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Bangladesh's Liberation Journey from the American Perspective. Book Review of The Vortex

The Vortex: The True Story of History's Deadliest Storm and the Liberation of Bangladesh

Authors: Scott Carney and Jason Miklian.

Genre: Geopolitical Narrative Nonfiction

Published in India by @harpercollinsin

MRP: Rs.599/-

From the Author’s note:

“This book is a work of narrative nonfiction. While all details herein are

true and research-based, the act of putting disparate pieces together in a way

that puts the reader in the historical moment required us to make judgments

at times about motivations and states of mind that are not preserved in the

historical record. In some places, we condensed timelines, dialogues,

competing perspectives, and peripheral details for clarity and to better bring

out the essence of the events. For example, some scenes combine events

that occurred over multiple days into a single narrative moment. In other

places, we extrapolate minor pieces of dialogue, mannerisms, and

presumable emotional responses in places where the participants

themselves did not remember the specific details of a conversation that

happened fifty years ago. For transparency, we have referenced all such

instances in the notes section. These stylistic edits have no material bearing

on the factual events we present, and responsibility for any errors or

possible misinterpretations remain ours alone.”

Narrative Non Fiction, when used to write a sensitive topic like Geopolitics, can be , well… complicated.

The book purports to tell the story of the Great Bengal Cyclone of 1970, which devastated East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and became the catalyst for the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 and the creation of an independent Bangladesh. It tells the tale from the perspective of various participants, including Pakistan's military dictator and his henchmen, various Bengali freedom fighters and an American husband and wife team who helped organize the first relief efforts in the wake of the Cyclone.

Told in three acts, The Vortex starts with the Great Bhola Cyclone of 1970, which killed up to 500,000 people in low-lying East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). It was the worst storm in recorded history. The government, based in West Pakistan, did absolutely nothing in terms of relief. In Act II, the inhuman government used the cyclone and the election as an excuse to instead carry out genocide on the Bengali people. The military systemically raped and butchered the citizens of Bangladesh — likely another 500,000 people. Act III details how the people of Bangladesh rose up and fought for their independence, despite ignorance and denial about the genocide from most of the international community. As tensions build from the US & Pakistan against India & Russia, it was almost the beginning of a nuclear war in the Bay of Bengal. In so many ways, this vortex was so horrific: the storm, the cost of human lives, the war against innocent people, political corruption on so many levels. The book is very long and could definitely be 100 or so pages shorter Some of the most interesting tidbits are about how the US and the USSR eventually got involved, with Nixon/Kissinger getting dangerously close to a nuclear showdown.

As it is technically non-fiction, the book name drops some powerful people, Like Yahya Khan, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger among others. Their corruption and greed for political power and what that led to. I also do not agree with some of the sub-politics of the book, especially where the authors talk about the pre-partition Indian politics. I have some varied differences in opinion there. But that’s not the point.

So this book is written by two Americans, about an important political landmark in South Asian history, why should you read it? Well, as I said earlier, there were several geopolitical issues at play here, and the US, as usual, couldn’t keep their nosy butts out of other nations business. This book provided more context on that front, more than any book I’ve read on the topic. The book ultimately works in providing you the details, but I found out I wasn’t a fan of the “narrative nonfiction” genre. I like my history books to be high and dry, and not a juicy thriller. If it is a thriller based on real events, that you want to read, go right ahead, the book is good. It has all the right elements required in a thriller. It is fast paced, multi-narrative, full of conflict, tension, suspense, unexpected twists, and high stakes, whikle also educating you on the history of the liberation of Bangladesh. You’ll enjoy it.


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