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Recommended reading from our Book Prize finalists (2 of 2)
Memoir, poetry, a guide to politics and a feminist handbook - read on for our second round up
We asked the finalists for this year’s Orwell Prizes for Political Writing and Political Fiction for the best piece of political writing - fiction or non-fiction, book or journalism - they’ve come across recently. Read on for our second round up - and then click here for our first set of recommendations, which went out earlier this week. You can read an extract from all of this year’s shortlisted books via Exact Editions.
Next, we’ll be asking the authors what they would most like readers to take away from their work. And - why do they write? Plus - look out for insights and recommendations from the reporters nominated for The Orwell Prize for Journalism, The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils and The Orwell Prize for Reporting Homelessness.
The story goes that when a young Tom Stoppard went for a job interview, he mentioned on his CV that he was interested in politics. To put this claim to the test, the interviewer asked Stoppard to name the current Home Secretary, to which he answered: ‘I said I was interested, not obsessed.’ I like this story because it reminds us that most people maintain a detachment from the daily political narrative which is entirely healthy. And it seems to be these people for whom Rafael Behr has written his excellent book Politics: A Survivor’s Guide. For the reader who is ‘neither activist nor apathetic; engaged, but not fully immersed.’ In other words – for most of us. And, like Behr’s newspaper columns, the book offers not shrill polemic but something far rarer and more valuable: clarity. He takes the maelstrom of recent British politics and somehow, miraculously, makes a kind of sense of it: often through the keenness of his insights but just as often through the sheer deftness of his turns of his phrase.
Jonathan Coe, author of Bournville (Viking)
I have found the extracts from Daniel Finkelstein’s forthcoming, Hitler, Stalin, Mum & Dad: A Family memoir of Miraculous Survival, utterly compelling. The personal stories of each of the family members would be worthy of a book in their own right, but to show how Jewish people faced persecution from both Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany shows how flimsy the lines of ideology can be. The Far Right and the Far Left, when taken to their brutal, murderous extremes, are really not all that different. Both marginalise and attempt to eliminate the ‘other’ in society. Finkelstein’s reflection that he does not hold the same hope for British Jews as he did a decade ago are sobering and a reminder to us all that the values of democracy, freedom and tolerance are not something that can be taken for granted.
Hannah Barnes, author of Time to Think (Swift Press)
I’m really enjoying a book that I’m reading right now: the historical novel HHhH by the French author Laurent Binet. Having recently moved to Berlin, I’ve found myself sucked back into reading about this city’s dark past. The book is based on the life of Reinhard Heydrich, a senior Nazi who was chief of the secret services and an architect of Hitler’s final solution. The novel is like nothing I’ve read before – an innovative mixture of fiction and historical fact that is at equal turns witty and chilling. A central theme is the craft of writing and how we should tell real stories. Paradoxically, the fictitious elements help the whole endeavour gain in veracity.
John McManus, author of Inside Qatar (Icon Books)
I’ve been reading Joelle Taylor’s C+nto & Othered Poems and admire its combination of beauty and ferocity, its playfulness and humour at the same time as addressing a site of prolonged trauma, of discriminatory invisibility. There’s a sense of grandeur and huge pride that swells from the pages but they are also so tender and full of hurt. The best of political writing enmeshes us in an issue, teaches us something and makes us feel acutely, all at the same time.
Diana Evans, author of A House for Alice (Vintage)
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
Barbara Kingsolver, author of Demon Copperhead (Faber)
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West's brilliant account of her 1937 journey across Yugoslavia, on the eve of the Second World War. It was published in 1943 in two volumes. By this point the Nazis had overrun the cities she visited with her husband, in the company of a garrulous Serb poet and a Croatian professor. The book's epigraph reads: "To my friends in Yugoslavia, who are now all dead or enslaved." West is an extraordinary writer: erudite, witty, and dazzling, in her description of places and people. In Sarajevo she visits the town hall where Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie held a reception, shortly before their assassination. West's portrait of the doomed archduke is damning. "He was ungracious as only a man can be who has never conceived the idea of graciousness," she writes. Her twentieth century themes are relevant today: the arrogance of dying empires; and how deep-seated historical grudges can explode, plunging Europe into war.
Luke Harding, author of Invasion (Faber)
I read so much these days, particularly because my work spans so many disciplines and sectors, from anthropology to activism to medicine. It is difficult to choose, yet The Feminist Killjoy Handbook by Sara Ahmed has been a wonderfully relatable read. It is a book that many of us needed, particularly those of us labelled “killjoys” and “troublemakers”. There is a beautiful quote: “When you expose a problem you pose a problem. It might then be assumed that the problem would go away, if you would just stop talking about it or if you went away.” Here, Ahmed summarised so many of my early experiences of raising the issue of racism within healthcare, as well as the experiences of so many Black women who expose an issue within their organisation or spaces. We do not necessarily choose to be “killjoys”, but often we must point to problems for our own survival.
Annabel Sowemimo, author of Divided (Wellcome Collection)
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