By Rodrigo Hasbun
Pushkin Press – £9.99

Every now and then, it does seem as if one is living in both a veritable
vacuum of one’s own making – whether by design, whether by default. And such is most definitely the case with the prime protagonists in this seemingly dark investigation into the human psyche.

Affections is admittedly, an affectionate book so far as (three) sisters’ troubled relationships can be concerned; yet it’s also a scenario of political reportage with regards the Bolivian revolution – in which Che Guevara was captured and murdered (supposedly financed by the US government).

But what I found the most alluring and satisfying about the Bolivian, Rodrigo Hasbun’s overtly convincing novel, was it’s all prevailing, under-written humanity – the subliminal trajectory of which, was never far away: ”I saw my sister everywhere. Not a single day went by when I didn’t see her. If the telephone went, my first reaction was always to think it was her. I bought a dog, and then another. I needed to feel like I had company, that someone was always there waiting for me at home […]. It’s not true that our memory is a safe place. In there, too, things get distorted and lost. In there, too, we end up turning away from the people we love the most.”

Written in such a way that is capable of stopping one in their everyday tracks, these 142 pages, are, if nothing else, poignant, powerful and provocative, as substantiated by El Pais: ”Hasbun’s writing has a strange power. He likes to reach into the darkest places. Reading him is like… a journey to the brink of an abyss.”

It’s no wonder this book is the Winner of an English Pen Award.

David Marx

The Great Brexit Swindle


The Great Brexit Swindle
By T. J.Coles
Clairview Books – £10.99

Perhaps the best evidence for the truth about Brexit is Nigel Lawson’s article in the Financial Times entitled, ‘Brexit gives us the chance to finish the Thatcher revolution.

Just as Margaret Thatcher was capable of inciting one to spit blood during her incorrigibly vile and in-humane, eleven-year reign at the helm of British politics; the tiniest, sneakiest reminder of said tenure, remains just as equally spiteful and hateful, today, as when she used to regularly spout forth in the eighties.

Brexit notwithstanding, where millions of gullibles were hoodwinked into believing their day of democracy had finally arrived upon a wide-open platter of ‘Up The Junction,’ ‘Up The Arsenal’ and, wait for it,’ God Save The Queen’ last June (2016); the colossal and rather unfortunate irony lies in the fact that almost ALL of those who despised Thatcher, actually voted to Leave.

The three quintessential reasons being that huge swathes of the British (primarily English) populace are insecure, impeccably fick and guess what? Horribly racist – sometimes a caustic combination of all three.

Unfortunate qualities this equally impeccable, brave and brazen book, more than sheds pristine light on.

To be sure, The Great Brexit Swindle – Why the mega-rich and free market fanatics conspired to force Britain from the European Union is the utmost of invaluable and volatile of reads; quite simply because it tells the truth in such a way as it invariably needs to be told.

In the chapter ‘Finishing Thatcher’s Revolution,’ author T. J. Coles writes: ”In this book we have highlighted the genuine grievances of working and unemployed persons who saw their livelihoods and prospects decline and who ultimately voted for Brexit. We have also noted the propensity towards xenophobia. England is where pro-Leave sentiment was strongest, particularly in the deindustrialized north. Instead of educating working and unemployed English people about the common enemy of neoliberalism, the tabloids and television media have given people the impression that migrants are to blame for job insecurity and a general decline in living standards. In addition, the skewed demographic character of the UK gave older people greater voting power. The polls show that older people were more inclined to vote Leave.”

Indeed, older people, along with the mighty myopic, the uneducated and the hateful; in other words, those who subscribe to the ideology of the despicable tabloids.

For a balanced overview of Brexit: READ THIS BOOK.

David Marx

Jack London On Adventure


Jack London On Adventure –
Words Of Wisdom From An Expert Adventurer
Skyhorse Publishing – $12.99

The thought of work was repulsive. I didn’t care if I never settled down. Learning a trade could go hang. It was a whole let better to royster and frolic over the world in the way I had previously done. So I headed out on the adventure path again.

                                                                        ‘The Artist As Adventurer’

Obviously written during an era when adventure was a complete and all circumnavigating way of life, one which was undeniably, deeply instilled within the fibre of ones’ being – rather than subscribed to by those who merely dabble in misadventure over the weekend – the writer Jack London certainly lived the life.

A life of his own design that is; which, regardless of how you care to look at it, was in and of itself, commendable.

Indeed, throughout his unfortunately brief life, he remained a free spirit of which Jack London On Adventure – Words Of Wisdom From An Expert Adventurer is something of a literary window, as the above opening segment wonderfully illustrates.

As opposed to being a mere linear overview of London’s entire works, this handsome little book is devised in such a way that it more dabbles and regales upon certain eras of London’s literary prowess: ”This gave them the seeming of ghostly masques, undertakers in a spectral world at the funeral of some ghost. But under it all they were men, penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of space.”

I have recently been asked to write the Foreword for a terrific new book on London entitled The Iron-Heeled Century: Rereading Jack London by the author, Anthony James; and amid my investigation(s), this is a fine and altogether brazen read – rather like the subject himself.

One which sheds oodles of light on an oft misunderstood, underrated writer (of whom George Orwell, among others, was a renowned fan).

David Marx

Before Auschwitz


Before Auschwitz –
Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps
By Kim Wunschmann
Harvard University Press – £33.95

So tomorrow, January 20th, we have President (elect) Donald Trump to look forward to.

He, whose parents were members of America’s Klu Klux Klan organisation, will enter what has to be the most powerful office in the world. An ever increasing, wayward world might I add, in which tyrants and terrorists, deprivation and division, continue to make headlines; while those who kneel at the alter of hedge-fund hypocrisy, continue to succeed in keeping it that way.

It’s as if the populace of the so-called intelligent species, has learnt absolutely nothing.

Nic that is, other than:
a) wholeheartedly know how to turn away when someone else is in need (as in the cold, blooded murder of the MP, Jo Cox – who, as she lay on the ground being to stabbed to death, hordes of people did absolutely nothing because they far were too busy filming her murder on their mobile phones)
b) wholeheartedly embrace the dictum: what’s in it for me?

Just two exceedingly valid reasons why people need to at least be made aware of January 27th, Holocaust Memorial Day, to comprehend an iota of where blatant ignorance can lead. In a word, Trump., in anther word., ISIS., in another (chilling yet infamous) word, Auschwitz.

The world would indeed be wise to take note of Before Auschwitz – Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps, which pioneers the formulaic and prerequisite ideological stance of nationally condoned suffering, barbarity and murder.

The book’s six chapters, Introduction and Conclusion, compellingly unearths the little-known origins of the concentration camp system in the years leading up to the Second World War, and reveals the instrumental role of these extralegal detention centres in the development of Nazi policies towards Jews (and its eventual plans to create a racially pure Third Reich): ”First of all, a historical study of the imprisonment of Jews before 1939 demands an understanding of the period in its own right. The concentration camps of the pre-war era were different from the wartime camps. They had different forms and different functions. Simply to place them into a seemingly linear development of Nazi anti-Jewish policy […] would miss the particularity of the pre-war period. The development that ultimately culminated in genocide on an unprecedented scale was neither preordained nor the direct result of a single man’s long-standing fantasies. Karl Schleunes’s concept of ”the twisted road to Auschwitz” is more apposite, helping us to grasp a process of gradual development in response to outside influences and internal power rivalries, a process that, at each stage, might have pointed to a different destination.”

A different destination indeed, which, from the relative comfort of hindsight, is all too easy say, come to terms with, and ultimately assimilate. But these 235 pages (not including Appendix: SS Ranks and U.S. Army Equivalents, Abbreviations, Notes, Bibliography, Acknowledgements and Index) really ought to shunt hindsight unto the Rose Garden of The White House – for all the world’s media to witness on a regular basis.

If not the Oval Office itself, although, knowing Trump, he’d probably deny the fact that The Holocaust ever took place.

In investigating more than a dozen camps, from Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen to less familiar sites, authoress Kim Wunschmann uncovers a process of terror designed to identify and isolate German Jews, primarily from 1933 to 1939. During this period, shocking accounts of camp life filtered through to the German population, sending the preposterous message that Jews were different from true Germans: they were portrayed as dangerous to associate with and fair game for barbaric acts of intimidation and violence.

The latter of which is rather like Brexit’s reaction to non-Englanders, only on a far bigger, far more criminal level. But hey, it’s still early days.
And tomorrow we have Trump, to look forward to.

As Robert Gellately, author of Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War has written, Before Auschwitz is ”an impressive, well-written study of a little-known chapter in the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Wunschmann has carried out prodigious archival research, unearthing all kinds of interesting and troubling material, particularly on the fate of Jewish citizens who were sent to the camps without trial and held without rights in what the police euphemistically called ‘protective custody.’ Her book will certainly find a wide readership.”

Here’s hoping it will, because it’s outwardly brave, memorably brazen and overtly bodacious.

David Marx

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers


Grief Is The Thing With Feathers
By Max Porter
Faber & Faber – £7.99

This book appears to have been lauded beyond high, literary heaven.

Not only is Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, The Spectator’s book of the year, it has been short-listed for the Goldsmiths Prize, The Guardian’s First Book Award, and, in conjunction with Swansea University, is Winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize for 2016.

Personally, I don’t get it.

I really like the theme of two young boys facing ”the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death” in a London flat they share with their father – ”a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic” who imagines ”a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.” But, I found the irksome, relentless reliance on the visitation by Crow (”antagonist, trickster, healer and babysitter”) eventually getting on my tits.

Normally, I’d be up for the surreal quality of such intent and well meaning, but the mere fact that so much of the healing process is pronounced by way of Crow (not even The Crow, just Crow, the brazen familiarity of which, for some reason, I still find annoying), suggests some kind of total disconnection. And I don’t know why.

Naturally, there are some really lovely segments, such as that on page fifty, where the author, Max Porter brilliantly writes about the sorrow of longing: ”I missed her so much that I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand tress, a lake, nine thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her.”

Yet even such well written and compelling prose, wasn’t enough to distract my imagination away from what I actually found a distraction: the thought process behind Crow itself.

David Marx

The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy


The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy
Fossoli dei Carpi, 1942-1952
By Alexis Herr
Palgrave Macmillan – £63.00

Primo Levi begins his short story ”Small Causes” by sharing a conversation he had with a group of friends on the influence that a seemingly innocuous occurrence can have on history. He writes, ”Small causes can have a determining effect in individual histories, just as moving the pointer of a railroad switch by a few inches can shunt a train with one thousand passengers aboard to Madrid instead of Hamburg.” Levi contends that looking back on the definitive past is easy to theorize what might have been if things had been different.

So begins the first chapter ‘In the Marketplace: Fascist Socialization and Consent in Carpi,’ a chapter, which, as Alexis Herr writes: ” traces how the violent ascent of Fascism in Carpi, and the 20 years under Mussolini that followed it, created the maccina di consenso (the machine of consent). We will consider the ways in which violence in the years leading up to the Fascists’ march on Rome in 1922 informed Carpigiani (Carpi residents) reception to Mussolini’s newly minted regime and why Pietro Badoglio’s overthrow of Mussolini in July 1943 failed to inspire a revolt against Fascist structures in Carpi.”

Once again, The National Holocaust Memorial Day is almost upon us (January 27th) and in its lead up, I will be reviewing an array of material that is both pertinent and revisionary.

Starting with The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy, one can only surmise that the current Italian likes of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five-Star Movement) and Militia Christi (an extreme-right Catholic fundamentalist party) have conveniently refused to recognise history. Or at least, the relatively recent history of their own country, which, as Herr touches on in this book’s Introduction, has often been complicit within the cloying design of totally unnecessary death(s): ”Sixty-seven years have passed since Italian Holocaust survivor Primo Levi published his memoir Se questo e un uomo (If this is Man, released in the United States under the title Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity). Untarnished by the passage of time, Levi’s testimony remains a touchstone of Holocaust study. His narrative extends beyond descriptions of physical suffering of camp life and offers a philosophical inquiry into humanity and inhumanity in Auschwitz. For Levi, the camp was a ”social experiment” that released ”the human animal in the struggle for life.” In the fight for one’s survival, common-place categories of opposites such as ”the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish, the unlucky and the fortunate,” became far more complex.

In two distinct parts: ‘The War Years’ and ‘After the War,’ these 144 pages – excluding Acknowledgements, a List of Illustrations, Abbreviations and Foreign Words (German and Italian), Archive Abbreviations, Notes, Bibliography and Index – consist of six chapters that shed new light on almost every aspect of what took place at Fossoli dei Carpi during 1942-1952.
Much of which unfortunately, makes for disturbing reading.
Especially from that of a purely Italian perspective – let alone German: ”The victim myth, which positions all Italians in Italy as victims of German oppression, simplifies at best, or elides Italian antisemitism and gentile contributions to the arrest, incarceration, and deportation of Resistance fighters and Jews. The acquiescence of regional officials, municipal authorities, and Carpi businesses to Nazi and RSI demands to arrest and deport Jews supported and facilitated the Judeocide. While some scholars and politicians have argued that only Nazi and RSI officials perpetrated the Judeocide, the history of Fossoli suggests another conclusion. Every Italian who took part in, profited from, or enabled Fossoli’s operation to continue – with the exception of Jewish victims and the Resistance – played some part in the murderous function of the camp. Indeed, the history of genocide requires closer scrutiny of perpetrators and their enablers: the silently complicit.”

For this alone, Herr needs to be roundly commended.

As John Foot, Professor of Modern Italian History at the University of Bristol is himself quoted as saying: ”This book is clearly written and argued, and impressively rooted in theoretical and methodological reflections as well as being aware of the key historiographical context both in Italian and English.”

The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy is indeed, a most reflective read, which in and of itself, warrants all the literary praise it can muster, as well as all the recognition it can get on the 27th.

There again, Alexis Herr is Lecturer in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Department at Keene State College, USA., so it’s not surprising he has herein written a book that is a clear, concise and inspired invitation for the reader to delve further and generally find out more on The Holocaust.

David Marx

Republic Of Spin


Republic Of Spin –
An Inside Story Of the American Presidency
By David Greenberg
W.W. Norton & Company – £27.99

Liberalism will become an enclave conviction of a shrinking minority unless those who call themselves liberal reconnect their faith in tolerance, equality, opportunity for all with the more difficult faith in the dirty, loud-mouthed, false, lying business of politics itself. This disdain is cynicism, making as high principle.

                                                            Michael Ignatieff (”Letter to a Young Liberal”)

From Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama, presidential historian David Greenberg herein recounts the rise of The White House Spin Machine
And what an eye opening read it is.

Republic Of Spin – An Inside Story Of the American Presidency, is a tantalising, variable history that traverses more than a hundred years of vibrant, vivacious politics; the seeming catharsis of which, comes to an equally tantalising head this Friday, January 20th. The day tolerance and intelligence will leave The White House (with Obama’s exit) and misogynistic mayhem will enter The White House, (with Trump’s arrival).

That said, this book’s 448 pages of sweeping, startling narrative, essentially takes us behind the scenes, wherein, we are all the more potentially enlightened, as to how the tools and techniques of image invention actually work. On the way, we meet Woodrow Wilson convening the first ever White House press conference, Franklin Roosevelt huddling with his private pollsters, Ronald Reagan’s aides, crafting his nightly, news sound bites (well who else was going to craft them – most certainly not he after all), and let we forget, George Dubya staging his ”Mission Accomplished” photo-op.

If that weren’t enough, we also meet the many backstage visionaries who pioneered new ways of gauging public opinion and mastering ye me/me/me/media…

Furthermore, Greenberg examines the many profound debates Americans have waged over the effect of spin in politics by asking: ”Does spin help our leaders manipulate the citizenry? Or does it allow them to engage us more fully in the democratic project? This book illuminates both the power of spin and its limitations – its capacity not only to mislead but also to lead.”

Indeed, its six Parts (‘The Age Of Publicity,’ ‘The Age Of Ballyhoo,’ ‘The Age Of Communication,’ ‘The Age Of News Management,’ ‘The Age Of Image Making’ and ‘The Age Of Spin’), are, if nothing else, something of an irredentist revelation; that in (equally revelatory) truth, most of us have known all along. A pivotal aspect of the book, which the author brazenly writes about in the Introduction: ”[…] in the broadest sense of the term, spin has always been a part of politics. Politics involves advancing one’s interests and values in the public sphere, and political leadership means winning and sustaining public support. From the orators of Plato and Aristotle’s day to the European monarchs who superintended their images, leaders have always given thought to the words and images that will help them remain popular and achieve their goals.”

Had such a sad, tremulous indictment of political leadership and array of home-truths, not run utterly r-i-o-t throughout the 2016 American Presidential Campaign, Republic Of Spin – An Inside Story Of the American Presidency, would be no-where near as urgent a read as it invariably is.

In fact, in a mere handful of months from now, it will – in all its rambunctious repository of hindsight – prove nigh irresistible. Mark my words; even if only to read the following from the book’s final chapter, ‘Barack Obama and the Spin of No Spin’: ”The sheer pervasiveness of spin inevitably leaves an unpleasant after-taste. The heavy investment in crafted talk and burnished images can make our political rhetoric and theatre feel empty and even meretricious. Because it’s ubiquitous and unremitting, and because it stands in opposition to the straight-up truth-telling that we idealize, spin is always going to strike us as a vexatious or lamentable feature of modern politics. Paradoxically, though, our persistent worry about spin, while at times debilitating, keeps us vigilant about its abuse. And ultimately democracy has to make for duelling perspectives; politics always demands a give-and-take. As long as the public remains sovereign and public opinion reigns supreme, the debates will go on, the disputes will rage, the media will yammer and thrum, the people will make their arguments and form their judgements, and spin – much as we might crave relief from its relentlessness – will endure as an essential part of our political world.”

How’s about that for a touch of ”yammer and thrum?”
If you think Messrs. Campbell and Blair were the most notorious Prince Regents of Spin, read this. You won’t be disappointed.

David Marx