Six Authors in Search of Justice

Engaging with Political Transitions

September 2016 9781849046329 288pp


This book makes an original and readable contribution to defining the nature of justice in the aftermath of a repressive regime. While considering transitional justice as conventionally defined, this work explores broader conceptions of justice and is distinct in approaching the subject through a discussion of the lives and works of six writers: Victor Serge in Stalinist Russia, Albert Camus in Vichy France, Jorge Semprun in Spain under Franco, Ngugi wa Thiong’o in colonial and post-colonial Kenya, Ariel Dorfman in Chile under Pinochet, and Nadine Gordimer in apartheid South Africa. Each lived under a brutal regime, was prepared to take substantial risks in order to contribute to its overthrow, and survived a transition to a new regime. Each thought deeply about the evolving situation with viewpoints derived from a combination of lived experience and intellectual and artistic creation. Each illuminated key questions with reference to a particular country, while developing wider insights.

Newman demonstrates that their writings provide a valuable addition to academic analysis and external policy advice that too often fails to take sufficient account of reflective understanding, social and cultural context and the specificity of each situation. He also highlights the evolving and multi-dimensional nature of justice and injustice in political transitions.

Table of contents

1. Literature, Justice and Transition

2. Victor Serge, the Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinism

3. From The Vichy Regime to the Fourth French Republic: Albert Camus and Resistance, Justice and Violence

4. Justice in the Context of Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism: Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o and Kenya

5. Jorge Semprún and the Transition in Spain: Justice, Amnesia and Memory

6. Allende, Pinochet and the Transition to Democracy: Ariel Dorfman and Chile

7. Nadine Gordimer: Apartheid and After

8. Multidimensional Justice


‘As a meditation on the shifting moral, intellectual and artistic compass of writers confronting oppression, this book is illuminating.​’​ — ​Times Literary Supplement

‘Newman has opened up new vistas for studying the multi-dimensional nature of transitional justice . . . his book breaks new ground in demonstrating how political scientists can view historical events with an ideological basis through the prism of literary giants.’ — The Round Table

‘This book is highly original. It is, in effect, literary criticism written by a political scientist, albeit one who is deeply sensitive to the art of his subjects. All were on the left, and all suffered greatly from varying degrees of attraction to and revulsion from violence, and from the pain of disillusionment. Newman’s engagement with them is compassionate and lucid.’ — Bill Bowring, Professor of Law, Birkbeck, University of London

‘Here is something genuinely new and refreshing. In Six Authors in Search of Justice, an experienced analyst of peacebuilding looks at the unfamiliar light that novelists can throw on the familiar issue of justice. Aided by six great novelists and Professor Newman, many readers will change their view of what makes for justice as societies change and why injustices persist.’ – Dan Smith, Director, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

‘Newman’s approach remains political — he is using his authors to illuminate political dilemmas, not embarking on literary criticism. But a welcome consequence of the book is that it gives an introduction to and context for the work of some exceptional writers, not all of them well known.’ — International Affairs

‘Michael Newman’s book offers a welcome gust of freshness in the expanding library of transitional justice literature. Although poets, playwrights, novelists and filmmakers have been the most piercing documenters of political transition through the past century, scholars of peacebuilding and transitional justice have largely ignored the profundity of their contribution to our field. Newman makes the sagacious choice of focusing on six towering novelists from Europe, Africa and Latin America who bear witness to the brutal legacy of injustice and tyranny in their countries. He reveals the six novelists’ nuanced and changing views of justice as each of them experiences the unfolding dynamics of turbulent transitions. Transitional justice often gets trapped within the constraints of politics and the confines of law, and conveys static theories of justice. Newman’s book opens a window of precious insight into the fluidity and multidimensionality of our conceptions of justice and injustice. He points to the vital importance of addressing the cultural and invisible layers of injustice.’ — Rama Mani, Senior Research Associate, Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford; author of Beyond Retribution: Seeking Justice in the Shadows of War


Michael Newman is Emeritus Professor of Politics at London Metropolitan University and now teaches at New York University in London. His previous books include Humanitarian Intervention: Confronting the Contradictions (2009), Socialism: A Very Short Introduction (2005), Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left (2002), and Democracy, Sovereignty and the European Union (1996).

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