The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
There is much to like in Robert Southam's vertiginous tale of the flight of two lovers from across the racial and class divide.
Set against the brutality of the Pinochet regime in Chile, it follows the fortunes of Julieta and Mawi as they criss-cross through that country, Bolivia and Peru and then on to London, keeping just ahead of their pursuers.
En route we get to see the devastation wrought on individuals and communities, especially indigenous ones, by unbridled capitalism and its militaristic allies.
Southam manages the pace of the novel skilfully, combining hairpin-bend plot twists with detailed, almost ethnographic, descriptions of the communities through which the couple pass.
Only occasionally does the narrative topple over into outright didacticism and even then there is pathos, as when an elderly nun declares: "I tell you, you can't be a true Christian if you are not also a communist" before being incinerated by US goons.
The language is resonant and frequently symbolic as when Julieta reacts to being strafed by swooping condors - "witches on broomsticks" - conveying the alarming first shock of being free.
The author writes with a tingling, heart-pounding tenderness of the lovers' growing awareness of and feelings for each other as they resist oppression and uncertainty together.
Counterpoised against this, The Snake And The Condor unblinkingly describes the violence and repression of fascism, both the overt physical torture inflicted on the regime's opponents and the personal destruction suffered by those who see through its greed.
Julieta's mother suffers both emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her buffoonish and brutish husband. Even the sadistic Major Cortez, betrothed to Julieta by her social-climbing father, is a victim in a way. His repressed sexuality is misdirected into visions and acts of appalling cruelty.
But in its almost dialectical separation of characters into the righteous and the murderous, Southam misses the opportunity to explore the really messy compromises and betrayals inflicted on the many by living in such a rapacious society.