5 books for troubled times from this indie bookstore in Pakistan
It’s hard to keep up with all the news here in the U.S. A fight to confirm a new Supreme Court justice. The ongoing probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Uncertainty about health care reform. A rollback of environmental regulations. And a chemical attack in Syria, which led to a U.S. strike on Syria Thursday night — the first direct American attack on the Assad regime.
On the arts desk, we turn to books to try to make sense of the times we’re living in, and with so much going on in the U.S., it can be a challenge to maintain a global perspective. This week, we asked “The Last Word,” an independent bookseller in Lahore, Pakistan, for what we should be reading right now.
Aysha Raja, who opened the store in 2007, wrote in an email to NewsHour that The Last Word has been “selling books through the toughest of times” in Pakistan, including eras of terrorism and authoritarian rule. Right now, she said, as incidents of intolerance rise around her country, and the world, the store is recommending books that “celebrate the provocateur, the vilified, and the misunderstood.” Below, their five recommendations, in the staff’s words:
1. “The Power” by Naomi Alderman
“The Power” can be best described as feminist dystopian sci-fi. It takes place in a world almost exactly like ours, except women have spontaneously developed the ability to shoot electricity out of their fingers, sometimes with fatal consequences. Just like your favorite 1980s telekinetic horror movie, not only do the girls have it in spades but they can trigger it in older women. Gender relations immediately recalibrate to place women on top, and a surprisingly brutal domination ensues, challenging hitherto accepted gender norms and notions. Alderman artfully flips the script on our world using existing ancient artifacts to justify the inherent superiority of women, making this an utterly convincing narrative that makes you forget that women actually can’t shoot lightning.
2. “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” by Mohammed Hanif
Mohammad Hanif’s debut novel was published during General Musharraf’s regime and was poised to upset a lot of important people. Set during Pakistan’s military dictatorship of the ’80s, this comic political thriller offers up an array of possible motives behind the still-unsolved murder of Musharraf’s predecessor, President Zia-ul-haq. There are shady army men deploying suitcases of money, opportunistic CIA officers radicalizing to win the cold war, and a victim of the newly minted, Wahhabi-inspired legislation who would like to see him dead. This handy comic sketch of a milestone in Pakistan history will thrill and enthrall in equal measure.
3. “The Age of Anger” by Pankaj Mishra
Mishra surveys the philosophies that rose from the ashes of colonialism, the French revolution, industrialization and the rise of fascism to show us how we arrived at today; how growing discontent was consistently ignored in favor of unbridled capitalism; and how that has ultimately cost us our humanity, our freedoms, and our environment.
4. “Hip Hop Raised Me,” by DJ Semtex
Compiled by Radio 1 DJ Semtex and edited by industry insider Marium Raja, this tome serves as a reference guide, monograph and history of the most subversive contemporary movement of the modern era. Told from the unlikely vantage point of a couple of Londoners living through the heyday of hip-hop, this slickly put-together coffee table book takes us from the nascent days of DJs and block parties through to the Obama years and the next generation of rappers. What makes “Hip Hop Raised Me” a treasure are the never-before-seen photos of the titans of hip-hop, the contact sheets fizzing with energy, and the impressive infographics depicting the music genre’s evolution.
5. “Saffron Tales” by Yaseem Khan
Iran is often vilified, and misunderstood. This is both a cookbook and travelogue, so it humanizes a culture through its food. For the book, Khan travels to her ancestral home of Iran and unearths an impressive array of recipes from her meals in home kitchens all over the county. Culinary secrets are revealed with the underlying history and traditions of the region, introducing Iran to us through its food. The use of everyday ingredients and helpful instructions will ensure you develop a taste for Persian cuisine.