Friday, 17 June 2011

Santa arrives yet again…

More fascinating books in the post today. Thanks to the generosity of David at World of Books, I've acquired three more Left Book Club volumes, and one from it's bastard evil twin, the Right Book Club.

Russell's Colour, Race and Empire (1944) is a good socialist discussion of how to hand over the Empire at the end of World War Two, and to end racism. Anti-fascist war-hero Andre Malraux's Days of Contempt is a translated novel of the 1930s underground German resistance to Hitler (translated by Haakon M. Chevalier: what a name), and Rats! is an insider's guide to the British war profiteers by 'The Pied Piper' (actually Joseph Mallalieu, a Labour politician).

The Right Book Club volume is environmentalist and canal revivalist L. T. C. Rolt's Narrow Boat, an account of a leisurely trip through the Midlands, including many places I grew up in or worked in, with illustrations. RBC books are rare because it wasn't a successful venture, specialising mainly in 'conversion' memoirs and scare stories about those evil socialists who were intent on sapping the national spirit by, er, founding the NHS and other evil statist institutions. Narrow Boat is interesting because it tries a subtler tack: evoking the romance of the canals and 'old England', then claiming that all these things are being subverted by those pesky Communists. Conservative undoubtedly, but an interesting read and not really deserving of being tarnished by association with the Right Book Club's ultra-reactionary stance.

The final book is Dai Smith's In The Frame: Memory in Society 1910-2010. It's also interesting as a 'personal history' of South Wales, and liable to be rather dubious. I say this with considerable reluctance: Smith is a hard-lefty like me, though one who has climbed several greasy poles in his time to become part of the Welsh establishment. However, in the course of my PhD I came to distrust his academic approach. For his own political reasons, he canonised Lewis Jones's Cwmardy and We Live as simple propagandist Communist novels, when in fact they're much more slippery and complex than he admits. Then when the novels were republished in the Library of Wales recently, he silently amended characters' names to make them more Welsh: editorially and politically dishonest, as far as I'm concerned. Finally, despite being Gwyn Thomas's literary executor, he edited his Sorrow For Thy Sons massively to make it a simple story of proletarian deprivation and political enlightenment, but won't let anyone see the material he discarded: I know, because I wrote two unacknowledged letters to him.

Right, I'm off to beard Mr Uppal in his den. Full report on Monday.

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