All Reviews

‘He is the instigator of nothing’

Tom Engelhardt, A Nation Unmade by War

reviewed by David Renton

In a recent issue of the London Review of Books, the historian of popular reactions to British Empire Linda Colley observed that political systems can often be strengthened by military victories. Since the drafting of the American constitution in 1787, she continued, the United States has enjoyed martial success, from the expansionist wars against native Americans and against Mexico to victories in colonial wars and in the two world wars. Even defeat in Vietnam was mitigated by the 8,000 miles... [read more]

A Heady, Giddy Time

James Cook, Memory Songs: A Personal Journey Into the Music That Shaped the 90s

reviewed by Thom Cuell

For James Cook, a memory song is 'a piece of music so bound up with my past it is almost a physical part of it, like an old school book.’ In this book, which combines the memoir of a struggling musician trying to make it in the pre-Britpop boom with intelligent and sensitive critique of artists ranging from John Barry to Nirvana, Cook analyses the songs which marked important stages in his life, as well as their impact on the broader musical scene. The bulk of Memory Songs is concerned... [read more]

Tethered to the Future

Remedios Varo, trans. Margaret Carson, Letters, Dreams and Other Writings

reviewed by Elisa Taber

Letters, Dreams and Other Writings is a collection of Remedios Varo’s writings translated into English by Margaret Carson. Varo, a Spanish-born painter, was a prominent figure of the Surrealist movement in Mexico. An ongoing exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MAM), Adictos a Remedios Varo (Addicted to Remedios Varo), which was preceded by a retrospective of the work of her close friend, Leonora Carrington, hints at her prominence in her adopted country. Varo’s texts are mythical and... [read more]

A Sort of Beauty

Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

reviewed by Tristan Burke

‘I keep trying to remember who I was in English,’ one of Lucia Berlin’s narrators tells us in a statement typical of her style: crisp and direct, conversational, but also gnomic and intellectually demanding. It’s loaded with the sadness of displaced identity whilst encapsulating the ideas that Berlin returns to insistently in her stories: ontology, time, memory, and their relationships with literary language. All easy comparisons with other writers are redundant in the face of this... [read more]

Boardwalks and Greenery

Owen Hatherley, The Adventures of Owen Hatherley in the Post-Soviet Space

reviewed by Samuel Gregory

The post-1991 narrative surrounding the Soviet Union is as fixed as that country’s command economy. For right-wingers, it represents the last gasp of resistance to the market’s supremacy and the dawn of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’, which proclaimed capitalist democracies to be the final form of human government. For many on the left it embodies a betrayal of Marx’s ideas, a perspective summarised by Owen Hatherley, who describes how the Union was seen as ‘an albatross, an... [read more]

‘Perhaps she was’ this, ‘perhaps she was’ that

Panashe Chigumadzi, These Bones Will Rise Again

reviewed by Jacqueline Landey

To explain the ousting of President Robert Mugabe after 37 years in power, Zimbabwe’s military general chose his words with great care. The army had taken over but the coup was ‘not a coup’. President Emerson Mnangagwa – then Vice-President – spoke of Mugabe not as a target but as ‘my father, my mentor, my revolutionary leader’ who was ‘surrounded by what others described as criminals.’ Decades earlier, when Mnangagwa was Minister of State Security, the leading party... [read more]

A Therapeutic Instrument

Federico Campagna, Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality

reviewed by Jakob Horstmann

Like many fields of scientific scholarship, philosophy has long been plagued by the gradual shrinking of its research questions. Most contemporary academic philosophy concerns itself with ever smaller technical details within once vast areas of enquiry, not even bothering to pretend that it has any direct link to everyday life. With this in mind, Technic and Magic. The Reconstruction of Reality is a highly unusual book in at least two ways. Firstly because Federico Campagna unapologetically... [read more]

A World Left Behind

Didier Eribon, Returning to Reims

reviewed by Adam Scovell

Examining who we are means exploring who we once were – and the intervening meander between the two selves. More specifically, it is an examination of where we once were and what that distance now means to us. This is all the more profound when the subject has gained privilege – a phenomenon as much geographical as it is sociological. In a recent wave of new literature, these differing selves have been viewed through the prism of identity, but the strongest often look at the silent... [read more]

Gaudy Mayhem

Christine Schutt, Pure Hollywood

reviewed by Jacinta Mulders

I had never heard of Christine Schutt before coming to Pure Hollywood, her third collection of short stories and sixth work of fiction. This review came about at the recommendation of an editor friend, one knowledgeable of a different literary zeitgeist to the one I usually dip into. Schutt has many accolades to her name: a Guggenheim Fellowship, teaching posts on American MFA programmes (among them Columbia and Syracuse), stories in places like Ben Marcus’ celebrated New American Stories... [read more]

Resistance is Never Futile

Rebecca Solnit, Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)

reviewed by Stephanie Sy-Quia

Rebecca Solnit’s 20th book consists, like a couple of its predecessors, The Mother of All Questions and The Atlas of Trouble and Spaciousness, of her pieces from the preceding few years. Anyone who has been a close follower of hers will recognise much of the book’s contents from The Guardian or Harper’s (where she is the first woman to write the magazine’s ‘Easy Chair’ essay). Here, they have been grouped under slightly obscure headings: ‘American Edges’ includes essays on the... [read more]