BRIT(ISH): On Race, Identity and BelongingAfua HirschPenguin Random House It is likely that Afua Hirsch’s book was an event. Conducting the research, writing the book and dealing with its aftermath may have changed her life. This is an inevitable afterlife of a memoir. In the years after she published her memoir The Devil that Danced on the Water, Sierra Leonean writer Aminatta Forna found she had almost become public property. Forna encourages memoir writing, with the caveat: “Only if you are sure you want to live with the consequences every day for the rest of your life.”

Hirsch’s book, which is part memoir, autobiography, political commentary and history, is an easy read with a difficult subject. Her prose is elegant and simple. The subject, on the other hand — broadly cast as identity politics — is complex and often presented in a very clumsy way. There is some truth in the claim that all politics is identity politics. It is also true, however, that across history, the mos...

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