7 Fictional Books About Political Corruption To Help You Cope With the News
Escape the nepotism, investigations, and white-collar crime with… well, exactly the same thing, but made up
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When truth is stranger than fiction, sometimes we turn to fiction to help us understand it. In January 2017, the month Donald Trump was inaugurated, we were clamoring for novels to help with the new facts: George Orwell’s 1984 had a 9,500 percent increase in sales, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale became shorthand for the very real political injustices acted out on women. A year later, we’re wishing the news were fiction instead. Nepotism, double-crosses, investigations, money laundering, white-collar crime, made-for-TV meltdowns: it’d make one helluva read.
Whether you’re looking for an escape from reality, or a little more context on a reality that already feels apocryphal, here are seven books that put political corruption back where it belongs: between the covers of a book.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie
Growing up is a political act. We learn to distinguish between the beliefs of our parents, and the beliefs we want to nurture for ourselves. Set in postcolonial Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus explores the religious and political corruption festering at the feet of fifteen-year-old Kambili Achike, the daughter of a devout Catholic and “benevolent” business man, Eugene. Kambili’s family is a microcosm of the political landscape: her grandfather identifies with non-Christian traditional Nigerian culture, her father is a saintly public persona who putrefies into toxic psychological and physical torture at home, and her aunt is a progressive, pro-Democracy professor at the University who speaks out against the Nigerian government and encourages Kambili to speak her mind, too. When Kambili’s father’s abuse becomes too much to bear, Kambili learns what’s at stake in standing up for yourself and defending the ones you love.
Who Killed Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa
Love, political corruption, and murder mysteries are closer friends than Trump and late-night McDonald’s. In Who Killed Palomino Molero?, a murder mystery is the backdrop for an exploration into the corruption and class prejudice of 1950s Peru. Palomino Molero is a poor young man who isn’t drafted into the Air Force but signs up anyway. When his mangled body is found in a field outside of a small town in Peru, Lieutenant Silva and his young assistant, Lituma are sent to find out whodunnit. Winding, intimately-detailed interviews with people in town bring both the town and Palomino Molero to life. Palomino Molero was in love with a woman far above his station, who happened to be the daughter of the flagrantly racist and corrupt Colonel Mindreau, Alicia Mindreau. Though the detectives’ efforts to solve the crime are perpetually frustrated by the colonel, the suspects are narrowed down and the crime is solved. Or is it? Mario Vargas Llosa makes corruption come to life so vividly, and leaves so many questions unanswered, that everything feels only more unsettled than before, and the case doesn’t really feel closed at all.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
World war, police government, a fascist state. Dystopian graphic novel or your New York Times morning briefing? Set in a post-apocalyptic 1990s London, V for Vendetta takes place after a nuclear war in the 1980s has devastated most of the rest of the world. The nordic supremacist and neo-fascist Norsefire political party has put all of its enemies in concentration camps and rules the contemporary police state. Meanwhile, the Guy Fawkes–masked anarchist knowns as V stages dramatic revolutionary attacks to encourage people to abandon the current version of “democracy” in favor of anarchy. In the process, V saves a young woman named Evey from the secret police and the two become allies in the fight against oppression and corruption.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Horace Walpole wrote “Life is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.” Whether or not you agree with the statement, we thought it might be time for a laugh amidst all the tragedy on this list. Published in 1961, the novel’s title is a reference to the paradoxical air force policy that has protagonist Captain John Yossarian trapped: if a man continues to accept dangerous air missions he is considered insane and unfit for duty, but if a man willingly requests to resign from said dangerous missions, he is considered sane and fit for duty. The book takes place during World War II and mostly follows the life of Captain John Yossarian as he tries to navigate the hilariously insane bureaucracy of the war effort.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Three witches tell general Macbeth that one day he’ll be King of Scotland. With Lady Macbeth’s help, Macbeth devises a plan to kill the king and take the throne. But his own guilty conscious might be the biggest enemy to battle. Shakespeare had a lot to say about political power and corruption, and just picking one play for this list was a challenge. Whether you go with Julius Caesar (and if so, take a minute to look back at the noise generated by the Shakespeare in the Park production with the orange-haired Caesar in a business suit), Richard III, Henry VIII, or Hamlet, you’ll be sure to find men and women wrestling with the intoxicating forces of influence and power. But we picked Macbeth because there are three witches and badass Lady Macbeth.
Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
The nine stories and epilogue in this story collection travel from Haiti to New York City, and explore the trauma of forced migration, what it means to identify as a refugee, and how much some have to sacrifice for momentary, even if fragmentary, freedom. In “Nineteen Thirty Seven” the narrator Josephine visits her mother, who is in prison for witchcraft, after traveling across a blood-filled river from the Dominican Republic, where Haitians (including Josephine’s grandmother) were murdered. In “A Wall of Fire Rising,” a young boy gets to play the part of a revolutionary in his school play, while his father dreams of escaping in a hot air balloon from his custodial work cleaning bathrooms at the plantation. Krik? Krak! collects piles of impasses: between life and death, mothers and daughters, families and lovers, personal and political, in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S., and makes us look at what comes to life there.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Written in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 (so named for the temperature at which books burn) is Bradbury’s speculative dystopian novel about a future when mass media has gotten the better of us and books are banned and burned. Distraction reigns: bright, rapid series of images, and mini radio buds with 24–7 content consume daily life. As Bradbury writes: “Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!” But Montag, one of the firefighters in charge of burning books starts to question the campaign and gets closer to a revolutionary group memorizing the great works so they can live on in the mind. Can’t get enough of the too-close-to-home horror? Look out for HBO’s film adaptation, starring Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan as Montag, which should be out this year.