The ugly scandal that cancelled the Nobel prize

Sweden’s literary elite has been thrown into disarray by allegations of sexual harassment and corruption. By Andrew Brown

In the eyes of its members, there is no more important cultural institution in the world than the Swedish Academy. The members, who call themselves The Eighteen (always in capitals), are elected for life by their peers, and meet for a ritual dinner every Thursday evening at a restaurant they own in the heart of the old town in Stockholm. And once a year, at a ceremony brilliant with jewels and formality, the permanent secretary of the academy hands out the Nobel prize in literature and all the world applauds.

But this year there will be no prize and no ceremony. In November 2017, it was revealed in the Swedish press that the husband of one of the academy members had been accused of serial sexual abuse, in assaults alleged to ...

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela review – one man’s otherworldly patience

Nelson Mandela’s long, thoughtful letters, written during his 27 years in prison, display an unwavering certainty that change would prevail

Nelson Mandela’s letters from prison seem to demand a spoiler alert. We know how this epic turns out – but the uncanny thing about reading this selection of close-written correspondence is the unavoidable sense that its author always knew the ending in advance, too.

Mandela was born a century ago this week. The conviction that his story would make history, that it would have a triumphant last act of truth and reconciliation, hardly ever appears to have faltered within him. Not when the judge sentenced him to life imprisonment at the end of the Rivonia trial in 1964. Not when the door slammed behind him aged 45 as prisoner 466/64 in an 8ft by 7ft cell on Robben Island, his home for 18 years. Not even when, in 1969, his eldest ...

Ancient tales are back in fashion – for telling it like it is | Claire Armitstead

Fairytale and myth can hold a mirror to our troubled times – as evidenced by the refugees walking the Canterbury Tales route

As military helicopters buzzed overhead on their practice manoeuvres for Donald Trump’s visit last week, 120 secular pilgrims straggled through some of the UK’s most ancient woodland. Now in its fourth year, the five-day Refugee Tales walk is both a political statement and a healing ritual for survivors of the infernal limbo of indefinite detention for the “crime” of being unwanted immigrants.

Its template is Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: in the day, you walk; in the evening, you eat, drink and make merry. Above all, you tell stories. This year’s included The Social Worker’s Tale and The Erased Person’s Tale. As most of the refugees are too frightened or traumatised to tell their own stories, writers are brought in to do it for them. The erased person ...

The death of truth: how we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump

From post-modernism to filter bubbles, ‘truth decay’ has been spreading for decades. How can we stop alternative facts from bringing down democracy, asks Michiko Kakutani

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling ...

Behold, America by Sarah Churchwell review – the underside of the ‘American dream’

This timely survey traces the political roots of the current ‘America First’ movement back to the early 20th century

In its initial incarnation, the Ku Klux Klan was a southern organisation born of denial: Klansmen rejected the obvious consequences of Confederate defeat for the racial character and social structure of the South. Although the Klan had been suppressed by the turn of the century, it was reincarnated in 1915, and soon spread far beyond the southern states, becoming a national phenomenon.

Black Americans remained a target, but its demonology extended to encompass other presences unwelcome to white Anglo-Saxon Protestant America: Jews and Catholics, southern and eastern Europeans. On Monday 30 May 1927 there were violent scuffles at New York’s Memorial Day parades, when protesters confronted Klan marchers. In Queens there were seven arrests: five “avowed Klansmen”; a sixth person arrested by mistake and immediately released; and – mysteriously – a 20-year-old German-American by the ...

Our Friends in Berlin by Anthony Quinn review – life during wartime

This enjoyable thriller about hunting down Nazi sympathisers is shot through with postmodern melancholy

When we first meet Jack Hoste, one of the two protagonists of Anthony Quinn’s taut new novel, it is London, March 1941, and it is far too early to think of him as a hero. On the contrary, this “unremarkable” man of “no distinguishing features” in his shabby ARP warden’s uniform appears to be carrying on some fairly dirty and dangerous business: at the height of the blitz, Hoste is in the back room of a smoky pub in Cheapside, trying to recruit a Nazi sympathiser to his fifth column and persuade him on to the payroll as a spy for “our friends in Berlin”.

It soon becomes clear that in the early stages of the war those bonds of politics, class, affection or culture that connected a certain British sensibility to pre-war Germany – a place ...

The House of Islam by Ed Husain review – a powerful corrective

The religion is too often simplified in western commentary. This nuanced study considers it as a force for good

Of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims a very large number – perhaps a majority – observed the Ramadan fast last month. This doesn’t simply mean abstaining from food and water during the hours of daylight (as well as sex and cigarettes), but in many cases involves a deliberate reappraisal of one’s relation to God and the world, with more prayers and philanthropy and less shopping.

Of all the obligations that define Islam, Ramadan arouses perhaps the most irritation among some outsiders. A practice that places such a strain on the body is surely an affront to reason. Nor does it seem to make economic sense for workers to be tired and unproductive while declining to perform their allotted roles as consumers with credit ratings. And yet the west has absorbed ...

Shatila Stories review – refugees write their own tales

Novice authors in a Lebanon refugee camp have collaborated on a novella. It is a literary achievement as well as an act of witness

Many art forms are produced collaboratively, but we persist in the idea that literature must be the work of a single consciousness. Shatila Stories, a novella shaped from nine pieces of fiction created following a writing workshop, proves that wrong. Not only does it cohere, but its strength lies in its multiplicity of viewpoints and voices, which, instead of being a clever postmodern trick, lend depth, texture and most of all, authenticity – essential given that this is a story set in Shatila, a teeming refugee camp in Beirut.

“Don’t talk about the camp unless you know it,” commands a scrawl of graffiti depicted in a photograph at the start. Its nine writers, some of whom fled the war in Syria, some of whom were ...

Imperial Twilight by Stephen R Platt review – lessons for today from the opium war

A beautifully written and expert account of western aggression in 19th-century China casts light on the Chinese reaction to Trump

While campaigning for the US presidency, Donald Trump talked tough on China. He accused the country of “raping” the US economically: its trade policies and currency manipulation were allegedly perpetrating “one of the greatest thefts in the history of the world”. In March, Trump put his money where his mouth was, announcing up to $60bn of tariffs on Chinese imports. The US, the White House proclaimed, was “strategically defending itself” from “economic aggression”. Within hours, the People’s Republic responded by announcing its own tariffs on key US exports: pork, apples, soybeans. The rhetoric of public opinion in China was revealing of the deeper history of this trade row. Chinese editorialists promptly linked Trump’s action back to 19th-century western aggressions, and specifically to the collisions that dragged China violently into a ...

Donald Hall, US poet laureate and prize-winning man of letters, dies at 89

  • Daughter confirms death at home in New Hampshire
  • Hall was known for work on love, loss, baseball and the past

Donald Hall, a prolific and award-winning poet and man of letters who was widely admired for his sharp humor and painful candor about nature, mortality, baseball and the distant past, has died. He was 89.

Hall’s daughter, Philippa Smith, confirmed on Sunday that her father died on Saturday at his home in Wilmot, New Hampshire, after being in hospice care for some time.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name removed from book award over racial concerns

American Library Association changes award name after examining ‘expressions of stereotypical attitudes’ in books

A division of the American Library Association has voted to remove the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from a major children’s book award, over concerns about how the author portrayed African Americans and Native Americans.

Related: Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder review – gritty memoir dispels Little House myths

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Inside stories: Turkey’s grim tradition of publishing behind bars

Former HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş has published a short story collection, written while in jail awaiting trial – just the latest example of a writer clashing with Turkey’s government

At the Istanbul book fair last November, there was a signing for the politician Selahattin Demirtaş’s short story collection Seher (Dawn). Demirtaş, former leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has been in pre-trial detention since November 2016, and 20 authors stepped in for him as an act of solidarity. It lasted more than six hours as hundreds queued to get their copies signed.

Demirtaş wrote the stories in prison and the book is his first work of fiction, selling more than 200,000 copies. It is being published in 11 territories, including the UK next spring. Some of the stories are political satire – one is addressed to the prison letter-reading committee that vets what he writes ...

‘Xenophobic and racist’: Elena Ferrante warns of danger to Italy from Matteo Salvini

In her Guardian column, author of the bestselling Neapolitan novels makes rare intervention in politics to voice fears of interior minister’s ‘racist fists’

The Italian novelist Elena Ferrante has made a rare foray into the political arena, warning of the dangers of underestimating the “xenophobic and racist” new interior minister Matteo Salvini who heads up Italy’s far-right League party.

Writing in her column for the Guardian’s Weekend magazine, the reclusive Ferrante, who has kept her identity hidden, said she had never been politically active, and while she has “feared for the fate of democracy” in Italy, she has more often “thought our worries have been deliberately exaggerated”.

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Oxford English Dictionary extends hunt for regional words around the world

From ‘hammajang’ to ‘munted’, lexicographers have issued a worldwide call for regionally distinctive words to define

The Oxford English Dictionary is asking the public to help it mine the regional differences of English around the world to expand its record of the language, with early submissions ranging from New Zealand’s “munted” to Hawaii’s “hammajang”.

Last year, a collaboration between the OED, the BBC and the Forward Arts Foundation to find and define local English words resulted in more than 100 new regional words and phrases being added to the dictionary, from Yorkshire’s “ee bah gum” to the north east’s “cuddy wifter”, a left-handed person. Now, the OED is widening its search to English speakers around the world, with associate editor Eleanor Maier calling the early response “phenomenal”, as editors begin to draft a range of suggestions for inclusion in the dictionary.

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Author Junot Diaz cleared to teach at US university after investigation

MIT finds no evidence to prevent writer returning to teach following misconduct allegations by author Zinzi Clemmons

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigation cleared Pulitzer Prize-winning author and creative writing professor Junot Diaz to return to the classroom in the next academic year, starting in autumn.

The inquiry into Diaz’s actions toward female students and staff yielded no information that would lead to restrictions on Diaz’s role as a faculty member at the US university in Cambridge.

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Female role models to inspire change in society | Letters

We need more books for both boys and girls that normalise girls as adventurous, confident and capable leaders, writes Jean Pollard. And why can no one remember the work of Eleanor Marx? asks John Airs

I very much enjoyed the supplement of best new children’s books (16 June) but how disappointing to see the continuing massive overrepresentation of male protagonists in these stories. While some recommended books did have a female lead, and there were a couple of books about real heroic women (one described as being sure to inspire girls – why not boys?), there were far, far more where the lead character was a boy and where girls remain accessories in boy’s stories. We need more books for both boys and girls to read that normalise girls as adventurous, confident and capable leaders in a whole host of activities hitherto seen as “boys’ stuff” if we are ...

Diversity in publishing is under attack. I hear the sound of knuckles dragging | Hanif Kureishi

Culture won’t be diluted by promoting minority writers. Its privileged ‘defenders’ are just trying to silence other voices

The furore over Penguin’s wise and brave decision to “reflect the diversity of British society” in its publishing and hiring output seems to have awoken the usual knuckle-dragging, semi-blind suspects with their endlessly repeated terrors and fears. They appear to believe that what is called “diversity” or “positive action” will lead to a dilution of their culture. Their stupidity and the sound of their pathetic whining would be funny if it weren’t so tragic for Britain. You might even want to call it a form of self-loathing; it is certainly unpatriotic and lacking in generosity.

Related: Lionel Shriver dropped from prize judges over diversity comments

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The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin review – a time-traveller’s life

In this exploration of history and memory from the Ukrainian-born author, the protagonist is transported from the Bolshevik labour camps to the modern world

Innokenty Petrovich Platonov, who lived through the Russian Revolution of 1917, has awoken, a hale and hearty thirtysomething, in a present-day hospital bed. Innokenty’s struggle – a long and compelling one, delivered with apparent leisureliness by the Ukrainian-born novelist Eugene Vodolazkin in a translation by Lisa Hayden – is to overcome his confusion, and connect his tragic past life to his uncertain present one over the gulf of years.

We’ve been here before. Think Tarkovsky’s 1975 film Mirror: a man’s life assembled out of jigsaw fragments that more or less resist narrative until the final minutes. Or think Proust. In The Aviator, an old translation of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe replaces Marcel’s madeleine dipped in tea: “With each line,” Innokenty explains, “everything that accompanied the book in my ...

Daša Drndić, ‘unflinching’ Croatian novelist, dies aged 71

Depicting the atrocities of the 20th century, she won international acclaim for writing that was ‘often brutal, but at the same time beautiful’

Acclaimed Croatian novelist and playwright Daša Drndić, who confronted the atrocities of the 20th century in her writing, has died aged 71, her UK publisher has said.

Drndić had been living with cancer for almost two years, and died on Tuesday night in Rijeka, her publisher MacLehose Press confirmed. Associate publisher Katharina Bielenberg called Drndić’s writing “viscerally angry and often brutal, but at the same time beautiful and entirely human”.

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Daša Drndić, ‘unflinching’ Croatian novelist, dies aged 71

Depicting the atrocities of the 20th century, she won international acclaim for writing that was ‘often brutal, but at the same time beautiful’

Acclaimed Croatian novelist and playwright Daša Drndić, who confronted the atrocities of the 20th century in her writing, has died aged 71, her UK publisher has said.

Drndić had been living with cancer for almost two years, and died on Tuesday night in Rijeka, her publisher MacLehose Press confirmed. Associate publisher Katharina Bielenberg called Drndić’s writing “viscerally angry and often brutal, but at the same time beautiful and entirely human”.

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