An exuberantly inquisitive collection of essays.



Kumar (English/Vassar Coll.; A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna, 2014, etc.) reflects on an eclectic array of personal, professional, and political topics.

The 26 essays included in this collection represent what the author calls “memorial acts” dedicated to “examining the borders of the self” in relation to the world. Published over a period of 15 years, these pieces, which run the gamut from memoir to journalistic reportage to literary/cultural criticism, chart Kumar’s evolution as a distinguished Indian-American thinker and writer. In the first of four sections that comprise the book, the author recounts his experiences growing up in a culture where paper was a near-sacred object and where books and libraries were considered the height of “worldliness.” His own intellectual coming of age began after he arrived in the West as a student and became exposed to the mischievously subversive work of such writers as Hanif Kureishi and, later, Salman Rushdie, both of whom offered Kumar new ways of conceptualizing South Asian selfhood. In the second section, he considers his own writing, exploring how his work has been influenced by everything from Bollywood cinema to his life as a husband and doting father. He also discusses the disciplined habits that shaped him as a writer. In the third section, Kumar meditates on the effects that travel, migration, and immigration have had on his ideas about the nature of being in a transnational world. Time and space become conflated so that a return to India means he becomes “a tourist in that country called the past.” In the final section, Kumar examines people, including his mother, New York taxi drivers, and a conservative Hindu extremist—the  “bigot” to which the title refers—who denounced Kumar for marrying a Pakistani Muslim. Heterogeneous and complex, this book offers insight into Indian culture from a multitude of complex spaces between East and West.

An exuberantly inquisitive collection of essays.

Pub Date: May 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5930-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist


A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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