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Socialist Worker writers recommend...
Holiday gift picks

December 12, 2003 | Page 11

SOCIALIST WORKER columnists and writers offer their book and movie suggestions for holiday gifts.

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Sharon Smith writes SW's "Which Side Are You On" column.

THERE'S NO better time to delve into an "escape novel" than the annual inundation of commercialism known as the holiday season. And what better way to escape than a good murder mystery? Here are a couple of suggestions that move beyond the traditional formula of the gruff private eye (or, more recently, uptight forensic pathologist) battling inner demons while solving murders.

The first is overtly political: John LeCarré's The Constant Gardener. The plot revolves around the murder of a British diplomat's wife involved in aid work in Kenya. While taking consistently amusing pot shots at the pomposity of the British ruling class, LeCarré shows its complicity with the pharmaceutical industry in perpetuating poverty and disease in Africa.

Those seeking lighter fare should check out the Janet Evanovich mystery series featuring tough heroine Stephanie Plum. Having lost her job as a lingerie buyer, Plum goes to work as a bounty hunter in the Trenton, New Jersey, working-class neighborhood where she grew up.

Plum's new career is not financially lucrative (she is rarely sure where her next rent check is coming from), and she often finds herself on the wrong side of the law (but always for the right reasons). But Plum finds bounty hunting offers excitement (going toe-to-toe with some of the nastiest mobsters in Trenton) and meaningful relationships (teaming up with an engaging, though not necessarily law-abiding, circle of friends and lovers).

Evanovich is one of the most hilarious writers around, and her books are as funny as they are suspenseful, especially when Plum is sharing her feelings about her rigidly traditional blue-collar family. Pulling up to her parent's home, for example, Plum comments, "The clock on the dash told me I was seven minutes late. The urge to scream told me I was home."

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Lee Sustar is an editor and writer for SW.

FOR THE socialist on your shopping list--or for some inspiring reading of your own--consider the recent edition of Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary. Written by a French-Russian revolutionary who became a Bolshevik in the Russian Civil War, the book was written as a testimony to the genuine socialist tradition against the barbarism and lies of the dictator Joseph Stalin.

Serge explored the same themes in a series of exceptional novels, based on his own international experience as an anarchist, Communist and an imprisoned supporter of Leon Trotsky's struggle against Stalin. Some of Serge's best fiction--such as Conquered City, the account of the counterrevolutionary siege of Petrograd--is out of print but can be found online.

Thankfully, Serge's epic, The Case of Comrade Tulayev, about the Moscow "purge" trials of Trotskyists, the Spanish Civil War and more, will be republished in January by The New York Review of Books. For Serge enthusiasts old and new, there's Susan Weissman's biography, Victor Serge: The Course Is Set on Hope, which uncovers new details of Serge's life and discusses the debates about his writing and politics.

If you're fed up with Washington's France-bashing, hold your own French film festival during the holidays. For enjoyable action with a political twist, try Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Horseman on the Roof (1995). It's the story of an Italian revolutionary exiled in 1832 France, who's on the run from assassins amid a cholera epidemic and a coup attempt by French monarchists--while developing a love interest, too.

Some of the best French films of recent years explore workers' lives in a way you'll never see in a Hollywood movie. These include Claude Chabrol's La Ceremonie (1995), which exposes the hypocrisy of a wealthy liberal family that's hired a new maid; Erick Zonca's The Dreamlife of Angels (1998), in which two young working-class women try to nurture one another's aspirations in the depressed city of Lille; and Laurent Cantet's Human Resources (2000), in which factory workers--playing themselves--organize to fight back.

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Lance Selfa writes the column "Reading Between the Lines."

FOR THE next year, the presidential elections and the war in Iraq will dominate political discussion. So I'd like to recommend some books that can offer the historical perspective activists will need to confront these questions.

On the topic of the war, I'd recommend Tariq Ali's new book, Bush in Babylon. Ali's book offers a solid anti-imperialist blast at the latest imperial power to try to turn Iraq into a colony. Drawing on historical evidence and an acerbic wit, Ali predicts that Bush won't fare any better than the Mongols, the Ottomans or the British at crushing Iraqi resistance.

One of my fondest memories from 2003 was being part of the cheering crowd at the World Social Forum's final rally, where Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy demolished the Bush-Blair lie machine in her speech "Confronting Empire." For sheer enjoyment of experiencing a serious and impassioned polemicist at work, pick up Roy's War Talk.

Another book that's very helpful to understanding the realities behind the rhetoric of U.S. foreign policy is Andrew Bacevich's American Empire. This book, largely overlooked when it appeared in 2002, shows how all the pieties of the Clinton years--from "humanitarian intervention" to military management of foreign policy--helped pave the way for Bush's aggressive "war on terrorism." Bacevich shows the Democrats have far more in common with the Republicans than either would admit.

Of course the Democrats will spend the next year trying to convince millions of the opposite. That's why the 1976 debate between Peter Camejo and Michael Harrington in The Lesser Evil? along with other material in the book, is well worth reading. Although the names and dates are different, many of the arguments are the same today.

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