November Reviews: Part Two

I’m back with more book reviews. There’s a bit more variety this time round.

In These Times
Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815

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Jenny Ugloiw
Faber and Faber Ltd
6th November 2014
ISBN: 9780571269525
Price: £25.00

Blurb

A beautifully observed history of the home front during the Napoleonic Wars from one of Britain’s greatest historians.

We know the thrilling, terrible stories of the battles of the Napoleonic wars – but what of those left behind? The people on a Norfolk farm, in a Yorkshire mill, a Welsh iron foundry, an Irish village, a London bank or a Scottish mountain? The aristocrats and paupers, old and young, butchers and bakers and candlestick makers – how did the war touch their lives? Jenny Uglow, the prize-winning author of The Lunar Men and Nature’s Engraver, follows the gripping back-and-forth of the first global war, but turns the news upside down, seeing how it reached the people. Illustrated by the satires of Gillray, Rowlandson and the paintings of Turner and Constable, and combining the familiar voices of Jane Austen, Wordsworth, Scott and Byron with others lost in the crowd, In These Times delves into the archives to tell the moving story of how people lived and loved and sang and wrote, struggling through hard times and opening new horizons that would change their country for a century ahead.

My Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Having read, some years ago, several books pertaining to the Napoleonic wars, this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading about the war on the home front. It is really interesting seeing a different perspective on the wars. Using the first hand accounts of civilians and soldiers, merchants and writers, and all sorts of people who kept diaries and wrote letters, as well as newspaper articles and meeting minutes, the author has opened up a window on to the lives of those who saw the war from Britain.

5/5

X-Novo

Ken Hagdal

Niflheimr Publishing
Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members’ Titles

Pub Date:  1st July 2014
ISBN:9782954616520
Price:$5.99
Edition: Ebook

Blurb

20#6 AD. Following the discovery of the genuine Dead Sea Scrolls, women get to learn it’s a tampered-with version of the Old Testament which was used to keep their foremothers in submission for nearly two millennia. Hilarity fails to ensue.

After a first, scorned, attempt at enforcing the progressive new-found teachings, the not-so-weaker gender ends up revolting and snatching the reins of the US administration from the callous hands of Patriarchy. Two novelties will be born out of their reforms towards a healthy and peaceful society: the Collar, an electronic device for suppressing violent impulses in men, and the Pool, the State-run dating service for women.

The first Anniversary of the Revolution is now only a few days away. As the head of the Department of Information, Lisa Fenrich is all too aware of the stakes for her government. What she’s about to discover is that the holes she’s been plugging were trifles compared to the one about to open under her feet.

My Review

I was drawn in by the description. I am not happy. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t this book.

I spent most of the book trying to work out what the point was of this dystopian vision. By the last chapter I think I’d worked it out. I’m not sure though.

The main character, Lisa, is the propaganda minister for a misandrist, female run USA, a year after the revolution sparked by the discovery of the ‘Scrolls’ by ‘Big Sister’. Falling out of favour Lisa goes on the run with her newly acquired ‘husband’, Jonathan. Lisa steals evidence from a research facility and then forces Jonathan to drive into the desert. It all starts to go wrong for Lisa when they have an accident and she leaves Jonathan for dead. Walking away from the wreckage, Lisa is rescued by Mark, a taciturn man who she considers to have some serious issues.

In the days that follow, Lisa becomes no wiser but the society she lives in does as a misogynist counter-revolution is launched and Lisa gets a taste of her own medicine. Mark has to rescue her, again, and after he drops her back in Chicago, he leaves much to Lisa’s dismay.

After hunkering down with a few neighbours for several says the news comes that a mixed government has been formed and a middle road has been taken.

I didn’t like Lisa at all; she’s vain, shallow and selfish, blind to her own faults and ready to blame everyone but herself when things go wrong. She’s a serial husband murderer. But it’s never her fault.

Mark is a characateur of the rugged, lone cowboy type so familiar from early Westerns.

Other characters are crude stereotypes, from the bitchy office staff to Mina, Lisa’s power twisted boss, to Mark’s pervy dad, in charge of the counter-revolution in Texas, and the leaders of the counter-revolution nationally, who humiliate their vanquished opponents in a live broadcast.

The characters, then, were poorly realised, but what of the plot?

Honestly, it made little sense; there was little reason for several events or explanation. It all seemed a bit jumbled up and the potential of the plot lost. It certainly didn’t fulfill the promise of the description on Netgalley (quoted above).

In all, memorable only for its failings.

1/5

Out in Africa

Same-Sex Desire in Sub-Saharan Literatures & Cultures
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Chantal Zabus

Boydell & Brewer
James Currey

Pub Date  21 Nov 2013
ISBN: 9781847010827
Price: $80.00
Edition: Hardcover

BLURB
Homosexuality was and still is thought to be quintessentially ‘un-African’. Yet in this book Chantal Zabus examines the anthropological, cultural and literary representations of male and female same-sex desire from early colonial contacts between Europe and Africa in the nineteenth century to the present. Covering a broad geographical spectrum, from Mali to South Africa and from Senegal to Kenya, and adopting a comparative approach encompassing two colonial languages (English and French) and some African languages, Out in Africa charts developments in Sub-Saharan African texts and contexts through the work of 7 colonial writers and some 25 postcolonial writers.

My Review

An intelligent, academic, yet accessible look at African literature, with a very specific focus. This book will challenge your preconceptions about Africa

I found the author’s referencing colonial and post-colonial writers to be helpful, especially in illustrating the points she made. The writing flows well and the book is set out in a logical order.

4/5

The New Censorship
Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom
Joel Simon

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Columbia University Press
Nov 11 2014
ISBN: 9780231160643
Price: $27.95
Edition: Hardcover

Blurb
Journalists are being imprisoned and killed in record numbers. Online surveillance is annihilating privacy, and the Internet can be brought under government control at any time. Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, warns that we can no longer assume our global information ecosystem is stable, protected, and robust. Journalists — and the crucial news they report — are increasingly vulnerable to attack by authoritarian governments, militants, criminals, and terrorists, who all seek to use technology, political pressure, and violence to set the global information agenda.

Reporting from Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and Mexico, among other hotspots, Simon finds journalists under threat from all sides. The result is a growing crisis in information — a shortage of the news we need to make sense of our globalized world and to fight against human rights abuses, manage conflict, and promote accountability. Drawing on his experience defending journalists on the front lines, he calls on “global citizens,” U.S. policy makers, international law advocates, and human rights groups to create a global freedom-of-expression agenda tied to trade, climate, and other major negotiations. He proposes ten key priorities, including combating the murder of journalists, ending censorship, and developing a global free-expression charter challenging criminal and corrupt forces that seek to manipulate the world’s news.

My Review

It has taken me a few days to formulate my thoughts on this book. I was quite affected by it. And incensed by the arrogance of politicians.

This book is well written and explores a range of subjects concerning modern journalism, and including many illustrative case studies. The general thrust of this book is that as new ways to gather information have become available then repressive governments or other agencies will seek to control the media, whether by direct intimidation or by direct/indirect censorship.

This book is essential reading for everyone. If you want to understand why Russians don’t know half of what goes on or why the Chinese have their own internet, or how come all those journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan kept getting shot ‘by accident’, and of course the recent spate of journalist kidnappings and murders in Syria and other countries being attacked by ISIS at the moment, this book will add valuable insight.

5/5

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