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In brief: Passing: An Alternative History of Identity; The Last Migration; Good Husbandry – reviews

Hephzibah Anderson
·2-min read

Passing: An Alternative History of Identity
Lipika Pelham

Hurst, £25, pp416

The term “passing” was first used in 19th-century America to refer to light-skinned slaves who fled to freedom by claiming a white identity, but the phenomenon both pre- and postdates its naming. Think of Jews who tried to pass as Christians in order to survive the Inquisition, or today’s reverse-passing, when tanned Caucasian actors play Mexican characters in Hollywood movies. Pelham, a writer with a flair for capturing complex sensitivities, has produced a provocative, engaging history that doesn’t balk at considering the fierce contemporary debate surrounding gender identity, or what happens when passing becomes trespassing, AKA cultural appropriation.

The Last Migration
Charlotte McConaghy

Chatto & Windus, £12.99, pp272

There’s a brooding lushness to this novel’s prose that belies its stark premise. It’s set sometime in the near future, when mass extinction has already ravaged the animal kingdom. With birdsong about to slip into the past, obsessive ornithologist Franny is bent on following the last surviving Arctic terns on their marathon annual migration from Greenland to Antarctica. To do that, she needs to hitch a ride on a fishing boat – they, too, are few and far between with the oceans so depleted, but she promises its captain that the terns will lead them to fish. Though far from flawless, this keening lament of an adventure is compelling.

Good Husbandry: Growing a Family on a Community Farm
Kristin Kimball

Granta, £9.99, pp304 (paperback)

When journalist Kimball interviewed a charismatic farmer renowned for encouraging hipsters to return to the land, she little imagined how radically the assignment would alter her own life. Soon, they were not only in a relationship, she had left New York City to start a farm with him. Her humorous, honest memoir recounts what happens next, including injury, extreme weather and surprise tax bills, as well as children and bountiful organic produce. At once gritty and escapist, it offers timely lessons not just in perseverance, but in nurturing optimism, especially in the face of forces over which we have no control.

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