A beautifully rendered but flawed exploration of how caste still prevails painfully in modern India.

THE TWICE-BORN

LIFE AND DEATH ON THE GANGES

A British-born novelist who grew up in New Delhi but also spent much of his adult life in New York seeks a closer connection to his native land through explorations into the Brahmin scholarly caste, the “twice-born.”

Taseer (The Way Things Were, 2014, etc.) began tentative forays back to India to learn Sanskrit in the ancient spiritual center of Benares, “the key to secret India,” as his mother told him. “In Benares,” he writes, “it was possible to see in miniature every major event that had etched itself onto India’s consciousness.” The author sought teachers to help him make a more intimate intellectual connection to India. In 2014, he spent many months in the Ganges-skirted city to interview Brahmins, who are by birthright the intellectuals, scientists, astrologers, and scholars of the society; during adolescence, they are “initiated by rite into [their] ancient vocation of the mind.” Taseer felt that penetrating the intellectual secrets of this “twice-born” caste would somehow dispel for him the feeling of always being an outsider—the sense, as Jawaharlal Nehru has written, of feeling a “queer mixture of the East and the West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere.” In presenting his first-person stories of the Brahmins, the author also examines tales of Hindu nationalists; a scholar trying to synthesize the traditional vs. ancient currents; a revolutionary upstart; a spiritual feminist; and a family man who ultimately cannot wash the dish of the visitor who belongs to a lesser caste because it will contaminate his house and village. Unfortunately, despite Taseer’s earnest attempts to force a declaration of truth from his Brahmin interviewees, he is evasive about his own ethnicity and identity—namely, his Muslim family and his gay sexual orientation—often stranding readers with him in emotional limbo.

A beautifully rendered but flawed exploration of how caste still prevails painfully in modern India.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-27960-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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