Dark Continent

In November 2016, just after Trump’s election, librarians in Evanston, Illinois, discovered that a number of books in their library had been defaced with swastikas. The defaced books were about Islam. This week, a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was vandalised – around 100 headstones were knocked over. Earlier this month, the same thing happened in Missouri.

I am reminded of a short story by Martin Amis, published in The New Yorker in December 2015. The story is called “Oktober” and it deals with the refugee crisis. At the end of the story, the narrator – who is a version of Martin Amis himself – is unable to sleep. He sits up, reading “a short, stylish study by the historian Mark Mazower.” The book is called Dark Continent. As he reads, the narrator thinks about the refugees, queuing at Europe’s borders:

And even now it was as if a tectonic force had taken hold of Europe and, using its fingernails, had lifted it up and tilted it, politically, causing a heavy mudslide in the direction of old illusions, old dreams of purity and cruelty.


And what they might be bringing, the refugees, was insignificant when set against what was already there, in the host nations, the spores and middens of what was already there. . . . “Dark Continent” is not a book about Africa; the rest of Mazower’s title is “Europe’s Twentieth Century.”

The story ends there.


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