In 2023, Foreign Policy continued to expand the scope of our Books section. We published essays on a wide variety of new titles—novels, histories, and of course, classic foreign-policy releases—that combine criticism, reporting, and personal narrative.
Read on for some of our favorite reviews of the year.
1. Trysts With Sri Lanka’s Ghosts
by V.V. Ganeshananthan, Jan. 7
The memory of the 1983-2009 civil war haunts present-day Sri Lanka—as Shehan Karunatilaka, the author of the Booker Prize-winning The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, knows well. In the novel, which takes place seven years into the war, the titular character is a dead photographer who has a week to navigate a bureaucratic In Between and reach something called The Light. But Maali’s interests lie elsewhere: He wants to ensure that a box of politically sensitive photographs that he took while he was alive end up in the right hands.
It’s a “merciless, madcap version of the afterlife,” V.V. Ganeshananthan writes—but also one that opens a window into a country racked, then and now, by historical and political wrongs. In her beautifully rendered review, Ganeshananthan—herself the author of a novel set during the Sri Lankan civil war—serves as a guide to the intricacies of the period and Seven Moons’ real-world analogs, as well as Karunatilaka’s skill in connecting the personal to the political. “Karunatilaka underlines how we are haunted not just by the ghosts of lost others but by the ghosts of lost selves—the better people we might have been,” Ganeshananthan writes.
2. How the European Project Fell Apart
by Jan-Werner Müller, Oct. 29
“Anyone old enough to have lived through the fall of the Berlin Wall is likely to feel melancholic reading Timothy Garton Ash’s Homelands: A Personal History of Europe,” Jan-Werner Müller writes. The British historian and journalist’s latest book—part memoir, part history—traces the triumphs and failures of liberalism and European integration over the past 50 years, while also considering what it means to be a “political writer” responsible for the first draft of history.
As war rages on in Europe’s eastern flank and anti-liberal populism gains steam across the continent, Garton Ash’s book is “as good an antidote as any for those despairing of Europe and an impassioned defense against those who seek to destroy it,” Müller writes.
3. The Fabulous Mythmaking of Imelda Marcos
by Sheila S. Coronel, Oct. 7
Should dictators—and their families—be forgiven? This is the question at the heart of Filipino writer Nathan Go’s debut novel, Forgiving Imelda Marcos. As members of the Marcos family have returned to power in the Philippines—decades after Imelda and her husband, President Ferdinand Marcos, were ousted after a 1986 revolt—a new generation of Filipinos has started to produce books, art, and theater that seek to restore the memory of the Marcos dictatorship.
Go’s novel, Sheila S. Coronel writes, is part of this “still-fledgling effort to shed light on the dark era of dictatorship.” In her review, Coronel—a Filipina journalist who reported on the abuses committed by the Marcoses in the 1980s—weaves Go’s narrative with her own experiences to offer insight into why the Philippines readily welcomed back a family that “used their power to hack public memory, elude justice, and silence dissent.” Despite the Marcoses’ efforts, Coronel writes, “memory—and trauma—cannot be completely erased.”
4. How the Fed Became Everything (and Everything Became the Fed)
by David Wessel, April 30
The U.S. Federal Reserve has always had an outsize influence on the global economy. But, journalist David Wessel writes, “the global financial crisis and the pandemic underscored just how it has effectively become the central bank and lender of last resort to the whole world.”
This transformation provided plenty of fodder for two recent books by Fed reporters: Jeanna Smialek’s Limitless: The Federal Reserve Takes on a New Age of Crisis and Nick Timiraos’s Trillion Dollar Triage: How Jay Powell and the Fed Battled a President and a Pandemic—and Prevented Economic Disaster. In his review, Wessel, a veteran Fed reporter, examines the nuances of both accounts and shows how they “peel back the curtain on key figures making decisions that affect the entire global economy.”
5. Britain’s Racism Isn’t America’s
by Angela Saini, July 30
Recent U.S. debates on race have influenced the rest of the world—and this isn’t always a good thing, according to Tomiwa Owolade in his new book, This Is Not America: Why Black Lives in Britain Matter.
In her review of Owolade’s polemic, journalist Angela Saini examines why the United States has shaped the contours of anti-racist activism and conversations on race in the United Kingdom. Saini, who has written a book on race science, questions whether this is as harmful as Owolade believes it to be. After all, Saini writes, while racism doesn’t take the same form in Britain and the United States, the two countries “built their racial ideologies on exactly the same bedrock.”
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