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Books of the Year, from Ross Bradshaw

My reading this last year has been pretty random, and my faves are not confined to these books, but these are the ones still sitting on my desk for no good or bad reason. So these will pass as my books of the year.
Firstly, my book of the year has to be Rory Stewart’s Politics on the Edge (Cape). I’d never paid him much attention until I saw him being interviewed at length by Ash Sarkar on Novara Media. Wait a minute, here’s a former Conservative Minister engaging fully with a Muslim Marxist… The book is very well written and quite scary about the nature of real parliamentary politics. Things like there were only nine key activists in his Conservative Party in Penrith and the Border, or like when he was appointed Minister for Prisons he knew nothing at all about prisons or like when, a known expert on the Indian subcontinent,  the Conservative Government gave him Africa for his brief… And when he was in charge of Africa the civil servants didn’t bother to invite him to the meeting to discuss a coup in Zimbabwe. This was government by chaos, and few come out of it well. Stewart did get stuck into improving prisons though, in his whirligig tour through department after department.
Comrades Come Rally: Manchester Communists in the 1930s and 1940s by Michael Crowley (Bookmarks) is about a world we have lost: a world of trade unionists, Jewish lefties, folk singers, bibliophiles, women workers, Spanish Civil War volunteers – the network of activists based in the old CPGB that made Manchester a radical centre at that time.
On the fiction front there’s The Painter’s Friend by Howard Cunnell (Picador), the story of an artist who ends up living on the water, in an island community of lost souls which is under threat from developers. Everyone has their own story, and there are moments of despair and of solidarity. It is fiction but I can’t help but feel there’s been many real life situations like this over the last few years.
Kairos by Kenny Erpenbeck (Granta) is perhaps my favourite novel of the year. Warning though, the core relationship in the book is one of coercive control of a young woman by an older man.  The married man is of course a bastard, but there’s also a sense of what might be lost as the GDR collapses. In Siblings by Brigitte Reimann (Penguin) the GDR is still functioning. The main character is a young woman artist employed to teach painting to factory workers. The sibling aspect is about the way that three siblings deal with the GDR. One has already defected…
 In one of the books – I forget which! – a visit to West Germany shows the shops full of goods, luxury everywhere, but homeless beggars too – something that would never happen on the other side of the wall.
Buchi Emecheta came to Nottingham, what?, forty years ago for a packed reading at the old WEA on Shakespeare Street. There were perhaps 150 people there. I’d not read anything of hers since then, but the reissue of her novels drew me in to The Joys of Motherhood. The book opens with a woman running away, and there’s a lot to run away from in this Nigerian novel. The bride price, a house slave being killed because she would not willingly jump into the grave of her recently deceased owner, minimal education for girls, funerals that take years to pay off, polygamy… traditional Nigerian life was as patriarchal as it could get, but did things improve with the a money economy, the move from village to Lagos, to law and order? The book gets more interesting then, with conscription of men to fight for Britain in the war against Germany (the men now knowing what side they might be on), the start of a discussion on independence, a developing Nigerian diaspora, intermarriage but also conflict between Yoruba and Igbo, the difficulties of pastoralists… And the joy of motherhood? “The joy of being a mother was the joy of giving all to your children, they said.” Maybe not.
This year Claire Keegan is no longer the author of the year – though her novella, short story really, So Late in the Day is worth reading, This year it’s Ann Patchett. Bel Canto (4th Estate) is probably her best known book, in which a group of South American terrorists/freedom fighters take over a Government residency expecting to catch the Vice President and negotiate for their cause. He’s not at the function so they find themselves in control of an opera singer, a Japanese businessman and a cast of others. The negotiations drag on and on, and on, with the terrorists and their charges finding ways of being together… one terrorist takes up opera. How will it end? Patchett keeps us guessing, but we engage with her characters as they engage with each other. Patchett’s These Precious Days (Bloomsbury) probably would not have been published if Patchett was not already a famous writer, but fortunately she is and it has been. The subjects range from Snoopy to Patchett’s views of the covers of her books internationally, including Bel Canto. The stand out essay though is the one that gives the book title. Patchett gets to know Tom Hanks’ PA, Sooki. They become friends, with Sooki moving in to see out the COVID pandemic – and possibly her life, as she had pancreatic cancer. It’s a marvellous invocation of female friendship.
We know that the author of Clouds over Paris (Pushkin) did die. Felix Hartlaub was a German soldier who did not survive the war.. This book comprises his notebooks about his time in Paris in the German occupation. He did nothing bad, just observed what was going on. The book is slight, the author’s casual observations are those of a travel writer abroad in a strange city. But he is a close observer and the book adds something to the category of what ordinary Germans did or thought during the war. He would, it is clear, have been a great writer, but this anti-Nazi German did not survive the war, missing presumed dead in Berlin in 1945.
Two more, and that will be enough. Carson McCullers The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Penguin) has a large cast and we get to know them. In the Deep South John Singer, a deaf mute, becomes the confidant of many people, Black and white. Like McCullers Singer is – well, probably is – gay, many times an outsider. The others who float through the book include a hardworking but despairing Black doctor, teenagers, the owner of an all night cafe where the lost souls of that town turn up. Any one of the characters could form the basis of a good novel. McCullers offers them all to us. Maybe, typing these words, this was my book of the year.
Finally, let’s get a little more specialist with Rain of Ash: Roma, Jews and the Holocaust by Ari Joskowicz (Princeton). For many reasons – cultural, political, economic – the industrial scale murder of Roma and Sinti people in WW2 has been barely covered, either by the survivors or by outside commentators, compared to other aspects of the Holocaust. The late Donald Kenrick’s work is worth searching out if this subject interests you. The strength of Rain and Ash, however, is in its detailed description of how Roma and Sinti people worked with Jewish organisations to seek recognition of the genocide they experienced. Indeed they had to fight to have it understood that Roma and Sinti people were persecuted on racial grounds.
So, enough… it’s been a good year for reading. This piece could have been a lot longer, but I did not want to try your patience.
All in stock or available to order at Five Leaves
Ross Bradshaw


Labour Revolt in Britain 1910-14 by Ralph Darlington

A review by Mike Hamlin

I first learnt about British Labour History as a student in the 1960s, through such books as Allen Hutt’s British Trade Unionism (1941), and A. L. Morton & George Tates’s The British Labour Movement (1957). These were grand, chronological narratives, starting early in the
nineteenth century and finishing around the time of the second world war. They would cover, in the course of a few brief chapters – The Growth and Decline of Chartism, The New Unionism 1880-1900, The Origins of the Labour Party 1900-1910, The Great Unrest 1910 -14, The Post-War Crisis 1919-24 and finally, The General Strike and After 1925-29.

They were written in a clear, confident style and broadly reflected the political outlook of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Empirical exemplification was sometimes rather thin but the overall narrative was straightforward and often uplifting, even through periods of setback and temporary defeat. Morton and Tate in particular, had a well-thumbed chapter on ‘Socialism and the Great Unrest’ and judging by my detailed annotations, I must have used it as the basis for more than one long forgotten essay or talk!

Re-reading for this review, much came flooding back and I was surprised how well it had prepared me for Ralph Darlington’s important new study. ‘Labour Unrest’ is here, more accurately, replaced by ‘Labour Revolt’ and the incisive focus on the years 1910-14 are given the space they deserve across 336 detailed pages. The book’s starting point is that the ‘Labour Revolt’ that swept Britain in the four years leading up to First World War was one of the most sustained, dramatic and violent explosions of industrial militancy and social conflict that this country has ever experienced.

‘The strike wave involved a number of large-scale disputes in strategically important sections of the economy. A protracted strike in the South Wales coalfield in 1910-11 was followed in the summer of 1911 by national seamen’s, dockers’ and railway workers’ strikes, as well as a Liverpool general transport strike. There were national miners’ and London transport workers’ strikes in 1912, a series of Midlands metal workers’ strikes and Dublin transport workers’ lockout in 1913, and a London building workers’ lockout in 1914.’

During this time, a significant proportion of the industrial workforce took part in 4,600 other strikes for higher wages, better working conditions and union recognition. Women workers were also involved, often for the first time and school students walked out of their schools in the September of 1911. The strikes were on a totally new scale and mobilised a wide and diverse range of often younger workers.

‘It was a revolt dominated by unskilled and semi-skilled workers, encompassing both members of established and recognised trade unions, and also workers hitherto unorganized and/or unrecognized who became engaged in a fight to build collective organization and for union recognition against the hostility of many employers. Action largely took place unofficially and independently of national trade union leaderships’

This youthful energy and the spontaneous dynamic of the militancy, from both men and women, once unleashed, took most of the more traditional Labour movement leaders by surprise. However, Jim Larkin, a leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, acutely and accurately observed that ‘labour has lost its old humility and its respectful finger touching its cap’ . Outcomes were impressive. Across the four years, overall trade union membership increased by 62%, from 2.5 million in 1910 to 4.1 million in 1914. The proportion of workers who were union members (union density) rose from 14.6% to 23%. And the number of women workers represented by trade unions increased by an encouraging 54%, breaking out into areas beyond its previous textile industry enclave.

Inevitably, there were underlying limitations and weaknesses, serious strike setbacks and defeats. On the industrial front – ‘national trade union officials were able to reassert their authority and control over embryonic rank-and-file networks’. And in terms of national politics – ‘The Liberal government was able to accommodate the simultaneous three ‘rebellions’ (labour strikes, threat of civil war in Ireland and the campaign for women’s suffrage) because they were essentially discrete struggles only bound together tangentially in a diffuse and uncoordinated fashion’. But most significantly of all – ‘the strike wave was to suddenly shudder to a halt, stopped in its tracks by the onset of the First World War in August 1914.

This is an important book, in many ways definitive. For me, its main strength lies in its specific focus on those four crucial years 1910-14. Its structure is also, to my mind, exemplary. It’s arranged in four parts. Part one (two chapters) provides the general backdrop and context to the revolt: industrially, socially, economically and politically. Part two, which forms the majority of the book (five chapters in all), details the scope and outcomes of the strike waves themselves, moving chronologically, across the years under consideration. Part three, is a thematic and analytical assessment of the most distinctive features of the strike wave with a focus on new forms of industrial organization and militancy, along with broader aspects of explicitly political radicalization. Finally, part four looks at the aftermath and legacy, industrially and politically, both during the war years and immediately after.

The concluding bibliography, too often missing from studies these days, is also worthy of a mention. And here, taking up a full chapter-length to itself, we have a resource which is both richly extensive and incredibly useful in its own right.

Labour Revolt in Britain 1910-14 fundamentally aligns with Bob Holton’s earlier study British Syndicalism 1900 -1914 (also published by Pluto), in concluding that much of the ‘labour revolt’ of these years acquired ‘proto-syndicalist’ aspects – i.e. demonstrated ‘forms of social action which lie between vague revolt and clear-cut revolutionary action’. At the time, Holton (writing in 1976) made the challenge that ‘writers on the ‘labour unrest’ have not however, taken up and developed this theme. Analysis of social consciousness and behaviour during the strike wave remains extremely thin and often superficial, with the activities and motives of those who participated still rather obscure.’ With this new book, Darlington has categorically risen to Holton’s challenge and has answered each of his points fully and convincingly.

In short, Ralph Darlington and Pluto Press have produced a lively, impeccably researched and politically informed work – it deserves to be read and enjoyed by any serious labour historian.

This review first appeared in the newsletter of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Labour History Society

Labour Revolt in Britain is available at Five Leaves Bookshop or by mail order at

A Length of Road: finding myself in the footsteps of John Clare, by Robert Hamberger

How do you choose to read a book? a recommendation or a good fly leaf ? I often wonder at gems which disappear through the cracks. This book which came to me via a promotion event at the Five Leave Bookshop which I was drawn to because of my interest in the poet John Clare.

John Clare known as the ‘peasant poet’ had little education, was poor, and worked as a farm labourer. At times relying on parish relief. The brilliance of his poetry, filled with intelligence, and lyrical beauty, was a giant leap from the expectations of his class. He brought language, grammar and detailed observations of the natural world which could only be born from his experience of working rural life. For these reasons, in addition to the struggles he had with his mental health, he was someone who my parents loved and championed. Hence my interest.

A Length of Road is written by the poet Robert Hamberger, it is his account of walking in 1995, from Epping Forest to Northamptonshire. Retracing the route take by John Clare in 1841, when he escaped from a psychiatric hospital in Essex and walked over 80 miles home. Later that year he was committed to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum (now St Andrews Hospital) eventually dying there in 1864.

Robert Hemberger, chose to make this journey in reverence to John Clare, and to face his own personal demons. At the time his relationship with his wife was ending and he was on the cusp of permanently moving out from her and their three children. The book is well written and stands alone as a reflective memoir. Robert leads us through a working-class childhood, his loss of father figures, meeting his wife and having children, the cherishing and loss of male friendships. The strength of this book lies in his honesty and his own sense of culpability. There is an avoidance of placing blame on others which enables us to share with Robert his struggles with mental health and considerations of gender and sexuality. Without gaining conclusion Robert emerges from the roadside with knowledge as to his own resilience.

This writing skilfully takes you between the landscape of John Clare, his life and works to Robert’s story and poetry. Contrasting a landscape, which passes the same road markers and plants as Claire did in 1841 and is now also populated by lorries, the A1 and fast-food restaurants. Change and our journey through it, appearing to be the theme of this book.

This is a thoughtful account of personal growth, and a great introduction to the poetry of both John Clare and Robert Hemberger. I have read many well promoted books and memoirs which I have enjoyed much less. All hail to John Clare.

All nature has a feeling by John Clare

All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks
Are life eternal: and in silence they
Speak happiness beyond the reach of books;
There’s nothing mortal in them; their decay
Is the green life of change; to pass away
And come again in blooms revivified.
Its birth was heaven, eternal it its stay,
And with the sun and moon shall still abide
Beneath their day and night and heaven wide.

Cathy Symes

Making Palestine’s History: Women’s Testimonies, by Jehan Helou (Spokesman Books)

This interesting book brings to the forefront the struggle of Palestinian women for National and women’s liberation between 1969 to 1984. Comprising eighteen oral testimonies with Palestinian women, including a round table discussion, the author is to be commended on the quality of the translation and her perseverance in bringing these to the attention of a wider audience. That it took two years to translate the testimonies from colloquial Arabic into English, highlights the passion and commitment to this project.

The introduction to the testimonies by the author is a necessary requirement as it reminds the reader of the long period of struggle waged by women from the diaspora, as well as the occupied territories as part of the Palestinian Revolution, with most of the grassroots mobilisation and organisation through the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) – the umbrella organisation for the women’s movement.

As the Women’s Liberation movement emerged during the 1970s, many dedicated women’s journals, magazines and newsletters portrayed prominently the image of the Palestinian woman fidayi guerrilla fighter, which in turn became a symbol for revolutionaries all over the world. What this book does particularly well is not to underestimate the importance of those women who did not carry a gun. Reflecting instead on the equal importance of women organising and working in the fields of education, politics, health and providing child- care during periods both of relative peace and full-scale war.

The book is available here:

Val Wood

After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz, published by Galley Beggar Press

Fragment 147
For someone will remember us / I say / even in another time

After Sappho tells the stories of a group of women artists, feminists, writers, actors, most of them lesbians, networked across Europe and the US but centered mainly on Italy and Paris from the late 19th century up to 1928 (when Orlando by Virginia Woolf was published). Orlando is significant as in many ways this book riffs on the structure of Orlando. Each ‘chapter’ is headed by a fragment of Sappho’s poetry and that too is significant in how the book is written.

Many of the women in the book are wealthy women, but not exclusively and Schwartz tells their stories, parts of their stories, interweaving the characters in both time and space in small chunks. Little sketches. Almost threads. She structures it around fragments of Sappho’s poems… and riffs on those themes. So there is much to discuss about the structure of the book but there is also the history, the rich history.

For me, this was a page turner. Yes, there is some exasperation at the entitlement and wealth of some of the characters. And some of them frankly behaved badly. Our characters were often privileged but almost all of them had escaped abusive fathers, husbands and/or rapists. They found ways to escape and ways to be with each other. To find a way of being lesbian. Some had no resources and were supported by those that did. Throughout the book Schwartz uses an authorial voice that includes us in the ‘us’, like a chorus, I thought. The lesbians in particular, were trying to ‘make us’, make a way of being. They were all brave and I found this very moving.

Interwoven with the stories of the women are snippets about the latest theories on lesbians and legislative attempts to outlaw and silence them. The Italian codes of law affecting women (as property) were an eye opener, but shouldn’t have been surprising. As a reader you get a full sense of the rising feminism, especially in Italy, and the very real dangers to women.

As we get towards the end of the book, we hear the drumbeat of fascism. Some of these women became involved in that and some were annihilated by it. The many different stories here and the times they lived in led me to want to know more and to look things up. In particular I was lead to read a book I should have read long ago, No Modernism Without Lesbians by Diana Souhami.

Fiction or not? It is an alternative way of writing history. Schwartz riffs on facts, on Sappho, on Greek nouns and, I think, on the structure of Orlando. I’ll leave you with this. She refers to the ‘kletic’ in Greek. The kletic poem is one that calls or summons assistance. This book is maybe that. An invocation. A conjuring. I do think this book is about remembering. A colossal sweep that invites us to remember these women. And I’m thankful to the author and to the wonderful Galley Beggar Press for bringing it in to being.

Jane Anger
Illustration: Romaine Brooks called Peter, A Young English Girl – a portrait of the artist Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein)
After Sappho is available here:

Postmemory, Psychoanalysis and Holocaust Ghosts: the Salonica Cohen family and trauma across generations by Rony Alfandary (Routledge, £29.99)

A number of Jewish people I know have found a few letters and postcards in Yiddish among their parents’ and grandparents’ possessions, sent by half-forgotten or unknown relatives living in Eastern Europe prior to the war. These ghostly messages from the past, in a faded script that could not be understood by the finder, sometimes disappoint when translated. The messages were often simply “hope you are well, hope your children are well”; flowery greetings with little news other than an engagement or a wedding. They sometimes seem like not very subtle ways of asking for financial support, perhaps for an engagement gift, sent to someone living here thought to be better off by those left behind.

Rony Alfandary’s family found letters, not just a few, which had been kept in a box by his grandparents, and which were later augmented by two further collections. These had been kept by a relative by marriage who had survived the war, unlike, it appeared, most of Alfandary’s relatives from Salonica. The exceptions were his maternal grandparents, who had emigrated from Greece to Palestine in the 1930s, where the author’s mother was born. Alfandary’s grandmother, Rita, was the source of the first cache of letters – written in French and Ladino with some legal letters in Greek. Some were written in the Solitreo script and needed a specialist to decipher them. The box was opened after his grandmother’s death.

Merged, the three collections of letters enabled Alfandary to reconstruct the lives of his family. Except it was a jigsaw with missing pieces, pieces that will likely always remain missing. The first cache included letters to Rita from the family in Salonica and from her brother Leon who had emigrated to France. The second and third boxes had belonged to Leon. which finished the triangle – letters from Salonica,  letters to and from Palestine and France. The last of the letters were from November 1942. Leon and his family were rounded up in France and did not survive (though his wife’s sister did, whose family inherited Leon’s letters). His Salonican relatives were among the Jews taken to their death from that city out of the Jewish population of 50,000, only a thousand of whom survived.

Though the Cohen family had been successful, and middle-class, their star had fallen in the economic circumstances of Greece in the 1930s. Some were unemployed, others in poor health. Here too there were letters – often not so subtle – asking for money. The three branches of the family, in all three countries, were going through hard times.


The poet Gerda Mayer, who died last year, came to Britain on a kindertransport. Her father was last heard of in Russia in 1940. At every reading Gerda included her much-anthologised poem “Make Believe”, a poem imagining her father had survived and came across her work in a bookshop, ending

when some publisher asks me

for biographical details

I still carefully give

the year of my birth

the name of my hometown:

GERDA MAYER born ’27, in Karlsbad,

Czechoslovakia…. write to me, father.

Reading Alfandary’s book I was reminded of this poem, feeling that in some ways that the volume under review is a message in a bottle that might be read by someone who knows something, at least to fill in more of the jigsaw. Indeed, in private correspondence with the author he mentioned that one early reader of his book was able to add a little information about a mutual connection. And, when writing the book, Alfandary was able to find two very distant relatives, whom he describes meeting. I said earlier that it appeared that all the Salonican Cohens save for his grandmother died. But what happened to Isaac and his wife Martha? Isaac was Leon and Rita’s brother, Martha his gentile wife. Early in the book Alfandary says both died in the Holocaust, but later he is less clear. They certainly vanished from history in France. They appear on no lists of prisoners, no lists of those transported. And Martha was a gentile. It’s likely Isaac did not survive, but what of Martha? Martha who? Her maiden name is unknown. Was she left behind when her husband was taken, did she remarry, are her children and grandchildren out there? This is one of the pieces of the jigsaw still missing, another is what Isaac did for a living… letters from Salonica to Leon and Rita complain that Isaac never writes to his family back home. Isaac’s own letters to Leon – usually asking for money, sometimes large sums desperately needed at once – come from all over France. Was he a gambler, or what? Alfandary writes that it often seemed like he was on the run.

The title of the book will attract some readers and put off others. It is aimed at an audience familiar with the words in the book title but, other than occasionally, is accessible to all. The author discusses postmemory, the concept that those who had no direct memory of an event or a trauma, are affected by it as if the experience was shared. In this case, however, the experience was shared as Alfandary was the favourite grandchild of Rita, who would tell him of the family members she had lost, and show him their photographs. Not surprisingly, she suffered from depression. Her parents, her siblings, nieces and nephews, friends, her home in Salonica – all gone. She had also been a reluctant immigrant to Palestine, it was her husband who had been a Zionist. The trauma was passed to her grandchild as her yerusha (legacy). Though his generation, his own siblings, have had successful and content lives, the memory, or postmemory, of what happened sustains. And of course, it is too late to ask Rita to fill in the holes in the story, the parts she did not mention and the parts missing from the letters that otherwise bring us into her family’s life. It’s mostly always too late. But we still want to know.

Telling these stories is a way of remembering, and honouring the dead. The author uses psychoanalytic theory to try to create a coherent narrative of the experience and the impact on himself. Others tell their stories through drama and even children’s writing. I’m thinking here of Tom Stoppard’s partially autobiographical play Leopoldstadt, and Michael Rosen’s book The Missing, which is about the gaps in his family history he was able to fill in.

One of Rony Alfandary’s other books is a psychoanalytic study of Lawrence Durrell. While I can recommend the book under review I think he sometimes allows his other interests to edge their way in, not always successfully. He wonders, for example, whether Leon’s path could have crossed in Paris with Henry Miller. Alfandary asks “Is it a justified interpretation to support my wishful thinking that perhaps he [Leon] was also influenced by the likes of Henry Miller?”. My answer would be “I don’t think so”. The strength of the book is the background story and the letters, reprinted in yearly chapters from 1923 to the end. They are incomplete, at times mundane, at times confusing, but I was drawn into the life of a long-dead family, and I cared about them.

The book is available here:

Ross Bradshaw

Furthermoor by Darren Simpson (Usborne, £7.99)

If you crossed Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights with the film Truly, Madly, Deeply, a bit of steampunk, and a serious message about bullying you would come up with something like Darren Simpson’s young adult fiction novel Furthermoor.
Though there is no alethiometer, twelve year old Bren slips in and out of a parallel world, Furthermoor, which he and ​Evie, ​his sister​,​ had created through a magical watch, which has birds and animals made from bits and pieces of metal rather than flesh and blood. There he meets up with Evie, but we know that she died in a crash. Is this a ​completely ​fantasy world or a “real” alternative universe? We are never quite sure, but for Bren it is a refuge from home where his parents have never recovered from the death of their daughter, and a refuge from school where he is in trouble for fading out academically. At school he is also hideously bullied by a gang. A new boy, a Chinese boy, turns up at school and stands up to the ​main ​bully, but can Bren find the courage to do the same? Throw in the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz here.
And then things start to go really wrong. His utopia becomes a dystopia as a crow-like creature starts to destroy the other animals and taunts him as a coward. The creature, Featherly, starts to take control creating even more scary creatures and appearing to turn those Bren loves against him. Will Bren finally stand up for himself? Of course he will, because this is a positive book (if​ ​really scary at times). And Truly, Madly Deeply? No Alan Rickman or Juliet Stevenson, alas, but Evie finds a way for Bren to let her ​- and Furthermoor – ​go, though she says in parting “But I’ll always be here, right?”
There’s resources at the back of the book for readers who might want help with bullying themselves and the author opens up about the pressures he too went through in school.
Cliché  alert – this book should be in every school library
Furthermoor is Darren’s third young adult novel. He’s one of our local rising stars. For Nottingham folk there is one added advantage in that if you look closely you will see that this book is based on a map of Sneinton. Great cover too.
Signed copies of Furthermoor are available in the shop or here:
Ross Bradshaw

Anatomy of a Killing by Ian Cobain (Granta, £9.99)

On April 22 1978 Harry Murray went to a bungalow in the town of Lisburn, Northern Ireland, on the pretext of meeting Millar McAllister to talk about pigeons.  Millar was a well-known and respected photographer of pigeons in the journal Pigeon Racing News and Gazette.  After a brief conversation Harry took a revolver from his jacket, shot Millar in the chest, aimed another shot at the head, and then shot him again twice in the chest.  Millar’s young son Alan witnessed everything and screamed for his mother as Harry ran from the scene.  As well as his hobby of taking photographs of pigeons Millar McAllister was an officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and Harry Murray was an active member of an Active Service Unit in the IRA.  

Anatomy of A Killing tells the story of what led Harry and his three accomplices to this point.  The level of detail is remarkable. Author Ian Cobain traces the lives of all involved not just from childhood, but for several preceding generations, and in the process tells the story of the island of Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries.  He describes the process of radicalisation, training and organisation that enabled them to participate in a political assassination.  Contrary to the myths put about by British politicians IRA member were not ‘mindless thugs’, and Cobain reveals the reality in terms of background, gender, profession and why they had arrived at this point.  

News of the murder was sparse in Britain, many British people taking the view that this was all happening in a far-off place and that with any luck British troops would prevail.  Ironically on that same day Nottingham Forest secured the First Division title, which would have been of much greater interest to me as a 17 year-old.  I was studying for my A-levels and knew more about 17th century French drama than what was happening much closer to home.  That was exactly how the British state wanted it. They were correct in assuming that most people had little interest in visiting Northern Ireland for themselves, therefore making anti-Republican propaganda all the easier.  One government minister who did visit Belfast was however truly shocked at the dire levels of poverty, unemployment and housing that the Catholic community had to endure.

The backgrounds of those who took part in the killing give countless examples of the hardship and discrimination going back several generations, ultimately leading to an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.  The stance of the British government of the time was that, over time, the IRA and its supporters would run out of steam.  After all, the British state had infinitely greater resources with the army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, plus a licence to engage in shocking levels of brutality.  Cobain details the horror – there can be no other word – of what happened in Castlereagh Police station, where all suspects were interrogated and sometimes tortured.  He quotes from official police accounts of interviews and contemporaneous doctors’ reports, plus statements from those being questioned.  As for the bigger picture Cobain contrasts what was being said in parliament – if anything was being said at all – with how Gerry Adams and other republican leaders were trying to keep the profile of the struggle high with the ultimate aim of getting the British to realise that they would never secure a military victory.

You know what is going to happen, and the murder of Millar McAllister is described with deep sensitivity by Cobain with no needless sense of drama; but by this point you why it was happening.  Cobain has also traced those involved as they were released as a part of the Good Friday agreement, and he asks them to reflect on what happened; their answers are fascinating.  The same privilege is accorded to Harry’s family.  Anatomy of a Killing is an outstanding work, we get the historical sweep plus the perspective of the individual.  The extensive bibliography is pointing me to other works. Ignorance on these issues is still shameful in Britain, as evidenced by recent Brexit-related events, but for those who wish to find out for themselves the truth is close at hand.

Book orders:

Bob Berry

The Edelweiss Pirates: teenage rebels in Nazi Germany by Dirk Reinhardt, translated by Rachel Ward (Pushkin Children’s, £7.99)

Though German resistance to Hitler once the Nazis were established in power was difficult, more than difficult, it did exist. The Socialist History Society brought together material on working class political resistance to the Nazis in Anti-Nazi Germans; the Christian resisters based round the Confessing Church especially Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller are well known; the ill-fated assassination attempt by the democratic centre and right under Claud von Stauffenberg, which led to thousands of executions, has been written about, notably in The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg (who came to Nottingham to speak in 1989); the student White Rose Group is also now well known. There were also the  Rosenstrasse demonstrations by the German wives of Jewish men which successfully stopped the deportation of their husbands in the spring of 1943.
The one group that has had limited attention is the Edelweiss Pirates. This book will help to give them a profile, not least as Michael Rosen has written a foreword to the British edition.
The Edelweiss Pirates were actually not so much a group as a movement, perhaps not even that, but their activities eventually involved several thousand dissident young people who were increasingly repressed by the Nazis. It was a counter-cultural informal association of like-minded working class teenagers, who played music, grew their hair longer than was considered proper, camped out in the countryside, and held street battles with the Hitler Youth, an organisation which everyone their age was expected to join. Only in relatively recent times has their significance as resistors been recognised, when earlier they were seen as something akin to drop-outs. People finally realised that being a drop-out under the Nazis was being a resistor and some paid with their lives. There are a number of memoirs of former Pirates published in Germany, but little about them here.
But does it work as a novel, and a novel for older children at that? The book starts with a hanging, the brother of the narrator being publicly executed. That chapter, like most of the book, is written in italics, in diary form, the narrator of the diary being a teenager who starts knocking round with a group of Pirates, gradually getting more and more involved, his contempt for the Hitler Youth leading him into direct confrontation and direct resistance. He was fourteen at the start, with only eight years of schooling and he would soon start work in a factory, treated like dirt because of his views. Alongside the diary – printed without italics – is the story of a teenager from this century who is given the diary by an old man. They meet, seemingly for the first time, in a cemetery where the old man is at the grave of his brother and the teenager at the nearby grave of his own grandfather. Why is he picked out at the person to receive the diary? We will learn, but until we do we follow the paths in tandem – the teenager reading the diary slowly, chapter by chapter, wanting to savour it, wanting to know what it has to do with him. He visits the poor care home where the old man is living and is touched by his surroundings, and by the old man’s love for his pet birds.
I was not completely convinced of the links between the two sides of the story though. The circle that you knew would be completed seemed a bit artificial. What was better was the diary itself, where you could feel the excitement of joining a tribe, a group of people who understood you and were like you (it’s not only teenagers who do this!). There was great tension in the battles with Hitler Youth and the illegal acts the Pirates undertook. However, to my surprise, the part that affected me most in the diary was when the war was coming to a close – the Gestapo was even more murderous  towards those who were not patriots, but also the city of Cologne, the setting of the book, was so badly bombed that people were starving, living under wave after wave of bombings of civilian areas by the Allies. The Pirates were under attack from all sides.
Verdict? Yes, read, try it on a young adult, but also hope for a good English-language book on the Pirates which is not fiction.
Ross Bradshaw
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David King: designer, activist, visual historian by Rick Poyner (Yale, £30)

If you were a political activist of a certain age you will have been inspired to attend demonstrations by flyposted posters designed by David King, worn a badge designed by him, read a book with a cover by him and shared his concerns about Vietnam, apartheid, nuclear weapons and the National Front. King’s bold, simple designs were instantly recognisable and were just everywhere, though probably few gave thought to the designer!
Beyond the agitprop, David King’s activism included the cause of Trotsky against Stalinism. It might be hard for younger activists to understand but for decades last century it was necessary for King and his co-thinkers to celebrate the Russian Revolution but to condemn the gravedigger of the revolution, one Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin. King’s books The Great Purges (with Isaac Deutcher), The Commissar Vanishes and Ordinary Citizens: the victims of Stalin are almost but necessarily unbearable in printing the photographs of political activists and, well, ordinary citizens killed in their millions by Stalin. After reading these books you cannot get some of these images out of your mind. The Commissar Vanishes is also about the way history was rewritten and revisualized to erase those who had at best fallen out of favour, at worst been murdered. In that book, revisited here, King describes how one survivor, the constructivist artist Alexander Rodchenko even blanked out photos in his own book collection of those who had fallen.
In his later years David King had become one of the world’s experts on Soviet art, curating a famous exhibition at the Tate, which became his final publisher. He had collected posters, badges, leaflets, books from the Soviet past and was perhaps uniquely able to curate these exhibitions and books, such as Rodchenko’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford.
If you were not so much a political activist you perhaps also saw his design for Crafts, City Limits, Sunday Times Magazine, London Review of Books, Penguin book covers…though the Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland album sleeve might not have been a great idea. This book also describes King’s photographic and design techniques which means that as well as grey-haired activists marching down memory lane it would be a useful read for any design student.

Rick Poyner and Yale have done an excellent production job on this book, the first to cover the whole career of David King, who died in 2016. They have done him proud.
David King: designer, activist, visual historian is available from