The Vortex: A True Story of History’s Deadliest Storm, an Unspeakable War, and Liberation

Ecco. Mar. 2022. 528p. ISBN 9780062985415. $29.99. HIST
In this absorbing chronicle, anthropologist Carney (What Doesn’t Kill Us) and human rights researcher Miklian cover the final months of unified Pakistan in 1970. First, they document the Great Bhola Cyclone where nearly half a million perished, mainly due to the West Pakistan government’s neglecting to warn residents. Within weeks, the military dictator General Yahya Khan overturned unified Pakistan’s first free elections and led an invasion of East Pakistan, a predominately Bengali region, in which over 150,000 were killed and 250,000 women and girls were raped. In the U.S., the Nixon administration was aware of the atrocities but remained silent, the authors argue; instead, the U.S. provided arms and promised further support to the new dictatorship after Yahya brought together an historic summit between the States and China. Carney and Miklian also recount the heroic responses of Bengali people, a former soccer star, and two Americans living in Dacca in the aftermath of the storm and as they fought back against the atrocities. When it became clear that the Bengali revolutionaries would win their war of liberation from Pakistan, Yahya’s generals killed scores of Bengali intellectuals and civil servants and destroyed infrastructure and the treasury to hamper independent Bangladesh’s success. Carney and Miklian argue that Bangladesh’s liberation was won not by Westerners (including former Beatle George Harrison, who organized a novel aid concert that was itself mired in legal issues) but by regular Bengalis, who overcame both West Pakistan and the United States.
VERDICT An essential history of the infuriatingly tragic creation of Bangladesh amid a devastating storm, genocide, war, political intrigue, and hope.
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