Monday, September 12, 2011

Haunted Latin America, Black Tuesday and a crumbling empire: New books of note

From time to time on this blog, I like to direct readers’ attention to noteworthy endeavors by my colleagues and peers and, fortuitously, this month three new books have crossed my radar that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

I covered Haiti alongside former National Public Radio Latin America corespondent and now Public Radio International Europe corespondent Gerry Hadden from 2000 to 2004. Though based in Mexico City, Gerry’s reportage took him to Haiti many times as well as many other locales throughout the region. Gerry’s new memoir, Never the Hope Itself: Love and Ghosts in Latin America and Haiti, (in which, full disclosure, I make a small cameo) is a compelling picture of a tumultuous time in the region while the world’s attention was focused elsewhere after 9/11.

Reading the book as a fellow international journalist, in addition to recounting the political trajectories of countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and the aforementioned Haiti, I think it does a masterful job of illuminating some of the attractions and pitfalls of the journalist’s life - the feeling of on-the-road exhaustion, the mental state of constantly having to negotiate other cultures, the pangs of romance on the run - and it does so while bringing the reader front and centre to some of the most tumultuous events in the first few years of our violent new century.

My dear friend Nomi Prins - a journalist and Senior Fellow at the public policy research and advocacy organization Demos - has authored a trio of excellent books on cooperate malfeasance in the United States: It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bonuses, Bailouts, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street, Jacked: How "Conservatives" are Picking your Pocket (whether you voted for them or not) and the highly prescient Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America. This fall she expands her range into fiction with Black Tuesday, a tale of fraud, obsession and economic devastation set amid the backdrop of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929. Vividly recreating the immigrant and ethnic potpourri of 1920s New York, the book is a gripping read and a very atmospheric one, as well. Somehow I feel that the music of John Zorn circa The Circle Maker - to me redolent of the immigrant Jewish experience on the Lower East Side - would make the perfect soundtrack to reading this finely-tuned novel with its echoes of our present grim economic state.

A longtime observer and analyst of Russia and the Caucasus, Lawrence Scott Sheets has penned what promises to be a most interesting account of 20 plus years spent there. I have just started reading Eight Pieces of Empire: A 20-Year Journey Through the Soviet Collapse, but if the initial chapters are anything to go on, it will be a most compelling ride. Characters such as the Chechen terrorist leader Shamil Basayev flit in and out of a story of hope and despair as the exuberance of liberation gives way to something far tougher and darker throughout the region, an area that I have promised myself to visit for the first time during 2012.

All in all, three excellent additions to any bookshelf this fall.

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