Briefly reviewed: New books by Brian Brivati, Anne Tyler, Helen Mort and Michelle Drouin

Losing Afghanistan: The Fall of Kabul and the End of Western Intervention edited by Brian Brivati
Biteback, 368 pages, £ 20

This collection of essays provides a depressingly accurate inventory of the wreckage following the disgraceful US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. It uncovers the intelligence and misunderstanding errors that led to two decades of flawed policy-making. In addition to rightly criticizing the countries involved, including Britain, the book sheds merciless light on the internationally backed Afghan government, including what one contributor describes as “Afghans in suits”: corrupt opportunists who exploited the naivety of ignorant donors and the real ones. difficulties for poorer Afghans.

The collection seems to have been quickly edited – the first essay is already outdated, as it is based on forecasts for the winter of 2021-22, which have passed. Its editor, Brian Brivati, admits he was an ardent supporter of liberal interventionism; now, he asks, what was it all for? The conflict in Ukraine raises some of the same questions as Afghanistan: “How to defend the defenseless, protect the citizens against their own states and hold the perpetrators accountable,” he writes. The pressure for international action is there, but as these essays show, the solutions used in Afghanistan have been discredited.
By Alix Kroeger

French Braid by Anne Tyler
Chatto & Windus, 256 pages, £ 16.99

Many novels about generational trauma are centered around one seismic event that changes everything, but this is too neat a narrative to be realistic. Anne Tyler, one of today’s best chroniclers of family life, chooses to take a gentler, more twisted path to “dysfunctional”. In her latest novel – her 24th – there are several “fateful” events: a family holiday in a cabin by the lake, a train journey, a new partner introduced over the Easter lunch. Their effects are small and smooth, causing the reader to consider what each look, word, and touch might mean. Underneath it all lies the feeling that the Garrett family has always been strangers to each other.

French braid follows three generations of Garretts, from the 1950s to the present, each section told from the perspective of a different character. Most compelling is Mercy, a mother who, once her youngest child has left home, gradually and without announcing her intention moves from the house she shares with her husband to her art studio to begin her second life. Tyler’s prose is sharply and sharply observed without feeling strained or exaggerated, giving the impression that it is not characters she has created, but autonomous people whose lives she discreetly documents.
by Pippa Bailey

A Line Above the Sky: On Mountains and Motherhood by Helen Mort
Ebury Press, 288 pages, £ 16.99

Helen Mort’s poetry is deeply moving, and an evocative quality is also present in her early memories. IN A line across the sky An avid mountaineer, Mort explores motherhood alongside nature and weaves personal climbing anecdotes and stories about his idol, the honorable climber Alison Hargreaves, together to draw parallels between the danger and excitement of mountaineering and the fear and intense love of to be a mother.

Mort writes that the maternal connection to a baby changes the perception of one’s own body and purpose, just as the climber’s instinct for danger keeps them safe and drives them on. In this tender book, she shows how motherhood can feel like standing alone on the mountainside and staring straight into a crack. At the birth of a child, she argues, it is no longer an option to lose a foothold – just like the tenacious mountaineer, a mother must continue to push herself forward and push her body and mind to its limits for the inexplicable, immeasurable connection to the cliff face of motherhood. .
By Zoë Grünewald

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Out of Touch: How to Survive an Intimacy Famine by Michelle Drouin
MIT Press, 240 pp., £ 22.50

When was the last time I hugged my best friend? How often do I compulsively scroll through Instagram? Could socializing literally save my life? These are some of the questions I asked myself after reading behavioral researcher Michelle Drouin’s concise yet comprehensive exploration of technology and its interplay with our personal relationships. Instead of taking the gloomy perspective that smartphones are merely instruments of isolation, she argues that they have expanded our social network, but that an Internet obsession can also be detrimental to our closest connections.

Drouin offers tips on how to embrace the online world without compromising real-world experiences, from limiting screen time to dating more decisively. Using cold, harsh statistics (the average person reportedly touches their phone 2,617 times a day), personal anecdotes and colorful analogies (Tinder-swiping is like a sushi conveyor belt), she proves that intimacy is crucial to our health and happiness and forces us not to lose it to unintentional technology addiction.
By Sarah Dawood

[See also: Lee Child: “I never believed in writer’s block”]

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