Weekly International Book Digest

The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle (Viking, 2010)


Irish author Roddy Doyle’s new novel–the third in his Henry Smart trilogy–is also his best, according to Tom LeClair, writing for the New York Times. LeClair attributes this to less dependence on “the Hollywood conventions that made A Star Called Henry and Oh, Play That Thing more like popular entertainments.”


Henry has himself returned to Ireland from Hollywood, where he becomes a “slightly fraudulent symbol of the revolutionary past,” and if fans of the first two books are disappointed by its lessened glamour, they can take solace in “aesthetic compensations” and in the book’s copious but subtle connections to its predecessors.


The Flight of the Intellectuals by Paul Berman (Melville House, 2010)


Paul Berman, a writer who has, according to reviewer Anthony Julius, skillfully focused his career on “the repudiation by liberal intellectuals of their values and ideals,” turns his attention in a new book to two scholars, Tariq Ramadan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and two supporters of Ramadan, and critics of Ali, Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash.


For Berman, the truth should be the reverse. According to his book, “Ramadan cannot be trusted to know his own mind, and therefore cannot be trusted when he claims to speak it.” Berman suspects that Ramadan “desires a return to a distant age, one characterized by religious purity, in which all dissent will necessarily be absent” and finds such visions frightening, since they would necessarily silence someone like the “admirable and courageous secularist” Ali.


Innocent by Scott Turow (Mantle, 2010)


Scott Turow is arguably America’s most popular living crime writer, and his many fans have been waiting twenty years for this new book, the sequel to his extremely popular debut novel Presumed Innocent. The book revisits protagonist Rusty Sabich, and Alison Flood in the Guardian is immediately overpowered by the “whip-sharp courtroom exchanges that Turow excels at, the twist and counter-twist and the last-minute revelation that turns everything on its head.”


For Flood, he’s better than John Grisham, in spite of being harder to come by. Terrence Rafferty agrees: “Innocent is a meticulously constructed and superbly paced mystery, full of twists and surprises and the sort of technical arcana on which the genre thrives.”


War by Sebastian Junger (Twelve, 2010)


Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, embedded himself with troops in Afghanistan’s remote and dangerous Korangal Valley to research his new book. On War, reviewer Dexter Filkins writes that Junger does well using “the platoon (the second of Battle Company, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade) as a kind of laboratory to examine the human condition as it evolved under the extraordinary circumstances in which these soldiers fought and lived.”


But the writer cannot live up to the grandiose promise made by the book’s imposing title, and the voices of the soldiers he sought to chronicle get lost in his often wonderful prose. “Junger risked his life to be with the men of Battle Company’s Second Platoon, but I would have liked to have heard a little more from them and a little less from Junger himself.

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