John Newsinger

With Friends Like These ...

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Review of 'Stalin's British Victims' by Francis Beckett, Sutton £20

The excuse usually put forward by former Communists for their support of the Great Terror in the 1930s is that they did not know what was really going on in the Soviet Union. The truth was that they did not want to know. Not only that, they were also a party to an international campaign of lies, slander and intimidation that was intended to deny a hearing to those trying to expose Stalin's crimes.

One Day It Will Arrive

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John Newsinger marvels at a revolutionary fantasy.

One review of China Miéville's new novel, while praising it, nevertheless felt obliged to comment on the amount of political baggage that it carried. What the reviewer meant was that he had just read and enjoyed a fantasy novel informed by revolutionary socialist politics and found the experience disconcerting. Of course, all fiction carries political baggage and fantasy more openly than most. Indeed, the politics of most fantasy literature is some variety of royalism. The world is beset by evil and a hereditary monarch appears to put it right.

Covert Powers

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Review of 'Intelligence Wars', Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books £16.99

On the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, his brother Robert, the US attorney general, asked the director of the CIA, John McCone, if the agency was responsible. His brother's death had obviously affected Robert Kennedy's judgement because he apparently believed that McCone would tell him the truth. But while the question of who was responsible for Kennedy's assassination remains open, what is interesting about this incident is that it shows that the US attorney general had absolutely no illusions about what sort of organisation the CIA was or what it was capable of.

Orwell Centenary: The Biographies

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George Orwell was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. On the hundredth anniversary of his birth we examine the controversy around his work and his legacy for today. John Newsinger reviews recent biographies of Orwell.

In 1946 George Orwell was to acknowledge the importance of his Spanish experiences. Spain, he wrote, had 'turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line I have written since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.' What is remarkable, of course, is that an old Etonian, very much a product of the imperial middle class should have ended up fighting in Spain with the POUM militia and then have gone on to become the most important socialist writer and novelist of 20th century Britain.

Shot for a Purpose

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A history of American war films

Darryl F Zanuck's 'The Longest Day' was very much a Nato film. It was made during the 1961 Berlin Wall crisis and reflected the US's need of its European allies in the Cold War with Russia. The film went out of its way to show the British, French, German and American experience of the D-Day landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944. The Allies were shown working together and those 'decent' Germans who had fought bravely and were not Nazi fanatics were rehabilitated. There was, of course, no mention of the Russian contribution to the defeat of the Nazis.

On Mums and Orphans

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Shaun Doherty's review of Peter Mullan's 'The Magdalene Sisters' (Feburary SR) was spot on. It is also worth drawing your readers' attention to Mullan's earlier masterpiece, 'The Orphans', which is available on video and DVD.

This is a grim, wonderful, surreal, working class black comedy. Set in Glasgow, it follows the misadventures of three brothers and their disabled sister the night before their mother's funeral.

While not wanting to go over the top, it was one of the best films I have seen, although my mum thought the masturbation scene unnecessary! It is essential viewing.

John Newsinger
Leicester

Rehabilitating the Truth

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Review of 'Vietnam and Other American Fantasies', H Bruce Franklin, University of Massachusetts Press £15.95

Over the Xmas of 1972, with an agreement between North Vietnam and the US imminent, Richard Nixon ordered an all-out aerial assault on the North, with B-52s flying over 700 sorties in 12 days. The response to this stepping up of the war was a strike by those working at the secret 6990th air force security service base on Okinawa. The strikers cheered every time news came through that a B-52 had been shot down. At the same time four aircraft carriers, Ranger, Forrestal, Coral Sea and Kitty Hawk, were incapacitated by sabotage and mutiny, unable to play their part in the bombardment.

Riding the Crest of a Wave

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Review of 'The Scar', China Miéville, Macmillan £17.99

Fantasy is one of the most popular forms of fiction today. A visit to any bookshop will reveal row after row of fantasy novels, mostly adventure stories but with a growing comedy section as well (mostly written by Terry Pratchett). The great bulk of these novels are set in some sort of romanticised feudal society where good is battling against evil, the lower classes know their place and magic works. There are elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons, princes and princesses, wizards and, inevitably, those most maligned of fictional creatures, orcs, the despised proletariat of conservative fantasy.

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