Books of the year 2010 | John Gray

Mao's Great Famine: the History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe - 1958-62 by Frank Dikötter

Frank Dikötter's Mao's Great Famine: the History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe - 1958-62 (Bloomsbury, £25), which I reviewed in these pages, is not about China alone. The first study of the famine to be based on the internal archives of the Communist Party of China, it is also an insight into the horror that defined much of the 20th century. The same is true of Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Bodley Head, £25), a revelatory account of the mass death that was wreaked in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, western Russia and parts of the Baltics by Nazis and communists. There will be many who do not want to hear, but these books tell us something essential about the pathologies of 20th-century politics. Don Paterson's Rain, which appeared this year in paperback (Faber & Faber, £7.99), is the most recent collection of the most visionary poet at work in Britain today. In these lines, the everyday and the metaphysical are seen finally as one and the same: "We are ourselves the void in contemplation./We are its only nerve and hand and eye."

 

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