Friday, February 05, 2010

book munch: mills & boon modern, gretchen peters

At Aisha's place on a cold Delhi night, she pressed into my hands two books that took the edge off my despair at the recently-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival. These were from that giant of modern publishing, mills&boon MODERN. Now I've read mills&boon MODERN titles before, and they have seemed to me grievous. Whether it was dehydration or stupidity that made these seem worth not only finishing, but also recording in a public blog, I cannot say.

I wish I could report that they were subversive, creative, or in any way interesting. Alas, they were not. Like potato chips, they were simply there, and easily consumed.

#4 Virgin Mistress, Scandalous Love-Child, Jennie Lucas

I quote from the synopsis:

In the sultry heat of Rio and its Carnaval Ellie succumbs to her dangerously charismatic boss Diogo Serrador. But, having taken her virginity, the Brazilian billionaire wants nothing more to do with her - until he discovers she's pregnant!

I quote at random from the text:

Three months ago, Diogo Serrador had taken everything from her. Her innocence, her faith, her courage in her dreams. Was she really such a desparate fool that she was willing to throw herself under the same train again, the Serrador Express that stopped for no woman? [bolding mine]

This is the sort of book that informs your intellectual development over a lifetime, not one about which you can write any sort of focused critique. But I'll say this, it was over quite quickly, that ride on the Serrador Express. Emphatically, also, I can report that the writing was a minor marvel compared to The Sicilian's Baby Bargain. For sure.

#5 Raffaele: Taming His Tempestuous Virgin, Sandra Marton

Round two. I quote from the synopsis:

Chiara Cordiano will not love her husband! She tries everything to avoid her fate, but in the blink of an eye Chiara is swept away from her quaint Sicilian town to New York! She wants to hate Rafe, but seduction is in his blood.

Well, all that seductive blood clearly got somewhere. This fell somewhere between Virgin Mistress, Scandalous Love-Child and The Sicilian's Baby Bargain in terms of quality - certainly without the instant appeal of the Serrador Express - but nowhere else have I heard pubic hair described as 'the delicate curls that guarded her feminine heart.'

Reading them as I shivered into my woollen clothing in a cold guest room in Jaipur, I could rue only that there were not more of them. I will be returning them to Aishwarya with reward untold for her friendship, needless to say.

#6 Seeds of Terror: the Taliban, the ISI, and the New Opium Wars, Gretchen Peters

All that poppy, handy in one place.

The central thesis of this book is that Afghanistan in the wake of the post-2003 resurgence of the Taliban is a situation analogous not to Iraq [well, obviously] or any of the globally influential conflicts in the Middle East, but the narco-state that was [is?] Colombia, an economy and a gang war fuelled by the illegal drug trade. Now this would make a great piece of writing by someone who had actually spent time in both countries. Peters is a broadcast journalist, who has been in Afghanistan for most of the last decade, and rather than write an experiential account of her research on the trade there, she chooses to create a historical and mostly second-hand account of the growth and effects of the opium trade over the last three decades. There is a lot that is interesting and informative at the level of fact for those who know very little about Afghanistan - but Peters is not very interested, and if one is pushed to say it, not very good, at drawing out the stories. She touches on al Qaeda and their profits from the Taliban networks, she touches on Dawood Ibrahim, she actually does a pretty thorough job detailing just how porous the border between Afghanistan and south-west Pakistan is, but this would have been a much better book from someone who not only aggregated some very horrifying and well-backed up hard facts, but also tried to piece together a big picture. Peters indicts the Great Game and its players pretty air-tightly, but I can see why there has been criticism of the book saying that she simply hasn't gone far enough in nailing the US policymakers whose short-sightedness has benefitted the drug smugglers and narco-lords of Afghanistan so greatly in the last decade. Her last chapter, dedicated to suggestions to cut the poppy trade down, are sound common sense.

But what is going to put pressure on the people currently moving soldiers to Afghanistan to treat symptoms, people who see no problem writing large op-ed pieces in the NYT calling Afghanistan 'ungovernable,' influencing possibly millions? Not this book, I don't think.

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