Tremendous research demonstrates how “indignity is a form of generalized social violence” corroding democracy.

TO KILL A DEMOCRACY

INDIA'S PASSAGE TO DESPOTISM

A sharp critical study of the steady decline of democracy in India.

In a hard-hitting, relentless chronicle of social and political ills, Chowdhury, a Hong Kong–based journalist, and Keane, a professor of politics at the University of Sydney, trace the decomposition of Indian democracy since the hopeful time of independence in August 1947—a process that has accelerated in recent years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The great experiment of Indian democracy, forged from staggering diversity and the “polychromatic reality” of Indian society, is now in critical danger. “Weighed down by destitution of heart-breaking proportions,” write the authors, the world’s largest democracy suffers glaring “emergencies” in the societal structure (clean air and water, education, health care, etc.) that have been ignored or underestimated during decades of feeble leadership, leaving tens of millions of impoverished Indians without essential constitutional rights. In an impassioned narrative, the authors move from the first parliamentary general election—“which began in October 1951 and took six months to conduct. It was the grandest show the world had ever seen”—to the most recent, when Modi, with his Hindu-dominant Bharatiya Janata Party, used his money and power to intimidate voters and quell dissent. The authors delineate the heartbreaking collapse of the social fabric and how the pandemic has exposed the abysmal health care system. Most Indians endure “indignities” unheard of in the West, such as rampant pollution, food insecurity, malnutrition, lack of health care and education, especially for girls and women, and even slave labor. While some elections have been effective, especially because the poor have been participating in greater numbers, the recent Modi years demonstrate how money and intimidation dominate the landscape, essentially neutralizing the other arms of government. The authors warn of Modi’s creeping despotism. For example, “in August 2019, with the stroke of a pen, Modi’s government revoked the autonomous status of the restive state of Jammu and Kashmir.” This book sounds an urgent alarm.

Tremendous research demonstrates how “indignity is a form of generalized social violence” corroding democracy.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-884860-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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