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Harrison Shepherd is a quiet and introspective boy with a passion for writing that he expresses by keeping a rather detailed diary. It is this diary that we are reading for most of Barbara Kingsolver’s extraordinary new novel. As the novel opens, Harrison, aged 13, has been taken back to Mexico by his Mexican mother, who has left his American father for what she hopes is a life of luxury with a Mexican oil magnate. Thus a pattern is set in Harrison’s life of journeys between the very different worlds of Mexico and east coast America, never really fitting in either.
Essentially the novel has two parts. The first is Harrison’s adolescence and young adulthood, culminating in the time he spends working for the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and then as a secretary to Leon Trotsky until he is murdered. The second begins with his subsequent journey to the United States and revolves around the consequences of the post-war anti-communist witch hunts which destroyed so many careers and lives.
The author’s concern with social injustice shines throughout the book, from the consequences of the pitiful wage paid to the household servants by the Mexican oil magnate to the police violence against the impoverished first world war veterans marching in Washington in 1932 for the pensions they were promised but never paid. These experiences gradually politicise Harrison, though he remains a sympathiser with the broad left, rather than an active member of any organisation.
From the moment she enters the story properly, Harrison’s friendship with Frida Kahlo is a compellingly drawn feature of the story. She encourages him to write, and to ‘go sleep with some boys’ as he wrestles shyly with his desires; they share their respective episodes of depression, and each other’s secrets. As with her portrayal of Trotsky, Kingsolver pulls off convincing fictionalisations of real historical characters.
Mexican culture, its food, its festivals, its Mayan and Aztec heritage, is also richly described. Together with a well-paced plot, which ends with a very satisfying denouement, this makes for a deftly written story which is comparable in scope and quality to Kingsolver’s rightly celebrated The Poisonwood Bible.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns