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
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game