Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Old-fashioned bombs on wheels

Daniel Pick at the TLS on Mike Davis's new book Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb. The review's extremely positive (I must read this book!), but with an interesting reservation about style:

There is, despite the grimness of the subject, a particularly suave quality to the writing which often, but not always, comes over well. It may seem churlish, given the impressive erudition and educational aims of this book, to raise a question about how it works to be so readable. The pace of the narrative, stylish turns of phrase and arch chapter headings (such as “Welcome to Bombsville”, “Hell’s Kitchen” or “Festivals de plastique”) make it a page-turner, but at the risk of inducing a certain queasiness. To speak of Havana being “serenaded by concerts of dynamite” in the early 1930s is surely to hit a false note. The Bombay Stock Exchange bombing in 1993, according to another journalist, again quoted uncritically by Davis, offered us a “macabre mosaic of blood, limbs, glass and share application forms”, in which “mounds of food [are] splattered with the remains of people’s bodies”. The narrative runs a fine line between “unflinching” reportage and connoisseurship of the monstrous. This uneasy and uneven effect is not helped by the liberal use of adjectives such as “ingenious”, “brilliant”, “daring” and “innovative”, to catalogue the technical prowess displayed in various atrocities. When he tells us how a kamikaze bomber blew up an SUV in front of Jakarta’s Marriott Hotel in August 2003, Davis cannot resist adding that the bomber’s head reportedly landed on the fifth floor of the building.

A vocabulary verging on pastiche, full of “blowbacks”, “rogue assets”, “megalomaniac bomb-school graduates”, “super-Capones” and “remnant Maoists”, seems curiously at odds with the deeper recognition of waste and tragedy, and of necessary political engagement, that Davis’s now considerable body of work powerfully supports. Those who become seduced by the world of the car bomb, he suggests aptly, can become “blinded to its savage moral and political consequences”.

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