Round-Up of Nervous Reads
By Mandy Vere
With the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and the Emancipation Act of 1833, Britain seemed to wash its hands of slavery. Not so according to Marika Sherwood in her new book “After Abolition” (IB Tauris £19.50 HB) which chronicles the ways in which Liverpool and other industrial cities continued to profit from and support slavery, while uncovering “the stench of denial” which can still be smelt in our own fair city. If you missed his recent appearance in Liverpool, you can still read Moazzam Begg’s account of imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, for a crime he didn’t commit and whose precise nature has never been determined, “Enemy Combatant: the Terrifying True Story of a Briton in Guantanamo” (Pocket £7.99).
And if you’re eagerly awaiting the reissue of “The Key to My Cell” by Des Warren – his account of imprisonment as one of the Shrewsbury 3 - you can meanwhile immerse yourself in his son, Nick’s account of growing up in the 70s as the son of a union activist, “Thirty Years in a Turtleneck Sweater” (Ebury £7.99). While we’re on the subject, here is a fabulous anthology of prison writings to dip into: “Conscience Be My Guide” is edited by Geoffrey Bould (Weaver £12.99) and ranges from Sylvia Pankhurst to Rosa Luxemburg and Primo Levi to Mohandas Gandhi. As a prison guard said to Egyptian feminist Nawal el Sadaawi, “One written word in the political cell is a more serious matter than having a pistol.”
For Ayaan Hirsi Ali, writing a film about her views on Islam’s treatment of Muslim women proved just as dangerous. Her co-filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh was murdered and her own life threatened, but she refuses to be silent. In “The Caged Virgin” (Pocket £7.99) she issues a call for the emancipation of women from brutal oppression, and in her autobiography, “Infidel” (Free Press £12.99) she tells how a bright dutiful little girl evolved into a pioneering freedom fighter. A freedom fighter of a different kind is Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, whose autobiography “Unbowed: One Woman’s Story” is out in hardback (Heinemann £17.99). In 1977 she established the Green Belt Movement which helps to restore indigenous forests while assisting rural women by paying them to plant trees in their villages. As she says, “I knew that we could not live with a political system that killed creativity, nurtured corruption, and produced people who were afraid of their own leaders. It would be only a matter of time before the government and I came into conflict.” Still in Africa, but fiction this time, I’ve cried, laughed and learnt a lot about the Biafran war through the marvelous novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Half of a Yellow Sun” (4th Estate £14.99 HB). Don’t be put off by it being a Richard and Judy choice – they’ve got it right this time!
Finally a timely book about use and abuse of language, “Unspeak: Words Are Weapons” by Steven Poole (Abacus £7.99) hopes to do for the spindoctor’s art what Naomi Klein did for branding in “No Logo”. From ‘anti-social behaviour orders’ to ‘climate change’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the inevitable ‘war on terror’, Poole slices through a world of euphemism and propaganda to expose the cynical manipulation we are subject to.
Oh, and really finally, a little booklet which shows how words can be used to empower, “Good Chants for a Lively Picketline” (Syracuse Cultural Workers £2.99) – collected from union members and activists working to build a better world – offers a little creativity to help us out of the ‘Bush and Blair have got to go’ rut!
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