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Review-a-Day

Sunday, September 21st


 

Modern Library Chronicles #11: Inventing Japan: 1853-1964 by Ian Buruma

Land of Anthems and Artifice

A review by Anthony Head

How sick is Japan, and what is the nature of its illness? Up to about twenty years ago impressions of the country in the West, not to mention Asia, were still determined largely by the behaviour of the Japanese during the Second World War. At the mention of Japan, images of fanaticism and brutality were quick to surface. Just before my first visit to the country in 1980, a friend's father, a former Desert Rat, put it succinctly, wishing me luck and stating he himself would never go there. He had not encountered any Japanese himself, but he knew people who had. Even when what is still referred to as the "economic miracle" was at its height, sparking a whole industry of books on the "Japanese mind" and the arcana of Japanese management techniques, there was clearly something not quite right about these uptight imitators of Western fashion, who lived in rabbit hutches and began their working days with corporate callisthenics.

The notion that they had merely transerred to other arenas...



Four Souls by Louise Erdrich

A plot to reclaim the native land

A review by Ron Charles

For better or for worse, most white people have two popular avenues of contact with native Americans: casino gambling or Louise Erdrich. My money's on Erdrich, with whom the odds of winning something of real value are essentially guaranteed.

The daughter of a Chippewa mother and a German-American father, this Minnesota author won critical and popular success with her first novel, Love Medicine, in 1984. Since then, through a steady accumulation of beautiful, often funny books set around an Ojibwe reservation, she's created the most compelling literary landscape since Faulkner's...



Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life by Sheldon S. Wolin

Both Sides Now

A review by Stephen Holmes

I.
For many Americans, Alexis de Tocqueville was a source of insight and reassurance throughout the Cold War. Not only did he caution prophetically against the perils of an over-mighty central state, but he also divined the first omens, within democratic society itself, of morally debilitating welfare-state paternalism. But that was then, this is now. Fear and loathing of "the state" is no longer in the air. If American democracy is threatened at all, it is less by government omniscience and an immoderate concern for the welfare of the disadvantaged than by the ineptitude and the...



The White King by György Dragomán

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

A review by Ron Charles

Literature about children living under repressive regimes is as upsetting as it is invaluable. One's appreciation for each new book is mingled with horror at what a young person endured to produce it. How many of us finally understood the ferocity of Sierra Leone's civil war by reading about Ishmael Beah's unbearable ordeal in A Long Way Gone? Last year, Libyan writer Hisham Matar provided a chilling perspective on what it means for a child to live in a state of political terror. In the Country of Men, his autobiographical novel about a 9-year-old boy, describes a family struggling under the...



The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families After World War II by Tara Zahra

The Smallest Victims

A review by Mark Mazower

No sooner had I finished this fascinating book than I remembered the shattering scene in Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise when the teenage orphans whom a fatherly priest has been shepherding to the safety of a secluded chateau suddenly turn on him like a pack of wolves and stone him to death. It is an unforgettable moment that seems to sum up all the madness of France's panic in the summer of 1940. But in its almost Jacobin ghoulishness, the event is also mysteriously implausible.

Now, after reading The Lost Children, it seems more decipherable. Throughout the war and after it, Europeans ...



The Cleft by Doris May Lessing

Eden Undone

A review by Julie Phillips

Doris Lessing begins The Cleft with an epigraph from the poet Robert Graves: "Man does, woman is." This is the kind of oracular essentialism that has taken a beating in the past 40 years, yet Lessing appears to agree with it. Men, she writes in a brief foreword, "lack the solidity of women, who seem to have been endowed with a natural harmony with the ways of the world....Men in comparison are unstable, and erratic. Is Nature trying something out?"

One of Lessing's many talents is describing women at odds with the ways of the world; but in her new novel, she herself is trying something out....



Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Classic Review

A review by Edwin Percy Whipple

[Ed. Note. This review first ran in the Atlantic Monthly, May 1865.]

In the novels of Thackeray, essay is so much mixed up with narrative, and comment with characterization, that they can hardly be thoroughly appreciated in poor editions. The temptation to skip is almost irresistible, when wisdom can be purchased only at the expense of eyesight. We are therefore glad to welcome the commencement of a new edition of his writings, over whose pages the reader can linger at his pleasure, and quietly enjoy the subtleties of humor and observation which in previous perusals he overlooked. The...



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