RaveThe New York Review of BooksStrout’s prose, unshowy, sparing of metaphor but vivid with both necessary and contingent detail, matches her democracy of subject and theme, and seems agile enough to describe any human situation. In Oh William! the narrator’s conversational prose—the colloquialisms, the searching for the correct expression, the \'I guess\' and \'I mean\'—seems exactly equivalent, tonally, to the arrhythmic lives she is describing, their disturbances, stops and starts, and dreamlike groping. Strout is not so absorbed by the psychic clamor around her to neglect the task of finding the best-fitting structure for her intuitions ... she has managed to achieve, through the most economical means, the amplitude and populousness of the novel cycle, as well as the lancing revelations of the laconic tale. Everything in them seems to fall into place and connect naturally, while the literary artifice through which this naturalness is achieved remains hidden from the reader. There is a sense, too, in Strout’s recent books of her art reaching an unexpected conclusion, hinting at a reality beyond the known world ... For all the depths of anger and despair they uncover, and the bitterness they attest to, Strout’s works insist on the superabundance of life, the unrealized bliss always immanent in it.
PositiveThe New YorkerBrennan writes that, though appreciative of efforts to \'diversify faculties in terms of ethnicity and national origin,\' Said was troubled by the way Orientalism encouraged \'fixations on personal ‘identity’ \' in academia ... Brennan reports that Said’s \'battle to make the Palestinian story as sophisticated and persuasive as Israeli hasbara\' had some small successes ... Besieged for much of his life by \'the superior power of incessantly repeated lies,\' Brennan writes, \'he knew he was not going to win.\'
Yang Jisheng trans. by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian
PositiveThe New YorkerA thick catalogue of gruesome atrocities, blunders, bedlam, and ideological dissimulation, by the Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng ... Yang’s book offers the most comprehensive journalistic account yet of contemporary China’s foundational trauma. Memoirs of the Cultural Revolution, first appearing in the nineteen-eighties, belong by now to a distinct nonfiction genre ... Yang provides the larger political backdrop to these granular accounts of cruelty and suffering. At the outset of the Cultural Revolution, he was studying engineering at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, and he was one of the many students who travelled around the country to promote the cause. In 1968, he became a reporter for Xinhua News Agency, a position that gave him access to many otherwise unreachable sources ... Yang describes, in often overwhelming detail, the intricate internal power struggle that eventually erupted into the Cultural Revolution—with Mao variously consulting and shunning a small group of confidants, including his wife, a former actress; China’s long-standing Premier, Zhou Enlai; and the military hero Lin Biao, who had replaced Peng Dehuai, a strong critic of Mao, as the Minister of Defense in 1959, and proceeded to turn the People’s Liberation Army into a pro-Mao redoubt ... Yang, although obliged to omit Xi’s personal trajectory—from son of Mao’s comrade to China’s supreme leader—nonetheless leaves his readers in no doubt about the \'ultimate victor\' of the Cultural Revolution: what he calls the \'bureaucratic clique,\' and the children of the privileged.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksQurratulain Hyder...has a magisterial ambition and technical resourcefulness rarely seen before in Urdu fiction ... Hyder employs diverse genres—letters, chronicles, parables, journals—to present her melancholy vision of the corrosions of time. In confidently writing about India’s Buddhist and Hindu past, Hyder, a Muslim by birth, also provides an example of the secular literary culture of the subcontinent that has largely remained untainted by sectarian tensions.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Ed. by Larry Siems
RaveThe GuardianGuantánamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s extraordinary account of rendition, captivity and torture reveals, more vividly than any book in the previous decade of shock-and-awe ferocity, how he and countless other men became victims of a profound sense of individual and collective emasculation ... Slahi’s catalogue of physical and verbal cruelty underscores the desperation in their many attempts to re-establish absolute superiority ... by far the most intimate account of post 9/11 radicalization—not of Muslims, rather of a significant swathe of the American military-intellectual complex. To read about Slahi’s repetitive and futile brutalizing is to shed the comforting illusion that the most vehement partisans of holy war flourish in the ravaged landscapes of south and west Asia. Such fanatics, who can be atheists as well as crusaders and jihadists, also lurk among the US’s best and the brightest, emboldened by an endless supply of money, arms and even \'ideas\' supplied by terrorism experts and clash-of-civilizations theorists.
PositiveThe New Yorker\"Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948... the second and concluding volume of Ramachandra Guha’s biography, offers a more conventional account [than previous works] ... The new volume likewise shows Guha to be admirably industrious in examining multiple archives, and diligent in his mastery of the arcana of Indian politics, but a bit languid in his analyses. Gandhi appears in his account as a symbol of India’s imperilled secular nationalism, whose \'ideas on religious pluralism and interfaith harmony speak directly to the world we live and labour in.\' This bland do-gooder has little of the \'sublime madness\' that Niebuhr identified in the man who wrestled with the snake of politics.\
David Foster Wallace
MixedThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewSo vast is Wallace's intellectual energy and ambition that he always wants to do more than what anyone else can reasonably achieve in a magazine article – and he has some enviably indulgent editors. He wishes, as much in his nonfiction as in his fiction, ‘to antagonize,’ as he said in an interview in 1993, ‘the reader's sense that what she's experiencing as she reads is meditated through a human consciousness.’ Accordingly, Wallace appears as a character in his own reportage, and, though he may not like the comparison to a Great Male Narcissist, he reminds one most of the author of Armies of the Night as he strives for full self-disclosure … Certainly, few of his young peers have spoken as eloquently and feelingly as he has about the hard tasks of the moral imagination that contemporary American life imposes on them. Yet he often appears to belong too much to his own times – the endless postmodern present – to persuasively explain his quarrel with them.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewKiran Desai's extraordinary new novel manages to explore, with intimacy and insight, just about every contemporary international issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence … Though relieved by much humor, The Inheritance of Loss may strike many readers as offering an unrelentingly bitter view. But then, as Orhan Pamuk wrote soon after 9/11, people in the West are ‘scarcely aware of this overwhelming feeling of humiliation that is experienced by most of the world's population,’ which ‘neither magical realistic novels that endow poverty and foolishness with charm nor the exoticism of popular travel literature manages to fathom.’ This is the invisible emotional reality Desai uncovers as she describes the lives of people fated to experience modern life as a continuous affront to their notions of order, dignity and justice. We do not need to agree with this vision in order to marvel at Desai's artistic power in expressing it.
RaveThe New York Review of Books\"But Gidla’s characters are not two-dimensional victims, poor and weak, waiting to be liberated from their primitive existence by some modern ideology or institution such as secular democracy, Hindu nationalism, or global capitalism. Rather, she commemorates their ingenuity and creativity, their repertoire of cultures and memories. A tireless interviewer, she displays an ethnographic fidelity to the stories, images, gods, taboos, and fears of her community—her account of its tradition of pig-hunting and wedding feasts is particularly vivid. And the emotional current is always strong. People fall in love, and are cruelly thwarted, by both fate and man-made prohibitions.\