Books in brief: A persuasive Rebecca Solnit, and essays on the treaty

Plus a searing novel based on the true story of mass rapes in a Bolivian Mennonite colony

Rebecca Solnit holds a precise pen. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

Rebecca Solnit holds a precise pen. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

 

Call Them by Their Names

Rebecca Solnit
Granta, £12.99
A blurb on this essay collection reads: “Rebecca Solnit is essential feminist reading.” The statement holds whether you include “feminist” or not. Solnit should be read by anyone with an interest in where we find ourselves right now, and what direction we could be headed: “the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.”

Solnit holds a precise pen, and any fixed positions a reader may have on, say, Hillary Clinton, are likely to shift under her nudging. Some commentators jab a finger in your shoulder. Solnit, though, takes you to one side with sense and sensibility. She never needs to raise her voice; there is little flash or fury in the writing.

The US is the ground on which these works stand but themes are universal – social justice, the environment, the big baby inside the White House – and Solnit’s references are wide, from the 1916 Irish Rising to Kenny Rogers. This book is a clear brook of reasoning in the opinionated deluge of absolutism and calumny which makes up many of our debates. NJ McGarrigle

The Treaty

Liam Weeks & Mícheál Ó Fathartaigh (eds)
Irish Academic Press, €19.95
The Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed on December 6th, 1921, this state’s founding document, has received surprisingly little attention. This valuable essay collection makes good that shortcoming and is “a forensic examination of the contents of the [treaty] debates and its participants”. The editors rightly remark that the debates “proved to be a critical moment in Irish history and shaped the path of future political competition in the state”. Issues examined in the various contributions are the stances of the pro- and anti-treatyites, the relevance of home rule to the debates, female pro- and anti-treaty perspectives, socio-economic perspectives and the legal aspects of the document. One interesting conclusion is that there was no discernible socio-economic, class dimension to the treaty debates or divide. The editors subject the debates to a fascinating quantitative text analysis, from which they conclude that there was very little difference between the two sides and that this explains why historically there’s been little difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two main political parties to emerge from the split. Brian Maye

Women Talking

Miriam Toews
Between 2005 and 2009, hundreds of girls and women woke up in their remote Mennonite colony in Bolivia, their bodies bruised and bleeding, having been attacked in the night. Many believed the attacks to be the work of demons or ghosts, punishing the women for past sins. In fact eight men had used an animal anaesthetic to drug the women unconscious, and had proceeded to rape them during the night. In 2011, the men were convicted, though reports of similar attacks across the country continued. Miriam Toews, who spent her childhood in a Mennonite community (a fact featured in her previous novel, All My Puny Sorrows), has written here a reaction, through fiction, to the events in Bolivia. The women, deciding whether to stay and fight, or whether to run, weigh up religion, love, freedom, and responsibility, with Toews brilliantly and sensitively navigating questions of solidarity, revenge and community. This is a timely novel, written in a language that seeps with biblical phrasing. Finely calibrated, tragicomic, dark and profound, it is a deeply felt battle-cry. Seán Hewitt

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