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Wed Dec 07 20:20:40 SAST 2016

China is locking up its puzzle box

Andrew Donaldson | 2013-09-04 00:55:05.0
Andrew Donaldson

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives

IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK

'A Song From Dead Lips' by William Shaw (Quercus) R220

IT IS 1968 and The Beatles are in London's Abbey Road studios. Outside, a young woman, one of the group's fans, is murdered. Meanwhile, the local CID is shaken up by the arrival of its first-ever woman murder detective, Helen Tozer, who is paired up with unit pariah, Cathal Breen. This is the dark side of the Swinging '60s with heaps of racism, sexism, corruption and Neanderthal policing. An acclaimed debut and the start of a promising procedural series.

THE ISSUE

THE Bamboo Curtain is falling again, as China's archives close to foreigners. One historian recently told the South China Morning Post that the crackdown appeared to be a reversal of "the heyday of openness" that flourished a few years ago. "Even relatively liberal archives, like the Shanghai Municipal Archive, has tightened access rules," the unidentified scholar said.

"The changed climate presumably has something to do with the change of leadership."

The news comes just as a new history, The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 by Frank Dikotter (Bloomsbury), is receiving international acclaim. The book, which draws on such archive material, as well as interviews and memoirs, details the systematic violence with which Mao Zedong's policies led to the death of 5million people. It is a "prequel" to Dikotter's award-winning Mao's Great Famine, an account of how the Great Leap Forward resulted in some 45million starving to death. According to the Sunday Times of London, these may be the last works of their kind for a while, as bureaucrats "revert to old habits of secrecy and isolation".

CRASH COURSE

TWO of the more gimmicky events at Cape Town's Open Book Festival (September 7 to 11) are of the "ready, stead, scribble" variety. Dubbed Writer Sports 1 and 2, they feature "live writing" by, among others, Lauren Beukes, Imraan Coovadia, Sarah Lotz, Niq Mhlongo and Tom Eaton, in styles suggested by the audience. In the second of these hackdowns, Western Cape premier Helen Zille will be determining the subject matter.

More earnestly, PEN will host a discussion on 50Shades of Feminism (Virago), an anthology edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Susie Orbach and Rachel Holmes. Orbach and contributor Gillian Slovo will take part, along with NoViolet Bulawayo and Kamila Shamise. Margie Orford will chair proceedings. See www.openbookfestival.co.za.

THE BOTTOM LINE

"NOW listen: I am not naive. If you write a book, you're not asking to be left alone. You're inviting people into your life. I know that. Welcome." - The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski by Samantha Geimer and Lawrence Silver, with Judith Newman (Atria Books)

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