Bahrain’s Uprising ed. by Ala’a Shehabi and Marc Owen Jones

Bahrain Uprising book against yellow wall - cover shows Pearl Roundabout

note – as this project is about reading writing by women, this review focuses on the chapter ‘Shifting contours of activism and possibilities for justice in Bahrain‘ by Ala’a Shehabi and Luke G.G. Bhatia; Shehabi is a Bahraini writer and researcher who co-founded Bahrain Watch, an NGO that advocates for accountability and social justice in Bahrain

a nutshell: this powerful chapter shares valuable insights into Bahrain’s ‘advocacy revolution’, the topography of opposition actors, and the emerging possibilities for the fight for human rights and, crucially, self-determination

a line: “the sense of self-emancipation experienced in the euphoria of mass protests can be a life-changing personal transformation”

an image: nicknamed ‘the Butcher of Bahrain‘, British officer Ian Henderson makes a brief appearance in this chapter – a figure I learned of (with horror) during my time at the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy

a thought: once again, like so often happens in this project, I was ashamed of my homeland – the UK has consistently enabled the regime’s increasingly ‘acceptable’ mode of repression, for instance, as mentioned here, advising on improved discourse, better surveillance technology, fewer physical marks following torture, and fewer journalists covering developments

a fact: the authors share a bleak statistic from Eric Posner’s ‘The case against human rights‘ – 150 out of 193 countries continue to engage in torture and the number of authoritarian countries has risen

want to read Bahrain’s Uprising? visit here

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

a nutshell: from Somalia to the US via Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Netherlands, this polarising public figure’s memoir follows her journey through an unimaginably turbulent childhood into an adulthood that pivots on her vocal disavowal of her former religion, Islam

a line: “Drinking wine and wearing trousers were nothing compared to reading the history of ideas.”

an image: while describing the period of her childhood spent in Mecca, the writer conjures up a strikingly vivid contrast between what she sees as the cool, beautiful, kindly space within the Grand Mosque and the intensely hot, filthy, cruel space outside the mosque’s doors

a thought: I was intrigued by Ali’s fairly understated comment on p.94 that novels were what saved her from submission – reading fiction gave her glimpses of another world, which ultimately sparked the sense of rebellion that changed her life, but once she had landed in the other world she refers only to non-fiction

a fact: Ali and I occupy very opposite ends of the political spectrum – and while I do try to read widely, which necessarily includes views I disagree with, my interest in the book waned as it went on; I felt like it became less a reflection on Ali’s life story and more an engine for promoting her hostility towards Islam

want to read Infidel? visit here

Revolution Sunday by Wendy Guerra (tr. Achy Obejas)

a nutshell: following the suspicious death of her parents, a Havana-based poet writes an award-winning poetry collection, finds herself under constant surveillance by the government, and embarks on a strange relationship with a Hollywood filmmaker

a line: “My black dress seems to shatter when it comes in contact with the night. The full moon poses a threat from infinity and a shiver releases my desire to feel something new.”

an image: about midway through the book, the narrator describes a dreamlike scene of jasmine mist, in which she experiences the lethargy from which poerty is born, with the salt of a bay on her lips, reconstructing the landscape in water and India ink

a thought: among the novel’s name-dropping (beginning with the dedication, ‘for Gabo’) is an aside about the narrator having once been seated at a table next to Herta Müller (whose novel, set during Ceaușescu’s regime, I read earlier in the project) where she heard Müller say she recited poetry to herself whenever she was taken to the Securitate for interrogations – I love finding these connections between the books I read

a fact: on starting this book I knew very little about censorship in Cuba, and learned that this one-party state has continued year after year to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index – in the 2020 index, Cuba ranks 171 out of 180 countries

want to read Revolution Sunday? visit here