Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Potty training in Japan

Potty training in Japan

The turd-shaped mascot teaching children to read, and the French prime minister’s literary past

The turd-shaped mascot teaching children to read, and the French prime minister’s literary past

August/September 2017

Hidden talents
The new prime minister of France, Edouard Philippe, has co-written political thrillers. Nobody paid much attention to them until his appointment in May, but they are enjoying an unexpected vogue – partly for their pacy intrigue, but also for clues to the nature of the man running the government. “L’Heure de Vérité” (The hour of truth) weaves a tale of crooked political manoeuvring around the disappearance at sea of a promising parliamentary candidate. The plot may be enjoyably far-fetched, but the author’s tone is worldly: the premiership is described as “a form of hell…coveted by many and satisfying for the ego. But it is hell.”

Breaking the Bank
Fifty years after the Six-Day War, Israel is still trapped by its fallout. The occupation of the West Bank grinds on, even as it has become a pillar of Israeli security. Now “Milkud 67” (Catch 67), a daring new book by Micah Goodman, an academic, has proposed a series of radical compromises, sparking heated debate.  Goodman suggests Israeli troops could still be stationed by the River Jordan in a free Palestine, keeping his country safe. And to let the Palestinians save face, Israel could offer a temporary truce rather than a full peace treaty. A former prime minister, Ehud Barak, accused Goodman of right-wing bias. Leftists denounce his cynical disregard for Palestinian concerns, while the right considers him irresponsible. At least they’re talking.

Vowel movement
A bestselling series in Japan addresses the perennial issue of how to teach kanji, the fiendishly complex writing system. A canny publisher has found an unexpected solution. The “Unko Kanji Doriru” (Kanji poo drill) books feature a mascot with a turd-shaped head who guides children through sentences all featuring the word unko, helping them memorise the 1,006 characters needed to pass early literacy tests. Some reviewers have sniffed at the use of potty humour as a pedagogical tool, but the series has sold 2.7m copies since March, unheard of in education publishing. Parents say the books, written by experts, have eased the night-time tyranny of rote learning.

Family value
A venal political class and boisterous media ensure that scandal is never far away in South Africa. As Jacob Zuma’s presidency limps into its final two years, a corruption saga linking his African National Congress to the Guptas, a shadowy Indian business family, has caught the public imagination. In “The Republic of Gupta”, Pieter-Louis Myburgh, an investigative journalist, wades in, probing a web of suspect deals and alleged backroom bargains. Charting the rise of Atul Gupta from small-time trader to plutocratic friend of the president, it is a damning portrait, suggesting that influence-peddling has corrupted South Africa’s young democracy. Amid calls for a judicial inquiry, the final chapter still needs to be written.

Two legs bad
Copies of George Orwell’s most famous works are selling out in Brazil’s bookshops. “Revolução dos Bichos” (“Animal Farm”) has been on the bestsellers list since the beginning of the year, with “1984” not far behind. The initial bounce came with the arrival of President Trump, “fake news” and the “post-truth era”, but domestic politics accounts for their continuing popularity. After removing one president in what many considered a coup, the current chief, Michel Temer, stands on unstable ground. Operation Car Wash, a colossal corruption investigation, laps at his feet. As the magnitude of the rule-breaking becomes clearer, the idea that some people are more equal than others sounds about right to many Brazilians. 

Snow-blind still
A book of etiquette may seem an unlikely bestseller in modern-day Denmark. In 1918 Emma Gad, a satirist and socialite, published an influential guide to help her compatriots navigate the pitfalls of interwar social upheaval. The burgeoning middle classes Gad addressed may now have mastered the general rules of social engagement, but in “Emma Gad for Hvide” (Emma Gad for whites), Anna Neye, a Danish-Nigerian comedian, argues they remain encumbered by their failure to address their colonial past. A Danish theme park blithely invites children to ride on the “Hottentot Carousel” and eat a “Cannibal Stew”, and the word “neger” (negro) is still commonly used. The book’s success suggests readers may be ready to reassess.

Readers' comments

Sign in or Create your account to join the discussion.