Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.


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Smiles for Sale – “Lotus” – a novel by Lijia Zhang

LOTUS is the first novel of Chinese writer Lijia Zhang, who began her working life at 16 in a factory that produced intercontinental missiles, taught herself English by listening to the music of The Carpenters, and now works as a journalist and social commentator in Beijing.

I’ll be interviewing her on Monday on Impact on BBC World News (1330 BST).

“Lotus” is about prostitutes in steamy southern Shenzhen, the city just north of Hong Kong. What they are like, why they do it, and how they came to be there. Zhang says it’s a myth to think the lives of all sex workers are all misery.   At best, they can earn and live for themselves. But at worst – and what an awful worst –  they’re raped and constantly exploited. And that is how many begin.

Like Lijia Zhang’s own grandmother. The novel is rooted in a story revealed on a deathbed, the family secret of her grandmother’s past, sold to a brothel when she was just fourteen.  Continue reading


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America Revisited: the case for Gun Rights

As Americans in the west woke up to the awful news from Florida, I was on my way to the Ben Avery shooting range in the desert north of Phoenix Arizona, to meet three gun enthusiasts – Carol Ruh, president of the Arizona Ladies Shooting Association, her husband Pete Ruh, and the group’s Treasurer Debbie Arnold.  I’m recording a documentary for BBC Radio to air this September. The brief is, “what do Americans really think?”  Continue reading


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America Revisited : Leaving LA

Eight years ago, black Americans were talking about pride and history – Barack Obama in the White House. In the last two days, I’ve been hearing stories of frustration and disappointment. Not with him – the people I’ve been talking to in Los Angeles have mostly been his liberal supporters. But with what they think his elevation unleashed in some of their fellow Americans. Continue reading


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America Revisited road trip : LA

When the dawn comes, I’ll be able to see palm trees. That’s jet lag in Los Angeles for you. I’ve surfaced in an eccentric little house in somebody’s back yard – built purely I reckon for the AirBNB economy – eager for daylight and a bike ride down to Venice beach.

The last time I blogged, it was with the confident expectation that Donald Trump would by now be a footnote in American political history. Ha! Now it’s California primary day. Continue reading