Pandaemonium

A BOOKISH DOZEN FOR THE NEW YEAR

book

A dozen books due in 2019, both fiction and non-fiction, that I’m looking forward to. Not books I have read, so not (yet, anyway) recommendations, but books I would like to read. There are a dozen more I might have included, and many more that I have missed, but this is a start.

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john lanchester the wall

John Lanchester, The Wall
Faber,
January

Where Lanchester’s Capital took on the financial crisis, his latest novel tackles another big issue: migration and the fear of the Other.

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toby green fistful of shells

Toby Green, A Fistful of Shells
Allen Lane, January

What looks like a fascinating history of West Africa, from before the slave trade to the Age of Revolution. Another of a recent crop of books beginning to illuminate what until recently have been the forgotten histories of Africa.

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samanta schwerbin mouthful of birds

Samanta Schweblin, Mouthful of Birds
Oneworld, February

Samanta Schweblin’s first novel Fever Dream was surreal, dark and unsettling. By all accounts, her new collection of short stories is even more so.

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richard evans hobsbawm

Richard Evans, Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History
Little, Brown, February

Whether Evans makes the best chronicler of Hobsbawm’s life, I’m not sure, but nevertheless a significant biography of a significant, and flawed, Marxist, historian and public intellectual.

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marlon james black leopard red wolf

Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Hamish Hamilton, February

James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings was an extraordinary work. His new novel is a fantasy set in a mythical Africa. I would not normally be drawn to it, but after A Brief History it feels like it must have a place on this list.

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jonathan ree witcraft

Jonathan Rée, Witcraft
Allen Lane, May

From the always readable, ever thought-provoking Jonathan Rée, a new ‘history of philosophy in English’ – and not just of philosophers.

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angela saini superior

Angela Saini, Superior
Fourth Estate, May

Books about ‘the return of racial science’ are often lightweight and more rhetorical than illuminating. I am hoping that Saini’s Superior has greater depth and nuance.

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michel houellebecq serotonin

Michel Houellebecq, Serotonin
Heinemann, August

Nihilistic, reactionary, misanthropist, and not as good a writer as he likes to think. Nevertheless Houellebecq is a unique cultural figure in contemporary Europe. His new novel – written before the gilets jaunes protests but telling a seemingly similar tale of disaffection – is out this month in France, but only in August in translation.

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pater gatrell the unsettling of europe

Peter Gatrell, The Unsettling of Europe
Allen Lane, August

 

A history of postwar Europe through the history of migration. A great lens, it could be an important book.

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margaret atwood the testaments

Margaret Atwood, The Testaments
Chatto, September

A sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, narrated by three women and set 15 years after Offred drove off into a mysterious future at the close of the original novel. One to approach with both excitement and trepidation.

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william darlymple

William Dalrymple, The Anarchy
Bloomsbury, October

A history of the East India Company, of its vast plunder and brutal rule.

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zadie smith grand union

Zadie Smith, Grand Union
Hamish Hamilton, October

Zadie Smith’s first collection of short stories.

4 comments

  1. Ray Halpin

    A few recommendations of my own, Kenan:

    These aren’t exactly recent, but well worth a look –

    The Morals of History, by Tzvetan Todorov.
    (”I perceive a goal shared by the arts and the human sciences … which usually practice such different forms and discourses: to reveal and, eventually, to modify the network of values that act as regulating principles in the life of a cultural group. Artists, like other specialists of what is human, do not really have the choice of whether or not to situate themselves in relation to this network, inasmuch as it is in the very nature of their project to bring to light an unknown side of human existence, which in turn could not be conceived outside of the relation to values. But, once they have become aware of this inevitable relation, they can assume it with more responsibility than if they remained unaware of its existence. In his book The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Milosz writes that many Polish nationalists discovered with horror how the anti-Semitic stance they had adopted out of bravado before the war was transformed, during the Nazi occupation, into material facts, that is, into human graves. It is in order to avoid this belated awareness and the horror that may accompany it that artists and scholars should immediately take on their role as intellectuals, their relation to values: they should accept their social role.”)

    Revolution On My Mind: Writing a Diary Under Stalin, by Jochen Hellbeck.
    (”The Communist attempt to usher in the new world preceded in great measure as a violent struggle against the ”remnants” of feudal and capitalist society, which bred selfish and exploitative attitudes. At the same time, the Bolsheviks sought to transform the population into politically conscious citizens who would embrace historical necessity and become engaged in building socialism out of understanding and personal conviction. Through a multitude of political-education campaigns the Soviet regime prodded individuals to consciously identify with the revolution (as interpreted by the party leadership), and thereby to comprehend themselves as active participants in the drama of history.”)

    ”Chevengur,” from The Portable Platonov:
    (””Chepurny and Piusya went off to make a personal inspection of the dead bourgeoisie. The dead were lying in clumps, in groups of three or four or even more, evidently trying to get close to one another, if only with parts of their bodies, during the last minutes of mutual separation. Chepurny touched the throats of the bourgeois with the back of his hand, the way a mechanic tests the temperature of a bearing, and it seemed to him that the bourgeois were all still alive.
    ‘I knocked the soul out of Duvailo’s neck just for good measure!’ said Piusya.
    ‘Quite right. The soul’s in the throat,’ Chepurny recalled. ‘Why do you think the Cadets string us up by the throat? So the soul gets burned up by the rope – then you die good and proper! It’s no good messing about, killing a man’s not easy.’
    Piusya and Chepurny felt every one of the bourgeois and remained unconvinced of their definitive death. Some of them seemed to be sighing; while others had their eyes half-closed as if they were shamming, meaning to crawl away in the night and continue their lives at the expense of Piusya and the rest of the proletariat. Chepurny and Piusya then decided to additionally insure the bourgeoisie against any continuation of life. They loaded their revolvers to the full and shot each prostrate property-owner, one by one, straight through the glands in their neck.
    ‘Now our cause is assured!’ said Chepurny once he’d got his task out of the way. ‘No proletarian in the world can be poorer than a corpse.'”)

    More recent and definitely worth a look –

    Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain’s Underclass, by Darren McGarvey.

    Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk.

    The End of Eddy, by Edouard Louis.

    Kolyma Stories, by Varlam Shalamov (NYRB).

  2. Cable Strada

    Yes, Superior is something I’m looking forward to. Here are more details:

    Superior by Angela Saini

    A powerful look at the non-scientific history of “race science,” and the assumptions, prejudices, and incentives that have allowed it to reemerge in contemporary science

    Superior tells the disturbing story of the persistent thread of belief in biological racial differences in the world of science. […]

    At a time when racialized nationalisms are a resurgent threat throughout the world, Superior is a powerful reminder that biologically, we are all far more alike than different.

    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/607248/superior-by-angela-saini/9780807076910/

    But why has race science “reemerged”, despite being discredited by ever-growing mountains of scientific evidence? It’s “reemerged” because racist scumbags are allowed “free speech”. These people aren’t interested in reason or reality. The quickest and most effective way to deal with their poison is to prosecute and imprison them. “Debate” is useless. Trump, Salvini and Bolsonaro were all “debated” and look where they are now.

    • Ray Halpin

      Free speech is the cornerstone of any open society, Cable. To dispense with it, or to limit it to those who are not ”racist scumbags,” is to effectively destroy the very liberty needed to expose wrongdoers and demagogues. Besides, I regard those who seek to silence their political opponents – even when those opponents are apparently ”racist scumbags” – as posing as big a threat to my personal liberty as the scumbags themselves. In effect there is no difference between them, because both diminish democracy and endanger freedom. Trump, Salvini and Bolsonaro certainly were debated, therefore we need to ask ourselves why their opponents lacked the credibility required to convince the electorate to reject them at the polling booth.

      And don’t forget – the populist scourge during times of crisis can cut both ways. One of the reasons the Right is resurgent in Europe right now is because the Left ruled most of the East for the best part of half a century, and in that time created a social, political and economic nightmare that only collapsed in 1989, much to the relief of the vast majority of those who had to live in it. History itself has discredited the Left in Europe, why is why the Right enjoy a standing they don’t really deserve. There are other reasons contributing to the rise of the Right in Europe, of course, but history – the product of free speech in the affected regions – is absolutely key.

      Bolsonaro was elected because the Brazilian left organized a continent-wide racket that saw the mineral and commercial wealth of the region exploited for the benefit of the few rather than the many. Salvini was elected because the EU chose to divert its unwanted migrant population into Italy, and to use its economic might to force post-crash austerity on a people that is tired of economic hardship. Trump was elected because working and middle-class Americans (the ‘deplorables’ and the ‘squeezed-middle’) were tired of seeing their wealth and opportunities being transferred to or destroyed by the 1%, which has gamed the political system in the US. Trump was boorishly anti-Establishment, and it was the Republican and Democratic establishments that the bulk of the American electorate rejected. And since wages and job opportunities have risen dramatically since Trump was elected (improvements, it ought to be noted, that he has had little to do with), his supporters are feeling pretty vindicated right now, and who could blame them.

      All of the books Kenan lists above, and some of the books I mentioned in my own list, exist because at the time of their composition freedom of speech was valued more highly than censorship. We know what Trump, Salvini, and Bolsonaro are because the press is free enough to investigate them. We can attack the re-emergence of racialism, and the reappearance on the hard left of the equally dubious concept of class, because no one is silencing us in the interests of their own political ambitions. So let the dogs bark, I say – they alert me to what I, and others like me, need to confront if we’re to protect ourselves from repression.

      • Cable Strada

        Typical entitled-white-male mansplaining. Unfortunately for you, the future is female, minority-majority and intersectional. As Muslims and other communities of colour increase both in absolute size and as a percentage of political and media representation, the so-called “Enlightenment” and its associated fetishes, “free speech” chief amongst them, will be sent where they belong: into the trash-can of history.

        But I’ll say this for racist scumbags like Trump, Orban and Bolsonaro: they’re sensible to oppose immigration, because it is the chief driver of progressive politics. If you support immigration, then I thank you: you’re helping to create a better world by abolishing yourself and the toxic white male hegemony you form part of.

        So let the dogs bark, I say – they alert me to what I, and others like me, need to confront if we’re to protect ourselves from repression.

        It’s not “repression”: it’s re-booting of a system that has been unjust, unfair and unprogressive for millennia.

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