Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain

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Read 09/01/2022-27/01/2022

Rating 4 stars

I like Sathnam Sanghera. He makes difficult, emotive subject matter accessible. His documentary about the Amritsar massacre led me to Kim Wagner’s book Amritsar 1919. I haven’t yet watched his Empire State of Mind series, but I reserved his book Empireland somewhere in the distant past of 2021 and it arrived from the library at the start of this year.

Empireland begins with a set of acknowledgements that include the following statement, “… I’m going to spend as little time as possible fretting about definitions: almost every term used in discussion of empire, from ‘colony’ to ‘commonwealth’ to ‘colonialism’, to say nothing of ‘race’ and ‘racism’, can be contested, their meanings changing over time.” Sanghera goes on to say that immersion in definitions produces long academic books, and his ambition in writing Empireland was to create the opposite.

He has succeeded. Empireland is Sanghera’s personal exploration of who he is, as a British Sikh, and how empire has created the environment he grew up in, as well as influenced the language and attitudes everyone in Britain has, across race, gender, religion and politics. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Bass Rock to The Lowland

Hello June, here so soon. I’m a day late for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation because summer arrived in Manchester this week and yesterday was too glorious to pass up the chance to read in the garden. Kate, who hosts the meme at Books Are My Favourite and Best, has chosen the Stella Prize winning book The Bass Rock for the first book in the chain.

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The Anarchy: the Relentless Rise of the East India Company

Read 08/02/2021-14/02/2021

Rating 3 stars

For my next read, I travelled from the 17th century and Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and England fighting to control trade across East Asia, as fictionalised in Shōgun, to the 18th century and the rise of a trading corporation with violence in its constitution. William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy is a boiled down history of the East India Company and its violent occupation and control of the Indian subcontinent that laid the foundations of the British Raj.

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Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men

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Read 14/12/2019-04/01/2020

Rating 4 stars

I found Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women a difficult read. It’s essential in its content and the topics Perez shines a light on, but I found its wide ranging subject and the approach Perez takes in evidencing and unpicking the topics she focuses on resulted in a somewhat dense, exhausting book. It relentlessly raises lots of issues across 300+ pages but leaves any possible solutions to the final dozen. It felt at times like one woman railing against injustice rather than a practical call to arms across society.

The book begins with a simple statement. Continue reading

Plastic Emotions

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Read 16/06/2019-24/06/2019

Rating 4 stars

Plastic Emotions is my second book towards the 20 Books of Summer readathon, and it’s perfect summer reading, full of sultry tropical heat and drowsy meanders through the glare of the afternoon sun.

With this, her second novel, Shiromi Pinto has woven a narrative that mingles fact with fiction to shine a light on an almost forgotten woman. It’s a book that made me want to bunk off work so that I could immerse myself in its world. Continue reading

Amritsar 1919

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Read 03/06/2019-16/06/2019

Rating 4 stars

Read for the 20 Books of Summer readathon hosted by 746 Books.

Back in April I watched Sathnam Sanghera’s film about the 100th anniversary of the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, India and was shocked at how little I really knew about the Raj, and about British brutality towards Indians. I mean, I knew we weren’t the blameless bringers of all things good that British history wants British people to believe, but I hadn’t realised the extreme distance we were from that fantasy. I wanted to know more about the massacre, so I reserved Kim A. Wagner’s book, published this year for the anniversary, at the library.

It’s an excellent exploration of what led up to the massacre and what followed, giving more weight to these elements of the meaning of Amritsar than to the massacre itself. He sets Amritsar in a wider social and political context that enables him to outline the need for reform in British politics and the reluctance of the ruling class to respond to that need. Continue reading

Twenty Books of Summer readathon

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I have 149 books that I own on my to read list. 78 of those are physical books that teeter in a pair of piles in front of one of my bookcases. When I read that Sandra (A Corner of Cornwall) and Paula (Book Jotter) are doing the 20 Books of Summer readathon hosted at Cathy’s blog 746 Books (I thought my to read pile was bad!), I decided this was the thing that I needed to focus my mind and get 20 of those books read. Continue reading

The Susan Effect

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Read 16/09/2018-25/09/2018

Rating: 5 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room European Backpacking Challenge.

Years ago my friend Sharon lent me Peter Høeg’s novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. I loved it.

I read Borderliners as well. I didn’t love it as much as Miss Smilla but it was still good.

I haven’t read anything by Peter Høeg since then. I needed a book set in Denmark or written by someone Danish for the reading challenge I’ve been doing this summer. Looking around online I discovered that Høeg’s latest book was out in paperback. I read the blurb and it sounded like fun. Continue reading

When I Hit You

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Read 13/05/2018-17/05/2018

Rating: 5 stars

Meena Kandasamy’s fictionalised account of her abusive marriage is on the short list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Knowing what it’s about, in very broad terms, I’ve been reluctant to read it, but a couple of glowing reviews piqued my curiosity.

The book describes four months and eight days of domestic abuse and marital rape. It describes why a woman in that situation might not be able to leave, and might not want to leave. It describes how abused women easily disappear from their social circles because the other people in those circles don’t want to look for reasons why.

I found it eye-opening. It made concrete something that I have only thought about abstractly. I’m thankful that I have never been raped, that the worst things I’ve experienced have been isolated incidents of physical and verbal abuse. I read this book from a relatively safe space. I can’t say whether a woman who has experienced or is experiencing the things Kandasamy describes would find it a help or a source of further distress to read this book. I can say that I found it well balanced and honest. Continue reading