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Reading: Somini Sengupta & Helene Cooper

Somini Sengupta

The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young 
Helene Cooper

Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Monday, April 3 at 7PM

Two award-winning New York Times journalists write about the countries they left behind as children: Somini Sengupta author of The End of Karma: Hope and Fury among India’s Young (W. W. Norton & Company), and Helene Cooper, author of Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Simon & Schuster). 

These prominent women share their global perspectives in conversation with Thom Powers, host of the Pure Nonfiction podcast for this Half King Reading Series two-book event.


The End of Karma is a penetrating, personal look at contemporary India—the world’s largest democracy at a moment of transition.

Somini Sengupta emigrated from Calcutta to California as a young child in 1975. Returning thirty years later as the bureau chief for The New York Times, she found a vastly different country: one defined as much by aspiration and possibility—at least by the illusion of possibility—as it is by the structures of sex and caste. The End of Karma is an exploration of this new India through the lens of young people from different worlds: a woman who becomes a Maoist rebel; a brother charged for the murder of his sister, who had married the “wrong” man; a woman who opposes her family and hopes to become a police officer. Driven by aspiration—and thwarted at every step by state and society—they are making new demands on India’s democracy for equality of opportunity, dignity for girls, and civil liberties. Sengupta spotlights these stories of ordinary men and women, weaving together a groundbreaking portrait of a country in turmoil.

Madame President is the harrowing, but triumphant story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, leader of the Liberian women’s movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first democratically elected female president in African history. When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the 2005 Liberian presidential election, she demolished a barrier few thought possible, obliterating centuries of patriarchal rule to become the first female elected head of state in Africa’s history. Madame President is the inspiring, often heartbreaking story of Sirleaf’s evolution from an ordinary Liberian mother of four boys to international banking executive, from a victim of domestic violence to a political icon, from a post-war president to a Nobel Peace Prize winner. 
Somini Sengupta, a George Polk Award–winning journalist, covers the United Nations for The New York Times, for which she was previously the bureau chief in Dakar and New Delhi. She was born in Calcutta and lives in New York.
Helene Cooper is the Pulitzer Prize–winning Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, having previously served as White House Correspondent, diplomatic correspondent, and the assistant editorial page editor. She was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and lives in the Washington, DC area.
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