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Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism
Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism
by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and factual- but misleadingly titled., 15 Feb 2010
This is a well balanced and factual account of a very brilliant young woman who took the humiliation of the Greeks by Attaturk very much to heart. Bizarrely, she then comes to India- where, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, millions of Hindus had made common cause with the Muslims demanding restoration of the Caliphate (foolishly, because, it turned out the Turks wanted no part of it, while the Arabs had never accepted the notion of a non-Arab Caliph in the first place!) Surely, this was a strange decision? Or was it perhaps the case that the nonsense of 'Aryan' Hinduism as a bulwark against 'Semitic' Islam (I say nonsense because there is no racial basis for religious differences in India)was already being trumpeted by those within the fold of the esoteric Theosophical Society? If so, a double game was being played.
Again, it seems amazing that this lady- a promising mathematician- read the opposite of what Andre Weil found in the Gita- viz. non-violence and mutual dependence. Did India play a role in this? She was angry with the allies because they let down the Greeks. The Bengalis too were angry with the British for good reason. But, it would be a mistake to see her Hitler worship as being the product of her interaction with India.
Bengal has produced thinkers and organizations that might be termed 'Rightist' but, they are anti-caste and socially progressive. Yes, they question the corruption of party politics and advocate (like the Communists) a cadre based mass movement- but they can scarcely be considered to be champions of existing elites or pawns of big Business. Indeed, the only thing that makes them seem 'right-wing' is because the condemn the notion of 'class conflict' and 'extermination of the exploiting class'. Scarcely the stuff a Hitler worshiper could be weaned on!
One mistake the British made during the Second World War was not publicizing the crimes of the Nazis. The result was India had a blind spot about this aspect of modern History. True, this was because their propaganda machine had lost credibility during the First World War. However they remained very effective at depicting the Indians as mindless, sex mad, savages- a glaring affront to the Bengali psyche.
Still, this lady's intellectual odyssey reads like grand tragedy. Perhaps one should look at her 'pilgrimage' to war shattered post War Germany as a textbook case of the working of Cognitive Dissonance.
In India, angry with the allies, she apparently converted to some sort of Hinduism- the author tells us she was paraded around as a token white to impress the tribals- and married (to secure her residency) a Bengali Nationalist who was seeking to revive the German alliance of the great Bengali hero, 'Tiger Jatin'- who was promised arms by the German Crown Prince- a plot that went awry when the Czechs found out the secret and informed the British. Thus, the 'Indian Nazi party' was just a Nationalist outfit- with no interest in Hitlerism, apart from the guns they could provide to fight the British. However, during the course of the 30's it became clear that the high caste Hindus would be marginalized in any case in an independent Bengal. Thus arose the hope that the religious question could be avoided by a cult of heroism- this was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's tragic gamble- where a person's religion would be considered irrelevant and only their courage and willingness to sacrifice for the country held significant.
Some of this lady's writings- impassioned as they are- appear worthy of a better cause. But, the truth is, all such writing is equally worthless. Causes demand more than passion from their votaries. They require compassion to be, in any worthwhile manner, advanced. It is noteworthy that this lady did not devote herself to looking after the Smyrna refugees, or at least found a home for stray cats- nor, indeed, did she play a prominent role in Red Cross activities to help the post war Germans- or, since they got back on their own feet quickly enough, those more unfortunate yet behind the Iron Curtain.
Of such a life- what can one say?
Well, the one thing I can say- knowing something of the Indian portion of her story- is that there was no nexus between 'the Hindu Aryan myth' and neo Nazism. Nor- to be clear- is that the author's contention. He casts doubt on her 'Hindu' belief and gives no ammunition to those who hold Hitlerism as somehow connected to 'pagan' Hinduism. The author is to be complimented on his fair-mindedness on this point.

Still, the existence of an Indian Nazi Party needs explaining. At the time of 'the popular front' and later, after Hitler attacked Stalin, the only source of arms to fight the Brits was the Axis powers. One might, with greater probability of being believed, point to Husseini's antics and Guenon's Egyptian retirement and speak of a 'Sufi-Nazi' axis.
Still, books have to sell and having a good title is important for that. So, one should not cavil too much at this workmanlike volume on one of History's minor farces- which nevertheless is as tragic- if the self destruction of a soul can be considered tragic- as some of the gorier episodes that, to some, still halo Hitler in ever lasting glory.

Six Suspects
Six Suspects
by Vikas Swarup
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.02

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well plotted- some good comic moments- very readable, 6 Dec 2009
This review is from: Six Suspects (Paperback)
Swarup's talent lies in devising human interest stories rich in poetic irony but reliant on chance. In this sense, he isn't going to rank with the great detective novelists BUT because his subject matter is the horror that is Ind, his work rises to the rank of literary fiction because it expresses the great human truth that people brutalized by poverty become very very very rich quite suddenly by winning quiz shows or getting spotted as the next Matinee idol or something like that. Surely, this is the essence not just of literature but also religion- not to mention the Investment strategy my Pension fund seems to have pursued.
The retarded Texan character worked quite well for me- and suggests a ironic reversal whereby guys who work for Walmart in Waco, Texas, might now be seen as a new species of slumdog.
This is a real easy read and Swarup has spent some time plotting this out properly. Most Indian English writers know less of India, are deeply boring and can't come up with an original idea to save their life. Swarup aint heavy, aint literary and shows flashes of (albeit heavy-handed) humor.
Very readable. Compare it to the immensely long and immensely silly 'Sacred Games'to see why I give it 5 stars.
Wonder if Bollywood will make a movie of this? I seem to recall an Egyptian movie from 20 years ago with a similar theme.

The Evolution of God: The Origins of Our Beliefs
The Evolution of God: The Origins of Our Beliefs
by Robert Wright
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars aimed at the Bible Belt- otherwise jejune, 25 Nov 2009
This book is aimed at less educationally advantaged Bible belt American Christians and, as such, may- for all I know- be useful and timely.
However, it fails to tell us why a proportion of the population has a tendency to experience vivid religious imagery and feelings. Karen Armstrong herself suffered from some sort of frontal lobe epilepsy- and laments that if only she had known that this was a medical problem she would not have spent years agonizing over her loss of monastic vocation. Quite apart from specific nuerological abnormalities or impairments, however, there remains the fact that a pretty constant proportion of all human populations experience religious imagery as something real rather than conventional. Surely a supposedly 'Evolutionary Psychology' approach to the subject should show why this might be an Evolutionary Stable Strategy. Wright bangs the drum of zero and non zero games- but this is irrelevant to the claim that a notion of one common God helps socio-economic development. This is because he has to ignore the non-Abrahamic religions because they don't fit his hypothesis.
What do Jews, Arabs of Mecca, Greeks and Romans have in common? They all gave a priviliged position to oracles and prophets. Why? Because of the greater Republicanism built into their political evolution. India and China do have oracles and prophets and horrific eschatologies but at the level of folk religion. However, an elite caste of diviners and astrologers fulfilled the function of the prophet- whether kahinah or Nabi.
Wright does mention Moh Tzu- he might usefully have mentioned Moh Tzu's insistence on the existence of ghosts on the utilitarian principle that if the ghosts aren't watching what will keep the peasants honest? but does not explain why China worked so well for such a long period.
No doubt, he might make the counter-claim that more of the economy in Indian and China was state controlled- but this is not really true. The fact is state control of the economy fluctuates independently of theological fashions.
Wright tells us that the Jews may have been influenced by the Persians but does not explain why Zoroaster should come up with an ontology so different from his Vedic cousins. There is no obvious zero sum/non zero sum explanation. The influence of international and domestic politics on the redaction of sacred texts like the Bible is, on the other hand, well handled by Wright.
Wright makes no mention of the function of cognitive dissonance in the Christian mythos- i.e. the notion that disappointment in the actual outcome leads to a more fervent evangelism. Current economic evolutionary game theory= of the sort championed by Ken Binmore- could help Wright add a lot of sophistication to his analysis.
The Girardian concept of a pharmakon (scapegoat)too is not mentioned.
The treatment of Islam is pretty perfunctory. I don't understand why Caliph Omar should have been anti-Jewish and how this could have influenced the redaction of the Koran. Wright gets a lot wrong. Still, at least his message is that Islam aint the bogeyman.
Actually, it is pointless to cavil. Wright is writing for a specific subsection of the American public. No one lost money underestimating the ignorance of that particular market.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 27, 2009 3:26 PM GMT

The Weary Generations
The Weary Generations
by Abdullah Hussein
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.02

5.0 out of 5 stars A true genius- and the price is unbeatable, 12 Oct 2009
This review is from: The Weary Generations (Paperback)
Abdullah Hussein is a genius- not a 'culture vulture' type or Progressive Writer's Association cliquey self-promoter. He writes because he has to. He is possessed.
I didn't understand that when I read this book the first time. The Indian portions of the novel rang false and I could make no sort of sense with the Jallianwallah Bagh episode. I thought- okay some High-Caste Ashraf Marxist Mule, who looks down on Jats or worse fishermen and so on- no doubt, the book's cultural riches are confined to the Urdu version (which, in consequence, it would be pointless for me to read)- to be understood only by blue blooded Bukharis- and this (very good) English translation is some sort of U.N.E.S.C.O boondogle.

What compounded my problem with this author was Hussein's curiously low affect. This is not a demographic rarity- we all know people like that, maybe, in essence, we are people like that- but culturally, aesthetically, it is as rare as the Phoenix!
Hussein's background- early death of mother, father being older than usual, education in a Hindu school till the age of twelve or thirteen, witnessing the massacre of Hindus and Sikhs a little later on, discomfort with Urdu because of his Punjabi background, loss of Religious faith without its replacement by Marxist or other nonsense, the fact that his first foreign sojourn was in Canada rather than U.K or U.S, his early and continuing success but the curious neglect by the critics- explains somethings but opens new and more profound aporias. For the first time, since Kipling, we have the possibility of an author who 'shows more than he knows."

That's why this book is worth buying- especially at this price point- though what would be great is if some senior critic could give us a really comprehensive work on the author that will help us better appreciate its riches.

Culture And Imperialism
Culture And Imperialism
by Edward W Said
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.39

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a bargain price for a very readable, and still relevant book, 28 Sep 2009
It is some years since I last read this. In some ways it seems more relevant now then when it came out. At a certain point, I became quite anti-Said because the parroting of his view in the Indian context was just plain wrong. His analysis of Kipling is jejeune- but then Indian critics are too ignorant about their own Sacred Literature to have registered the RG Vedic references in Kim- so why pick on Said?
Eihteenth and early Nineteenth Orientalism- but also Macaulay's Occidentalism- were quite kind to India- it was the naked exploitation of the East India Company (condemned in ringing terms by Sheridan and Burke) that was the problem. In any case India is no longer important.

The Middle East, on the other hand, is extremely important to the West and so disguised racism and Islamophobia must be combated.
Still, when I recall the early Said- his brilliant essay on the Chanson Rolland which showed how scription, bourgeois literature, fed in a parasitic, colonial, fashion on the oral tradition- and the quite beautiful sentences he could, from time, fling as baksheesh to his readers- I can not but regret the polemical turn his work took.
There was also the matter of his dispute with the Iraqi dissident Kanan Makkiya- though, I suppose, Makkiya might be blamed for Bush's Iraq adventure, so again perhaps Said got that right.
For a very bright man his books are curiously light-weight. But then, I guess, he would have had a lot of 'survivor's guilt', so so to speak, about Palestenians- including highly educated Christians like himself- suffering calamity after calamity, exile upon exile- uprooted first from Palestine, then Jordan after Black Sept., then Lebanon, then Kuwait, then Iraq....
It would take a truly heartless man to criticise Said for not being the belle letrristic sort of academic he was so well qualified to be.
This is a good price to buy a book that, at the very least, will have some nostalgia value for you in years to come.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 7, 2010 6:47 AM GMT

Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (Routledge Classics)
Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (Routledge Classics)
by Jean-Paul Sartre
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.09

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly fresh and re-readable. A bargain., 28 Sep 2009
I have to admit that I was astonished to find myself reading and enjoying this book after a gap of more that 20 years. I did not do it in a critical spirit- that would scarcely be fair to young man writing in what, comparatively speaking, was the dark ages.
At this price point, it seems quite a bargain. Worth it for the nostalgia value alone.

The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life
The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life
by Steven E. Landsburg
Edition: Paperback

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars spritely, entertaining but published at the wrong time, 10 Sep 2009
Well written and entertaining, this book may appear more superficial and fashionably opinionated than it actually is. In a sense, this edition has come out at the wrong time. However, is that really the case? When we consider the theoretical and mathematical power this author can bring to bear- and the sort of hybrid work being done around the globe- it may be that a real paradigm shift is in the offing.
Still, it was the failure of nuts and bolts 'institutional integrity' of the sort Ken Arrow focussed on more than 40 years ago which led to the current global malaise. Perhaps, ultimately, the real guilt lies not with any particular approach but with a sort of infectious glib and folksy stridency which prevents the assimilation of useful results in a timely manner.

The Silver Pilgrimage
The Silver Pilgrimage
by M. Anantanarayanan
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars enchanting peek into the past, 6 Sep 2009
This review is from: The Silver Pilgrimage (Paperback)
Anantanaryanan- whose sonorous name prompted a poem by John Updike- was a master of English, Tamil and Sanskrit. He effortlessly transports us to a vanished world of poetry, philosophy, demons and sages. Other things he mentions- corrupt officials, tax collectors, tone deaf patrons of Music and all sorts of picaresque characters are still very much with us.
This is a delightful book. Earlier Indian critics highlighted the passage concerning an Indian sea-farer who witnesses a performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet and can't make head or tail of it. I personally didn't find that passage interesting- well, not having read Borges's Averroes search- but there was plenty of other material to captivate me.
As a poet and translator, Anantanarayanan ranked with A.K Ramanujan. As a humorist- quite bold by the standards of the time, though never objectionable- he compares well with other South Indian writers and exhibits certain typical features of Tamil comedy.
It would be quite unrealistic to expect people nowadays to write like this distinguished Judge. That type of literary education and cultivation is a thing of the past. His mastery of the English language, too, is something even diaspora South Indians can scarcely aspire to.
I suppose the contemporary Anantanarayanan would be somebody like P.Sainath- author of 'everybody loves a good drought' and a great activist- however, the warm fuzzy feeling we get from 'the Silver pilgrimage' belongs to age as lost as our innocence.
A wonderful read. A 'must have' for anyone interested in South India.

Zuleika Dobson (Modern Library)
Zuleika Dobson (Modern Library)
by Max Beerbohm
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sufi parable of 'mimetic desire'- better than Proust, 6 Sep 2009
In Islam, especially Sufi poetry, Zuleikha is the name of Potiphar's wife who falls in love with Joseph. This is not an erotic or bawdy tale, but dramatises the dilemma of the 'impossible object' of philosophy's love. The late Victorians had fully assimilated Sufi poetry- through the Persian- (though it was an earlier generation, Tom Moore, Southey etc, which wrote oriental pastiches) so much so that W.S. Gilbert is referencing Jami's Salaman & Absal in the figure of the amorous Nanny in the Pirates of Penzance.
Beerbohm allows Zuliekha to fall for an impossible object- the snobbish Duke- but then introduces a truly delicious complication- the perfection of the Duke's amour propre is that paradoxical Monism which the Sufi Masters decry as 'an idolatry because it is a shielding of the heart from the Other- and the Other does not exist!" Thus the Duke has to both claim to love "Zuliekha"- not the flesh and blood woman of that name- but a will o' the wisp, amor fati generated by his own tragic egotism- as well as proceed to woo her in a manner precisely calculated to drive her away. Indeed, Beebohm, commenting on Andrew Lang, had pointed out that the perfection of 'the Oxford Manner' seems perfectly calculated to keep people at a distance. Zuleikha too is an egoist- but, unlike the Duke, she can have babies. She represents Goethe's eternal female- like Anna in Shaw's "Man and Superman."
In fact, the 'Life-force' did a good job of work when it ensured that, if the Duke 'loves' Zuleikha, she can't love him! Okay, the English reader may feel Zuleikha is irrational in wanting everybody to commit suicide for her- but such behaviour is de riguer in the Islamic ghazal tradition! In fact, Beerbohm gives this Islamic convention a sort of psychological probability by depicting Zuleikah as a publicity hungry starlet.
Ultimately, the Duke agrees to commit suicide because this represents an aristocratic yielding to Fate- the Olympian Gods- which is purely a matter of good taste. This is wholly Victorian. Behind the Duke we see Matthew Arnold puzzling over the Bhagvad Gita, harvesting deontics' bitter fruit, and ever thereafter a salt and blighting note warps the pastoral lyricism of 'scholar gypsies'- Housman, Hardy and so on- but also Santayana's 'the last Puritan'.
Beerbohm's depiction of the working of 'mimetic desire'- (vide Rene Girard's analysis of Proust)- and the manner in which it can lead to a thymotic disaster- like the Gadarening rush to the trenches of the First World War- is like a piece of hyper-elegant mathematics rivalling the work of Weyl, Poincare etc.
This gem of English literature has so much meaning packed into it while appearing nothing more than an Undergraduate jeu d'esprit- a Musical Comedy of a little novel. If only some one had explained its excellence to people like me, back when we were teens- we would never have thought we too could try to be writers! Beerbohm had genius. In vain do we drown ourselves in ink. Zuleikha was never for the likes of us.
Incidentally, after Zuleikha went to Cambridge- and the students there drowned themselves- she married Rajni Palme Dutt who, being a Marxist, understood not just the Hegelian dialectic but the infinitely more subtle Saavanih love dialectic of Ahmed Ghazali.
Thus, sad to say, she became an instructor in Statistics at the London School of Economics and did noteworthy research in Bayesian Analysis.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 24, 2010 5:14 PM GMT

The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming America From The Right
The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming America From The Right
by Paul Krugman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.57

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable- maybe a little facile?- but definitely worth buying., 6 Sep 2009
Krugman's clarity and wit are themselves worthy of a Nobel prize. Since he is presenting his thesis so directly, doubts cross one's mind as to whether some of his arguments are facile. However, Krugman -presumably- has already thought through the objections. After all, as a top Economist, he spends his time working through the dreary details.
I think it is worth buying Krugman's books- especially at this sort of price point- because in a few years time we can come back to them and see how well his thinking stands up.
My guess is he will come out well- perhaps way ahead of the competition.

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