Wed, 28 December 2011
Thrity Umrigar, Author, on 'The World We Found', on Writing, The Diaspora, and Trans-Cultural Identity
In this interview, KGNU’s Claudia Cragg speaks with Thrity Umrigar about her latest novel, ‘The Space Between Us’. In this, “Umrigar illustrates India’s national identity crisis over the past 40 years through four friends who reconnect in this absorbing novel. Divorcée Armaiti is living in America with a daughter at Harvard when she’s given six months to live. Her last wish is to see her three best friends again—Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta, all in Bombay. In college, as idealistic Communists, they’d been inseparable, but now they’re barely in touch. Kavita is a successful architect, Laleh a wife and mother, and none of them have heard from Nishta in years. When they finally find her beneath a burkha in a strict Muslim neighborhood, it becomes clear that Nishta’s husband, Iqbal, a fellow university idealist turned fundamentalist, will be the biggest obstacle to fulfilling Armaiti’s final desire. Umrigar is never shy in her portrayal of a divided India, deftly pinpointing major issues facing the country today and tracing them through a legacy of cultural death and rebirth. Armaiti’s ruminations on unexpectedly encountering the end of one’s life and Kavita’s struggle to live openly as a lesbian despite supportive friends act as strong secondary narratives. Though none of the major story elements Umrigar employs are remotely fresh, her characters make this a rewarding novel.” – Publishers’ Weekly, Jan. 2012
Umrigar was born in Mumbai and emigrated to the US when she was 21. She is a journalist and novelist of, as well as the novel under discussion here, Bombay Time, and The Weight of Heaven. She has written for the Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, among other newspapers, and regularly writes for The Boston Globe's book pages. She is currently assistant professor of English at Case Western Reserve University where she teaches creative writing and literature. She was a winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University. She has a Ph.D. in English and lives in Cleveland,Ohio.
Photo: copyright Jeannette Palsa (used with kind permission).
Thu, 8 December 2011
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(The TRAC research paper under discussion in this interview is 'Criminal Prosecutions for Financial Institution Fraud. Also mentioned is their recent Immigration Report, 'ICE Targets Fewer Criminals in Deportation Proceedings').
'David Burnham -- a writer, investigative reporter and researcher -- is the co-founder and co-director with Professor Susan A. Long of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). For the last three decades he has specialized in the critical examination of numerous government enforcement bureaucracies including the New York Police Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Environmental Enforcement Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the Food and Drug Administration and the Justice Department.
Among the stories Burnham developed while with The New York Times (1968 - 1986) was a police corruption series in the early 1970s that ultimately resulted in major governmental reforms and the movie Serpico. As a reporter in the paper's Washington bureau, he focused on privacy issues and the shortcomings of federal regulation, including those of the Atomic Energy/Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Karen Silkwood was on her way to give Burnham information about the manufacture of faulty fuel rods by the Kerr Mcgee Corporation when she died in a car crash.
Burnham has also written several books (The Rise of the Computer State (1983), A Law Unto Itself:Power, Politics and the IRS (1990) Above The Law (1996) and numerous magazine articles. In 1989, he became the Washington-based co-director of TRAC, a data-gathering, research and data-distribution organization associated with Syracuse University, as well as an associate research professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The goal of TRAC, where Burnham now works with his colleague and co-found Professor Susan B. Long, is to provide the public and members of the oversight community -- reporters, public interest groups, Congressional committees, scholars and others -- with the comprehensive performance data they need to hold federal investigative and regulatory agencies accountable. TRAC has been supported by Syracuse University, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Knight Foundation, the New York Times Company Foundation, the Open Society Institute and numerous news organizations, advocacy groups, scholars and lawyers.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) is a non-profit, non-partisan research data center at Syracuse University. Established in 1989, TRAC strives to improve the ability of the American people to independently assess the fairness and effectiveness of the federal government.
■ Methods. TRAC achieves its mission by: (1) using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain administrative data about the daily operations of government; (2) validating and analyzing this information; (3) building computerized knowledge bases; (4) publishing analytical reports, and (5) disseminating these resources through the web (http://trac.syr.edu).
■ Users. The information provided by TRAC, available nowhere else, has attracted an impressive range of users:
▪ Reporters writing about tax enforcement, the environment, terrorism, immigration, official corruption, corporate crime, federal staffing and spending, police brutality, computer fraud, and hundreds of other subjects have found TRAC data essential. Paid subscribers to our TRACFED services now range from The New York Times and the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News, and from CNN to NPR and the AP.
▪ Numerous governmental bodies—including the U.S. Supreme Court, House and Senate committees such as the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the House Government Operations Committee, the House Joint Committee on the Department of Homeland Security, the General Accountability Office, and Inspector General offices—have used TRAC data in their official oversight activities.
▪ Public advocacy groups with widely varied interests—Human Rights Watch, the National Rifle Association, Heritage Foundation, Center for Public Integrity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Morality in Media and the Alliance For Justice—have strengthened their reports and studies with authoritative government data provided by TRAC.
▪ Millions of US citizens—concerned about how the government is meeting its essential responsibilities—have come to study TRAC’s special reports on protecting the nation against terrorism, priorities at the IRS and the FBI, Homeland Security staffing, and other subjects.
TRAC’s data and reports may be found at the preceding link.
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Thu, 8 December 2011
Historian Philip Eade talks here to Claudia Cragg about his gripping biography of the early life of Prince Philip, published to coincide with the 90th birthday of the Queen's husband. (To listen to the interview, click on the 'Pod' icon, above left).
Married for more than 60 years to Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip is the longest-serving royal consort in British history. However, while he is still one of the most recognisable figures in public life, his origins remain curiously shrouded in obscurity.
Eade explains here how in ‘Young Prince Philip’ (the first book written with a focus exclusively on his pre-coronation life) the Prince had an extraordinary upbringing in Greece, France, Nazi Germany and Britain. Although he inhabited what many would consider a colourful milieu (just read his extraordinary genealogy) he was beset by continual turbulence and a succession of family tragedies.
Nevertheless, there emerged from this unsettled background a character of singular vitality and dash – self-confident, capable, famously opinionated and devastatingly handsome. Girls fell at his feet, and the princess who would become his wife was smitten from the age of 13. Yet together with considerable charm and intelligence, the young prince was also prone to volcanic outbursts and to putting his foot in it. Detractors perceived in his behaviour emotional shortcomings, a legacy of his traumatic childhood, which would have profound consequences for his family and the future of the monarchy.
The book is published to coincide with the Prince’s 90th birthday and contains new material from interviews, archives and film footage, ‘Young Prince Philip’.
Fri, 2 December 2011
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On June 22nd 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and German troops advanced towards Leningrad, with a population of three million, Russia's second city. On June 27th the people of Leningrad began constructing fortifications around the city and steeled themselves for a defensive struggle which was to continue until January 1944. So fervent was the people's resistance that German forces, frustrated by their inability to take the stronghold, encircled the city in a 872-day-long siege beginning on 8th September 1941 during which around 500,000 troops and over a million civilians died. [Author Caroline Walton's research puts the figure higher than those of most Western historians in the '90s who used Soviet statistics that may have tended to downplay the number].
Her latest work, The Besieged (Biteback 2011) takes us inside the fortifications and into the homes and lives of those trapped in Leningrad. The history of the Siege is recounted here by survivors, or 'blokadniki' who were there (and who happen to have included, the author points out, Vladimir Putin's older brother who actually died. Putin himself was not yet born). In the summer of 1999, these 'blokadniki' disclosed their memories of that time to writer Caroline Walton.
Their stories describe humanity at its utter limit encompassing desperation, fear, grief, famine, murder and even cannibalism. But there are also stories of courage, camaraderie, fortitude, music, passion and pride, and of an elusive, not quite describable but ineffably human quality that allows hungry people to survive the worst that human experience can yield. Harrowing, yet uplifting, The Besieged is history in the broadest and best sense.
Caroline Walton is also the author of 'Ivan Petrov: Russia through a Shot Glass', 'Little Tenement on the Volga', and 'The Voice of Leningrad', which won the New London Writers Award. A fluent Russian speaker, Caroline lives in North London with her Ukrainian husband.
PUBLIC SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT - On Friday December 9th at 6 pm, Caroline Walton will be speaking on her book 'The Besieged' at the Russkii Mir bookshop, 23 Goodge St, London, W1. Tel:+(44) 20 7436 6390