How Not to Review

Reviewing a book is a challenging task, the first stage of which – one might suppose – is to read the book with care and attention. Not everyone given a book to review does that. Some just skim and dip to find something to challenge. The resulting ‘review’ is an ego-trip. This happened to my book Tagore Speaks to the Twenty-First Century.[1] I was very upset that my act of devotion to Tagore was treated in such a carelessly cruel way. I will not name the peer-reviewed online journal [‘XX’] because I would rather no one read the ‘review’. The editor said he was sorry and kindly suggested I write a short piece explaining my project and what the book means to me and indirectly respond to the ‘review’, which he would publish in a future issue. I may do that, but for now I will just share the letter of complaint I wrote to the ‘reviewer’, who has not replied. I’ll call him ‘DR’.

Dear DR

Last year I self-published a much revised version of my doctoral dissertation ‘Towards One World: A Journey Through the English Essays of Rabindranath Tagore’. For that paper and the research behind it, I was awarded a PhD by the University of Exeter in 2013. I called my book Tagore Speaks to the Twenty-First Century. This was the book you ‘reviewed’ for [XX]. Let me tell you something about my book, which evidently you did not bother to read.

I am not a career academic. If I had been I would have been extremely upset by your ‘review’, as it could have damaged my reputation as a Tagore scholar. I am upset anyway, since [the editor] does a great job with XX such that material published in the journal comes up readily in internet searches. I hope as few people as possible find your ‘review’ that way.

Tagore Speaks was not meant to be an academic work as such. My intention when I produced this version of my thesis was to write something useful for people I came across in my work as an activist. People in my country have usually not heard of Tagore, or have some vague idea of the Indian mystic who wrote Gitanjali. So I wanted something I could share, to provide a solid grounding in what Tagore said to the world a century ago, and show how his warnings and his wisdom are valuable now, as we struggle with ecological and social crises.

I deliberately removed all the 933 footnotes from the thesis to make the text an easier read. Instead of footnotes I provided a section of Notes at the end with enough information for any interested scholar to locate my source material. I referred to this decision in my Preface, which it appears you did not read, or you would not have ended your ‘review’ with a snide remark about my ‘failure to conform to a particular style-sheet and in the process providing readers with incomplete data regarding notes and references [being] a serious offence’.

I’m not going to go through your ‘review’, because you wrote so little about my book – again, clearly, you did not bother to read it. Your first explicit criticism was this: ‘Ms Marsh, however, leaves out The Centre of Indian Culture (1919), a lecture delivered by Tagore in Madras on 9 February 1919 […]’. Never mind your – deliberate? – discourtesy of referring to me as ‘Ms Marsh’: I am ‘Dr Marsh’, the criticism is wrong. I do discuss that essay, and it is listed in my Bibliography, where I refer to its inclusion in the collection Towards Universal Man (1961), pp. 202-30. Evidently you did not read my Bibliography either. You refer to the version in Vol. II of Das’s English Writings. The two versions differ a little, as one often finds with Tagore’s works in English, but they are essentially the same.

It seems to me that you used [the editor’s] invitation to review my book as an opportunity to display your own bits and pieces of knowledge about Tagore’s relevance today. I hope that anyone who comes across your ‘review’ will see that, and not judge my book adversely. Fortunately I do not have to rely on selling at arms length via the internet – so far most copies have gone to people who have met and got to know me first.

On a more positive note, I see that the subject of your own doctoral research is ‘Rabindranath Tagore’s Prose Fictions and the Idea of the “Nation”’, and curiously enough the title of my MA dissertation was ‘The Village and the World: A Political Reading of Rabindranath Tagore’s Prose Fiction’ (at if you’d like to read it). You may be interested to read a review of Tagore Speaks by someone who has read it and understood its purpose: .

With best wishes for your future career.

Yours sincerely,

Christine Marsh



[1] My book is available at for only the cost of international postage.

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