by Bill Marx
Instead of a critique for World Books this past week I finished up a review of Australian writer Kate Grenville’s historical novel “The Lieutenant” for the “Los Angeles Times.” This is a well-written, well-meaning study of understanding between colonized and colonizers in the 18th century Australia; the emphasis is on the experiences of a resolutely enlightened individual who sees the barbarity of the “civilized” point-of-view.
The most engaging aspect of the book is how Grenville shows that science, and its generation of a non-religious but moral point of view, creates empathy for non-Europeans. For H. G. Wells, unfettered empiricism leads to imperialism — for Grenville it encourages an appreciation of cultural difference, which results in mutual respect.
On World Books I posted my interview with Mexican writer Mario Bellatin about “Beauty Parlor,” his first book in English translation. Bellatin’s reputation posits that he’s one of the leading cutting edge writers in Latin America today. This slim volume isn’t a particularly spectacular introduction to an iconoclast, but it is a dreamlike, haunting fable about a man’s creation of a haven for people suffering from a mysterious disease. One of the things that interested me about this determinedly secular book (religious solace for the dying is seen as useless) was how Bellatin’s conversion to the Sufi branch of Islam influenced his writing.
Next week on World Books I will post Tommy Wallach’s review of “The Armies” by Colombian writer Evelio Rosero and my new World Books podcast, a conversation with Benjamin Moser about “Why This World,” his biography of legendary Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.