Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What is Deborah Baker reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Deborah Baker, author of The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award.

Her entry begins:
I’ve been reading Mary McCarthy’s trilogy of book length essays on the Vietnam War. I found them collected in a book called The Seventeenth Degree that I picked up at a used bookstore for a dollar. This is probably more than she made from them when they were published, in 1967, 1968 and 1972 as they were greeted with critical silence and left the bookstore only when the shop owners gave up the prospect of selling them. It is hard to see why no one paid attention, unless it was because people had already decided their views on the war and that was that. Or maybe people just felt there was nothing they could do. McCarthy was the only American novelist to visit North Vietnam. And in South Vietnam only John Steinbeck and Martha Gellhorn preceded her. Her decision to go began forming when talk of bombing North Vietnam first arose. She thought perhaps India or the Pope might intervene. Her need to find an alternative to the bombing, a way out of the impasse, she said, was evidence of how wedded she was to the “good image” she had of her country.

Until the war on Iraq actually began, I too was wedded to this image. I had imagined that the lessons we learned from Vietnam were...[read on]
Among the praise for The Convert:
“[A] stellar biography that doubles as a mediation on the fraught relationship between America and the Muslim world.... [The Convert] is a cogent, thought-provoking look at a radical life and its rippling consequences.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“With remarkable even-handedness, Deborah Baker reveals the terrible costs of belonging exacted by two very different, battling cultures. Sweeping books on the big wars can’t do what this focused gaze on a single misfit so vividly accomplishes.”
—Kiran Desai, author of The Inheritance of Loss

"Deborah Baker's astonishing book reads like a detective story but is also a work of enormous beauty and understanding. She has explored the most difficult of subjects in an evocative and original way, powerfully conjuring a bygone, albeit simpler era when an argument between Islam and the West first arose fifty years ago. The Convert is the most brilliant and moving book written about Islam and the West since 9/11."
—Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos
Learn more about the book and author at Deborah Baker's website.

Writers Read: Deborah Baker.

--Marshal Zeringue