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Briefly Rated Book Reviews | The New Yorker


Under Jerusalem, by Andrew Lawler (Doubleday). A chronicle of more than a century and a half of controversial excavations around the sacred sites of Jerusalem, this story paints a portrait of the various “treasure hunters, learned religious, religious extremists and lay archaeologists” who hoped to discover the biblical city. Lawler’s story traces both the wonders found underground and the events unfolding above them, including the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the birth of Zionism, the creation of the State of ‘Israel and the Shattered Peace Talks of the’ 90s. Probing the often partisan motivations of excavators, Lawler highlights the power of archeology to shape narratives and its development of a discipline “not far removed from its much more cousin. aged, the plundering of graves ”, into a modern tool for fabricating nationalist myths.

The Amur river, by Colin Thubron (Harper). The tenth-longest river in the world, which runs through eastern Russia and northeastern China, is different from peers like the Mississippi and the Nile, according to this account from a seasoned travel writer. Rather than fostering cohesion, Love is a source of division, with worry and mistrust bubbling up on both shores, despite centuries of trade and migration. Thubron travels on horseback, by boat and by bus, through the steppe, wetlands and forest, and meets Mongols, Russians, Cossacks and Chinese. Citizens of former Soviet republics complain about the economic scourge and lost traditions, and Thubron weaves historical anecdotes, such as the freedom Chekhov felt as he traveled down the river to interview convicts in Sakhalin, and his stopover with a Japanese prostitute in Blagoveschensk.

The island of missing trees, by Elif Shafak (Bloomsbury). The focal point of this novel set in Cyprus is a sensitive fig tree, capable not only of “will, altruism and kinship”, but also of telling stories. In 1974, the tree became a secret meeting place for Defne, a Turkish Muslim, and Kostas, a Greek Christian. The story of lovers, partly told by the tree, sheds light on the island’s violent history, colonial heritage and ecological challenges. More than forty years later, one of the lovers has died and the tree, thanks to a cutting smuggled out of the island while Defne was pregnant with Kostas’ daughter, is in England. “When you save a fig tree from a storm,” the tree explains, “it is the memory of someone you save.”

Yellow rain, by Mai Der Vang (Graywolf). This collection of poetry revolves around disturbing events towards the end of the Vietnam War: Thousands of Hmong refugees died and many more suffered violent illness, after being exposed to a sticky, powdery substance that witnesses witnessed. seen falling from planes. The United States accused the Soviet Union of deploying chemical weapons, which the latter denied; later, American scientists claimed that the poisonous “yellow rain” consisted of bee droppings. Half documentary, half enigma, the book incorporates the text of declassified documents. Vang’s lyrical interventions strike powerful notes of lamentation and rage, but most effective are his visual poem-collages, which use fragmentation to question the inhumanity of the official narrative.


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Cory E. Barnes

The author Cory E. Barnes