The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Teeth drawn, spirit spent

Where the rain is born: writings about kerala (Penguin, Rs 395) edited by Anita Nair gathers writers as diverse as Arundhati Roy, Ramachandra Guha, William Dalrymple, Salman Rushdie, Pankaj Mishra and Kamala Das to evoke the various aspects of this beautiful and complex Indian state. This is a readable and well-designed book, touching on the natural, cultural and political geographies of rural and urban Kerala. Yet, the spectre of the touristic does haunt its pages, although kept in place by good writing and excellent translations. There are a variety of genres: poems, essays, excerpts from novels and academic books. The luxuriant weave of nature, Christianity and communism provides the background to Arundhati Roy’s Ayemenem tragedy in The God of Small Things: “Despite the fact that it was June, and raining, the river was no more than a swollen drain now…Once it had the power to evoke fear. To change lives. But now its teeth were drawn, its spirit spent. It was just a slow, sludging green ribbon lawn that ferried fetid garbage to the sea. Bright plastic bags blew across its viscous, weedy surface like subtropical flying- flowers.”

Historical dictionary of terrorism (Vision, Rs 595) by Sean K. Anderson and Stephen Sloan is the second edition of an important and useful reference guide, standing out among the post 9/11 hack work. Its main compilers are both American counter-terrorism experts, and one should keep this in mind when consulting the dictionary’s definitions of terrorism. But the information provided is fairly comprehensive, complemented by chronologies and a bibliography. Apart from facts on various terrorist groups, the technological, legal and psychological aspects of international terrorism are all well represented in the entries. There is also a special section on south Asia, highlighting the assassination of the two Indian prime ministers and cross-border terrorism. This will be a convenient book for government officials, security experts, analysts and researchers and journalists.

The ash garden (Bloomsbury, £ 3.50) by Dennis Bock is a novel that brings together a Hiroshima survivor and a scientist responsible for the atom bomb. Emiko was six when she survived the first atom bomb, which killed her parents and horrifically injured her brother. A decade later, she was among the 25 “Hiroshima maidens” brought to the US for reconstructive surgery. Anton was a recruit of Oppenheimer’s Manhattan Project for whom the explosion in August 1945 confirmed a dream. “She lowered the shears to her side and waited as he circled the bushes, strolling without hurry. She listened for the slow shuffle of the aged, the imminently infirm. She knew his habitual posture, hands clasped behind his back like a grandfather out for an evening stroll, stopping to pause and test the air.”

In old madras (Rupa, Rs 195) by B.M. Croker

is a piece of period horror set in colonial India. Bithia Mary Croker, a popular practitioner of the Gothic form was born most probably in 1860 and died in 1920. She was best known for her ghost stories set in fin-de-siecle India, her best known collection being Number Ninety and Other Ghost Stories, most of them first published in Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction. This book is about a Captain Mallender, who comes to old Madras in search of his uncle, once a reputable officer in the Blue Hussars, who disappeared mysteriously about thirty years ago. “They’re gone, and think of it! Just one year ago, Geoffrey came out here, on a wild-goose chase, a stranger in the land, and empty-handed — for his allowance was cut-off from the day he arrived. Behold, now, he returns, leaving crowds of Indian friends…and carries away with him, a sword, a horse, a fortune, and a bride!”

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