Thursday, May 31, 2012

North Korea


North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea


I always feel uncomfortable riding in taxis – maybe it is because I am not from a large city. However, in the past two years, I have caught and ridden in a taxi over twenty times and I never found it an enjoyable experience. Perhaps it is because of southern hospitality, I always feel uncomfortable to not engage in conversation with the driver. (Don’t even try to imagine my discomfort at the nail salon. Last time I was there, I ended up in a one-hour conversation about Vietnam to the displeasure of many other women in the salon, attempting to enjoy a short retreat from the chaos of their jobs and families.) Recently, I was in a taxi in New York City and the driver brought up the subject of North Korea. It was at that point in time that I realized almost every American has a strong opinion – which is almost always negative – and a fascination of this country, which is closed to us. (As a classical music lover, I must digress to note that this country was indeed open to a select few Americans – around 400 members of the New York Philharmonic in 2008.)

Having been abroad, I have experienced my own share of “America bashing:” Why does America do this? Why does America do that? If they don’t know you, people often see you as merely an extension of America’s political leaders – not as an individual capable of having diverse opinions on a plethora of subjects. People’s opinions are inherently limited by the information they know. The information which the vast majority of Americans have about North Korea lie solely in the leadership of the country.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick seeks to expand the voices coming out of North Korea. I personally appreciate reading about different experiences of North Korean citizens. I enjoyed this book greatly and read it in only one day. However before I continue, I would like to mention that most of the people which play important roles in this book have defected from North Korea, evidence that they had a negative experience in the country. In conjuncture with the negatives experiences of its sources, the book also has a negative tone about North Korea. I have seen two documentaries which provide different perspectives of daily life in North Korea:
1.)    A State of Mind
I really loved this documentary, which follows the lives of two pre-teen girls who devote all of their free time towards practicing gymnastics to prepare for North Korea’s Mass Games. The focus is not politics, but two children striving to do their best in the North Korean society. Personally, I was amazed by the spectacle of the Mass Games; the dedication and practice it takes from both children and adults alike.
This documentary follows the life of Joe Dresnok, one of the defectors from the United States to North Korea during the Korean War. Although it is interesting, I did not like this documentary. To me, Dresnok seems to be a kind of creepy guy. He always speaks in long, dramatic monologues and he is always in the right – a type of person that I would try to avoid at all costs in all countries.



This book tells the stories of a wide assortment of people and is incredibly thought-provoking. Some questions I have, and invite you to join in this discussion are:
  • According to the book, what are some of the difficulties defectors from North Koreans find when integrating into South Korean culture? What are some solutions to compensate for these difficulties? (Out of curiosity, can this be comparable to West-East Germany? Why or why not?)
  • Why do you think that so many inequalities between people exist in this book? What is the root of inequality?
  • After reading this book, how do you feel? What do you want to do with the information you have just received? In some way, is there a call to action? Why or why not?

Please feel free to comment on these topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions! 

Nepal


Nepal

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal



Something that I have always admired and appreciated is the tenacity of children. Through my work with Need To Read Book Club, I have personally seen thousands of books distributed to children in need. I started this project in 2004 in order to provide an outlet for young people (including myself) to make an impact in the community. Education was such an important emphasis in my home that I saw that the best way to make an impact was through books. Need To Read Book Club has continued, and just a few weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Need To Read Book distribution at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen. A group of sixth grade students distributed over 500 books to the children who frequented this organization. Just like at every single book distribution I attend, I was amazed by the children who receive these books – their positive demeanor, their enthusiasm for reading, and their excitement for the future.

This is one of the reasons why I chose Little Princes:One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan. (Another reason I chose this book is that I desperately needed a feel-good book at the start of the spring 2012 semester – as I looked upon the next few months with a mountain of work and no end in sight.) This book is a memoir of a young American man, who discovered his mission to help children in Nepal.

Some of you might know about Nepal. I first came to know this country when watching a travel program about the Himalayas. Nepal is a landlocked country within the vast Himalaya mountain range – for this reason, the terrain is very difficult to navigate and has left much of the country in a state of poverty throughout its recent Civil War. It borders India and the Tibetan region of China. While reading this book, I developed a newly-found interest in the Civil War between the Nepalese monarchy and the Maoists (guerrilla groups which often controlled areas of the country.) The entire book is placed during the Civil War and the ceasefire in 2003. In fact, the conflict of the book stems as a result of the Civil War.

During the time spent as a volunteer in an orphanage in Nepal, the author came to the realization that many of the orphans for which he was caring were not orphans at all. Instead, they were victims of a terrible scam. Throughout the Civil War, children were often taken as conscripts for the Maoist army in Nepal. This was especially true in the rural areas, where Maoists had more control. In order to provide opportunities for their children, parents would often spend all of their savings to smuggle their children out of the countryside to the city, where they would have a better future. Except they were not often provided a better future. Only the most fortunate found it into orphanages, such as the one for which the author worked. In response to this, the author made it his mission to make a difference, starting the organization, Next Generation Nepal.

This is a wonderful book that will make you appreciate the tenacity and enthusiasm of children, the bonds of family, and the potential of humankind. I look forward to seeing what Next Generation Nepal will do next, and am looking to learn more about the country of Nepal.

Please feel free to comment on these topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions! 

Iran


Iran

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran



There is no doubt that the American news media has impacted my perception on the outside world. A few years ago, I went through a “news junkie” phase. CNN, MSNBC, Fox – I watched them all, devouring the headlines. Every day, there seemed to be some new and unavoidable catastrophe which would soon befall us all. (Michael Jackson’s death is what finally ended my news addiction. I heard “Billie Jean” so many times that I began singing it in my sleep and finally decided “enough is enough.”) When I was young, my mother forbade me to watch the news. She justifies her decision by stating that I hardly talked but always listened – absorbing everything. (Ultimately, I believe that she was right in her decision. Despite her precautions on the news, one of my first memories is asking my parents what “war” was and being confused by their floundering answers.) This slowly began to change starting in 2000, with the presidential election, and eventually led to news addiction I described earlier.

I think that the influence of the American media is perhaps the most evident with my former ideas on Iran. Growing up in South Carolina, I had never personally met any Iranians, except for some creepy people online. Based on the news media, Iran seemed to me to be a scary place – full of Holocaust deniers, America-haters, uranium enrich-ers, and women forced to cover their heads. But, I knew that I had an ignorant perception of this country. While abroad, I had met several Iranians, who were nothing but nice and accepting towards me. In my book challenge, I wanted to read a book that would show me the depth of Iranian society and to convert the one-dimensional image I held of Iran into a multi-dimensional one.

I found the book for which I was searching in The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd. The author is an excellent cultural ambassador for Iran, self-describing himself as both completely Iranian and completely American. The son of an Iranian diplomat, he spent most of his childhood in the western world.

I feel like I learned several different insights into Iran, including cultural tidbits, which I would like to share. I hope that the following ramblings might encourage you to also read this book and join into this discussion.

First of all, I feel as if I have learned a great deal about the identity of Iran by this book, and this identity in a historical context. First of all, Iran is the home to the ancient Persian Empire – historically respected by the European powers and never colonized by European forces (although it was briefly occupied by the British following World War I.) We can see this streak of independence in modern-day Iran. In the book, the author reminisces on a conversation with a taxi driver in the United States, originally from another country in the Middle East. The cab driver states his approval and appreciation for Iran, stating that it was the only country standing up for the Arabic world. This is a sentiment with permeates even to the dress code: Interestingly, all of Iran’s “officials, including diplomats abroad, are always seen tieless” (page 48.) Neckties were deemed as a sign of the so-called “West-toxification.”

The author delved into two cultural practices which I found interesting: ta’arouf and the concept of the “Persian Walls.” I think that there is even a possibility that one can actually compare these two cultural practices with those of the culture of the southern United States. The first is the concept of ta’arouf, described by the author as “a defining Persian characteristic that includes the practice, often infuriating, of small talk, or frustrating and sometimes incomprehensible back-and-forth niceties uttered in any social encounter” (page 39.) Ta’arouf plays a central role throughout the book, with the author describing many of Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s interviews and actions abroad as a carefully-manipulated variation of this conventional social practice, meant to send a message to the Iranian public. I think that there might be a parallel with this practice and cultural practices of the southern United States, where it is a conventional practice to ask someone how s/he is doing in place of a traditional greeting, while never expecting a negative answer in return. Another social practice in Iran is that of the “Persian Walls,” as described in page 116. In this passage, the author describes the Iranian’s population support of their private space – where they are able to have personal liberty, including freedom of speech. It seems to me to be a similar belief in protection of private property and personal space in the American south.

The book mentions many other interesting topics, including that of democracy in Iran. This book was written before the presidential election of 2009. Although the author offers a brief preface, I am still interested to know the current views (contentment/discontentment) among the Iranian population.

Please feel free to comment on the topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions! 

Georgia


Georgia

A Little War that Shook the World: Georgia, Russia, and the Future of the West




I grew up in the southern part of the United States – South Carolina to be exact. This experience has led me to the opinion that southern children are at a disadvantage when it comes to geography. I will never forget my own confusion when learning about Spanish-speaking Colombia in elementary school. I had been to Columbia (South Carolina’s state capital) several times, and never had any need to speak Spanish. In South Carolina, there is also a city called Florence – which I am sure that many school children confuse with Florence, Italy. Rome isn’t just the capital of Italy, but also a city in the state of Georgia. Speaking of Georgia, I am sure that students are flabbergasted to discover that “Georgia” is not only a state, but also the name of a country.

I did know some basic information about Georgia before reading this book. A few years ago, I came under the opinion that I was tired of visiting the Smithsonian museums and monuments during my family’s trips to Washington D.C. I decided to take advantage of the wide array of cultural organizations sponsored by the embassies, which make their home in Washington D.C. One such organization with which I made an appointment with was the Russian Cultural Centre, which is run by the Russian Embassy. (I will admit, I think I might have done this to shock some of my older relatives, who sometimes seem to forget that the Soviet Union no longer exists.) I was met by a young woman, Maria Andreeva, a wife of one of the diplomats, who was kindly willing to answer all of the questions of this eager teenager. 

At the Russian Cultural Centre
The reason I bring this up is that in the Russian Cultural Centre, there was an exhibit of photographs, showing the recent war between Russia and Georgia. I remember having seen some mention of this conflict on the news, but had not seen the images of destruction that these photographs so vividly portrayed. Thus, when I went to choose a book about Georgia, I decided to choose one that explained this conflict in depth.

A Little War that Shook the World by Ronald Asmus is a very interesting book and is a well-respected source on the Russo-Georgian war (the book cover contains recommendations from notable figures such as Madeline Albright and John McCain.)

This book does not focus on the regional conflicts between Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, which are the nominal reasons for the start of the war. Rather, the author focuses on the big picture ideas – namely, the power conflict between Georgia and Russia. Leading up to this war, Georgia had applied to the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) MAP program, with the intention of becoming a member of the organization. Moreover, Georgia had shown interest in also joining the European Union. According to the author, the act of Georgia “going west” inherently undermined the power of Russia, leading to conflicts. Even more than focusing on the war, the author focuses on the events leading up to the war, and what the war meant to the international community. Much of the book focuses on NATO and its programs.

Some aspects which I would like to mention, and encourage others to join in the discussion, are the following:

Energy Resources from this region

The author goes into the topic of energy resources in page 58: “But Saakashvili’s dream was transform not just Georgia but the region as a whole. Working with Azerbaijan, he wanted to make Tbilisi and essential part of a new independent energy corridor bringing Azeri and eventually Central Asia energy resources to the West, bypassing Russia.” For those who have read my post about Azerbaijan, you might remember that the largest industry in this country’s economy is the oil industry.
  • How might the world’s political atmosphere change if this vision is realized? 
  • For those in Georgia, what sort of resources are there? Does the oil industry have a lot of influence?

Expansion of Europe: NATO and the European Union

This book often discusses the idea of western expansion. This is a topic for debate, and I would love to hear other people’s opinions about this.
  • How do you define Europe?
  • How far should Europe expand? Why do you think this?
  • What are the positives of “European expansion?” What are the negatives?
               
Future of Conflict between the Countries of the Former Soviet Union
The author believes that there are possibilities for future conflict in this region, based on this war.
  • What do you think? Can there be future conflicts?
  • How has the Cold War affected your life?
  • How could we avoid these conflicts in the future? 
Please feel free to comment on the topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bhutan


Bhutan

Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan

After studying the map provided in the first pages of Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan, I turned to page 1. This page contained the somewhat shocking fact that Bhutan does not use the standard GDP (gross domestic product) to measure output, but rather GNH (gross national happiness.) Needless to say, as an economics student, this piece of information sent up red flags. How do they measure happiness in villages? Is this not a very objective measure? At that point in time, I wanted to read an entire book about why the government chose this system and how it is working for them. Alas, the matter was closed by the author on page 18, leaving me with more questions and even less answers. 

The rest of the book is a part-memoir, part-travelogue of the wife of the former king of Bhutan. The book explains her childhood, growing up in Bhutan, and her family’s rich heritage in that country. It also documents her many travels across the country as queen, most of which she attempted on foot, in order to experience the beautiful nature of this country. One of the aspects which I appreciated most was how through her family and travels, she describes the strong Buddhist tradition of this tiny land-locked kingdom. As someone with limited knowledge of this religion, I found that she describes Buddhism not only through its religious impact, but also through its importance to the Bhutanese arts, culture, and society.

This being stated, I personally found the book to be quite long. I often felt like I was re-reading information, as many of her descriptions of different places seemed similar. Granted, I am someone with almost no knowledge of Bhutan, let alone its cities and religious shrines. I will note that perhaps this book is not necessarily intended for an American audience. It is published through Penguin India, perhaps for an audience that already has knowledge in this country. 

Moreover, I did not feel as if I was able to glean an understanding of the everyday Bhutanese citizen through this book. The author, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck wrote this as a queen of Bhutan. In the book, she hardly ever strays from her husband’s ideas or opinions. (On a side note: I found the monarchy in Bhutan to be very interesting. Not only was the former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, married to the author, but he had three other wives as well – all of whom were the younger sisters of the author! Having watched a few episodes of Sister Wives, I imagined what sort of reality television show the Bhutanese monarchy would create.) 


To those who have read the book, I would like to ask:
  • What did you think of the author and the author’s voice? Did you feel as if you were receiving objective information, or information with an agenda? Why or why not?
  • After reading this book, what other questions have you developed about Bhutan?

To those native Bhutanese, I would like to ask:
  • How would you describe inequality in your country? The first picture in the photo sheets shows the king on a visit to villagers in Bhutan. There seems to me to be a noticeable difference. The villages look weathered, while the king looks fresh. Is this an example of inequality or of something else?
  • How does GNH work? Do you think it is a good system? Why or why not? 


Please feel free to comment on the topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions!

Azerbaijan


Azerbaijan

Culture Smart! Azerbaijan by Nikki Kazimova


I never wanted to get into the culture/tour guide book, but I boldly went into that territory when I chose a book about Azerbaijan. There were a couple of considerations which led me to this decision: 1.) I had never before heard of Azerbaijan and didn’t have any particular attachment to this country; and 2.) there were a limited number of affordable books which focused solely on this country. When I started this challenge, I also purchased the books I read. As time went on, I realized that if I continued this trend, I would eventually be the owner of a pretty epic library. 

(As a lover of classical music, I must digress into an incredibly interesting aspect of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was the home to the first opera house in the Islamic world. While doing some digging on the internet, I discovered that there is apparently an interesting history to this opera house. According to some rumors, it was built by a rich oil businessman after falling for an Italian opera diva. Nonetheless, it has become one of my new goals to see an operatic production in the Akhundov Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in the country’s capital of Baku.) 


Culture Smart! Azerbaijan by Nikki Kazimova has developed in me an appreciation for this country. Some interesting facts of this country include:
  • The first oil well of the world was drilled in Azerbaijan in 1848. Today, “the proceeds from oil and gas comprise about 60 percent of Azerbaijan’s GDP.” (page 140)
  • The Azeri language has throughout history been written in three different scripts: Arabic, Cyrillic, and Latin script. We can see how these languages mirror the history of the country with its influences from Iran, Russia, and the West.
  • Azerbaijan celebrates March 31 as the National Genocide Day. In 1918, Armenian troops massacred Azeris. This fact interested me greatly, and I would love to get more information about this conflict. After reading a book about the Armenian genocide, the idea that the victims becoming the perpetrators is a very interesting concept. Moreover, February 26 marks the day of the Khajali Genocide, which occurred in 1992 as a result of Armenian troops.
  • Azerbaijan “was the first modern parliamentary republic in the Muslim world, and the first to extend voting rights to women.” (page 31)
  • Azerbaijan has military conscription.

To be honest, this book left me with more questions than answers. It gave me just enough information about Azerbaijan that I began to develop questions. For example, I have a desire to learn more about the genocide conducted by the Armenians and its importance to Azerbaijan. I would also like to know more about the Azerbaijan oil-based economy, how this has affected its relationships with the outside world (including the West), and the efforts to diversify it. 


Please feel free to comment on the topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions!

Armenia


Armenia

Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-Long Struggle for Justice by Michael Bobelian


I will admit that I know my fair share of celebrity gossip. Checking out in the grocery store, my eyes land on the tabloids and I find myself entranced by the headlines of secret affairs and bikini bodies. I always find People magazine’s “Best of/Worst of” issue in my Christmas stocking, and I quickly devour it before the day is out. Luckily, my interest in pop culture is not useless. In fact, there is indeed a connection between this book, detailing a chilling genocide and the subsequent reaction of the global community, with some of the most famous United States celebrities. The famous Kardashian sisters are of Armenian descent. Interestingly, a key player of this book has a variation of their famous name: Vahan Cardashian was a leading activist fighting for the Armenians in the United States during the years leading up to and after the genocide.

I am not sure about your education, but mine never covered the Armenian genocide, which is something that I find unfortunate. I had heard of the Armenian genocide before I read this book, but knew nothing of its details, except the genocide was carried out by the Ottoman Empire. In fact, I knew practically nothing of Armenia except its location on a world map. Thus, I had braced myself for a difficult read with foreign names when I bought Michael Bobelian’s Children of Armenia. I could not have been more wrong.

I was very impressed by this book. By the first chapter, I forgot that I was reading a non-fiction book. It reads like a thriller, containing so many of the aspects which are indeed the subject of modern-day thriller films: international diplomacy, regional politics, and terrorism. Despite these aspects, Children of Armenia never loses its sense of humanity and never lightens its intense subject matter of genocide. Bobelian is himself of Armenian descent and is the grandson of Armenian genocide survivors. The book also appears to be extremely well-researched, with extensive notes and a wide index.

Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the Armenian genocide are the events which occurred after the genocide. Despite promises from many key politicians and the newly-formed League of Nations following World War I, the Armenians found themselves without aid and without support. Despite a strong interest in the United States to provide justice for the Armenians, this justice was quickly lost to geo-political interests following World War II. Armenia fell under the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, and Turkey was considered to be a strong and strategic ally.

Thus, we see how the Armenian genocide fell into relative obscurity, forgotten by many of the world’s key players. I feel as if this genocide and this book deserve our attention, as we discuss genocide. It provides an excellent example of how we should not react to genocide. Moreover, it encourages us to actively engage in the international discourse, in order to ensure that our reactions to future conflicts are different from this reaction. 

Please feel free to comment on the topics I mentioned, or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions!

Bangladesh


Bangladesh

Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus


My father is self-professed bibliophobe, making holiday gift-shopping a difficult task for a book lover like me. The interesting aspect about him is that he loves information, but does not find books as the way to obtain this information. A constant listener to NPR and the Teaching Company’s lectures, a few years ago, my father began to rave about the audio book, The Banker to the Poor, by Nobel-Prize winner Mohammad Yunus. There were subsequently many dinner conversations focused on the concept of micro-lending: The practice of investing in people, rather than financial institutions, empowering its recipients to take control of their own future.

After mentioning my book challenge to my family, my father encouraged me to read The Banker to the Poor, stating that it offered many insights into its setting of Bangladesh. Indeed, although this book focuses on the development of the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh plays a central role. I was captivated by the book, completing it within two days. Not only did I learn about microcredit, but this book also led me wanting to learn more about Bengali history and society.

Bengladesh seems to be a country often overshadowed in our modern discourse by India and Pakistan. The author begins the book by sharing the formation of his ideas – which are shaped by the Bengali history. Yunus, a United States-trained economist, founded the Grameen Bank in order to give life and meaning to the economic principles he taught as a professor at Chittagong University in Bengladesh. (As a classical music lover, I will digress to note that the author’s daughter is renowned operatic soprano, MonicaYunus, a performer at the New York City Metropolitan Opera.)

Some aspects which I would like to mention, and encourage others to join in the discussion, are the following:
  • Institutions, such as the World Bank (pg. 145)

Before this book, I had heard of the World Bank only in magazines. It almost seemed to me to be an institution above criticism. What is your image of the World Bank? Has the World Bank had a personal impact? According to this book, what are the positives and negatives of this institution?
  •   The Decisions of Grameen Bank (pg. 135)

I found the Decisions of GrameenBank incredibly interesting. It prompts me to ask about the status of Bangladesh in the modern world. To those from this country, how important are these decisions to everyday life? If you could add to these, what would you add?
  •   Elimination of Poverty

Yunus has the goal to eliminate poverty. Based on personal experience, do you think that this can be achieved? Why or why not?
  • Barriers to Business (pg. 190)

The author describes the barriers to businesses that particularly manifest themselves in the western world. It is often very hard for someone to engage in business without incurring many costs. What is your personal experience to barriers to business?
  • Visions of Globalization (pg. 249)

What is Yunus’s vision of globalization? How does this differ with your own vision of globalization?


Please feel free to answer the questions I have posed, comment on the topics, or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions!

India


India

In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce 


While studying economics in Barcelona, I had the fortune of meeting an extraordinary young woman from India. Smart and ambitious, she was working to receive her master’s degree in Finance. We found ourselves fast friends, as we adapted to the Spanish culture. Although I considered myself up-to-date on the current events of the world, I soon realized that my education had not provided me with an adequate knowledge of her world. I pictured India as the mysterious land of the Taj Mahal – the home of a civilization which for so many years fascinated the western world. (As a music lover, I digress to note that India has even served as a fount of musical inspiration, as evidenced through Debiles’ opera Lakme.) I saw India as the home of freedom fighter Gandhi, call centers, Slumdog Millionaire, and astrophysicist Raj from the popular sitcom, The Big Bang Theory.

Through the discussions with my friend, a very different picture of India began to form in my mind: an India with opportunities, destined to make a major impact on our world. However, my friend made sure not to give me a biased view of her country. Sharing her experience working as a computer programmer in Mumbai, she explained the inequalities that existed within India. She was baffled by how the super-rich were able to drive past starving people in their luxury sport cars, without feeling personal obligation to help those less fortunate.

The India that my friend explained to me is an India of paradoxes. When I saw “In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India” by Edward Luce on the bookshelf after returning to the United States, I was instantly drawn to its cover: a man in a turban in a rural area talking on a cell phone. This one illustration portrayed the diverse India that my friend described: the India of rich and poor, of urban and rural, of opportunities for some and entrapment for others.

Me and Arkaja, posing at Barcelona's Parc Guell
This book does not disappoint. It is a quick and interesting read, covering a plethora of aspects regarding Indian society. Some aspects which I would like to mention, and encourage others to join in the discussion, are the following:


On page 142, the author shares some interesting statistics regarding the Indian caste system, in particular that 74% do not agree with marriages between people of different castes. This is a belief that is shared by both the educated and non-educated alike, as 56% of graduates also disagree with marriages between castes. In contrast, I have been taught to see diversity among a population, and among a couple, as strength, rather than a weakness.

  • What does diversity mean to your own community or country? If these statistics indeed show a lack of acceptance towards diversity, what does this mean for India?

Many people have said that our modern conveniences have made it so that there is less room for religion. In the United States, television, internet, and popular media are often seen as aspects which undermine religion and often, morality in general. Based on the claims Luce makes, it seems that these same modern devices can be seen as strengthening India’s religious life by standardizing Hinduism (pages 306-307.)

  • How has popular media affected religion? Why does it seemingly affect different religions in different ways?

India’s is the world’s largest democracy, in that it encompasses the most people. Throughout my elementary and secondary education, I was inundated with information regarding democracy, from its roots in ancient Greece, to the writings of Locke and Rousseau. This book offers an interesting view of democracy, focusing on its practice in India. We can see political parties are heightened by regional and social differences. Instead of focusing on the good of the country as a whole, parties’ rhetoric often focuses on the perks it can obtain for a certain population.

  •  For those who have experienced Indian politics firsthand, how would you describe the state of democracy in your country?
  • For those outside of India who have read this book, what can we learn from democracy in India?

As an economics student, Nehru’s strategy for developing Indian industry (page 49) is extremely interesting. Following independence, India set to create an educated population, proficient in the English language. This capital intensive is in contrast to other models, in which the goal is to offer a large amount of labor and to offer it at an inexpensive price.

  • What are the positives to Nehru’s vision? What are the negatives?

Being a United States citizen and being open to answering people’s questions, I have been asked countless times while abroad about the attacks on 9/11. Although I sense many want to take this discussion into a political arena, I often respond by trying to explain the vulnerability that Americans felt at this time and the wave of patriotism which subsequently followed. My friend and I bonded over this point, as she explained the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and her own sense of unease of the future. I realized through this book how real this issue is to her. It appears that religious-based conflict is not outside of the norm. This book goes into the events of Gujarat, something of which I had never heard before.  The Line of Control between India and Pakistan is also a constant reminder of conflict.

  • To those living in India, how have these conflicts affected you?

Please feel free to answer the questions I have posed, comment on the topics, or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions!