RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThis is a haunting, heartbreaking story, deeply researched and lucidly told, with an almost painful emotional honesty—the use of present tense weaving a kind of trance. I kept wanting to read Better to Have Gone because I found it so gripping; I kept wanting not to read it because I found it so upsetting. The image that came to mind, again and again, was of human lives being dashed against the rocks of rigid belief ... Like much of reality, the story Kapur tells sounds almost too implausible to be true ... Part of Kapur’s strength as a guide is that he is attached to reason, yet he yearns for faith. He wants to understand, even if he cannot, quite. Kapur...is excellent about the ideas that animated Auroville and nearly destroyed it. (I did sometimes wish for a map of the township, without which I felt lost in a mythological place, its locales given names like Certitude and Aspiration.) He spares no detail in describing the community’s early years ... His focus, so intense, is sometimes too narrow. More history of the French colony of Pondicherry, from where Auroville emanated, would have been useful, along with more scrutiny of how India’s colonial history, which left a hangover of both excessive deference to white Westerners and whiplash against that, shaped Auroville ... But Auroville, not India, is Kapur’s subject, and the place emerges as awful and beautiful in equal measure.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... compelling and disturbing ... [an] intricately wrought work of reportage ... With such a public subject, what could there be left to tell? Maher answers that question handily, and originally. A Woman Like Her is a model of how to report on celebrity: by focusing on the seedy characters who feed and exploit it, and by harvesting the details, especially at the seam between public and private, that more conventional journalists leave behind. Maher has an often thrillingly slant gaze, an eye alert to the absurdities, ironies and small tragedies at play in the manufacture of images and personas. Her book is full of unforgettable scenes and vignettes ... Among Maher’s wise choices is to accept that the very publicness of Baloch’s life makes her, on some level, unknowable ... this is a dark book, in which loyalty and kindness are outdone by exploitation and cruelty ... Maher excels at finding the bit players who often seem to have more power than the main cast ... Maher astutely probes how laws meant to protect women from harassment can also be used to control and punish blasphemers, minorities and critics of the military government ... I wish she had done more to examine Facebook’s power in Pakistan, which she alludes to but never fully explicates ... More Pakistani history might have been helpful for readers unfamiliar with how the country’s enmity with India, its Islamist parties and its military elite have shaped its mores and culture. At the same time, the profusion of details can become too much, the chronology of where we are in Baloch’s life difficult to sort out. But these are small quibbles. A Woman Like Her is the story of a woman who was a survivor, until she wasn’t. It’s also a map of the savage underworld we’ve made.
Gerbrand Bakker, Trans. by David Colmer
RaveNPRThe novel, told in the first person, is deliberately, deceptively simple. The plot is minimal, the language plainly descriptive. The characters reveal themselves through spare dialogue and gestures. The humor is dark … With only a few characters, with almost no drama, Bakker manages to explore the resentments and obligations of blood relations; the sting of being disfavored; the stun of loss — how for decades Helmer couldn't hear his own name without placing ‘Henk and’ in front of it. Yet the novel also makes clear how life — temperaments, interests, sexuality — was already prying the brothers apart. Helmer's desires are not just unfulfilled: They're often unarticulated. Homoerotic tension curls through the novel, and the expressions of strong feeling sear because they're so rare. The freedom Helmer claims at the end is all the more moving for its smallness.