Audiobook reviews: non-fiction

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 April, 2015, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 April, 2015, 10:38pm

Eating Viet Nam
by Graham Holliday
Anthony Bourdain/Ecco

Vietnamese food is nothing without herbs, but readers have to reach chapter 22 to hear Co Ba, one of Vietnam’s most famous cooks, share that important nugget with Graham Holliday. By that point in his culinary discovery of the country, he has eaten pig uterus, half-grown duck eggs, snakes and other “freak show menu items”, and knows herbs are what distinguishes Vietnamese food from other Southeast Asian cuisines. A food blogger and former English teacher, Holliday came under the radar of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who has his own publishing imprint. Bourdain explains in his foreword that he appreciated “noodlepie” (the blog) because Holliday was insider enough to understand the facts but “outsider enough to thrill at the newness and strangeness of it all”. Divided into Hanoi, where Holliday spent his first few years, and Ho Chi Minh City, the book takes readers into the grimiest “sh*tpits” that, despite their feculence, draws the author in as he becomes addicted to street food. Those who journey with him will understand how he turned a hobby into a paying career.


If You Find This Letter
by Hannah Brencher
Howard Books

This is a worthy story and has spawned a worthy blog and "movement". Trouble is, is probably more interesting than the book that explains how it all came about. Hannah Brencher digs deep to tell about her "journey to find purpose through hundreds of letters to strangers". Hers is a young person's tale of looking for God, feeling alone, sinking into depression and seeking solace in the written word. Initially she finds comfort in a journal. But then she starts writing with others in mind and deposits these "love letters" around New York City. When she moved to the city, she carried letters with her in a notebook: from her best friend, mother and aunt, who advised her to find her gift and give it, whether to a million or a few. Brencher, whose heart is in the right place, signs her letters, "A girl just trying to find her way". When she starts blogging about her letter deposits, she starts receiving letter requests from strangers for loved ones who need encouragement, to be acknowledged, or who just want a reason to wait by the letter box.


Master Thieves
by Stephen Kurkjian
(read by Mike Chamberlain)
Tantor Audio


Stephen Kurkjian's account of the "greatest art theft in world history" can't help being a riveting yarn. In 1990, 13 artworks were stolen, including the only seascape Rembrandt had ever painted, from a museum in Boston that was far from secure. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum had been warned of a likely heist, but despite the caution, a night watchman let in two men dressed in police uniforms, who went for the first things that looked valuable. With the paintings, which they cut from frames, the men then walked out the employee entrance. Kurkjian, a Boston Globe journalist whose reporting has helped crack two other art thefts, was drawn to the case because it was "Boston's last, best secret". For years, certain questions niggled, including why the pieces were stolen. Chief among his conclusions are that the artworks were filched not by art lovers but by gangsters who had hoped to use them in plea bargains. Compelling as Kurkjian's new evidence may be, Master Thieves, read matter-of-factly by Mike Chamberlain, underscores that theories are just that. The case remains unsolved.