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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, April 13, 2003

Recent Bestsellers Dig Beneath Surface of War

The past two weeks at war have been a roller coaster ride. Flipping between Fox, CNN, and MSNBC, we've witnessed a dynamic beginning, followed by almost universal doubt and second-guessing, and finally what looks like solid victory. Here are four timely books from recent bestseller lists that I've managed to squeeze in between the breaking news reports.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: a Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (Random House, 2003).

This is an inspiring book for reading group members, literature majors, and anyone interested in current events.

After an extended education in England, Switzerland, and the United States, thirty-year-old Azar Nafisi returned to her native Iran in the late 1970's to teach literature at the University of Tehran. Infatuated with ideals of Islamic revolution and nationalism, but accustomed to freedom of thought and speech, she was appalled by the extermination of basic human -- and especially women's -- rights that followed the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini to power in 1979.

For the next eighteen years, she fought a small-scale battle against oppression by introducing American and European literature to her students. She begged, borrowed, stole and photocopied the works of her favorite authors, fighting ongoing battles with official and unofficial censors.

Finally in 1995, after resigning from her university positions, she surreptitiously gathered together a group of female students to study Nabakov, Fitzgerald, James and Austen in her living room. This is the account of that "subversive" group, interspersed with cogent observations about the Iraq-Iran war, world politics, and the fate of women in revolutionary Islamic states.

Nafasi now teaches at Johns Hopkins University, having been expelled from Iran for refusing to wear a veil.

The Hunt for Bin Laden: Task Force Dagger by Robin Moore (Random House, 2003).

The journalist-author of Green Berets and The French Connection gives us a close-up glimpse of the role of the Special Forces in Afghanistan after September 11.

In a choppily written but informative account, Moore boasts that a few hundred Green Berets, aided by shabby but savvy Northern Alliance troops, killed one hundred thousand Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in a few months, primarily through powerful laser-guided air strikes.

If you're amazed at the rapid progress of Coalition forces in Iraq or you seek a better understanding of modern warfare, this is the book to read. Just be prepared for some graphic violence.

Jarhead: a Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles by Anthony Swofford (Scribner, 2003).

If your taste in war movies leans more toward Apocalypse Now than The Sands of Iwo Jima, read this gritty and bawdy account of life as a frontline Marine during the 1991 Gulf War.

The son and grandson of soldiers, Swofford eagerly joined the Marines at age 17. By age 18, he was in Saudi Arabia, "with a hundred pound pack on his shoulders and a sniper's rifle in his hands." Stifling heat, chemical attack alerts, weapon cleaning, and endless waiting on the border for the start of battle compete with the lusting, boozing, and partying typical of his age group.

Swofford writes with grace and wit. He is definitely an author to watch.

Of Paradise and Power: American and Europe in the New World Order by Robert Kagan (Knopf, 2003).

This 103-page essay began as a column in the journal "Policy Review." In a succinct, logical fashion, Kagan explains why "on strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus."

Even though the U.S. and a united Europe are on a par economically, the U.S. has left them in the dust militarily. Europe has for the past fifty years allowed the U.S. to shoulder military responsibility, content to invest in their own infrastructures. Kagan argues that it is only natural and logical that the U.S. reacts to threats to our security in the manner of the powerful, while Europe reacts from a position of weakness and compromise.

"Paradise" has been widely praised as a seminal work in political thought.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.