Freddie did a hatchet job on Lall’s book
My friend Freddie Kissoon did a stunning hatchet job in reviewing GHK Lall’s book (column Aug 15) on corruption. Since I started writing for public consumption in 1978 while a student at City College, I have done many reviews of books, Broadway plays, movies, and songs (in CCNY newspapers – Campus, Paper, Source — and in Caribbean and Asian Indian weeklies in N.Y). Kissoon’s is a lousy book review that simply does not follow the general methodology used by reviewers when writing a critical review (as instructed by editors) – identify the author’s main arguments, say whether (s)he proves her/his arguments and how (s)he could have done a better job.
In reading Kissoon’s review, one does not get a sense what the arguments in the book are about and the reviewer has not informed readers of several specific issues that may have been excluded from the book. In critiquing Lall, Freddie tries to suggest that he is superior to Lall as a writer. But Freddie is not even close to Lall’s ability as a writer.
A book review is generally a personal opinion but it must follow a certain rule of thumb or standard. It is supposed to be a
description, an (personal) evaluation and a critical analysis of the book. A review focuses on the main arguments in the book and the strength of the evidence (factual, statistical, empirical or otherwise) cited to prove the arguments. The review is supposed to state the author’s purpose and evaluate how well (from the reviewer’s point of view) the author has succeeded in this mission. The reviewer is supposed to present (his own) evidence to support his evaluation.
Kissoon failed in most of the above conditions or requirements in his poor review of Lall’s book. Freddie starts out his review by describing Lall’s writing style as ”recondite” (meaning it is difficult to understand and ambiguous) and ”esoteric” (meaning it is written only for a select few with a special knowledge of the subject matter). Far from these descriptions, Lall’s writings are easy to comprehend and written for the general reader. In fact, it is Kissoon’s writings that are recondite and esoteric and most
difficult to comprehend – eclectic, eccentric, abstruse, unfocused, arcane, unsubstantiated.
I don’t agree with all of Lall’s arguments or the substance of his writings. But Lall’s writings are very focused and he proves his points with facts and empirical data. He lays out his thesis statements and supports them and he does not manufacture information to prove his case. Freddie, on the other hand, hardly ever supports his arguments. In fact, Freddie has not even stated his main point in the review of the book. Freddie is not specific. His review is not clear and concise. It is not helpful in understanding what the book is about. In fact, it is damaging to Lall’s book of what is essentially an autobiographical experience of corrupt acts in Guyana.
One may not agree with Lall, but at least he tries to shed light and prove his arguments about corruption. I have never met nor spoken with Lall. But I am most impressed with his writing skill – which I consider unique among Guyanese. Lall is a hell of a writer and I situate him among an eloquent group of contemporary commentators that include Emile Mervin, Ravi Dev, Annan Boodram, Moses Nagamootoo, and M. Maxwell.
I respect them for their forthrightness and honesty. They are inspiring, honorable and extraordinary writers. I may not agree with their views and analyses of issues. But they make every effort to support their theses, unlike Freddie. Since I see Lall as an intellectual who does not lie or manufacture information, I don’t think his book concocts stories or experiences and I don’t think Lall has made up the information in the book. Freddie slams Lall for not writing about certain aspects of corruption. If Lall does not have evidence, how can he make such unsupported and uncorroborated claims of corruption? The man is honest. Only Freddie possesses such unique skills to make that kind of argument. I believe the book is worth the time, money and energy and I applaud Lall for penning it.