MashReads Podcast: ‘Cat’s Cradle’ is the funniest existential book you will read

Image: Alaina Buzas / Flickr

Sometimes we simply require a bit of whimsical existentialism in our lives.

That’s why today on the MashReads Podcast , we talk about and check out Kurt Vonnegut’s book Cat’s Cradle, a book that defies description partly since of how unreasonable the plot is.

The book follows a reporter, John or Jonah, as he asks to be called as he examines the developer of the atomic bomb.

This examination that leads him to finding Hoenikker’s eccentric kids, the strange compound ice-nine, the remote island San Lorenzo, a brand-new faith called Bokononism (the fundamental tenet which is that whatever in Bokononism is a lie), all which result in completion of the world.

Sound insane? We understand!

Join us as we discuss Vonnegut’s ridiculous storytelling, his sensations on science and faith, the genius of Cat’s Cradle and whether the book counts as satire.

And as constantly, we close the program with suggestions.

  • Aliza advises the brand-new Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone motion picture La La Land. “It was lovely and moving and fantastic and I enjoyed whatever about it,” she states.

  • Peter advises Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Truth, charm and enjoyment by New York Times critic A.O. Scott. “It is simply a really, extremely deep, very legible, wonderful book,” he states.

  • MJ suggests GQ‘s entirely bonkers profile of Tom Ford called Tom Ford on Sex, penetration, and death : “Talk about absurdism. This profile is insane … remarkable and simply amusing.”

Next week we are going over and checking out Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. We hope you’ll join us.

And if you’re searching for more book news, remember to follow MashReads on Facebook and Twitter .

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/12/14/mashreads-podcast-cats-cradle-kurt-vonnegut/

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Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

Its important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. Im going to tell you that libraries are important. Im going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. Im going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

And I am biased, obviously and enormously: Im an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

So Im biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

And Im here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.

And its that change, and that act of reading that Im here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What its good for.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldnt read. And certainly couldnt read for pleasure.

Its not one to one: you cant say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, its a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if its hard, because someones in trouble and you have to know how its all going to end thats a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, youre on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

I dont think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of childrens books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. Ive seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

Enid
No such thing as a bad writer… Enid Blytons Famous Five. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

Its tosh. Its snobbery and its foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isnt hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a childs love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian improving literature. Youll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen Kings Carrie, saying if you liked those youll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen Kings name is mentioned.)

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. Youre being someone else, and when you return to your own world, youre going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

Youre also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And its this:

The world doesnt have to be like this. Things can be different.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

Its simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere youve never been. Once youve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

And while were on the subject, Id like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if its a bad thing. As if escapist fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldnt you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

Tolkien's
Tolkiens illustration of Bilbos home, Bag End. Photograph: HarperCollins

Another way to destroy a childs love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the childrens library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the childrens library I began on the adult books.

They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader nothing less or more which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

In the last few years, weve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. Thats about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.

A
Photograph: Alamy

Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.

I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. Its a community space. Its a place of safety, a haven from the world. Its a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.

Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.

According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account.

Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us as readers, as writers, as citizens have obligations. I thought Id try and spell out some of these obligations here.

I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

We writers and especially writers for children, but all writers have an obligation to our readers: its the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.

We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we ve lessened our own future and diminished theirs.

We all adults and children, writers and readers have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. Im going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. Its this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.

We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world weve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.

We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. If you want your children to be intelligent, he said, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

This is an edited version of Neil Gaimans lecture for the Reading Agency, delivered on Monday October 14 at the Barbican in London. The Reading Agencys annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

Why we fell for clean eating

The long read: The oh-so-Instagrammable food movement has been thoroughly debunked but it shows no signs of going away. The real question is why we were so desperate to believe it

In the spring of 2014, Jordan Younger noticed that her hair was falling out in clumps. Not cool was her reaction. At the time, Younger, 23, believed herself to be eating the healthiest of all possible diets. She was a gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, grain-free, legume-free, plant-based raw vegan. As The Blonde Vegan, Younger was a wellness blogger in New York City, one of thousands on Instagram (where she had 70,000 followers) rallying under the hashtag #eatclean. Although she had no qualifications as a nutritionist, Younger had sold more than 40,000 copies of her own $25, five-day cleanse programme a formula for an all-raw, plant-based diet majoring on green juice.

But the clean diet that Younger was selling as the route to health was making its creator sick. Far from being super-healthy, she was suffering from a serious eating disorder: orthorexia, an obsession with consuming only foods that are pure and perfect. Youngers raw vegan diet had caused her periods to stop and given her skin an orange tinge from all the sweet potato and carrots she consumed (the only carbohydrates she permitted herself). Eventually, she sought psychological help, and began to slowly widen the repertoire of foods she would allow herself to eat, starting with fish. She recognised that the problem was not her veganism, per se, but the particularly rigid and restrictive diet regime she had imposed on herself.

As Younger slowly recovered from her eating disorder, she faced a new dilemma. What would people think, she agonised, if they knew the Blonde Vegan was eating fish? She levelled with her followers in a blogpost entitled Why Im Transitioning Away from Veganism. Within hours of announcing her new diet, Younger was receiving irate messages from vegans demanding money back from the cleanse programmes and T-shirts they had bought from her site (featuring slogans such as OH KALE YES).

She lost followers by the thousands and received a daily raft of angry messages, including death threats. Some responded to her confession that she was suffering from an eating disorder by accusing her of being a fat piece of lard who didnt have the discipline to be truly clean.

For as long as people have eaten food, there have been diets and quack cures. But previously, these existed, like conspiracy theories, on the fringes of food culture. Clean eating was different, because it established itself as a challenge to mainstream ways of eating, and its wild popularity over the past five years has enabled it to move far beyond the fringes. Powered by social media, it has been more absolutist in its claims and more popular in its reach than any previous school of modern nutrition advice.

At its simplest, clean eating is about ingesting nothing but whole or unprocessed foods (whatever is meant by these deeply ambiguous terms). Some versions of clean eating have been vegan, while others espouse various meats (preferably wild) and something mysteriously called bone broth (stock, to you and me). At first, clean eating sounded modest and even homespun: rather than counting calories, you would eat as many nutritious home-cooked substances as possible.

But it quickly became clear that clean eating was more than a diet; it was a belief system, which propagated the idea that the way most people eat is not simply fattening, but impure. Seemingly out of nowhere, a whole universe of coconut oil, dubious promises and spiralised courgettes has emerged. Back in the distant mists of 2009, James Duigan, owner of The Bodyism gym in London and sometime personal trainer to the model Elle MacPherson, published his first Clean and Lean book. As an early adopter of #eatclean, Duigan notes that he battled with his publisher to include ingredients like kale and quinoa, because no one had ever heard of them. Now quinoa is in every supermarket and kale has become as normal as lettuce. I long for the days when clean eating meant not getting too much down your front, the novelist Susie Boyt joked recently.

Jordan
Jordan Younger, AKA The Balanced Blonde, formerly The Blonde Vegan. Photograph: Whitford/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock

Almost as soon as it became ubiquitous, clean eating sparked a backlash. By 2015, Nigella Lawson was speaking for many when she expressed disgust at clean eating as a judgmental form of body fascism. Food is not dirty, Lawson wrote. Clean eating has been attacked by critics such as the baker and cookbook author Ruby Tandoh (who wrote a much-shared article on the subject in Vice magazine in May 2016) for being an incitement to eating disorders.

Others have pointed out that, as a method of healthy eating, its founded on bad science. In June, the American Heart Association suggested that the coconut oil beloved as a panacea by clean eaters actually had no known offsetting favourable effects, and that consuming it could result in higher LDL cholesterol. A few weeks later, Anthony Warner a food consultant with a background in science who blogs as The Angry Chef published a book-length assault on the science of clean eating, calling it a world of quinoa bowls and nutribollocks fuelled by the modern information age.

When Dr Giles Yeo, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, presented an episode of the BBCs Horizon this year that examined the scientific evidence for different schools of clean eating, he found everything from innocuous recipes to serious malpractice.

He reported on the alkaline diet of Dr Robert O Young, who peddled the idea that disease is caused by eating acidic foods. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer in her 20s, Naima Houder-Mohammed, an officer in the British army, paid Young more than $77,000 for treatment (including meals of avocado, which Young calls Gods butter) at his pH miracle ranch in the US in 2012. She died later that year. Separately, Young was jailed in June this year after being convicted of charges including practising medicine without a licence. While he may represent an extreme case, it is clear that many wellness gurus, as Yeos programme concluded, tell a troubling narrative founded on falsehoods.

As the negative press for clean eating has intensified over the past year, many of the early goddesses of #eatclean have tried to rebrand declaring they no longer use the word clean to describe the recipes that have sold them millions of books. Ella Mills AKA Deliciously Ella, the food writer and entrepreneur whose coconut-and-oat energy balls sell for 1.79 apiece in British supermarkets said on Yeos Horizon programme that she felt that the word clean as applied to eating originally meant nothing but natural, real, unprocessed food. Now, it means diet, it means fad, she complained.

But however much the concept of clean eating has been logically refuted and publicly reviled, the thing itself shows few signs of dying. Step into the cookbook section of any book shop and you will see how many recipe writers continue to promise us inner purity and outer beauty. Even if you have never knowingly tried to eat clean, its impossible to avoid the trend altogether, because it changed the foods available to all of us, and the way they are spoken of.

Avocados now outsell oranges in the UK. Susi Richards, head of product development at Sainsburys supermarkets, told me earlier this year that she had been taken aback by the pace at which demand for products fitting with the clean eating lifestyle have grown in the UK. Families who would once have eaten potato waffles are now experimenting with lower carb butternut squaffles (slices of butternut squash cut to resemble a waffle). Nutribullets a brand of compact blenders designed for making supposedly radiance-bestowing juices and smoothies are now mentioned in some circles as casually as wooden spoons.

Why has clean eating proved so difficult to kill off? Hadley Freeman, in this paper, identified clean eating as part of a post-truth culture, whose adherents are impervious, or even hostile, to facts and experts. But to understand how clean eating took hold with such tenacity, its necessary first to consider just what a terrifying thing food has become for millions of people in the modern world. The interesting question is not whether clean eating is nonsense, but why so many intelligent people decided to put their faith in it.


We are not the only generation to have looked in disgust at an unhealthy food environment and wished that we could replace it with nutrients that were perfectly safe to eat. In the 1850s, a British chemist called Arthur Hill Hassall became convinced that the whole food supply of London was riddled with toxins and fakery. Whats more, he was right. Hassall had done a series of investigations for the medical journal the Lancet, and found that much of what was for sale as food and drink was not what it seemed: coffee made from burnt sugar and chicory; pickles dyed green with poisonous copper colourings.

Years of exposing the toxic deceptions all around him seems to have driven Hassall to a state of paranoia. He started to see poison everywhere, and decided that the answer was to create a set of totally uncontaminated food products. In 1881, he set up his own firm, The Pure Food Company, which would only use ingredients of unimpeachable quality. Hassall took water that was softened and purified and combined it with the finest Smithfield beef to make the purest beef jelly and disgusting-sounding fibrinous meat lozenges the energy balls of Victorian England. The Pure Food Company of 1881 sounds just like a hundred wellness food businesses today except for the fact that it collapsed within a year due to lack of sales.

We are once again living in an environment where ordinary food, which should be something reliable and sustaining, has come to feel noxious. Unlike the Victorians, we do not fear that our coffee is fake so much as that our entire pattern of eating may be bad for us, in ways that we cant fully identify. One of the things that makes the new wave of wellness cookbooks so appealing is that they assure the reader that they offer a new way of eating that comes without any fear or guilt.

The founding principle of these modern wellness regimes is that our current way of eating is slowly poisoning us. Much of the food on offer to us today is nutritionally substandard, write the Hemsley sisters, best-selling champions of nutrient-dense food. Its hard to disagree with the proposition that modern diets are generally substandard, even if you dont share the Hemsleys solution of going grain-free. All of these diets have a kernel of truth that is spun out into some bigger fantasy, Giles Yeo says hence their huge appeal.

Melissa
Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley. Photograph: Nick Hopper

Clean eating whether it is called that or not is perhaps best seen as a dysfunctional response to a still more dysfunctional food supply: a dream of purity in a toxic world. To walk into a modern western supermarket is to be assailed by aisle upon aisle of salty, oily snacks and sugary cereals, of bread that has been neither proved nor fermented, of cheap, sweetened drinks and meat from animals kept in inhumane conditions.

In the postwar decades, most countries in the world underwent what the professor of nutrition Barry Popkin calls a nutrition transition to a westernised diet high in sugar, meat, fat, salt, refined oils and ultra-processed concoctions, and low in vegetables. Affluence and multi-national food companies replaced the hunger of earlier generations with an unwholesome banquet of sweet drinks and convenience foods that teach us from a young age to crave more of the same. Wherever this pattern of eating travelled, it brought with it dramatic rises in ill health, from allergies to cancer.

In prosperous countries, large numbers of people whether they wanted to lose weight or not became understandably scared of the modern food supply and what it was doing to our bodies: type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, not to mention a host of other complaints that are influenced by diet, ranging from Alzheimers to gout. When mainstream diets start to sicken people, it is unsurprising that many of us should seek other ways of eating to keep ourselves safe from harm. Our collective anxiety around diet was exacerbated by a general impression that mainstream scientific advice on diet inflated by newspaper headlines could not be trusted. First these so-called experts tell us to avoid fat, then sugar, and all the while people get less and less healthy. What will these experts say next, and why should we believe them?

Into this atmosphere of anxiety and confusion stepped a series of gurus offering messages of wonderful simplicity and reassurance: eat this way and I will make you fresh and healthy again. It is very hard to pinpoint the exact moment when clean eating started, because it is not so much as a single diet as a portmanteau term that has borrowed ideas from numerous pre-existing diets: a bit of Paleo here, some Atkins there, with a few remnants of 1960s macrobiotics thrown in for good measure.

But some time in the early 2000s, two distinct but interrelated versions of clean eating became popular in the US one based on the creed of real food, and the other on the idea of detox. Once the concept of cleanliness had entered the realm of eating, it was only a matter of time before the basic idea spread contagiously across Instagram, where fans of #eatclean could share their artfully photographed green juices and rainbow salad bowls.

The first and more moderate version of clean food started in 2007, when Tosca Reno, a Canadian fitness model, published a book called The Eat-Clean Diet. In it, Reno described how she lost 34kg (75lb) and transformed her health by avoiding all over-refined and processed foods, particularly white flour and sugar. A typical Reno eat-clean meal might be stir-fried chicken and vegetables over brown rice; or almond-date biscotti with a cup of tea. In many ways The Eat-Clean Diet was like any number of diet books that had come before, advising plenty of vegetables and modestly portioned, home-cooked meals. The difference, which Anthony Warner calls a piece of genius on Renos part, was that she did not call it a diet at all, but a holistic way of living.

Meanwhile, a second version of clean eating was spearheaded by a former cardiologist from Uruguay called Alejandro Junger, the author of Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Bodys Natural Ability to Heal Itself, which was published in 2009 after Jungers clean detox system had been praised by Gwyneth Paltrow on her Goop website. Jungers system was far stricter than Renos, requiring, for a few weeks, a radical elimination diet based on liquid meals and a total exclusion of caffeine, alcohol, dairy and eggs, sugar, all vegetables in the nightshade family (tomatoes, aubergines and so on), red meat (which, according to Junger, creates an acidic inner environment), among other foods. During this phase, Junger advised a largely liquid diet either composed of home-made juices and soups, or of his own special powdered shakes. After the detox period, Junger advised very cautiously reintroducing toxic triggers such as wheat (a classic trigger of allergic responses) and dairy (an acid-forming food).

Woman
Photograph: Alexandra Iakovleva/Getty

To read Jungers book is to feel that everything edible in our world is potentially toxic. Yet, as with Arthur Hassall, many of Jungers fears may be justified. Junger writes as a doctor with first-hand knowledge of diet-related epidemics of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and autoimmune disease. The book is full of case studies of individuals who follow Jungers detox and emerge lighter, leaner and happier. Who is the candidate for using this program? Junger asks, replying: Everyone who lives a modern life, eats a modern diet and inhabits the modern world.

To my surprise, I found myself compelled by the messianic tone of Jungers Clean though not quite compelled enough to pay $475 for his 21-day programme (which, in any case, doesnt ship outside of North America), or to give up my daily breakfast of inflammatory coffee, gut-irritating sourdough toast and acid-forming butter, on which I feel surprisingly well. When I told Giles Yeo how seductive I found Jungers words, almost despite myself, he said: This is their magic! They are all charismatic human beings. I do think the clean-eating gurus believe in it themselves. They drink the Koolaid.


Over the past 50 years, mainstream healthcare in the west has been inexplicably blind to the role that diet plays in preventing and alleviating ill health. When it started, #eatclean spoke to growing numbers of people who felt that their existing way of eating was causing them problems, from weight gain to headaches to stress, and that conventional medicine could not help. In the absence of nutrition guidance from doctors, it was a natural step for individuals to start experimenting with cutting out this food or that.

From 2009 to 2014, the number of Americans who actively avoided gluten, despite not suffering from coeliac disease, more than tripled. It also became fashionable to drink a whole pantheon of non-dairy milks, ranging from oat milk to almond milk. I have lactose-intolerant and vegan friends who say that #eatclean has made it far easier for them to buy ingredients that they once had to go to specialist health-food stores to find. What isnt so easy now is to find reliable information on special diets in the sea of half-truths and bunkum.

Someone who observed how quickly and radically #eatclean changed the market for health-food books is Anne Dolamore, a publisher at the independent food publishers Grub Street, based in London. Dolamore has been publishing health-related food books since 1995, a time when free-from cooking was a tiny subculture. In the days before Google, Dolamore who has long believed that food is medicine felt that books on special diets by authors with proper credentials could serve a useful purpose. In 1995, Grub Street published The Everyday Diabetic Cookbook, which has since sold over 100,000 copies in the UK. Other successful books followed, including The Everyday Wheat-Free and Gluten-Free Cookbook by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, published in 1998.

In 2012, the market for wellness cookbooks in the UK suddenly changed, starting with the surprise success of Honestly Healthy by Natasha Corrett and Vicki Edgson, which sold around 80,000 copies. Louise Haines, a publisher at 4th Estate, recalls that the previous big trend in British food publishing had been baking, but the baking boom died overnight, virtually, and a number of sugar-free books came through.

At Grub Street, Anne Dolamore watched aghast as bestselling cookbooks piled up from a never-ending stream of blonde, willowy authorities, many of whom seemed to be devising diets based on little but their own limited experience. If Junger and Reno laid the groundwork for eat clean to become a vast global trend, it was social media and the internet that did the rest. Almost all of the authors of the British clean eating bestsellers started off as bloggers or Instagrammers, many of them beautiful women in their early 20s who were genuinely convinced that the diets they had invented had cured them of various chronic ailments.

Every wellness guru worth her Himalayan pink salt has a story of how changing what you eat can change your life. Food has the power to make or break you, wrote Amelia Freer in her 2014 bestseller Eat. Nourish. Glow. (which has sold more than 200,000 copies). Freer was leading a busy life as a personal assistant to the Prince of Wales when she realised that her tummy looked and felt as if it had a football in it from too many snatched dinners of cheese on toast or factory-made food. By giving up processed and convenience foods (margarine, yuck!) along with gluten and sugar, Freer claimed to have found the secrets to looking younger and feeling healthier.

Perhaps the best-known diet-transformation story of all is that of Ella Mills possessor of more than a million Instagram followers. In 2011, Mills was diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome, a condition characterised by dizziness and extreme fatigue. Mills began blogging about food after discovering that her symptoms radically improved when she swapped her sugar-laden diet for plant-based, natural foods. Mills who used to be a model made following a free-from diet seem not drab or deprived, but deeply aspirational. By the time her first book appeared in January 2015, her vast following on social media helped her to sell 32,000 copies in the first week alone.

Amelia
Amelia Freer. Photograph: S Meddle/ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

There was something paradoxical about the way these books were marketed. What they were selling purported to be an alternative to a sordidly commercial food industry. If its got a barcode or a promise, dont buy it, wrote Freer. Yet clean eating is itself a wildly profitable commercial enterprise, promoted using photogenic young bloggers on a multi-billion-dollar tech platform. Literary agent Zoe Ross tells me that around 2015 she began to notice that the market was scouring Instagram for copycat acts specifically very pretty, very young girls pushing curated food and lifestyle.

After years on the margins, health-based cooking was finally getting a mass audience. In 2016, 18 out the 20 top sellers in Amazon UKs food and drink book category had a focus on healthy eating and dieting. The irony, however, was that the kind of well-researched books Dolamore and others once published no longer tended to sell so well, because health publishing was now dominated by social media celebrities. Bookshops were heaving with so many of these clean books that even the authors themselves started to feel that there were too many of them. Alice Liveing, a 23-year-old personal trainer who writes as Clean Eating Alice, argued in her 2016 book Eat Well Every Day that she was championing what I feel is a much-needed breath of fresh air in what I think is an incredibly saturated market. To my untrained eye, browsing through her book, Alices fresh approach to diet looked very similar to countless others: date and almond energy balls, kale chips, beetroot and feta burgers.

Then again, shouldnt we give clean eating due credit for achieving the miracle of turning beetroot and kale into objects of desire? Data from analysts Kantar Worldpanel show that UK sales of fresh beetroot have risen dramatically from 42.8m in 2013 to 50.5m in 2015. Some would argue that, in developed nations where most people eat shockingly poor diets, low in greens and high in sugar, this new union of health and food has done a modicum of good. Giles Yeo who spent some time cooking a spicy sweet-potato dish with Ella Mills for his BBC programme agrees that many of the clean eating recipes he tried are actually a tasty and cool way to cook vegetables. But why, Yeo asks, do these authors not simply say I am publishing a very good vegetarian cookbook and stop there, instead of making larger claims about the power of vegetables to beautify or prevent disease? The poison comes from the fact that they are wrapping the whole thing up in pseudoscience, Yeo says. If you base something on falsehoods, it empowers people to take extreme actions, and this is where the harm begins.


You cant found a new faith system with the words I am publishing a very good vegetarian cookbook. For this, you need something stronger. You need the assurance of make-believe, whispered sweetly. Grind this cauliflower into tiny pieces and you can make a special kind of no-carb rice! Avoid all sugar and your skin will shimmer! Among other things, clean eating confirms how vulnerable and lost millions of us feel about diet which really means how lost we feel about our own bodies. We are so unmoored that we will put our faith in any master who promises us that we, too, can become pure and good.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that my own feelings about clean eating changed from ambivalence to outright dislike. I was on stage at the Cheltenham literary festival with dietician Renee McGregor (who works both with Olympic athletes and eating disorder sufferers) when a crowd of around 300 clean-eating fans started jeering and shouting at us. We were supposedly taking part in a clean-eating debate with nutritionist Madeleine Shaw, author of Get the Glow and Ready Steady Glow.

Before that week, I had never read any of Shaws work. As I flicked through Ready Steady Glow, I was fairly endeared by the upbeat tone (stop depriving yourself and start living) and bright photos of a beaming Shaw. I often surprise myself by finding new things to spiralise she writes, introducing a sweet potato noodle salad. Cauliflower pizza, in her view, is quite simply: the best invention ever.

But underneath the brightness there were notes of restriction that I found both worrying and confused. As ever, all my recipes are sugar-and-wheat free, Shaw announces, only to give a recipe for gluten-free brownies that contains 200g of coconut sugar, a substance that costs a lot more than your average white granulated sugar, but is metabolised by the body in the same way. I was still more alarmed by step four in Shaws nine-point food philosophy, which says that all bread and pasta should be avoided: they are beige foods, which are full of chemicals, preservatives and genetically modified wheat, and not whole foods. Shaws book makes no distinction between a loaf of, say, bleached sliced white, and a homemade wholemeal sourdough.

When we met on stage in Cheltenham, I asked Shaw why she told people to cut out all bread, and was startled when she denied she had said any such thing (rye bread was her favourite, she added). McGregor asked Shaw what she meant when she wrote that people should try to eat only clean proteins; meat that was not deep-fried was her rather baffling reply. McGregors main concern about clean eating, she added, was that as a professional treating young people with eating disorders, she had seen first-hand how the rules and restrictions of clean eating often segued into debilitating anorexia or orthorexia.

Madeleine
Madeleine Shaw promoting her book Get the Glow. Photograph: Joe Pepler/REX/Shutterstock

But I only see the positive, said Shaw, now wiping away tears. It was at this point that the audience, who were already restless whenever McGregor or I spoke, descended into outright hostility, shouting and hissing for us to get off stage. In a book shop after the event, as fans came up to Shaw to thank her for giving them the glow, I too burst into tears when one person jabbed her fingers at me and said I should be ashamed, as an older women (I am 43), to have criticised a younger one. On Twitter that night, some Shaw fans made derogatory comments about how McGregor and I looked, under the hashtag #youarewhatyoueat. The implication was that, if we were less photogenic than Shaw, we clearly had nothing of any value to say about food (never mind the fact that McGregor has degrees in biochemistry and nutrition).

Thinking about the event on the train home, I realised that the crowd were angry with us not because they disagreed with the details (its pretty clear that you cant have sugar in sugar-free recipes), but because they disliked the fact that we were arguing at all. To insist on the facts made us come across as cruelly negative. We had punctured the happy belief-bubble of glowiness that they had come to imbibe from Shaw. Its striking that in many of the wellness cookbooks, mainstream scientific evidence on diet is seen as more or less irrelevant, not least because the gurus see the complacency of science as part of what made our diets so bad in the first place.

Amelia Freer, in Eat. Nourish. Glow, admits that we cant prove that dairy is the cause of ailments ranging from IBS to joint pain, but concludes that its surely worth cutting dairy out anyway, just as a precaution. In another context, Freer writes that Im told it takes 17 years for scientific knowledge to filter down to become general knowledge, while advising that gluten should be avoided. Once we enter the territory where all authority and expertise are automatically suspect, you can start to claim almost anything and many #eatclean authorities do.

That night in Cheltenham, I saw that clean eating or whatever name it now goes under had elements of a post-truth cult. As with any cult, it could be something dark and divisive if you got on the wrong side of it. After Giles Yeos BBC programme was aired, he told me he was startled to find himself subjected to relentless online trolling. They said I was funded by big pharma, and therefore obviously wouldnt see the benefits of a healthy diet over medicine. These were outright lies. (Yeo is employed by the University of Cambridge, and funded by the Medical Research Council.)

Its increasingly clear that clean eating, for all its good intentions, can cause real harm, both to truth and to human beings. Over the past 18 months, McGregor says, every single client with an eating disorder who walks into my clinic doors is either following or wants to follow a clean way of eating.

In her new book, Orthorexia, McGregor observes that while eating disorders long predate the #eatclean trend, food rules (such as eating no dairy or avoiding all grains) easily become a guise for restricting food intake. Moreover, they are not even good rules, based as they are on unsubstantiated, unscientific claims. Take almond milk, which is widely touted as a superior alternative to cows milk. McGregor sees it as little better than expensive water, containing just 0.1g protein per 100ml, compared with 3.2g per 100ml in cows milk. But she often finds it very difficult to convince her clients that restricting themselves to these clean foods is in the long run worse for their health than what she calls unrestrained eating balanced and varied meals, but no panic about the odd ice cream or chocolate bar.

Clearly, not everyone who bought a clean-eating book has developed an eating disorder. But a movement whose premise is that normal food is unhealthy has now muddied the waters of healthy eating for everyone else, by planting the idea that a good diet is one founded on absolutes.


The true calamity of clean eating is not that it is entirely false. It is that it contains a kernel of truth, as Giles Yeo puts it. When you strip down all the pseudo babble, they are absolutely right to say that we should eat more vegetables, less refined sugar and less meat, Yeo said, sipping a black coffee in his office at the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge, where he spends his days researching the causes of obesity. Yeo agrees with the clean eaters that our environment of cheap, plentiful, sugary, fatty food is a recipe for widespread obesity and ill health. The problem is its near impossible to pick out the sensible bits of clean eating and ignore the rest. #Eatclean made healthy eating seem like something expensive, exclusive and difficult to achieve, as Anthony Warner writes. Whether the term clean is used or not, there is a new puritanism about food that has taken root very widely.

A few weeks ago, I overheard a fit, middle-aged man at the gym berating a friend for not eating a better diet a conversation that would once have been unimaginable among men. The first man was telling the second that the skinny burgers he preferred were nothing but shitty mince and marketing and arguing that he could get almost everything he needed from a diet of vegetables, cooked with no oil. Fat is fat, at the end of the day, he concluded, before bemoaning the idiots who tried to eat something wholesome like a salad, then ruined it by adding salt. If you have one bad diet day a week, you undo all your good work.

The real question is how to fight this kind of diet absolutism without bouncing back to a mindless celebration of the modern food environment that is demonstrably making so many people sick. In 2016, more than 600 children in the UK were registered as living with type 2 diabetes; before 2002, there were no reported cases of children suffering from the condition, whose causes are diet-related.

Our food system is in desperate need of reform. Theres a danger that, in fighting the nonsense of clean eating, we end up looking like apologists for a commercial food supply that is failing in its basic task of nourishing us. Former orthorexia sufferer Edward L Yuen has argued in his 2014 book, Beating Orthorexia that the old advice of everything in moderation no longer works in a food environment where eating in the middle ground may still leave you with chronic diseases. When portions are supersized and Snickers bars are sold by the metre (something I saw in my local Tesco recently), eating normally is not necessarily a balanced option. The answer isnt yet another perfect diet, but a shift in our idea of what constitutes normal food.

Sales of courgettes in the UK soared 20% from 2014 to 2015, fuelled by the rise of the spiraliser. But overall consumption of vegetables, both in the UK and worldwide, is still vanishingly small (with 74% of the adult UK population not managing to eat five a day). That is much lower than it was in the 1950s, when freshly cooked daily meals were still something that most people took for granted.

Among the affluent classes who already ate a healthier-than-average diet, the Instagram goddesses created a new model of dietary perfection to aim for. For the rest of the population, however, it simply placed the ideal of healthy food ever further out of reach. Behind the shiny covers of the clean-eating books, there is a harsh form of economic exclusion that says that someone who cant afford wheatgrass or spirulina can never be truly well.

As the conversation I overheard in the gym illustrates, this way of thinking is especially dangerous because it obscures the message that, in fact, small changes in diet can have a large beneficial impact. If you think you cant be healthy unless you eat nothing but vegetables, you might miss the fact that (as a recent overview of the evidence by epidemiologists showed) there are substantial benefits from raising your fruit-and-veg intake from zero portions a day to just two.

Among its many other offences, clean eating was a series of claims about food that were all or nothing which only serves to underline the fact that most people, as usual, are stuck with nothing.

Main photograph: Alamy

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/11/why-we-fell-for-clean-eating

Unlearning the myth of American innocence

The long read: When she was 30, Suzy Hansen left the US for Istanbul and began to realise that Americans will never understand their own country until they see it as the rest of the world does

My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.

When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. In Turkey, the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.

For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. In these years after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many wars that followed, it has become more difficult to gallivant across the world absorbing its wisdom and resources for ones own personal use. Americans abroad now do not have the same swagger, the easy, enormous smiles. You no longer want to speak so loud. There is always the vague risk of breaking something.

Some years after I moved to Istanbul, I bought a notebook, and unlike that confident child, I wrote down not plans but a question: who do we become if we dont become Americans? If we discover that our identity as we understood it had been a myth? I asked it because my years as an American abroad in the 21st century were not a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were more of a shattering and a shame, and even now, I still dont know myself.


I grew up in Wall, a town located by the Jersey Shore, two hours drive from New York. Much of it was a landscape of concrete and parking lots, plastic signs and Dunkin Donuts. There was no centre, no Main Street, as there was in most of the pleasant beach towns nearby, no tiny old movie theatre or architecture suggesting some sort of history or memory.

Most of my friends parents were teachers, nurses, cops or electricians, except for the rare father who worked in the City, and a handful of Italian families who did less legal things. My parents were descendants of working-class Danish, Italian and Irish immigrants who had little memory of their European origins, and my extended family ran an inexpensive public golf course, where I worked as a hot-dog girl in the summers. The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house. (In 2016, most of Wall voted Trump.)

We were all patriotic, but I cant even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I dont remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didnt stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us.

We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens than a country with people in it.

Boardwalk
Boardwalk empire a variety shop in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photo: Michael S Williamson/The Washington Post

I have TV memories of world events. Even in my mind, they appear on a screen: Oliver North testifying in the Iran-Contra hearings; the scarred, evil-seeming face of Panamas dictator Manuel Noriega; the movie-like footage, all flashes of light, of the bombing of Baghdad during the first Gulf war. Mostly what I remember of that war in Iraq was singing God Bless the USA on the school bus I was 13 wearing little yellow ribbons and becoming teary-eyed as I remembered the video of the song I had seen on MTV.

And Im proud to be an American

Where at least I know Im free

That at least is funny. We were free at the very least we were that. Everyone else was a chump, because they didnt even have that obvious thing. Whatever it meant, it was the thing that we had, and no one else did. It was our God-given gift, our superpower.

By the time I got to high school, I knew that communism had gone away, but never learned what communism had actually been (bad was enough). Religion, politics, race they washed over me like troubled things that obviously meant something to someone somewhere, but that had no relationship to me, to Wall, to America. I certainly had no idea that most people in the world felt those connections deeply. History Americas history, the worlds history would slip in and out of my consciousness with no resonance whatsoever.

Racism, antisemitism and prejudice, however those things, on some unconscious level, I must have known. They were expressed in the fear of Asbury Park, which was black; in the resentment of the towns of Marlboro and Deal, which were known as Jewish; in the way Hispanics seemed exotic. Much of the Jersey Shore was segregated as if it were still the 1950s, and so prejudice was expressed through fear of anything outside Wall, anything outside the tiny white world in which we lived. If there was something that saved us from being outwardly racist, it was that in small towns such as Wall, especially for girls, it was important to be nice, or good this pressure tempered tendencies toward overt cruelty when we were young.

I was lucky that I had a mother who nourished my early-onset book addiction, an older brother with mysteriously acquired progressive politics, and a father who spent his evenings studying obscure golf antiques, lost in the pleasures of the past. In these days of the 1%, I am nostalgic for Walls middle-class modesty and its sea-salt Jersey Shore air. But as a teenager, I knew that the only thing that could rescue me from the Wall of fear was a good college.


I ended up at the University of Pennsylvania. The lack of interest in the wider world that I had known in Wall found another expression there, although at Penn the children were wealthy, highly educated and apolitical. During orientation, the business school students were told that they were the smartest people in the country, or so I had heard. (Donald Trump Jr was there then, too.) In the late 1990s, everyone at Penn wanted to be an investment banker, and many would go on to help bring down the world economy a decade later. But they were more educated than I was; in American literature class, they had even heard of William Faulkner.

TV
TV memories Lt Col Oliver North is sworn in before Congress for the Iran-Contra hearings, July 1987. Photograph: Lana Harris/AP

When my best friend from Wall revealed one night that she hadnt heard of John McEnroe or Jerry Garcia, some boys on the dormitory hall called us ignorant, and white trash, and chastised us for not reading magazines. We were hurt, and surprised; white trash was something we said about other people at the Jersey Shore. My boyfriend from Wall accused me of going to Penn solely to find a boyfriend who drove a Ferrari, and the boys at Penn made fun of the Camaros we drove in high school. Class in America was not something we understood in any structural or intellectual way; class was a constellation of a million little materialistic cultural signifiers, and the insult, loss or acquisition of any of them could transform ones future entirely.

In the end, I chose to pursue the new life Penn offered me. The kids I met had parents who were doctors or academics; many of them had already even been to Europe! Penn, for all its superficiality, felt one step closer to a larger world.

Still, I cannot remember any of us being conscious of foreign events during my four years of college. There were wars in Eritrea, Nepal, Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor, Kashmir. US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed. Panama, Nicaragua (I couldnt keep Latin American countries straight), Osama bin Laden, Clinton bombing Iraq nope.

I knew Saddam Hussein, which had the same evil resonance as communism. I remember the movie Wag the Dog, a satire in which American politicians start a fake war with foreign terrorists to distract the electorate during a domestic scandal which at the time was what many accused Clinton of doing when he ordered a missile strike on Afghanistan during the Monica Lewinsky affair. I never thought about Afghanistan. What country was in Wag the Dog? Albania. There was a typical American callousness in our reaction to the country they chose for the movie, an indifference that said, Some bumblefuck country, it doesnt matter which one they choose.

I was a child of the 90s, the decade when, according to Americas foremost intellectuals, history had ended, the US was triumphant, the cold war won by a landslide. The historian David Schmitz has written that, by that time, the idea that America won because of its values and steadfast adherence to the promotion of liberalism and democracy was dominating op-ed pages, popular magazines and the bestseller lists. These ideas were the ambient noise, the elevator music of my most formative years.

But for me there was also an intervention a chance experience in the basement of Penns library. I came across a line in a book in which a historian argued that, long ago, during the slavery era, black people and white people had defined their identities in opposition to each other. The revelation to me was not that black people had conceived of their identities in response to ours, but that our white identities had been composed in conscious objection to theirs. Id had no idea that we had ever had to define our identities at all, because to me, white Americans were born fully formed, completely detached from any sort of complicated past. Even now, I can remember that shiver of recognition that only comes when you learn something that expands, just a tiny bit, your sense of reality. What made me angry was that this revelation was something about who I was. How much more did I not know about myself?

It was because of this text that I picked up the books of James Baldwin, who gave me the sense of meeting someone who knew me better, and with a far more sophisticated critical arsenal than I had myself. There was this line:

But I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.

And this one:

All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.

And this one:

White Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any colour, to be found in the world today.

I know why this came as a shock to me then, at the age of 22, and it wasnt necessarily because he said I was sick, though that was part of it. It was because he kept calling me that thing: white American. In my reaction I justified his accusation. I knew I was white, and I knew I was American, but it was not what I understood to be my identity. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams. I only thought about finding myself, becoming myself, discovering myself and this, I hadnt known, was the most white American thing of all.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history the history of white Americans had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk.

White
White Americans are probably the most dangerous people in the world today author James Baldwin in New York, 1963. Photograph: Dave Pickoff/AP

Of this indifference, Baldwin wrote: White children, in the main, and whether they are rich or poor, grow up with a grasp of reality so feeble that they can very accurately be described as deluded.

Young white Americans of course go through pain, insecurity and heartache. But it is very, very rare that young white Americans come across someone who tells them in harsh, unforgiving terms that they might be merely the easy winners of an ugly game, and indeed that because of their ignorance and misused power, they might be the losers within a greater moral universe.


In 2007, after I had worked for six years as a journalist in New York, I won a writing fellowship that would send me to Turkey for two years. I had applied for it on a whim. No part of me expected to win the thing. Even as my friends wished me congratulations, I detected a look of concern on their faces, as if I was crazy to leave all this, as if 29 was a little too late to be finding myself. I had never even been to Turkey before.

In the weeks before my departure, I spent hours explaining Turkeys international relevance to my bored loved ones, no doubt deploying the cliche that Istanbul was the bridge between east and west. I told everyone that I chose Turkey because I wanted to learn about the Islamic world. The secret reason I wanted to go was that Baldwin had lived in Istanbul in the 1960s, on and off, for almost a decade. I had seen a documentary about Baldwin that said he felt more comfortable as a black, gay man in Istanbul than in Paris or New York.

When I heard that, it made so little sense to me, sitting in my Brooklyn apartment, that a space opened in the universe. I couldnt believe that New York could be more illiberal than a place such as Turkey, because I couldnt conceive of how prejudiced New York and Paris had been in that era; and because I thought that as you went east, life degraded into the past, the opposite of progress. The idea of Baldwin in Turkey somehow placed Americas race problem, and America itself, in a mysterious and tantalising international context. I took a chance that Istanbul might be the place where the secret workings of history would be revealed.

In Turkey and elsewhere, in fact, I would feel an almost physical sensation of intellectual and emotional discomfort, while trying to grasp a reality of which I had no historical or cultural understanding. I would go, as a journalist, to write a story about Turkey or Greece or Egypt or Afghanistan, and inevitably someone would tell me some part of our shared history theirs with America of which I knew nothing. If I didnt know this history, then what kind of story did I plan to tell?

City
City watch US army troops stand guard at a checkpoint in Baghdad, Iraq, in August 2007. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

My learning process abroad was threefold: I was learning about foreign countries; I was learning about Americas role in the world; and I was also slowly understanding my own psychology, temperament and prejudices. No matter how well I knew the predatory aspects of capitalism, I still perceived Turkeys and Greeces economic advances as progress, a kind of maturation. No matter how deeply I understood the USs manipulation of Egypt for its own foreign-policy aims, I had never considered and could not grasp how American policies really affected the lives of individual Egyptians, beyond engendering resentment and anti-Americanism. No matter how much I believed that no American was well-equipped for nation-building, I thought I could see good intentions on the part of the Americans in Afghanistan. I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it, but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilisation, and everyone else was trying to catch up.

American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others. How could I, as an American, understand a foreign people, when unconsciously I did not extend the most basic faith to other people that I extended to myself? This was a limitation that was beyond racism, beyond prejudice and beyond ignorance. This was a kind of nationalism so insidious that I had not known to call it nationalism; this was a self-delusion so complete that I could not see where it began and ended, could not root it out, could not destroy it.


In my first few months in Istanbul, I lived a formless kind of existence, days dissolving into the nights. I had no office to go to, no job to keep, and I was 30 years old, an age at which people either choose to grow up or remain stuck in the exploratory, idle phase of late-late youth. Starting all over again in a foreign country making friends, learning a new language, trying to find your way through a city meant almost certainly choosing the latter. I spent many nights out until the wee hours such as the evening I drank beer with a young Turkish man named Emre, who had attended college with a friend of mine from the US.

A friend had told me that Emre was one of the most brilliant people he had ever met. As the evening passed, I was gaining a lot from his analysis of Turkish politics, especially when I asked him whether he voted for Erdoans Justice and Development party (AKP), and he spat back, outraged, Did you vote for George W Bush? Until that point I had not realised the two might be equivalent.

Then, three beers in, Emre mentioned that the US had planned the September 11 attacks. I had heard this before. Conspiracy theories were common in Turkey; for example, when the military claimed that the PKK, the Kurdish militant group, had attacked a police station, some Turks believed the military itself had done it; they believed it even in cases where Turkish civilians had died. In other words, the idea was that rightwing forces, such as the military, bombed neutral targets, or even rightwing targets, so they could then blame it on the leftwing groups, such as the PKK. To Turks, bombing ones own country seemed like a real possibility.

Come on, you dont believe that, I said.

Why not? he snapped. I do.

But its a conspiracy theory.

He laughed. Americans always dismiss these things as conspiracy theories. Its the rest of the world who have had to deal with your conspiracies.

I ignored him. I guess I have faith in American journalism, I said. Someone else would have figured this out if it were true.

He smiled. Im sorry, theres no way they didnt have something to do with it. And now this war? he said, referring to the war in Iraq. Its impossible that the United States couldnt stop such a thing, and impossible that the Muslims could pull it off.

Some weeks later, a bomb went off in the Istanbul neighborhood of Gngren. A second bomb exploded out of a garbage bin nearby after 10pm, killing 17 people and injuring 150. No one knew who did it. All that week, Turks debated: was it al-Qaida? The PKK? The DHKP/C, a radical leftist group? Or maybe: the deep state?

The deep state a system of mafia-like paramilitary organisations operating outside of the law, sometimes at the behest of the official military was a whole other story. Turks explained that the deep state had been formed during the cold war as a way of countering communism, and then mutated into a force for destroying all threats to the Turkish state. The power that some Turks attributed to this entity sometimes strained credulity. But the point was that Turks had been living for years with the idea that some secret force controlled the fate of their nation.

In fact, elements of the deep state were rumoured to have had ties to the CIA during the cold war, and though that too smacked of a conspiracy theory, this was the reality that Turkish people lived in. The sheer number of international interventions the US launched in those decades is astonishing, especially those during years when American power was considered comparatively innocent. There were the successful assassinations: Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1961; General Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, also in 1961; Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam, in 1963. There were the unsuccessful assassinations: Castro, Castro, and Castro. There were the much hoped-for assassinations: Nasser, Nasser, Nasser. And, of course, US-sponsored, -supported or -staged regime changes: Iran, Guatemala, Iraq, Congo, Syria, Dominican Republic, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina. The Americans trained or supported secret police forces everywhere from Cambodia to Colombia, the Philippines to Peru, Iran to Vietnam. Many Turks believed that the US at least encouraged the 1971 and 1980 military coups in Turkey, though I could find little about these events in any conventional histories anywhere.

But what I could see was that the effects of such meddling were comparable to those of September 11 just as huge, life-changing and disruptive to the country and to peoples lives. Perhaps Emre did not believe that September 11 was a straightforward affair of evidence and proof because his experience his reality taught him that very rarely were any of these surreally monumental events easily explainable. I did not think Emres theory about the attacks was plausible. But I began to wonder whether there was much difference between a foreigners paranoia that the Americans planned September 11 and the Americans paranoia that the whole world should pay for September 11 with an endless global war on terror.


The next time a Turktold me she believed the US had bombed itself on September 11 (I heard this with some regularity; this time it was from a young student at Istanbuls Boazii University), I repeated my claim about believing in the integrity of American journalism. She replied, a bit sheepishly, Well, right, we cant trust our journalism. We cant take that for granted.

The words take that for granted gave me pause. Having lived in Turkey for more than a year, witnessing how nationalistic propaganda had inspired peoples views of the world and of themselves, I wondered from where the belief in our objectivity and rigour in journalism came. Why would Americans be objective and everyone else subjective?

I thought that because Turkey had poorly functioning institutions they didnt have a reliable justice system, as compared to an American system I believed to be functional it often felt as if there was no truth. Turks were always sceptical of official histories, and blithely dismissive of the governments line. But was it rather that the Turks, with their beautiful scepticism, were actually just less nationalistic than me?

American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other countrys nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasnt that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do? I had not questioned the institution of American journalism outside of the standards it set for itself which, after all, was the only way I would discern its flaws and prejudices; instead, I accepted those standards as the best standards any country could possibly have.

Red
Red state Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoan attends a rally following a failed coup attempt last year. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

By the end of my first year abroad, I read US newspapers differently. I could see how alienating they were to foreigners, the way articles spoke always from a position of American power, treating foreign countries as if they were Americas misbehaving children. I listened to my compatriots with critical ears: the way our discussion of foreign policy had become infused since September 11 with these officious, official words, bureaucratic corporate military language: collateral damage, imminent threat, freedom, freedom, freedom.

Even so, I was conscious that if I had long ago succumbed to the pathology of American nationalism, I wouldnt know it even if I understood the history of injustice in America, even if I was furious about the invasion of Iraq. I was a white American. I still had this fundamental faith in my country in a way that suddenly, in comparison to the Turks, made me feel immature and naive.

I came to notice that a community of activists and intellectuals in Turkey the liberal ones were indeed questioning what Turkishness meant in new ways. Many of them had been brainwashed in their schools about their own history; about Atatrk, Turkeys first president; about the supposed evil of the Armenians and the Kurds and the Arabs; about the fragility of their borders and the rapaciousness of all outsiders; and about the historic and eternal goodness of the Turkish republic.

It is different in the United States, I once said, not entirely realising what I was saying until the words came out. I had never been called upon to explain this. We are told it is the greatest country on earth. The thing is, we will never reconsider that narrative the way you are doing just now, because to us, that isnt propaganda, that is truth. And to us, that isnt nationalism, its patriotism. And the thing is, we will never question any of it because at the same time, all we are being told is how free-thinking we are, that we are free. So we dont know there is anything wrong in believing our country is the greatest on earth. The whole thing sort of convinces you that a collective consciousness in the world came to that very conclusion.

Wow, a friend once replied. How strange. That is a very quiet kind of fascism, isnt it?

It was a quiet kind of fascism that would mean I would always see Turkey as beneath the country I came from, and also that would mean I believed my uniquely benevolent country to have uniquely benevolent intentions towards the peoples of the world.

During that night of conspiracy theories, Emre had alleged, as foreigners often did, that I was a spy. The information that I was collecting as a journalist, Emre said, was really being used for something else. As an American emissary in the wider world, writing about foreigners, governments, economies partaking in some larger system and scheme of things, I was an agent somehow. Emre lived in the American world as a foreigner, as someone less powerful, as someone for whom one newspaper article could mean war, or one misplaced opinion could mean an intervention by the International Monetary Fund. My attitude, my prejudice, my lack of generosity could be entirely false, inaccurate or damaging, but would be taken for truth by the newspapers and magazines I wrote for, thus shaping perceptions of Turkey for ever.

Years later, an American journalist told me he loved working for a major newspaper because the White House read it, because he could influence policy. Emre had told me how likely it was I would screw this up. He was saying to me: first, spy, do no harm.

Main photograph: Burak Kara/Getty Images for the Guardian

Adapted from Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen, which will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on 15 August

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/08/unlearning-the-myth-of-american-innocence

The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness review a tale of betrayal by the church

Graham Caveneys bold, essential narrative information how the Catholic facility stops working abuse victims

P ope Francis has actually taken excellent strides in challenging all sorts of established mindsets and bias in the Vatican that have actually provided the Catholic church such a bad name of late. Development has actually been disappointingly sluggish, nevertheless, on the commission he selected in 2014 to deal with the terrible scandal of clerical sexual assault. In March of this year Marie Collins , the last staying member of the panel who was a survivor of abuse, resigned after a Vatican department cannot abide by the commissions suggestion that it react to every reporter who composes in with accusations that they have actually been a victim. If the curia is withstanding such basic actions, ways to have faith that they will take on the larger underlying concerns?

Reluctance to confront the repercussions of clerical abuse stays hard-wired into the structures of the church: an impulse to secure the organization at the expense of the person who has actually suffered, and a brick-wall resistance to attending to the extensive concerns about the nature of occupation postured by such abhorrent behaviour. Therefore church leaders not all, given; definitely not Pope Francis have the tendency to mention historic accusations whenever victims discover the guts to speak out 20, 30 and even 40 years after occasions that are not for them in any method historic, however are a mental and psychological injury they will cope with till their passing away day.

Individuals like Graham Caveney. The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness states with fantastic guts and candour how, in the 1970s, as the smart, uncomfortable, unpopular, just kid of devoutly Catholic working-class moms and dads in Accrington, Lancashire, he was groomed by a priest at his regional grade school in Blackburn, then sexually abused by him.

A casual glimpse may recommend he has actually handled to put it behind him he has an effective profession as an author on music (the noises of the 70s are one thread of this well-structured, rounded narrative) and biographer of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. As he explains, without self-pity, Caveney dropped out of university, had a hard time to form adult relationships, turned to consume and drugs to blot out the injury, and on event tried suicide.

The abuse leads you to screw up your life, he shows bleakly however unsparingly, and a fucked-up life suggests that youre a less trustworthy witness to the abuse that fucked you up in the very first location. Its a paradoxical technique of memory and survival: abuse makes you wish to forget the abuse.

John and Kath, his mum and daddy, had no concept exactly what was incorrect. They saw their precious kid, in whom they had actually invested a lot hope that he would have more life chances than them, alter initially into a sulky, mad teen who chose not to go to mass, then into a messed-up wreck, besieged by anxiety attack.

They passed away in 1998 and 2002, still none the better. They continued to direct their flailing kid back to his old headteacher for sensible counsel, never ever presuming that Father Kevin ONeill had sexually mistreated him as a 15-year-old and triggered the down spiral.

The Caveneys had actually thought that the vibrant, unwinded Rev Kev the Catholic equivalent of a fashionable vicar was doing their kid a favour by taking him to theatres, dining establishments and movie theaters, widening his mind. Exactly what they couldnt understand was that en route house, the priest they admired would turn his cars and truck into peaceful side-road and force himself on their kid. Later on, when he welcomed young Graham to go on vacation to Greece with him and a group of others, John and Kath employed the assistance of family members to scrape together the expense, however it was simply a pretext for more abuse.

Its them that I cant forgive you for, Caveney composes, resolving his abuser in the pages of a book that need to have cost him dear to finish, the method which you made their hopes and goals the tools of your very own requirements. If it was something they had actually done incorrect to make their young boy turn out the method he did, its them who invested their lives stressing.

Given just how much Catholic grade school from the 1950s through to the 1970s were the path by which generations of working-class Catholic young boys and women got on in life the Irish Christian Brothers in my own house town of Liverpool boasted that they took the children of dockers and made them into medical professionals it is difficult to think that the betrayal of Graham Caveney and his moms and dads is a separated case. How extensive it is, nevertheless, stays difficult to understand since every bit of details needs to be dragged out of a compulsively deceptive church that recoils from believing in regards to deep-rooted, intricate patterns of abuse.

And exactly what occurred when Caveney determined his abuser in the early 1990s to Father ONeills spiritual order, the Marists? Id simply slashed up my arms, he includes, by method of context. The priest was challenged, obviously admitted his criminal offenses, however was described a United States treatment centre instead of the cops. In 1993, he retired with complete honours as headteacher. Kath even sent her boy a cutting about the events from the regional paper. You were constantly among his favourites, she advised him. The report informed of ex-pupils lining up to sing the priests applauds, little presuming how they too had actually been betrayed.

ONeill passed away in 2011, the severe charges versus him covered to the tomb. He still does not appear to appear on any register I can discover of violent clergy. What distresses Caveney practically as much as the churchs failure to include the authorities and courts is that he now can never ever face his abuser, conserve in this raw, crucial however bold narrative. A part of him, he admits, still believes in his darkest minutes that exactly what occurred was in some way his own fault.

What was it about me? he asks. You see, theres a little me that still thinks Im special, that I truly was your prime number, indivisible just by myself. I do not wish to think about myself as part of a pattern, simply another victim.

ONeills traditional, St Marys, Blackburn, today has a drama block called after him, an honour accorded in spite of the Marist order having actually been outlined Caveneys accusations almost 20 years previously. Is it possible that there is nobody who understood of them who could have spoken out? Or did they think about that whatever great he had done at the school counteracted sexually abusing a 15-year-old in his care? It becomes part of the very same impossible-to-fathom and offending mindset that now obviously stops Vatican authorities responding to letters from those reporting abuse, in defiance of the pope.

Quite for how long it will consider that bias to be beat, I have no idea. After they have actually checked out The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness, the school guvs may at least like to review the identifying of their drama block, which rubs salt into open injuries.

Peter Stanford is a previous editor of the Catholic Herald

The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness by Graham Caveney is released by Picador on 7 September (14.99). To buy a copy for 12.74 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 03303336846. Free UK p &p over 10, online orders just. Phone orders minutes p &p of 1.99

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Partition, 70 years on: Salman Rushdie, Kamila Shamsie and other writers reflect

More than a million were killed and many millions more displaced by Indian partition. Authors consider its bloody legacy and the crises now facing their countries

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj
Pankaj Mishra. Photograph: Windham-Campbell Prize

To think about partition on its 70th anniversary is to think, unavoidably, about the extraordinary crisis in India today. The 50th and 60th anniversaries of one of the 20th centurys biggest calamities were leavened with the possibility that India, liberal-democratic, secular and energetically globalising, was finally achieving the greatness its famous leaders had promised. In contrast to Indias grand and imminent tryst with destiny, Pakistans fate seemed to be obsessive self-harm.

The celebrations of a rising India were not much muted in 1997 and 2007, even as hands were dutifully wrung about the imperialist skulduggery and savage ethnic cleansing that founded the nation states of India and Pakistan, defined their self-images and condemned them to permanent internal and external conflict. Today, as the portrait of a co-conspirator in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi hangs in the Indian parliament, it is the scale and ferocity of Indias mutation that haunts our thoughts.

But should it really be so shocking? Were we too beguiled by the intellectual complacencies of historians and journalists, who turned liberal democracy, secularism, globalisation and economic growth into articles of a new faith?

It is of course easy to ignore the malign and enduring potency of partition. Many of our everyday experiences of pluralist identities comprehensively negate it. My own life has been enriched by Pakistani writers, musicians, cricketers and friendships across borders. Yet the Hindu fanatic who murdered Gandhi for being soft on Muslims and Pakistan exemplified early the lethal logic of nation-building. So did many avowedly secular Indian leaders who used brute force to hold on to Kashmir.

In many ways, Narendra Modi and his mob are completing the unfinished business of partition: the unification of a political community through identification and persecution of internal and external enemies. In conforming to this grimly familiar historical pattern, India has outpaced Pakistan, where regional differences serve to check a ruthlessly homogenising nationalism (and Islamism), and no single ideological movement is able to colonise all key institutions of the state and civil society.

We persuaded ourselves that India was somehow exceptional, immune to the political pathologies that have infected almost every nation on earth, and entered its bloodstream at birth. It is frightening to contemplate on this 70th anniversary what lies ahead for nuclear-armed south Asia. No illusions of a liberation from history, of a rising or emerging India, comfort us today. And we Indians as well as Pakistanis are forced to acknowledge the partition as the great atrocity that decisively shapes our brutish present.

Pankaj Mishras most recent book is Age of Anger: A History of the Present (Allen Lane).

Salman Rushdie

Salman
Salman Rushdie. Photograph: Eloy Alonso/Reuters

Midnights Children was published a few months before the34th anniversary of Indian independence in 1981, and another 36 years have elapsed since then. The novel now feels like a half-time report. The second half deserves its own novel, although I am not the right person to write it.

When my novel was published, some people criticised it for ending too gloomily. Its true that much of the novel was written during the mid-70s Emergency, Indira Gandhis shameful 21-month suspension of democracy, and it bears the marks of that dark moment. But in the novel, as in real life, India emerged from the Emergency into a new day, and the narrator Saleems son Aadam represented the hope of anew generation. That new generation has grown up to inherit the world of midnights children, and India is becoming a different country. When I look at the last pages of my novel now, they feel almost absurdly optimistic.

The country is rapidly being pulled in the direction decreed by the proponents of Hindutva, Hindu nationalism, and away from the secular ideals of the founding fathers. To criticise this movement, in the age of the political Twitter troll, is to be branded sickular, or, even worse, asickular libtard. Meanwhile, in the land of the sacred cow, people are being lynched for the crime of allegedly possessing or eating beef. History textbooks are being rewritten as Hindutva propaganda. The governments control over a largely acquiescent news media (there are a couple of honourable exceptions) would be envied by the president of the United States, if he happened to concern himself with such faraway matters. The worlds largest democracy feels more authoritarian and less democratic than it should.

But the Modi government is popular. Its very popular. This is the greatest difference between the India of Indiras Emergency and the India of today. Back then, Mrs Gandhi called an election, wrongly believing she would win, and by doing so would legitimise the excesses of the Emergency years. But she was voted down resoundingly and driven from office. There is no sign that the Indian electorate will turn against the present government any time soon. Midnights grandchildren seem content with whats happening. And thats the pessimistic conclusion to volume two of the Indian story.

Salman Rusdhies latest novel, The Golden House, is published by Jonathan Cape inSeptember.

Kamila Shamsie

Kamila
Kamila Shamsie. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

When I was growing up, partition was not so much a historical event as a family story. Partition had made half my family Pakistani and the other half Indian; partition meant my grandmother couldnt get a visa to visit her dying mother; partition meant that while I cheered on Pakistans triumph against India in the 1987 Test series, my great-uncle, who was then visiting his sister/my grandmother, inKarachi, was despondent that his cricket team had lost. Partition also meant that I grew up in Karachi, multi-ethnic city of migrants, which I loved fiercely enough to make the loss of half a family seem like a price worth paying in a childs black and white way of seeing the world.

But at the level of official and national conversation in Pakistan, 1947 was a year to which the word independence rather than partition was attached. It was in British text books and British Raj revival films that partition almost always trumped independence. Of course it did. To talk about the independence of Pakistan and India is to acknowledge the yoke of colonial rule. Far easier to talk about partition, with its implication of everything falling apart as the British left, as though the falling apart wasnt the direct result of a policy of divide and rule. And so Ive always been uneasy and continue here to be uneasy when Im asked to talk about partition rather than independence in Britain.

But the complicated truth is that the entwined nature of independence and partition must be acknowledged. These were nations born as a result of a heroic opposition to imperial rule, but their birth was also marked by hatred andbloodshed. Contemporary conversations often focus on what that bloodshed means for India and Pakistans relationship to each other, but increasingly as I look at both nations, now so mired in violence towards their own minorities, I wonder what it means for each nations relationship to its own history, its own nature. There was never a reckoning for the violence of partition; that would have got in the way of the narrative of a glorious independence. Instead it became easier to blame the other side for all the violence, and pretend that at the moment of inception both India and Pakistan didnt wrap mass murder in a flag and hope no one would notice the blood stains.

Kamila Shamsies latest novel, Home Fire(Bloomsbury), has been longlisted for the Man Booker prize.

Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin
Mohsin Hamid. Photograph: Sarah Lee

Seventy years after partition, the old hatreds are alive and well. India is descending into an intolerant Hindu nationalism, apparently intent on imitating the religious chauvinism and suppression of dissent that have served Pakistan sopoorly. In Pakistan, a moment where it seemed that the press might finally become free and elected civilian rulers might regularly complete their terms has passed.

We are back in the murk of the unsaid, the unacknowledged, the undemocratic. Soldiers of both sides are firing across the line of control in Kashmir. Nuclear stockpiles grow. Rhetoric is unmeasured, indeed often unhinged. A person brought forward in time from the murderous slaughter of 70 years ago would probably look around and say, yes, this is what I expected.

What a failure. A failure for all of us, who live in south Asia. And for all of you, who live abroad, in countries whose governments see only market sizes and geopolitical advantage, and turn a blind eye to the great and mounting danger your angry brothers and sisters pose to each other.

Mohsin Hamids most recent novel, Exit West, published by Hamish Hamilton, has been longlisted for this years Man Booker prize.

Kiran Desai

Kiran
Kiran Desai. Photograph: Samuel Aranda/Getty Images

Every Saturday I suffer from a depression I call my Saturday depression. The main symptom of this is that when I look inthe mirror I dont see myself, I see a ghost. The sight of this ghost fills me with fear. I know this spectre is merely the cumulative result of one more week in one more year of many years of self-imposed isolation for the sake of a book I have been working on a long while.

Last Saturday to avoid my unavoidable depression I went to the Rubin Museum in New York to see the Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs of India. One section of the exhibition displays the photographs I almost wrote paintings that Cartier-Bresson took during the last days of Gandhis life and the days following his assassination. The photographs are painterly. Rather than emphasising a passing event, they have a staying presence; while the days they were taken were chaotic, they have a composed stillness; while it was surely noisy, the photographs are overcome by a hush as ifviolence has blasted the scene still and all the millions of people in the crowds have been condemned to an eternal moment. The quantity of people is important here, and the fact that every individual in this crowd of millions appears to be missing his or her face. You cannot see the person for an emotion more primal than our human selves has consumed their individual natures to make them part of a whole catastrophic betrayal. Pandit Nehru wears the same loss as Brij Krishna, Gandhis secretary, as a man who has clambered up a tree for a view of the funeral pyre, as a refugee ona train leaving Delhi for Lahore.

I was glad to be alone for I found my face was wet with tears. But I wasnt weeping over the past, I was grieving for the present. The political wing of the RSS, the organisation to which Gandhis assassin was once a member, is the party that runs the country now, and it exults in the same vocabulary of violence now as then. The faces of the poor are the same now as they were then. An exhausted labourer sleeps on the street beside his cracked shoes in the same way. The footage of a Muslim dairy farmer, Pehlu Khan, begging for his life before a Hindu mob, one of many such attacks this year link back to these photographs as if the nation is condemned to forever return to the time of its conception. Perhaps India will never overcome this moment photographed here. Everything that has happened since feels fateful, cyclical, endless and pre-determined.

I thought for a guilty moment that I had no right to feel this for I had not been there to share it. But when I looked at these photographs, I didnt see them from a foreign distance.

I remembered the story of a grand uncle jailed by the British when he came out of prison he never left his room, he had been so damaged he stayed inside spinning khadi. He shared a special bond with my German grandmother who had sailed with a trunk full of china to marry the engineering student from East Bengal she had met in Berlin. She made a home in a country that would soon fight Germany alongside the British, became part of a family that was meanwhile fighting for Independence from the British. Everything a contradiction in ideologies, but not in the one thing that could undo it all, the personal story against all this history, all these wars.Gandhis funeral train leaves Delhi for Allahabad, the ancestral home of Nehru, reminding me of my childhood visits to my grandparents for my grandfather was a judge atthe Allahabad high court. They were also Gujarati like Gandhi, and like millions of others had made a harsh journey away from their landscape, language, religion, their notion of caste for a secular ideal of India. My parents, born in British India, saw their childhood landscapes of Delhi and Allahabad alter beyond recognition as half the population departed for Pakistan. By the time I was born, things must have seemed comparatively quiet, although it was a year inwhich India and Pakistan went to war, but I too growing up had witnessed Delhi burning in another incarnation of violence. I remember the disabled Sikh gentleman down the road from us who was carried out of his house by a mob and never seen again.

I thought of my father who taught himself to read Urdu and took pleasure in reciting Faiz and Ghalib on his rooftop on a summer night. I thought of my mothers book, In Custody, about a professor of Hindi literature trying to record the poetry of an Urdu poet. That India, the inclusive India, my natural birthright, is once again under threat, and it has always been so.

As I composed myself in the cool darkness of the museum before I stepped back into the bright summer day, I felt a private gratitude to Cartier-Bresson, for his example of an artist who erased himself becoming a ghost behind his little 35mm Leica in order to memorialise the erasure of others. While the pictures depict violence, looking at them restores one to a place of humanity.

Kiran Desai is the author of the Booker prize-winning The Inheritance of Loss.

Siddhartha Deb

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A refugee camp in Delhi in 1947. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Baniachang, the village in Sylhet from which my fathers family came, became part of East Pakistan in 1947. Today, after the secession of East Pakistan in 1971, it is in Bangladesh. Ive never been there. How difficult was it, I thought when hearing my family talk about leaving Baniachang, for them to choose one kind of identity over another, in this case religion over language and culture? Partition, as books in recent years by Yasmin Khan and Vazira Zamindar have shown, was a different process depending on which part ofityou were caught up in. The British and Indian elites making their new nations men exemplified by the British viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, the future Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his hardline Hindu nationalist deputy, Vallabhbhai Patel, the Indian industrialist and Gandhi patron GD Birla were all in a hurry to force the process through. Mountbatten insisted on 15 August 1947 as the date for partition, just two and a half months after the decision to divide the subcontinent had been made. The boundary commission headed by the barrister Cyril Radcliffe finished preparing their maps only on 12 August, although these maps would not be made public until 17 August, two days after partition.

By then, the ethnic cleansing was well under way. Over amillion were killed, thousands raped and abducted, and between 12 and 20 million displaced in the process. Trains criss-crossed the landscape with carriages filled with corpses. Those escaping on foot travelled in columns that were sometimes 45 miles long. None of this violence and pain has really worked its way into the official histories of Britain, India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. This is surely one reason why the partition shows an uncanny ability to replicate itself through the decades, in mini partitions, mini pogroms and the steady marginalisation and brutalisation of minorities that has become the governing spirit of nationalism in south Asia.

The Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, who reluctantly moved to Pakistan from Bombay after partition and found himself utterly disillusioned in his new nation, captured the situation best in his short story about patients in a Lahore asylum being divided up as assets for the new countries. TheSikh protagonist, named Toba Tek Singh after the village he comes from, is taken to the border to be sent to India, although his village happens to be on the other side, in what is now Pakistan. Lying down on a bit of land that belonged to neither India nor Pakistan, he refuses to take part in this process of exchange that has already blighted so many lives. Seventy years after Partition, Toba Tek Singhs defiant madness evokes freedom better than anything achieved by the supposedly rational nations that came outof that bloody process.

Siddhartha Deb is the author of The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India, published by Penguin. An excerpt from his new novel, set in part against the backdrop of partition, will be published in the autumn issue of N+1.

Fatima Bhutto

Fatima
Fatima Bhutto. Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Observer

India takes its name from the Indus, which flows through Sindh, my hometown in Pakistan. The mighty river is a force that animates the legends of India and Pakistan. Mohenjo-daro, the seat of that ancient river culture, is shared no matter modern partitions between our two countries.

Today Hindus and Muslims gather to pray together to the saint Udero Lal, a form of the beloved Jhulelal, in the complex where both a temple and a mosque stand together. Jhulelal has many avatars: for Sindhi Muslims he is a manifestation of Qalandar, a Sufi mystic who travelled from the Middle East to our shores to bring the faithful closer to God; for Hindus, he is an incarnation of a Varuna, a Vedic god who ruled the oceans. Across the border, the holy city Varanasi isnamed partly in his honour.

I spent many days in my childhood among the bricks of Mohenjo-daro. My brother spent his teenage years journeying to Udero Lal. Both of us have driven hours from our home in Karachi to sit under the golden dome of the Sufi shrine of Sehwan Sharif, where rose petals are offered to thetomb of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar by all faiths. Last year, theshrine was bombed by Isis because of what it stood fora refuge, a site of adoration and love, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Sehwan, the name of the town where Pakistani Sufisms most cherished shrine stands, is believed by many to be derived from the name of the god Shiva.

Sindhs syncretic culture, its centuries of tolerant co-existence and even its turbulent present defy the sectarian logic of partition. And I have faith that it will survive the disasters designed to flow from it, even 70 years on.

Fatima Bhuttos most recent book, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, is published by Penguin.

Nayantara Sahgal

Books
Books by Nayantara Sahgal. Photograph: Saurabh Das/AP

I am the daughter of parents who fought for freedom under Mahatma Gandhis leadership, and my father died of his fourth imprisonment during British rule. Gandhi overturned the imperial diktat of divide and rule by creating a national movement that forged a political unity, one that rose above regions, religions and languages and recognised Indias cultural and religious diversity as the meaning of India. Thedemand for a separate country for Muslims was, on theother hand, in keeping with the divisions laid down by colonial rule.

The bizarre imperial approach to partition has been best illustrated by WH Auden in his caustic poem, Partition, in which he savagely lampoons the Englishman, Cyril Radcliffe, who had never set foot in India and was flown in to draw a line marking his idea of a boundary. The partition was an unimaginable disaster of bloodshed and suffering that uprooted helpless millions from both sides of the border and still haunts the subcontinents memory. The shock and grief live on in a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a story by Saadat Hasan Manto, a painting by Satish Gujral and in the minds offamilies torn apart. At the time, Nehru and many others, Muslim and Hindu, believed it would be temporary. For years after the event the belief persisted that this unreality would end. A centuries-old history could not thus be unwritten by a line drawn thoughtlessly between its sharers.

Its wounds are partially healed when Indians and Pakistanis meet to celebrate their joint heritage of music and dance, language and literature, and there is an emotional content to a movement in India that rejects war and calls for peace for all time with Pakistan.

But the menace of partition is again upon Indians, this time through the intention to impose Hindu nationhood on us and declare all other Indians outsiders who are here on sufferance. To foist a Hindu identity on a secular republic, one that is the worlds third largest Muslim country and has been home (as Gabriel Garca Mrquez said of his country) tothe human race, is senseless beyond belief. The mentality that murdered Gandhi now relentlessly pursues this agenda, punishing writers, rationalists, dalits, churches and all forms of dissent. Lynch mobs kill Muslims, reminiscent of the lynching of blacks in Americas deep south. On this anniversary of the partition of India, another partition stares us in the face.

Nayantara Sahgal edited Nehrus India: Essays on the Maker of a Nation, published by Speaking Tiger.

Amit Chaudhuri

Amit
Amit Chaudhuri. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

When I started writing, then publishing, fiction, partition (the word always came with a capital P) was considered amajor even defining theme for the Indian novel in English. The same was true of independence. Part of this was, of course, the legacy of Midnights Children. Rushdie had done a terrifically funny job of demonstrating how each one of us might potentially be the author of modern Indias history, not unlike the way Spike Milligan had revealed his role in history in Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall.

I began by ignoring history and writing about a family much like my uncles family that lived in south Calcutta. I described a visitor to this familys house: a 10-year-old boy from Bombay. I didnt date the story, but it would have been the early 1970s I was writing of. All the main characters in AStrange and Sublime Address had been displaced, and their present-day lives engendered, by partition. So it was with my family. My parents had grown up in Sylhet, which became part of East Pakistan in 1947, and Bangladesh in 1971. Ive never seen Sylhet. My parents never went back. Wewere in Bombay, and my uncle in Calcutta, because of movements in history. I was instinctively interested in the new lives these people were making for themselves. I didnt want to dwell too long on the epiphany of partition because their lives were composed of various other epiphanies.

Now, with the death of my parents in the last three years, I feel a sense of loss about their beginnings in the milieux that gave them their personalities. I think of it partly in the terms of two great languages: the near-loss of Urdu in the west; the bifurcation of Bengali in the east. Partition is not only about religion or the land that went to one side or the other; it signifies an irrevocable cultural shift. As with Europe after the second world war, what was damaged irreparably in 1947 was a modern civility that possessed aremarkable delicacy. I encountered this civility in my parents. There will be little evidence of its legacy after those who embody it, and still live in countries across the world, have vanished.

Amit Chaudhuris latest novel, Friend of My Youth, is out this month.

Mirza Waheed

Mirza
Mirza Waheed. Photograph: Sutton-Hibbert/REX

In the seven decades since partition, the empire-made cataclysm that consumed millions and sowed seeds of acrimony among millions more, theres been one source of animus between the two states that refuses to lie still. Kashmir.

Its also been seven decades since Indias first prime minister, Nehru, promised: We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it. Hed also announced: It is an obvious fact that no country is going to hold onto Kashmir against the will of Kashmiris.

In the decades since these promises (and UN resolutions), speeches to Indias constituent assembly and broadcasts to the nation, the Indian state, including the original Nehruvian version, has done exactly that held a people as subjects against their will, and then some. And when the people have risen and exerted their voices in the parliament of the street or on the funeral ground, the state has unleashed unspeakable terror on the long-suffering people of Kashmir.

Yes, the conflict is complex, with layers of intractability, with the Kashmiri body politic battered and febrile after thewill of the people in the face of chronic denial and betrayal by successive Indian regimes turned insurrectionary with devastating consequences for all involved but primarily for Kashmiris. Yes, there is the other party (as Nehru noted in his letters to his Pakistani counterpart, Liaquat Ali Khan), the next-door twin who holds a third of Kashmir and who has tried to force the issue via primarily selfish machinations since, well, since forever. And yes, there exist schisms and perennial tensions within the historical movement for self-determination as mandated bythe UN, which India itself brought on board, but which political struggle in history hasnt.

Today, as India and Pakistan celebrate their 70th, the Kashmiri people remain colonised, killed, exiled, raped, tortured, incarcerated and, in an ignominious addition to the catalogue, blinded by nasty little lead pellets sprayed on protesters crying for freedom.

Mirza Waheeds most recent novel is The Book of Gold Leaves, published by Penguin.

Tahmima Anam

Bernard MacLaverty: The story you have just finished is of little help to writing the next one

Acclaimed Northern Irish author Bernard MacLaverty has actually taken 16 years to complete his newest book. A great deal of things simply obstructed, he states

I n his coat recommendation for Bernard MacLavertys Midwinter Break, the renowned American author Richard Ford explains the brand-new book as much-anticipated. It is a respectful method of stating that MacLavertys 5th book has actually been taken its time in coming. Sixteen years, to be exact, because his last, The Anatomy School, and longer still if you return to the magnificence days of the 1980s and 1990s when this Belfast-born however Glasgow-based author was all over, winning acclaims and rewards in equivalent step for his narrative collections (A Time to Dance, Walking the Dog and The Great Profundo), his books Cal and Lamb, both which he adjusted as well-known movies starring respectively Helen Mirren and Liam Neeson, his tv series and radio plays, and his Booker-shortlisted Grace Notes in 1997.

A case of authors obstruct? More life obstructing of art, MacLaverty responds, set down nervously on the edge of his armchair in a main London hotel as we talk. I have a journal note from 2001, when Madeline [his spouse] and I went to Amsterdam for a break in January. I presume I was beginning to believe about the task from there, however there were so lots of things that came along to get in the method.

Among the interruptions he notes and this simple and affable 74-year-old has a timely sheet to hand were: an un-turn-downable invite from Scottish Opera to compose a libretto; 2 years as a symphonic music DJ on Radio Scotland; a five-year stint on a film script based upon Robin Jenkinss fantastic 1950s unique, The Cone Gatherers, which lastly concerned nought when the manufacturer behind the task passed away; a collection of narratives; and Bye-Child, a Bafta-nominated brief movie of a poem by his buddy Seamus Heaney, which he directed in 2003.

And, he includes, Ive likewise had 8 grandchildren because time. Or we have. His 4 developed kids, 2 kids, 2 ladies, all reside in the exact same postal code as he does, so he has his hands complete. Its a brand-new twist on Cyril Connollys line about the pram in the hall being the opponent of excellent art.

MacLaverty would be the last one to take himself so seriously, however his short run through those 16 lost years exposes him as a guy of lots of skills to which must be likewise included mentor stints at British, American and european universities. With a lot he readies at, exactly what would he pick if he had only time left for another task? Id paint something excellent, he addresses without a time out.

No tip of any autumnal constricting of horizons here, however Midwinter Break is, by contrast, a tale of peaceful dissatisfaction, about long-married Gerry Gilmore, a retired designer, and his better half Stella, as they avoid on a mini-break. Both are at chances with their lot and with each other. He is pulling away into beverage, she into religious beliefs.

She is believing, MacLaverty states, on a various plain. This is not a story about old individuals. Its the story of 2 youths who got old and they have actually fallen out of action.

A two-hander, it covers the exact same broad area as 45 Years, the 2015 Tom Courtenay/Charlotte Rampling movie, based upon a David Constantine narrative. When it comes to Midwinter Break, however, the previous injury that haunts the couple is bound up in the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which they relocated to Scotland to leave.

The parallels with MacLavertys life appear. In 1974, he, too, made the very same refugee journey with his young household. The Troubles were bloody and dreadful, he remembers, individuals and bombs being eliminated on their doorsteps.

His homeland, however, has actually continued to loom big in the books he has actually released in exile. You compose from exactly what you understand, and among the important things you understand is that you are not informing your very own story, however little bits of it are your very own story. Its like tessellation of a mosaic. You take a bit that took place to you and you put it next to a bit that you comprise.

It needs a fragile touch, he stresses, and can be a lengthy procedure. We are edging back around to that long area in between books now he is more going to resolve exactly what has actually been keeping me back. Whatever background, or perhaps tone his books might share, he discusses, the story you have actually simply completed is of little assistance to composing the next one. He estimates Thomas Mann in his defence. Didnt he state, an author is somebody for whom composing is harder than it is for other individuals?

There was at least one incorrect start with Midwinter Break, he confesses, with an opening area, embeded in the now run-down modernist Catholic academy at Cardross in Argyll and Bute, that needed to be ditched.

Is he a perfectionist? MacLaverty offers a warm, intimate laugh. Im an author. Theyre the exact same thing.

Religion is one function of his books. He long back turned down the Catholicism of his youth, it continues to sustain his creativity. I stop to think in one element of it, however I continue to think in the features.

Another trademark is the spareness of his writing, not a squandered word or information in between the covers of exactly what ended up being as an outcome little work of arts. Its not like assembling Lego, he concurs. You need to be really mindful that you are weighing the words. As soon as utilized, #peeee

The expression makes him keep in mind something his mom. Shed discovered a wee dead bird. She chose it up and she stated, youd have actually understood by the weight of it that it was dead. He laughes. And its the exact same with a story. You understand whether you can achieve it in 6 pages [as a narrative] or whether it will take 200. And this one he indicates the copy of Midwinter Break on the table in between us is large product. It has to do with love and life and death and religious beliefs and exactly what matters.

And then, naturally, theres his other repeating style, Ireland. All the books nod to exactly what is taking place to Ireland, he concurs. Lamb [1980] was at the worst of the Troubles. Cal [1983] Had a downbeat ending, however then there were the things and ceasefires started to repair. Grace Notes had a positive middle, and a downbeat end, or 2 endings. I was hedging my bets. And this one well, I mustnt state more about the ending, however Im slightly positive about Ireland. I do not believe they are going to return to slaying each other.

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty will be released by Jonathan Cape on 3 August (14.99). To purchase a copy for 12.74 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 03303336846. Free UK p &p over 10, online orders just. Phone orders minutes p &p of 1.99

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/31/bernard-maclaverty-interview-new-novel-midwinter-break