From Claire Horn to Benjamin Myers: the new books reviewed in brief

Eve: The Disobedient Future of Birth by Claire Horn
Profile, 224 pages, £14.99

In 2017, American researchers managed to gestate a premature lamb fetus in an artificial womb, managing what scientists had been trying for decades: partial exogenesis or gestation outside the womb. Scientists have made it clear that their goal is to create lifesaving technology for extremely premature babies, who have about a 10% chance of survival if born before 24 weeks gestation. But in Eve, Canadian scholar Claire Horn uses it as a jumping-off point to explore the history and future of exogenesis – from the late-Victorian “incubator baby shows” to to the roots of the idea in eugenics, to the possibility of future artificial womb technology being used either as a tool to liberate women from what one feminist has described as the “barbaric” process of pregnancy – either as a dystopian way of controlling who can reproduce.

Horn’s book, written while she herself was pregnant, offers a compelling glimpse into the future of childbirth through the prism of some of the most pressing women’s health issues of our time, from abortion to gender identity. It’s a sobering reminder that wherever technology promises to improve women’s lives, there’s also a threat that someone, somewhere will try to co-opt it into controlling her body instead.
By Emma Haslett

(See also: Who is the criticism for?)

Homelands: A Personal History of Europe by Timothy Garton Ash
Bodley Head, 384 pages, £22

There are historians of Europe who remain detached from the messy realities of the continent’s present. And there are commentators who are immersed in this present but do not have the historical knowledge to really understand it. No figure brings the two disciplines together better than the British historian and intellectual Timothy Garton Ash. His history of the continent’s “overlapping post-war and post-Wall periods” is rich in originality and memorial detail.

It takes us from the “destroyed” Europe of 1945, through a “divided” continent during the Cold War, to a “triumphant” then “tottering” Europe over the past three decades. It is a perspective that blends the Anglophone tendency to see the continent from the outside in with the deep local knowledge and Carolingian sensibilities of a life spent criss-crossing its Rhine and Danube lands. In Remainer, the author resists the temptation to score Brexit points and presents the continent in all its glory – but nevertheless remains “hopeful” for him.
By Jeremy Cliffe

(See also: The new politics of time)

A Stranger in Your Own City: Journeys in the Middle East’s Long War by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
Hutchinson Heinemann, 480 pages, £25

There have been many accounts of the Iraq War and the bloody upheaval of its aftermath from soldiers, historians and commentators, but less from Iraqis who have been caught up in its sequence of tragedies. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad grew up in Baghdad and his earliest memories centered on the Iran-Iraq War and later the Gulf War. After the US-led invasion, he was hired as a translator/intermediary by a British journalist and found himself traveling to a country he had never known well. The experience transformed him into a journalist himself and this book, part memoir, part report, recounts the reactions of his fellow citizens, combatants and civilians, confronted with changing adversaries. Under Saddam Hussein “we knew the parameters of fear”, but with the arrival of foreign soldiers, Shia and Sunni insurgents and IS, even that certainty has disappeared.

His interlocutors variously describe corruption, brutality, torture, fanaticism, nihilism and fatalism. The invasion meant confusion for some and opportunity for others. Abdul-Ahad recounts all this in evocative prose that makes the indictment that underlies not only his words, but also those of his fellow Iraqis, all the more powerful.
By Michael Prodger

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Cuddy by Benjamin Myers
Bloomsbury, 464 pages, £20

“Every stone tells a story,” says Ediva, an Anglo-Saxon woman, describing her visions of Durham Cathedral. This is the basis of Cuddy, the ninth polyphonic novel by Benjamin Myers. Its four parts (plus a prologue and an interlude), spanning 1,300 years, are told in prose, poetry, drama, first person, second person and third person – and are linked by the cathedral and St Cuthbert (aka Cuddy), who is buried inside.

Characters and stories reproduce themselves as if they were archetypes produced by the place – or as if the story were a haunting. In one tale, set in 1827, a snobby professor is confronted by an apparition, a boy with owl eyes. He feels like their two hearts “fitted together as one, and time stretched out in a contorted moment that seemed to be endless.” Cuddy also synthesizes aspects of Myers’ past work: the rural strangers of The Gallows Pole; the way Under the Rock sees so much through the filter of one place. In the final contemporary part, a young worker (with owl eyes) is moved by the history of the cathedral and the stories of each stone, while his mother fades from life. It is a sublime conclusion.
By Matthew Gilley

(See also: Jeanette Winterson wants more life)

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