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Mixed Media: Books

Betty Boo

Betty Boo book jacket

by Claudia Piñeiro, translated by Miranda France (Bitter Lemon Press ISBN 978 1 908524 55 3)

An unlikeable industrialist is found with his throat slit from ear to ear in an exclusive gated community – or ‘country club’ – near Buenos Aires. The official line is that he killed himself, oddly, in exactly the same way his wife ‘accidentally’ died a few years earlier. So begins the latest darkly comic thriller from Argentina’s bestselling crime writer, Claudia Piñeiro.

Soon three characters, fiction writer Nurit Iscar (aka Betty Boo), veteran newspaper journalist Jaime Brena (demoted from the Crime desk for committing honesty live on TV), and the wet-behind-the-ears cub who is his replacement (known only as Crime Boy) form an unlikely trio in search of the truth.

Not a simple – or safe thing to do – in a contemporary Argentina dominated by dodgy media moguls, corrupt police, powerful industrialists and the dark shadows still thrown by a legacy of military dictatorship. The deaths mount – all connected and all apparently accidental. And the story builds, via much irony and comradeship, to a chilling climax.

Betty Boo is a sinister and gripping tale that moves along at a wild pace, but betrays a political and psychological seriousness that takes it beyond being just a skilful whodunit. As the eponymous hero herself says: ‘Abuse, revenge, pacts of silence: these are more complicated and turbid matters than who wielded the knife.’

Star Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Reviewer: Vanessa Baird

Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye

Where the Dead Pause... book jacket

by Marie Mutsuki Mockett (WW Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0-393-35229-0)

The subtitle of this book states simply: A journey. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this intriguing narrative is a mere travelogue. The journeys undertaken by Marie Mutsuki Mockett are far more complex: inwards, to a greater understanding of her own grief and depression following the death of her father; outwards, as she sees her own sorrow reflected in a whole nation rocked by the 2011 tsunami; back in time, as she gains insight into and consolation from Japan’s rich spiritual and cultural past; and, tentatively, towards a future in which she can imagine moving past her sadness and finding joy again.

Brought up to speak Japanese by her mother, whose family owns a Buddhist temple just 40 kilometres from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the author overcomes initial resistance on the part of the famously reticent Japanese, and delves into their culture and religious traditions. She sweeps away some of the stereotypes as she learns how the country is dealing with its collective grief through stoicism, denial, spiritual belief, and even humour.

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism, the author is told, is that life is full of suffering. Yet her travels through a country that five years ago was hit by such tragedy brings her great solace: life and death, she realizes, are a universal journey and we travel it together.

Star Rating: ★ ★ ★
Reviewer: Jo Lateu

Bad News

Bad News book jacket

by Anjan Sundaram (Bloomsbury, ISBN 9781408866450)

When Paul Kagame took power in Rwanda following the 1994 massacre, there was tentative hope that, under his leadership, the country’s traumatized people could rebuild their shattered nation. Articulate and mild-mannered, Kagame was just the sort of ‘moderate’ African leader the West craved. Foreign aid poured in as Rwanda became the poster-child for what could be achieved by targeted aid and a compliant regime. Two decades on and, with an increasingly repressive Kagame bowing to ‘popular demand’ that he stand for a third presidential term, such hopes seem forlorn and naïve.

Freelance journalist Anjan Sundaram brings us the bad news from the sharp end of a deteriorating situation in Rwanda. Teaching in a Western-funded programme to train journalists, he was in an ideal position to observe firsthand the crackdown on the media and the increasing paranoia and violence of a ruling clique. Grenade attacks, arrests, disappearances and summary executions have been used against courageous journalists desperately trying to report the truth. Sundaram tells the individual stories of this dwindling band of reporters with immediacy and anger. He offers little for our comfort in this impassioned account of the ‘last journalists in a dictatorship’, ending with a reprint of an abject apology issued to Kagame by a newspaper that had printed a critical piece. Here is his description: ‘The front page was filled by an image of the president and a journalist. The headline read “Sorry”. The president stood tall, his hand outstretched. The journalist, hands clasped together, bowed before him. It was the end of freedom.’

Star Rating: ★ ★ ★
Reviewer: Peter Whittaker

This Is An Uprising

by Mark Engler and Paul Engler (Nation Books, ISBN 9781568587332)

In this thorough and authoritative book, Mark and Paul Engler take the reader on a globe-spanning tour of the history and present state of nonviolent protest, its tactics, successes and failures and the prognosis for its future use. Beginning with Martin Luther King Jr in 1963 and the Birmingham and Selma desegregation campaigns, their account takes in Gandhi’s Salt March, the Otpor movement in Serbia, the Occupy campaign and the Arab Spring among many others.

Drawing on articles – including work in this publication – and discussions with many activists and thinkers, the Englers set out the common factors shared by successful mobilizations and they offer a blueprint for mass movement rebellion. The chapter on the theoretical work of Saul Alinsky, the ‘founding father of community organizing’ and the section outlining the tactics of the Earth First! ecology movement are particularly illuminating.

Time and again the authors show how seemingly powerless and marginal people can, through civil resistance, organize, confront, disrupt and, given favourable circumstances, overthrow overweening power. As Mark and Paul Engler rightly say: ‘the potential for what can happen when people refuse to obey must constantly be learned anew’. Both as a primer on the theory of non-violent protest and as a practical guide to positive action, their book is an invaluable resource in the ongoing learning process.

Star Rating: ★ ★ ★
Reviewer: Peter Whittaker

New Internationalist issue 490 magazine cover This article is from the March 2016 issue of New Internationalist.
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