I have some more reviews to post, but in the meantime let me offer some links for your reading enjoyment:
It’s true that readers would expect a review of a book titled God Is Not Great, published in a place like this, to be unfriendly. But if Hitchens had anything new and persuasive to tell us, I would say so. Alas, as the preceding paragraph suggests, we are dealing with a very intelligent and well-read author who, when it comes to “religion,” is simply incapable of reason. Hitchens admires Socrates’ claim to be certain only of his own ignorance. The reader wishes that Hitchens would exchange admiration for emulation. The effect of his not doing so is the feeling that one is rather in the presence of an exceedingly angry sophist, and that is sad. But it also sometimes evokes a brief giggle, as when Hitchens writes that “many religions force themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street, and even the Koran treats the Virgin Mary with reverence.” (It must have seemed funny at the time.)
Words Without Borders is an online magazine which seeks “to promote international communication through translation of the world’s best writingâ€”selected and translated by a distinguished group of writers, translators, and publishing professionalsâ€”and publishing and promoting these works (or excerpts) on the web,” as well acting as “an advocacy organization for literature in translation.” Their cause is a noble one, and seriously underfunded; you should consider sending them a check.
I say that even though the anthology just published with their imprimaturâ€”Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers (Anchor Books)â€”is a disaster. The trouble begins right off the bat, with the introduction by Andre Dubus III, who recalls how Americans responded to the 1979 embassy takeover in Tehran and again after 9/11 with orgies of violence against immigrants. (You don’t remember it happening quite that way? Maybe this book isn’t for you.) The publicity material for the anthology features a helpful interview comparing censorship in Iran and North Korea with censorship in the United States. (You always wondered why so many people in airports are toting blockbusters by James Patterson and his ilk, and so few are carrying novels from Iran? Now you know.) Over the project there hovers the notion that reading literature in translation is a quasi-political act. You want to strike a blow against American fascism? Read a novel from the Hungarian and accrue virtue, distinguishing yourself from your dreadfully provincial fellow Americans.