Approaching An Incredibly Complex Subject: Stanley Wolpert’s India and Pakistan

It’s cliché to say that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. But it’s a cliché that happens to be true. It’s also one of the best parts of being a reader – you get to just say, “Huh, I don’t know anything about x…” and then you find the right books.

But there’s a grave flip-side to this approach, because it’s frankly insulting to some subjects to approach them as if there were mere curiosities, a topic to peruse out of curiosity before moving on to something else. I’m talking primarily about history books, because intertwined with the complex figures and maps and geopolitics there are human lives and have always been for the entirety of this all-too-true story.

I bring this up because I recently decided to read up on a subject I knew almost nothing about – the relationship between India and Pakistan. And if you’re interested in learning about a fascinating subject that can’t help but influence our lives in this hyper-connected world, I’d recommend you check out Stanley Wolpert’s slim, but deeply informative, India and Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Cooperation?

Wolpert’s book is presented as a primer, or introduction, to this topic, which is part of what drew me to it. I wanted to make sure I got a basic idea of what was going on before diving too deeply into any particular analysis. And India and Pakistan does a great job of concisely explaining the…problematic relationship between these countries with the pacing of a good novel. There are major characters, in this case leaders whose beliefs and actions have determined the fates of nations, and a intricate plot that rivals the best fiction out there. Unfortunately, that plot, as I have acknowledged already, is painfully real, and there have been a number of tragedies affecting people from both sides.

But why? Well, it would be presumptuous of me to say because, having read Wolpert’s book, I am even more humbled by my ignorance than I was at the start. That said, it’s undeniable that many of the present challenges these countries face go back to their founding, which was the direct result of British actions. That is perhaps what surprised me most – I knew Britain had controlled the territory that makes up these countries, but I didn’t know just how involved and decisive Britain was in literally drawing up borders that remain more or less unchanged, nor the role that World War II played in this story, either. Now that I know more about these origins, it’s easier to track the progression of India and Pakistan, though it also depresses me how much the shadow of the past maintains such a stranglehold on the present, making solutions difficult to comprehend, let alone implement. On a brighter note, that reminds me that Wolpert actually does offer some tentative solutions at the conclusion of this book. Whether they’re good, bad, or even possible, that’s for you to decide.

I’ve been on a bit of a nonfiction kick for some time now and will try to inject more fiction in soon, but I want to conclude by saying (yet again – I promise this will be the last blog post to include this message) to those of you who love fiction and typically avoid nonfiction, I get it. I used to feel that way, but reading nonfiction has vastly improved my appreciation for and understanding of fiction, and I’m able to situate fiction in a larger historical context.

And in the end, I have a growing suspicion that all these disparate stories, factual and imaginative, must all be understood if any of them are to be understood. Or perhaps all these stories are really just one. Another cliché? Sure. True? Maybe.

So go read it. Now.



My take on Vladimir Nabokov’s still-controversial novel Lolita and why I think everyone should read a book that’s about…well…an unusual subject.


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