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Ready for a little Yuletide reading?

Find out what our reviewers recommend for this year's Best of Asia books

by Jeff Kingston

RIVALS: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade, by Bill Emmott (Allen Lane)

Emmott is a canny observer, here helping us better understand what the rise of China and India means for Japan, the European Union and the United States. In this volatile 21st-century drama, we now know he is right about the risks of extremism and economic crisis, and the folly of assuming an onward and upward march. So much of his advice on needed reforms makes sense, and thus one fears he will be ignored at our collective peril.

PROMOTING HUMAN RIGHTS IN BURMA: A Critique of Western Sanctions Policy, by Morten B. Pedersen (Rowman & Littlefield)

Burma is run by odious and incompetent miscreants who mistreat their people and are reviled by them. Whether it is shooting monks, torturing critics, hampering disaster rescue efforts or imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, this is a government with a damning track record. Pedersen knows the Burmese deserve a better government, but argues that sanctions are a dead end that will impede political change. He advocates ramping up humanitarian assistance as a way of alleviating misery now, while sowing seeds of long-term, sustainable change.

THE WASTED VIGIL by Nadeem Aslam (Faber & Faber)

This haunting novel about Afghanistan explores how fundamentalist Islam and terrorism map onto tribal feuds. In magical prose, Aslam trashes prospects for the war on terror in this beleaguered land. We encounter characters from Britain, the Soviet Union and the U.S., representing the misguided failures of meddlers, past and present. Here, Afghan men are mostly brutish and the women are the wretched of the Earth, suffering indignities and death due to vile machinations by religious zealots.

Jeff Kingston is director of Asian Studies at Temple University, Japan Campus

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