Lucy Popescu

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Posts Tagged ‘Verso’

Speed Reading – Inequality

Posted by lucypopescu on January 1, 2015

InequalityBritain’s richest 1 percent owns as much as the poorest 55 percent. In Equality and the 1% (Verso) Danny Dorling explores how being born outside the 1 percent affects not just educational and work prospects (people able to access “top” education gain an unfair advantage) but health and life expectancy (in 2013, 8,350 more elderly people died in Britain than in 2012 – “the prime suspect was austerity”). Dorling illustrates how the economy is effectively controlled by an elite determined to protect its interests. He advocates a slow revolution against “an overpaid and under achieving 1 percent…a non-violent war of attrition on concentrated wealth” which means “high taxes at high incomes”. Dorling offers many persuasive arguments, his impeccable research supported by useful stats and infographs.

RevolutionsRussell Brand also offers pertinent examples of untenable inequities in his own call for revolution. Already in the Bestseller lists, his book will inevitably reach a far wider and younger readership. While he freely admits that he is in Britain’s 1 percent, Brand makes many of the same points as Dorling – reminding us that worldwide, “the 85 occupants of the bejeweled bus of privilege” are better off than the poorest three and a half billion. The solutions proposed in Revolution (Century) are less clear and Brand’s frequent digressions, namely to do with his personal fight with addiction, and occasional foul-mouthed rants, become irritating after a while.

sans papiersSans Papiers by Alice Bloch, Nando Sigona and Roger Zetter (Pluto) explores the experiences of young undocumented migrants who are at the bottom of the heap in Britain – isolated, their “cheap and flexible labour… easily exploitable”.  Sans Papiers gives them a voice and reveals the contradictions of harsh government policies designed to “regulate migration”.

All three books offer useful insights into inequality today and advocate a more compassionate society.


A shorter version of this review was originally published by The Tablet.



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Book Review – The Seasons of Trouble

Posted by lucypopescu on November 26, 2014

Seasons of troubleIn May 2010, after almost three decades of conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Sri Lankan government declared victory. But peace came at a high cost to the Tamil minority. Rohini Mohan, a Bangalore- based journalist, spent five years recording the experiences of three Tamils scarred by this brutal conflict.

In 2008, Sarva, a nautical engineer, was picked up by anti-terrorist police in one of their notorious white vans. He was badly tortured and imprisoned without due process. When he was eventually acquitted, the police claimed not to have received the paperwork. Sarva fled and spent the next two years in safe houses unable to visit his family and friends. Eventually, he decided exile was the only option.

Sarva’s mother, Mohan says, never gave up trying to protect her son. After his “disappearance”, she spent weeks trying to discover where he was held, employed a lawyer and subsequently visited her son every day in detention. Years earlier, she had risked her life and sanity to rescue him from the Tigers’ grip. There were, of course, atrocities on both sides, and one of the strengths of Mohan’s book is its exploration of the grey areas. Sarva’s training with the Tigers is “not easily compartmental- ised as voluntary or forced”. Despite never having engaged in combat, he was illegally detained and tortured, and his family was persecuted.

The third protagonist in this engaging account is Mugil, a committed Tiger who signed up when she was just thirteen. Towards the end of the war, injured and alone, Mugil decides to return to her family and two young sons. She witnesses the shelling of civilians and hospitals and other atrocities in the final months that left up to 40,000 civilians dead. After surrendering, Mugil and her family were detained in Manik Farm refugee camp. The insanitary conditions resulted in her father’s death. As former combatants, Mugil’s brother and husband were held in a “rehabilitation centre”, enduring torture and interrogation. On their release they were unable to get decent jobs and became increasingly alienated. Once reunited, they could only watch as the military appropriated their land and built hotels.

In large part a chronicle of war and its after- math, Mohan’s impressive study is also a Kafkaesque story of survival in a society riven by ethnic tensions and mutual distrust.

Originally published in the TLS

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