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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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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