2013 Orwell prize for books shortlist revealed

  • @arifa_akbar

Britain's political party leaders will wake up to a surprise package of books in the post tomorrow that could make for uncomfortable reading. They comprise the shortlist for 2013's Orwell prize for books, revealed tonight, and they cover such incendiary topics as British military brutality in the Baha Mousa case, the evils of the British Empire and the bigotry of the church.

Administrators of the George Orwell prize have taken the unprecedented step of sending all seven shortlisted books to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband in hope that they take heed of the urgent issues raised in these nominated books.

The three leaders may well bristle as they open up their copy of AT Williams's A Very British Killing, a forensic and shocking reconstruction of the death of Iraqi hotel receptionist, Baha Mousa, at the hands of the British army. Williams's meticulous analysis of the army figures involves, and the court martial in its aftermath, calls into question the ethics of British military practise in Iraq.

Then there is Pankaj Mishra's From the Ruins of Empire, a historical biography which focuses on three 19th century anti-imperialist firebrand figures - Jamal al-Afghani, a political activist who advocated pan-Islamic unity, Liang Qichao, a Chinese scholar and reformist and Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali writer who became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. These anti-Imperialist thinkers inspired the colonised world to rise up against their oppressors in the 20th century, argues Mishra, adding that without al-Afghani's groundbreaking ideas, there may not have been a modern-day Arab Spring.

Richard Holloway's memoir, Leaving Alexandria, offers both a personal story of his spiritual journey and a damning polemic on some establishment Christian doctrine. He speaks out against the church's historically repressive views on sexuality, women's ordination and gay marriage.

Jean Seaton, director of the prize, and Katriona Lewis, its operations manager, both felt it would be right for each of the party leaders to receive the books and absorb their urgent messages. It is a move that would doubtlessly have pleased the political writer novelist, George Orwell.

Ms Lewis said that "these books put a spotlight on many issues, like the ongoing situation in Palestine and pressures facing journalists covering conflict, that are still so pertinent in 2013 and should be essential reading for our party leaders."

Also on the shortlist is a collection of writings by late war reporter, Marie Colvin, who died in during the siege of Homs in Syria last year. Her book, On the Front Line, spans decades of reportage from her report on East Timor which led the UN to overturn their decision to leave the region to conflict in Sri Lanka where she lost an eye.

Raja Shehadeh, who won the Orwell prize for books in 2008 for his book, Palestinian Walks, has once again been shortlisted for a book that encapsulates the personal and political struggles of the Palestinian cause in Occupation Diaries. Clive Stafford Smith, the human rights lawyer, also previously shortlisted, has been nominated for Injustice, on Kris Maharaj, a British businessman on Death Row. Carmen Bugan, a debut writer, has been nominated for her childhood memoir of living under Ceaucescu's regime in Burying the Typewriter.

Ms Seaton said that "the books we will send the leaders warn them, in Raja's case, of the honour in controlling anger, in Colvin's case, of the necessity of eyewitnessing - even though the costs can be tragic, in Holloway's case of the role of faith and individual conscience, in the case of Mishra of the value of history in understanding how the world is remade and in both Injustice and A Very British Killing, of their huge, human responsibilities as leaders for asking difficult questions and protecting decency and proper justice."

Meanwhile, the Independent's diplomatic editor, Kim Sengupta, was shortlisted in the journalism section of the Orwell prize for a series of articles that includes his dispatches from Syria, while former Independent columnist, Christina Patterson has also been nominated for her eloquent and campaigning work on nursing and the NHS. Other journalists nominated include Ian Cobain from The Guardian, Andrew Norfolk from The Times, Tom Bergin from Reuters and Jamil Anderlini from the Financial Times.