sometimes even at Mao’s side– interpreting at diplomatic meetings.

In August 1966, a group of adolescents comprised of sociopathic sadists supplied with weaponry– also known as the Red Guards– terrorized anyone accused of disloyalty to Communist ideology (i.e., ownership by the dictatorial State, rather than ownership by private parties, of the means of production; plus other conditions). Anyone could be an accuser. Mao encouraged everyone to be snitches. The victims of violence also included embassy personnel of the former Soviet Union, India and Burma. Not to mention, in August 1967, people in the British consulate.

While ugliness raged in China and was exacerbated with U.S. intervention in Vietnam, there was a similarity with the two countries’ leadership. Zhou Enlai’s role under Mao was like vice president Hubert Humphrey’s under president Lyndon Johnson’s. The second fiddles both obeyed their bosses to keep their jobs, even though their bosses’s actions caused an excessive number of needless deaths and ruined lives.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of China, and Ji’s life and times.

Hopes Dies Last

The Book of the Week is “Hope Dies Last, The Autobiography of Alexander Dubcek” with Jiri Hochman, published in 1993.

In 1920, Czechoslovakia became a sovereign state. In the nineteenth century, Slovakia had been under the thumb of the Hungarians, but it currently has its own identity, culture and language.

History has its fools. Dubcek was one of them. However, such a tragic figure inspires optimism– that helps oppressed people function, that helps them survive until they see better days.

Born in November 1921 in what is now Slovakia, Dubcek– who had an older brother, moved with his family every few years around what is now the former Soviet Union. His parents had briefly lived in Chicago prior to his birth. They were socialists and studied Marxism. In autumn 1921, his father became chairman of the newly formed Czechoslovak Communist Party, and was also a carpenter.

In spring 1925, the family moved to Kyrgyzstan to help build infrastructure for a famine-plagued area, through the auspices of an organization of a couple of hundred Eastern Europeans who sought to do cooperative charitable works. It was there that Dubcek became fluent in the Russian language, in addition to Czech and Slovak.

In March 1939, when Adolf Hitler took over Czechoslovakia, “Czechs, Jews, Communists and Social Democrats were declared public enemies. Remaining civil and political rights were terminated and anti-Semitic laws were imposed.” Dubcek’s family was Christian, and his homeland (Slovakia) was forced to fight for the Axis powers.

At seventeen years of age, Dubcek joined the (then-illegal) Communist Party like his father before him. He hid Party documents in his family pet’s doghouse, where they weren’t found by the oppressive ruling authorities. The Party’s main activity was the distribution of leaflets, which became more dangerous in 1940. However, the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1941 was viewed as good news by the Slovaks.

Dubcek and his brother got jobs at an arms factory, working at a lathe. Their Monday through Saturday commute was rigorous: wake up at 3am to walk five miles to the train station; take the train; walk another two and a half miles to the workplace. Do it in reverse at shift’s end. Otherwise, they wouldn’t eat.

In spring and summer of 1944, Slovak partisans (which included Dubcek and his brother) and the Czech Army engaged in guerrilla warfare in the Slovakian countryside, where the Germans were committing atrocities.

In early 1945, the Soviets took over Czechoslovakia, instituting land reform and national health care while telling the people there would be full employment.

In March 1945, Soviet troops came in after the time the Nazis were all but defeated, to grab the glory. The Soviets’ war propaganda convinced the Czech people that Russia beat Germany, and anti-fascism was good, so their Communist system became preferable to Germany’s.

In summer 1949, Dubcek chose to quit working in a nationalized yeast factory to working for the Communist Party in a district office in what is now Slovakia. He eventually supervised bureaucrats in industry, agriculture and ideology– which he fully believed in himself; that is, prior to the shocking time (1956) he learned of Josef Stalin’s purges and oppression of dissidents.

In the early 1950’s, Dubcek’s family was permitted to holiday in the mountains, skiing, hiking, picking berries or mushrooms. In August 1955, as he was fluent in Russian, he (without his wife and children) was sent to a government school in Moscow for career training for three years.

As first secretary of the Slovak Communist Party, Dubcek wanted to move his country toward de-Stalinization. The tyrant Stalin, who died in 1953, accused dissidents of “bourgeois nationalism” and used other kinds of lingo that labeled Soviets whose words or deeds suggested that they might be thinking about Western culture and values.

Calling someone a bourgeois nationalist would be like calling someone Hitler nowadays– childish, and most likely, incorrect because the accused and Hitler aren’t the least bit analogous. Anyway the Soviets who did the accusing were just “… Marxist-Leninist ideologues convinced that any nationalism was detrimental to the cause of proletarian revolution.” Nonetheless, those accused under Stalin were disappeared without a fair legal proceeding to determine their guilt or innocence.

Stalin perpetrated and perpetuated a culture in which horribly insecure, power-hungry men made ridiculous, baseless accusations (and encouraged the general populace to do so) backed by sociopathic sadists with weaponry to put down threats to their power. The bureaucrats with survival skills lingered in the Soviet government into the 1960’s.

In late 1967, Dubcek was appointed the top leader of Czechoslovakia. He had been able to relax the Soviet censorship of the press but he needed to give his nation’s people more liberties to continue his Action Program, which included proposals for political and economic reforms that would move his government toward a democracy.

Dubcek felt that those dissidents who had been oppressed under Stalin, who had been released from the gulag, should have been pardoned, received their old jobs back, and received restitution. But no other government officials in the Soviet sphere agreed with that. They were all still steeped in the past lies and not ready to change.

In early 1968, Dubcek met with a Party functionary each from Poland and Hungary. They turned out to be snitches for Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. In March 1968, Brezhnev played Dubcek for a sucker by inviting him to a conference of Soviet bloc countries, to be held in Dresden. He told Dubcek it was about economic planning but it turned out to be a criticism session of Czechoslovakia– as Czech leaders were permitting a diversity of opinions from the press (horror!) which bordered on counterrevolution.

After two more charades masquerading as conferences at the behest (or rather, high-pressure tactics) of the Soviets, all of the Party functionaries present, signed an agreement with loophole-filled language that would allegedly allow some of Dubcek’s proposed reforms to be implemented.

And Dubcek’s naivete continued. He should not have been gobsmacked the way he was. He should have known the Soviets wouldn’t hesitate to fire on protestors and use dirty tricks in order to crush a resistance movement. He did know that if he resigned during the phony negotiations, the Soviet oppression of Czechoslovakians would get much worse sooner– but only about five months sooner.

Read the book to learn what transpired in Prague in the third week of August 1968 and thereafter (Hint– Dubcek wrote, “After 1968… rewriting of history was the common practice, and hundreds of historians, including quite a few of my friends, were persecuted.”)

Forty Autumns

The Book of the Week is “Forty Autumns, A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival On Both Sides of the Berlin Wall” by Nina Willner, published in 2016.

The author was the daughter of an East German refugee named Hannah. After WWII, Hannah’s family residence happened to be located in Schwaneberg, in East Germany. The area was liberated by Americans, but was taken over by the Soviets in short order. Hannah’s father was the headmaster of the local school. He was forced to teach Communism to his students.

In 1948, at twenty years old, Hannah, the second oldest in her immediate family (which would eventually consist of nine children), risked getting shot or imprisoned in fleeing to West Germany. The Soviets charged such people with treason– she was young and healthy and refused to help rebuild East Germany.

East Germany indoctrinated the children with their Communist youth groups in which they recited a loyalty oath, sang jingoistic songs, had film-viewings and acted in plays. The children were rewarded for being snitches on their own immediate families, neighbors, friends, teachers– whoever said anything negative about the State. Prison terms awaited the tattled-on.

This prompted a super-serious case of brain-drain and flight of capital and a labor force from East Germany to West Germany. In spring 1953, tensions of the oppressed boiled over. Soviet tanks rolled in, leaving hundreds dead. By the mid-1950’s, the government owned the media, which spewed positive propaganda about itself, and negative about any place other than Soviet-controlled territories.

Initially, the Berlin Wall consisted of the following: concrete that was twelve feet high and one to three feet thick; a slippery, rounded top; wire mesh; electric signal fencing; barbed wire; electric alarms; searchlights; trenches; raked sand to reveal escapees’ footsteps; floodlights; tripwires; booby-traps; attack dogs; not to mention wooden watchtowers. And armed guards, too.

Just for good measure, in the mid-1970’s, the Wall was fortified with metal spikes, nail beds, fences with touch-sensitive alarms and bullet-dischargers, concrete watchtowers, tripwires that set off signal flares; concrete barriers, electrified fences, and additional attack dogs.

Unsurprisingly, by then, countless people had been shot and killed trying to get past the Wall. Their murderers were rewarded with promotions and awards ceremonies. East German government officials enjoyed luxury housing in the Wanderlitz Forest Settlement (equivalent to a corporate village full of dachas) and drove Volvos.

East Germany’s leader decided to boost national pride by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in sports research and sports medicine to churn out the best Olympic athletes. And the nation did so into the 1980’s.

Unfortunately, by the end of the 1970’s, the country was $10 billion in debt to West Germany. It got so desperate to feed its people, it awarded plots of land to individual families so they could grow their own food. It was an un-Communist move– taking power and property away from the State. But after about thirty years, the chickens were coming home to roost under the East German brand of socialism.

In modern times, in the West, it is possible to be capitalistic in one’s economic thinking, and be mildly Soviet in one’s political thinking.

Read the book to learn the fates of the different family members, and how their lives changed during and after the Cold War.

Child of the Ghetto / The Three of Us

As is well known, WWII did a number on Italy. Here are two books that described the experiences of females during and after the war.

The First Book of the Week is “Child of the Ghetto, Coming of Age in Fascist Italy: A Memoir 1926-1946” by Edda Servi Machlin, published in 1995.

Born in February 1926 in a small village outside Rome, the author was named Edda, after Mussolini’s daughter. Her father was the community’s rabbi. The family was actually anti-fascist, but used her name as a cover for avoiding trouble. The Italian government began its abusive treatment of Jews starting in the late summer of 1938. Jewish teachers and public-school employees were fired.

Since the author was no longer allowed to get an education, she spent her adolescence up until her late teens in real-world job training, as a maid, bookkeeper and seamstress. Signage in retail outlets’ windows stated, “This is an Aryan-race store.” Everyone was required to show ID cards that stated his or her religion.

Mid-July 1943 saw a change in Italy’s government but not in its war alliances, pro-Fascism bent, or treatment of Jews. Even though in September it pledged to stop fighting against the Allies. The author’s two older brothers went to hide in the woods to avoid conscription. Because they were Jews, they were denied admittance to an anti-Fascist youth group.

According to the author, in October 1943, the Germans who were sociopathic sadists with weaponry, descended on Rome in the middle of the night to abduct via truck, more than three thousand Jews. Luckily, in the next two months, when a roundup began in neighboring regions, the author, her brothers, and younger sister had been on the run in an area spanning hundreds of miles of countryside around Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, etc., hiding in various homes of benevolent farmers willing to risk their lives. Her parents and younger brother, however, were taken away.

The author heard “through the grapevine” that two American soldiers had bailed out of a warplane and parachuted into her village. That was exciting, because she had been rooting for the Allies all along. Her mentality was, “America, the mythical country of our childhood dreams, was so far away… And Lello [her older brother] had met two of her children! We were enthralled.”

Read the book to learn the fate of the author’s family members, her prewar existence, her adventures in the forests and farmyards during the war, and of her later endeavors.

The Second Book of the Week is “The Three of Us” by Marisa Giardina, published in 2012. This is the suspenseful, depressing story of a female whose girlhood ended before she turned three years old, due to WWII.

The author, her mother and older sister fled on a ship bound for Italy from their native Libya with hardly more than the clothes on their backs. They left her father and her two older brothers behind. The goal in their travels was to reach Fiuggi, where her grandfather was being held as a prisoner of war.

They spent an inordinate amount of time in a bomb shelter and their diet consisted of dried bread crumbs when they could get them. As their situation worsened, refugees such as they, resorted to prostitution, thefts of crops from farms, black-market trading, and illegally occupying abandoned, rubble-strewn buildings, among other tactics to stay alive.

“Italy was in chaos after the war and the Italians lost their compassion for their fellow men.” Non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross and CARE handed out food and sweaters, which were acquired after days of waiting in a queue.

Read the book to learn more about the countless hardships endured by the author, and her incredible will to live, considering her circumstances.



The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti, My Unlikely Journey From the Congo to Hollywood” by Blondy Baruti with Joe Layden, published in 2018.

Baruti was born in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the late 1980’s. When he was three, his father– a banker and government official– abandoned his mother, him and his older sister.

In the late 1990’s, eight countries in Africa engaged in an extremely ugly war, ultimately leaving five million dead. The armed, sociopathic sadistic fighters drugged young males and turned them into soldiers like themselves, and young females, into victims of rape and torture. Naturally, Baruti’s family, like millions of others, fled their homes.

The death rate for everyone in the country was ridiculously high, what with rampant disease, animal or human violence, starvation, etc. To push the point, Baruti wrote, “I was sick and exhausted, and sadly accustomed to the sight and smell of death and so I barely reacted [when a bomb hit a village his family was in].”

Read the book to learn how Baruti’s goal-oriented behavior, positive attitude, unwavering faith, great skills and passion for two activities– which are highly coveted careers– led him to get invaluable assistance with changing his lifestyle radically for the better.

Ten Green Bottles

The Book of the Week is “Ten Green Bottles, The True Story of One Family’s Journey From War-Torn Austria to the Ghettos of Shanghai” by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan, published in 2002. The author was actually the writer of the story of her mother, Nini.

The story started in Vienna in 1921, when the five-year old Nini, her thirteen-year old sister Erna, ten-year old sister Stella, and newborn brother Willi, began to mourn the loss of their father, the owner of dry goods stores. Their mother then had to run the business. They continued to enjoy the benefits of growing up in a wealthy Jewish family, with lessons in piano, violin, skiing, skating and French. They went to the opera and belonged to a synagogue.

However, beginning in 1933, the Social Democratic state of Austria  was occupied by German anti-Semitic Fascist agitators called Nazis. Nini attended rallies that defended the political status quo, to no avail.

Nini’s uncles and aunts were naively optimistic, rationalizing that eventually, the oppressive conditions would go away when Austria’s leadership changed. The Nazis brainwashed non-Jewish Austrians into believing that the Jews were to blame for the country’s problems, as it was clear that the Jews had conspiratorially amassed power and wealth. Jews were beaten in the streets, had their jobs, assets and civil rights stripped from them by the Nazis.

As the months passed, the Murphy’s Law variant, “Nothing is ever so bad that it can’t get worse” applied to Nini’s family and her new Polish boyfriend– who encountered Mussolini’s wrath when he went to visit relatives in Milan.

As is well known, Austria was annexed to Germany in spring 1938. Nini’s family hired a Jewish attorney to help them procure documentation that allowed them to flee to Shanghai. Nini’s family’s new home was not much better than the old one. Just different. The Japanese were oppressing the Chinese, Nazi-style. The Jews weren’t being treated significantly better, either.

Eventually, Nini’s kin found their way into communities of people of their own kind (Jewish) who rebuilt their lives and again prospered. Poldi fit right in, as he had a knack for bartering on the black market. Even under occupation, they re-created civilization– starting small businesses like coffeehouses, a school, a chamber orchestra, and a movie theater that screened old Hollywood movies. They secretly got access to shortwave radios so they could hear war news from Europe and the Pacific.

Nevertheless, Hitler’s persecution machine learned of the Jews’ new-found happiness and put the kibosh on it by having the Japanese herd them into ghettos in spring 1942. So their fortunes changed again.

Read the book to learn of Nini’s and her people’s postwar fate, considering that the reputation of “… the new State of Israel was rumored to be a hostile desert in the Middle East where thousands of Arabs angrily resist the arrival of Jews.”

A Fort of Nine Towers

The Book of the Week is “A Fort of Nine Towers, An Afghan Family Story” by Qais Akbar Omar, published in 2013.

As is well known, the Russians marched into Afghanistan in 1979. The resistance fighters were called the Mujahedin, the Holy Warriors. The Russians had advanced aerial bombs, while the Warriors had old hunting-guns. The Russians left in 1989, but continued to financially support the government until spring 1992; galloping inflation ensued.

The author and his growing family lived in Kabul, of which the Mujahedin then took control. Omar’s father and grandfather ran a lucrative Oriental carpet business. They lived in a multi-generational household, with large families of uncles, aunts and cousins.

At the time Omar began to experience the hardships of war, he was about eight years old. His elementary school stopped teaching the basics of evolution, and began to teach creationism instead. There was no more fear of stray bullets in the streets, but there was a food shortage. The following year, tribal infighting plagued the Mujahedin; rockets fired from above by the different tribes– all Muslim– started to kill people.

Omar’s grandfather’s resistance to change, anger at having his livelihood, property and material possessions stolen, and love of his homeland were largely responsible for his family’s precarious situation, and their traumatic experiences in the coming decades. He insisted the family stay in Afghanistan– to try to protect what they had. He was stripped of the fruits of his life’s work, anyway. Most of their community fled. Omar’s family obeyed the law of Islam by which the females and children obeyed the oldest male relatives.

As the year 1993 progressed and the violence worsened, schools closed and no one went outside for fear of getting hit by sniper bullets, or a rocket-propelled grenade or other weaponry.

In late spring, the declaration of a cease-fire prompted Omar’s father to temporarily evacuate the family from their home in a northwesterly direction over a mountainside to a more peaceful village. They were the only people in their area who had a car.

About four miles away, the closest family members who could fit in the car, were driven to and stayed at the quiet estate of the author’s father’s fabulously wealthy business partner. Until the war came to that neighborhood.

The author, as the oldest son in his immediate family, on a few occasions in the next few years, was invited to accompany his grandfather or his father in a return to their old property to see how it was doing, and perhaps to dig up the gold they had buried in the garden there before they left. Those were harrowing, emotionally and physically hurtful episodes with gruesome scenes and near-death experiences.

For, the war had turned illiterate young Muslim men into sociopathic sadists with weaponry. The hatred among different tribes knew no bounds. On the streets, ragged, begging children were used as decoys for hidden robbers who might also commit rape if passersby stopped to help.

“Panjshiris and Hazaras were supposed to stop launching the rockets at each other that had come from the Americans to be used by the Mujahedin against the Russians. But the Russians were defeated and long gone.”

In September 1996, a new tribe, the Taliban– supplied with weapons by Pakistan– was wreaking havoc in Kabul. Omar’s grandfather described them thusly: “They capture a village and torture people and club them to death, then afterwards ask the young boys to do the same to their parents. They tell the young boys that this will make a man of them.”

The Taliban held public executions of thieves, prostitutes, murderers and gays. They enforced their own draconian version of observance of Islam. After a while, though, people at least knew what to expect. The trains ran on time.

Read the book to learn how the author and his family survived in this extremely suspenseful, emotionally-charged cautionary tale whose moral is this: early evacuation of a region with a history of civil war, whose violence is flaring up again, is advisable.

Where the Wind Leads/The Fox Hunt

The Books of the Week are “Where the Wind Leads, A Memoir” by Vinh Chung With Tim Downs, published in 2014; “The Fox Hunt, A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America” by Mohammed Al Samawi, published in 2018.

Both authors told suspenseful, extremely extreme, long, complicated refugee horror stories, in which they had great good luck on several occasions, and in which certain people took tremendous risks by providing the authors with invaluable assistance that saved their lives.

Born in South Vietnam in December 1975, the author of the former book helpfully, briefly described his homeland’s history three decades before his birth.

The author’s family was Chinese– neither enemies nor friends of the French, Viet Minh, or Khmer Rouge. However, in the 1940’s, the author’s father’s family’s house in the Mekong Delta had been burned to the ground twice, anyway. There was a higher risk of a Viet Minh invasion in the French territory farther north, where the family moved.

As is well known, in the mid-1950’s the French were militarily defeated by the Viet Minh– Communists– and kicked out of their colony Indochina in Southeast Asia. Thereafter, Vietnam was split into north and south. Different ethnic groups migrated toward the side where they numbered in the majority: Communists, north; Catholics and Buddhists, south.

The Khmer Rouge, comprised of Cambodians, continued to ally with the French for decades. By the late 1950’s, the author’s father had become a draft dodger, fleeing to Cambodia to avoid having to fight against the Viet Minh. In 1960, Ho Chi Minh’s militia, the National Liberation Front, was attempting to reunite North and South Vietnam. The Viet Minh was renamed Viet Cong by the United States.

Over decades, the author’s maternal grandmother began a rice-processing business that flourished. By the mid-1970’s, it had a couple of mills, a fleet of trucks, warehouses, etc. It actually benefited from America’s Vietnam War.

The family matriarch hired a matchmaker to marry off her son (the author’s father), born in 1937. He was still sowing his wild oats in his late twenties. Traditionally, both prospects’ families went on a date with the prospects. Then they saw a fortune teller.

The author’s mother was the daughter of a Chinese servant girl of a wealthy household. When she moved to her husband’s house, she had to shop daily for the fast-growing multi-generational household, because they didn’t have a refrigerator. But, since she was expected to become a baby-maker in addition to all of her other responsibilities– she was permitted to hire a teenage nanny with every additional child.

The author’s birth made five. Three more were quickly added, while the author’s father’s mistress had four. The two major philosophies of the family’s culture were filial piety and ancestor worship. Living in the South, their religion combined aspects of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. That changed when the Viet Cong attacked the Mekong Delta. The author’s family’s life was disrupted forever, as their business and real and personal property were stolen.

Due to the Vietnam government’s war against the Chinese that started in February 1979, the ever-growing Chung family became “boat people” in June. Read the book to learn of the family’s ordeal, adjustment to a brand new life, and the author’s explanation for what gave rise to his own extraordinary achievements.

Born in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen in 1986, the author of the latter book helpfully, briefly described the recent history of his homeland.

In 1987, a Sunni-Muslim group named the Muslim Brotherhood formed another group, Hamas. They were supported by Saudi Arabia, southern Yemen, Iraq and another group that formed later, Al Qaeda. Their enemies were Shia Muslims, who are the majority in Iran and northern Yemen.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the author’s Shia-Muslim family lived in a peaceful neighborhood in Sana’a in northern Yemen, where everyone got along fine. He had two older and two younger siblings. His parents were trained as medical doctors; his prominent father worked for a military hospital.

Al Samawi’s parents believed in education, but were extremely devout Muslims. So his parents were thrilled when, as an adolescent, he donated all his lunch money to the Muslim Brotherhood when the group (who were pushing pan-Arabism at the time) visited his private, well-funded grammar school.

However, the teachers preached nonstop hatred against Jews and Christians. The Quran was their authority on that. Besides, they said Hitler was a hero for killing Jews, and the Jews’ books were “dirty, amoral, sinful, impure, demonic.”

In 2000, TV propaganda in Yemen claimed that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Israel was ordering the killing of innocent Palestinians, such as a young boy (who became a poster boy to incite Yemen), for no reason. The haters ignited in most Yemenis additional hatred against the Jews and Israel’s backers, such as the United States.

Eight years later, the author thought he was falling in love at university. But his filial piety put the kibosh on that. His mother did a background check on his prospective girlfriend, and found she wasn’t good enough for her son, and given their situations, she was probably a gold digger. His father also pressured him to end the budding relationship, by offering him a car and a job if his parents could fulfill the traditional Muslim route of choosing a bride for him. He caved in to their browbeating.

However, the next chapter in the author’s life proved to be most educational. He met an inspirational British instructor at his English-language school. Surprisingly, the author’s parents were allowing their son to study English. Al Samawi and his teacher exchanged gifts (the Quran and the Bible, respectively) to try to proselytize the other one. Each dogmatically believed that his own religion was the only right one to practice, else they would go to hell upon their deaths. Then a funny thing happened.

The teacher horrified Al Samawi by telling him he’d been hoodwinked– Al Samawi had unknowingly been reading the (Jewish!) Old Testament, having started at the beginning of the book. The stories’ morals and precepts were largely similar to those in the Quran(!)

In the next several years, Al Samawi became sufficiently open-minded to try to clear up his own confusion between what he’d been taught by his parents and Yemen’s culture, and what he was learning on Facebook and from his jobs at cross-cultural peacemaking organizations and international aid organizations.

From the start of Yemen’s religious civil war in 2015, Al Samawi found himself in a life-threatening, harrowing situation for several months. In one particular instance, he wrote, “Thirty minutes later, I jumped in the back of the black sedan. I didn’t call my mom. I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t pay the hotel.”

Read the book to learn the details of how Al Samawi’s friends in high places went to extraordinary lengths to change his fate, through thrilling plot twists and turns.