A DEATH IN THE RAINFOREST

HOW A LANGUAGE AND A WAY OF LIFE CAME TO AN END IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA

A sad and uplifting, ultimately poignant exploration of a tiny world within a bigger, harsher, and crushing world.

How a culture withers and its language is rendered mute.

Kulick (Anthropology/Uppsala Univ.; Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture Among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes, 1998, etc.) wears his scholar’s hat casually in this deeply personal, engaging inquiry into a “tiny windless slit in the rainforest [of Papua New Guinea]…surrounded on all sides by massive trees rooted in a vast, seemingly boundless swamp.” A small village of roughly 100 people, Gapun has its own unique language, Tayap. The author renders his academic research in a light, almost novelistic style, with plenty of drama and heartache. He invokes anthropologist Margaret Mead’s conviction that we should “learn from difference.” From 1985 to 2014, Kulick lived in the village seven times, once for 15 months. The villagers called him Saraki and thought him a dead person, a white ghost, a “harbinger of the change they want so badly.” He immersed himself in their lives and culture and learned their unique language, later writing a grammar. The linguistic part of the book may be a bit much for some, but Kulick does a fine job describing the language’s origins, how he learned it, and how it differs from the country’s national language, Tok Pisin. The author discusses their cuisine, especially their main staple, sago, a raw form of flour, maggot stew, and chewed betel leaves; how they educate and raise their children, never hitting them; their sex practices; and creative swearing, which is mostly done by women. Kulick also recounts a harrowing episode when gunmen from outside tried to rob him and a villager was killed. He understands that they want to change, but he wonders, at what cost? Few now speak their precious and irreplaceable language: The “mighty tree that once was Tayap has been whittled down to a skinny toothpick.”

A sad and uplifting, ultimately poignant exploration of a tiny world within a bigger, harsher, and crushing world.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61620-904-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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

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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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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