New Internationalist

Reviews

Issue 163

new internationalist
issue 163 - September 1986

REVIEWS

Star rating system. Book reviews

Heroes
by John Pilger
(Jonathan Cape, UK)

These heroes are the courageous ordinary people whose blood, sweat and tears Pilger has documented over the years in his campaign to make the world a better place. In this fat collection of 43 articles, he simply uses that reliable journalistic technique of concentrating on the individual to describe and analyse a general predicament.

There is something remorseless about these stories - there is little let-up in the writer's cold anger against the complacency of the establishment. It can be against a Canberra administration which only saw fit to give indigenous Australians the vote in 1962, or against Western states supporting the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia even after the holocaust that took place there.

But there is ironic humour too. the hovercraft expedition from Senegal to Chad where local dignitaries were showered with mud and dust from the monstrous vehicle before being solemnly handed Spangles - a particularly obnoxious brightly coloured candy.

The writer is proud of his trade: investigative journalism. He stimulates fresh indignation at injustices which are in danger of becoming so commonplace that they can be ignored. And I for one was moved to tears by his account of the last days of the year-long British coalminers' strike. They were ordinary people fighting back. Heroes.

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Two Dogs and Freedom
by the Open School
(Ravan South Africa)

Towards the end of last year children from South Africa's black townships were asked to sit down and describe in words and pictures what life was like for them under the State of Emergency. Two Dogs and Freedom is the result.

The children attend the Open School, a cultural education programme in Johannesburg, and they are of varying ages and levels of political understanding. But what they all share is experience of the turmoil of everyday life in the townships - most of the drawings are of black children being pursued or shot at by soldiers And the poignancy of the collection arises from the contrast between the peace and normality craved by eight-year-old Moagi, who wants the two dogs and freedom, and the violent confusion that reigns in the real world so many of the others describe.

Both this poem and the drawing are by 14-year-old Ishmael.

When you remember ancient things
Ans: Our father
When you remember blacks
Ans: Chaka1
When you speak of the world
Ans: Africa
When you speak about our land
Ans: Away with dictatorship in our land Botha
Ans: Blacks of today hate apartheid
Eleven o'clock
Ans: Away with State of Emergency.

1 Chaka was a great Zulu chieftain.

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The User's Guide to the Environment
by John McCormick
(Kogan Page)

Pollution is nothing new. London was affected by smog from coal-burning as early as the 13th century. And it is against this kind of historical backdrop that McCormack sets his thorough and readable analysis of today's environmental concerns.

In the North the problem is over-development: too many cars, too much waste and a gross over-consumption of resources. In the South it is often badly planned development which puts an unbearable burden on Nature: the clearance of forests, for example, and the open-arms welcome given to polluting.

Western production methods McCormick argues that we should avoid temporary band-aid solutions and use our power as consumers to choose products which pollute less.

A clear overview: historically, globally, politically - and briefly.

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Red and Green
edited by Joe Weston
(Pluto Press)

The success of the Green movement has irritated many socialists who see potential supporters hi-jacked into pleasant but ultimately futile directions. Red and Green is a response to this and might have been a conciliatory fusion of environmentalism and socialism.

Well-written and informative it certainly is, but fusion it is not; this is more an attempted take-over, 'Green and therefore Red' is the spirit of this collection of essays possible way of putting Green concerns into practice.

The Greens argue that the general unattractiveness and irrelevance of the old class-war battle cries were precisely what caused them to develop a new ideology. But any such novelty is frowned on here. 'Join our party' is the message - and turn your energies from self-indulgent middle-class preoccupations with the hedgerows to the harsher environment of the crumbling inner cities

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Film reviews

Commodities
produced by Sue Clayton and Jonathan Curling
(Channel 4 UK)

Sugar, tea and coffee have been stirred together in a remarkably distasteful past that encompasses the inglorious Opium Wars in China, the degradation of the African slave trade and the habitual violence against campesinos in Latin America This imaginative and much-needed TV series tells the stories of these commodities in terms of what they have meant to the Third World producers.

Using actors and fascinating archive footage, the films show how much the trade in these everyday commodities has contributed to the problems of the developing world. The bear-garden of the London Commodity Exchange, with smart-suited young men yelling across the floor to other dealers, is set alongside peasants processing tea in China. Today the winners in the commodity business are rarely the growers and almost always the speculators in London or New York

This is low-budget television, and the reconstructed scenes of historical drama tend to creak a bit. But it manages not to preach while handling a serious and difficult subject.

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Music reviews

Sing to me the Dream
by Holly Near and Inti-IIlimani
(Redwood)

A record with perfect radical credentials. Holly Near is the nearest thing to a star that the US women's music circuit has produced - passionately political, her past work has embraced, for instance, a tribute to revolutionary Emma Goldman and a denunciation of the American role in El Salvador. Inti-Illimani are just as committed - a group of eight Chilean musicians who have been in exile for 13 years. This album emerged from a tour they undertook together in 1984, and mingles Near's earnest anthems with the band's exuberant acoustic music.

The best songs here are the non-originals - Victor Jara's El Arado and Silvio Rodriguez' To Doy Una Cancion are particularly stunning, with their beautiful lyrics translated on the Sleeve. But the whole record is the more evocative for the collaboration, the sense of a shared international struggle. The 'dream' they sing of could be that of band-member Jorge Coulon, who writes 'We will soon be in our country walking in the streets, finding all our lost people, finding all our lost things, and finding, also, the impossible things'.

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Home and Abroad
by The Style Council
(Polydor)

You could count the number of worthwhile live albums in rock history on the fingers of one hand. This is no exception in the sense that it offers no new songs and no radical reinterpretations of old ones - so that the only extra elements you get are inferior sound and a few bursts of clapping.

But Home and Abroad is worth reviewing so as to draw your attention to the work of Paul Weller and The Style Council. Weller's years with The Jam produced the most consistent and politically committed body of work of any popular British band in the last ten years. With Mick Talbot in The Style Council he has been free to explore new musical directions while continuing to push his politics up front.

Four of the songs here come from Our Favourite Shop, their best album to investigate. The group played one of these, Internationalists, at the Live Aid concert and it is almost custom-made for this magazine: If you believe you have an equal share / In the whole wide world and all it bears / And that your share is no less or more than / Your fellow sisters and brother man / Then take this knowledge and with it insist / Declare yourself - an internationalist!

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Persuasion
.being the book that showed genteel women as subversive

JANE Austen! But she was a conservative. Working people don't exist in her novels - even as servants!

This is a common response to Miss Austen, spinster of the parish. In one sense, Jane Austen is conservative. The meticulous and lucid prose, the confined area of domestic life within which she wrote the sparkling drawing-room wit, the infamous absence of the Napoleonic Wars in her writing, the 'feminine' concern with love and marriage - these could be thought to add up to a placid and pleasant read; never disruptive, heroic, painful or significant.

Certainly writer Anthony Burgess, whose virile demands from a novel include 'a strong male thrust, an almost pedantic allusiveness and a brutal intellectual content', finds only the 'impression of high- waisted dresses and genteel parsonage flirtation' in her novels.

Myself, I prefer WH Auden's recognition of Austen's grace under pressure, which simultaneously provides a refuge from reality and a cuttingly subversive comment upon it:

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass,
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle class
Describe the amorous effects of 'brass'1,
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

Jane Austen wrote in the early 1800s. Her life was middle class, placidly uneventful: she did not marry, did not travel except to spa resorts, and she wrote her novels for the pleasure of herself and her family. She wrote of love, misunderstanding, of bright young women and gallant young men, their flirtations and the obstacles to their final understanding - indeed, the book jacket blurb on my copy of Persuasion sounds something like a Mills and Boon resumé. ('Eight years ago pretty Anne Elliot was persuaded to break her engagement to Frederick Wentworth. Now he appears, rich and successful.').

Persuasion is also about concealment and self-concealment; about male power and autonomy and female powerlessness. It is a book that is tenderly acute about the predicament of a young woman who experiences unreturned love and who concentrates upon hiding and controlling her long sentence of grief, until the whole novel is suffused in a female silence - the last attempt at exerting power over the world.

Jane Austen persistently demonstrates her discomfort with her cultural inheritance, specifically her dissatisfaction with the tight place assigned to women by patriarchy, and her analysis of the economics of sexual exploitation. In Persuasion the action and emotion take place within a neat and rigid structure of class and status. The clever heroines, their mothers desperately seeking for a suitable match, are trapped within this restricted and suffocating world; their slightest gestures and smallest actions have immense significance, becoming revolts in miniature, coded expressions of despair and internal storms.

Every time Anne speaks up for herself in the book - and she rarely speaks, for her refusal lies in her muteness - the restrained anguish of her utterances reverberate around the novel's world: 'We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us. You are forced on exertion. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been therein so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. all the privilege I claim for my own sex (it Is not a very enviable one - you need not covet it) is that of loving longest when existence or hope is gone.'

More women than men read and love Jane Austen. Perhaps it is because of their romance and domestic security, but I doubt it. The cool irony, the stifled spasms of anger, the mockery of male foibles and the amusement at male characteristics - all of these make her into an uncomfortable and elusive opponent of chauvinism. Jane Austen knows: that the system is oppressive, that the heart is vulnerable and women usually suffer more, and more silently, than men. She knew that in her time revolt had to be strategic, the scalpel concealed, the tragedy unsung.

Persuasion is slight, quiet, gentle, modest, discreet, determined and rather dangerous. Conservative? Oh no.

Nicci Gerrard
Persuasion by Jane Austen

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