Book review: Speaking of wars

War Talk By Arundhati Roy Published by South End Press 2003 Softcover, 142 pages, $12



Even after I first heard Arundhati Roy speak I wasn’t sure what her politics were. I knew she had leftist perspectives; she is well known and respected in the anti-globalization movement. Her novel “The God of Small Things” has been read widely and was awarded the Booker Prize in 1997.

So it was with excitement that I began to read “War Talk,” Roy’s most recent book. “War Talk,” a collection of six short essays, demonstrates Roy’s literary style, her ability to paint vivid pictures depicting many of the underlying human costs of modern day militarization and globalization, and her personal feelings on these subjects.

Roy is probably most eloquent and convincing when she writes about India, her home. In the first chapter, “War Talk: Summer Games With Nuclear Bombs,” Roy discusses the very real possibility of nuclear war between Pakistan and India, the regular cross-border skirmishes that each nation manipulates for its own purpose, and the civilians on both sides stuck in the middle of this deadly game – confronted with the prospect of becoming a “radioactive stain on a staircase.”

Roy includes a essay about Noam Chomsky, praising him for his volumes on U.S. foreign policy and media manipulation. I agree that Chomsky has made contributions to the struggle for peace and social justice by helping to expose the United States’ role in clandestine wars in Central and South America. However, Roy’s account of the “lonely” intellectual mistakenly gives the impression that Chomsky “and his fellow media analysts” did all of this with out much help, in a vacuum, divorced from mass mobilizations and protests involving hundreds of thousands of activists trying to expose the lies of U.S. power.

While much of “War Talk” describes Roy’s personal experiences and feelings towards militarization and globalization, in other parts Roy seems to have run away with herself, taking the reader for a shallow ride by forgetting other social forces in the world challenging war, poverty, exploitation, globalization, racism, sexism, media manipulation, and unbridled power. She rarely mentions organized labor, community and student organizations.

In many parts of the book Roy also fails to provide historical perspective and a consistent analysis of militarization and globalization. For example, in a chapter called “Come September” Roy says, “The theme of much of what I write, fiction as well as nonfiction, is the relationship between power and powerlessness and the endless, circular conflict they are engaged in.” While addressing power Roy is great at description, but she fails to analyze the organizational and structural ways of actually challenging power. And by labeling the struggle between the powerful and the powerless as endless, Roy confuses more than she clarifies.

Roy’s emotion, sarcasm and style, while useful in moderation, also wear thin after a while.

While “War Talk” doesn’t answer any new questions, it provides some useful information on the militarization of India and globalization in general. To the reader interested in personal reflections on the militarization of India, “War Talk” will be informative.

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org.