From Publishers Weekly
Van Gogh, a provocative media personality in the Netherlands, was shot and stabbed on an Amsterdam street in November 2004 by a young radical, the son of Moroccan immigrants, who accused him of blasphemy against Islam. When Buruma (Bad Elements
) returned to his homeland in an effort to make sense of the brutal murder, he quickly realized there was more to the story than a terrorist lashing out against Western culture. Exploiting the tensions between native-born Dutch and Muslim immigrants, van Gogh drew attention to himself with deliberately inflammatory political theater that escalated beyond control. Buruma refuses to blame the victim, though, giving equal weight to critics who insist Islam must adapt to European culture rather than the other way around, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch politician who scripted van Gogh's final film, an avant-garde indictment of the religion's treatment of women. There is a strong sense of journalistic immediacy to Buruma's cultural inquiry, and if the result is a slim volume, that's because his dense, thoughtful prose doesn't waste a single word. (Sept. 11)
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The well-traveled Ian Buruma, a Bard College professor, previously published Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies
(2005) and The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan
(2002), among others. Buruma's account of Theo van Gogh's death was first published in the New Yorker
in January 2005. The book, an expanded version of the magazine piece, is timely. Buruma receives much praise for his writing and reporting skills, though several critics comment on the book's lack of structure. Buruma's willingness to examine the story from all angles is his strength, leading in the final analysis to a nuanced understanding of the situation and an evenhanded piece on a seemingly impenetrable issue. The book suffers from this impenetrability as well: Buruma provides a record of the events but few answers to the questions he inevitably raises. But has anyone else managed to answer these questions yet?
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.