Critics of President Trump’s border wall are “absolutely incorrect” and a drop in illegal immigration and drug smuggling proves it, National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd said Saturday.
Judd, appearing on “Fox & Friends,” said the administration has developed a system that allows authorities to have better control of the border, preventing illegal crossings.
“Al of this new wall that we’re building is a huge deterrent and, frankly, it stops illegal drugs and criminal aliens from coming into the country,” he said.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION MARKS 100 MILES OF BORDER WALL, VOWS ‘MANY MORE’ TO COME
The administration Friday marked the 100th mile of wall construction along the southern border, describing it as a “milestone achievement.”
Building a border wall was a major Trump campaign promise in 2016. He is now pledging to build 450 miles of new wall by the end of this year.
Those efforts were boosted Wednesday by a decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which allows the administration to use $3.6 billion in military funds for border wall construction.
The court reversed a lower court order that had stopped Trump, who declared a national emergency along the southern border in February 2019, from diverting the Defense Department money. Opponents argued that pulling money that was approved by Congress to pay for the border wall is an abuse of power.
“Breaking News: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals just reversed a lower court decision & gave us the go ahead to build one of the largest sections of the desperately needed Southern Border Wall, Four Billion Dollars,” the president tweeted Thursday. “Entire Wall is under construction or getting ready to start!”
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“It’s a great win.” Judd said Saturday. “But, what’s interesting is we knew this was going to happen. We know that the lower courts are full of judicial activism. We know that the lower courts are constantly trying to stymie President Trump and all of his directives.”
Judd said that since border wall construction began illegal immigration and drug smuggling has declined. He challenged critics to go down to the border and see the progress for themselves.
“President Trump refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said. “He continues to push forward with his agenda.”
Fox News’ Adam Shaw and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.
Caitlin Moran literally rewrote the book on feminism with How to be a Woman (2011). There’s a reason why women’s confessional/personal non-fiction writing has enjoyed a purple patch in the last decade, and it’s pretty much down to this one-in-a-generation talent. In the Noughties, feminism was considered a forbiddingly abstract concept, best tackled by those who knew about gender relations inside out.
Using a mixture of self-deprecating memoir and light-hearted polemic, Moran spelled out the blindly obvious: that you don’t need to read the entire canon and bone up on all the intricacies of various ‘waves’ to be a feminist. The questions she asks from the outset are staggering in their simplicity. “Do you have a vagina?” “Do you want to be in charge of it?” It’s no exaggeration to say that this book spawned a genre of its own, and paved the way for a lot of similar writers, among them Dolly Alderton, Lindy West and Lena Dunham.
Billed as a sort of self-help book that women give each other, Cheryl Strayed’s book Tiny Beautiful Things (2012) was born out of her Dear Sugar column (on The Rumpus website). Dispensing sage and gentle but no-nonsense advice to readers on everything from relationships to body image, Strayed is pretty much peerless in this regard. Yet Tiny Beautiful Things is much more than life advice. Part memoir, part essay collection, it’s the work of a woman who has learned plenty in life the hard way. For that reason, Strayed’s writing is stuffed to the seams with a unique and astute empathy. As a bonus, she also knows how write about it all with a beautiful blend of melancholy and musicality. Very simply, it’s the literary equivalent of a mother’s hug; vital, generous and reassuring. It’s a quiet and beautiful triumph of a book, and I’ll never stop recommending it to the people I love.
Published in 2013, Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was the most innovative Irish novel of the decade but so difficult and disturbing that I don’t think I could face reading it again. Instead, I’m opting for Conversations with Friends (2017) by Sally Rooney, published by Faber & Faber when she was 26. Her follow-up, Normal People, was even better – subtler, deeper and more affecting – but it was the debut novel that astonished me: such skill, such poise and such seeming ease with milieu, character and narrative. Like the rest of her admiring readers, I was entranced by what she’d achieved.
The final book by Clive James, published two months ago, was Somewhere Becoming Rain, a collection of his essays about Philip Larkin: the best critic of the age singing the praises of its finest poet
The 2015 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary dropped many words related to nature, claiming they were no longer relevant to children’s lives. “For blackberry read Blackberry,” Robert Macfarlane comments in Landmarks (2015), his antidote to this displacement of the natural by the virtual.
Landmarks is a book about the power of language, “a word hoard of the astonishing lexis for landscape that exists in the comparison of islands, rivers, strands, fells, lochs, cities, towns, corries, hedgerows, fields and edge-lands uneasily known as the British Isles.” From Connemara to Carloway, 10 of its 11 chapters have a glossary of words local to a particular region. At a time when we must reassess our relationship with the natural world, Macfarlane’s ideas are inspiring, impassioned and illuminating. The final glossary is left blank for the reader to complete: Macfarlane believes that by naming nature, we can come to a truer understanding of it.
It would be wrong to call See What Can Be Done (2018) ‘enjoyable’, but only because that adjective is on Lorrie Moore’s list of banned words. Published last year yet written over three decades, it is her first collection of essays, criticism and “occasional meditations”.
A multi-award-winning author and creative writing teacher, Moore’s writing is bone dry; wise and exacting in its pursuit of insight. From an analysis of The Wire (“Simon is not interested in viewer comfort… he is far more interested in the unholy bargains everyone makes in the maelstrom of societal injustices”) to a 1983 article about Nora Ephron’s novel Heartburn (“Ephron’s narrative itself seems unclear as to whether the literary telling of one’s injuries is exorcism, revenge, or masochism”) via Alice Munro, Richard Ford and Titanic among others, See What Can Be Done brims over with wit and energy. Apologies Lorrie, but it’s ferociously enjoyable.
There are few things, for a reader, as purely satisfying as a really well-crafted piece of genre entertainment. I Am Pilgrim (2013) is that – and a hell of a lot more. The novel-writing career of Australian Terry Hayes – screenwriter of Dead Calm, among other films, in a past life – is born fully-formed, with this vast, expansive, insanely thrilling espionage tale. Pilgrim is the codename of a brilliant CIA spook – we never learn his real name – hunting down an equally brilliant villain, whom he nicknames The Saracen. This Saudi jihadist plans to weaponise smallpox and infect the US population, ultimately to bring down the regime in his home country. I Am Pilgrim is ridiculously clever and well-written, and a massive blast from first page to last. You’ll feel like you’ve just got off the world’s craziest, most viscerally exciting roller-coaster by the end – and you’ll want to go again straight away.
Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland (2016) is not only my favourite literary novel of the decade, it’s maybe the finest Irish novel I’ve ever read. Mia Gallagher’s shamefully unheralded book covers a lot of ground, narratively speaking – shifting between times and places and even, in one recurring motif, existing within an impossible space where neither really exists – as we brush against a myriad of characters stumbling through lives of weary dissatisfaction and strange beauty in 1970s Dublin, post-war Europe, the present day.
But it coheres powerfully in tone and feel: an impeccable example of art as the authentic expression of an individual consciousness. Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland is oblique, dreamlike and rather wonderful, in all meanings of that word, somehow expressing an inexpressible truth at the heart of everything. Reading it is like falling into someone else’s reverie: shimmering, unknowable, spine-tingling.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015) was one of the most divisive novels of the decade, but for me it was also the most all-consuming, moving and unforgettable – the kind of book I immediately pushed on everyone around me so I could discuss it over and over. And also so I wouldn’t be left alone with such a heartbreaking story. Over more than 700 pages, it follows four young college graduates as they establish adult lives in New York City.
A Little Life focuses primarily on Jude and his secretive past, as Yanagihara gradually reveals his horrific history of abuse. At times, it feels almost relentless in its portrayal of violence and grief, but what lifts the book out of this bleak mood are the wonderfully tender moments between Jude and his friends; rendered so warmly and vividly, these friendships balance out the dark, disturbing segments. Altogether, it makes for a grimly realistic portrait of trauma, offering no easy answers yet delivering uncommonly raw reflections on abuse, shame and the difficult nature of recovery.
Relationships are also the focus in What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (2010), the Australian novelist who emerged as a literary superstar in the 2010s thanks to the smash-hit TV adaptation of her sublime Big Little Lies. Each of her eight works is a magnificent treat; she is a true master of plotting, constructing the most brilliant, suspenseful and witty stories that defy categorisation.
The standout for me was What Alice Forgot, the mesmerising tale of an amnesiac who believes she’s still 29, happily married and pregnant with her first child – not the 39-year-old, bitterly separated and highly-strung mother-of-three she wakes up as. It’s Moriarty’s funniest novel, and a fantastic page-turner, that skewers suburban life, the middle class and gender stereotypes with great humour.
It felt like nature writing had run out of ideas. Too much pretty reportage and dawdling naval-gazing. Along came a courageous soul with a falconer’s glove and a broken heart to inject new life into the genre. Unique, sonorous and beguiling, H is for Hawk (2014) proved infectious to a global audience who found in its pages the spectrum of clashing colour tones that make this happy-sad world as beautiful as it is. Helen Macdonald’s unorthodoxy was the master-stroke. Her meeting point of grief memoir, literary biography (in this case, the troubled English author TH White), and animal-relationship saga proved largely irresistible to packed-out bookshop readings, awards panels (including the Costa and Samuel Johnson prizes), and even the reading list of one President Obama.
Macdonald, meanwhile, became a star and a leading light for a new generation of bruised but brave nature writers and unflinching memoirists such as Amy Liptrot and Raynor Winn.
It had won the publishing lottery authors sometimes speak of, when the stars of content, timing and reader appetite align to world-beating effect. On the opposite end of the scale was Ed O’Loughlin’s Minds of Winter (2016). If bookshops ever decide to name a shelf “What the hell are you waiting for?” You may well find this under-appreciated barnstormer nestling there (perhaps next to Emer Martin’s The Cruelty Men ).
Brimming with widescreen ambition but technically assured in how it weaves its multi-generational fibres together, this onion of an epic hops through time and location, taking in polar exploration, WWII spies, frontier treachery, and colonial society dynamics, all threaded through the eye of a McGuffin-tastic Victorian chronometer. Before any of these things, Minds of Winter harked back to a golden age of adventure novels while also asking us to consider that Ireland is not solely the preserve of worthy literary fiction or crime-writing maestros.
Best-selling Irish author Maria Hoey’s exquisite evocation of childhood stood out for me in this enthralling mystery. On Bone Bridge (2018), her second novel, features an unequal friendship between two young girls from very different backgrounds and a tragedy which comes back to haunt them years later. What happens on Bone Bridge will change their lives forever and keep you on the edge of your seat right to the gripping ending.
Flood of Fire (2015) is the thrilling climax to Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy which began in 2008 with the brilliant Man Booker-shortlisted Sea of Poppies, followed by River of Smoke in 2011. The epic saga has such resonance with me that I remember where I bought each copy! I love everything about this compelling historical novel, from the author’s elegant writing to the colourful characters and their stories, the flashes of humour and the minute historical detail.
Set in the days of the Raj, a diverse group of Indians and Westerners escape India by ship and embark on an adventure that takes them from the poppy fields of India to China and the First Opium War. In 1839, following the crackdown by Beijing on British opium smuggling, the colonial government declares war on China and the protagonists are centre stage as the map of the region is redrawn. Fortunes are made and lost and the new science of botany features, while the tiny island port of Hong Kong is transformed into a thriving international hub, with far-reaching consequences even today. Originally from Kolkata, Ghosh has shared the $1m Dan David Prize with Margaret Atwood, and last year he was the first English-language writer to receive India’s highest literary honour, the Jnanpith Award. Truly well-deserved.
In 1956 the Rolling Stones’ guitar legend Keith Richards was 12 years old and in the first throes of his love affair with rock’n’roll. These fresh sounds from America were hard to find, but one night in 1956 he found two which would rock our world and change the direction of his life. In his autobiography Life (2010), he recalled: “You were lucky if you heard American rock’n’roll on Radio Luxembourg.
“I remember when they played ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, and I can still remember the ad for the Irish Sweepstakes that followed. I was 12, 13, and I was supposed to be in bed and not listening to the radio. Electrifying night for me.” It was the biggest Irish programme on world radio that begot the greatest riffs in the world.
Life is the defiant title of Keith Richards’ autobiography, yet he details how he should have died in a ditch following a car crash in the 1970s, at a time when many believed he was on course to follow his bandmate Brian Jones into an early grave. But he didn’t. Keef’s story is about a life, a singular extraordinary life.
Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens (2014) is about all life, focussing on the past two million years of human evolution. Harari embeds many momentous events, most notably the beginnings of language. How we become able to think sharply about abstract matters, cooperate in group-think and gossip. And then on to the evolution of money and the destructive and constructive event of credit.
It is an extraordinary book in its spectacular scope. It has been criticised for trying to cram so much into so few words, but that is its genius. Using Peugeot cars as a metaphor for the genius of humankind? Both mind-boggling and mind cleansing. Required reading.
Dermot Healy was Ireland’s most shamefully underrated writer, equally adept in poetry and prose and plays, and Long Time No See (2011) was the final novel published before his death four years later. Appearing 12 years after its predecessor, it couldn’t have been more different. Rarely for a writer, Healy never repeated himself. Nothing much happens in the novel. A young man hangs around the family home in Sligo, emptying the lobster pots, buying booze for his uncle, walking out with his girlfriend, remembering a dead friend.
The lack of incident doesn’t matter. It’s all so true to real life, and so funny, that objections to the loose ends that the story leaves dangling feel trivial in comparison to the literary achievement. As one character notes: “It’s extraordinary how ordinary life is.” Healy’s genius was to capture it. You could step into the pages of the book and live there.
Milkman (2018) by Anna Burns was equally long in the making. It’s set in Belfast, during a time when there are too many “rules of allegiance, of tribal identification, of what was allowed and not allowed”, and “you created a political statement everywhere you went, and with everything you did, even if you didn’t want to”.
The city itself is unnamed, as is the titular milkman, a forty-something paramilitary whose attentions the young narrator is desperate to avoid; though, the more he pursues her, the more people talk, and she becomes known somehow as his. It’s terrifying and claustrophobic, with a unique authorial voice, and, despite being set during the “great Seventies hatred”, felt urgently relevant in its depiction of a young woman powerless in the face of predatory male behaviour. “Why could I not just tell this man to leave me alone?” she wonders. It’s a question millions of women were asking around the world as #MeToo gathered pace.
As a reviewer of crime novels and thrillers, I don’t get to read many books that actually have an impact on my lifestyle, but Trinity professor and neuroscientist Shane O’ Mara’s In Praise of Walking (2019), has been completely life-changing. Walking upright on two feet is a uniquely human skill, one which defines us as a species, and enabled us to walk out of Africa and spread across the globe. O’Mara explains clearly just how amazing the science behind our ability to balance, walk and navigate through crowded cities using our innate inner GPS system actually is, and how regular walking is crucial to our good health. He emphasises how walking protects and repairs our organs, makes us think more creatively and improves our mood and stress levels. Since reading this book I have gone from virtually zero steps to almost 10k every day.
My second choice is another popular science book, The Information by James Gleick (2012), which tries to tackle the huge subject of human communication, of how we have tried since we emerged from the forests on to the savannahs of Africa a couple of million years ago, to pass information to each other.
From the development of language, to the invention of writing on clay just a few thousand years ago, from the printing of Gutenberg’s Bible to Bell’s electronic telegraph and from there to computers, coding and the creation of the internet and the almost universal proliferation of smartphones, Gleick traces the processes that have led to the deluge of information that threatens to overwhelm us today. Most of us at a certain age can chart our progress from clunky dial-up phones to the flashy pocket computers we use today, and Gleick fills in the background with easy erudition and fascinating anecdotes.
Two books? From 10 years of novels and memoirs, 10 years of essay, poetry and short-story collections? Trying to remember all the books I’ve loved over the past decade is as impossible as trying to isolate my favourites so I’m picking the two that surfaced before I even began a mental trawl, two that unlike many, excellent, others have lived with me since I finished them and, in the words of Emile Brontë, altered the colour of my mind.
In December 2004, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, husband and two young sons in the tsunami that struck the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Her memoir, Wave (2013), drops us into the catastrophe with her and though her psychic mutilation is palpable on every page, her writing is a gift. Initially I approached the book with dread, not wanting to be confronted by the magnitude of her loss but as she records her grief, she brings her family to life – without artifice and without sentimentality. Beautiful, stark and utterly necessary, Wave leaves me in awe of her talent, as well as her courage and resilience.
As beautiful, as urgent and as driven by memory, David Chariandy’s elegiac novel Brother (2018) is the story of Michael and Francis, the sons of Trinidadian immigrants who have been raised by their mother in a socio-economically deprived Toronto suburb. From the beginning it’s clear that Francis is dead, and slowly, with devastating power and acuity, Chariandy reveals what happened. Less than 200 pages, Brother took Chariandy 10 years to write; they were 10 well-spent years. His sentences are masterful, his characters and their hard-hitting world absolutely real. It’s a novel about racism, poverty and police brutality, about the disenfranchisement and alienation of young men, but like Wave, it’s also, crucially, about love.
Canadian writer Patrick deWitt’s 2009 debut novel, Ablutions, set the tone: shrewd, smart-as-anything, funny, insightful. His second (Man Booker Prize shortlisted) novel, however, brought deWitt into the realm of a wider reading public. And rightly so.
Set in 1851, and based around the California Gold Rush, The Sisters Brothers (2011) details the picaresque adventures of Eli and Charlie Sisters, low-rent killers hired by their enigmatic boss (known only as the Commodore) to murder a prospector. Along the journey from Oregon City to San Francisco, the brothers snipe at each other, get side-tracked, and engage with a range of oddball characters that deWitt gets great mileage out of. Using the vernacular of the Wild West era as well as its formality, deWitt also plays sparingly with topics such as anti-heroism and the mundanities of life. The result is fresh, unpredictable, and genuinely funny.
Set in the decade prior to and during World War II, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (2014) tells the story of six-year-old blind girl Marie-Laure LeBlanc, who lives in Paris with her father, a master locksmith at the city’s Museum of Natural History, and the keeper of a gemstone known as the Sea of Flames. In a parallel strand, orphaned eight-year-old science prodigy Werner Pfennig lives in the German mining town of Zollverein. As the war comes to an end, and as the decades slip away, histories and narrative paths intertwine, with Doerr tracing lives across short chapters invested with luxuriant prose. Weighty themes (not least survival, fortitude, moral responsibilities) are addressed but never at the expense of what is truly an impressive feat of brilliant, old-fashioned storytelling.
From Fleabag to Hannah Horvath from Girls, Gone Girl to ‘Cat Person’: if the 2010s brought us one trend that’s here to stay, it’s that of difficult-to-like young women whose lives are a mess. Here’s to another decade of them!
Millennial expectations of sex. Alienation in the digital age. Debilitating period pain. The difference between platonic, romantic and sexual love. The politics of punctuation in instant messaging. Sally Rooney tackles them all in Conversations with Friends (2017), which follows the developments of Frances’ friendship with her ex-girlfriend Bobbi, and her new relationship with Nick, an older, married actor.
Using Frances as the focus for the complicated relationships between her characters, Rooney treats us to a beguiling parable of 21st century communication. Frances may be self-absorbed and pretentious to a fault, but her story is all the more honest and engaging because of her genuine flaws. Everyone I know who read Conversations did so in one or two sittings, and we all wanted to discuss it in-depth afterwards.
If you found Frances difficult, the eponymous anti-heroine of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen (2015) is something else. Eileen is self-loathing, addicted to laxatives, and keeps a frozen mouse in her glove compartment. She works at a boy’s prison, drinks with her alcoholic father, and spends her weekends stalking her crush. Something is about to happen which forces her to leave town, and the noir-esque build-up to this revelation is a welcome reminder that contemporary Gothic novels can be just as fun as their predecessors.
Moshfegh plays her cards very close: the plot is sparse until the final quarter of the novel, but her delightfully macabre exploration of Eileen’s psyche (not for the faint-hearted) is a page-turner in its own right. I haven’t felt so seduced by a character’s nastiness since Tom Ripley.
JP O’ Malley
Reading the work of Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud isn’t going to cure you if you suffer from anxiety. But it may help you accept that a certain level of suffering and fear is an integral and necessary part of the human condition. Their lives and work also seems aptly appropriate to look back on when analysing this last decade of uncertainty we’ve just lived through.
Kafka and Freud also share some common credentials worth mentioning: both were born in the 19th century; both wrote in German; both had an enormous influence on 20th century western culture; both were European modernists; both prized the richness of metaphor, allegory and mythology above linear literal truth; both were Jewish; and both were subjects of the Habsburg monarchy.
Benjamin Balint’s Kafka’s Last Trial (2019) documents a decades-long legal trial that centres around one question: who is the rightful cultural guardian of Franz Kafka’s original manuscripts, since the passing of Kafka’s friend Max Brod in 1968? Balint’s impartial and measured style eschews dogmatic personal opinions, as he subtlety meanders his way through a complicated literary history that spans several decades, countries, and individuals- all of whom are randomly interlinked to Kafka’s original manuscripts.
Élisabeth Roudinesco’s Freud in His Time and Ours (2016) distils what often appears at first blush to be complex, disturbing, multi-layered and dark taboo topics, into a lucid lingo that a common reader can easily get their head around. The French psychoanalyst also notes that Freud’s ideas cover so much more than human psychology: they probe into western culture, history, literature, war, religion, anthropology and sex, too – always paying attention to the delicate balancing act between human desire and human civilisation: where the necessary constraints between both ensure a dynamic cosmopolitan society can flourish without descending into chaos and barbarism.
Two of my favourite books from the past 10 years concern important historical events, both at home and abroad. We are still in the midst of the centenary of the Irish State’s revolutionary formation with many books on this period and no doubt many more to come. However, an outstanding, fair and succinct account has to be Peace after the Final Battle – The Story of the Revolution 1912-1924 by John Dorney (2014).
It is an utterly compelling read, and by the end of it, the reader will, like the Irish people, feel exhausted by the bitter descent into Civil War.
Dorney shows how the lack of a radical social or economic aspect was a notable feature of the Irish independence struggle.
We were the most conservative revolutionaries in Europe, said Kevin O’Higgins, and this conservatism was understandably reinforced by the desperate need of the Free State to survive civil war and see off further disruption. We are probably still living with the consequences today perhaps.
Another book which was utterly compelling and linked Ireland to much larger events was Hide and Seek – The Irish Priest in the Vatican who Defied the Nazi Command by Stephen Walker (2011).
It is the extraordinary story of how Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, an Irish priest, saved the lives of thousands of Jews and others when he was at the Vatican during World War II by helping them to escape from Rome’s Nazi occupiers. Masterminding his operation from within the Holy See, technically a sanctuary and off limits to the strutting Nazis, O’Flaherty used a series of safe houses and church buildings.
It is a reminder that although Ireland was not directly involved in the war, its citizens often did their part and carried out some truly heroic deeds.
Conversations with Friends (2017) announced a tremendous new voice in Sally Rooney. Her prolific arrival – two novels, a slew of stories and essays plus a flurry of awards and nominations – also redefined established notions of what makes great literature.
In Conversations, it wasn’t just the friendship of disaffected queer girls Bobbi and Frances, or the juicy adultery plot that was so compulsively readable. Rooney writes about love and sex and romance with the rigour and sharpness previous writers have reserved for death and nature.
Hooray – there are almost no ‘lyrical’ descriptions in her books. Other assorted novels that gave me reason to live this decade: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, The Love Affairs of Nathanial P by Adele Waldman; My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Mosfegh, The New Me by Halle Butler; Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. And all the ones I forgot as my brain deteriorated thanks to the iPhone. Also, the rebirth of the Irish short story has been cool, too.
Republic of Shame: Stories from Ireland’s Institutions for Fallen Women (2019) by the journalist Caelainn Hogan is a mind-blowing watershed. Hogan investigates the “shame industrial complex” of industrial school, mother-and-baby home and laundry which exploited vast numbers of the most vulnerable people since before the founding of the state – children classed “illegitimate”, people with special needs, victims of rape forced to undergo the emotional paradox of giving birth and then having their baby taken away.
Hogan unpacks each horror with restraint and clarity and kindness, sometimes condensing epic annals of injustice into a few lines. Like that of the woman who went to the mother-and-baby home with a map of Scandinavia so she could write convincing letters home before giving up her secret baby and being killed in the Dublin bombings. The legacy of damage and loss is palpable in the accounts of mothers whose babies died unmarked or were snatched from them, and the children still searching for truth. A fine book, you’ll have to read it.
Let’s be honest, it’s been a pretty rotten decade – political turmoil, a rise in violent extremism and the ever-growing threat of climate change may be bad news for all of us, but at least they give imaginative authors plenty of material. These issues, and more, all form the backdrop for Omar El Akkad’s brilliant debut, American War (2017).
Ravaged by climate chaos, The US passes a bill banning all fossil fuels. The move prompts five southern states to secede and so, in 2074, the second American Civil War begins.
Featuring displacement camps for internal refugees, massacres by both sides, suicide bombers and chemical warfare, the story follows six-year-old Sarat’s evolution from her childhood in a devastated Louisiana through to her status as a heroine for the ‘Free Southern States’ who is reviled by the rest of the country.
Akkad is a Canadian/Egyptian journalist who has spent time covering war zones so he has an eye for detail that give American War a vivid sense of authenticity. Apart from creating a bleak landscape where America is reduced to Third World status, the author also explores the old cliché that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. The reader is brought on a morally ambiguous voyage which sees them root for someone who may well be the greatest mass murderer of all time. American War is a truly fascinating read – positing a future which is both horrific and plausible…
In the spirit of these dystopian times, Michael Wolff’s account of Trump’s chaotic start to his presidency, Fire and Fury (2018), is a genuine must-read. Yes, the book has been trashed by many critics. Yes, the author can be politely described as an unreliable narrator. But it’s undeniably hilarious if you like your humour to be obsidian dark. The Machiavellian Steve Bannon was the main source behind the juiciest stories and many of the anecdotes are so bizarre that you almost feel compelled to be believe them.
Certainly, the story of Trump’s disastrous inauguration night, which apparently saw the newly victorious president furious that he wouldn’t be able to play as much golf as he used to, while Melania sobbed in the corner and shouted “you promised you wouldn’t win!” places Wolff up there with the infamous Kitty Kelly as a muckraker with fangs.