Verso £12.99

Protocols of the Elders of Sodom and other essays, By Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali momentarily puts his politics aside, to write of books, films and sticky wickets

This book is a collection of 36 mid-length articles written by Tariq Ali over the past three decades. It contains book reviews, diary pieces and even the transcripts of conversations between Ali and other writers. It is not a "selected works". Rather, if anything binds the collection together it is a decision generally to eschew overtly political writing (for example, about the current crisis in Pakistan, about which Ali has written elsewhere), in favour of reviews and literary polemics.

Not all of the pieces in the collection succeed. Although it gives the book its memorable title, the opening chapter is an over-long satire to the effect that gay men as well as Zionists might contemplate a return to Israel. (Ali's longer satires, like his worst novel, Redemption, ache. His short jokes sizzle).

Also included is the text of three public dialogues between Ali and Salman Rushdie, Maria Vargas Llosa and Juan Goytisolo. The Rushdie conversation took place at the ICA in London after the publication of Midnight's Children and Shame, when Rushdie was at the top of his game. But large parts of the debate seem to have been conducted between the two writers at monologue length, and the questions from the audience are forgettable. If anything, the exchange detracts from an intelligent review by Ali of Midnight's Children, which is included just 17 pages before.

Other, sharper, essays find as much in Kipling and as little in War and Peace as each deserves. There is also a moving piece in which Ali attends an event in his honour in Diyarbakir in Turkish Kurdistan, only to find that voices which previously advocated self-liberation now pin their hopes on American intervention. The collection includes obituaries for the spy Leopold Trepper, Edward Said, the Situationist Guy Debord, the director Derek Jarman, and even VG Kiernan, who of all his historian contemporaries (EP Thompson, Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm) had the widest interests and is now most often forgotten.

The best of the essays either appeared in or were aimed at the London Review of Books, and there is a definite LRB style on show, nostalgic and wistful, even in the non-LRB pieces. Why do so few people read Anthony Powell, Ali asks at one point: "Could it be a result of the provincialisation and marketisation of the cultural life of this country, or the fact the people read less these days?"

The essay I enjoyed most was a review of a recent translation of Cervantes's Don Quixote, which Ali appears to have written in annoyance on reading Harold Bloom's introduction to the same volume. "What is the true object of Quixote's quest?" Bloom asked. "I find that unanswerable." Ali responds that Cervantes was a Jewish convert in the age of the Inquisition. Don Quixote's true antagonist is dogmatic Catholicism and dogma of every description.

Like CLR James, Ali rejoices in the unpredictability of cricket. Another piece teases the MCC-wallahs who run our national game for their determined pursuit of the Texan millionaire Allen Stanford. In June 2008, Stanford's sponsorship of a one-day game against the West Indies was billed as English cricket's solution to the threat of 20/20 cricket, dominated as it was by Indian business. Six months later, Stanford was on the run, accused of fraud running into the billions. What next, Ali asks; a landing strip for the helicopters of Chinese millionaires on the square at Lord's?

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk