Sati Mookherjee’s grandfather was arrested 17 years before India gained independence and went into exile in the UK. He returned to India in 1939 when England entered World War II. Mookherjee’s debut, Eye, based on her grandfather’s memoirs, is not a traditional collection of poetry, but rather a series of just three poems that give a vivid sense of his experiences during this historic era.
For a book that is fundamentally about hope, Philippe Sands’s The Last Colony is a depressing read, not just its in its tale of colonial injustice, but also in its recounting of the US and Britain’s refusal to abide by the norms, the “rules-based order”, that they demand of others. “One rule for you, another for us?” as Sands succinctly puts it.
Sometimes the further away in time you get from an event, the clearer it becomes. Time often enables historians to learn more facts and circumstances about, and fosters a more dispassionate view of, historical events like wars. The Vietnamese wars against France in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and against the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, have far too frequently been analyzed through ideological and political lenses, with both sides ignoring or downplaying facts that do not fit within their ideological-political agendas. The greatest merit of Christoper Goscha’s splendid history of the First Indochina War (1945-1954) is his unsparing devotion to letting facts inform his assessments and conclusions.
Jean-Luc Guéry is a man down on his luck. Middling journalist, gambling addict, alcoholic. Yet when news of his brother’s murder in Saigon reaches him in France, Guéry drops everything and travels to French Vietnam to investigate.
London has always been a galvanizing factor for the South Asian community—whether due to the machinations of empire, the drive for higher education, or the need to make a living. South Asians make up the largest group of foreign-born individuals in London—and South Asian politicians in the UK cross the political divide, from Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel to Sadiq Khan.
It’s 1951 and Jean-Luc Guéry, a perpetual ne’er-do-well, has arrived in Saigon from his native Côte d’Azur to look into the as yet unsolved murder of his brother. Guéry, a hack reporter for the regional Journal d’Antibes, has a fondness for alcohol and a weakness for gambling. His brother, on the other hand, was running a respectable business importing agricultural machinery but was found floating face down in the Arroyo Chinois with a bullet in his head.
As India emerges into independence in 1947, Englishman Charlie Strongbow and 23 colleagues set about setting up a smuggling operation on the previously uninhabited Cross Island, just off Bombay’s Ferry Wharf. The aim is to supply the good and the great (and the not-so-good) with contraband cigarettes, cheese, booze, perfume and whatever other Western products the new Indian government is trying to tax.