This book is a collection of 36 mid-length articles written by Tariq Ali over the past three decades. It contains book reviews, diary pieces and even the transcripts of conversations between Ali and other writers. It is not a “selected works”. Rather, if anything binds the collection together it is a decision generally to eschew overtly political writing (for example, about the current crisis in Pakistan, about which Ali has written elsewhere), in favour of reviews and literary polemics.
Not all of the pieces in the collection succeed. Although it gives the book its memorable title, the opening chapter is an over-long satire to the effect that gay men as well as Zionists might contemplate a return to Israel. (Ali’s longer satires, like his worst novel, Redemption, ache. His short jokes sizzle).
Also included is the text of three public dialogues between Ali and Salman Rushdie, Maria Vargas Llosa and Juan Goytisolo. The Rushdie conversation took place at the ICA in London after the publication of Midnight’s Children and Shame, when Rushdie was at the top of his game. But large parts of the debate seem to have been conducted between the two writers at monologue length, and the questions from the audience are forgettable. If anything, the exchange detracts from an intelligent review by Ali of Midnight’s Children, which is included just 17 pages before.
Other, sharper, essays find as much in Kipling and as little in War and Peace as each deserves. There is also a moving piece in which Ali attends an event in his honour in Diyarbakir in Turkish Kurdistan, only to find that voices which previously advocated self-liberation now pin their hopes on American intervention. read more