Thursday, October 27, 2022

This changes everything - Naomi Klein

Although I’ve seen Naomi Klein’s books on bookstore shelves dozens of times, this is the first one that I actually bought and read. For some reason I thought she was a particularly literary version of a no-global fanatic. And I am not very attracted by fanatics, even though their cause might be a noble one. Damn, I was wrong. She is quite the opposite: a competent, clever, original opponent of neoliberal and free trade fanaticism. In this book she tackles the effects of the modern capitalist dogmas on arguably the most precious thing that we - as a community, a living species, and an integral part of nature - all posses and share: the earth, its ecosystems and delicate balance. 
More than three decades after the first intergovernmental climate-change related debates and agreements, carbon emissions, rather than being reduced or at least kept stable, have increased manyfold and global warming has reached unprecedented levels, causing ever more frequent and devastating natural disasters all over the planet, the poorest parts of it in particular.
Why? What happened?
Well, almost simultaneously a wave of neoliberal policies, free trade agreements, corporate globalization and an unbridled capitalist ideology, with its corollary of business deregulation, austerity, public spending cuts and privatizations, has turned entire economic and social systems upside down.
Naomi Klein explains how this mad mutation of capitalism, aided by an ever more self centered, hedonistic and greedy consumerist culture on one hand and a huge political void on the other, has lead to a massive increase in oil, gas and coal extraction, most of it with new, risky and polluting technologies such as hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking), tar sands, deepwater drilling and mountaintop mining.
She goes on explaining what the viable alternatives to this destructive system are and how they will never be implemented if the initiative is left to the market, the governments or supposedly good willing multi-millionaires, as the changes needed would go against the interests of some of the world’s richest and most powerful corporations, which are generously lobbying the political class that is supposed to implement those reforms. A political class that even if not lobbied would have to take measures that contradict the dominating economic ideology that has driven its activities for decades.
Change has therefore to happen bottom-up, rather than top-down, through a switch from individualistic to communal mentality, through workers co-ops and citizens groups that would take back control of local grids and decision making platforms.
She also enumerates a few examples of regions where this has already happened (we’re talking about countries like Denmark and Germany, not some backward soviet oriented state), and other places where groups of common people are opposing extractivism and are being brutishly cracked down by the local authorities.
This book is an eye opener, highly recommended.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

The reluctant fundamentalis - Mohsin Hamid

This is the story of a well groomed, clever and charming Pakistani young guy who moves to the US, graduates brilliantly from one of the best American colleges, finds a well paid job in a successful New York financial firm and gets a rich and beautiful - although troubled - girlfriend.
Everything seems to progress perfectly for Changez, when, all of a sudden, 9/11 happens. Little by little all the bricks of his apparently solid fortress start to crumble and he finds himself torn between affection for his own culture and gratitude towards the country that has adopted him, between his love for his girlfriend and the effects of her tragic memories.
The protagonist tells his story through a monologue directed at a mysterious American man who’s visiting Lahore, the Pakistani city where Changez was born and raised. The foreigner’s actions and words are conveyed through remarks that briefly interrupt the flow of the account, and maybe this is the weakest of the techniques employed by the author. A mere trifle if compared with the elegant prose, the rich vocabulary and the well knitted plot.
An excellent novel with an ending open to interpretation.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Five past midnight in Bhopal - Dominique Lapierre & Javier Moro

I’d already read a couple of books by the French author Dominique Lapierre. I particularly liked “Freedom at midnight” about India and Pakistan independence and partition, which I read when I was traveling in the subcontinent. “O Jerusalem”, about the birth of the State of Israel and the first dramatic days of war between the Jewish state and its neighboring Arab countries, is also a very good one.
“Five past midnight in Bhopal” takes us back to India, a country that the author knows well. Lapierre often collaborates with some colleague when writing non fictional works. He wrote the aforementioned books together with the American journalist Larry Collins and this one with Javier Moro from Spain.
Bhopal is for chemical accidents what Chernobyl is for nuclear ones. Before the early minutes of the 3rd December 1984 Bhopal was known for being one of the most beautiful and best administered cities in India, but ever since that moment its name has brought to mind the biggest chemical disaster of all times. An extremely toxic cloud escaped a methyl isocyanate tank at the local Union Carbide plant - built to produce the Sevin pesticide - and instantly killed or badly injured tens of thousands of people (death estimates range between 15000 and 30000).
Lapierre and Moro skillfully reconstruct the series of events that lead to the building of the plant and eventually to the catastrophic accident, taking into account both the point of view of the managers and workers of the American corporation and that of the dwellers of the slums that were most badly hit by the toxic gas cocktail.
As it’s always the case with Lapierre’s books, history and investigative journalism go hand in hand with accounts of human hopes, happiness, disappointments, joy and suffering. It’s an enriched way of learning history. And if you, like myself, are into anything related to India, this is a must read.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The algebra of infinite justice - Arundhati Roy

I read Arundhati Roy’s bestselling debut novel “The God of small things” many years ago. It’s a fantastic story about castes, power, exploitation, love and violence. “The algebra of infinite justice”, on the other hand, is a non-fiction book: a collection of essays and articles that Arundhati wrote between 1998 (the year Pakistan and India tested their newly developed nuclear weapons) and 2002, one year into the war on terror waged by the US and their allies after 9/11, when talks about attacking Iraq after Afghanistan were mounting.
The themes of the book are pretty much the same as the ones of the novel, but on a much wider scale. The topics are both diverse and deeply connected. The surging wave of Hindu nationalism (bordering fascism) that swept over India after the nuclear tests and how this is getting to the very ancient soul of the country. The mega dam projects that destroy entire ecosystems and displace millions of poor and powerless people. The effects of corporate globalization, free market policies and privatization of public services on the social and economic system of India and other developing countries. Religious conflicts in India (particularly chilling is the account of the 2002 pogroms against the Gujarat Muslim community - tolerated, if not outright encouraged by the local government, headed back then by the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi). And finally the relation between Islamic terrorism, US foreign policy and the Cold War.
Arundhati also discusses the roles of writers and activists and challenges the idea that only experts have the right to talk about topics that actually affect the lives of pretty much everyone. It’s really amazing how she can put together superior narrative skills, social and political insights, global vision, courage, intellectual independence, logic and competence. She says so many things I’ve always thought myself but have never been able to express so clearly and convincingly. And she is always so forward-looking: this book is twenty years old but some of the chapters could have been written ten years from now for how visionary they appear.
Read it, and if you haven’t read “The god of small things”, well, read that as well.