Review: Asylum – by Eric Ngalle Charles

asylumThis is a play / docudrama written by my Cameroonian asylum-seeker friend. The drama tracks the progress of migrants and asylum seekers as they set themselves up in Wales. One feels the struggle to cope with the system without speaking English and the harshness of the challenges an asylum seeker may face to secure funding from the Home Office and accommodation. One feels the pain of the refugees who are fleeing horrors in their homeland as they deal with the crisis of setting up in a new foreign land. One is pulled to the perhaps lost families and love ties in the native land but at the same time one is drawn to the wonders of Western life in the UK. The book has lots of authentic migrant poems that touch with a raw nerve the adventure and plight of the asylum seekers. I think that the usefulness of this book to any refugee new to these shores cannot be underestimated. The book is full of useful factual information for people to find the necessary outlets and processes in order to settle properly. Well written and with a genuine artistic flair that appeals to readers across the board.


Review: Chav Punk Hobbit – The Quest to The End Of The World – by Jason Phillips

chav punk hobbit

Jason is a Welsh Musician, and in this short book, he details his most recent Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage experience. He takes the Camino Portugués from Porto, a follow up to his previous encounter with the more traditional, and more widely known and popular, Camino Frances. We find Jason alone in his hotel room in Porto in a dusky predawn, a crazed band post-gig, having departed, and left the protagonist with little money and equipment and a pipe dream to escape yet again on pilgrimage to Santiago. This book is a modern pilgrimage, a journey to self. We are not sharing the voyage of a medieval religious monk, we share our modern chav hobbit’s punk desires. He needs not mass, blood wine and body bread, but wifi, bocadillos and plastic auberge mattresses. Our modern day pilgrim needs not God’s guidance, but is savouring the beauty and tranquility of a rustic, muddy countryside, as his mind ventures into the pilgrim spirit and devours itself in questions of self-exploration. A host of characters is met and through the hero’s transcript of muttered profanities as he describes the lurid animals he meets en route we make friends with a myriad of personalities from dotted around the globe. Most notably, German astronomer-theologian Thomaas and later, Irish reveller and journeyman Eoin. Interspersed with Spanish natives and kind Portuguese innkeepers and waiters, our bubbly hero sounds off his thoughts and shares in the rich tapestry of life of his fellow men, all the time progressing his own mind’s journey and in a self-revelatory manner, touching our soul with more profound deeper and wise philosophy. Jason loves his woman in Wales. He never quite transcends and escapes his homeland of Wales. From the murky sacred Ulla river reminding him of his hometown, Newport, to thinking of his absent grandfather having disappeared to Australia on his journey’s End, nostalgia is always a containing force to Jason, preventing him from moving on and getting the success and desires he so craves from life. Is it money he seeks? He answers and affirmative no and sees it as a means to an end in life’s great journey. He does seek Broadband and Wifi, yet after we lose communications and move out of the realm of technological contact with the outside world, our hero is not lost but finds himself again and can let his hair down properly in the taverna and hostels, enjoying more ancient revelry, wine and brandy, guitar-laden five star meals and the warmth of traditional hospitality so frequented by the tourists of these ancient routes over the Millennia. The language of Jason’s book is often shockingly coarse, but equally it is a direct language and the best philosophy succeeds in its directness. We move with the writer along the pilgrimage and as you read the book you can feel the rain pelting down, the books brevity comforting us as each night draws to a close and we settle down for the night on the auberge mattresses. Blankets or not, Chav Punk Hobbit reveals to us our own conflict in a modern age, where religion matters little and journeys of self are replaced by instant gratifications.I feel jealous, having not directly journeyed the route myself, green as I cannot feel the a priori mental revelations that resound in between the fast-flowing narratives. We must all strike out in this world and go on personal journeys to reveal our deepest thinking and to share with others the pleasures of life. Chav Punk Hobbit is an adventure and to overlook the beauty in the book’s touching simplicity means that you are not grasping the Welsh Hemingway’s poetic raison d’être. It is modern day philosophy in its most rawest essence. ENJOY!

Review: The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages

The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages
The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages by K. David Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this an absolutely fascinating, inspiring tale that truly opened my eyes to one of the planet’s scariest phenomena… We hear of endangered wildlife and how our modern industrial society is harming the environment. We hear of other worrying global issues. But, often neglected and hardly publicised, is the very real situation of the reduction in global language diversity. (Minor) languages, often spoken by marginalised tribespeople in remote areas of the Earth, are disappearing into the annals of history (or remaining unrecorded) as they fade into extinction. We are losing human knowledge at a great rate. This knowledge has accumulated over a great period of time and has characteristics which simply cannot be translated or encoded into larger, more powerful global languages. We think that in our modern world, we have an abundance of knowledge and have improved communication. The invention of the internet and spread of the English language as the dominant lingua franca for global business gives us a false sense of arrogance and superiority. The erosion of ancient knowledge makes us poorer as a global human society, however… Harrison elegantly argues the case for the desperate need to preserve and revitalise these strange tongues ion far-flung places. I think that one of his most valid points in the argument for preservation of language diversity, is that these languages contain critical knowledge of local environments, usually in places which are at most risk of tipping the scale in the imbalance of climate change and environmental degradation which has been demonstrated to affect us all, wherever we may live, and whatever our chosen first language might be. The book is intellectual, but accessible. It provokes serious thinking and demonstrates the careful study and hard graft put in by researchers and indeed last speakers of the most critically endangered tongues. I have close links to Wales and New Zealand which are both leading the way in the mass revitalisation of endangered languages, ie. Maori and Welsh… The mass education program in schools in both of these countries clearly demonstrates the cultural value inherent in revitalisation efforts and serves as a model to other language hotspots where the loss of culture, knowledge and language is at its most perilous. As a student of language, who aims to continue his own understanding of linguistic communication on our planet, I would highly recommend this book which I have given a maximum five star-rating.

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Review: The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation

The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation
The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation by Mark Kurlansky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I live in Wales and there are similar issues here as in the Basque country – We have a certain regional autonomy after devolution, there is a strong national feeling and independence movement, it is an industrial heartland and there is a strong tradition and language, populated by a fiercely proud people. I felt that it would be interesting to study the Basques as their struggle tucked in a small borderland between France and Spain is most certainly an interesting one. This book is well written and has a lot of variety, covering history, culture, traditions, political events and even cookery. The more ancient history of Euskadi I found particularly thrilling and most of the information was new to me. As a language student I found the details on the Euskadi language and its history and development fascinating. The struggles against in particular the Spanish state are well-documented and the independence movement culminating in the rise of the infamous ETA can be understood from a Basque perspective, though without being overly biased. Franco’s commitment against regionalism is contrasted with the autonomous areas which came about through democracy and accession to the European Union. The differences and similarities between the French and Spanish sides of the region are well covered, with their great historical characters such as Ignacio Loyola well mentioned. The importance of their land as an industrial and commercial centre from its days as a great fishing community to its rise through the industrial revolution. The occasional Basque recipes thrown in for detail are pleasant interjections and show that the author is a accustomed to writing about this topic in his other works. It’s a shame the book hasn’t been updated to cover the last decade where there have been developments in the Basque land, with more autonomy granted and ETA having declared a permanent ceasefire. The book is a great overall study and introduces plenty of further cultural refeneces which I may take an interest in researching.

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No Ordinary Joe by Joe Calzaghe

I was fortunate enough to get to watch Calzaghe fight live, against Mikkel Kessler, in Cardiff Millenium Stadium. I followed him throughout his career and can honestly say he was the most amazing fighter. I believe that his record places him among the very best to have ever graced the sport. The ferocity in how he attacked Kessler and the grace about which he danced the ring, were truly a sight to behold. Joe’s autobiography is an outstanding read. Here we have a legend in his own words. The early years of his fighting career demonstrates how difficult a ladder he had to climb. His training regime was immense and the dedication his father showed him is a tale unto itself. Aside from the boxing and sport side of the book, it is a great story about the relationship between a loving father and a caring and obedient son.  Enzo Calzaghe is as much to credit for Joe’s wonderful career, as the great fighter is himself. I found it really bizarre how Joe was overlooked by the national squad early on and denied the opportunity to represent at the Olympics. It also shocked me how meagre his wages were right up until the latter stages of his career. When you hear of the immense purses available in the sport today, you get the impression that boxing is very lucrative. Joe was world championship material and was still struggling to make ends meet and finance a humble mortgage. It was a shame for me, that the book ended where it did, as it doesn’t cover the final few years of his career, when he really hit the very top and started to get the true recognition he warranted. It would be nice if he one day adds a further few chapters to cover complete the story. Joe comes across as a humble man and his modest upbringing in South Wales and really basic training setup, make his rise to success even more outstanding. His book is an essential item for any boxing fan’s reading list and a lover of sports biographies or a lover of sport in general should give this read a go. Joe is the people’s champion and his book affirms this view.