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Book reviews

Stealing the Future

Stealing the Future book jacket

by Max Hertzberg
(Wolf Press, ISBN 978-0-9933247-0-3)

East Berlin, early 1990s: a murder, a political intrigue and a diplomatic dance. So far, so predictable for a spy story based in the dark and gritty post-Communist era just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But Max Hertzberg’s first novel has an interesting premise: the German Democratic Republic has decided not to join West Germany, but to go it alone – to form a ‘Grassroots Democratic Republic’ from which a true socialist utopia will emerge.

Protagonist Martin Grobe’s investigation into the murder of prominent politician Hans Meier at a mine in West Silesia – a region looking to secede from the GDR – unfolds along familiar spy-thriller lines. Author Hertzbeg is a Stasi files researcher and his deep knowledge of Berlin and understanding of the social and political upheavals of the time help him to create an authentic atmosphere of tension and uncertainty.

But the true brilliance of Stealing the Future lies beyond this, in the honest portrayal of a young country and its idealistic inhabitants struggling to keep alive their dream of freedom, justice and equality in the face of international and domestic opposition. Embarking on a social experiment to create something better is hard work, concedes Grobe. But it is also a responsibility that we all share.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Reviewer: Jo Lateu


Trans book jacket

by Juliet Jacques
(Verso ISBN 9781784781644)

In 2010 British writer Juliet Jacques underwent sex reassignment surgery and began to write about the experiences in a series of extraordinarily candid and detailed blogs for the hitherto somewhat transphobic Guardian newspaper.

This book contains some of that material, and much more besides. Jacques has written an eloquent, moving and at times witty memoir that takes us from her 1980s post-punk-fuelled adolescence to the present day, while providing acute observation of the intricacies and absurdities that surround gender. Given that the author’s passion is art and popular culture, it’s hardly surprising that woven into the narrative are her personal responses to a wide range of works, including Pedro Almodovar’s All About my Mother and Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game. (The latter the young Jacques could not bear to watch to the end – only later did she learn that the vomiting scene was not the miserable end of the story.)

Trans has a strong underlying political purpose and Jacques tackles head-on issues like ‘trans exclusive radical feminism’ as well as the realities of sexual harassment and transphobia. But it’s her personal story that really carries the politics, that shows just how much courage is needed, how painful and dangerous it can be to be trans and oneself in a world deeply and fiercely wedded to binary gender conformity; and how much that needs to change.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Reviewer: Vanessa Baird

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