In Our Orbit
"In Our Orbit" is an occasional notice of books by those on the Nation masthead or otherwise closely associated with the magazine; watch future issues for other installments. It makes no fetish of impartiality, though it does pretend to accuracy.
Witness to History
The End of the Peace Process:
Oslo and After.
By Edward W. Said.
has here collected fifty essays, with the 1993 accords signed at the White House by Israel and the PLO as the axis around which they revolve. He is hardly sanguine, even should the accords "succeed" in reaching their stated ends--as he believes they will. Most of the essays were originally written for the Arab and European press, and provide a point of view rarely encountered in US reporting and commentary. The "peace process" (Said's quotations), he writes, is "not only inevitable in its course but certain in its conclusion.... The sheer disparity in power between the United States and Israel, on the one hand, and the Palestinians as well as the Arab states on the other, has dictated that...the Oslo agreements would end in apparent success." The poor assumptions and narrow grounds of the process mean "it can neither lead to a real peace nor likely provide for one in the future." Said is highly critical of the Palestinian Authority, reproving of the militarized natures of both Palestinian and Israeli society, saddened at the usurpation of freedoms as a result. His book closes with a piece titled "Truth and Reconciliation," its end note being that "injustice and belligerence don't diminish by themselves: they have to be attacked by all concerned. Now is the time."
Way Out There in the Blue:
Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War.
By Frances FitzGerald.
Al Gore and George W. Bush are among those who needn't inquire about the pertinence of this book to any Man Who Would Be President--or any voter in this Republic, for that matter. Debate over a "missile shield" is exerting its throw weight in presidential electoral politics and foreign policy debates in the Clinton Administration. The book arrives seventeen years and some $60 billion further on from the launch pad of President Reagan's proposal for the Strategic Defense Initiative, with basically bubkes to show for it. You may have forgotten a few of the novel (and novelistic) ideas. The X-ray laser, easy enough, but remember "Brilliant Pebbles," the idea of filling space with tiny, five-pound "smart rocks" that would be intelligent enough to operate on their own? Dan Quayle praised its affordability and "use of available, largely demonstrated technologies." By 1990, writes
, "the purpose of [that] deployment scheme had become even more mysterious than the virtue of the technology under consideration." Meese, Haig, McFarlane, Shultz, Weinberger--they're all here, as is Gorbachev and meticulous reporting on Reykjavik and beyond. This careful history is supplemented with shrewd guesses about Reagan's character, and America's. "Who wanted a real populist anyway?" FitzGerald writes at one point. "Better a President who would promise the miracle of a perfect defense and world peace without preaching the need for struggle or compromise. Reagan, the actor and politician, may have understood this."
S.: A Novel About the Balkans.
By Slavenka Drakulic.
What can be said, other than that
's novel will leave you with survivor guilt even while never having undergone the horrific events described. It is a novel based in fact, constructed the way a New Journalist might conflate interviews or characters into a composite, whose protagonist, a survivor of Bosnian detention camps, suffered repeated rape and eventually bore the unwanted result: "Now the tumor is beside her, as if transformed by some miracle into a child. It is difficult for S. to accept. She has never thought of it as a child, only as a disease...a parasite she wanted removed from her organism," but "it had survived. Just like her." Descriptions of camp life--in flashback--rival those of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in graphic and compelling detail. Drakulic's novel grew out of her experience reporting on women in Croatian and Bosnian camps, in part for this magazine [see "Women Hide Behind a Wall of Silence," March 1, 1993].