Monday, 30 December 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Resist: Stories Of Uprising.

Resist: Stories Of Uprising
A selection of short stories of British political unrest edited by Ra Page.
Published by Comma Press.

In this follow up to Protest: Stories of Resistance, Comma Press has produced a timely and urgent collection of twenty short stories, each rendering an instance of protest in the UK and spanning 2000 years of class struggle. Starting with Bidisha’s potent story on Boudica and culminating in a tale about the Grenfell tragedy, incidents covered range from the death of Blair Peach to The Battle of Cable Street to The Tolpuddle Martyrs to the Peterloo Massacre to the Liverpool Dockers’ Strike. The diverse styles of writers such as Kamila Shamsie and Lucy Caldwell and Eley Williams keep the anthology lively and engaging. Even if you think you know the history of some of these chapters, the fleshing out of contemporaneous characters humanises and passionately fuels the narratives. All is suddenly vivid and alive.

The not-for-profit publisher’s founder Ra Page states in his foreword that rather than establishing a radical agenda, these protests were a reaction to circumstances that had become so dire than ordinary people had to stand up against the erosion of their rights. The book also illustrates how British security forces have harshly dealt with resistance with an armoury of oppressive and highly questionable methods and weapons, from torture to kettling, and how whole sections of society are scapegoated, from asylum seekers to benefit claimants, to justify the status quo.

Authors were allowed to choose a struggle and to write a creative piece around it: each story has been paired with a contextualising mini-essay from either an academic or an eyewitness/active participant from the struggle, with footnotes and recommendations for further reading

Beautifully curated and emotive yet scholarly – but not polemical, didactic or dry – this is an anthology to weep over and to galvanise the spirit. The book acknowledges that social and political progress is not inevitable and that these protest movements and reactions were desperate attempts to hold onto progress made & not slip backwards; people felt they had no choice but to say ‘no’.

As a through-line of pivotal reactions to retrograde and cruel political forces, this collection of stories and factual accompaniments are eye-opening, consciousness-raising, accessible and moving. I would urge anyone with an interest in social justice to read this book and, given the current government taking Britain further to the right, we need this book now more than ever. As Ra Page states, “A rising should never be dismissed as a mere act of criminality.”

Reviewer - Tracy Ryan

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