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Briefly Noted Book Reviews | the new yorker

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Rebels against the Rajby Ramachandra Guha (Knopf). A prominent Indian historian and biographer of Gandhi turns his attention to seven “white-skinned heroes and heroines” – allies in the country’s bid to end colonial rule. Among them are the British theosophist Annie Besant, a figurehead of the home-rule movement until she was eclipsed by Gandhi (who had been inspired by her as a child); B. G. Horniman, a radical British publisher; and Samuel Stokes, a Quaker from Pennsylvania who helped eliminate forced labor. Guha notes that his subjects campaigned not only for freedom, but also against many social ills, such as environmental abuse and caste-based discrimination, laying the groundwork for a movement that, he writes, “could still be relevant to the future of India”.

Eat to extinctionby Dan Saladino (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). This chronicle of local relationships between humans and what we eat reveals a pattern with dire implications for the future of food. “Where nature creates diversity, the food system crushes it,” Saladino writes. Mass production and globalization are eradicating the small, the wild and the unique, to the detriment of our stomachs and traditional ways of life. Saladino touts ancient strains of Anatolian wheat, views an African pea grown in the southern United States as an act of culinary resistance, and observes that plants and animals tweaked for higher yields are often susceptible to disease and resource dependent. constantly decreasing. Ultimately, the most dangerous thing about our appetites is how they threaten to consume our increasingly fragile food system.

strangers i knowby Claudia Durastanti, translated from Italian by Elizabeth Harris (Riverhead). Blending fiction, essay and memoir, this tale migrates from the Italian-American neighborhood of Bensonhurst to rural southern Italy and contemporary London, and encompasses autobiographical episodes, reflections on film and music, and current events. At its heart is the story of Durastanti’s charismatic parents, both deaf, who traveled from Italy to America to return. “The story of a family is more like a map than a novel,” writes Durastanti, as the work expands to encompass lovers, teachers and other parents. His inventive approach yields touching portraits of the characters, while respecting their ultimate unknowability.

very cold peopleby Sarah Manguso (Hogarth). Ruthie, the teenage narrator of this debut novel by a famous poet and memoirist, bluntly unfolds the story of her childhood in a grim Massachusetts town. Growing up in a freezing house, she “dutifully played the role of a child having fun”, but traumatic incidents leave her feeling “indistinct, like someone else’s dream”. Manguso’s characters are constantly holding back; When Ruthie’s mother finally discloses a childhood ordeal, Ruthie realizes that “what happened to her was too awful, so she never said it.” In minimalist and austere prose, Manguso evokes the torpor, stasis and ambient suffering that envelops an entire city: “The background of my life was white and angry, with violent weather.