Kitelepítés by Visky András (Jelenkor Kiadó, 2022)

A review by Zoltan Sipos

I am not a big theater-goer, but when I go to the Hungarian Theatre in Cluj, I often meet one of the well-known Hungarian intellectuals living in Cluj, András Visky, who works as a dramaturg and Artistic Director at the theater. He is a soft-spoken, kind man in his sixties, with a certain sadness in his eyes.

It is well-known that András Visky spent his early childhood at a forced labour camp in the Bărăgan steppe, bordering the Danube Delta: Visky’s artistic work contains many references to these years. Yet only recently he completed his autobiographical novel, the “Kitelepítés” (Resettlement), a novel that gives a detailed account of life in the communist camps near the Danube Delta.

András Visky’s father, a Reformed pastor, was sentenced to 22 years in prison and total confiscation of his property after the 1956 revolution in Hungary. His mother, an Austrian woman not speaking Romanian at all – together with her 7 children –  was deported and lived many years in a series of labor camps, created and maintained on the Soviet model.

The novel presents the everyday life of the camps from the point of view of a child – András Visky. The framework for the narrative is provided by the Bible, the only book the mother has, and the book she reads from to her children every day.

We meet the strange stories of the many nationalities of the prisoners, the unbearable living conditions, the daily humiliation, the hope and strength of the prisoners, the unlikely community that slowly forges in the camps, but also the grim and seemingly random workings of the Communist bureaucracy.

The book is accessible for purchase here (in Hungarian).

Book photo: Libri.

My Life in Full. Work, Family, and Our Future by Indra Nooyi (Penguin Press, 2021)

A review by Giorgi Jangiani

Indra Nooyi’s “My Life in Full” stands out as one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year. It’s a captivating story of personal growth, learning, and finding one’s voice in a field that can be resistant to changes. Nooyi’s great accomplishments as the first woman, person of color, and immigrant to lead a Fortune 50 company have cemented her status as one of the foremost strategic thinkers of our time who managed to leave her mark not only on a company but on the whole sector. Her leadership at PepsiCo transformed the company with her unique vision, addressing unseen, unrecognized needs, unwavering pursuit of high performance, and a profound sense of purpose. 

What particularly resonated with me was the concept of “Performance with purpose” or, as it is referred to today, the concept of leading with purpose. In today’s world, where purposeful leadership is paramount, her approach is both grounded and practical. She emphasizes the need for more humanized support and understanding, having experienced firsthand the challenges and finding ways to overcome one’s idea limitations. 

For anyone seeking a self-development book that delves into the essence of leadership and the transformative power of a purposeful mindset, I highly recommend “My Life in Full.” It’s a journey that will inspire and empower readers to navigate their paths with conviction and a deep sense of purpose. 

The book can be purchased here.

Book photo: Penguin Random House.

Confidence Man. The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America by Maggie Haberman (Penguin Press, 2022)

A review by Marius Dragomir

There has been a plethora of literature on Donald Trump, particularly since his remarkable victory in the 2016 elections. Hence, when I purchased Maggie Haberman’s biography of the president, “Confidence Man,” at Dulles Washington D.C. Airport upon my return to Europe last year, I was initially skeptical. This skepticism prompted me to leave the book untouched on a shelf for some time. Eventually, I decided to immerse myself in its pages and I must say, I hadn’t had such an enjoyable reading experience in a long time.

Numerous book reviewers have praised Haberman, a reporter for The New York Times, for the raft of revelations she unveils throughout the book. Yet, what I found even more captivating was Haberman’s meticulous work in presenting a comprehensive account of Trump. She skillfully selects and presents key facts and events that allow readers to delve deep into both the man and the president. Joe Klein, Haberman’s colleague at The New York Times, aptly noted that the book’s true value lies in its astute observations about Trump’s character, rather than its groundbreaking news. 

Undoubtedly, the constant barrage of news related to Trump has become insatiable in recent years, leaving many of us in need of a Trump-detox period, especially after his departure from the White House. Yet, amidst the cacophony surrounding Trump, which is likely to intensify in the coming year, reading Haberman’s “Confidence Man” serves as both a welcome escape from the often trivial Trump coverage and a truly exhilarating reading experience. 

The book is accessible for purchase here.

Book photo: Penguin Random House.

Freedom of Expression Debates in Europe and the Muslim World after 9/11 by Haris bin Aziz (Lexington Books, 2023)

A review by Haris bin Aziz

Haris bin Aziz’s study, “Freedom of Expression Debates in Europe and the Muslim World after 9/11,” focuses on the discussions in Europe and the Muslim world that are centered on issues of freedom of expression in relation to Islam’s emergence in Europe and the response from the Muslim community. The main issues discussed include the cartoons published in Jyllands-Posten in Denmark in 2005, the Charlie Hebdo caricatures and the assaults on its offices in France in 2015, and the 2008 Dutch film controversy. Along with a thorough history of each topic, the sociopolitical context of the corresponding countries concerning Muslims is also taken into consideration.

 At the national, regional, and worldwide levels, the Western conception of freedom of expression and religion is investigated conceptually as well as in light of pertinent legal frameworks. International human rights organizations’ responses to minor disputes involving the freedom of Muslim speech in several European nations are also analyzed. Major European and Muslim countries’ laws pertaining to blasphemy, freedom of religion, and expression are also included.   

The book discusses a crucial topic in today’s world: the right to free speech, with an emphasis on how the events of 9/11 led to a reevaluation of ties between the West and the Muslim community. The goal of the book is to provide a solution to the fundamental question of what constitutes and limits freedom of expression. The book attempts to address every pertinent facet of the discussion from the Muslim world as well as the West and Europe in general, in its quest for a response. The primary contribution of this work is demonstrating that the concept of freedom of expression—as understood by international institutions—is not universal, despite assertions to the contrary made by Western powers. It is, in actuality, the outcome of Western historical and cultural processes. As a result, the book emphasizes how critical it is to rethink the idea of free speech, not just with Western nations but with all non-Western ones as well. This study goes beyond the clash of civilizations concept in the larger 9/11 context. It finds shared viewpoints in the perceived disparities between the Muslim and Western worlds.  

The book is accessible for purchase here.

Book photo: Rowman & Littlefield

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewicka (Viking, 2005)

A review by Eva Vajda

Have you seen the romantic comedy made in 2018, called Book Club? It is about four older ladies participating in their monthly book clubs for over 40 years, bonding over suggested literature (and becoming very good friends at the end). Well, I have one in London too: I am bonding over food, wine, and suggested literature with some middle-aged Hungarian women. We read Hungarian writers and sometimes others, depending on the suggestion someone makes.  

This year I missed a few sessions and I almost missed the funniest book I have read for a long time: a tale of illegal immigration with some familiar characters. When I first heard the title of the book, I first thought that it was connected to this bloody war. It is but not this one. It is framed in the history of the Soviet Union and before and after WWII but it takes place in London soon after the millennium and tells the story of a woman who flew to the UK with a tourist visa, decided to stay there illegally, and married an older man to do that. The writer is the younger daughter of the elderly man, who represents one type of the first generation of immigrants – the left-liberal intellectual -, while her sister is the opposite, a wealthy and divorced Tory-voter who became more conservative and more British than those who were born here.  

Lewicka creates many comic situations while introducing her characters, exaggerating, depicting, and even stereotyping them. The illegal migrant Valentina is cruel and selfish, bullying her husband who is a bit blind and weak-hearted towards her, forgiving and nitwitted, working on his book about the short history of the tractors in Ukrainian while her daughters are fighting each other and with the British asylum and legal system and coping with their everyday life in the UK. Nobody emerges well from this tale but if someone likes to look into a curved mirror and laugh – and get to know more how a Ukrainian British differs from their Anglo-Saxon neighbours, for example – it is definitely the novel to read. 

The book is available for purchase here.

Book cover: Wikipedia.

Innovar en innovación televisiva: Análisis de casos de éxito en los medios públicos europeos [Innovating in television innovation: Analysis of success cases in European public service media]; Editors: César Fieiras Ceide, José Miguel Túñez López and Marta Rodríguez Castro (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela); (Comunicación Social, 2023)

A review by Marta Rodriguez Castro

Innovation has become a crucial goal for all types of media (public and private, legacy or digital native) in order to survive and remain relevant in the digital ecosystem. However, the situation for public service media is special, both because they are subjected to very different kinds of pressures (political, financial, organizational, etc.) and because, at the same time, they are in the perfect position to assume risks, experiment and innovate, as they are not looking for financial return, but social rentability. 

The book “Innovar en innovación televisiva: Análisis de casos de éxito en los medios públicos europeos” [Innovating in television innovation: Analysis of success cases in European public service media], edited by César Fieiras Ceide, José Miguel Túñez López and myself, Marta Rodríguez Castro (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela) approaches the challenges of innovation in Public Service Media by gathering the perspectives of over 30 scholars on different areas where innovation is key: from newsmaking to the connection with young audiences, to the fight against disinformation or content production.

While innovation has been the object of extensive research, this edited volume’s value lies in the compilations that could be considered successful best practices. The cases have been selected after consulting PSM professionals and asking them about interesting projects developed either by their own media outlets or by other PSM organizations. This resulted in 15 case studies, explored in 10 chapters, that include innovation labs such as VRT NWSlab or BBC News Lab, experiments with new ways to produce information (A European Perspective, Le Shorts), improve fact-checking (Faky) or enhance personalization (BBC’s Object Based Media) and automation. 

The overview provided in this volume contributes to a better understanding of how innovation can be integrated into public service media organizations. As Urbano García Alonso, Head of Innovation of RTVE, mentions in its foreword, “In normalcy, innovation is always convenient. In times of uncertainty, it is essential”. 

The book is available OA here (in Spanish).

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2019)  

A review by David Gheorghe 

In his book “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, Khaled Hosseini writes about the situation of women, in a completely immersing vision. It is a powerful book, a horrible story about wasted lives and tragedy. It is about pain, sadness, rebellion, and hate. The dark story makes you ponder deeply what the human condition truly is. 

The book is divided into three parts: Mariam’s story, Laila’s story, and their escape from their abusive husband. The plot is dynamic and takes place in a vivid landscape, where the historical background is subtly weavedintothe story, to engage the reader even more. In the first part of the book, the king of Afghanistan is still in power. He is symbolized by Mariam’s father, an aristocrat who doesn’t want Mariam anywhere near his family yet attempts to build an emotional connection with her so he can take advantage of his illegitimate daughter. The second part takes place during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan where certain aspects of gender discrimination are lifted. For example, women are allowed to become teachers, which is personified in the novel by the female teacher that episodically appears, and to go to university. But the Soviets have also brought war and destruction both to the rural parts of Afghanistan and even to the Afghan capital of Kabul. After the Soviet withdrawal, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, rolling back all of the Soviet attempts at equality, which is symbolized in the book by Rasheed, the abusive husband of both Mariam and Liliam. . The story is affected by all of the important Afghan events and the characters live through the most turbulent times in Afghan history. 

Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of a local aristocrat becomes a woman and a wife in her teenage years, entering a violent marriage and a narrow world. While she attempts to change her destiny, the entire world is against her. She means nothing in the men’s world. She is a shadow who lives to serve. 

The author describes her life in dramatic scenes. She is a child, a wife and a mother but in all hypostases, but she is either abused, mute or unimportant to the others, as well as hopeless, without direction in her life, being only a puppet either to her uncaring father or her abusive husband. She is always terrified by her parents, the authorities, or her husband Rasheed, – who symbolizes Afghan society, a broken society where either the Taliban, the Soviets or hateful men in general make the rules. 

Laila is the second wife. She enters the story without any identity; she is nobody’s child. She is also a shadow, but she finds her way out through love when she rekindles a romance from her childhood. 

The author ends the story in a tragic manner, making the reader wish all Mariams and Lailas to be avenged, their tragedies never repeated and to be taken out of the shadow of this unbelievable but real world. 

The book can be purchased here.

Book photo: Fair use, Wikipedia.

The Harry Potter series, by J.K Rowling (Bloomsbury, 2014)

A review by Zsuzsa Detrekoi

It took me only a month to read the seven books in the “Harry Potter” series. When reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to finish it, after I stayed up reading till 2 a.m., because it was so thrilling. While the first three books in the series were also exciting but were meant mainly for children, from the book Goblet of Fire I was hooked. I was not a fan of fantasy before, but after “Harry Potter” I read the “Lord of the Ring” trilogy (at the risk of sounding unsophisticated, I admit I preferred Harry Potter). 

The author J.K. Rowling is wonderful in talking about many sensitive topics for children and teenagers, such as identity and self-discovery, the importance of friendship, prejudice and discrimination, ethical choices and their consequences, love and relationship issues, and how to deal with loss and grief.  

Related to our topics at the MJRC, Rowling is especially good at depicting the media, how the media works, the power of disinformation, and how to handle it. The series is like a mini-course on media literacy for adolescents.  

I think teenagers are lucky to have this book series; they can discuss the important topics of life just by speaking about Harry Potter.  

You can purchase the Harry Potter series here.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara (Pan Macmillan, 2016)

To Paradise, by Hanya Yanagihara (Pan Macmillan, 2022)

A review by Norina Solomon

After finishing around 800 pages in less than a week, I felt incredibly sad to close the book and place it down on my bedside table. I could have continued reading endlessly. It felt like bidding farewell to beloved family members. JB, Jude, Willem, and Malcom became that to me in the best novel I’ve read in at least a decade: A Little Life. It is indescribably beautiful and powerful, delving deep into the most heartfelt and darkest human experiences and emotions. Numerous pages could evoke profound sadness or anger, unbearable suffering that could even raise physical reactions from the reader. However, it is also addictive, and I felt a void when it came to an end. I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters and everything they went through for many days after closing the book.

To my great joy, the creator of this masterpiece wrote another book that was published in 2022. To Paradise is also written with immense talent and an elusive gift for creating characters who are so vivid and filled with countless thoughts and emotions that you become completely absorbed and find yourself living in their world, never wanting to return to reality. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I highly recommend not just one book, but an incredibly talented writer: Hanya Yanagihara

Both books are accessible for purchase here.

Epistemic Rights in the Era of Digital Disruption, (Global Transformations in Media and Communication Research  – A Palgrave and IAMCR Series ) Edited by Minna Horowitz, Hannu Nieminen, Katja Lehtisaari and Alessandro D’Arma (Palgrave Macmillan,2024).

A review by Minna Horowitz

This open-access volume argues that in a functioning democracy, citizens should be equally capable of making informed choices about matters of social importance. This includes citizens accessing all relevant information and knowledge necessary for informed will formation.

In today’s complex era of digital disruption, it is not enough to simply speak about communication or even digital rights. The starting point for this volume is the need for ‘epistemic equality’. The contributors seek to showcase the history and diversity of current debates around communication and digital rights as precursors for the need for epistemic rights; both as a theoretical concept and an empirically assessed benchmark. The book highlights scholarship via academic case studies from around the world to feature different issues and methodological approaches, as well as similarities in academic and policy challenges across the globe.

The goal is to provide an overview of issues that depict challenges to epistemic rights, extract both academic and applied policy implications of different approaches, and end with a set of recommendations for advancing policy-relevant scholarship on epistemic rights. This volume is intended as the first holistic response to an urgent need to address epistemic rights of communication as a central public policy issue, as an academic analytical concept, as well as a central theme for informed public debate. 

The director of MJRC, Marius Dragomir, and Fellow Minna Horowitz have co-authored a chapter on Epistemic Violators – the role of disinformation outlets as obstacles to epistemic rights. The book is accompanied by a 3-part podcast that discusses epistemic rights as human rights, as responsibilities of legacy media and technology companies, and as a topic of further academic inquiry.

The podcast is available here:

The book will be published as open access in January 2024

Friends of Israel: The Backlash Against Palestine Solidarity, by Hil Aked (Verso, 2023), 212 pp.

A review by Emma L Briant

Daily atrocities rip apart Gaza as Israel continues in its retaliative war following Hamas’ brutal terrorist attack on 7th October 2023. As many reach for books to help understand the players in the resurgent war between Israel and Palestine, one of the more passionately argued recent analyses on the social construction of public understanding of the issues is “Friends of Israel” by Hil Aked.

The book situates support of Israel in Britain as “a long-standing part of the British establishment” that presents profound difficulties for the Palestinian solidarity movement. The longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine is a divisive and often polarising struggle, and Hil Aked is transparent and unapologetic in stating the book’s position in support of Palestinian solidarity as it introduces subjects such as political debate, lawfare, media, and academic boycotts. Yet, Friends of Israel is a book that fights furiously to be fair and anti-racist, condemning antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish ‘agents of Israel’, controlling British culture and politics. In fact, it illuminates what Aked sees as limitations of Israel’s British supporters’ efforts to create cultural diplomacy and shape debates.

Aked rejects any notion of “foreign influence” debate to focus on what they see as an essentially British movement but one with “complicity in the systematic denial of Palestinian Rights”. While the author’s robust rejection of conspiracist framings that represent our diverse British culture and community movements as ‘controlled’ is commendable and understandable, one is left wanting a richer understanding of those interventions competing states do attempt in this conflict.

The latter would need delicate analysis not least because the actions of Israel in trying to influence foreign publics are not unusual in international politics – all countries extend their cultural power in foreign policy. Aked observes that the Palestinians lack comparable official communication infrastructure to Israel, relying on grassroots movement. Yet further one might ask if antiracist advocacy and an authentic voice for Palestinian civilians may be undermined by other state actors – self-interested channels of international state ‘support’ from Iran or Russia for example. A reckoning with how the Palestinian movement contends with such interventions would help acknowledge how complex these challenges are while giving valuable context.

Nonetheless, this book is an accessible, fascinating, if provocative, read on the development of British movements shaping key debates in this ongoing conflict. 

The book can be purchased here.