Letters and Politics

A Biography of Alex Haley; Somini Sengupta on Contemporary India

With Robert Norrell, author of Alex Haley: And the Books that Changed a Nation.

And Somini Sengupta, New York Times UN Bureau Chief and author of the book The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young.

About Alex Haley: 

It is difficult to think of two twentieth century books by one author that have had as much influence on American culture when they were published as Alex Haley’s monumental bestsellers, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), andRoots (1976). They changed the way white and black America viewed each other and the country’s history. This first biography of Haley follows him from his childhood in relative privilege in deeply segregated small town Tennessee to fame and fortune in high powered New York City. It was in the Navy, that Haley discovered himself as a writer, which eventually led his rise as a star journalist in the heyday of magazine personality profiles. At Playboy Magazine, Haley profiled everyone from Martin Luther King and Miles Davis to Johnny Carson and Malcolm X, leading to their collaboration on The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Roots was for Haley a deeper, more personal reach. The subsequent book and miniseries ignited an ongoing craze for family history, and made Haley one of the most famous writers in the country. Rootssold half a million copies in the first two months of publication, and the original television miniseries was viewed by 130 million people.

Haley died in 1992. This deeply researched and compelling book by Robert J. Norrell offers the perfect opportunity to revisit his authorship, his career as one of the first African American star journalists, as well as an especially dramatic time of change in American history.

About the End of Karma: 

A penetrating, personal look at contemporary India—the world’s largest democracy at a moment of transition.

Somini Sengupta emigrated from Calcutta to California as a young child in 1975. Returning thirty years later as the bureau chief for The New York Times, she found a vastly different country: one defined as much by aspiration and possibility—at least by the illusion of possibility—as it is by the structures of sex and caste. The End of Karma is an exploration of this new India through the lens of young people from different worlds: a woman who becomes a Maoist rebel; a brother charged for the murder of his sister, who had married the “wrong” man; a woman who opposes her family and hopes to become a police officer. Driven by aspiration—and thwarted at every step by state and society—they are making new demands on India’s democracy for equality of opportunity, dignity for girls, and civil liberties. Sengupta spotlights these stories of ordinary men and women, weaving together a groundbreaking portrait of a country in turmoil.

 

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