Out in the World

New books from local authors
Drawing by Francesco Bologna

Anthony Minardi has such an extensive résumé he needs a spreadsheet to keep track of it all, which he does across more than three pages at the back of his latest endeavor, “The Wetlands Field Guide,” just published through Xlibris.

If it seems the East Hampton resident has been around forever, you could say “around” really began with his 1968 master’s degree in marine science from Long Island University. He went on to get a Ph.D. at Fordham and work as a field investigator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, but for our purposes his 1969 to 1996 tenure at East Hampton High stands out. He taught biology and marine science, he coached tennis, he chaired the science department, and, near the end of his spreadsheet, under Awards, we see he was named the outstanding biology teacher in New York State in 1986.

The teaching continues. Mr. Mindari’s field guide is clearly written and logically laid out, from watery things that crawl, like the arachnid horseshoe crab, which “has recently become a favorite of scientists, who have discovered several medical applications” sourced from the prehistoric creature, to the variety of plants to be found growing in the marsh, the charming bayberry bush, for one: “It prefers poor or sandy soil and usually survives well on the leeward zone of the marine beach zone. . . . In the manufacture of candles, the berries are boiled in water, and the wax is skimmed off when cool.”

More from the horse’s mouth: “It is hoped that this publication will be useful to teachers, laymen, and students so that they may be aware of the genetic adaptations” undergone by flora and fauna to survive the marine environment’s “adverse, abiotic conditions, including wind, soil conditions, temperature, and salt spray.”

The book, slim enough to be tucked into cargo pants without impeding a hike, is anything but dense, the brevity of its descriptions leaving plenty of eye-pleasing white space for field notes or scribbles. Better yet, every other page features a captivating Francesco Bologna pen-and-ink illustration.

“A Cape Town Boy”

“From the ages of two to five, my life was spent in a Japanese concentration camp outside Shanghai.”

So begins Brian Clewly Johnson’s recently self-published “A Cape Town Boy: A Memoir of Growing Up, 1940 to 1959.” And if that line calls to mind J.G. Ballard’s “Empire of the Sun,” Mr. Johnson acknowledges as much, qualifying his “scant memory” of life in the camp “with fifteen hundred other civilians, mostly British, and many children,” by noting that Ballard was 12 at the time of his internment. He was left, however, with an arm permanently bent, the result of neglectful setting of a break and a lousy cast — a lifelong physical manifestation of his captors’ mistreatment.

Mr. Johnson’s father had been posted to China as an officer on a Royal Dutch Shell tanker before the start of the second Sino-Japanese war in the late 1930s. “My parents lived well in Shanghai, certainly much better than they had done in Britain.” His Irish Catholic mother, who until her arrival in China had been a hairdresser, had five servants under her — “two gardeners, a driver, a cook, and an amah for me.”

“In my view, that fact still holds true for most British expatriates; life abroad is always better than life ‘back home.’ ”

It was quite another world back then, well explored by Mr. Johnson in this engaging, internationalist tale, which, though focused on his early years, frequently jumps forward chronologically to comment on the past — on professional and personal regrets, for example, and not infrequently on the ghost of his father, who abandoned the family when the author was an infant.

His father, who eventually settled in Brooklyn Heights with his second wife, turned geographical distance into an emotional one, at one point upbraiding his 16-year-old son through the mail for failing to write back swiftly enough, asking with something less than self-awareness, “Does not your mother instruct you in your filial duties, or teach you to have respect and politeness?”

His mother, to her credit, had turned peripatetic. To start a new life, in 1949 the two boarded a steamer bound for the southern tip of Africa. “Cape Town lay before us in blinding sunlight.” He was 9 years old.

In a bildungsroman at times Dickensian in its characters and eccentricities, the chapter titles alone can speak volumes: “Senior School Torments,” “Creepy Teachers,” and, let’s not forget, “Canes and Christ.”

“Seen in hindsight,” Mr. Johnson writes in one of his interludes, “Cape Town in 1953 was a gorgeous, boring city. And South Africa was a doggedly fascist society.”

“In my teens and twenties, I had no political consciousness. Apartheid punctuated our lives. That Afrikaner euphemism, ‘separate development’ — later coined to camouflage racial segregation — was all I had known since my arrival in the country. . . .”

That would change. Mr. Johnson, who lives in Amagansett, wrote in The Star earlier this year about a return trip to Cape Town, during which he assessed the post-Mandela state of affairs and the struggles of the African National Congress to deliver on its promises. The piece was titled “Oh My, the Beloved Country!” — a nod to Alan Paton’s 1948 novel, which, though sadly out of vogue, despite the beautiful, nearly prose-poem quality of its writing, still has a lot to say about race relations, and in a way that is particularly pertinent to America.

Mr. Johnson would later find success as an advertising executive, but here he ends his story on the cusp of his 20th birthday. His portraits, self and otherwise, are indelible, but none more so than that of his mother, who never accepted his father’s absence: “For years afterward, until his death at age 51, Peggy encouraged me to end my bedtime prayers with ‘And please bring Daddy back to us.’ ”