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FICTION Compelling contradictions of an anti-capitalist activist

PAUL SIMON recommends the story of a charismatic malcontent

The World Turned Upside Down
by Leo Zeilig
(Iva Valley Books, £7.99)

THIS novel’s protagonist Professor Bianca Ndour is an outsized phenomenon, with her personal and academic contradictions bursting beyond the realistic confines of one mere individual. In many respects, she represents the values and vaulting hopes, as well as the weaknesses, of much of the contemporary left movement.

Writer Leo Zeilig tracks Ndour’s metamorphosis from a comparatively privileged mixed-race bourgeois background to trendy mindfulness self-help author and on to a remorseless and charismatic revolutionary academic.

As such, her intellectual journey reflects that of the anti-capitalist movement since the fall of many socialist states, with the lost wistfulness of the 1990s replaced with a more robust Marxist praxis since.

By combining analysis with the clear and inspiring language of moral outrage, Ndour appeals to her growing international audience of young people. But, a living expression of Alain Badiou’s philosophical writings, she seems — as with many telegenic leftists — to be curiously detached from, and uninterested in, gaining the support of the organised working class.

Yet Zeilig successfully avoids making Ndour a mere, albeit highly attractive, archetype. Her backstory and experiences of personal and corporate exploitation in Nigeria and Senegal are vividly documented, including a horrific account of a community’s obliteration caused by a petroleum company’s negligence.

Ndour is also scarred, if not by regrets, then certainly with an awareness of the mutual sacrifices made by the fragility of her many same-sex relationships.

An additional element of jeopardy runs throughout Ndour’s frequent conversations — a neat little revenue stream demanded by her university — with two police officers. Part of an international investigation into what becomes known as the “One Per Cent Murders” of prominent capitalists, the plod seek Ndour’s insights as to the emerging pattern of these executions.

The reader is well ahead of the investigators in realising that the confluence between Ndour’s incendiary lectures abroad and the killings, and indeed other expressions of fury at the rich, may not be a coincidence after all.

But how directly involved is Ndour and what, if anything, is her relationship to the equally charismatic blogger The Revealer?

A very angry book and an extraordinarily cathartic read, this “peculiar story” is author Leo Zeilig’s self-evaluation of a wonderfully hybrid creation.

Who would disagree?



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