Reviews: e-books and audiobooks - on owls, yoga and cross-cultural marriage
American Tracy Slater on being a Japanese wife, the Russian aristocrat who brought yoga to 1930s Shanghai, and a book after J. K. Rowling's heart
American Tracy Slater became a shufu when she married a Japanese salaryman and went to live with her husband in Japan. She uses the Japanese word, meaning "wife", because in many ways she became the cliché of a Japanese wife, willing to forgo her own plans for a man. But there was more to Slater's choices than that. Despite her feminist inclinations and academic aspirations, which made her waver on the day of her marriage, she realised that happiness had to do with love and love with her husband, Toru, whom she had met years earlier while teaching English as a second language in Kobe. The pair endure the inevitable culture clashes: she finds it hard to accept that Japanese couples lead separate lives where work and friends are concerned, and Japanese men are expected to have greater loyalty to their companies than to their wives. An added burden was knowing that Toru, being the eldest son, was expected to stay in Japan to care for his father, a widower. Slater's story underscores the importance of choice in where to call home.
The Good Shufu by Tracy Slater (Putnam) e-book
Yoga still has an alternative air, but its explosion in popularity in the West had less to do with hippies returning from India than with a woman with Russian aristocratic roots. Eugenia Vassilievna Peterson (who assumed the name Indra Devi when she moved to India in the 1920s) made sun salutations famous not only in the US, where she gained a following among Hollywood stars including Greta Garbo, but before that, in Shanghai. Arriving in China in 1939 from India, where she had had been a student of "father of modern yoga" Krishnamacharya, she brushed aside the concerns of her diplomat husband and set herself up as a yoga teacher. There she moved in expat circles, befriended American journalist Emily Hahn, and taught hatha yoga in a home owned by the wife of Nationalist Party leader Chiang Kai-shek. Michelle Goldberg employs a dextrous touch in telling Devi's story, relying on patchy records and sometimes her subject's own version of events. This is the audacious life of a modern woman who found herself many times in the right place at the right time.
The Goddess Pose by Michelle Goldberg (Knopf) e-book
Harry Potter fans will know the important role played by owls as conveyers of information. They might also know that J.K. Rowling was simply reprising a common theme of the owl as the bird of wisdom. American wildlife artist Tony Angell, whose book is read by Tom Zingarelli, reminds us that reverence for owls is writ large in folklore traditions in more than 70 countries. While they fascinate us, it's probably safe to say few will be as obsessed as he, especially of western screech owls: over 25 years, he observed as many as five different pairs in a nesting box at his forest home. From his close observations, we find out about their courtship habits (singing back and forth to each other for hours), their love of cool showers during summer, how they teach their young, what angers them, their interactions with humans, and more. Scientific description mixed with personal reflection add depth and interest. Angell also points to YouTube, where you can view the incredible friendship between a cat called Fum and an owl named Gebra.
The House of Owls by Tony Angell (Tantor Audio) audiobook