The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - TONY MANIATY

FOR all its new- found wealth, China seethes with con­tra­dic­tions. The free mar­ket re­forms of the 1980s, says James Kynge, sprang less from cen­tral party pol­icy than from lo­cal of­fi­cials il­lic­itly ap­prov­ing com­pa­nies that were ‘‘ so­cial­ist and sta­te­owned on pa­per but cap­i­tal­ist and pri­vately owned in re­al­ity’’. The re­sult: a boom econ­omy. The ul­ti­mate ques­tion: for how long can the Com­mu­nist Party keep rigid po­lit­i­cal con­trol of a coun­try where 350 mil­lion cit­i­zens now have mo­bile phones and more than 100 mil­lion ac­cess the in­ter­net? The Af­ter­life By Don­ald Antrim Lit­tle Brown, 216pp, $ 35 THE Eighth Amend­ment of the US con­sti­tu­tion, adopted in 1791, pro­hibits ‘‘ cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ments’’. ( Think draw­ing and quar­ter­ing, burn­ing at the stake, cas­tra­tion, de­cap­i­ta­tion, ston­ing.) But what, in 2007, con­sti­tutes ‘‘ cruel and un­usual’’? Abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guan­tanamo Bay are shock­ing, Colin Dayan agrees, but not sur­pris­ing: Amer­ica has a her­itage of tor­ture and bru­tal­ity. In 1808, a North Carolina le­gal man­ual deemed a per­son would not be judged ‘‘ guilty of wil­fully and ma­li­ciously killing a slave’’ if the slave had died ‘‘ un­der mod­er­ate cor­rec­tion’’. Trou­bled Wa­ters: The Chang­ing For­tunes of Whales and Dol­phins By Sarah Lazarus CSIRO Pub­lish­ing, 210pp, $ 39.95 OR­CAS are widely pro­tected, which is why ‘‘ a good orca is now worth in ex­cess of $ US1 mil­lion dol­lars’’ at marine parks. ‘‘ Orca laun­der­ing’’ has ap­peared: wild an­i­mals are caught and held over­seas for sev­eral years then legally im­ported as ‘‘ al­ready cap­tive an­i­mals’’ or ‘‘ breed­ing loans’’. Sarah Lazarus’s study is richly in­for­ma­tive, but warns that the plight of whales and dol­phins grows ‘‘ as their ocean home faces in­ten­si­fy­ing on­slaught’’. SUB­LIME in­sights, self- dep­re­ca­tion and nar­ra­tive bumps turn New York writer Don­ald Antrim’s mem­oir of his ‘‘ dras­ti­cally para­noid’’ mother into a fix­at­ing road movie through the hu­man psy­che. Bounc­ing be­tween lovers, towns and delu­sions, wax­ing about her bizarre out­fits with their ‘‘ clown- sized but­tons’’ that too loudly pro­claimed ‘‘ artist’’, Louanne spent end­less days in bed and died there in 2000. Antrim strug­gles to find him­self amid ‘‘ her life­long self- oblit­er­a­tion through al­co­holism and al­co­holism’s chief symp­tom and legacy, rage’’. China Shakes the World: The Rise of a Hun­gry Na­tion By James Kynge Phoenix, 244pp, $ 27 The Story of Cruel an­dUnusual By Colin Dayan Bos­ton Re­view Books, 100pp, $ US14.95 ($ 18)

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