Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance, by John Berger

Sixteen short essays, written between 2001 and 2006, linked by the thread of the hope (or in Berger’s coinage ‘undefeated despair’) that enables people to continue the struggle – ‘surviving the nights and imagining a new day’ – in an era of unrestrained capitalism and the ‘war on terror’. A thread that takes him through the plight of the Palestinians, the poetry of Nazim Hikmet, Hurricane Katrina, the films of Pasolini, the music of Dvorak, the invasion of Iraq, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the stories of Platonov,  9/11, the July 7 bombings, and much more besides. AS

Verso; 2007; 142 pages

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A River Dies Of Thirst: A Diary, by Mahmoud Darwish

By turns lyrical and meditative, playful and ironic, imbued with exile and loss, and steadfastly truthful, the pieces in this collection were mostly written in Ramallah during the summer of 2006, as Israel invaded Lebanon. By juxtaposing fully-worked poems, journal entries, poetic fragments and prose poems Darwish blurs the boundaries between forms.  In the final entry he writes, “All prose here is primitive poetry lacking a skilled craftsman, and all the poetry is prose accessible to passers-by.” A fitting farewell to a writer regarded as the voice of the Palestinian people and one of the greatest poets of our time. AS

Saqi Books; 2009; 165 pages

Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman

This novel is centred on Stalingrad during the second world war. Soviet and Nazi troops fight street by street. In house 6/1 normal military discipline has broken down amongst the Russian troops, and yet they repel every attack. The taste of freedom has emboldened them. The cast of characters takes us beyond Stalingrad, to Nazi death camps and villages deep in the Russian hinterland. Grossman’s first hand experiences of the war give this book a raw descriptive power and a deep humanism. It is about human beings struggling for freedom even when “life is full to the brim with need”. JM

Vintage; 2006; 864 pages

Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America, by Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas

A unique and fascinating perspective on the effects of the recent economic trends on America’s ‘fly-over’ states. Sociologists Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas move to a small town in rural Iowa to investigate parallel and symbiotic phenomena: ‘brain drain’, a cycle of encouraging the best and brightest to fulfill their potential by leaving the small town in favour of larger cities with more opportunities; simultaneously, as unskilled labour moves from the American heartland to countries such as China and Mexico in order to increase profits for shareholders, entire ‘brain-drained’ communities collapse overnight, leaving families without income and workers without options. MEL

Beacon Press; 2009; 224 pages

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War, by Joe Bageant

With compelling anecdotes, Bageant illustrates the complicated circumstances of the lives of the working poor in the American south, who vote for politicians who undermine their economic and social freedoms. These stories are by turns funny and sad, almost always compassionate but sometimes ruthless as Bageant explores issues such as evangelical religion, anti-union sentiment, right-wing grassroots efforts, gun control, health care, and televised sports as the opiate of the masses. The first half of the book is especially strong in its analysis of the class struggle — not so much one class against another, as one class struggling to survive. MEL

Three Rivers Press; 2008; 288 pages


Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers. George Orwell

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