Friday, 13 September 2013

Sharath's bookshelf - Christian Nation

     It has been a while since my last book review. I have read a lot of fiction in the interim, most of it high fantasy but nothing really worthwhile. This book - Christian Nation - is an exception. Without a doubt this is the best book I have read in a long time. Described as counter-factual speculative fiction, in the same vein as The Plot against America and the Handmaid's Tale, the author creates a scenario in which Barack Obama loses the presidential election and McCain is sworn in as the President. Following his death due to the rupture of a cerebral aneurysm, Sarah Palin becomes the President of the United States.

      The former Alaskan governor is a stand up comedian's dream. Her gaffes on national TV are comedy gold. So I expected this novel to be a light hearted farce which would use the fictional Palin presidency to highlight the sheer idiocy in choosing a photogenic running mate as opposed to a competent one. The author however does not go the Ludlumesque Road to Omaha route. He instead uses this novel as an exposition of the religious right in America.

      Written as a memoir by a wall street lawyer, Greg, this book paints a nightmarish picture of America devolving into a Christian totalitarian state following Sarah Palin's ascendance to the highest office in America. This book reflects the writing of a good researcher with an enviable lexical repertoire. It is a compelling read and at times I had shivers running down my spine. The dystopian future that this book envisions is my version of hell.This book works best when it's conjecture has a factual basis, when the suggested future does not seem wildly improbable. Frighteningly enough, a large part of this imagined future seems well within the realm of possibility. The writing is also riveting when it exposes the flagrant hypocrisy of the Teavangelical ( a widely used portmanteau of tea and evangelical ) movement.

          In my humble opinion, the author makes the right seem more insidious than they actually are. He also paints the general public in his book as more unaware and oblivious than in real life. On TV The Newsroom's Will McAvoy soliloquies deal with the subject of slow radicalization of  Christianity and are an indicator that the rise in the acceptance of scriptural literalism is being noticed. There is also a dearth of properly fleshed out characters. Most of the cast primarily serve as excuses to inform the reader of germane facts. As a result the dialogue seems clunky, verbose and unnatural. I don t mind that as much as the absence of intelligent, well-informed female voices in the narrative which is conspicuous, perplexing and somewhat jarring.

    I am usually dismissive of any extremist politician who spews hate mongering drivel . I am secure in my belief that most people are sane and would never back a candidate who is blatantly reactionary. I am also skeptical of any word that comes out of a politician's mouth and so believe that the right wing rhetoric of a politician  is only meant for appeasement of a certain section of the electorate. The author posits that there are politicians who are true believers of ultra conservative ideology and in extraordinary circumstances when usually moderate and sane members of the electorate feel especially vulnerable, they may vote for such a candidate. This assertion is the foundation on which the story is built.

    The well chosen but not very subtle quotes at the beginning of each chapter underscore the theme of the novel. The underlying theme of the novel can be summed up by the quote often erroneously attributed to Edmund Burke,"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Upon finishing the book, I caught myself thinking, "This will never happen." But the point of the story was never to assume that, never take the rights we enjoy for granted, never give an inch when fighting against the encroachment upon those rights. By the author's own admission, this story was a cautionary tale, one that needs to heeded even in this political climate. Given the frankly inflammatory statements issued by KCR and other politicians in the recent times and the rise of extremist rhetoric in India, this story resonates locally as well.

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