ARUNDHATI ROY says, 'Fiction dances out of me. Non-fiction is wrenched out by the aching, broken world I wake up to every morning.' In every essay in this collection you will find the same passion, clarity and rage as in her inspiring call to action at the opening ceremony of the World Social Forum last month.
Arundhati Roy is vitriolic in her criticisms of the crimes of states worldwide, including her own government in India, which was complicit in the communal murder of around 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat two years ago. She is sharp in her criticisms of the European powers who initially opposed Bush's war only to come crawling back to the US for oil contracts, and in her criticisms of the ANC in South Africa, who 'within two years of taking office in 1994 genuflected with hardly a caveat to the Market God'.
But the real strength of this book lies in its focus on the US, the war on Iraq and the Project for a New American Century. She writes, 'I am fully aware that venality, brutality and hypocrisy are imprinted on the leaden soul of every state. But when a country ceases to be merely a country and becomes an empire, then the scale of operations changes dramatically.'
I read this book on the same day that Hutton released his whitewash report into the death of David Kelly and there couldn't be a better antidote to the grey, sycophantic drivel of Lord Hutton or the smugness of Tony Blair. Roy exposes the links between the global corporations, the defence industry, the media and the Bush administration. For example, the chair of the federal communications commission that regulates the US media is the son of the Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
Roy holds the US to account for its numerous military adventures, looking at Vietnam, but also Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the murder of thousands of Native Americans on which the US was built.
She reminds us of the racism of the US. Martin Luther King remarked that 'there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population' and Roy points out that today African-Americans account for 12 percent of the population but make up 29 percent of the US army.
The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire is a perfect title for the collection. Not just because Roy demystifies and demolishes so clearly the doublespeak of the politicians, generals and apologists for imperialism, but also because every article makes it clear that ordinary people not only pay the price of Empire but have the power to stop it.
Nowhere, argues Roy, should ordinary populations line up with or be equated with their governments. She rails against nationalism and flag waving and pays tribute to the thousands of people who have opposed their own governments. In particular she praises the US citizens who have 'survived the relentless propaganda, and are actively fighting their own government. In the ultra-patriotic climate that prevails in the US, that's as brave as any Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian fighting for his or her own homeland.'
This is an absorbing, inspiring collection from one of our movement's greatest writers and activists, one who reminds us, 'Our freedoms were not granted to us by any governments. They were wrested from them by us. And once we surrender them, the battle to retrieve them is called a revolution.'
The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, by Arundhati Roy, is published by Collins, price £8.99. To order copies phone Bookmarks on 020 7637 1848 or go to www.bookmarks.uk.com
The dream and the nightmare
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
PARIS, MAY 1968. A student uprising leads to a massive general strike against the government involving 11 million workers. This is the backdrop to a new film, The Dreamers, by Bernardo Bertolucci, the director of the great film 1900. Unfortunately this film is disappointing. Bertolucci focuses on what he calls the 'spirit of '68' and has emptied the Gilbert Adair novel on which the film is based of much of its political context.
The film starts by showing the protests against the sacking of the director of an alternative cinema-the first stage in the eruptions soon to follow. But it moves on to focus on the developing relationship between three unattractive characters: a twin brother and sister and a boring American student. When they are not having various forms of sex, they are being utterly pretentious.
The suffocating atmosphere is only broken by a brick through the window from a riot developing outside. Bertolucci says he wanted to focus on the excitement of politics, cinema and sex that people felt at the time. Sadly the politics is in a poor third place.
The Dreamers is set to be released on 6 February.
Director: Gus Van Sant
THIS FILM is based on the Columbine high school killings in the US. But it is a film of outstanding beauty. The director has been vilified-yet his work is far from amoral. The Columbine shootings formed the subject matter for Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine. This film traces the movements of several teenagers on the day of the killings. The stifling closeness to each character makes the film feel deeply personal, yet the viewer is filled with dread.
These teenagers are atomised and no image is given of the wider community's later shock. Van Sant shows the teenagers' lives to be both mundane and innocent. The film's bleak simplicity belies what we know to be the tidal wave of shock that followed.
This was not the work of Arab terrorists or any other such definable enemy, and the unresolved blame in the film reflects the real confusion in American society.