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Abahn Sabana David
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Abahn Sabana David, by Marguerite Duras, translated by Kazim Ali (Open Letter, 2016).

Late one evening, David and Sabana, communists, arrive at a country house where they meet Abahn, the man they’ve been sent to guard and ultimately kill for his perceived transgressions. A fourth man arrives (also named Abahn), and throughout the night these four characters discuss understanding, capitalism, violence, revolution, and dogs. A gun in the house disquiets the scene.

Suspenseful and thought-provoking, Duras’s novel is evocative of Samuel Beckett as it explores human existence and suffering in the confusing contemporary world.

Available for the first time in English, Abahn Sabana David is a late-career masterpiece from one of France’s top writers.

At the Mercy of Their Clothes
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At the Mercy of Their Clothes: Modernism, the Middlebrow, and British Garment Culture, by Celia Marshik (Columbia University Press, 2016).

In much of modern fiction, it is the clothes that make the character. Garments embody personal and national histories. They convey wealth, status, aspiration, and morality (or a lack thereof). They suggest where characters have been and where they might be headed, as well as whether or not they are aware of their fate. At the Mercy of Their Clothes explores the agency of fashion in modern literature, its reflection of new relations between people and things, and its embodiment of a rapidly changing society confronted by war and cultural and economic upheaval. In some cases, people need garments to realize themselves. In other cases, the clothes control the person who wears them.

Celia Marshik’s study combines close readings of modernist and middlebrow works, a history of Britain in the early twentieth century, and the insights of thing theory. She focuses on four distinct categories of modern clothing: the evening gown, the mackintosh, the fancy dress costume, and secondhand attire. In their use of these clothes, we see authors negotiate shifting gender roles, weigh the value of individuality during national conflict, work through mortality, and depict changing class structures. Marshik’s comparisons put Ulysses in conversation with Rebecca, Punch cartoons, articles in Vogue, and letters from consumers, illuminating opinions about specific garments and a widespread anxiety that people were no more than what they wore. Throughout her readings, Marshik emphasizes the persistent animation of clothing—and objectification of individuals—in early-twentieth-century literature and society. She argues that while artists and intellectuals celebrated the ability of modern individuals to remake themselves, a range of literary works and popular publications points to a lingering anxiety about how political, social, and economic conditions continued to constrain the individual.

Chivalry and the Medieval Past
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Chivalry and the Medieval Past, edited by Katie Stevenson and Barbara Gribling (Boydell Press, June 2016).

One of the most difficult and complex ethical and cultural codes to define, chivalry has proved a flexible, ever-changing phenomenon, constantly adapted in the hands of medieval knights, Renaissance princes, early modern antiquarians, Enlightenment scholars, modern civic authorities, authors, historians and re-enactors. This book explores the rich variations in how the Middle Ages were conceptualized and historicized to illuminate the plurality of uses of the past. Using chivalry as a lens through which to examine concepts and uses of the medieval, it provides a critical assessment of the ways in which medieval chivalry became a shorthand to express contemporary ideals, powerfully demonstrating the ways in which history could be appropriated. The chapters combine attention to documentary evidence with what material culture can tell us, in particular using the built environment and the landscape as sources to understand how the medieval past was renegotiated. With contributions spanning diverse geographic regions and periods, it redraws current chronological boundaries by considering medievalism from the late Middle Ages to the present.

Genre Imagery in Early Modern Northern Europe
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Genre Imagery in Early Modern Northern Europe: New Perspectives, edited by Arthur J. DiFuria (Routledge, June 2016).

Exploring the rich variety of pictorial rhetoric in early modern northern European genre images, this volume deepens our understanding of genre’s place in early modern visual culture. From 1500 to 1700, artists in northern Europe pioneered the category of pictures now known as genre, portrayals of people in ostensibly quotidian situations. Critical approaches to genre images have moved past the antiquated notion that they portray uncomplicated ‘slices of life,’ describing them instead as heavily encoded pictorial essays, laden with symbols that only the most erudite contemporary viewers and modern iconographers could fully comprehend. These essays challenge that limiting binary, revealing a more expansive array of accessible meanings in genre’s deft grafting of everyday scenarios with a rich complex of experiential, cultural, political, and religious references. Authors deploy a variety of approaches to detail genre’s multivalent relations to older, more established pictorial and literary categories, the interplay between the meaning of the everyday and its translation into images, and the multifaceted concerns genre addressed for its rapidly expanding, unprecedentedly diverse audience.

Exploring Inequality in Europe
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Exploring Inequality in Europe: Diverging Income and Employment Opportunities in the Crisis, edited by Martin Heidenreich (Edward Elgar Publishing, June 2016).

Europe has become a dominant frame for the generation, regulation and perception of social inequalities. This trend was solidified by the current economic crisis, which is characterized by increasing inequalities between central and peripheral countries and groups. By analyzing the double polarization between winners and losers of the crisis, the segmentation of labor markets and the perceived quality of life in Europe, this book contributes to a better understanding of patterns and dynamics of inequality in an integrated Europe.

The contributions from experts in the field offer a multi-level perspective. They explore links between objective inequalities and subjective perceptions and frames of reference. They combine the analysis of growing inequalities between different social groups and between central and peripheral countries. Analysis of unemployment and income inequality is based on European-wide micro data sets and the editor argues for both European and national frames of reference for analysis of unemployment and income inequality.

Reading Smell
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Reading Smell in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, by Emily C. Friedman (Bucknell University Press, June 2016).

Scent is both an essential and seemingly impossible-to-recover aspect of material culture. Scent is one of our strongest ties to memory, yet to remember a smell without external stimuli is almost impossible for most people. Moreover, human beings’ (specifically Western humans) ability to smell has been diminished through a process of increased emphasis on odor-removal, hygienic practices that emphasize de-odorization (rather than the covering of one odor by another).While other intangibles of the human experience have been placed into the context of the eighteenth-century novel, scent has so far remained largely sidelined in favor of discussions of the visual, the aural, touch, and taste. The past decade has seen a great expansion of our understanding of how smell works physiologically, psychologically, and culturally, and there is no better moment than now to attempt to recover the traces of olfactory perceptions, descriptions, and assumptions.

Reading Smell provides models for how to incorporate olfactory knowledge into new readings of the literary form central to our understanding of the eighteenth century and modernity in general: the novel. The multiplication and development of the novel overlaps strikingly with changes in personal and private hygienic practices that would alter the culture’s relationship to smell. This book examines how far the novel can be understood through a reintroduction of olfactory information. After decades of reading for all kinds of racial, cultural, gendered, and other sorts of absences back into the novel, this book takes one step further: to consider how the recovery of forgotten or overlooked olfactory assumptions might reshape our understanding of these texts. Reading Smell includes wide-scale research and focused case studies of some of the most striking or prevalent uses of olfactory language in eighteenth-century British prose fiction. Highlighting scents with shifting meanings across the period: bodies, tobacco, smelling-bottles, and sulfur, Reading Smell not only provides new insights into canonical works by authors like Swift, Smollett, Richardson, Burney, Austen, and Lewis, but also sheds new light on the history of the British novel as a whole.

Legible Religion
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Legible Religion: Books, Gods, and Rituals in Roman Culture, by Duncan MacRae (Harvard University Press, 2016). 

Scholars have long emphasized the importance of scripture in studying religion, tacitly separating a few privileged “religions of the Book” from faiths lacking sacred texts, including ancient Roman religion. Looking beyond this distinction, Duncan MacRae delves into Roman religious culture to grapple with a central question: what was the significance of books in a religion without scripture?

In the last two centuries BCE, Varro and other learned Roman authors wrote treatises on the nature of the Roman gods and the rituals devoted to them. Although these books were not sacred texts, they made Roman religion legible in ways analogous to scripture-based faiths such as Judaism and Christianity. Rather than reflect the astonishingly varied polytheistic practices of the regions under Roman sway, the contents of the books comprise Rome’s “civil theology”—not a description of an official state religion but one limited to the civic role of religion in Roman life. An extended comparison between Roman books and the Mishnah—an early Rabbinic compilation of Jewish practice and law—highlights the important role of nonscriptural texts in the demarcation of religious systems.

Tracing the subsequent influence of Roman religious texts from the late first century BCE to early fifth century CE, Legible Religion shows how two major developments—the establishment of the Roman imperial monarchy and the rise of the Christian Church—shaped the reception and interpretation of Roman civil theology.

How the Workers Became Muslims
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How the Workers Became Muslims: Immigration, Culture, and Hegemonic Transformation in Europe, by Ferruh Yilmaz (Michigan University Press, 2016).

Writing in the beginning of the 1980s, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe explored possibilities for a new socialist strategy to capitalize on the period’s fragmented political and social conditions. Two and a half decades later, Ferruh Yilmaz acknowledges that the populist far right—not the socialist movement—has demonstrated greater facility in adopting successful hegemonic strategies along the structural lines Laclau and Mouffe imagined. Right wing hegemonic strategy, Yilmaz argues, has led to the reconfiguration of internal fault lines in European societies.

Yilmaz’s primary case study is Danish immigration discourse, but his argument contextualizes his study in terms of questions of current concern across Europe, where right wing groups that were long on the fringes of “legitimate” politics have managed to make significant gains with populations typically aligned with the Left. Specifically, Yilmaz argues that socio-political space has been transformed in the last three decades such that group classification has been destabilized to emphasize cultural rather than economic attributes.

According to this point-of-view, traditional European social and political cleavages are jettisoned for new “cultural” alliances pulling the political spectrum to the right, against the corrosive presence of Muslim immigrants, whose own social and political variety is flattened into an illusion of alien sameness.

Threads of Empire
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Threads of Empire: Loyalty and Tsarist Authority in Bashkiria, 1552–1917 by Charles Steinwedel (Indiana University Press, 2016).

Threads of Empire examines how Russia’s imperial officials and intellectual elites made and maintained their authority among the changing intellectual and political currents in Eurasia from the mid-16th century to the revolution of 1917. The book focuses on a region 750 miles east of Moscow known as Bashkiria. The region was split nearly evenly between Russian and Turkic language speakers, both nomads and farmers. Ufa province at Bashkiria’s core had the largest Muslim population of any province in the empire. The empire’s leading Muslim official, the mufti, was based there, but the region also hosted a Russian Orthodox bishop. Bashkirs and peasants had different legal status, and powerful Russian Orthodox and Muslim nobles dominated the peasant estate. By the 20th century, industrial mining and rail commerce gave rise to a class structure of workers and managers. Bashkiria thus presents a fascinating case study of empire in all its complexities and of how the tsarist empire’s ideology and categories of rule changed over time.

The Holocaust Across Generations
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The Holocaust Across Generations: Trauma and its Inheritance Among Descendants of Survivors by Janet Jacobs (NYU Press, 2016).

Over the last two decades, the cross-generational transmission of trauma has become an important area of research within both Holocaust studies and the more broad study of genocide. The overall findings of the research suggest that the Holocaust informs both the psychological and social development of the children of survivors who, like their parents, suffer from nightmares, guilt, fear, and sadness. The impact of social memory on the construction of survivor identities among succeeding generations has not yet been adequately explained. Moreover, the importance of gender to the intergenerational transmission of trauma has, for the most part, been overlooked. In The Holocaust across Generations, Janet Jacobs fills these significant gaps in the study of traumatic transference.

The volume brings together the study of post-Holocaust family culture with the study of collective memory. Through an in-depth study of 75 children and grandchildren of survivors, the book examines the social mechanisms through which the trauma of the Holocaust is conveyed by survivors to succeeding generations. It explores the social structures—such as narratives, rituals, belief systems, and memorial sites—through which the collective memory of trauma is transmitted within families, examining the social relations of traumatic inheritance among children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.  Within this analytic framework, feminist theory and the importance of gender are brought to bear on the study of traumatic inheritance and the formation of trauma-based identities among Holocaust carrier groups.

Forget English!
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Forget English! Orientalisms and World Literatures by Aamir R. Mufti (Harvard University Press, 2016).

The idea of world literature has garnered much attention recently as a discipline that promises to move humanistic study beyond postcolonial theory and antiquated paradigms of “national” literary traditions. In Forget English! Aamir Mufti scrutinizes the claims made on behalf of world literature by its advocates. The notion of a borderless, egalitarian global literature has obvious appeal, he notes, but behind it lurks the continuing dominance of English as a literary language and a cultural system of international reach.

The cultural logic of what Edward Said identified as Orientalism continues to structure world literature discourse, Mufti says—although in updated ways that conceal the persistence of the continental and civilizational inequalities of the colonial past. From the beginning, world literature has been an eminently Orientalist idea, one made possible by the translation labors of European Orientalist scholars and the canonizing of Orientalist concepts of cultural difference.

World literature has always been a border regime, an implicit set of regulations governing the mobility of various national and local literatures across the world. Mufti explores how English historically achieved its literary preeminence, and he deepens our understanding of how the hegemony of English affects non-European languages—particularly those of India and South Asia—as vessels of literary expression. At the center of the very possibility of world literature is the dominance of English, as both a literary vernacular and the undisputed language of global capitalism.

France, Story of a Childhood
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France, Story of a Childhood by Zahia Rahmani and translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud (Yale University Press, 2016).

This moving tale of imprisonment and escape, persecution and loss, is narrated by the daughter of an alleged Harki, an Algerian soldier who fought for the French during the Algerian War for Independence. It was the fate of such men to be twice exiled, first in their homeland after the war, and later in France, where fleeing Harki families sought refuge but instead faced contempt, discrimination, and exclusion. Zahia Rahmani blends reality and imagination in her writing, offering a fictionalized version of her own family’s struggle. Lara Vergnaud’s beautiful translation from the French perfectly captures the voices and emotions of Rahmani’s childhood in a foreign land.

While the author delves deeply into the past, she also indicts present-day France and Algeria. From the unique perspective of the daughter of an accused Harki, she examines France’s complex and controversial history with its former colony and offers new insight into the French civil riots of 2005. She makes a stirring plea for understanding between generations and cultures, and especially for an end to the destructive practice of condemning children for their fathers’ actions and beliefs.

Zahia Rahmani, an author and art historian at the National Institute for Art History in France, was born in Algeria during the Algerian War of Independence. Her father was an accused Harki, who was imprisoned as a traitor by the Algerians after the war. He escaped prison and fled with his family to France in 1967. Rahmani now lives in Paris and Oise, France. Lara Vergnaud is a French-English literary translator. She lives in Washington, D.C.

The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep
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The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin by David Satter (Yale University Press, 2016).

In December 2013, David Satter became the first American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the Cold War. The Moscow Times said it was not surprising he was expelled, “it was surprising it took so long.” Satter is known in Russia for having written that the apartment bombings in 1999, which were blamed on Chechens and brought Putin to power, were actually carried out by the Russian FSB security police.

In this book, Satter tells the story of the apartment bombings and how Boris Yeltsin presided over the criminalization of Russia, why Vladimir Putin was chosen as his sucessor, and how Putin has suppressed all opposition while retaining the appreance of a pluralist state. As the threat represented by Russia becomes increasingly clear, Satter’s description of where Russia is and how it got there will be of vital interest to anyone concerned about the dangers facing the world today.

David Satter has written about Russia for almost four decades. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a fellow of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. His previous books, all published by Yale University Press, include Darkness at Dawn. He divides his time between Washington, D.C., and London.

The Literature of the Arminian Controversy
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The Literature of the Arminian Controversy: Religion, Politics and the Stage in the Dutch Republic by Freya Sierhuis (Oxford University Press, 2016)

This groundbreaking work opens the study of Dutch literary culture to an English speaking audience by placing the canonical texts of the period in dialogue with lesser-known works, including many previously unstudied texts, including pamphlets, libel verse, and plays.

Art versus industry?
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Art versus industry?: New perspectives on visual and industrial cultures in nineteenth-century Britain, edited by Kate Nichols, Rebecca Wade, and Gabriel Williams (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Art versus industry? is about the encounters between the visual arts and industry in Britain during the long nineteenth-century. It looks beyond the oppositions that were established between these two spheres by later interpretations of the work of John Ruskin, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, to reveal surprising examples of collaboration DS between artists, craftspeople, designers, inventors, curators, engineers and educators DS at a crucial period in the formation of the cultural and commercial identity of Britain and its colonies.

This lively and richly illustrated collection operates across disciplines to explore such diverse subjects as the production of lace, the mechanical translation of sculpture, the display of stained glass, the use of the kaleidoscope in painting and pattern design, the emergence of domestic electric lighting, the politics of ornament and the development of art and design education and international exhibitions in India. With contributions by leading academics in the fields of art history, museums studies and the history and philosophy of science, its approach is as varied as its contents, often drawing on little-used primary sources and offering new perspectives on existing literature.

Art versus industry? provides an essential source to both students and academics in the (British) histories of art and design, museum studies, the history and philosophy of science and postcolonial studies. It will also appeal to the general reader interested in the industrial and visual cultures of the Victorian period.