A rollicking, ambitious journey through Indian history and mores from a keen English journalist and National Book Critics Circle Award winner.

French (The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul, 2008, etc.) takes a fondly critical step back to observe how the staggeringly diverse democracy of India actually works, how it elects officials and how it dug itself out of entrenched economic debilitation, the caste system and poverty. In three sections—Rashtra (“Nation”), Lakshmi (“Wealth”) and Samaj (“Society”)—the author takes apart the workings of a fascinating country and its people, from the founding of the nation in 1947, amid the violent integration of princely states and partition from the Muslim north, through the economic liberalization of the last ten years that has “unbound” the enterprising middle classes. French recounts the Indian legacy through personal stories, such as those of the incongruous makers of the Indian Constitution, who self-consciously modeled their endeavor on the historic American Constitutional Convention—e.g., wealthy, Anglicized Brahmin Jawaharlal Nehru, an intellectual whose nationalist secular vision of India was schooled by years in prison; and the untouchable-born lawyer Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, whose incredible personal success evolved into “the outcastes’ revenge.” Despite their differences, all aimed to hammer out a document that “balanced liberty and security, shared power and did not rely on the goodwill of any one leader.” French dwells on the perverse nepotism and tribal loyalties in regional elections, especially that of Indira Gandhi’s family, and the enduring, troubling Muslim Hindu animosity. He senses great gains in society, such as the growth of a true meritocracy allowing social mobility for the first time, and evidence of wealth everywhere. Yet still the country is plagued by a creaky infrastructure, stubborn tentacles of bribery and corruption, an indifference to horrific tales of exploitation right under the peoples’ noses and official inertia despite efficiency in everyday life. A perfectly chaotic encapsulation of Indian government, economy and social life.


Pub Date: June 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-27243-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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