This is a book about us, the millions who marched against the Iraq war in 2003, and the revolutionary socialists who worked hard to build that demonstration. Unlike Ian McEwan's tedious Saturday, which sneers at the marchers from outside, Zeilig (best known to Socialist Review readers for his work on Africa) knows the movement from inside. He was himself arrested on a demo in 2002. But this is no Socialist Realist presentation of heroic revolutionaries.
Eddie Bereskin, the narrator and central character, is a deeply flawed figure. His wild challenge to the police on a demonstration arouses our sympathy, but his own comrades accuse him of "acting like a bloody anarchist". He has the natural impatience of youth which lies at the root of ultra-leftism: "I thought life was long and history short. I tended to see every civic gathering as the possible start of socialist revolution, not the ebb and flow of a parliamentary system."
Charged with unlawful violence on the demo, Eddie is defended by a big-mouthed ultra-left lawyer who rants on about Lenin and wants to make the trial "the exposure of global capitalism". Eddie "just wanted to get off".
Eddie can also be pompous, denouncing his partner Rebecca for waxing her legs ("These things we do to our bodies must be unravelled, interrogated...") Worse, he treats her violently.
But Eddie's faults, and his painfully difficult relationship with Rebecca, are rooted in his family. His father, Stewart, was a deeply ambiguous figure. A Communist activist, he and Eddie's mother had been involved in the actions against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, and there are interesting flashbacks linking the campaigns against war in Vietnam and Iraq (though a pedant like myself is irritated by Zeilig's inability to get dates right). But Stewart was also a liar, and violent to his children, and we see the catastrophic after-effects of his broken marriage. The chief victim is Esther, Eddie's sister, who has serious mental health problems. Eddie goes to visit her in what he calls the "Psychiatric Unit For Sisters and Daughters Beaten By Their Fathers And Fucked Up By Nuclear Families".
At times this is a very funny novel, satirising the foibles of the left, though always from a position of deep commitment to that same left. But it is also a profoundly sad book which constantly reminds us that capitalism and its institutions, above all the family, can only be resisted and ultimately destroyed by those who are its victims, and that the victims are not only oppressed materially, but also warped and corrupted from within. As Eddie writes, "More than ever I needed a revolution to cleanse me of the muck and prejudice of ages."
Eddie the Kid is published by Zero Books, £10.99