Longform Links – 2008/04/15

New York Times – Book Review – Unaccustomed Earth 

Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters tend to be immigrants from India and their American-reared children, exiles who straddle two countries, two cultures, and belong to neither: too used to freedom to accept the rituals and conventions of home, and yet too steeped in tradition to embrace American mores fully. These Indian-born parents want the American Dream for their children — name-brand schools, a prestigious job, a roomy house in the suburbs — but they are cautious about the pitfalls of life in this alien land, and isolated by their difficulties with language and customs. Their children too are often emotional outsiders: having grown up translating the mysteries of the United States for their relatives, they are fluent navigators of both Bengali and American culture but completely at home in neither; they always experience themselves as standing slightly apart, given more to melancholy observation than wholehearted participation.

Sepia Mutiny – Book Review – Unaccustomed Earth

Adele Waldman in The New Republic [link] writes, “Jhumpa Lahiri’s books are more about the coastal elite experience than they are about the Indian-American one. … Her tales of marriage, divorce, becoming a parent, and grappling with the death of adult parents are the opposite of exotic; her fiction winds up painting a very intelligent portrait of upper middle class life. They aren’t immigrant stories, not in a traditional sense…”

Maybe that is true on one level, but I don’t think any Indian-American who picks up this book can say that Lahiri’s stories do not reflect nuances of our existence as children of immigrants, as cultural minorities, as the oft-represented “other”; nuances that we rarely encounter in the books that make their way into our hands. I’d venture to say that these are immigrant stories too – stories of a new America where culture and race and tradition collide in unexpected ways and where, at the end of it, we are left with a better understanding of both sides of a story and of the (this is cliche, I know, but I can’t think of any other way to say it), the universal human condition. I think that’s what makes Lahiri’s work genius – she gets at this without going cliche on us.

New York Times – Microfinance’s Success Sets Off a Debate in Mexico

Microlenders, the original and still the most common type of microfinance organization, help the poor start or expand businesses in places most banks shun, like the slums of Calcutta or these impoverished hills in Mexico’s sugar cane country, three hours south of Mexico City. Their efforts are widely considered successful in transforming the lives of developing-world entrepreneurs, particularly women, and their families.

Many microlending advocates, including Mr. Yunus, say that success is threatened by Mr. Danel and Mr. Labarthe’s market-oriented model, with its emphasis on investor returns.

“Microfinance started in the 1970s with a focus on using this breakthrough to help end poverty,” said Sam Daley-Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, a nonprofit endeavor that promotes microfinance for families earning less than $1 a day. “Now it is in great danger of being how well the investors and the microfinance institutions are doing and not about ending poverty.” He said the situation posed the danger of “mission drift.”

Media Assassin – Sex and the Slain Civil Rights Leader Survivor 

 Why, for the most part, have the ten children of both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. never married?

Resist Racism – The Last Acceptable Prejudice

Does fat prejudice need to be framed as “worse than” racism in order for us to pay attention to it? And how does that type of framework discount the negative effects of racism?

The reality is that as allies we shouldn’t get tricked into buying into the Oppression Olympics. There is no “last acceptable prejudice” because they are all unacceptable.