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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Baithak World May 26: The Rise of the Rest, Amitav Ghosh, Real News

Mr Zakaria's writing is clear and strong, though at times the tempo can be a little too brisk. He might have paused more often to pay tribute to those who originated many of his ideas, such as Paul Kennedy, a British historian at Yale University. Mr Zakaria mentions him only in passing, as a source of some historical titbits. Yet Mr Kennedy postulated the larger concept of relative decline, and a line from his 1987 classic, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”, could easily summarise Mr Zakaria's new book....More curious is what appears to be an unintended disconnection between the book's argument and its sources. “The Post-American World” cites a dazzling array of anecdotes, incidents, quotations and statistics from individuals around the world. But when it comes to Mr Zakaria's own business, political analysis, he sticks close to his Manhattan base. Of the roughly three dozen or so contemporary thinkers whose ideas the author praises in the text and uses to make sense of it all, most are not just in America, but based in the north-east corridor that links Boston, New York and Washington, DC. The few exceptions have nearly all spent extensive time in these cities. True, many of them, like Mr Zakaria himself, as he points out, are of foreign origin, attracted to America by its universities. But Mr Zakaria could have written a more original book about the power of the people living beyond America's shores if he had sought out and found more sources among them. The rise of the rest

RICH and panoramic, Amitav Ghosh's latest novel—the first of a promised trilogy—sees this Indian author on masterly form. Set in 1838, just before the opium wars between Britain and China, “Sea of Poppies” is a sprawling adventure with a cast of hundreds and numerous intricate stories encompassing poverty and riches, despair and hope, and the long-fingered reach of the opium trade. At the book's heart lies the Ibis, a former slave ship, bound from Calcutta to Mauritius. As the story progresses, the vessel becomes home to a diverse set of migrants, each drawn with an assuredly descriptive hand. Among them is all-seeing Deeti, a young village woman rescued from her husband's funeral pyre; sparkling-eyed Zachary Reid, a freedman from Baltimore; Serang Ali, head of the ship's crew of lascars, with a face that “would have earned the envy of Genghis Khan”; Neel, a bankrupt Raja, whose presence can silence a room, “leaving a few last threads of sound to float gently to the floor, like the torn ends of a ribbon”; and a spirited French orphan, Paulette, and her Indian soulmate, Jodu, the son of a boatman. Together they form a close-knit group of jahaj-bhais (ship-brothers), each searching for a new destiny. The call of the running tidy.


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