Civil war

A ghoulish afterlife: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, by Shehan Karunatilaka, reviewed

Ten years ago Shehan Karunatilaka’s first novel, Chinaman, was published and I raved about it, as did many others. Set in the 1980s, it intertwined the stories of a vanished, forgotten cricketer who was able to bowl unplayable deliveries and the particularly brutal war that was ravaging Sri Lanka. My review ended with the words: ‘Karunatilaka is, I gather, writing another novel, but how it can be as good as this I can hardly imagine.’ We now have that novel, and I was right: it isn’t as good. Which is not to say it’s bad. In fact, there are parts of its design and telling that are very good indeed.

How fears of popery led to a century of turmoil in ‘the land of fallen angels’

Stuart England did not do its anti-Catholicism by halves. In the late 1670s and early 1680s, a popular feature of London’s civic life were the annual Pope-burning pageants which took place every 17 November to commemorate the accession of Elizabeth I and the nation’s historic deliverance from the forces of international Catholicism. In 1679, one contemporary estimated that 200,000 people watched the spectacle, as a series of floats wound through London’s thronged streets bearing oversized effigies of Roman Catholic clergy, nuns, Jesuits and the Pope to be tipped into a bonfire at Temple Bar or Smithfield with lavish firework accompaniment. In some years, the Pope’s effigy would bow to the

Things fall apart: Ethiopia’s terrifying descent into civil war

The world’s first conflict triggered by Covid-19 exploded on 4 November in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray. Before your eyes glaze over at news of fresh African horrors — hundreds dead in battles and air strikes, ethnic massacres, civilians fleeing, charities calling for food aid — consider this frightening new reality. For the first time in modern history, wars and insecurity now ravage a continuous line of African states from Mauretania’s Atlantic shores to the Red Sea — a 6,000km Sahelian suicide belt of jihadis, state failure and starvation. Intervene too hard in this mess and you get David Cameron’s ill-conceived 2011 Libyan bombing raids. Gaddafi gets butchered in a

How the wreck of the White Ship plunged England into chaos

Never was a monarch so undone by water as Henry I. A fruit of the sea killed him in 1135: he ate too many lampreys, a jawless, parasitic fish that sucks its prey to death. But the tragedy of his reign occurred 15 years earlier. At the most ill-fated party of the Middle Ages, his heir — the 17-year-old William Ætheling (Anglo-Saxon prince) — drowned when the White Ship sank, taking nearly 300 of his friends and relatives with him. The ramifications of his death were seismic, leading to a succession crisis that saw thousands die in a bitter civil war. The author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle famously described this