What are you reading? – 13 April 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

April 13, 2017
A woman sitting in a library
Source: iStock

Geoffrey Alderman, Michael Gross professor of politics and contemporary history, University of Buckingham, is reading Jenna Joselit’s Our Gang: Jewish Crime and the New York Jewish Community, 1900-1940 (Indiana University Press, 1983). “Immigrants legitimate themselves in a variety of ways: through entry into politics and the learned professions; the acquisition of wealth; success in sport and in the entertainment industries; and notoriety in crime. As I’m now researching the history of the Jewish contribution to the development of criminality here in the UK, my background reading naturally started with Joselit’s superb, scholarly portrait of the Jewish criminal fraternity in New York a century ago. Joselit not only explains how Jewish crime was gradually assimilated into the mainstream of the American gangland underworld. She also traces the reaction of New York’s Jewish community: from initial disbelief and denial through attempts to eradicate criminal behaviour to eventual, grudging acceptance. The book is a classic of its genre.”


Rachel Bowlby, professor of comparative literature, University College London, is reading Marie Darrieussecq’s White (2003; Folio, 2005). “Yes, this is a French book with an English title (but there is a translation, by Ian Monk, published by Faber). White because of the international sort-of English spoken by the assorted individuals who have fetched up on a research station at the South Pole – seeking or fleeing; curious, blanking out. White because the novel is a beautiful meditation on the strange and intricate blurrings of bodies and entities, of normal mental and physical signposts, when all that is there is snow-sky-sun outstretched as light and white. White as a sci-fi landscape, unreal nature, with 21st-century tech and ambient human-not-human airs and phantoms. Among many pleasures and enchantments, an extraordinary passage recreates the wonder and strangeness of newfound sexuality. I came across White in my tiny local public library – a small miracle in itself.”


Heike Bauer, senior lecturer in English and gender studies at Birkbeck, University of London, is reading Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do (Abrams, 2017). “We are currently witnessing an unprecedented surge in graphic memoirs by women. Thi Bui’s debut interweaves an account of her own life in the US with her parents’ coming-of-age in, and eventual escape from, Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. Drawn in a haunting palette of rust-red watercolours set against black-and-white drawings, the book brings to life the family’s struggles. As we follow them through communist brutality, American warmongering and the devastations of French colonialism, we gradually uncover the intimate reach and lingering impact of historical violence on familial relationships. Yet this is not a book without hope. The Best We Can Do shows that empathy trumps hate, fear and cruelty.”

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