Having just read this for a 4th or more time, I still don't quite know how to talk about it.
What I can tell you: its very readable; its a page turner...moreHaving just read this for a 4th or more time, I still don't quite know how to talk about it.
What I can tell you: its very readable; its a page turner; it sits in the gap between prose and poetry; its about the relationship between desire. I think this is a meditation on the nature of sexual desire in the contact zone between the first and third worlds.
Written in Arabic in the mid 1960s and translated into English in 1969, the novel has not at all become dated -- themes of desire cross with those of gender, colonialism, neo-colonialism, and the meaning of life.
My thin review hardly does justice to this tone poem of a wrenching novel. It stays with me for years on end.
I would rate this book as perhaps the most important book I have read in my life. Top five or 10 at least.
Not least because it creates a new genre --...moreI would rate this book as perhaps the most important book I have read in my life. Top five or 10 at least.
Not least because it creates a new genre -- we have yet to give it a name. But most importantly it struggles to arrive at how "temporal displacement" is not merely some theoretical device invented by tenuring academics, but rather something that everyday people in the 3rd world actually feel and experience.
Not least because it demonstrates the power of the archive; the ability of the West to loot and hoard the documents that would give identity and meaning to alternative visions within the 3rd world.
Not least because, it explodes in our faces the presumption that we are more free or more global or more cosmopolitan than our ancestors.
Not least because it shows us how to give life to the dead facts of history without fictionalizing narratives (a wholly appropriate strategy -- but not the one Ghosh deploys.)
Not the least because, it shows us how the living experience of real religion differs from, and is perhaps superior to, the textualized routines of formal religions.
And because he is funny -- laugh out loud funny.
Read this twice in the morning and then twice again...
And because he presses his healing fingers along the wounds that constitute the separation between first and thirds worlds.(less)
Two chapters: one from the point of view of the colonizer, the other from the colonized. Totally compelling and beautifully written.
It demonstrates th...moreTwo chapters: one from the point of view of the colonizer, the other from the colonized. Totally compelling and beautifully written.
It demonstrates the human capacity to regard the life of the slave AND the life of the master. (Consider my favorite line from the film Bladerunner: "If only you had seen what I have seen with your eyes.") Memmi sees with all eyes and spares us no acid in our wounds. And yet precisely because he is so even tempered, so evenhanded, the small judgments he does make are not the splashes of pebbles in a pond, but the sound of oceans sucking in cosmic debris. (what ever that means.)(less)
This book will try your patience. Munif leaves us no detailed unreported, no character unmotivated, no movement un-pulled. If you can't hang with him,...moreThis book will try your patience. Munif leaves us no detailed unreported, no character unmotivated, no movement un-pulled. If you can't hang with him, you lose. You lose the transformation of a culture basing its life around an oasis, to one catacombed by the oil industry.
The book is so masterful, so compelling in its sureness of pace, so confident in its psychology, political economy, and cultural encounter, that it could come only after a lifetime of lesser efforts to channel the author's volcanic anger.
This is part of trilogy. It gets you within a world -- all the more amazing for being more true than any work of history you are liable to find.
The only other book that compares with this one is Ivo Andric's Bridge on the Drina. What the two authors have in common is that they both wrote their dissertations on their topics and THEN turned to the better medium: (so called) fiction. (less)
Another masterwork by Ghosh. This one has a biographical taste -- Ghosh is writing in part about his relatives. This one gives you a feel for Burma, M...moreAnother masterwork by Ghosh. This one has a biographical taste -- Ghosh is writing in part about his relatives. This one gives you a feel for Burma, Malaysia, and India. I found it really good to read it with: (1) Burmese Days by Orwell; and I suspect it would also be good with (2) Burgess' The Malaysian Trilogy.
As a political economy novel it has sections on the Burmese timber industry and on Malaysian rubber plantations.(less)
This book changed my life. It has short chapters, 5-10 pages. you can get most of what you need from chapters 1-3 and the epilogue.
It explains the st...moreThis book changed my life. It has short chapters, 5-10 pages. you can get most of what you need from chapters 1-3 and the epilogue.
It explains the structure of metaphor. Turns out, at least for me, that theory is metaphorical, language is metaphorical, life itself is metaphorical.
So what does that do for us? It makes it possible to realize the perspectivism is not an ideal to shoot for in some pristine Kantian space, but the very quantum material of social life.
In this recognition, I found a way to calm down, to converse with my enemy, to find the overlap between anger and peace, laughter and crying, life and death. Or rather, I am finding it.
(Lakhoff's work on metaphor and war was good in the 1990s -- first invasion of Iraq. But his more recent stuff strikes me as a bit jingoistic. I emailed him about this -- since I took him to be a hero of mine. But he never wrote back.)(less)
As good an overview of Marx's work as I have found. But Avineri is no longer my favorite interpreter of Marx. There is a bit too much of Michael Walze...moreAs good an overview of Marx's work as I have found. But Avineri is no longer my favorite interpreter of Marx. There is a bit too much of Michael Walzer in him -- especially his seeming irresponsibility in using Marx to seemingly justify colonialism.(less)
Orwell is a central figure in Nandy's Intimate Enemy. His "Shooting an Elephant" demonstrates Orwell's ambivalence towards colonialism. But Burmese da...moreOrwell is a central figure in Nandy's Intimate Enemy. His "Shooting an Elephant" demonstrates Orwell's ambivalence towards colonialism. But Burmese days struck me as very pointed. I was so pleased for Orwell.
By the way, Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language," is the best thing I have ever read diagnosing unclear language use. In a nutshell here is the message: "Clarity has to be risked." Or conversely, when we are not being clear, this is because we hesitate to reveal our politics to ourselves. Bad writing, bad speaking is really bad faith.
These days we hear many writers (e.g. Lindqvist) who say that the Holocaust was the apex of what the Europeans were practicing in the colonies. Cesair...moreThese days we hear many writers (e.g. Lindqvist) who say that the Holocaust was the apex of what the Europeans were practicing in the colonies. Cesaire said it first and said it pointedly. Somethings things have to be repeated before they can be heard. (less)
With Marquez, the book is nothing short of an effort to redefine the relationship between time, space, and consciousness. Many find this a kind of glo...moreWith Marquez, the book is nothing short of an effort to redefine the relationship between time, space, and consciousness. Many find this a kind of glorified soap-opera. This is a misreading. Allende is trying to provide a third world redefinition of the relationship between freedom and determinacy, between history and consciousness, between fact, fiction, and the truth, between past, future and the now.
By all means enjoy the story -- and then let it seep into your theoretical life.
As a political economy novel it has sections on the life of ranching as well as the economic and social relations between a lord and his serfs.(less)
I found this book a failure of courage and imagination -- all the more upsetting for the author's astute sense of detail and wonderful psychological d...moreI found this book a failure of courage and imagination -- all the more upsetting for the author's astute sense of detail and wonderful psychological depth. But ask yourself this: if the Taliban are real humans than why are they not represented as such? No doubt we will all love the movie as well.
I started out loving this book. Hosseini is dead on target in his depiction of children's psychology, the non-contractual relationships between master and servant, and in his weaving of the threads between trauma, memory, and denial.
Further, Hosseini captures the feel of life in a Third World country. His depiction of Afghanistan confirms my own short travels in Afghanistan during the 1970s. Indeed, I was becoming ever more excited with the possibility of teaching this book in my new course on Afghanistan. But alas.
The book fails exactly where it most needs to succeed - in the depiction of the Taliban. When we do not have an archive, or the possibility of getting at the facts and narratives of a part of history, fiction can be used creatively and responsibly in order to construct something real. Take, for example, the extraordinary slave narrative written by Guy Endore -- Babouk. After years of research, Endore writes a history of a slave engaged in rebellion just prior to the Haitian Revolution.
Hosseini has the skills but not the courage nor the empathy/sympathy to portray the Taliban as historical, sociological, economic, modern creations. Discounting and trivializing his own skills, he characterizes the Taliban in the easiest way -- as simple, cartoonish, evil. He thereby does nothing to enlighten us. Worse, he panders to a sleepwalking liberal public who happily accept his vision as a seemingly authentic reflection of their own myopia.
Most everyone is satisfied: the U.S. public for having read about a country they destroyed -- feeling all the better at having disposed of evil; the publishers for their timely profit; and Hosseini for having expressed his romantic sense of loss.
At least V.S. Niapaul is honest about his hatred for his own people. Hosseini's twist is less forgivable -- he gives aide to the very people whose malice, neglect, ignorance, and misunderstanding of Afghan people is one key factor in the destruction of this beautiful land and vital people.
A failure of imagination is often the result of a failure in will, in courage, in politics. Hosseini traps himself in the politics of nostalgia.
(For a similar review with a more academic bent, please see:
For example: his use of the methods of science. Drought turns into famine under British rule; drought does not turn into famine during ho...moreMind blowing.
For example: his use of the methods of science. Drought turns into famine under British rule; drought does not turn into famine during home rule in India and China. Question: why? Answer? well read it and find out.
For example: makes you wonder if the Nazis had anything on the Brits. Why then do I celebrate London?
For example: why didn't I know about the policy driven famines in India and China?
Yes of course, we have been fed lies; lie upon lie upon lie. But we have been fed systematically. There is balance in the world, is there not? While others are starved of food, and culture, and, dignity we are fed lies and lies and lies. (less)
This is really only one essay with hundreds of footnotes. The rest of the book is a through catalog of U.S. interventions in space and time.
The lead...moreThis is really only one essay with hundreds of footnotes. The rest of the book is a through catalog of U.S. interventions in space and time.
The lead essay is a devastating and, in my view, an unanswerable critique of the criminal basis and continuous criminality of the country called the USA. There is lifetime of Churchill's systematic and painstaking work in the footnotes -- many of which I have followed out and read.
Churchill reveals what has to be denied in order for the citizens of this country to think that they do not live in occupied territory, that their state is non-criminal, that they are not complicit in a continuing imperial and colonial history. My one critique is that too much of his work depends on taking law seriously; much of his case rests on laws and treaties signed by the U.S. But, if this tactic is seen as an internal critique, then I don't see how it can be answered except by one these two moves: "possession is 9/10ths of the law" or "the world is a better place despite US crimes." The first admits to the power of force alone and condemns the US as no more than an imperial power, the second justifies any and all crimes in the name of some notion of progress -- a move we might call necro-politics.
You can do many things with this book -- ignore it, throw it across the room, diminish it by slandering the author. But the hardest thing to do is argue against it head on. Because that would require a self-stripping down to the enigma of the human condition. Most of us cannot handle that kind of bright light on bare body.
I could not and still cannot read this book for more than 10 pages at a time. I put it down, wipe my tears, walk around the house a few times, and get...moreI could not and still cannot read this book for more than 10 pages at a time. I put it down, wipe my tears, walk around the house a few times, and get back to it with some wariness. One of my friends/students once said to me, "Never, never teach a class on Afghanistan without this book." Or for that matter on war.
The love of a mother for her son (and sometimes daughter) has never, for me, been so strongly conveyed as in this book. The fear and idealism of the soldier never opened up so carefully, so delicately, so warmly, so precisely. The collective delusions of a society never conveyed so irresistibly as tides, as a gravity that pulls everyone to tragedy, to the inevitable implosion of one's naivete, towards one's desire to be find out that one is indeed a fool, a loving fool, but a fool.
That these are soviet soldiers speaking about their experience in Afghanistan brings home the significance of this book in elliptical ways. The indirectness of the blows Aleksievich delivers compound their deft, deadly, efficiency. Through the particular the universal speaks. And, as it speaks it carries itself to and through another particular. The Soviets and the USAers -- twins.
Read this book and be changed. Read it again and again be changed. Read it a third time and ask yourself if we do not discover our humanity by tragedy alone.
A good film to watch as a companion to this book: The Thin Red Line (1998) (less)
A very difficult book. But it got me started thinking about this: temporal displacement. The idea is that besides killing , assimilating, and ignoring...moreA very difficult book. But it got me started thinking about this: temporal displacement. The idea is that besides killing , assimilating, and ignoring others, we can also act as if they live in a different developmental time; that we do not share time with them. This was/is a crucial insight about how life works in modern times. (less)