Book Review: The Dreamt Land

Book Review: The Dreamt Land

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California
By Mark Arax
576 pp., Knopf
$21.23 hardcover

For two summers in a row, I had the privilege of acting as an interpreter for a team of auditors of an international development organization which was involved in a reservoir and irrigation project in Armenia. My two big memories from that experience were the adage, “Water is life” and how rural individuals and groups in Armenia had it in them to get organized and advocate for themselves in the face of a rather rigid government and a major global donor. It was moving and impressive.

The Dreamt Land by Mark Arax has numerous such tales to share in the continuing saga of “Water is life” across a territory about 15 times the size of Armenia with a history of pipelines, wells, irrigations, dams and claims and counter-claims on land and land use that date back two centuries. The book is in part a history of California told through its management of water and other natural resources and a compilation of investigative reporting pieces, alongside profiles of notable figures past and present. There’s also plenty of social commentary, as well as autobiographical elements. It is a lengthy piece of writing – sometimes disjointed, often very much detailed – but always revolving around the same key question: Who gets to decide what to do with the land and the water in California, how and why?

read the rest

Book Review: Mr Five Per Cent

Book Review: Mr Five Per Cent

Mr Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World’s Richest Man
Jonathan Conlin
Profile Books, 2019
416 pp.
$24.31 hardcover

As the title suggests, there is more than one Calouste Gulbenkian portrayed in this comprehensive biography by Jonathan Conlin. Two in particular stand out: Calouste the indefatigable man of business and Calouste the Armenian, who belongs to everywhere and to nowhere. For both and more, Conlin has put together a revelatory piece of writing, having gained access to the archives at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal, among a broad variety of other sources. Combined with his adept skills as a historian and storyteller, Conlin’s work makes for engaging reading. (Some disclosure: I had the privilege and pleasure of assisting with archival research for this book.)

As far as the first Calouste goes, this book offers a detailed account of the life and efforts of a remarkable and influential man whose actions informed key aspects of the world’s economy in the 20th century. The development of the oil industry and the financial practices and networks associated with it owe a great deal to Gulbenkian, as does the shaping of commerce between the Western world’s powers and other regions at a time when European colonial empires were being challenged by a rising United States and an upstart Soviet Union.

read the rest

‘Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey’, By Ahmet T. Kuru and Alfred Stepan

‘Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey’, By Ahmet T. Kuru and Alfred Stepan

‘Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey’ features eight essays born out of two major conferences at Columbia University. Editors Kuru and Stepan address key questions in exploring the concept of state-religion relations in the context of Turkey’s evolving democracy: What place does religion have in public life? Does it even need to be addressed, and, if so, how can it be accommodated?

Let it be said once more: Turkey has changed a lot in recent years, especially over the course of the past decade. Alongside the nation’s economic growth, its society has witnessed significant transformations that have affected the way it views itself, as well as the way the world sees it.

What the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has brought about is not simply policies that encourage the generation of wealth or more proactive steps in diplomacy. Turkey is undergoing a philosophical shift. Things are changing in a way that does not just make people feel better about themselves as Turks or as citizens of Turkey; rather, they are being made to re-evaluate the very basis of the Turkish state — what it means, where it has been, where it is headed. And that is not always an easy task, especially given étatisme’s importance as a tenet in the foundation and organization of the Republic of Turkey. Questioning the heretofore unquestionable can provoke powerful challenges. Continue reading

De Waal introduces Caucasus to the world | Book of the Week: ‘The Caucasus: An Introduction’ by Thomas de Waal

De Waal introduces Caucasus to the world

SANTA FE, N.M. – As with Black Garden, Tom de Waal’s magnum opus on the Karabakh issue, The Caucasus is not going to please everybody in the Caucasus.

De Waal is currently a senior associate at the Russia-Eurasia program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank. His presentation is balanced and comprehensive, offering a well-rounded overview and some insights into the details of the histories of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, including their territorial disputes which remain unresolved.

… … …

Book of the Week: ‘The Caucasus: An Introduction’ by Thomas de Waal

The Caucasus: An Introduction By Thomas de Waal. Oxford University Press, 2010

As with Black Garden, de Waal’s magnum opus on the Karabagh issue, The Caucasus is not going to please everybody.

Everybody in the Caucasus, that is.

read the rest

Murder at the Altar: An important issue, poorly handled

Murder at the Altar: An important issue, poorly handled

Great literature has something to say. The characters, the plot, the literary devices may have intrinsic interest, but they also act as vehicles to convey the message of the work.

In Murder at the Altar, it is hard to determine author Terry Phillips’ message. Continue reading