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BooksSeptember 27, 2021 Issue
Briefly Noted
“Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth,” “Savage Tongues,” “Three Girls from Bronzeville,” and “Home, Land, Security.”
September 20, 2021
Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth, by Wole Soyinka (Pantheon). The Nobel Prize-winning playwright’s first novel in half a century is a riotous satire set in a thinly fictionalized Nigeria, where a “National Board of Happiness,” comprising the media, the government, and organized religion, distracts the public from rampant corruption by bestowing titles of rococo dubiousness (“People’s Steward,” “Yeomen of the Year”). A celebrated surgeon and his engineer friend uncover a black market for human body parts which implicates the highest rungs of society. With caustic wit, Soyinka’s carnivalesque depictions of venality ferret out hypocrisy from behind its elaborate guises and condemn crimes that challenge “the collective notion of soul.”
Savage Tongues, by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In this cerebral novel, an Iranian British writer raised partly in Spain returns to the apartment in Andalusia where, at seventeen, she spent a summer with a much older man, who was violent and controlling. Exploring her ambivalent feelings about her persecutor, she sees the relationship as a demonstration of “how desire is shaped by the destructive logic of empire.” Believing that “mourning isn’t really possible when you’re alone,” she has brought a friend, a Jewish activist for Palestinian rights who has her own trauma. The pair spend their days drinking at the beach and trying to scrub the apartment clean while they confront the ghosts inhabiting its walls.
Three Girls from Bronzeville, by Dawn Turner (Simon & Schuster). The girls of the title are the author, her younger sister, and her childhood best friend, who grew up in aspirational working-class Black families in Chicago in the sixties and seventies, “at the threshold of what our parents hope is a new, post-racial era.” But the girls’ lives took drastically different turns: the author became a writer; her sister died of alcoholism; the friend fell victim to the crack epidemic and was imprisoned for murder. Turner reëxamines their lives and shows how both personal choices and structural racism shaped their fates. She is stunned when a white newspaper editor insists that she could never have ended up like the others—“as if the right combination of rage, desperation, hopelessness, drugs couldn’t land you in a place you never dreamed.”
Home, Land, Security, by Carla Power (One World). This timely study of deradicalization attempts to understand the lure of extremism. Power meets the mothers of isis recruits in the U.K., France, and Belgium; leaders of deradicalization programs in Indonesia and Pakistan; and an erstwhile German neo-Nazi now combatting white supremacy. She examines compassionate strategies for discouraging would-be extremists or rehabilitating former ones, and criticizes the punitive approach taken by countries like the U.S. and the U.K., noting that Western governments have done much to create the conditions for extremism to flourish in the first place: “The recruitment successes of militant groups serve as maps of a society’s mistakes.”
Published in the print edition of the September 27, 2021, issue.
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