Thank you to Comma Press for providing a free ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Title: Resist: Stories of Uprising
Editor: Ra Page
Publisher: Comma Press
Release Date: May 21st 2020 (paperback edition)
Genre: Short Stories, Essays, Political, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
I’ve followed Comma Press for a while, so I was very excited to be offered an eARC of Resist: Stories of Uprising in return for a review. The concept of the book had me very interested: a collection of short stories and essays, chronicling the history of British uprisings and protests. It’s also a different format to anything I’ve read before, which I always find exciting. Each short story focused on a different uprising or protest, and was followed by an essay on the subject. The sections were arranged in chronological order, starting with Boudica’s Rising in around 60AD, right up to Grenfell Tower in 2017. Writers contributing to this collection include Kamila Shamsie, Lucy Caldwell, Luan Goldie and Nikita Lalwani. I had heard of a few of the authors in this collection before, but Lucy Caldwell is the only one who’s work I had read prior to this.
Obviously, as this collection is contributed to by many different writers, the writing style and approach to the stories varies greatly throughout the book. Some take a more direct approach to describing the protest, like “Boudica’s Rising” by Bidisha, and others consider the uprising from an outside perspective, often from the family of a protester, such as “The Good Sister” by Jude Brown. The story that stood out the most to me stylistically was Lucy Caldwell’s story, “The Children”. The narrator of Caldwell’s story (I read the narrator as Caldwell herself, but this may not be the case) documents her journey from discovering a lump on her breast to her diagnosis (thankfully, it is benign). Within this personal journey, the narrator learns about Caroline Norton. Norton’s tale of fighting for the right of a woman to custody of her own children is woven throughout the narrator’s story. Having the narrator reading about Norton’s struggle, sympathising with it as a mother herself, and offering Norton’s story to the reader in chunks was a very clever way to incorporate Norton’s struggling without sensationalising it.
I will admit to being slightly worried about sensationalising when I realised just how recent some of this history is. However, I thought all the stories were handled sensitively, and told from an appropriate and interesting perspective. Having the opportunity in several places to read stories from the family of protesters, or having the protest recounted by the narrator to a family member of a younger generation was fascinating. I also really enjoyed the essays that went alongside each story. Some of these essays were written by protesters themselves, offering a first-hand insight into the reality of protest. The essays ensured that the historical accuracy was addressed, and also gave further information that didn’t make it into the story. This additional content really enhanced the book overall, and offered crucial context to many of the stories.
On the essay side, I would actually perhaps have liked to see more. The essays were very interesting, but often when I finished them, I was craving more information. The citations at the end of the essay do offer the opportunity to seek out further reading, so I think I’ll have to go back through the sections that most interested me and see if I can access any of the cited works. The section on the Rebecca Riots was particularly fascinating to me. It was a protest I had never heard of, but now I really want to read more around it. If you’ve not heard of the Rebecca Riots, I really recommend doing some reading on them. The other thing the essays offered that the stories often could not (depending on the way they were narrated) was the impact of the protest. Did things actually change? Was the protest successful, whatever successful means? One of the essays that really considers this was by Dr. Jonathan Moss, writing about the Ford Dagenham’s Women’s Strike of 1968. The strike did not achieve the stated aim, Moss argues that many saw the protest as successful regardless. The protest against Ford has been seen as key to the later passing of the 1970 Equal Pay Act, and has been made into both a film and musical. Is this success when the women did not achieve their original aim? Did the women win, or did Ford win? Is it possible that they both did? These are some of the questions this particular section, and indeed, the book in general asks of its readers. Are there ways in which unsuccessful protests can still succeed? I would argue that yes, in many ways they can. As this book shows, unsuccessful protests are still protests, and can forge the way for a new generation of protesters.
I would definitely recommend Resist: Stories of Uprising to anyone interested in the history of protest, and also anyone interested in British history. It’s a very varied, educational, interesting read, offering fiction, essays, politics and history alongside one another in a way I’ve never seen before in a single text.
Rating: 4 stars.
Resist: Stories of Uprising is available in Kindle and hardback now, and in paperback from May 21st.
If you enjoyed this review, why not check out my other reviews for recently published and upcoming books?