All too human
• THE WIND IN MY HAIR: MY FIGHT FOR FREEDOM IN MODERN IRAN (Virago, Rs 699) by Masih Alinejad is an engaging account of a rebel in the making. A journalist by profession, Alinejad, along with her husband, Kambiz Foroohar, presents her incisive evaluation of the political history of Iran since the Islamic Revolution. She reflects on a number of subjects - life in her village in Iran before and after the Shah's rule, her conversations with Mohammad Khatami, the erstwhile president, the shifting of power to the hands of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - and gives her candid opinion of the current president, Hassan Rouhani.
Significantly, Alinejad also ponders the impact of these changes on the freedom of women. Along with the stories of her own struggles against oppression - the mandatory hijab and chador, her expulsion from work and exile from her country - she also sheds light on many movements for women's rights that remain ignored by the mainstream media. The book also offers a glimpse into Iranian culture, including its rich legacy of poetry. The photographs from her personal archives and her memories of childhood are heart-warming.
• HUMANS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOW WE F*CKED IT ALL UP (Wildfire, Rs 499) by Tom Phillips presents a blooper reel of the history of mankind. In this, the author underlines a series of man-made crises - such as the American Dust Bowl and the Australian rabbit plague - and ends each chapter with a list of absurd events of human design. Neither national leaders nor ordinary people are exempted from his jabs. The narration is conversational and witty without losing track of the larger point. Important issues such as environmental degradation, war, terrorism, global warming and improper nuclear waste disposal are emphasized.
• MANDODARI: QUEEN OF LANKA (Penguin, Rs 299) by Manini J. Anandani is a fictional rendition of Sanghadasa's Jain version of the Ramayana. It is written from the perspective of Ravana's wife, Mandodari. The latter is portrayed as rational and understanding, but too submissive for a retelling in the 21st century. With its bland, linear narrative, the book does not offer new insights into the epic. It fails to make a strong case for Ravana at a time when retellings of mythological stories are gaining ground in popular literature. However, it does manage to bring an oft-ignored version of the Ramayana to the forefront.