Book review on ‘ Jerusalem The Biography’ by Simon Sebag Montefiore.


“Like a snowy mountain glittering in the sun”

–  Flavius Josephus, the Romano-Jewish scholar, and historian.

                            A casual observer could be forgiven for being drawn into the dragnet of bias when it comes to broaching and expounding on the subject matter of Israeli- Palestinian quagmire. Responsible journalism and authorship, though ostensibly non-partisan and unprejudiced is by no means so as the evidence suggests. That leaves us with very few options for digging deeper into the marshlands of history and collating the layers beneath to prepare the ground of conceivability in our conscience.

                            The beliefs of historical determinism and fatalism, more often than not, rear their ugly head in almost every causal analysis of the conflict in spite of the contrarian disposition of the rational mind. Not even a page of this book could be flipped by without contemplating retrospectively of a more lucid outcome, had the powers that be shown a speck of farsightedness or a morsel of horse sense about a region that in itself had been tangled in the cobweb of politics, religion, ethnicity and pincered between the grasp of bloodthirsty warlords and religiously evangelical zealots. The infamous Sykes-Picot agreement which unabashedly apportioned the Middle East map among British and French stemmed from the ‘ divide and rule’ dogma followed by the empire, the repercussions of which echoes to the present day, albeit in the form of protracted quasi-occupation in Afghanistan or Iraq before, by the West. Lessons will never be learned it seems, after imbibing Jerusalem’s travails.

                      Though the book offers a prolonged read and is steeped in history, titles and chronology Montefiore has done justice to his subject by dissecting Jerusalem right from the roots, eruditely, not in the least exhibiting any sort of pedantry or pomposity. Palpability of the spirit of Jerusalem and perspicuity of the ghosts of the past sauntering through the narrow alleys of Old Jerusalem is a haunting experience that lingers on. From the Maccabees to the present day rulers, the list of conquerors and occupiers seem never-ending, yet the provenance of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions, the seat of religious secularism, the cynosure of the world presents herself as a desolate sweetheart whom the lovers have forsaken.

                       The weightiness of the issue and the two-state solution on the cards endows a special significance to the book now than ever before. Montefiore’s pedigree and his ancestor’s role in carving up a Jewish state and propounding Zionism have been distinctly documented. I just loved the myriad footnotes which by themselves could be collated into a compendium of sorts. The sheer magnitude of research that has been put through by the author is unbelievable.

                     A magnificent tour de force, scholarly penned, bluntly chronicled, holistically viewed and meticulously researched. An absolutely enlightening tome.


Review on ‘After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?: My Encounters With Kurdistan’ by Jonathan C. Randal


A candid, in-depth and incisive sketch on the geopolitics of Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria, expounding their strife with national and international actors in carving out a separate entity of Kurdistan.

I was intensely drawn to the plight of Kurds during the course of reading the extensive reportage in print media for the past few years. That they had been hunted, used and abused at every possible opportunity, hoodwinked by their one- time confidantes like the Shah of Iran, inveigled at pivotal moments by their most trusted ally and advisor, the US, and most of all, that they had once been strange bedfellows with their arch enemy Saddam Hussein, seemed something beyond me. Thus began my search for an unbiased account of these mountain people and I happened to chance upon this book during an exhibition. Randal, a W.P correspondent, who owing to the nature of his job has had a first-hand grip on their history and geopolitics and had been endowed with numerous windows of opportunity in getting to know plebeian and patrician alike, has taken great pains in getting down to the nuts and bolts of Kurdish issue during his wartime reporting. 

One ought to be patient right through, that’s the only catch, yet worth the read!