I concede it: I have a soft corner for books that bend the general trajectory of cozy reading that is mostly featured in the society pages of newspapers and magazines. Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate my Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture is one such book, even though it somehow still remains immensely readable and even at times funny.
“Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source— the source—of female empowerment.” Thus begins the blurb. Orenstein enters this world with the concern of a thinking (but not dogmatic) parent, and questions its myths and assumptions: She visits places such as Disneyland and speaks to Vegas showgirls, she re-examines the assumptions behind and the uses made of fairy tales such as Cinderella, she dissects science and media cant. In the process, she highlights how the rise of “girlie-girl” culture is undermining the health, development and futures of our daughters.
Much of what Orenstein says has been said before, but only in an aridly scholarly manner. She makes the discussion accessible and riveting by locating it in actual cultural experiences and symbols. Her book is critical but not hopeless. As she puts it, “The path to womanhood is strewn with enchantment, but it is also rife with thickets and thorns and a Big Bad Culture that threatens to consume them even as they consume it. The good news is, the choices we make for our toddlers can influence how they navigate it as teens.”
Power girl: Peggy Orenstein questions post-feminist culture.
I remember seeing a photo of the glorious Marilyn Monroe, lying by a poolside and reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. Orenstein is not Joyce, and her book is not a novel. But what wouldn’t I give to come across a photo of, say, Britney Spears or Paris Hilton reading Cinderella Ate my Daughter! That, believe me, would be revolutionary.
Poetry gets its obituary written at regular intervals, and Indian poetry in English particularly so. But poetry survives, and lately it appears that Indian poetry— including its English-language branch—has been flourishing.
I can think of a number of titles of poetry, in English or translated into English, that have come out in recent months. The late Dilip Chitre’s translation of Namdeo Dhasal—A Current of Blood—and K. Satchidanandan’s While I Write: New and Selected Poems come to mind. As does Shanta Acharya’s Dreams that Spell the Light and Sampurna Chattarji’s Absent Muses. These are all collections by Indian poets one has to read, though—based where I am—I have had the chance to read only Satchidanandan’s collection until now.
Satchidanandan needs no introduction. A major Indian poet, who writes in Malayalam and English, he has been associated with the Sahitya Akademi and the national literary scene for decades now. In this collection of new and selected poems, he engages with language, identity, change and life in ways that are both accessible and nuanced, sweeping and pithy: “When a whole people stammer/ stammer becomes their mother-tongue:/just as it is with us now.”
Paris-based professor Farhad Khosrokhavar’s Inside Jihadism: Understanding Jihadi Movements Worldwide was published in the US slightly over a year ago and, as far as I can see, has not come out in India yet. It deserves to. It is the most perceptive study of jihadism that I have read until now: scholarly and accessible at the same time. It places jihadism historically, sets it against current developments, differentiates between its varieties and never degenerates into either apologia or diatribe. A cool mind in an age swept by hot winds!
Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of The Thing about Thugs.
Write to Tabish at email@example.com