My paperback’s outtttt – win a copy

Republic or Death paperback

My paperback’s out!

It’s basically the same as the hardback except it’s had the mistakes removed (especially the bit where I said someone was dead when they actually were very much alive – whoops!). The French chapter’s also changed a lot to reflect everyone in Paris singing la Marseillaise following the terror attacks in Paris. Never write a book about a moving subject.

Basically, it’s better all round, although I admit it is less good for hitting people with or for killing spiders.

You can buy it here, but if you’d prefer getting it for free, my publisher’s giving away 20 copies over at Goodreads (COMPETITION CLOSED SORRY) where you can also marvel at its 4.21/5 rating and such reviews as “Who knew national anthems could be so fascinating?” and “I enjoyed this book a lot more than I imagined I would from the title.” Good luck!

Hello Japan! Hello India!

Republic or Death! Japanese edition

Amazing news #1! Someone in Japan’s translated the chapter of my book all about their controversial national anthem and is passing it around the country’s teachers – who refuse to stand for the song – as I type.

Amazing news #2! My book’s reached India. Here’s an insanely good Times of India review.

“Hilarious”? “Unforgettable”? “Will inspire deep thought over the meaning, construction and symbols of patriotism and national identity”? My book is apparently all of those and more! Thanks very much to the reviewer who I probably should send some rupees to now!

Literary festivals – I am available!

Alex Marshall, author of Republic or Death, at the National Maritime Museum's Book Slam event

An utterly shameless post – but here’s a photo someone took of me speaking last Friday at the great Book Slam event at the National Maritime Museum. There were 500 people there amazingly (Will Self was headlining) and it was so much fun.

Any literary festivals or event organisers stumbling past here, I am available and I am – of course! – amazing (see here for the most 21st century of reviews or contact Book Slam for proof)!

Memories of a revolution that failed: the fifth anniversary of Tahrir Square

Tahrir protests

The Tahrir Square protests in 2011 with Egypt’s flag. Samia Jaheen is in there somewhere!

A year ago, I was in Egypt doing research for my book on the stories behind national anthems. While there, I met Samia Jaheen – one of the main revolutionaries who filled Tahrir Square in 2011 to call for the resignation of the country’s then military ruler, Hosni Mubarak.

It was one of the most emotional interviews I did in all my research.

Since today’s the fifth anniversary of the start of those protests, I thought I’d put up the section of my book about Samia. Please read it to the end.

 

Samia Jaheen, bulgingly pregnant, is propped up on a sofa in her Cairo flat. She’s the daughter of Salah Jaheen, one of Egypt’s greatest ever songwriters, and she’s been chatting animatedly for the past half-hour about Egypt’s anthems past and present. But for the last few moments she’s drifted into melancholy, staring into the middle distance like I’m no longer there, as if she’s picturing somewhere else entirely. ‘Sorry,’ she says, ‘I can get lost thinking about it – remembering that there was a moment when we were just sitting in Tahrir, not afraid of what would happen, just singing, chanting. How happy everyone was. It feels like it was another lifetime.’

It’s 28 February 2015, the fourth anniversary of Egypt’s most recent revolution – the day the Arab Spring succeeded here, when protestors in Tahrir Square brought down Hosni Mubarak, the general who’d ruled the country since Anwar Sadat’s death in 1981. It was on that day that Egypt’s anthem ‘Bilady, Bilady’ was sung in celebration louder than ever before, including by Samia who was one of the most vocal figures there (there were dozens of ‘songs of the revolution’, but everyone agrees the anthem was in the top handful). But, as Samia says, that day now seems like very long ago. During the last four years, Egypt has experienced government under the Muslim Brotherhood, a military coup, the election of the man who ran that coup (Abdel Fattah al-Sisi), and then a severe crackdown on all opposition, including multiple death sentences (Samia, who now works as a human rights activist, says she’s been threatened with prison many times, her father’s name the only reason she hasn’t been locked up).

Cairo today doesn’t exactly feel like a place of celebration as it was back then. The huge teardrop-shaped Tahrir Square is now surrounded by coils of barbed wire, ready to be pulled across the roads if needed; tanks sit outside the Egyptian Museum on its northern side, ready to roll into action, almost daring tourists to try to take a photo of them; while newspapers are filled with warnings about extremists and the ‘foreign forces’ behind them (that explains why people think I’m a spy). You only have to be in this city for a few moments to realise everything the Arab Spring hoped to achieve has failed.

It’s because of that fact that Samia drops into a reverie whenever I ask her about Tahrir – even when I just ask if she sang ‘Bilady, Bilady’ while protesting there. ‘Of course we sang it then. Every day. Many times,’ she says. ‘And when we sang it, it actually meant something, for the first time I think. I used to sing it all the time in school and it never meant anything, but singing it then when people were sacrificing their lives for the country – getting killed by the police – it felt different.’

‘Didn’t you feel like you were singing the anthem of the very government you were protesting against?’ I ask.

‘Yes, of course,’ she says. ‘But we were singing it to re-own it – to say “This is our country; not yours.” We didn’t sing it the gentle way they sing it. We sang it like “BILADY, BILADY, BILADY”.’ She shouts every word at me. ‘We were taking it to a different place. Sometimes it felt like my heart was going to pop out of my chest when I heard everyone sing it, or my father’s songs. But that’s all another time now; that’s the sad part.’

I ask how she feels about the anthem today. ‘When it comes on the radio, we turn it off. Not just the anthem; all the songs we sang at Tahrir. We don’t want to listen to them. That’s how bad things have got.’ She takes a deep breath as if to steady herself. ‘This is not my country any more and this is not my anthem. Maybe you’ve caught me on a bad day, but I don’t feel romantic about it now. I’m too hurt to feel that way.’

Samia Jaheen / Samia Jahin

Samia Jaheen – yes, I should have taken one without her smiling!

Samia knows that the majority of people don’t feel as she does – about the country, or the anthem – even those who have every right to share her views. Earlier this morning, I’d got talking with the young owner of a washing machine shop, his gigantic beard and the deep prayer bruise on his forehead indicating he was a devout Muslim. He would have once been the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood’s target audience. ‘Things have changed since 2011,’ he said. ‘We’ – he pointed at his beard – ‘are looked on differently now. We’re not to be trusted. But whatever happens, I’ll love my country. I can’t stop doing so. You want me to give you reasons, like ‘one, two, three, four, five’? I can’t explain it like that. I’ll always love Sayed Darwish’s songs too,’ he added. ‘His music was about the normal people like me.’

A photo of grafitti put up in Tahrir Square during the protests and showing some of the protestors killed

A photo of grafitti put up in Tahrir Square during the protests and featuring Sheik Emad, who was murdered and who Samia knew. She has this in her living room

I tell Samia about this man, but she just says that for her things have become ‘too personal’ to think like him. I ask how many of her friends were killed during the revolution. She stares off into the middle distance again. ‘These weren’t close friends,’ she says, ‘just people I got to know, that I respected.’ She takes another deep breath.

‘There’s Mena, Ahmed . . .’ a slight smile comes across her face as if she’s just recalled something funny one of them did, ‘. . . Karika, Ali . . .’ I look down and suddenly realise she’s counting each person off on her fingers. ‘… Sheik Emad – that’s his picture over there, they graffitied him on to one of the walls around the Square . . .’ I can’t look away from her hands. ‘. . . Mohammed, the son of a friend of mine . . .’

The list goes on.

Longread: how South Africa got its five-language national anthem

Penguin have put up an extract from my book on their blog! It’s about South Africa’s anthem and is a long read, but what else is the weekend for? Enjoy!

(I have no idea why they use the below picture to illustrate it!)

Source: Longread: how South Africa got its five-language national anthem

Things you shouldn’t do while giving a talk on BBC radio

  1. Start by basically saying, “Hello ladeez!”
  2. Make a joke about the IRA
  3. Sing
  4. Simplify the Ukraine-Russia conflict to such a point it makes it seem like you’re taking Russia’s side
  5. Sing some more
  6. Offend everyone in Cornwall
  7. Announce you have a pasty chest

With all that in mind, here’s a talk I did about nationalism that’s just been broadcast as part of Radio 4’s excellent Four Thought programme.

It’s a bit different from my usual book chat, but if you’d like some of that instead I was also on Monocle magazine’s Weekly show this week and you can listen here.

It features lots of really great questions about foreign policy, which is nice and they also say some lovely things about my book, which is even nicer!

I’m on from 13 minutes and straight afterwards is an amazing interview with the founder of Mubi, and there’s also a brilliant one about hip-hop and fashion to round things off. Basically, listen to it all, and then subscribe as, like Four Thought, it’s always an amazing listen.

Finally, yesterday, I did my first ever book talk! A proper one. Like for an hour and everything. It was a lot of fun, even the bits when I seemed to end up DJing national anthems, and seemed to go down really well so drop me a line if you’d like me to do one for you too. Call the Newham Bookshop (who booked it) or the Wanstead Tap (who hosted it) if you want an objective review!

I’m next at Birmingham Waterstones on 26 November, 7pm, in case any of you are nearby. Come! Singing not obligatory!

Controversy in Liechtenstein!

Alex Marshall, author of Republic of Death!, in the Vaterland newspaper

Mein Gott, today I’m in Liechtenstein’s biggest newspaper, Vaterland, talking about my book and looking sweaty while sitting with Baron Eduard von Falz-Fein, a 103-year-old multi-millionaire.

You can read a bit of the interview here and you can read the Baron’s story – involving everything from Tsars to bobsleighing, and an awful lot of women – in my book. I really would like to write his biography; he’s lived enough for a hundred people.

Liechtensteiners – danke für besuch! Kaufen mein Buch an Amazon.de. Es tut mir leid es ist in Englisch! Auch, es gibt einige große versionen der Hymne in diesem Audio-Guide!

Liechtenstein gets a chapter in the book principally because it’s the only country outside the UK’s influence that still has God Save the Queen for its anthem and I wanted to know why on earth they hadn’t changed it. Going there also allowed me to tell God Save the Queen’s story without having to boringly focus on England’s far-right (the British way: avoid one controversy, go abroad and create another!).

But another reason it gets a chapter is more simple: it’s a fantastic place. I highly recommend it to you all. Just don’t go there and tell everyone you hate their anthem!