Snap Judgment: Books

The Turbulent Decade by Sadako Ogata

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees during the 1990s, Ogata was at the forefront of some of history's ugliest post-cold-war conflicts: the Rwandan genocide, the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, Saddam's suppression of the Kurds in northern Iraq and Afghanistan's refugee crisis. She learned, she writes, that there are "no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems"--in other words, only the convergence of political interests can solve them. It's a sobering realization, not least because the turbulence of the decade clearly hasn't ended.

Babyji by Abha Dawesar

Anamika Sharma is the kind of girl you always hated: she gets perfect grades and, as head prefect of her school in Delhi, has vast authority over her 6,000 classmates. But Anamika's extracurricular activities are far from exemplary: she is at the center of a love triangle between a lower-caste house servant and an educated, older divorcee. On top of that, she begins serious flirtations with the most popular girl in school, the father of her best friend and the local bad boy. Anamika's amorous indiscretions provide a colorful backdrop to her questions about morality, gender roles and social rank in modern India, resulting in a tantalizing and sophisticated coming-of-age story.

Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy by Manjushree Thapa

Nepal's image is of a stunning mountain paradise marred by a violent, unpredictable political streak. In this revealing book, journalist Thapa combines reportage, analysis and memoir to go beyond the nine-year-old Maoist insurgency and the 2001 "royal massacre," in which the crown prince allegedly killed the king, the queen and himself. She finds a web of political intrigue, greed, apathy and disempowerment. Thapa's investigation is both deeply moving and very funny, much like Nepal itself.