Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | February 5, 2014

Some Mid-Week Book Reviews: Pakistan, Robert Frost, Neil Gaiman, etc.

1. At Howl at Pluto, LFC reviews Srinath Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh (Amazon; Powell’s). From LFC’s review:

The birth of Bangladesh, as this book makes clear, occurred at a turbulent time in world politics. The intense Cold War crises of the early 1960s – the Berlin crisis and the Cuban missile crisis – were in the past, but parts of the Third World (as it was then called) had become an arena in the superpower contest. The U.S. was still mired in the Vietnam War (and had expanded its operations into Cambodia), while the Soviet Union and China had barely been on speaking terms since 1961 and had come to blows on the Ussuri River in 1969. China was reeling internally from the effects of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the Prague Spring had been suppressed by the Soviets, and, particularly in the West, non-state actors and the emergence of human rights as an international-political issue both were having an increasing if uneven impact on the conduct of foreign policy. At the same time the relatively new postcolonial states generally opposed secessionist movements wherever they occurred.

Please do read the whole thing.

LFC also points to Sunil Khilnani’s review in the New Republic of Raghavan’s 1971 and of Gary Bass’s The Blood Telegram. LFC has some thoughts and critiques of the Khilnani review, here.

2. In the New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler discusses a planned four-volume collection of Robert Frost’s letters. And Dan Chiasson has a similar review in The New Yorker. (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

3. At Crooked Timber, Ingrid Robeyns reviews The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism, by Naoki Higashida. The author is a Japanese autistic who was 13 when he wrote the book (published in Japan in 2006). The translators, K.A. Yoshida and David Mitchell, have a son with autism. From the review: “there are insights given by Naoki Higashida that I had never considered before, but that make a lot of sense. One important insight to take home is that people with autism often have sensory oversensitivities, which can explain a lot of their behaviors that neurotypicals would classify as ‘odd’ or ‘inappropriate’.”

4. Jacob Bacharach reviews Dave Eggers’s The Circle, a novel that centers around working in the offices of a large software company. Mr. Bacharach is not impressed: “the less funny, unfortunate truth about The Circle is that it isn’t just an obtuse book, but a bad one: badly written, poorly conceived, and deeply uncharitable.” From the review:

But what bugs me the most, and what makes this book worth reviewing as an artifact of an attitude, is the unfair and uncharitable way Eggers writes the rest of us idiots, who appear here only as a vast, unthinking mass eating whatever shit the internet shovels at us out of some desperate, pathetic, mewling, self-worshipping desire to be loved, or something. One of The Circle’s supposed-to-be terrifying slogans is “Privacy is theft.” Well, no. Privacy is respect. But sharing (“Sharing is caring” is another scare-phrase here) is human; the desire to know and to be known is one of the bases of cognition, conscience, and sentience. There’s nothing wrong with lampooning narcissism, and the internet enables plenty of it, but this evident belief that there is something fundamentally disordered about rating your favorite restaurants or poking your friends is a load of snobbish, patrician garbage.

5. Mark Kleiman reviews Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Kleiman: “Gaiman’s themes, as I take it, are compassion and courage, which makes the book sound a lot duller than it is. What struck me hard – and I’d be interested in others’ opinions – is its closeness in spirit to Douglas Adams’s Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, also a fantasy set in London. Both seem to me to be protests against the heartlessness of Thatcherite and post-Thatcherite Britain, and specifically attempts shake the reader out of the capacity to ignore the homeless.”



  1. I’m glad you liked my review of the Raghavan book, which I spent some time on, and I hope your linking it will lead some more people to it. (Hard to tell sometimes who’s reading what; I have Google Analytics but I don’t think that gives the full picture. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. Who knows…) And now I must get off the computer and shovel some more snow. 😦

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