A Season for Political Novels

A Season for MartyrsHere’s the course description from my syllabus for Politics Through Literature, a new course for me this semester at Brooklyn College:

In this course we read literary texts – specifically, political novels – to enrich our understanding of the uses and effects of political power. The books span a wide variety of historical standpoints, cultural contexts, and political sensibilities. Their settings range from Washington, D.C., in the period of Reconstruction to Moscow under Stalin, and from Depression-era Harlem to twenty-first-century Karachi. Although we will focus primarily on these works’ political content, we will also be concerned with the literary qualities of each work, paying special attention to the ways in which the authors’ diverse narrative techniques and stylistic devices serve to illuminate political phenomena and events.

(The last sentence is intended as a corrective to the wording of the brief description that appears in the catalogue — there’s a dreadful bit about “application of political rather than aesthetic criteria,” whatever that means. For what it’s worth, my version of the course is cross-listed between Political Science and English/Comparative Lit.)

And here’s what we’ll be reading:

1.  Henry Adams, Democracy (1880)

2.  Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899)

3.  Victor Serge, The Case of Comrade Tulayev (1942)

4.  Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1950)

5.  Nadine Gordimer, Burger’s Daughter (1979)

6.  Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah (1987)

7.  Don DeLillo, Libra (1989)

8.  Amy Waldman, The Submission  (2011)

9.  Bina Shah, A Season for Martyrs (2014)


This is going to be fun.


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