Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review, Sept. 16, 2011
Rehan Tabassum is in a bad way. Although, strictly speaking, the trouble isn’t of his making. He’s just got that kind of family — prone to falling in love with the servants, scheming against one another, messing with the wrong fundamentalist and leaving sensitive home videos lying about. The Tabassums, owners of a telecommunications empire in Pakistan, are a brutal, blundering clan grown crooked and strange after years of bending to the will of their autocratic patriarch. Their methods are medieval, but they’re punished for their excesses and brutality in distinctly modern ways: they’re blackmailed via text messages and pilloried in the comments of Internet articles.
Parul Sehgal, Publishers Weekly, Dec. 6, 2010
It’s been a truth universally acknowledged that a young man in pursuit of his fortune travels West. So in 2008, when Anand Giridharadas, writer of the “Currents” column for the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times online, observed in the Times that not only were India’s best and brightest increasingly likely to stay put, but the children of immigrants were being lured back to Chennai and Chandigarh—it caused a small splash (and an e-mail forwarding frenzy) among South Asians.
The article is now a book, India Calling (Times Books, Jan. 2011). It’s both part of a crop of books analyzing India’s economic boom—and utterly distinct. Giridharadas’s interest in modernization is about how it alters “the stories people tell themselves about themselves.”
Back in the U.S. after reporting for the Herald Tribune and the Times from Mumbai from 2005–2009, Giridharadas is pursuing a doctorate in political philosophy at Harvard, but still he’s taking four months a year to travel and report on everything from eating turtle in Chengdu to Obama’s recent visit to India. We met—auspiciously—on the Hindu festival of Diwali, which celebrates an end of exile and a return to homeland.
By Katherine Russell Rich. Harcourt, $26.
Parul Sehgal, Time Out New York
Westerners at a spiritual or career crossroads have long made pilgrimages to India, looking for God or ganja—but grammar? So begins journalist Katherine Rich’s contrarian memoir of transplanting herself from New York to the desert town of Udaipur to learn Hindi. Motivated by a passion “for learning languages and understanding what learning a second language does to the brain,” Rich finds her casual Hindi lessons becoming an obsession. Having survived two bouts with cancer, and now recently fired from her magazine-editing job, Rich admits, “I no longer had the language to describe my own life. So I decided to borrow someone else’s.”
But India proves inconsiderate; to learn its language, Rich must tolerate its men and women (portrayed as lascivious and insipid, respectively). Her vitriol toward her fellow students and her host family erodes the reader’s sympathy.
Keeping Your Enemies Closer
In Rivals, the former editor-in-chief of the Economist takes on Asia’s giants and examines the historical roots and global implications of China, India and Japan competing for resources and influence.
Given its slower growth, how seriously can Japan compete with India and China?
I think Japan will be a less ambitious rival. While China and India think that their destiny is to lead the world, Japan will be a rival [because of] fear of the others and out of a need to play the balance of power game to protect itself and its interests. Japan has a long history as an isolationist country that comes out of its shell when it feels threatened.