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Paperback Pickings

Romantics, rebels and reactionaries

Iraq: a report from the inside (Granta, £ 5.99) by Dilip Hiro is a comprehensive and extremely readable analysis of the hard realities of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Combining years of experience in writing on the Islamic world and extensive travels within west Asia, Hiro presents a “brief chronicle” of Iraq, “spiced periodically with an anecdote or telling quote”. This chronicle weaves together an account of how ordinary Iraqis manage to survive in the face of extensive sanctions, the history of the Baath Party and the “rise and rise of Saddam Hussein”. Hiro’s unsettling survey builds up to a few basic questions regarding weapons inspection and Iraqi disarmament, the evidence for Iraq’s links with al Qaida, and the role of the CIA and M16 in the coup attempts made to oust Saddam since 1991. To encourage debate, Hiro appends frequent and infrequent comments and questions on Iraq, together with his own short answers. The questions Iraq submitted to the UN secretary general in March 2002 are also reprinted.

Gandhi, freedom and self-rule (Vistaar, Rs 190) edited by Anthony J. Parel brings together eminent Gandhian scholars to discuss the four meanings of freedom in Gandhi’s life and writings: sovereign national independence, the political freedom of the individual, freedom from poverty and spiritual freedom or self-rule. Dennis Dalton, Antony Copley, Sudarshan Kapur and Judith Brown are among the contributors.

Last letters ofJacopo Ortis (Hesperus, £ 5.99) by Ugo Foscolo is another one of those unknown gems in the “100 Pages” series. Foscolo (1778-1827), was an Italian Romantic and a passionate advocate of the liberation of his nation from foreign occupation. He went into self-imposed exile in Switzerland, and then in England, where he died in poverty and despair. Jacopo Ortis is Foscolo’s Young Werther or Childe Harold, banished from his homeland and from the woman he loves, living constantly with insufferable feelings of disillusionment and betrayal. Foscolo uses the form of an epistolary monologue to embody in Ortis the crisis of the revolutionary hopes of an entire generation and the death of an idea of freedom based on human trust and love. Like Beeth- oven’s Leonora, Ortis is a Romantic who wages war on convention to in an attempt to liberate mankind from the fetters of society, nature and fate. J.G. Nichols’s translation appends the splendidly gloomy elegy, The Tomb: “Shaded by cypresses, and kept in urns/ Consoled by weeping, is the sleep of death/ Really not quite so rigid'”


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