Book of the day
From the author of the bestselling Philomena, made into the award-winning film starring Steve Coogan and Judi Dench, comes the story of a young woman, born in Pakistan, living in Britain, whose life is thrown into desperate turmoil by the violent death of her father. The Pakistani authorities talk of suicide, but why would Ayesha’s happy, gentle father kill himself?
Ayesha’s quest to find the truth takes her right away from her safe London existence. She meets with threats, intimidation and smiling perjurers who resent her intrusion into their world. She is warned that her life is in danger; powerful, ruthless men have reasons to want her silenced. But there are things she needs to know, that compel her to press on with her search for the truth.
Was her father an innocent victim? Can she continue to revere the image of him she grew up with, that of a good, loving parent? Or will she be forced to accept that her father was not the person she thought he was?
Ayesha decides that the only way forward is to fly to Pakistan and confront his killers. When she goes, Martin Sixsmith goes with her. The denouement of their journey together is extraordinarily moving, with unforeseen repercussions for them both.
Facts of the day
1768 Philip Astley stages the first modern circus in London. Astley was an exceptional horseman with special skills in trick riding. He noticed a trend for crowds to enjoy trick riding in London, so he opened a riding school that doubled as a venue for displaying acrobatic riding skill.
On this day in 1768, Astley performed in an open field at what is now the Waterloo area of London, behind the present site of St John’s Church. He rode in a circle rather than a straight line as his rivals did, and thus chanced on the format which was later named a ‘circus’.
This format was so successful that Astley added a clown to his shows to amuse the spectators between equestrian sequences – in later years joined by musicians, jugglers, tumblers, tightrope walkers and dancing dogs – thus creating the format of the circus we know today.
The new year festival – Oshogatsu – is the most national important holiday in Japan; it is a symbol of renewal. In December, various Bonenkai or ‘forget-the-year parties’ are held to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the previous 12 months and to prepare for a new beginning.
Misunderstandings and grudges are forgiven and houses are spring-cleaned. At midnight on 31 December, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times in a effort to expel the same number of types of human weakness.
New Year’s day itself is a day of joy and no work is to be done. Children receive otoshidamas, small gifts with money inside.
Sending New Year’s cards is a popular tradition – if postmarked by a certain date, the Japanese post office guarantees delivery of all New Year’s cards on 1 January.
Orwell reviewed Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian novel We for the Tribune in 1946, and despite what he called a ‘rather weak and episodic plot’, he found it ‘relevant to our own situation’.
We is set in a city of the future built of glass to enable the government, led by a Big Brother-like figure, to monitor its people in every corner and nook. Its plot centers on a man and woman who fall in love and together rebel against the state. Sound familiar? 1984 was published three years after Orwell wrote the review.
1728 Thomas Warton (UK)
1811 Gilbert Abbott à Beckett (UK)
1829 T W Robertson (UK)
1832 Félix-Gabriel Marchand (Canada)
1856 Anton Aškerc (Slovenia)
1856 Lizette Woodworth Reese (USA)
1857 Henry Blake Fuller (USA)
1873 Hayyim Nahman Bialik (Ukraine)
1881 Giovanni Papini (Italy)
1881 Lascelles Abercrombie (UK)
1890 Karel Čapek (Czech Republic)
1890 Kurt Tucholsky (Germany)
1891 August Gailit (Estonia)
1897 Karl Löwith (Germany)
1908 Simone de Beauvoir (France)
1921 Lister Sinclair (Canada)
1925 Abdelhamid Benhedoega (Algeria)
1928 Judith Krantz (USA)
1929 Heiner Muller (Germany)
1929 Brian Friel (Ireland)
1931 Algis Budrys (Lithuania)
1933 Sonia Garmers (Curaçao)
1933 Wilbur Smith (Zambia)
1936 Anne Rivers Siddons (USA)
1937 Klaus Schlesinger (Germany)
1943 Robert Drewe (Australia)
1953 Morris Gleitzman (UK, Australia)
1955 Michiko Kakutani (USA)
1958 Stephen Neale (UK)
1971 Hal Niedzviecki (Canada)
Jokes of the day
Q: If the sun shines while it’s snowing, what should you look for?
Cartoon: Various, Cartoons on winter, Markosun’s blog