Purposeful Imperfections


Month: December, 2013

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

If nothing else, read The Flamethrowers for language. The vitality of the prose is breathtaking, and Rachel Kushner’s immense talent for description and relentless deployment of offbeat metaphor are extraordinary and bewitching. As to the plot, it’s a captivating examination of class, gender, and identity that utilizes as its subjects a handful of mostly—but beguilingly—fictional events and persons spanning the 20th century. Bits and pieces of odd but mesmerizing stories accrete haphazardly, offering moments of insight that are too brief to resolve, and it’s this open-endedness that prods the reader forward, however turbulently. And that’s how it needs to be, as the central story—the one of Reno the young artist; the quiet girl from Nevada; the intrepid motorcyclist; the patient narrator—is a messy one of indeliberate identity seeking, of a slow shifting from observation to action, and what it takes to ultimately force her hand is shocking but, by the novel’s end, inevitable.

From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia by Pankaj Mishra

From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra

Squeezing subject matter this historically, geographically, culturally, and politically vast into a few hundred pages almost inevitably leads to a disjointed narrative, and From the Ruins of Empire is no exception. That said, I wholly applaud the ambition and deep research that a text like this requires, and my reading was rewarded with a number of epiphanies–for instance, a contextualization of the shift from collective to individual jihad or how recent of a phenomenon nationalism is in China.

Most crucially, Pankaj Mishra offers a very necessary corrective to the (still!) pervasive, Western-centric view of colonialism/market economies/capitalism as progressive, just, and inevitable. Mishra’s alternative lens is not only good for viewing the past but also a useful tool when considering what the 21st century may hold. Thus, despite the occasional narrative hiccups, From the Ruins of Empire is a good general primer on the political landscape of modern–and, perhaps, future–Asia.