The best novels about disability human rights in the Global South

Who am I?

I teach and write about literature and disability at the University of Virginia. I’m also late deafened and have worked in the field of disability studies for over twenty years. In 2002, a scholar pointed out that literature from the former British colonies includes a lot of disabled characters. In 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I began to wonder if the two are related. In Elusive Kinship, I wound up arguing that they are. Not much work has been done on this. I tried to emphasize that I’m just advancing a critical conversation, not giving the final word at all.


I wrote...

Elusive Kinship: Disability and Human Rights in Postcolonial Literature

By Christopher Krentz,

Book cover of Elusive Kinship: Disability and Human Rights in Postcolonial Literature

What is my book about?

An academic literary study, Elusive Kinship shows how disabled characters are integral to literature in English from the Global South. These are great stories, and part of their excellence is how authors like Achebe, Rushdie, Coetzee, Desai, and others deploy disability in creative ways. Through figures of disability, they make pressing topics more vivid, including such issues as the effects of colonialism and apartheid, global capitalism, racism and sexism, war, and environmental disaster. Such representations also relate to the millions of disabled people who live in the Global South, often in precarious circumstances. Elusive Kinship argues that the representation of disabled people in this literature both directed and reflected the rise of global disability human rights over the last half-century. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Things Fall Apart

Christopher Krentz Why did I love this book?

I love reading and teaching this classic of postcolonial literature. Written in spare, accessible style on the eve of Nigerian independence from Britain, Achebe tells the story of British colonization of an Igbo clan in Southeast Nigeria near the end of the 19th century. Even as the novel portrays the appalling damages of European colonialism, it subtly critiques the traditional Igbo exclusion of disabled people. It demonstrates one of the paradoxes of human rights: victims of human rights abuses can also be perpetrators of them. The British missionaries first gain a foothold by welcoming those stigmatized people marginalized by the Umoufians, indicating how Achebe promotes compassion of all people.

By Chinua Achebe,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Things Fall Apart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of International Man Booker Prize 2007.


Book cover of Midnight's Children

Christopher Krentz Why did I love this book?

I frequently teach Rushdie and this is his best book. Winner of the Booker Prize, Midnight’s Children is a playful epic novel that uses magic elements to tell the tale of India’s independence from British colonization in the mid-20th century. Through a first-person disabled narrator, it potentially adds to readers’ imaginative engagement with disability. Matters are complicated, though, because of narrator Saleem’s claims of having fantastic telepathic powers might actually make it harder for readers to identify with him. The novel depicts disability in complex ways, where disabled people simultaneously are powerful figures who offer hope for the newly independent Indian nation and vulnerable citizens almost always marginalized and victimized by society. Ultimately the novel promotes respect toward disabled people, which fits in with campaigns for disability justice.🎯


2

By Salman Rushdie,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Midnight's Children as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*WINNER OF THE BOOKER AND BEST OF THE BOOKER PRIZE*

**A BBC BETWEEN THE COVERS BIG JUBILEE READ PICK**

'A wonderful, rich and humane novel... a classic' Guardian

Born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment of India's independence, Saleem Sinai is a special child. However, this coincidence of birth has consequences he is not prepared for: telepathic powers connect him with 1,000 other 'midnight's children' all of whom are endowed with unusual gifts. Inextricably linked to his nation, Saleem's story is a whirlwind of disasters and triumphs that mirrors the course of modern India at its most…


Book cover of Disgrace

Christopher Krentz Why did I love this book?

Written by a White South African after the end of apartheid in 1990, this novel is both troubling and moving. You won’t forget it anytime soon. It differs from the above novels in that it offers a disabled character, Pollux, who is more aggressive and takes part in a horrifying gang rape. Earlier in the novel, the White protagonist, David, rapes one of his college students, making him and Pollux somewhat parallel figures. Metaphorically, Pollux could be said to represent the injustices of apartheid. David contends with not just personal violence, but also reckonings of the history of Black oppression in South Africa. A disabled figure raises ethical questions about human rights in this novel, which paved the way for Coetzee to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.   

By J. M. Coetzee,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Disgrace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. J.M. Coetzee's latest novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, is now available from Viking. Late Essays: 2006-2016 will be available January 2018.

"Compulsively readable... A novel that not only works its spell but makes it impossible for us to lay it aside once we've finished reading it." -The New Yorker

At fifty-two, Professor David Lurie is divorced, filled with desire, but lacking in passion. When an affair with a student leaves him jobless, shunned by friends, and ridiculed by his ex-wife, he retreats to his daughter Lucy's smallholding. David's visit becomes an…


Book cover of Fasting, Feasting

Christopher Krentz Why did I love this book?

This is another novel I enjoy teaching; students respond well to it. Desai excels in giving detailed domestic pictures of life in India. Here she recounts how an ungainly disabled daughter with what seems to be epilepsy and a learning disability is largely kept out of sight by her upper-middle-class family in the 20th century. The daughter, Uma, goes away with assorted other characters, finding a measure of freedom, but invariably needs to return to her parents’ confining house. At the end of the novel, she is largely taking care of them. Desai shows what we might call a “feminist ethic of care” as she writes of a disabled woman as interesting and worthy of sustained attention, which implicitly feeds into advocates’ contention of the value of all disabled people.

By Anita Desai,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fasting, Feasting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 1999 BOOKER PRIZE

Uma, the plain, spinster daughter of a close-knit Indian family, is trapped at home, smothered by her overbearing parents and their traditions, unlike her ambitious younger sister Aruna, who brings off a 'good' marriage, and brother Arun, the disappointing son and heir who is studying in America.

Across the world in Massachusetts, life with the Patton family is bewildering for Arun in the alien culture of freedom, freezers and paradoxically self-denying self-indulgence.


Book cover of The Cambridge Companion to Human Rights and Literature

Christopher Krentz Why did I love this book?

This collection of academic essays gives an incisive overview of the newly emergent field of literature and human rights, which I build upon in my book. Contributors include pioneering scholars like James Dawes, Elizabeth Swanson, and Alexandra S. Moore. They have chapters exploring the relationship between literature and rights, the role of emotions in the process, and more. The collection does not consider disability much, but is a good introduction for someone who wants to learn more about an exciting academic field.

By Crystal Parikh (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cambridge Companion to Human Rights and Literature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Literature has been essential to shaping the notions of human personhood, good life, moral responsibility, and forms of freedom that have been central to human rights law, discourse, and politics. The literary study of human rights has also recently generated innovative and timely perspectives on the history, meaning, and scope of human rights. The Cambridge Companion to Human Rights and Literature introduces this new and exciting field of study in the humanities. It explores the historical and institutional contexts, theoretical concepts, genres, and methods that literature and human rights share. Equally accessible to beginners in the field and more advanced…


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Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Dinner with Churchill

Robin Hawdon Author Of Number Ten

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Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!

Robin's book list on lone heroes and threats to national security

What is my book about?

This is a new novel by one of the UK's most prolific writers. It is based around an extraordinary true incident at the start of World War II when fierce political opponents Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encountered each other at a famous dinner party. Seen from the perspective of Lucy Armitage, a young girl suddenly conscripted by a strange stroke of fate into Churchill's overworked but adoring team of secretaries.

As Churchill prepares to take over the leadership of the nation, Lucy finds herself increasingly involved in her famous employer's phenomenal work output and eccentric habits. When romance and the world of espionage impinge on her life, she becomes a vital part of the eternal struggle between good and evil regimes that still exists today.

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

What is this book about?

It is on historical record that, on the evening of October 13th 1939, six weeks after war had been declared on Hitler's Germany, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, fierce and implacable opponents for years over the appeasement issue, met together with their two wives, Clementine and Anne, for a private dinner at Admiralty House, and event which caused ripples throughout Westminster.

Chamberlain was still Prime Minister, but had seen all his efforts to negotiate peace with Hitler shattered. Churchill had been recalled to the cabinet after ten years 'in the wilderness', his dire warnings of the Nazi threat vindicated.

Lucy…


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