The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Every tragedy can be understood

bhopal gas tragedy (Tulika, Rs 50) by Suroopa Mukherjee is a lucid but relentless narrative of possibly the worst industrial disaster in human history. It is also an exhaustive and updated compendium of information on the complex causes and the continuing aftermath of the tragic events of December 1984. This volume, part of the “In Focus” series, targets young people who are at the threshold of their careers. This compelling and user-friendly book, illustrated by Raghu Rai’s black-and-white-photographs, will leave both young and adult readers with a horrified, yet clear-headed and critical, sense of how “large companies, social systems and government agencies operate” together to cause a human tragedy which can be understood in rational and political terms. At a time when civil society seems to be particularly endangered in India, this book reminds its impressionable readers that information is power and obliviousness can be inhuman. “If, by the end of this story, I can show the reader that...the human side of a tragedy is not an unalterable, given condition; that every tragedy can be understood, analysed and prevented from recurring — then this story would have been well worth told.”

sociological theory (Vistaar, Rs 490) by B.N. Adams and R.A. Sydie is a mega-textbook for students, offering a panoramic view of the development of modern social thought from its European roots to the present. The vast scope of the book necessarily results in superficiality, but its usefulness, in spite of the tendency to spoon-feed the reader, is indisputable.

Beyond All Heavens (HarperCollins, Rs 295) by Jayabrato Chatterjee is a novel of nearly delirium-inducing badness. The writing is baroque and riotous, from the global acknowledgments to the immense pseudo-profundities of the ending (“The only truth I know is that hell is also a place in our heart where we have to struggle constantly to find our own little heaven.”). There is, however, an unstoppable energy, even a sort of joie de vivre, gushing through the novel. Its irrepressible geographic and historical range, copiousness of literary allusion and lashings of erotic uninhibitedness are all taken up into a prose which is like a Christmas pudding gone haywire with too much fruit and sinful quantities of brandy. Perhaps it is all extravagant self-parody. Perhaps Chatterjee’s novelistic career started at the fin de wrong siècle (his first novel was called Last Train to Innocence), when readers are less indulgent and more heartlessly minimal.

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