The concept of “soft power”, popularized by Harvard’s Joseph Nye, has always seemed artificial. Power as wielded by nations is not neatly divisible into “hard” and “soft” categories. The great realist philosopher of power Hans Morgenthau identified the elements of national power as geography, natural resources, industrial capacity, population, military preparedness, national morale, the quality of government, and the quality of diplomacy.
Some of the most lasting consequences of war are displacement, refugees, and broken families. Eugenia Kim’s new and brilliant novel examines a family separated by not just one, but two wars.
This ultimately uplifting tale of perseverance in the face of love and loss begins in the suburbs of an unnamed city in contemporary South Korea. Tragedy strikes when the father of sisters Nana and Sora is killed in a factory accidents. The compensation money is sequestered by their relatives, forcing the now impoverished sisters and their mother, Aeja, out of their house and their former lives.
Many years ago, when I was about thirteen and home in Khartoum for the holidays from school in England, my mother took me on a train trip to Port Sudan, from where we drove to Suakin, an extensive deserted city on the Red Sea. Old Ottoman-style buildings lay scattered around us in ruinous states ranging from the almost intact to mere piles of bricks and stones. I was particularly struck, I remember, by the enclosed balconies which jutted out from the second floors of some of them, and remember wondering what the people who looked out from them might have been like. Why didn’t anyone live there any more? What happened to them?
“I think we are stuck in someone else’s movie,” says co-protagonist Chiara Brasi early on in Insurrecto, telegraphing the framing device for Gina Apostol’s new novel. Chiara, filmmaker, daughter of an artsy filmmaker, daughter of an heiress, golden-haired devotee of Hermès bags and sunglasses, has come to the Philippines to research a movie. She needs help, and finds Magsalin, a returned-expat Filipina writer and teacher.
Some authors capture a time and place effortlessly. They draw upon aspects of popular culture and spin them into a literary tale that is more powerful and longer-lasting than the milieu from which they sprang. Veeraporn Nitiprapha is such a writer. But as her work has only appeared in Thai, she has been beyond the reach of most of the world.
Predicting the global future is never easy. Even the most knowledgeable and fair-minded observers of geopolitics frequently miss the mark. After the First World War, the German historian Oswald Spengler predicted the decline of the West. In 1964, the American political philosopher James Burnham opined that the West was committing suicide. In 1987, just a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yale’s Paul Kennedy warned that the US would likely suffer from imperial overstretch in its struggle with Soviet-led communism.