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Review: The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Tue, 2020-05-12 10:21

I’ve thought for a while that one of the most honest films ever made about the subject of slavery in America is Quentin Tarantino’s Django. Even though the film is a fantasy (much like Inglourious Basterds was), the over-the-top depiction of the brutality of the slave system was, in its essence, completely true.

Having recently re-viewed Gone With The Wind, which President Trump clearly adores, I’m convinced that we need more movies — and more books — that present slavery as it actually was, and not as apologists for the Confederacy want us to see it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates new novel is nothing at all like Django, in the sense that it does not harp on the violence and brutality of plantation life in Virginia. The lead character, Hiram Walker, is the son of the plantation’s white owner and one of his slaves. Throughout the book, which Walker narrates, he refers to the slave-owner (and his owner) as ‘my father’. Much of the story revolves around the destruction of Black families, who were sold off individually as property by slave owners.

While there is little of the blood-letting which Tarantino showed, slavery is presented here as a slow-burning horror. In the end, one feels in addition to rage, a very deep sense of sadness at the pointless cruelty of everyday live in the pre-Civil War American South.

Review: Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists, by Julia Ebner

Mon, 2020-04-27 10:10

In 1943, the best-selling book Under Cover by John Roy Carlson described the pro-Axis groups that thrived in the US before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Carlson — whose real name was Arthur Derounian — joined many of the groups he investigated, and the book was illustrated with many photos of his membership cards in such groups. It took America’s entry into the war to finally lead to a crackdown on a wide range of groups, of the largest of which was called the “America First Committee”. (That name might set off some alarm bells.)

Eight decades later, in a radically different world, once again pro-fascist, racist and anti-Semitic organisations are thriving, and not only in the US. Julia Ebner has followed in Carlson’s footsteps, infiltrating both extreme rightist and Islamist groups, largely online. At great personal risk, she has revealed how these groups operate and thrive, and the threat they pose to democracy.

This is a well-written book that should serve as a wake-up call to governments and civil society, as it exposes the online roots of a hatred that has increasingly manifested itself in terrorist attacks across the Western world.

Review: Killing Eve: Die for Me, by Luke Jennings

Thu, 2020-04-23 10:51

This is the third, and final, book in the series that began with Codename: Villanelle. When I first read about that book, I was very keen to read it — and was not disappointed. The second book in the series, like the television show Killing Eve which is loosely based on the books, was something of a disappointment. And this third volume is, as expected, not even close to the standard of the first two books, and is no match for the Red Sparrows trilogy by Jason Matthews. The plot is absurd, the characterisation only skin-deep, and characters die and are reborn again with such frequency that there’s hardly any menace (why worry about a character dying when they might easily reappear in the next book, or even the next page?). Not recommended.