PositiveBookforumThe book is a defiant manifesto of human rights for all immigrants, a category that includes Mehta’s own family. It is also an extended, angry plea directed toward President Trump and all who mimic him ... What does not seem likely to convince them are Mehta’s pro-immigration arguments: the benefits for a country’s economy or to one’s otherwise boring life from being exposed to a diverse culture ... It’s hard to imagine someone who hates immigrants being persuaded by the joys and benefits of multiculturalism, no matter how many thoughtful statistics Mehta deploys ... Mehta fills in the blanks. He tells a bloody, traumatic story, and one no Western reader will feel proud of, though there can also be a strange comfort in understanding the logic of the present. History might be the best weapon against fear ... Mehta remains strong and convincing when he methodically plots his historical argument.
RaveThe Nation...extraordinary ... her memoir gracefully traces her evolution from an ignorant but curious young American to a writer committed to documenting in her poetry the horrifying details of war ... Forché’s memoir is an attempt not only to illustrate those connections [between Americans and other peoples] but also to provide readers with a path to a similar kind of moral evolution ... Forché’s memoir is so meticulous and specific in her documentation of what war is—children staring in frightened fascination at corpses, a torture victim’s severed fingers flushed down the toilet—that her book becomes a necessary corrective to the cold, bureaucratic language of U.S. politicians ... A book like What You Have Heard Is True challenges us as Americans to see the people arriving at our border not only with empathy but also with the knowledge that their arrival is a manifestation of a shared history—of our shared fate.
Åsne Seierstad, Trans. by Seán Kinsella
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewAyan and Leila did not respond to Seierstad’s requests to speak to her for this book ... Even without the sisters’ voices, the passages in which Seierstad attempts to piece together how the girls were radicalized are absorbing ... Seierstad, perhaps still sensitive after the trials of Bookseller, admits in an extensive reporter’s note that she allowed Sadiq and Sara to read Two Sisters before publication. Her deference to Sadiq might be one reason we get few details regarding what he and Sara were like as parents. And although much of the book takes place in Norway, I didn’t emerge with a vivid sense of why the girls rejected it. Seierstad shows the Norwegian teachers struggling with the girls’ lifestyle choices — wearing the niqab in school, leaving in the middle of class for prayers — but she never pulls back and describes Norway in her own words, as if it, too, might be as foreign a place for the reader as the Islamic world ... As monstrous as it was, the Islamic State gave these girls a reason for living. I’m not sure we understand yet why secular societies often do not.
RaveSalonKevin’s not only a killer, and a chillingly creative one, but he’s joined the exhausting litany of troubled white boys taking out their angst on innocent peers; he’s the grisly topic of nightly talk shows … While Shriver attacks the phenomenon with unflagging gusto (she heavily researched the real-life school murders of the late 1990s), she isn’t preoccupied with figuring out what motivates these young men, nor does she ruminate on how a vapid American society creates adolescent monsters. Thank God for that — what we get instead is a much more interesting, thoughtful, and surprisingly credible, thriller … Eva, in her scathingly honest and often witty recollections of her relationship with Franklin, her agonized decision to give up a life of traveling for motherhood, and her painful years with (the truly hideous and apathetic) Kevin, faces the question head on: Am I responsible for what my child has done?
RaveSalonMartel frames the novel as the reminiscences of an older Pi as recorded by the author and intermittently offers his own observations of this curious Indian man. The device works: Martel is so mesmerized by Pi that one can’t help but be enchanted too … Pi’s story is so extraordinary that when he finally makes it ashore, he offers a comparatively boring version of the tale to two researchers, acknowledging that humans don’t have much of a taste for the miraculous. This played-down version makes Pi’s true tale, thanks to Martel’s beautifully fantastical and spirited rendering, all the more tempting to believe.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewCollins’s book turns out to be far more ambitious than the average memoir about moving abroad. Its first pages are not a good gauge of what is to come: a thoughtful, beautifully written meditation on the art of language and intimacy. The book unfolds like several books in one: on moving abroad, on communication in human relationships, on the history of language and, in the end, on the delights of cross-cultural fusion ... the woman sure knows how to close a paragraph. I often found myself shaking my head in admiration at her sentences, the way her ideas would cohere ... By the end, however, I was somewhat confused as to the larger thrust of When in French. Foreign languages do not seem to pose that terrible a threat to Collins’s relationship, and thus the stakes of the enterprise feel low.
J. Kael Weston
MixedBookforumIn many ways, Weston proves more thoughtful than some early and exuberant American observers of both wars. Once abroad, he treats the Iraqis and Afghans not as generically faceless enemies but as thoughtful, sophisticated citizens of a conquered and divided land ... Weston sees standard State Department rhetoric—the kind of history-distorting self-aggrandizement Americans indulge in all the time—exposed as nonsense ... The gruesomeness of the violence in Fallujah forms the backdrop to perhaps the book’s most stunning chapter, 'The Potato Factory,' named for the original function of the building that later served as Fallujah’s mortuary ... Iraq’s extremes translate into better writing in Weston’s case, the raw chaos of the landscape and the imperial project’s utter bleakness somehow exposing the futility and corruption of all such occupations. Weston’s prose is more precise, more blunt, and one senses he’s mostly angry with himself ... But then the book takes a dizzying turn. 'Four years in a wrong war, three years in a right war, and now home,' he suddenly writes. Really? There was still a 'right' war? The ample evidence he provided for four hundred pages seemed as if it would eradicate all such sentiments. What follows, however, is a profile of an American businessman who was inspired by the story of a US soldier stationed in Afghanistan getting baseball equipment sent over 'so that the entire village could learn how to play America’s favorite sport.' The businessman started an organization that Weston believes is allowing people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to experience 'American greatness through American goodness.' I just kept writing WHY WHY WHY in the margins as I read this bizarre lurch into flatly irrelevant American cheerleading.