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"Everything your ever wanted to know about crime but were too afraid to ask" - Robyn Sassen reviews The Truth About Crime

“The Truth about Crime is replete with original insights. Reflecting on the disproportionate relationship between fear and actual danger in a number of major countries, Jean and John Comaroff explain why criminality, although far from matching many other potential sources of public peril, elicits much more civic outrage. We learn how changes in the meaning of criminality and the nature of crime-and-policing are associated with the recent shift in the relationship between capital, governance, and the state. We also learn how these developments in both the United States and the Republic of South Africa have resulted in steps taken to discipline or control certain groups defined or viewed as threatening. This is a compelling book, a must-read for scholars and laypersons alike.” – William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged

The Comaroffs’ constant articulation of sparkling ethnographic vignettes, rich statistical data, and highly imaginative insights makes for a truly effervescent argumentation, creative and, at the same time, thoroughly documented. With this combination they offer a powerful book that newly addresses a theme that is becoming central all over the world: our increasing obsession with (in)security.“- Peter Geschiere, author of Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust
 
 
 
In this book, renowned anthropologists Jean and John L. Comaroff make a startling but absolutely convincing claim about our modern era: it is not by our arts, our politics, or our science that we understand ourselves – it is by our crimes. Surveying an astonishing range of forms of crime and policing – from petty thefts to the multibillion-dollar scams of too-big-to-fail financial institutions to the collateral damage of war – they take readers into the disorder of the late modern world. Looking at recent transformations in the triangulation of capital, the state, and governance that have led to an era where crime and policing are ever more complicit, they offer a powerful meditation on the new forms of sovereignty, citizenship, class, race, law, and political economy of representation that have arisen.

To do so, the Comaroffs draw on their vast knowledge of South Africa, especially, and its struggle to build a democracy founded on the rule of law out of the wreckage of long years of violence and oppression. There they explore everything from the fascination with the supernatural in policing to the extreme measures people take to prevent home invasion, drawing illuminating comparisons to the United States and United Kingdom. Going beyond South Africa, they offer a global criminal anthropology that attests to criminality as the constitutive fact of contemporary life, the vernacular by which politics are conducted, moral panics voiced, and populations ruled.

The result is a disturbing but necessary portrait of the modern era, one that asks critical new questions about how we see ourselves, how we think about morality, and how we are going to proceed as a global society.

Artist, academic, and visual artist Robyn Sassen recently reviewed the book:

It infiltrates our very existence – from the way in which we conduct ourselves in life, to the literature we read, the misconceptions of others we indulge in and the sensationalism that it smears across a world of broken dreams.

The concept and reality of crime, that is. And with this reflection on the all-pervasiveness of it, the Comaroffs’ latest publication The Truth About Crime is unputdownable, but not for the conventional reasons.

This foray into the complexities of crime, particularly in a South African context comes under the intense focus of quintessential seasoned sociologists Jean and John Comaroff; while you will not emerge with one gleaming “truth” which reflects “solution”, you will have a rollercoaster of a read.

Academic writing is a curious thing. Fraught with many rules of accreditation and checks and balances, it can be immensely dry and formulaic. Combined with old-fashioned hard work and rigorous intelligence, it can surpass the value of any bit of fiction, even yarns well-written.

And this is what you get here: an intense, oft witty, detailed and wise explication on stories that go bump in the night, about real people. The text is dense but it flows with a mellifluousness that makes you want to read it out aloud. The Comaroffs play with sounds and idioms, with parables and metaphors as they knit together associations and perceptions, book research and field work.

Continue reading Sassen’s review here.

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"I tried to find a way to make a book which told the stories of women from all backgrounds around the world." Co-author Geoff Blackwell discusses 200 Women on Classic FM

In 200 Women Who Will Change the Way You See the World, 200 women from a variety of backgrounds are asked the same five questions. Their answers are inspiring human stories of success and courage, love and pain, redemption and generosity.

From well-known activists, artists, and innovators to everyday women whose lives are no less exceptional for that, each woman shares her unique replies to questions like “What really matters to you?” and “What would you change in the world if you could?”

Interviewees include US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actor and human rights activist Alfre Woodard, and Nobel laureate Jodi Williams, along with those who are making a difference behind the scenes around the world, such as Marion Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Each interview is accompanied by a photographic portrait, resulting in a volume that is compelling in word and image – and global in its scope and resonance. This landmark book is published to coincide with an immersive travelling exhibition and an interactive website, building on this remarkable, ever-evolving project. With responses ranging from uplifting to heartbreaking, these women offer gifts of empowerment and strength inviting us to bring positive change at a time when so many are fighting for basic freedom and equality.

Local interviewees include Graça Machel, Caster Semenya, Zelda la Grange, Mpho Tutu van Furth, Hlubi Mboya, Sahm Venter, Joanne Fedler, Ingrid le Roux, Gillian Slovo and Zoleka Mandela, among others.

A minimum of 10% of the project’s revenue will be distributed to organisations devoted to protecting and advancing the rights of women. Each interviewee can nominate an organisation (or themselves if they are in financial need) to receive their portion of the charitable pool or they can select the principal charitable partner, the Graça Machel Trust.

Co-author Geoff Blackwell recently discussed the motivation behind writing the book with Tamara LePine Williams on Classic FM.

Listen to the podcast here.

200 Women Who Will Change the Way You See the World

Book details

  • 200 Women Who Will Change the Way You See the World by Ruth Hobday, edited by Kieran Scott, Geoff Blackwell, Sharon Gelman, Marianne Lassandro
    EAN: 978-1-928257-41-7
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

A Good Country is a thought-provoking coming-of-age story which explores racism and stereotyping in contemporary America, writes Kate Sidley

Published in the Sunday Times

A Good CountryA Good Country
Laleh Khadivi, Bloomsbury, R290
****

Rez Courdee is the good, obedient 14-year-old son of Iranian immigrants in sunny California. His marks are top notch, and he’s winning prizes for chemistry. He keeps to himself and is home every night for supper with his stern, demanding father and meek mother, until a new friendship and his hormones draw him into a world of surfing and smoking weed.

Laleh Khadivi’s description of the lazy days of privileged adolescence and teenage angst and transformation are nuanced and vivid, with a powerful sense of how mutable and scarily vulnerable we are at this age. Nonetheless, Rez’s trials and tribulations are fairly standard fare – until a bomb goes off at the Boston Marathon, followed by a bloody attack at a mall close to home. His world changes.

Suddenly, he’s a threat, an outsider. For the first time, he experiences racism and stereotyping. As his white friends turn away form him, he bonds increasingly to charismatic Arash and beautiful Fatima. Like him, they are of immigrant descent.

Like him, they’d thought themselves regular American kids. Now they find themselves under suspicion. Their response is to look to their faith to make sense of their changing world. Rez starts to explore Islam, first through his friends and then, increasingly, online.

This is a powerful and thought-provoking coming-of-age story, with a twist. Rez asks himself ordinary teenage questions – who am I? What is the meaning and purpose of my life? – in extraordinary circumstances. His radicalisation and the choices he makes are quite devastating. – Kate Sidley, @KateSidley

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Book Bites: 5 November

Published in the Sunday Times

Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight
Naoki Higashida, Sceptre, R315
*****

Naoki Higashida allows a glimpse into the life of autism. He was declared a “non-verbal” autistic, but can communicate through an alphabet graph, and what he says for himself and those like him will astound you. Between poetry, memories and musings, Higashida shows that “non-verbal” does not mean he cannot communicate. He shares his frustrations and offers alternatives to pre-conceived notions of autism. His simple request is to allow people with special needs to be accepted along with everyone else, and to avoid autism dictating every aspect of their lives. Higashida decries pity, and believes in humanity, love and hard work. He is wise beyond his years, and profoundly admirable. – Samantha Gibb (@samantha_gibb)

A Thousand Paper Birds
Tor Udall, Bloomsbury Circus, R318
****

Green thumbs will delight in this wondrous novel set in the Kew Gardens. Meet Jonah the musician and widower, Milly the inquisitive child, Harry the lonely gardener, and Chloe the artist who finds comfort in origami. These characters have only two things in common: an attachment to the world-famous gardens, and Audrey, Jonah’s dead wife. Mystery abounds in this lyrical tale, treading lightly into the supernatural. But this story is not all sunshine and orchids; thorns poke and puncture with the raw realities of grief, loneliness, and human imperfection. It’s The Secret Garden for grown-ups. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng, Little Brown, R275
****

A fascinating slice of life in small-town America during the Clinton years. Artist Mia Warren moves herself and her teenage daughter Pearl to the conservative community of Shaker Heights in Cleveland. Here everything is carefully ordered, just as Mrs Richardson prefers. But soon Mia and Pearl disrupt the “perfect lives” of the Richardson family. Ng builds up the tension wonderfully, and her storytelling is refreshing as she doesn’t feel the need to wrap everything up neatly. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt
 

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"Michael Stanley has written an excellent look at modern-day Botswana with a compelling cast of characters" - a review of Dying to Live

Dying to Live
When the body of a Bushman is discovered near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the death is written off as an accident.

But all is not as it seems. An autopsy reveals that, although he’s clearly very old, his internal organs are puzzlingly young. What’s more, an old bullet is lodged in one of his muscles … but where is the entry wound?

When the body is stolen from the morgue and a local witch doctor is reported missing, Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu gets involved. But did the witch doctor take the body to use as part of a ritual? Or was it the American anthropologist who’d befriended the old Bushman?

As Kubu and his brilliant young colleague, Detective Samantha Khama, follow the twisting trail through a confusion of rhino-horn smugglers, foreign gangsters and drugs manufacturers, the wider and more dangerous the case seems to grow.

A fresh, new slice of ‘Sunshine Noir’, Dying to Live is a classic tale of greed, corruption and ruthless thuggery, set in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, and featuring one of crime fiction’s most endearing and humane heroes.

Doreen Sheridan recently reviewed the sixth title in Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu-series for criminalelement.com:

I’m a big fan of the police procedural, and I have a special place in my reader’s heart for books in the genre that are set outside of the United States. It is utterly fascinating to read about all the ways in which cultures differ, particularly in the policing methods and protocols that make up such a large part of these novels.

Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu series is one excellent example, showcasing the police force of Botswana. In this sixth book, the dead body of a Bushman has been found near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. It looks like he was the elderly victim of a scuffle gone wrong, but an autopsy reveals that despite his aged exterior and brittle bones, his internal organs are those of a much younger man.

Pathologist Ian MacGregor reports this puzzle to our hero, Assistant Superintendent David “Kubu” Bengu of the Criminal Investigation Department, as a matter of interest even though the death is outside Kubu’s jurisdiction. However, when the body is stolen from the Gaborone Morgue and connections start to emerge with the case of a recently missing local witch doctor, Kubu and his team are drawn in to investigate.

Foremost of this team is Samantha Khama, the first female detective in the Botswana CID and Kubu’s protégé. She’s been assigned the witch doctor case, one she takes on reluctantly after Kubu convinces her that it’s a good opportunity to snoop around in the witch doctor’s life. What better way to gather evidence to support her suspicions of his complicity in illegal activities, after all?

Continue reading Sheridan’s review here.

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Scrambled lives: Michele Magwood reviews Neel Mukherjee's viscerally realistic A State of Freedom

Published in the Sunday Times

A State of Freedom
Neel Mukherjee, Chatto & Windus, R295
*****

At the beginning of this intricate, adroit book a man and his young son are being driven through the streets of Agra in India. He is a wealthy academic who left his country for the US 20 years before, his six-year-old son is entirely American. The visit has a melancholic tone about it: the man is uncomfortable and alienated, feeling like a tourist in his birthplace. The child is listless and overwhelmed by the crowds and the touts.

They are both sickened when they witness a worker falling to his death from the scaffolding of a high-rise building.
 

In the last chapter of the book Neel Mukherjee returns to this doomed worker, taking the reader into his head as he frets and sweats, dreaming of the money this dangerous job will bring, an agonising stream-of-consciousness lament that culminates in his falling, “everything pouring up around the rushing arrow that he cuts through the unimpeded air”.

Between these dramatic bookends Mukherjee interleaves several stories. Another returnee, this time a liberal hipster from London, is writing a book about regional food in India and tries to engage with his family’s cook in Mumbai, to the chagrin of his class-bound mother. Two best friends from a remote Bengali village are pushed in two radical directions: one as a servant in the city, the other into the Maoist guerilla movement.

In another poor village an abusive father finds a bear cub and trains it – cruelly – to dance, and abandons his family to seek his fortune. This man appears at the car window in the first chapter; his brother is the man who falls from the skyscraper. The young servant from the Bengali village is the cook’s assistant in the Mumbai house. Gradually, through echoes and recurring motifs, we learn the characters’ backstories and their destinies, but there are no neat endings. Rather, as the author implies, the frayed ends of their lives reflect the untidy nature of contemporary India.

At times acutely, viscerally realistic, and others dreamlike and fey, this is a startling book that reinforces Mukherjee’s reputation as a writer on the rise. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

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