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
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own