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Book Reviews Essays The New Republic

The Grammar of Oppression

For the December 2020 issue of The New Republic, I write on caste, race and Isabel Wilkerson’s recent book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. 

By neglecting individualized Dalit experience, by skipping stories about the violence against lower castes in India, Wilkerson misses an opportunity to achieve a more radical goal: to build popular and more reciprocal solidarities on a global level––between the resistance movements against anti-Blackness here and casteism there, for one. Ironically, her approach embodies one aspect of the American exceptionalism she challenges: It centers the United States, using the world outside our borders mostly as reference point, as foil to show Americans that we are not better.”

Categories
ALL Book Reviews Essays Foreign Coverage Politics

Risker, Risk

With support from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, I produced a package of stories on the long-lasting effects of U.S. Cold War intervention on politics in Guyana, a former British colony on the northeastern shoulder of South America.

Risker, Risk
The Caribbean Review of Books, July 2015
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CIA Meddling, Race Riots and a Phantom Death Squad: Why a tiny South American country can’t escape the ugly legacies of its idiosyncratic past.
Foreign Policy, July 31, 2015
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Of Love and Other Demographics
Warscapes, June 11, 2015
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‘Dougla’ Politics
Warscapes, June 15, 2015
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The Terror and the Time
Pulitzer Center Blog, August 4, 2015
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ALL Book Reviews

The Upstairs Wife

I review Rafia Zakaria’s memoir in Ms. Magazine’s Winter 2015 issue: “The Upstairs Wife revises an old conceit—at least as old as Plato—in telling the story of a nation-state: justice (or lack thereof) in the philosopher’s ideal Republic is reflected in the souls of its individual citizens. A nearer example is Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children; its protagonist is born at the precise moment that India gains independence from Britain, and the man’s life mirrors his country’s life in magical ways, his body disintegrating as the body politic cracks. Zakaria almost mimics Rushdie’s device; she describes her father’s birth in Bombay a month before the creation of India and Pakistan. Fifteen years after the nations’ twin genesis, her kin sail from one to the other, and their fates help tell “an intimate history” of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Ultimately, however, it is not the citizen who mirrors state in this family memoir. It is marriage.”

 

Categories
Book Reviews Essays

India’s Missing Women

A review essay for the July 7-14, 2014 issue of The Nation: The way women navigated the boundary between the home and the world was a question with great resonance and imaginative significance for India’s anti-colonial struggle during the first half of the twentieth century. (The title that Rabindranath Tagore gave his 1916 novel about a progressive landowner who nudges his reluctant wife out of purdah, only to be cuckolded, was The Home and the WorldGhare Baire in Bengali.) As India wrestles with what is frequently cast by parties across the political spectrum as a new foreign onslaught, through the influence of global capital and Western culture, the free movement of women between the private and public spheres continues to be central to the nation’s reckoning with itself. Does the growing visibility of women in public explain the increased sexual violence against them? Or, to the contrary, does their relative ongoing invisibility continue to make them vulnerable? Two and a half decades ago, just as India was opening itself up to free-market capitalism, Sen coined the phrase “missing women” to describe the acute gender imbalance rooted in bias against females that existed across much of Asia. But the term can be applied as much to the women missing from India’s streets as to those missing from its population.

Read more here.

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ALL Book Reviews Migration The New York Times Book Review

Writers Retreat

Imagine an 18th-century London town house, once a fashionable address but recently home to successive huddled masses: Jewish refugees, Irish then Bangladeshi then Somali immigrants. Now fill that house with 30 foreign writers who have fled oppression and violence, all asylum seekers specially chosen for favored treatment. Call them “fellows.” Hang identity cards, with their mug shots petrified in plastic, around their necks. Appoint a chairman whose paranoia and megalomania recall, in madcap picayune, the dictators who tortured and imprisoned many of them. Outfit the house with security cameras that scan the corridors, the surveillance tapes complemented by the human watchfulness of ever-­solicitous volunteers. What you have is the premise for “The House of Journalists,” the former BBC reporter Tim Finch’s clever debut novel.

In an outburst toward the novel’s end, when one fellow disappears along with all traces that he existed, the power-­obsessed chairman name-drops Orwell, an unsubtle clue to Finch’s ambitions as a political satirist and his interest in language as a political tool. But aspects of his novel bear more resemblance to the “Big Brother” of global reality television than to “1984.”

Continue reading my review in The New York Times Book Review.