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.
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.”
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 World—Ghare 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.
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.
Pink Sari Revolution, by Amana Fontanella-Khan, tells the story of the Gulabi Gang.
The gang’s story—of poverty-stricken, unlettered women standing up for themselves, struggling against centuries-old misogyny—inspires. “Hope is a very big thing,” one elderly member says. “Sampat gave it to us every time she came to the village.” Still, it needs to be asked how truly revolutionary the Gulabi Gang is—or can be—and the author doesn’t step back from storytelling to do so. In her account of a widow horrifically mistreated, then evicted, by her in-laws, she misses opportunities to explore the gang’s limits and thus risks overstating their impact. Read my review in the Summer 2013 Ms. Magazine.