Marie Colvin's On The Front longlisted for Orwell prize

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Orwell prize for books unveiled this year’s longlist today. Arifa Akbar - one of the judges - discusses what books were chosen and why

George Orwell sought to make “political writing into an art” so a prize that honours his name must abide by this ambition.

Among the bulging postbag of books I received in preparation for plucking just 12 of them for the Orwell book prize long-list this week, I came across those campaigning books intent on exposing a lie or revealing a truth, and also those ‘writerly’ ones that could shape a sentence beautifully. The challenge was to find these two qualities in the same book. That’s why it was so valuable having Nikita Lalwani - a prize-winning novelist who knows all about writing beautiful sentences - on the jury, alongside Joan Bakewell, and chair, Professor Jean Seaton - an all-female panel!

Click here or on "View Images" for longlist in pictures

We reached a consensus after nearly three hours of discussion and dissent, and even managed to laugh about our all too discrete definitions of ‘good writing’. I am genuinely excited by the books we've chosen. They are engrossing and impassioned and elegantly written. While they may draw our attention to old, identified enemies and injustices, they make them newly urgent. Prominent among the books are personal journeys of different kinds. There is a timely scrutiny of the church in Richard Holloway’s affecting memoir, Leaving Alexandria in which he has the audacity to speak out about a world whose inner machinations are still fairly secret, with outspoken views on homosexuality, sexual desire and the doubt that can accompany faith.

There is torture in AT Williams' brilliantly forensic study of Baha Mousa’s death (while under military arrest in Iraq) in A Very British Killing. Out of this highly publicised case, Williams draws chilling new details and assessments that reflect on  endemic abusive practises. Paul Preston’s masterful study of Franco’s brutal regime in The Spanish Holocaust deals with one kind of fascism while a contemporary British portrait is drawn by Daniel Trilling in his brave debut, Bloody Nasty People, which explores the rise of the far right in a grown-up, unsensationalised way. Raja Shehadeh memoir, Occupation Diaries, dwells on the everyday tragedies of the Palestinian struggle and is surprising for its fresh, raw outlook on an old problem.

Another powerful journey comes in Carmen Bugan’s Burying the Typewriter. Bugan’s family home was taken over by Ceausescu’s secret police after her father – part of the resistance movement - was arrested in the ‘70s. Her child’s-eye-view shows the price of her father’s heroism on his family. Ioan Grillo goes on the chase of Mexican drugs cartels in El Narco, talking to everyone from contract killers to drug dealers and Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma  is perhaps the most overtly campaigning in its call to take direct action. Its findings are not just shocking but affect anyone on medication.

Marie Colvin’s On the Front Line stands out for its comprehensive war reporting, but before we selected this book we first asked ourselves the question: ‘Would it be long-listed if the late journalist were still alive? The answer was a resounding ‘yes’, for her ability to distil the traumas of the ‘small people’ in the ‘big picture’ of war across decades and continents. She also had the talent to write beautifully but without any sense of self-importance or vanity. Orwell would certainly have approved. Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire turns anti-colonial writing into an art while Clive Stafford Smith’s thrillerish Injustice traces the case of Kris Maharaj, a death row prisoner of nearly three decades alongside his own trajectory as a human right’s lawyer, from watching a death row execution to his struggle to free Maharaj. The future of our environment came up repeatedly, as did immigration, though these aren’t reflected in the long-list. So did an interrogation of  the state we’re in in late-Capitalist society, and whether democracy is being attenuated by the vast inequalities in wealth that have created Chrystia Freeland’s 0.1percent of global super-rich in Plutocrats.

For Orwell, good prose was a “window-pane”, clear and direct in its delivery of a truth. Each of these 12 books are examples of just that.

This article appears in Saturday's print edition of The Independent's Radar magazine

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones