Half-time at the UNGA games

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Welcome to This Week, Those Books, your rundown on books new and old that resonate with the week’s big news story.

The few minutes it takes to read this newsletter will make you smarter, faster…guaranteed. If you’d rather listen, click on the audio button above for a human, not AI, voiceover. These book suggestions – complete with summary, quotes and a visceral response rating – could point you to your next read or sort out watercooler convo and supper small talk. Please share. Find me on TwitterLinkedInFacebook or YouTube.


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The Big Story:

World leaders are meeting in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which has 193 member-countries.

  • UNGA’s centrepiece is a new push to achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which aim for a fairer, more eco-friendly world without hunger and poverty.
  • The goals, adopted in 2015, are meant to be achieved by 2030.
  • This year marks the half-way point to the deadline.

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The Backstory:

The 17 goals have been widely adopted by national governments, multilateral organisations, local authorities and investors looking to align their funds with ethical values. But halfway to 2030, how is the world doing? It’s a middling report card.

Can do better:

  • More people live in extreme poverty than before the pandemic.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 of the world’s inhabitants suffer from hunger, according to the World Bank.
  • The goal of gender equality will take nearly 300 years to realise at the current pace.

Making progress:

  • 146 countries are expected to meet the under-five mortality target by 2030.
  • The number of people using the internet has increased by 65% since 2015.
  • 800 million more people have access to electricity.

Each of this week’s three picks illustrates a global problem, seen up close and personal, thereby offering crucial perspective on why a particular UN goal matters:

  • A tender collection of short stories from a doctor in New Zealand.
  • A manifesto for change for Black female students.
  • A British foreign correspondent looks at homelessness in her own country.

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  • Admissions: Hospital Tales of Life, Love and Death

    By: Mira Harrison

    Publisher: Steele Roberts

    Year: 2018

From Otepoti Dunedin, a city on New Zealand’s South Island, comes this collection of linked short stories by Dr Mira Harrison. The eight featured women are doctors, nurses, cooks and cleaners and their lives are dedicated to caring for others. We see a 28-year-old obstetrician having a miscarriage as she delivers other women’s babies. A middle-aged hospital receptionist helps a Syrian refugee, who turns out to be a trauma surgeon. This book hits #8 of the UN’s goals: Decent work, sustainable growth.

Choice quote:

“Delivering requires stamina from the obstetrician as well as from the labouring woman. It’s hard work all round.”

  • Taking up Space:

    By: Chelsea Kwakye, Ore Ogunbiyi

    Publisher: Merky Books

    Year: 2019

Heard the one about the British Ghanian and the British Nigerian who go to Cambridge? Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi tell that story and tell it well. All those questions: “where are you from” and the follow-up, “where are you really from”. Racialised language and tropes in school about what Black students can “realistically” achieve when applying to university; “the cultural positioning of Black students as a homogenous group” and a curriculum that suggests “non-white people are only worth studying for the occasions in which they are forced to confront white power”. This hits two UN goals: #4, quality education, and #10, reduced inequality.

Choice quote:

“The only times you might see someone who looks like you represented in your curriculum will be at the mention of slavery, colonisation, lynching and maybe political corruption in African states – a dehumanising experience.”

  • The Prince Rupert Hotel for the Homeless

    By: Christina Lamb

    Publisher: William Collins

    Year: 2022

    A 900-year-old four-star hotel becomes a pandemic shelter for the homeless population in the English city of Shrewsbury. And Christina Lamb, The Times and Sunday Times’ veteran foreign correspondent, is unable to travel overseas and forced to break the habit of 34 years of foreign reporting to examine Britain. She finds a troubling but heartening reality. Many of the problems she had seen in developing countries exist in 21st century Britain as well, not least homelessness. And human frailties are the same everywhere in the world. As one guest at the Prince Rupert Hotel puts it: “I’m homeless because of life.” Lamb, who previously wrote a clutch of books set in far-flung parts – Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria – describes the astonishing care, consideration and respect with which a grand establishment looks after people who were so recently on the streets. It’s a moving story, particularly because it’s true. To my mind, this book hits #1 of the UN’s goals: no poverty.

    Choice quote:

    “Outside, everyone treats us like dogs, but even dogs have kennels.”

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