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

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • 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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor