Book news

  • Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century by Kehinde Andrews – review
    Afua Hirsch

    A new survey of western black radical thought is lucid, fluent and compelling

    Black radicalism, Kehinde Andrews argues, is the most misunderstood ideology of the 20th century. And he’s right. It has become a vague term, lazily employed to encompass everything from the black nationalism of WEB Du Bois or Martin Delany, the Pan-Africanism of Kwame Ture (AKA Stokely Carmichael) and the black Marxism of Amilcar Cabral to the self-sufficiency of Marcus Garvey and the cultural nationalism of the Nation of Islam.

    The reasons for misunderstanding black radicalism are intertwined with the reasons it exists in the first place – black thought has been minimised, dismissed and treated with contempt.

    You might not agree with Andrews, but we need him

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  • Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller – review
    Johanna Thomas-Corr

    The English writer brings the full range of his virtuosity to bear in a Napoleonic-era tale that veers from comedy and romance to outright menace

    It’s a wonder Andrew Miller is not a household name. Now 58, he has been publishing confident, controlled fiction for more than 20 years; whether he alights on 18th-century Paris or 1990s Los Angeles, his novels are always suffused with wit, grit and melancholy wisdom. He’s the kind of novelist other writers admire and readers mean to get around to, who makes it on to Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime but rarely the bestseller charts. Perhaps his excellent eighth book, a cat-and-mouse thriller set at the height of the Napoleonic wars, will change that, though the fact it’s not made this year’s Man Booker longlist is already something of a travesty.

    Now We Shall Be Entirely Free opens in 1809, shortly after the Spanish campaign of the Peninsular war. John Lacroix, a wounded British officer in his early 30s, is being transported back to the barely inhabited Somerset estate of his deceased father. His housekeeper nurses him back from the brink of death, but John is altered by war – in particular, an atrocity that took place in a quiet mountain village while the British army retreated from Napoleon’s forces. Instruction comes for John to return to his regiment but, wondering whether he has “lost some common, invisible thread of sense”, he decides to flee to the Hebrides instead, packing his violin as he begins his precarious journey.

    Related: Andrew Miller: 'I was trying to leap out of my habitual mind'

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  • How to Love a Jamaican and Heads of the Colored People – reviews
    Anthony Cummins

    Impressive debuts by Alexia Arthurs and Nafissa Thompson-Spires bring grit and wit to issues around racial identity

    The stories in the debut collection from Alexia Arthurs shuttle between Jamaica, her birthplace, and the US, where she lives. Among the varied scenarios you find depictions of island life, in which a betrayed wife turns up at the home of her husband’s lover brandishing a (blunt) machete; a student party in Brooklyn brought to a halt by a quarrel about Lena Dunham’s Girls (“I fucking hate that show... I really can’t imagine Hannah or any of her friends having POC friends... it glorifies gentrification”); and the life story of a pop star resembling Rihanna, portrayed as a depressive self-Googler whose mother, despite her misgivings (“I don’t see why yuh can’t sell music wid yuh clothes on”), tenderly looks after her after the sudden death of a co-star in a never-to-be-released promo.

    Several stories examine US society through the prism of the characters’ motherland, and vice versa. “Yuh nah be’ave yuhself... so dey lef’ yuh wid me until yuh can be’ave yourself,” says Trudy, grandmother of 14-year-old Brooklynite Stacy, sent by her parents to live back in Jamaica after she’s found giving a classmate a blowjob at school. Stacy’s parents blame American mores, emboldened by the memory, for her mother Pam, raised in Jamaica, of being beaten when, at 16, a love letter was discovered in her exercise book. Yet other stories complicate the picture by showing how repressive attitudes to sexuality blight the lives of female characters who don’t leave Jamaica, punished as “slack” for getting pregnant by predatory men.

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