Ancestors: the prehistory of Great Britain in seven burials
Alice roberts Simon & Schuster Â£ 20
Prehistoric British people tend to get a bad rap. More often than not, terms such as “Neanderthal” and “ancient man” (women and children have little to do with) conjure up images of silly mammoths in loincloths – savage barbarians who were on the scene. point out of their mud huts as the Romans arrived to bring them culture, sanitation and other characteristics of civilization as we know it.
Now Digging For Britain presenter Professor Alice Roberts offers a more complete picture of the early Britons. Focusing on seven burials across the UK, Ancestors takes us back thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of years to explore pre-written British culture – focusing on how our predecessors treated their dead.
From tales of Paleolithic bones in Wales and underground chambers in Herefordshire, to the famous Amesbury Archer and Iron Age burials in Yorkshire, death is the starting point but ultimately, it is also a book about life.
From tales of Paleolithic bones in Wales to underground chambers in Herefordshire and the famous Amesbury Archer (above), death is the starting point
Roberts regularly reminds us of how much we don’t know, but his gripping tales of, say, epic journeys, extraordinary burial riches, cannibalism, skulls used as goblets, and incest blend academic authority with journalistic storytelling.
We also learn about the evolution of archeology and the impact of religion, gender roles and DNA testing on the subject.
One of the most interesting aspects of all these digs is what they teach us about ourselves. Roberts makes thoughtful observations about racism, sexism (powerful female figures may have played a more important role in early Britain than previously admitted) and our relationship to our own mortality on the planet. basis of what we can learn from the remains of ancient people.
Some passages involving the current investigations of Roberts and his academic colleagues are a bit dry but, for the most part, Ancestors is a fascinating and insightful examination of the human condition.
Arifa Akbar Scepter â¬ 16.99
Consumed is a memoir of a talented, difficult, depressed and at times joyful older sister, Fauzia, who died of undetected tuberculosis in a London hospital, and her relationship with the author, her younger sister Arifa.
It is also a story of immigration and dislocation, of broader family dynamics, and of tuberculosis itself and its underhanded journey that changes shape through the body, history, art and literature. .
The cerebral hemorrhage that led to Fauzia’s death at the age of 45 came, with “scandalous misfortune”, just before the diagnosis that had long eluded doctors. It was called “miliary tuberculosis”, the most dangerous form of the disease and the most difficult to detect.
In Fauzia, he had triggered fatal meningitis.
Consumed is a memoir from a talented, difficult, depressed and at times joyful older sister, Fauzia (above), who died of undetected tuberculosis in a London hospital
Should the doctors have guessed sooner? She was born in Lahore and people of Indian and Pakistani descent are more at risk. In 1977, when Fauzia was seven and Arifa five, their parents – who had “commuted … between London and Lahore” – moved to London, a move that “carried its own slow-burning trauma”.
Their father had previously been married to a German woman. Family pressure had led him to divorce and pursue a more traditional marriage with their Pakistani mother, who was 12 years younger.
Yet after the new couple’s wedding, disappointments crept in. The patterns of favoritism in the Lahore household repeated themselves in London. In her father’s eyes, Fauzia could do nothing right, while Arifa was praised.
The harsh bias of affection left scars and resentments: Fauzia became rebellious and bulimic, and was pursued by depression, one of the factors in the sporadic estrangement between the sisters.
But his daring, witty and visionary side has always stood out in his art, in striking and finely embroidered images.
It’s a captivating and moving book, both forensic and delicate in its dredging up of complicated truths, even though it recognizes that family truths in particular are different for everyone.
Two scenes remain particularly engraved in my mind. The first is that of teenage Arifa who saved up to buy newly-18-year-old Fauzia two expensive birthday tickets to La BohÃ¨me, as well as a dress for the event.
The second is that of Fauzia, mute and sulky the day Arifa leaves for the university, to appear on the train platform with a farewell gift: the precious oil painting that had earned Fauzia a place in a fine arts course in Saint-Martin.
Despite their tensions, the sisters dreamed big for each other.
Rarely have I read a memoir with such a combination of strong, loving feelings and calm analysis. A bit like the magical embroideries of Fauzia, the tapestry of passion and brotherly pain is worked here in small precise and brilliant stitches: a literary labor of love.