“On a sultry August day I set out to walk a straight line across Beijing.” So begins Jonathan Chatwin’s Long Peace Street: A Walk in Modern China. The street, called Chang’an Jie in Chinese, “runs arrow-straight and ten lanes wide in some places,” bisecting the heart of Beijing.
Evidence of the scarcity of earth’s resources is all around us, in water shortages in Cape town, a choking tropical haze in Indonesia, or increasingly overcrowded and unaffordable Asian cities where people live in “coffin cubicles” and “cage homes”. Action is required. But what kind of action, and which actor is best suited to bring about change that will allow the peaceful co-existence of humankind on an increasingly crowded and resource-constrained planet Earth? Chandran Nair, in his book, The Sustainable State, offers a new narrative of sustainable development. He takes on tough questions like how to price in negative externalities, such as early deaths from the pollution from coal-fired power, and grapples with the reality that the developing world will likely never enjoy the living standards of the West.
Set in New York, Ha Jin’s new novel, The Boat Rocker, takes place “a week before the fourth anniversary of 9/11”. Much of the novel’s power derives from the uncanny parallels between the issues faced by its central figure, a truth-seeking online journalist in the era of Hu Jintao and George W Bush, and all of us, in our Trumpian moment, as we struggle with its penchant for “alternative facts”.