We Need New Stories: clear dissection of emerging myths

Review: Nesrine Malik pulls apart narratives spawned by the opinion-forming classes

Nesrine Malik’s book is well-researched and thorough; her tone neither ironic nor sneering.

Nesrine Malik’s book is well-researched and thorough; her tone neither ironic nor sneering.

Last winter, the Brooklyn-based literary magazine n+1 published a thoughtful essay on the subject of white male-resentment and the idea that free speech is in crisis. The essay was probing and nuanced and it travelled widely. “None of the men I had in mind were Nazis,” wrote the author, Dayna Tortorici, but many of the men in her circles – left-wing, literary – were also telling her they felt as if they were living in Soviet Russia. They told her they could no longer speak. In the end, the piece called the situation for what it was: a hostility from those who were being asked – not always politely or eloquently – to re-examine their manner of existing in the world, in order to make room for others. “Must history have losers?” asked Tortorici. “The record suggests yes. Redistribution is a tricky business.”

The pushback against the tricky business of redistribution is also the theme of Nesrine Malik’s first book, which examines the issue through the lens of the stories constructed by those who feel their authority ebbing in society, and who have reached for powerful, even dangerous, narratives to guard the status quo. Malik’s tone is less musing than Tortorici’s – she is a Guardian columnist accustomed to direct and forceful argument – but she presents her case persuasively, with admirable clarity, and in doing so cuts through a lot of the messy, often befuddling noise.

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