In the Name of the People


Mixing reportage with history, the personal with the political, some readers have said this work of non-fiction reads more like a novel. It was longlisted for The Orwell Book Prize 2015 and shortlisted for The Bread & Roses Award for Radical Publishing 2015 and the Political Book Awards Debut Political Book of the Year 2015. It was also one of The Spectator magazine’s books of the year 2014 and runner-up in the Royal Africa Society book of the year 2014.

ITNOTP Paperback front small

It is an investigation into the 27 May 1977, a date Angolans do not forget. For some, it was the day the ruling party turned on dissidents and launched a drawn-out massacre that would claim thousands of lives; for others, it was the day a band of coupists attempted to violently wrest control of the country. It is also a book about the way a certain slice of western journalists and historians turned a blind eye to the massacre and helped to create a conspiracy of silence. It is a book about memory and the ways in which taboos are generated. In the words of WG Sebald, ‘these self-generated taboo zones are always the most powerful’.

‘I’ve just finished Lara Pawson’s In the Name of the People. It’s a brilliant piece of sleuthing, research, reportage, and an example of unblinking determination, in Angola, one of the most difficult places in the world to discover historical truth. I greatly admire this book and hope it finds a wide audience.’ Paul Theroux

‘A bomb of a book.’ Claire Armitstead, THE GUARDIAN (full podcast here)

‘What a book, what a book! … a towering success. Stuffed with death, it nonetheless brims with life, with a curiosity that is both moral and unwavering, bearing the courage to ask: if this is indeed a mess—and boy, is it, why might that be? In the asking, Pawson has written an African non-fiction classic, which is the toughest kind.’ Richard Poplak, DAILY MAVERICK (full review here)

‘Some readers — a certain class of social scientist is who I have in mind — will feel Pawson’s book hits all the wrong buttons. It refuses to nail down any answers about precisely what happened. She puts herself at the center of the plot. Her writing style is literary, at times almost poetic. Yet, it is precisely these aesthetic characteristics that make In the Name of the People an important critique of the early years of the Angolan regime. Pawson comes across as sympathetic to the “poetry” of the MPLA. The literariness of her style and her conscious refusal to provide “answers” make her project an effective antidote to the all-knowing rhetoric of Neto and his supporters.’ Phillip Rothwell, LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS (full review here)

‘Lara Pawson has written a brilliant book… Rich, revealing and infinitely sobering.’ John Saul, ROAPE (full review here)

‘Lara Pawson’s extraordinary and important book… exposes a murderous regime, a forgotten massacre and those who supported it. She is right to target certain (frequently European) Marxists, or more accurately revolutionary nationalists, who gave the MPLA government a radical camouflage. Pawson writes with irresistible force about a generation of radicals who many of us depended on for a critical understanding of African politics… It is not often that you can say this about a single book, but Africa’s modern history will never look the same again.’ Leo Zeilig, author of Frantz Fanon: Philosopher of Third-World Liberation

‘what makes Pawson’s account so compelling is her continual questioning of her own motivation for wanting to write about events little known outside Angola… [her] conversational tone, her musings and lively descriptions make In the Name of the People as engaging as it is informative.’ Lucy Popescu, TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre is literary reportage that flirts with memoire… [it] is the struggle of a reporter and a sympathizer to come to terms with what happened in a country far from her home in Britain… A major contribution of the book is the refusal—poised on an inability—to discuss this event on the level of official history.’ Delinda Collier, AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (full review here)

‘Riveting…a classic for those interested in contemporary Angola.’ Claudia Gastrow, THE SALON (full review here)

‘Beautifully written, shaped by astounding imagery that keeps the reader anchored to the sights, sounds, smells and feelings Pawson encountered as she traversed the often gruesome realities of lives affected by the vinte e sete and in years that followed … the true value of Pawson’s exceptional book resides in her illumination of the often ignored psychologies of post-colonial Africa…’ Rochelle Burgess, LSE books blog (full review here)

‘Confident agnosticism seems to be the method here.’ Jeremy Harding, LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS (more criticism here)

‘Lara Pawson’s brilliant book is an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism… Her quest for the truth is compelling, as is her narrative, with its brilliant observations and vivid descriptions of the people she meets and the places she travels to… She has done Angola a huge service.’ Stephen Williams, AFRICAN BUSINESS MAGAZINE

‘With unflagging intelligence, fearlessness, and compassion, Pawson unfolds the human and political dimensions of this forgotten atrocity. She has done Angola a great service in writing this book, and all of us, Angolan or otherwise, do ourselves a great service in reading it.’ Teju Cole

‘Intense and solemn. To understand this book is to understand one of the most troubled periods in our recent history. The book is the narrative of an outsider who is trying to understand the troubled history of Angola and, at the same time, to understand herself… A highly complex narrative – like Lara Pawson herself… Essentially, Lara has written a novel based on facts.’ Sousa Jamba, SEMANÁRIO ANGOLENSE

‘This excellent book will endure the test of time for the intellectual honesty of its author, the originality of its style, and — without ever falling into the trap of determinism — for the way in which it sheds light on the wanderings of ‘revolutionary’ authoritarianism.’ Didier Péclard, POLITIQUE AFRICAINE (in French here)

‘This is a great example of an indignant, journalistic account… Her flamboyant style and energetic tone are that of a novelist writing a gripping thriller but which, unfortunately for Angolans, is based on facts.’ René Pelissier, AFRICANA STUDIA

‘A timely new perspective… It is testimony to Pawson’s investigative eye, and also to her courage, that she has written a book about one of the biggest taboos in Angolan history… Her candid conversations with survivors, widows and Angolan establishment figures draw the reader into an adventure-like study of post-colonial life.’ Joana Ramiro, NEW HUMANIST

‘An inciteful and deeply disturbing exploration of one of the darkest chapters in Angola’s long and bloody history… Remarkable and deeply moving.’ Hassan Ghedi Santur, WARSCAPES (full interview here)

‘Gripping … Fascinating …. reads like a thriller.’ Keith Somerville, AFRICAN ARGUMENTS (full review here)

‘Despite keeping academia at arm’s length, the book ends up seeming more scholarly than many academic works on similar subjects. Her writing strategy, in fact, seems reminiscent of what many anthropologists aspire to in their own writing: putting one’s own reality in question at the same time as that of one’s interlocutors, presenting people in something of their full complexity rather than as ‘types’, and detailing the dialogues through which you came to particular understandings, rather than relying on the fake authority of a monological voice. Few anthropologists, though, embrace these principles with the conviction that Lara Pawson does, and the result is a highly principled, nuanced and complex book, essential reading for anyone interested in Angola’s recent history…’ John Spall, Africa in Words (full review here)

‘Engrossing and disturbing … the book ends up reminding us of just how elusive historical truth can be … The book is structured around interviews, and it’s through the voices of Angola’s mothers, old soldiers and political animals that we piece together a picture of the country’s past and its present. Liars, killers and heroes are here—if only we could tell them apart … Pawson’s writing has a cinematic quality … In The Name of the People may be a history book, or a work of investigative journalism, but it’s also a book of short stories.’ Cassie Werber, WALL STREET JOURNAL

‘Drafted with poetic skill… In the Name of the People probes the moment in 1977 when Angola’s ruling MPLA devoured its children while the western left looked the other way. It’s a fascinating examination of how societies which try to lock away their traumas remain haunted by ghosts rattling their chaings.’ Michela Wrong, THE SPECTATOR Books of the Year 2014

‘Pawson uses probing, intimate and sometimes heart-wrenching interviews to explore the little-known events of May 1977… Her style is fresh and vivid, and her tenacious reporting allows a thorough examination of a confusing and shattering event in Angola’s history.’ THE AFRICA REPORT

‘Pawson brings her sources to life like a novelist; her meetings are vivid and convincing. A simple, direct clarity of vision is brought to bear, and the reader begins to make some sense of the conspiracies and sub-conspiracies that led to the vinte-sete. By the end, Angola – along with some of its layered political complexity – is raw, vital, brutal and alive in front of us.’
M John Harrison

For those of you who read Portuguese, Rede Angola’s Marta Lança interviewed me very thoughtfully here. So did Público’s Vanessa Rato here.

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