Reviews of the latest books from and on Southasia

Youth, citizenship and empire after 9/11
by Sunaina Maira
Duke University Press, 2009

Maira, a well-regarded scholar of youth culture and of Indian-American youth culture in particular, has written a powerful indictment of US imperial culture. Engaging to write an "ethnography of empire", Maira spent two years among young Muslim Americans in a small town in Massachusetts. They were recent migrants from South Asia, many of whom came to the United States after the attacks of 11 September 2001, and who, in their very social development, bore the brunt of the backlash of those attacks. Maira walks us through the essential, but buried, history of American imperialism and its disproportionate impact on the lives of racialised minorities. (Vijay Prashad)

Aging and the Indian Diaspora: Cosmopolitan families in India and abroad
by Sarah Lamb
Indiana University Press, 2009

The literature on aging in India is now well developed. Yet Sarah Lamb's book is unique in its close-hewed comparison between aging amongst Indians in India and Indians in the United States – mainly, Indians who spend their life in India, then leave to age with their NRI children. Lamb is a generous ethnographer, letting the people speak, and offering a culturally relativistic analysis of what they are saying and how they live. She concludes on this very theme, saying that there is no good way or right way to age, or to treat elders – we're just making it up as we go along. A well-written academic book, which might be enjoyed by a general reader with an interest in the subject. (VP)

Burra Sahib: Tribute to Sir Edmund Hillary
edited by Raju Dev Bhattarai
Raju Dev Bhattarai, 2009

Being what appears to be a great admirer of Edmund Hillary, Bhattarai's aim with this work was to offer a reminder of the man's achievements beyond on the mountain – of the totality of Hillary's accomplishments in life, particularly his charity work in Nepal. The main body of the book consists of reprints of newspaper articles and obituaries, including many translations from Nepali. The value of bringing these together is perhaps questionable, though, as it inevitably results in endless repetition of the same facts. Most interesting, on the other hand, is the attempt to bring Hillary's philanthropic work to the fore. In this light, the translations from Nepali papers are of some value, as they tend to focus on Hillary's work with the Sherpa community, as well as his cogent concerns about environmental damage in the Everest region due to the looming commercialisation. Unfortunately, both the original introductory pieces and the English translations are replete with mistakes and often incoherent, while the introductions are full of fawning and little else. Highlighting Hillary's less widely known good deeds to the public's attention is a praiseworthy goal, but flattering words and a collection of reprints don't necessarily do that memory much justice. (Nerine Guinee)

My Friend Sancho
by Amit Varma
Hachette India, 2009

This is a light-hearted story about crime-beat reporter Abir Ganguly, who has a wild imagination but no illusions about his work. The lives of Ganguly, with his 'whatever' attitude, and Muneeza (also known as Sancho), burdened by the sorrows of the universe, are brought together to make an unlikely friendship. Author Amit Varma is publisher of and writer for the popular blog India Uncut, which explains why his first novel reads in the speedy and snappy manner of online text. Varma engages his own blogging advice when he cautions, "Respect your reader's time" – even using the platform to promote India Uncut, the only blog Ganguly reads. While touching on important issues such as religious discrimination, police brutality and journalistic integrity, these are almost trivialised by Ganguly's witty and wayward internal reflections. If you're looking for some frivolous entertainment, this is the book to read. (Smriti Mallapaty)

Eunuch Park: Fifteen stories of love and destruction
by Palash Krishna Mehrotra
Penguin, 2009

Blurbs on book covers are often just a bunch of words strung together to sound nice, usually saying very little. But the best, and most concise, description of Eunuch Park is on the inside cover of the book: a work "taking us deep into the dark and seamy soul of India". Yet, there is no sensationalism in the way the writer tells these tales or portrays the characters. Instead, the compilation is home to a host of everyday people plodding along with their lives, struggling with their sexuality, failures, friendships and their personal demons. Whether one considers the protagonist observing the happenings in a bar where men dance with other men or the young couple who are increasingly pushed into a corner by a society that demonises their sexuality, these are the people who reside at India's soul. (Surabhi Pudasaini)

Like a diamond in the sky
by Shazia Omar
Zubaan/Penguin, 2009

Delinquent Deen, with his heroin and sexual escapade-filled life, is in love for the first time ever. The girl, Maria is a mysterious creature, on the margins of a lonely though well-off existence. Supposedly a novel about the realities of urban life in contemporary Bangladesh, Omar's work is liberally strewn with sexual imagery and verbal foreplay. When it comes to the real thing though, she turns coy, restricting herself to: "…a passionate frenzy of lips desperate to surrender, tongues anxious to escape loneliness, souls frantic to connect". In the midst of a bewildering array of cardboard cut-out characters…junkie friend, seductive nautch girl, and long-suffering widowed activist mother; skinny Falani is the most interesting, clawing her way up the social ladder on her earnings from dealing drugs. As the novel reaches its climax, riding uncomfortably on the underbelly of crime in Dhaka, the food imagery is more powerful than that of blood and gore; descriptions of the humble paani poori, find their place more than once in the book: "Tamarind sauce covered a pile of chickpeas like lava on a mound of volcanic rubble". (Laxmi Murthy)

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian