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Joanna Biggs: Zadie Smith, 1 December 2016

Swing Time 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 453 pp., £18.99, November 2016, 978 0 241 14415 2
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... The ends​ of great fiction do not change, much,’ Zadie Smith wrote eight years ago in an essay about David Foster Wallace. ‘But the means do.’ She was between novels: three years had passed since her most traditional, On Beauty, was published; NW, her most experimental, wouldn’t appear for another four ...


Mohammed el Gorani and Jérôme Tubiana: In Guantánamo, 15 December 2011

... Not like here in Chad. He became friends with a Pakistani boy who lived near him. We called him Ali. When I got 14, Ali asked me: ‘How long are you going to keep washing cars?’ He knew I wanted to be a dentist. All my friends had teeth problems, but there wasn’t a good dentist for non-Saudis – they just pull your ...


Stephen Smith: What about Somalia?, 11 February 1993

... as Robert Oakley, the President’s special representative, was wheedling Aideed and his enemy Ali Mahdi Mohamed into a hug opportunity for the cameras.) Any questions about disarmament have been met by the commanders of Operation Restore Hope with an insouciant ‘don’t know.’ Though the troops stripped Aideed’s arsenal in the Somali Capital, and ...

Travelling Text

Marina Warner: ‘The Arabian Nights’, 18 December 2008

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights 
translated by Malcolm Lyons, with Ursula Lyons.
Penguin, 2715 pp., £125, November 2008, 978 0 14 091166 4
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‘The Arabian Nights’ in Historical Context: Between East and West 
edited by Saree Makdisi and Felicity Nussbaum.
Oxford, 337 pp., £55, November 2008, 978 0 19 955415 7
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... with The Arabian Nights and have been retold in children’s books and films (‘Aladdin’, ‘Ali Baba’, ‘The Ebony Horse’, ‘Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peri Banou’), are probably Galland’s invention, concocted of pomegranates and ebony, damask and jasmine, in tribute to the style of the original stories.No early manuscript has been found for ...

Melancholy Actions

Charles Glass: Scuttling the French Fleet, 17 December 2009

England’s Last War against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-42 
by Colin Smith.
Weidenfeld, 490 pp., £25, July 2009, 978 0 297 85218 6
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... who in his long career seized more than 40 English ships. In 1940, the first shots in what Colin Smith calls ‘England’s last war against France’ were exchanged between the two navies. Before the armistice of 22 June, de Gaulle and Churchill had urged the French government to commit its large fleet and its 400,000-man colonial army in Africa to the war ...

Come hungry, leave edgy

Sukhdev Sandhu: Brick Lane, 9 October 2003

Brick Lane 
by Monica Ali.
Doubleday, 413 pp., £12.99, June 2003, 9780385604840
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... intention was to provoke more trouble following an incident four months earlier in which Altab Ali, a young clothing worker from Wapping, had been set upon and murdered by three men in nearby Adler Street. A photograph from the period shows a swastika scrawled on a wall above the message ‘We’re back.’ Today a park on Whitechapel Road is named after ...

Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow, 20 February 2020

... and their separation – could be used to create fiction for the age of lies. This is what Ali Smith has tried to do in her ‘Seasonal Quartet’ by charting the accidental collisions of different groups of British people – though these novels are also marred by the anger of the lie-ee by proxy, who is enraged not because she is herself ...

Making It Up

Raphael Samuel, 4 July 1996

Raymond Williams 
by Fred Inglis.
Routledge, 333 pp., £19.99, October 1995, 0 415 08960 3
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... Patrick Parrinder, ‘silent, smiling, ironic’, the best-dressed of the party; Tariq Ali with ‘lustrous brown eyes’ but (Inglis claims) ‘a bit out of it all’. As a narrative device it is brilliant, setting the scene for what is to be a bleak story, introducing some of the leading characters, and insinuating that the author was eyewitness ...


Dave Haslam, 20 July 1995

The Black Album 
by Hanif Kureishi.
Faber, 230 pp., £14.99, March 1995, 0 571 15086 1
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The Faber Book of Pop 
edited by Hanif Kureishi and Jon Savage.
Faber, 813 pp., £16.99, May 1995, 0 571 16992 9
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... music has also stormed the citadel of literary fiction, and characters in novels such as Karline Smith’s Moss Side Massive and Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity are identified, and minutely differentiated, by their music tastes. The characters in The Black Album tend not to be pinned down by their music tastes. Chili, the central character’s brother, is, in ...

Is this the end of the UK?

David Runciman: The End of the UK?, 27 May 2010

... able to buck the national trends, though unpopular local ones (hello Lembit Opik, hello Jacqui Smith) couldn’t rely on general goodwill to see them home. Yet in the cold light of morning, once the dust had settled, and before Cameron and Clegg decided to stir it all up again, this looked like a pretty conventional sort of result. A tough economic ...

The Martyrdom of Hossein Kharrazi

Christopher de Bellaigue: In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs, 2 January 2003

... head. Mr Rafi’i’s job was to teach seminarians the sayings, sermons and letters of the Imam Ali. For Shias, Ali is the supreme example of a just and generous sovereign. During his caliphate, he is said to have bought two shirts and offered the finer to his servant. His judges were so independent one found against him ...

That was the year that was

Tariq Ali, 24 May 2018

... they owned but it was a hell of a lot since its sale kept them going for a long time. Tariq Ali at the protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, London, 1968. Initially both my grandfathers belonged to the faction that supported the British. The big divide in the family began during the Sikh wars, with one side supporting the Sikhs and ...

Musical Beds

D.A.N. Jones, 30 December 1982

On Going to Bed 
by Anthony Burgess.
Deutsch, 96 pp., £4.95, August 1982, 0 233 97470 9
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The End of the World News 
by Anthony Burgess.
Hutchinson, 398 pp., £8.95, October 1982, 0 09 150540 2
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This Man and Music 
by Anthony Burgess.
Hutchinson, 192 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 09 149610 1
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... Powers: ‘It was the afternoon of my 81st birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me ... ’ And Toomey’s bedfellow maliciously warns his ancient lover that the churchman might have brought him a bull of excommunication as a birthday gift. Even an improper noise may call forth uninvited ...

Family History

Miles Taylor: Tony Benn, 25 September 2003

Free at Last: Diaries 1991-2001 
by Tony Benn.
Hutchinson, 738 pp., £25, October 2002, 0 09 179352 1
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Free Radical: New Century Essays 
by Tony Benn.
Continuum, 246 pp., £9.95, May 2003, 9780826465962
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... in 1988, he was a spent force. Voted off the NEC in 1993, he could only watch as first John Smith and then Blair and Gordon Brown modernised the Party. That they did so from Millbank Tower, built on the site of the house in which Benn was born, added pathos to the triumph of New Labour over old. The fate of the Bennite Left under New Labour underlines ...

Rumour Is Utterly Unfounded

Jenny Diski: Family Newspapers, 8 October 2009

Family Newspapers?: Sex, Private Life and the British Popular Press 1918-78 
by Adrian Bingham.
Oxford, 298 pp., £55, February 2009, 978 0 19 927958 6
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... detail. The means chosen should, of course, be poison. The Brides in the Bath murderer George Smith and John Christie of Rillington Place fitted the bill, while the Kray Brothers became tabloid proto-celebrities even as they were ordering gangland rivals to be shot or hacked to death. But there were limits, and in 1966 the horrors that came out during the ...

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