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Booktopia: Louise Christian

The Bridge of San Luis Rey Thornton Wilder, Penguin Classics (first published 1927) This novel is about the collapse of a bridge in Peru in the 17th century and the deaths of five people. A Jesuit priest sets out to prove that they deserved to die and ends up proving the opposite. The family of […]

December 11, 2009
5 min read

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Thornton Wilder, Penguin Classics (first published 1927)

This novel is about the collapse of a bridge in Peru in the 17th century and the deaths of five people. A Jesuit priest sets out to prove that they deserved to die and ends up proving the opposite. The family of the novelist Nina Bawden, whose husband died in the Potters Bar rail crash and who was herself injured, told me about this story and its resonance for pondering the illogicality of fate.

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens, Wordsworth Editions (first published 1859)

Lawyer Sydney Carton is dissolute and unlovable. But twice he saves the day for Charles Darnay, an undercover member of the aristocracy who resembles him in appearance. In the early part of the book he secures his acquittal in a terrorism trial at the Old Bailey and at the end he performs an act of supreme sacrifice in substituting himself for Charles at the guillotine of the French Revolution. As novels about lawyers go, I prefer this one to the more commonly chosen To Kill a Mockingbird.

Erewhon

Samuel Butler, Penguin Classics (first published 1872)

A traveller arrives in a country where criminals are regarded as being ill and the sick are treated as criminals. A form of doctor known as a ‘straightener’ arrives to flog a man ‘ill’ of embezzling money, while a bout of stealing socks is a polite social excuse and a man dying of consumption pleads his innocence of disease. Written in the 19th century – before Brecht, Kafka or Saramago.

The Master and Margarita

Mikhail Bulgakov, Vintage Classics (first published 1967)

Banned by Stalinist Russia, this book was only published many years after the author’s death in 1940. It interweaves chapters about Pontius Pilate with a fantastical tale of a magician who is Satan in disguise and his retinue, which includes a talking black tomcat. A satire of politics, religion and reality whose multiple meanings fascinate on every re-read.

Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful

Alan Paton, Penguin 1983

Written 30 years after his other masterpiece Cry the Beloved Country, this novel explores passionately – but also with irony – the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Particularly telling for me was the description of the way in which laws such as the Group Areas Act were used to legitimise injustice. The book tells the story of people, from a schoolgirl to a station master, who come up against these laws and fight back.

Daniel Deronda

George Eliot, Wordsworth Classics (first published 1876)

I love all George Eliot’s novels, but this one, which was her last, is courageous as one of the first literary denunciations of the dehumanising effects of racism. Daniel Deronda has to come terms with his discovery that he is Jewish and confront the anti-semitism of the time. Gwendolen Harleth, the heroine, marries for power rather than love and suffers the consequences.

Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics, 1948-1998

Harold Pinter

Faber and Faber 1998

I met Harold through Red Pepper and spoke alongside him at Red Pepper meetings. This book (my copy of which he signed for me) includes his reflections on the arrest of Kurdish actors rehearsing his play Mountain Language and the seizure by police of the toy guns hired from the National Theatre, a case of reality mimicking art. My firm sued the police for the actors – we were disappointed when the police settled it as we were looking forward to calling Harold as a witness in the trial. Harold’s plays and writing reflect his deep understanding of oppression and tyranny in all their manifestations.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers, Penguin Modern Classics (first published 1940)

Deaf-mute John Singer makes friends with a cast of characters in the Deep South of the US in the 1930s. Full of humanity, this novel is a heartfelt plea for lonely people who are mistreated and marginalised by an uncaring society and for the human need for the love of others.

Louise Christian is a civil liberties and human rights lawyer, and her selections can be purchased here.

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The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Labour’s NEC has started to empower party members – but we still have a mountain to climb
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament