RaveThe Washington PostA culmination of [Iyer\'s] shifting focus on inner journeys and an expansion of his argument that paradise is rarely found elsewhere. But unlike his slim book of stillness, this is a return to the open road: a grand, full-scale travelogue ... Like the author himself, it has multiple identities and registers — equally memoir, travelogue, cultural history and airport philosophy. It is also one of his very best ... There is a vintage, almost imperial quality to Iyer’s brand of wanderlust and a clear influence from the European Romantic tradition of finding and writing the self through far-flung grand tours. That kind of travel writing, however, can now feel dated and disconnected in its earnest, exclusively male self-absorption — not to mention tone deaf in a world of restricted access and rigid visa regimes. Fortunately, Iyer has remained both participant and critic of that privileged mode of travelogue-ing, and I’ve always found an electric charge of journalistic observation and acute political alertness in even his most romantic essays ... The book is haunted by Iyer’s lifelong obsession with pursuing paradise: searching for an external projection of refuge, beauty and peace through travel ... Early sections of the book can feel like fragmentary, rapid-fire visits to exotic destinations, punctuated with elliptical inner monologues and historical and literary asides. The writing, while always poetic, can feel unmoored and disorienting ... A narrative cartography of personal growth and expansion. It is a work of spiritual evolution built around vivid, discernible images of real places by a master of description ... I was looking forward to returning to a vintage, aspirational brand of wanderlust with a great roving chronicler of elsewhere. Instead, The Half Known Life is a masterful merging of Iyer’s past and current concerns, a book of inner journeys told through extraordinary exteriors, of hopeful optimism for a world rooted in the paradise of being home.
PanThe Washington PostIs Bittersweet musicology, a biography of emotions, a heartfelt memoir or an airport self-help work? The answer seems unclear even after my second reading, but it certainly draws on all those genres in a style that mirrors the language of TED talks, graduation speeches and therapeutic podcasts. Cain is a poetic writer, and she is self-consciously publishing Bittersweet in a much more emotionally raw and revelatory moment than when [her previous book] Quiet was released ... but I find the free-form methodology of psychological cartography here unconvincing and suspect. It is not original to suggest that melancholic music, sad films or heavy art opens emotional pathways to catharsis ... Bittersweet reads like a series of thought bubbles shoehorned into book form. With its blend of memoir, pop psychology, music criticism and self-help, there is an undisciplined interdisciplinarity to Bittersweet that fails to form a coherent and memorable whole. The book buckles under the weight of its ambitions, abruptly shifting among real-world examples of melancholic personalities, lived experiences and academic studies ... the book suffers from hopscotch evidentiary support, a meandering structure and a sustained mood of inquiry. For a subject as relevant, that is indeed bittersweet.
RaveThe Washington PostRooney has written an extraordinarily lucid, gorgeous and nuanced work about coming of age in what is indeed a broken world. Without directly addressing the pandemic, the book powerfully reflects a moment defined by existential interiority and uncertainty ... Rooney’s characters are rather ordinary. And yet, this is one of the most assured, poetic and beautifully calibrated books I’ve read in years ... The way Rooney designs [the novel\'s email] conversations demonstrates her understanding of how so many of us think and speak now, in scattered thoughts, toggling between the registers of global catastrophe and personal shortcomings, gossip and political outrage ... This is a book designed to be widely read and discussed ... Rooney’s commitment to the beauty of the novel feels old-fashioned and sincere in the best way.
MixedThe Washington Post... traverses some rather dense territory. Brennan presents the scholarly Said as a dazzling processing power operating at warp speed, a mind capable of metabolizing, reorienting and rendering theory with technological precision ... One of the strengths of the book’s exhausting focus on intellectual production and academic theory is to underscore that Said was never a polemicist with easy positions ... What’s missing across Places of Mind however, is the sheer joy of inquiry and volcanic passions Said brought to his own writing. With perfectly delivered witticisms, he infused inanimate concepts with such verve and style that to this day his books, lectures and interview transcripts seem to pulsate out from the page. For Said, thinking was not simply a place of mind, but rendered in body and soul. It was his music.
PositiveThe Washington PostWalsh is an engaging guide ... As a Pakistani reader, I found that some of the book’s cultural generalizations and summations tended toward exotica cliche, but the country’s contradictions have always ignited writers’ imaginations, and Walsh has an impeccable eye for detail ... an unquestionably illuminating and engaging book, but arriving in 2020, its insights feel dated, given the dramatic shifts in South Asia since Walsh reported from the region ... feels like a throwback to a waning era of the authoritative journalistic account of an exotic elsewhere. This is not only because of crumbling international norms of journalistic access, as Walsh experienced, or shrinking foreign bureaus, but also because of the decentralizing and anti-establishment mood of the socially networked age. In an increasingly globalized media landscape, American readers could benefit from supplementing Walsh’s dispatches with local voices and more diverse sources. One of the blurbed reviewers on the book’s cover describes it as the single book one needs to read to understand Pakistan. It certainly succeeds as an elegantly crafted memoir of a gifted journalist, but in a shift from my own younger admiration for the grizzled foreign correspondent, I’d hesitate to call it a definitive account of a country very much still in motion.
RaveThe Washington Post... extraordinary ... a hugely ambitious and exceptional work of long-form journalism. Eight years in the making, with stories from Malawi, South Africa, Egypt, Russia, India, Mexico, Israel and the Palestinian territories, this is a landmark study of unprecedented frontiers in the battle for civil rights ... instead of a triumphant celebration of progress, this is a layered and surprising work about those living along these cultural fault lines ... Gevisser’s book feels especially revelatory in this globalist approach, making thoughtful comparisons that illuminate just how privileged Western societies have become in the application of LGBT legal rights ... What makes Gevisser an especially compelling narrator and guide to this subject is his awareness of his privilege as a White, upper-middle-class South African from a country with one of the most progressive post-apartheid constitutions in terms of human rights...His self-disclosure liberates him from the sometimes insular and patronizing Western gaze on LGBT communities in postcolonial societies, understanding how American or European cultural power may have galvanized LGBT movements but can also serve to destabilize and in many cases endanger local struggles for sexual and gender diversity. These gray zones make the book riveting and morally complex ... I was deeply moved by these nuances in The Pink Line to reflect on my own coming-of-age and coming-out story ... Gevisser gives language and form to those experiences ... While the author’s own sexuality certainly makes him a partial observer, this is by no means a memoir or a polemic. It is a work of clear-eyed analysis and exceptional reporting, and it deserves a wide and non-LGBT readership that wishes to understand these frontiers. What elevates the book is Gevisser’s poetic and queer gaze, his searching language about why he has dedicated almost a decade of his life to understanding a generational transformation.
RaveThe Washington Post... extraordinary ... This is not a hagiographic portrait of a spiritual icon but a remarkably human life story, defined by familial failures, seething rivalries, physical frailty and relentless ambition. For anyone who has been moved by a Shankar recording, this is a portrait of the man behind the music and the unchartered waters of Shankar’s quest to save Indian classical music from extinction. With his elegant writing and extensive research, Craske manages to shatter Shankar’s cliche Eastern sage persona and rebuild his reputation as one of the giants of world music. Indian Sun transcends its subject by becoming something larger than a narrow timeline of an undeniably large life. In using Shankar as an axis, Craske has written a broader cultural history of music and hyphenated artists in the 20th century — a measured rumination on the possibilities and the price of artistic ambition ... For new generations of artists, Craske’s biography offers a kind of road map for those interested in drawing from other cultures but also for artists of minority backgrounds searching, at times meandering, through mainstream majorities that may not understand or see them ... Craske’s biography is a celebration easily experienced in the confines of home. With its annotated notes and its descriptions of specific recordings, Shankar’s music still holds the power to both electrify and soothe as it once did in the 1960s. Accompanied by easily assembled playlists from Shankar’s extraordinary back catalogue, this is a beautiful book, as resplendent as its subject’s music and life.
PanThe Washington PostThis is an accessible, popular history to introduce readers to the kaleidoscopic sweep of 16 centuries of Islamic history ... [Marozzi] makes huge editorial choices within Islam’s kaleidoscopic histories, not to mention his unexplained decision to focus on 15 cities as his narrative concept. His most curious omission is to overlook the impact of Western colonialism on Islamic history. Many of the Islamist movements Marozzi so deeply laments and resents were born in anti-colonial struggles during the 18th and 19th centuries. Political Islam has reactionary roots ... That geopolitical and historical dimension is largely overlooked ... the necessary depth of perspective requires a writer to slip under the skin of historical surfaces to explain the roots of the melancholia and the complex reasons underlying cultural stagnation. It is a project more demanding than what this quick-hit survey can accomplish ... His history of these vast lands has a narrow thesis, and it is a narrative of past glories and contemporary wastelands ... His immersion and passion for his subject deserve admiration. But his seemingly random city selections, overt cultural assumptions and historical omissions do not. When grappling with a subject as vast and politically fraught as Islam’s 16 centuries through such a personal lens, some degree of humility would seem reasonable. Instead, Marozzi’s tone gives the entire project a disappointing air delivered with an outsider’s smug condescension.
MixedThe Washington Post... a defiant rallying cry in favor of immigration ... It is a provocative and seductive polemic by design, buttressed by statistics, reporting and a powerful personal narrative. For this immigrant reader, the results are variable ... I admire Mehta’s defense of the fundamental humanity and dignity of migrants ... I couldn’t agree more with his emphasis on how the immigration panic today is \'raced\' and fueled by painful caricatures and cultural stereotypes ... And yet as I read his book, I found myself questioning the prospects—and the efficacy—of an argument that frames immigration as reparations ... his central premise that migration is the right of the colonized—and the debt owed by Western oppression—seems tailor-made to antagonize rather than advance the already broken conversation ... There are many mic-drop moments and eminently quotable lines such as this throughout This Land Is Our Land. It is a blistering argument that earns its place in this emotional debate. In a news climate dominated by opponents of immigration, Mehta brings personal, postcolonial and global anguish to a broader American readership ... Manifestos and anthems, regardless of their political orientation, are a call to arms, not to resolution.
Ed. by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman
PositiveThe Washington Post\"...as a reader, I worried that a collection defined by politics could crumble under the weight of good intentions ... Thankfully, this collection is a resounding success on multiple fronts. Its righteous rage is perfectly matched by its literary rewards ... As I finished The Good Immigrant, my mind was buzzing with the multitude of voices, stories, heartbreaks and dreams featured in its 300-plus pages. The book is a welcome corrective to the nationalist calls for walls, borders and exclusion that seek to narrow the boundaries of what it means to be American. Each essay is a tantalizing introduction—and invitation—to the larger body of work these artists have already created and will continue to make long after this moment passes.\
RaveThe Washington PostCan one family’s personal story return readers to that galvanizing moment of empathy and awakening? That’s the test for Kurdi’s elegant and deeply moving memoir ... This kind of memoir—the third-world innocent transformed into a heroic figure through unimaginable suffering—is a standard of the memoir-industrial complex. Often ghostwritten and tied to foundational campaigns, these earnest and elegantly packaged texts are designed to inspire and sell. While Kurdi’s book has its own didactic moments, the story succeeds by eschewing the impersonal language of good intentions for something more visceral. Kurdi is rarely kind to herself. She neglects her career and family as she campaigns to bring her siblings to Canada as refugees ... These are some of the book’s strongest sections with its most devastating revelations. For Kurdi, the asymmetry between her divided selves—a life of privilege in Canada and her family’s suffering in Syria—becomes too much to bear ... Kurdi’s memoir proves that in an age when images and headlines vanish as fast as they appear, long-form writing in the first person remains a powerful stand against forgetting. This is an accomplished and searing political memoir—one woman’s poignant and pointed eulogy for a nephew who deserved more than passing notoriety as the \'boy on the beach.\'
PositiveThe Washington PostThe foreign correspondent’s memoir of an adventurous, exotic posting has become a kind of publishing standard. Awed by the drama of modern India, Crabtree joins tycoons on private jets, attends lavish parties and is charmed by the eloquent elites at the forefront of South Asia’s gilded age. These chapters sometimes read a bit like repurposed articles and strung-together profiles. While Crabtree’s book occasionally suffers from abrupt shifts in focus, it offers an excellent survey of India’s economic and political transformation. In crisp language designed for a general reader, The Billionaire Raj provides an overview of just how India became the world’s most coveted market after its independence from British rule ... There is too little attention paid to caste, gender and the environmental degradation facing many of India’s teeming cities, and the narration is sometimes too narrowly confined to the chandelier-strewn ballrooms of the country’s new palaces ... But the author’s first-hand journey into the dizzying heights and distressing recesses of Indian capitalism is a worthy addition to modern India’s story.