AMONG THE BELIEVERS

AN ISLAMIC JOURNEY

Naipaul traveled from Iran to Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and back in 1979-80, seeking the meaning of "Islamization"—an exceptional writer/observer/commentator intersecting with an epic anti-intellectual, anti-modernist upheaval. Or is it? Naipaul the writer doesn't tip his hand: in transit, he is the tireless interrogator; the collector of persons, their life-stories, their outlooks—without the scorn he has directed toward his own in the past, in writing of India and the Caribbean. In Iran, he exposes himself to the leading ayatollas in their holy cities, notes the attendant stupor or frenzy; but his companion throughout is his interpreter Behzad, and Behzad is another kind of revolutionary, a communist: two distinct strands, sustained by different faiths, but by "absolute faith" nonetheless. "And both were fed by the same passions: justice, union, vengeance." By resentment against "a great new encircling civilization," to be depended on but not mastered. Pakistan does not fall so readily into a pattern: carved out of colonial India as a Muslim homeland, its people attribute their woes to their own imperfections, to being insufficiently "pure"; yet they live by the export of their own people too—"by appealing to the ideals of the alien civilizations whose virtues they denied at home." Still, Naipaul warms to the purest of the pure, the suspect minority Ahmadis; and to the plight of the in-betweens—like Islamicist newspaperman Nusrat, who'd like to be a Third-World media expert . . . and, recognizing the contradictions, is vulnerable to reproach. As Naipaul moves further East, into the complex civilizations of Malaysia and Indonesia where the past is ever-present, the tone of the narrative becomes gentler. In Malaysia, the villagers have grown up as strangers in a country built and run by the British and Chinese; so religion is race, race is religion; and Shaft, a stalwart of the Muslim youth movement—with whom Naipaul has the book's most searching conversations—is both grieving and aggrieved: in his own eyes, Shaft "was the first man expelled from paradise. He blamed the world; he shifted the whole burden of that accommodation upon Islam." Indonesia presents Naipaul with the remarkable personality of 56-year-old poet Sitor—recently wed in a tribal ceremony to comely young Dutch Barbara, promoter of Indonesian crafts: "The glamour of Indonesia and Sitor, the poet, for Barbara; for Sitor, the glamour and security of Barbara and Europe." Indonesia also brings the stellar anecdote: Naipaul has gone to see a celebrated pesantren, or Muslim village commune/ school; and, amid the aimlessness and disorder, he is besieged by shouts of "Illich! Illich!" Everything outside is shut out—but it is the outside (per one-time visitor Illich) that certifies success. And so the book turns back, in a way familiar to Naipaul readers, on the delusions of both the West and the Islamic world: "It was the late twentieth century that had made Islam revolutionary, given new meaning to old Islamic ideas" . . . which, in themselves, supplied no answers. But whether or not one accepts Naipaul's final judgment in its entirety (the leftist Behzads will multiply, he foresees), the journey proceeds on many challenging, absorbing levels.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1981

ISBN: 0394711955

Page Count: 443

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1981

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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