ALL Book Reviews The New York Times Book Review

Vulnerable in Morocco

Laila Lalami, a Moroccan- American writer who in her late 20s crossed a literary border into the landscape of English prose, begins her first novel with lines from the Cuban-American poet Gustavo Pérez Firmat: “The fact that I / am writing to you / in English / already falsifies what I wanted to tell you.” There’s a disarming fatalism about this epigraph, with its suggestion that the ensuing words might be counterfeit because they are coined neither in Lalami’s first language (Arabic) nor her second (French).

Lalami has said she chooses to write in English partly because she wants to speak directly to Americans, who read few translated books but urgently need authentic maps to those parts of the world where inequality has electroshocked the terrorist id into being. Read my review of her debut novel, Secret Son, in The New York Times Book Review.

ALL Book Reviews The New York Times Book Review

Exile’s Return

The subtitle of “Honeymoon in Tehran,” an engaging new book from the author of “Lipstick Jihad,” promises “two years of love and danger in Iran.” But while Azadeh Moaveni does indeed deliver details of her romance with the son of an Iranian textile tycoon, there’s another, more intriguing relationship at the core of this memoir.

It’s embodied by a certain Mr. X, the intelligence agent the Islamic Republic has assigned to shadow Moaveni’s movements as a reporter for Time magazine.

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

ALL Book Reviews The New York Times Book Review

A Passage From India

In 1883, the British government sent the accomplished linguist Sir George Grierson to look into alleged abuses in the recruitment of indentured servants from India (known as “coolies”) who ended up on ships bound for British plantations throughout the world. In his diary, Grierson wrote about an encounter with the father of one female coolie in a village along the Ganges, noting that the man “denied having any such relative, and probably she had gone wrong and been disowned by him.” The historical record provides only a trace of this woman: a name, a processing number, a year of emigration.

In his ambitious new novel, “Sea of Poppies,” a finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, Amitav Ghosh attempts to fill in the blanks left by the archives. Continue reading
my review of the book in The New York Times.

sea of poppies

ALL Book Reviews The New York Times Book Review

Bilateral Commitments

The short stories in Sana Krasikov’s first collection unfold in two contemporary landscapes: the former Soviet Union and New York City and its suburbs. But an entirely unrelated setting might help explain why these stories work as well as they do: 17th-century India, where court artists created illuminated manuscripts of the ancient Hindu epic the “Ramayana.” Rather than freeze a single location or moment in one frame, each painting portrays several episodes, so the characters seem to exist in more than a single place and time all at once.

Many of the men and women in “One More Year” have the same complex quality of simultaneity. Emigrés from the former Soviet republics, they live in constant flashback. They also occupy multiple time zones, thinking, for example, how late it must be in Tbilisi, where a teenage son has been left behind, or Uzbekistan, where a husband has been deserted to consider an ultimatum — her or me. Like most modern migrants, the characters in these eight stories inhabit both past and present, homeland and new land.

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

Book Reviews Ms. Magazine

Alentejo Blue

Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
Review by Gaiutra Bahadur
Ms. Magazine, Summer 2006