Book Launch: Fragments of Grace: My Search for Meaning in the Strife of South Asia
Pamela Constable, author of the newly published Fragments of Grace: My Search for Meaning in the Strife of South Asia (Brassey's, 2004), spoke of her experiences as South Asia bureau chief for the Washington Post during the tumultuous years 1998 – 2002 and read selections from her book at an Asia Program book launch on June 30, 2004.
Describing her memoir as "a work of intuition and reflection" rather than a scholarly tome offering policy recommendations, Constable deftly juxtaposed her private life and feelings with the earth shattering public events that dominated her years in the subcontinent. Among those momentous public events providing the backdrop to her South Asian sojourn and her Wilson Center remarks were the unrelieved tensions and two near wars between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, communal riots and mass murder, a military coup in Pakistan, armed insurgency in many of the countries of the region, the massacre of the Nepalese king and most of his family by the crown prince, and above all, the September 11 attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism.
Yet Constable's volume, and her remarks at the June 30 book launch, emphasized the momentary and the transient, the particular, the individual, those who are not and never will be power brokers. The resiliency of beggar children, the serenity of an isolated mountain pass, honor killings, the power of religious faith, the grinding poverty faced by hundreds of millions in the region, the joy of returning home to a beloved pet and the loneliness of returning to a home unoccupied by another human, the desolation of the cemetery, the universality of human needs and responses – all these topics and others gave Constable's observations a human face.
As one might anticipate from a Washington audience, the questions that followed her remarks generally focused less on the personal than the geopolitical. Frequently, she conceded, she would become discouraged and demoralized by the magnitude of the difficulties and the paucity of resources – human and otherwise – with which to manage them. Yet almost always, she added, there were the "unexpected, generous gestures from people who could not afford to make them" – the "fragments of grace" that supplied her title and sustained her through the dark hours of the night.