Mathematics of Brutality

From The Paris Review:

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery,” goes Mao’s famous dictum. “A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence in which one class overthrows another.” The aftereffects of this kind of violence on a nation’s citizens is the subject of the South African writer C. A. Davids’s new novel How to Be a Revolutionary, out from Verso this month. In chapters that crisscross between present-day Shanghai, apartheid-era Cape Town, Beijing during the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests, and a series of McCarthy-era letters from Langston Hughes to a South African friend, Davids follows the friendship of Beth, a South African diplomat, and Zhao, a Chinese writer, as they come to terms with the moments of betrayal, naivete, and political cowardice in both of their pasts.

But history, like revolutions, is complicated, and Davids is sensitive in her portrayal of the impossible choices that ordinary people face during moments of acute political crisis. “Do not forget,” writes Zhao in a manuscript that will appear on Beth’s doorstep early in the book, “that there exists a mathematics of brutality where the amount of blood spilled is inversely proportional to emotional resonance, so that after the first viewing of an act of inhumanity one begins to grow numb somewhere inside one’s head and heart.” Writing isn’t a revolution—but it is a way of recording one’s humanity. 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review