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Book Reviews

Algiers, Third World Capital

Volume 16, Issue 1 | Published 07/06/2019  

Author: Elaine Mokhtefi

Publ: Verso

Reviewer: Patti Mckenna-Jones

Elaine Mokhtefi arrives in Paris in 1951. Over the following decades she gives her all to facilitate the movement for Algerian Independence, on the way mingling with the best — and worst — political figures of the time.

Mokhtefi ascribes her political awakening to May Day 1952 when she witnesses a huge protest and is at first ‘bewitched by the formidable display of worker solidarity and trade unionism’. At the rear of the parade she notices thousands of men ‘young, grim, slightly built and poorly dressed’ without banners, rushing with arms raised to join in.

These had been scheduled to be on the demonstration but at the last minute the General Confederation of Labour had tried to block their inclusion. The unions had been told to prevent demands for Algerian Independence at this time as France was trying to crush political insurgence against them in North Africa. From this day the famous French motto ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ seemed insincere to Mohkti: ‘Colonialism and racism stood out as the two pillars of power and supremacy. I was shocked into reality.’

After making herself useful to the provisional Algerian Republic Office in New York, Mokhtefi moves to Algiers to help the new independent state. We can only guess at the difficulties faced by a country of 9 million people (of whom only 500 were graduates) suffering many thousands of fatalities from their eight year guerrilla war.

Despite all of that, Mokhtefi describes how Algeria became a haven and catalyst for artists and liberation movements from around the globe. She meets with superstars such as Oscar Peterson, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Fidel Castro, Simone de Beauvoir and Franz Fanon.

The main focus though is her dealings with the Black Panthers, particularly Eldridge Cleaver and his wife Kathleen. When Cleaver is kicked out of the US for attempted murder Mokhtefi, becomes his (and the Panther’s) interpreter, fixer and influencer, obtaining a stipend, a villa and national acceptance. When Germany donates a Volkswagen she even fetches it from Hanover to Algiers. At this point I would argue Moktefi’s talents were squandered on the Panthers.

Freedom

Volume 16, Issue 1 | Published 07/06/2019  

Author: Catherine Johnson

Publ: Scholastic

Reviewer: Olivia Alessi

Nathaniel lives in Jamaica and doesn’t want to move to England with his master’s family, leaving his mother and sister behind on the Jamaican plantation.

But his mother has told him: ‘once a slave sets foot on English soil, they’re free’. Perhaps he can earn his fortune and buy his family’s freedom, too. What would Nathaniel learn from this journey and living in England?

Nathaniel is brought over with the sole purpose of looking after pineapples. It’s his belief that England is a place of freedom but this is soon destroyed. He thinks of a plan to escape in order to feel real freedom, and along the way he meets characters who would go down in history as the slave trade edges towards abolition.

The book’s ending is brilliant: a mix of hope, determination and a great attitude toward life.

Johnson details the treatment of slaves in a way that allows children to begin to appreciate the seriousness and cruelty of it. It’s an exciting and moving story, even though at the heart of the book is a horrible truth.

A short story (only 138 pages) offering a fascinating, albeit depressing, insight into the lives of slaves in Britain at the end of the 18th century.

An outstanding, age appropriate (around 10 years plus) story of slavery from a very accomplished writer. Short and easy to read, full of action and lively characters. Johnson has written a well-balanced story of a heart-breaking and traumatic life and has filled it with scenes of friendship, kindness, warmth and laughter.

Guru. A Long Walk To Success

Volume 16, Issue 1 | Published 07/06/2019  

Authors: Narendra Raval with Kailash Mota

Publ: Bloomsbury India. Pps.314

ISBN: HB:978-9-3871-4689-1

Reviewer: John Sibi-Okumu

Guru is the ghost-written, rags to riches autobiography of Narendra Raval. Born in 1961, Raval rose, or rather has risen, because he is very much alive at the time of reviewing his book (October, 2018) from humble beginnings in a village in Gujarat, India, to be named 41st on the list of the richest people in the whole of Africa, having become a Kenyan citizen and a steel magnate, heading a group with over 4,000 employees.

Raval decided early that money was the key to fulfilment, inspired by the traumatic change in his life when his grandfather cast out his father and mother with their three young children after a family dispute. Raval remembers the humiliating descent from being part of a respected and respectable larger grouping to being so down and out that he and his father were chased away by a shopkeeper who would not allow them to eat their hand-held lunch outside his premises. An incident that he was never to forget. He wore second hand clothes and walked barefoot. However, he reminds us on several occasions in his narrative that he is a Brahmin, a member of Hinduism’s highest social caste and, therefore, a representative of the highest form of human evolution. And he has always dreamed big and believed that he could achieve whatever he wanted. One of his childhood wishes, having seen prime minister Indira Gandhi land in one, was to be able to pilot a helicopter some-day, which he eventually achieved at the age of fifty one.

Raval tells us that he did not take to school and schoolwork. He was a well-known stirrer and bully and dropped out at some point in high school, with no qualifications of which to speak. What education he did have gave him a knowledge of astrology and Sanskrit, a ‘dead’ language but nonetheless the language of the scriptures, which steeped him sufficiently in Hindu doctrine for him to have been offered a side job as a temple priest, while still only a teenager.