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  • Deborah Baker - Reviews: A Blue Hand
    extraordinary journey through India and its deep impact on politics and counterculture of 60s America and the world As Ginsberg and his gay lover trolled the brothels opium dens as well as cocktail circuit in search of a smoky spiritual destination in 1962 Baker then three years old was learning the alphabet in suburban Massachusetts from her parents both biology teachers It was a little later that she would come to know the Beats I read Jack Kerouac s On The Road in college when everybody reads On The Road said Baker Pulitzer finalist for her biography In Extremis The Life of Laura Riding And then I met Beat poet William Burroughs The conversation dwelt largely on snakes Burroughs was an expert on snakes but among other things the interaction convinced me that the Hippies interactions with women were a little more complex than what they were accused of being misogynists Sitting at a central Mumbai hotel in a green salwar kameez on Saturday Baker recalled how she had met Ginsberg about two decades ago at a New York party with her husband and celebrated author Amitav Ghosh then a young and little known writer who had just finished his first novel Ginsberg being the great schmoozer was chatting up the jet set But he stopped on Amitav He took him to a couch and had a fairly long conversation about the Young Turks of literary Bengal Sunil Gangopadhyay Shakti Chat topadhyay and others whom Ginsberg became close to during his stay in Kolkata Baker s book which excavates Ginsberg s notes in Indian Journals his endless letters to Kerouac and many local sources talks about how the poet never thought Indian writing in English had a chance He was disappointed to find the very orthodoxies in local English writing

    Original URL path: http://www.deborahbaker.net/reviews2c.htm (2016-05-01)
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  • Deborah Baker - Reviews: A Blue Hand
    in the curious pathology of wanting to get somewhere and never quite getting anywhere a self absorbed swinging between progress and regress that the book s subjects often seem to infect their author with But suddenly I would come upon a little detail something as banal as the peculiar noise like tidal waves Allen and Peter made at night on their air mattresses every time they shifted in their sleep and it would bring me back to the concreteness of Baker s story to its recognition of the truth of extraordinary compulsions and convictions passionately hazarded and lived out In the early Sixties with the sensation caused by Howl and Kaddish already behind him Ginsberg was beginning to feel not only like an icon but also like a parody of whatever he and Jack Kerouac together with William Burroughs and Gregory Corso had made Beat stand for to the world Etymologically fusing rhythm exhaustion and beatitude the word could refer to anybody from a long haired bohemian pacifist or pseudo philosopher addicted to a range of substances to a Soviet apologist if not a downright communist Ginsberg s own Blakean epiphany at 22 had initially left him with an overwhelming sense of being born to realize the spirit of the universe Blake s two great poems Ah Sun flower and The Sick Rose had suddenly yielded their meaning to him making him notice everywhere around his Harlem apartment evidences of a living hand and the sky had become the living blue hand itself providing Baker the title of her book Fear of madness experimenting with drugs profound Oedipal grief sexual rejection and American idiocy had reduced this ecstatic vision over a decade into a conviction that any quest for psycho spiritual sexo cock jewel fulfilment in the West would only lead to a dead end So when Allen and Peter met the young Pupul Jayakar in New York Allen asked her Can you help me find a gay guru Seeing her perplexity Peter chipped in We are like little children We need guidance and help India therefore becomes the new spiritual terrain that these sun flowers weary of time begin to seek after Baker rightly unfazed by the clichédness of such a vision builds a marvellous preamble to the actual journey and 15 month stay The lives and histories of a whole cast of people are deftly interlaced to create the rich web of relationships and circumstances that led to India the psychic and cultural baggage each person carried to it Ginsberg and Orlovsky would ultimately leave Corso and Burroughs behind and meet up with their friends the poets Gary Snyder and Joanne Kyger in India whose relationship brings out some of the best writing from Baker Baker also weaves in the haunting presence and eventual disappearance of the alluringly dysfunctional and beautiful Hope Savage Corso s great love and a sort of Wagnerian Holly Golightly who becomes the book s mysteriously tragic core Hope and the equally evanescent Manjula

    Original URL path: http://www.deborahbaker.net/reviews2f.htm (2016-05-01)
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  • Deborah Baker - Reviews: A Blue Hand
    shape and form first with the Dadaists Dada means nothing as Tristan Tzara said avoiding thus the tissue of lies and half truths that makes up the substance of all merely political revolutions And then there were the Surrealists a more ample wave of cultural dissent buoyed up by practices as esoteric as automatic writing as an instrument to explode the subconscious in public spaces hitherto occupied by socialists and mendicants and soothsayers But Andre Breton the Surrealist supremo the way Bal Thackeray is the Shiv Sena supremo made the cardinal error of owing surrealist allegiance to the Soviet revolution Fortunately for the avant garde there was Artaud with his dental architecture of being immersed deep in peyot1 and heroin who raised the banner of revolt and people like Joyce and Beckett too stayed away from the Surrealist party All this meant nothing in the United States except in music The rock n rollers of the 60s and 70s are the true inheritors of the avant garde legacy in America Elvis Presley was more of a revolutionary than Norman Mailer or Arthur Miller But this was of course not known to William Burroughs Jack Kerouac Allen Ginsberg Gregory Corso Gary Snyder and Joanne Kyger who were the founding fathers of Beat with Allen Ginsberg as the centralbugababoo A girl called Hope swirled around them gave her beauty to whoever asked for it and then disappeared from a place called Calcutta never to be found again Renunciation of the world is an idea that the Beats did not find entirely alien To experiment with life is also to give up on its conventions and customs its hopes and its despairs to renounce indeed any hope of reward excepting the blinding hallucinations brought forth by LSD So for the Beats the Orient

    Original URL path: http://www.deborahbaker.net/reviews2g.htm (2016-05-01)
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  • Deborah Baker - Reviews: The Convert
    nothing on Maryam Jameelah a New York Jewish convert to Islam who as a disciple of Pakistan s world renowned fundamentalist made a career out of condemning the West in dozens of books and pamphlets Baker not only makes us care about a disturbed woman and her hectoring prose she has succeeded in composing a mesmerizing book on one of the more curious East West encounters She proves once again

    Original URL path: http://www.deborahbaker.net/nyt%20book%20review.htm (2016-05-01)
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  • Deborah Baker - Reviews: The Convert
    lack of spirituality develops an abiding sense of moral absolutism and becomes fascinated then obsessed with Arab culture particularly the fate of the Palestinians following Israeli statehood and the Suez Canal crisis But she also finds a querulous and tempestuous Peggy whose growing estrangement and angry tirades end in a nervous breakdown during her first year in college an eventual diagnosis of schizophrenia and commitment to a ghoulish string of appalling psychiatric wards The solution she sought in Islam wasn t only spiritual But these are only clues The deeper Baker probes the more the mystery of Jameelah s story grows In her letters her subject is a provocative narrator of her own life setting forth in remarkable clarity her experiences and the reasons she made the choices that she did Baker has subtitled her book a parable and it does raise fascinating questions about the relations of the West and Islam about religion freedom and choice but it s a parable as well about the quixotic search for certainty both by Baker who realizes its futility and by Jameelah who finally remains a true believer Or so it seems Mindful of the cul de sacs she s navigating Baker

    Original URL path: http://www.deborahbaker.net/the%20chicago%20tribune.htm (2016-05-01)
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  • Deborah Baker - Reviews: The Convert
    her thoughts on marriage How did she fit in that strange new household And finally what was the state of her mental health It is this last question that leads Baker down a truly fascinating path through Margaret s diagnosis of schizphrenia in 1957 her incarceration in a mental hospital outside Lahore her arranged marriage to a friend of Mawdudi s and on into a thicket of lies and cultural

    Original URL path: http://www.deborahbaker.net/los%20angeles%20times.htm (2016-05-01)
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  • Deborah Baker - Reviews: The Convert
    American self interest in the Middle East contributed to corrupt governments and the rise of radicalism Unlike Maryam she deplores the fringe of Islam that judges a woman s success as fidelity to her husband that condemns art and that celebrates suicide bombers Further twining her own life with her subject s Baker received Maryam s consent to condense the letters She retains their earnest highly articulate voice along with

    Original URL path: http://www.deborahbaker.net/the%20cleavland%20plain%20dealer.htm (2016-05-01)
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  • Deborah Baker - Reviews: The Convert
    and moved to Pakistan in 1962 and took the name Maryam Jameelah Baker who discovered the archive of Marcus s papers in the New York Public Library carefully reconstructs her movements after her arrival in Lahore Pakistan using letters Marcus sent to her parents and articles she published in various Islamic magazines Jameelah s criticism of the West is unwavering she denounces American foreign policy particularly its support of Israel

    Original URL path: http://www.deborahbaker.net/publishers%20weekly.htm (2016-05-01)
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