Kate Hunter

Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance

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The title of this exhibition, which spans Portuguese artist Paula Rego’s output from the 1960s to the present day, succinctly describes the tensions expressed in her complex work. Rego’s experience and imagination are particular to Portuguese society —starting with growing up under Salazar’s savage fascist dictatorship and the weight of the Catholic Church. But her works go beyond the particular to comment on the human experience — particularly women’s — in all oppressive, hierarchical societies.

Common People: an Anthology of Working Class Writers

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According to French writer and sociologist Didier Eribon, “If you write about the working class you have left it,” though he also said, “You can never escape your social class, even if you believe you have.” This anthology of memoirs, essays and poems by working class writers has a lot to say about that conundrum.

The Realm of the Punisher

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I read this book hoping to learn about the Philippines, a country of which I have only a smattering of knowledge. I finished it with a slightly larger smattering: about Spanish and US imperial domination and Japan’s invasion during the Second World War; Rodrigo Duterte’s upbringing and his brutal reign as mayor of Davao, and his payment-by-results “war on drugs” as president that is causing thousands of state-sponsored murders.

You're Not Here

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Tariq Mehmood, author of this novel for young adults, was one of the Bradford 12. Arrested in 1981 when Asian youth took to the streets to confront the threat of organised racist attacks on their community, they were charged with making petrol bombs. All 12 were acquitted in a landmark 1982 trial on the grounds of the right to self-defence. “Self-Defence is No Offence” was the slogan of the campaign to free them.

The Book of Harlan

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Born in Georgia in 1917, black jazz and blues musician Harlan moves north, first to Kansas City and then to Harlem. With best friend Lizard, a Jewish trumpet player, he forms a band that, in the late 1930s, joins other black musicians in the Harlem of Paris, Montemarte. But when Paris is occupied by the Nazis, Harlan and Lizard are transported to Buchenwald.

Events in Buchenwald are dramatised in stark, economical detail. In one particularly gruelling scene, Isle Koch, wife of the commander of Buchenwald, amuses herself by brutally abusing captives.

Damnificados

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Can someone who is not South American write good South American magical realism? Probably, though where this novel’s concerned the answer is not quite. While it has all the elements — social realism combined with aspects of myth, folklore and the fantastical, as well as sympathy for the downtrodden and for social justice — it skims the surface rather than getting under the skin of the world it portrays.

The Divide

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You’ll have heard the facts. The UK’s 1,000 richest individuals own more than the poorest 40 percent. In the US 0.1 percent own as much as the bottom 90 percent. This film, a documentary inspired by the 2009 book The Spirit Level, puts flesh on the bones of the data.

The book’s authors argued that what determines the health of any society is less the overall wealth than how the wealth is distributed. The more inequality, the sicker the society. The Divide introduces us to seven US and UK people living in societies with massive gaps between rich and poor.

Regeneration

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Regeneration

In 1916 the physician-superintendent of Edinburgh Asylum claimed that the First World War “did not appear to have increased the amount of insanity”. His colleague at Glasgow Asylum went further: the “abundance of occupation…[and] absorbing interest in the national crisis…had thus increased and not diminished the mental stability and general health of the nation”.

A new stage adaptation of Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy about the treatment of “war neurosis”, or post-traumatic stress disorder, among officers at Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart Military Hospital gives the lie to this.

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