A complicated bond: The Best of Friends, by Kamila Shamsie, reviewed

When I think of Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, I picture a pot boiling on a hob, the water level rising until it spills over the lip and onto the stove. In Best of Friends, the author’s seventh novel, the tension is still there, but the bubbles are contained. It’s more of a simmer, gentle but insistent – not unlike the ‘shared subtexts’ that pass between the protagonists. We first meet Maryam and Zahra as 14-year-olds. It’s the summer of 1988 in Karachi and the two girls are preoccupied with standard teenage stuff (budding bodies, boys) and the kind of concerns that sadly become standard when living under a ‘repellent dictator’

An empire crumbles: Nights of Plague, by Orhan Pamuk, reviewed

Welcome to Mingheria, ‘pearl of the Levant’. On a spring day, as the 20th century dawns, you disembark at this ‘calm and charming island’ south of Rhodes from a comfortable steamer after sailing from Smyrna, Piraeus or Alexandria. A crew of Greek or Muslim boatmen will row you to the picturesque harbour of Arkaz, flanked by the radiant White Mountain and the gloomy turrets of the medieval castle. The fragrances of honeysuckle, linden trees and the famous Mingherian roses waft over azure seas. Admire the ancient churches and newer mosques, the neo-classical State Hall, the grand buildings funded by the sultan’s government in faraway Istanbul. Savour figs, oil, nuts and

A botched coup: the desperate Cato Street conspiracy

Almost half of the terrorists hadn’t even turned up. Still, on the night of 23 February 1820, 25 men, including a butcher, several shoemakers and a cabinet maker, met in a hayloft on Cato Street, just off the Edgware Road in central London. Led by the semi-respectable son of a tenant farmer, Arthur Thistlewood, their plan was to assassinate the prime minister Lord Liverpool and his cabinet, who were thought to be dining together at the Grosvenor Square mansion of Lord Harrowby, the president of the privy council. The butcher, James Ings, would decapitate everyone at the table, putting the severed heads of Lord Castlereagh and Viscount Sidmouth (foreign and

Tehran is repeating the Shah’s mistakes

The Iranian province of Khuzestan is oil-rich but water-poor. At the best of times, the southwestern region is a problem for Tehran. On the border with Iraq, it’s home to an Arab minority that has long been targeted. The province has separatist inclinations, which led to a failed uprising in 1979 and sees the occasional attack continue to this day. Unsurprisingly, it is not favoured by central government. It’s impoverished and lacks many basic services; quality of life is poor. Khuzestan is now in its sixth straight day of protests after water shortages in its major cities. Video footage filmed from protests reportedly shows tanks on fire after protestors set

There’s nothing a white person can do about racism, says Dr Kehinde Andrews

After the death of George Floyd last year, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests around the world, racism is one of the hot-button issues of our time. And, according to Kehinde Andrews’s new book, The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World, it is embedded deeply in the West: A central thesis of this book is that White supremacy, and therefore anti-Blackness, is the fundamental basis of the political and economic system and therefore infects all interactions, institutions and ideas. Andrews maintains this uncompromising tone throughout. The book is partly a historical account of the transatlantic slave trade and European colonialism; it is also

Toussaint Louverture: the true hero of Haiti

In Haiti you have to be careful which founding father you admire. The average Haitian will think first of Toussaint Louverture when talking about their island’s revolt against France in the late 18th century, and about the original idea of a full-fledged Black republic: Toussaint the stable, the intense, the military genius, courageous, careful. But for others, the real hero of the revolution is Jean-Jacques Dessalines, or Papa Dessalines, who is said to have connived with the French to remove Toussaint from power. Once France had exiled Toussaint, Dessalines turned on the French, rejecting their ‘peace’ and authority. He prosecuted the revolution to its bloody end, but without the restraint