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Coming of age in war-torn Syria

Coming of age in Syria

Plus, a kiss-and-tell memoir by Vaclav Havel’s lover and an exposé of political corruption in Spain

Plus, a kiss-and-tell memoir by Vaclav Havel’s lover and an exposé of political corruption in Spain

October/November 2018

Partners in crime
In the graphic memoir “Brothers of the Gun” (above), writer Marwan Hisham tells the story of the first inchoate stirrings of protest against the Assad regime in Raqqa, Syria, in 2011 and the air attacks that followed, first by Assad’s warplanes, then by ISIS, the Russians and the Americans. Uncertain whether to stay or leave,  he spends his time in jihadist internet cafés communicating with journalists, editors and an American artist called Molly Crabapple. Inspired by Francisco Goya’s “Disasters of War”, her ink drawings illustrating the book are fine-tuned and intimate. The danger and defiance of Hisham’s and Crabapple’s work only adds to the excitement of reading this dazzling, evocative account of innocence and survival.

Crack-down
Galicia, in the north-west corner of the Iberian peninsula, is one of the quieter regions of Spain. But a few decades ago, it was the entry point for 80% of cocaine, or “fariña”, sold in Europe. Nacho Carretero published a book on the trade in 2015 that exposed serious corruption involving drug traffickers, law enforcement and local politicians. “Fariña” is more investigative journalism than drama: it generally sticks to the facts, rather than fixating on the extravagances of its characters. But a hugely popular TV series based on the book brought the story into the limelight this year and drove one of those politicians to try to get the book banned. After initial success – perceived as yet more impunity – the ruling was overturned in June. Now “Fariña”
is a bestseller.

Dream on
Most journalists’ books about India are written by Westerners finishing up a tour of duty there, or by people of Indian origin returning to rediscover their ancestral homeland. Few have matched the insight of Poonam Snigdha’s “Dreamers: How Young Indians are Changing the World”, an incisive and terrifying look at the frustrations of the country’s young men. Snigdha was raised in small-town India, which helps explain her success in gaining access few others have secured. The youths she talks to are under-qualified and unprepared for the new economy. Many are lashing out by embracing political Hinduism, corruption and occasional violence.

Affairs of state
Vaclav Havel, the late president of the Czech Republic, has long been lionised as a man of moral rectitude. “Voda, ktera hori” (Water that burns), a bestselling memoir by Jitka Vodnanska, a psychotherapist, undermines that image. She says they were lovers for seven years in the 1980s, when Havel was a dissident playwright critical of the Communist regime. Vodnanska portrays a chronically indecisive man, unable to leave his wife or his lover, even when the latter fell pregnant. Vodnanska says she decided to have an abortion but Havel refused to accompany her to the appointment with the abortion committee, whose approval was required. He was expecting delivery of a load of timber at his weekend house.