Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week

 “Our own, personal experience of the event – as it unfolded live in front of us – gets over-written, overlain with any narrative available that complies with Thomas Carlisle’s ‘Great Man’ theory, that ‘history is but the biography of great men’, that the rest of us, the ‘bystanders’, aren’t part of history. The short story rejects this version of events because, as a form, it has evolved to prioritise the non-heroes – the bystanders, the disenfranchised, the ‘submerged’ (as Frank O’Connor would say). And when it comes to ‘world events’, none are more suited to the short story than the protest. In a protest, we’re all bystanders, we’re all there because of some attempt to marginalise us; the bystanders are the people making history,” writes Ra Page, editor of Protest! Stories of Resistance.

The workings of the state when it is under threat are not pretty. One man’s system is another man’s nightmare. Protest! takes the long view. From the Peasants’ Revolt sparked by the Poll Tax of 1381 to the anti-Iraq War demo of 2003, the 20 movements featured in this superb book have parallels in terms of ideas and tactics and emotional charge. The framework of the anthology brings to life the events and the people involved. A short story like a snapshot in time is followed by an afterword by an academic who, in certain recent cases, was an eyewitness.

Prior protests loom large over present ones. This struck me forcibly while reading the stories and simultaneously following Westway 23’s facebook posts about the Grenfell Tower Protest in my neighbourhood. It is no coincidence that safe Tory seat, Kensington, went to Labour by a narrow margin for the first time ever in the recent snap election. The gruesome fire has illuminated years of institutionalised abuse and disregard for the law on the part of the corrupt powers-that-be. Establishment standard bearers The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Spectator have been accusing the ‘hard left’ of ‘hijacking’ the Grenfell fire tragedy for their own ends. Plus ça change.

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Interview | Stuart Evers | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in a small market town in the North West of England. Its principal claim to fame is selling the town bible to pay for a bear to use for bearbaiting during its annual wakes. This claim is, however, not true: the townsmen decided to use the money they’d been saving to buy a bible (16 shillings) to purchase the bear.  I have a wary relationship with the town; I spent my teens desperate to escape, and most of my thirties writing about it.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
We had few books in our house: a dictionary of British history, in which I would look up Nelson and Scott (I had a thing for noble deaths); a book on the hunt for Tutankhamun’s Tomb; a family health bible, probably written by Miriam Stoppard; a dictionary used almost exclusively to settle Scrabble arguments; an incomplete set of Young Person’s Encyclopedias from the 1950s. We got all our books from the library. Its musty stacks and silence were probably the most formative influences on my life and my writing.

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