Esme Choonara

Song of Gulzarina

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This is a powerful, sweeping novel that follows the life of Saleem Khan, a high school teacher from rural Pakistan who migrates to Bradford in the 1960s. Saleem faces vicious racism in the Yorkshire mills, becomes a witness to the violence of imperialism when he returns to Pakistan and ends his tale contemplating suicide bombing in modern day Manchester.

'From the slow river into a rapid'

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In February 1917 Russian workers toppled the hated emperor, beginning a process of mass revolt that would lead just eight months later to the overthrow of the entire state machinery. Esme Choonara explains how discontent turned into revolution.

Thousands of workers in the streets, soldiers in mutiny, police stations burned, the prisons opened. These were the incredible events of February 1917 that sparked the Russian Revolution.

The author and journalist Arthur Ransome wrote of these events, “Revolution turns the slow river of political development into a rapid in which the slightest action has an immediate effect.”

The Unknown Girl

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“A good doctor controls their emotions in order to make a correct diagnosis.” This is the advice that young medic Jenny Davin tries to impress upon her intern Julien in the opening scenes of The Unknown Girl. Yet it is her barely suppressed emotions that drive Jenny into the obsessive mission at the heart of this captivating film.

Sherpa

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Sherpa is the fascinating story of an inspiring labour dispute, set against the breathtaking scenery of the world’s highest mountain.

Film-maker Jennifer Peedom and her team were on Everest in 2014 to document the climbing season from the point of view of the Sherpas — a term used interchangeably for a Nepalese ethnic group and for all those employed to assist Western climbers.

Submission

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Submission is an irredeemably joyless novel steeped in misogyny and lazy stereotypes of Islam. Reviews on the cover promise that it will be “extraordinary” (Le Monde), “electrifying” (Spectator) and like “a tropical storm” (Observer). It is not.

The novel follows the melancholic musings of 40-something French academic Francois, a disenchanted intellectual whose main interests are having sex with his students and the work of 19th century novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans.

Is there a precariat?

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In recent times some have suggested that we have witnessed the rise of the "precariat". This new class of workers, who endure insecure conditions and low wages, are thought to have different interests to organised workers and little use for trade unions. Esme Choonara disagrees

Four years ago McDonald's attempted, unsuccessfully, to have the term "McJobs" removed from dictionaries. They were annoyed that McJobs were seen by so many as epitomising the main sort of work on offer, especially for young people: low-paid, low-skilled service sector work, often short term and with very little prospects.

Many now feel that the economic landscape is now dominated by McJobs and growing job insecurity. The growth of agency work, outsourcing and privatisation, coupled with growing job losses, has also added to a feeling that there are no decent permanent jobs left.

Militancy and Leadership

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After the massive and militant student demonstration last month, and the responses to it, Esme Choonara looks at the question of what sort of leadership we need to take the struggle forward.



Photo: Geoff Dexter

The old maxim that we get the leaders we deserve was dramatically disproved during the magnificent 50,000 strong student protest in London on 10 November.

Interview with Gary Younge: the contradictions of identity

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Identity politics have increasingly come to shape political dialogue. Gary Younge, Guardian columnist and author of a new book on the subject, spoke to Esme Choonara about immigration, racism and class.

Why did you write a book about identity?

It's an issue people talk about a lot and that has become increasingly central to our politics. But we don't often talk about it in the most informed ways.

Che Guevara

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Olivier Besancenot and Michael Lowy, Monthly Review Press; £12.95

"Ernesto 'Che' Guevara was not a saint, a superman or an infallible leader," the authors assert at the beginning of this engaging book. In this spirit they show how Che's ideas evolved throughout his short life.

As well as playing a key role in leading the guerrillas to power in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Che was centrally involved in the debates about what to do in power - how to take the revolution forward and what sort of society should replace the toppled dictatorship.

T is for Trotsky

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In a world dominated by capitalist crisis and war the life and writings of Leon Trotsky can offer socialists some pointers on the way forward.

Trotsky was central to leading two revolutions in Russia - the 1905 Revolution, which was crushed by Russia's brutal Tsar, and the victorious 1917 Revolution which ushered in for a brief time the most liberated and radical society we have yet seen. He was the key organiser of the insurrection through which the revolution took power in October 1917. He also defended the fledgling new society leading the revolutionary Red Army to victory against more than a dozen invading armies.

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