This is the Place to Be
What do you report when you become uncertain of the facts, of the notion of truth and of the purpose of writing? What can you understand of yourself when you are uncertain how or if your memories can be correlated with known 'facts'? Is your idea of yourself anything other than the sum of your memories? Lara Pawson was for some years a journalist for the BBC and other media during the civil wars in Angola, and on the Ivory Coast. In this book, her experiences of societies in trauma, and her idealism for making the 'truth' known, are fragmented (as memory is always fragmented) and mixed with memory fragments of her childhood and of her relationships with the various people she encountered before, during and after the period of heightened awareness provided by war. It is this intermeshing of shared and personal perspectives, sometimes reinforcing and sometimes contradicting each other, always crossing over and back over the rift that separates the individual and her world, that makes this book such a fascinating description of a life. By constantly looking outwards, Pawson has conjured a portrait of the person who looks outwards, and a remarkable depiction of the act of looking outwards. Every word contributes to this pointillist self-portrait, and the reader hangs therefore on every word.
A memoir in the form of a series of sharply etched vignettes that shift astonishingly in time and mood, and range in place from Africa and the US to the streets of London. It demonstrates that no moment is isolated, and that privilege, conflict, race and gender are inherent in all our encounters, from the banal to the extreme.
What makes a life? Lara Pawson’s lucid, sudden and subtle memoir unpicks the spirals of memory, politics, violence, to trace the boundaries and crossing points of gender and race identity.’
– Joanna Walsh
‘A crushingly honest memoir of war, war correspondence and personal mayhem ... Her focus is direct, bleakly honest, and as a result full of hope.’
– M. John Harrison
‘As an examination of the realities and ethics of war reporting, the book says much about what exposure to violence can do to people, about the kind of person who would seek such experience out, and about what turning away from it does to you. Above all, it challenges the reader to examine their own beliefs and decisions as closely as Pawson has examined hers. Brilliant and uncompromising.’
– Jonathan Gibbs, Guardian
‘This is an explosive book, encapsulating the kind of innovation that is characteristic of the contemporary small press scene. Despite her assertion that “I don’t feel brave, I feel angry”, Pawson demonstrates a courageous lack of self-censure and an unflinching desire to reveal all, resulting in an intensely powerful and compelling read.’
– The Contemporary Small Press
‘Lara Pawson’s This Is the Place to Be is a stark, compassionate and troubling text that summons a fragmentary autobiography, circling experiences from her growing up in England and her time as a reporter covering civil wars in Angola and Ivory Coast. She deals with big questions through an intimate mosaic of lived experiences – the blank, funny, awful, gentle shards that remain in memory years after events have taken place – returning her again and again to the themes of identity, violence, race, class, sexuality and the everyday lives of people across several continents.
‘The simple form of the book belies a complex structure of association and contrast, point and counterpoint, in which the disconnected events of a life speak to and about each other across time and space, in illuminating ways. Reminiscent on a formal level of Edouard Levé’s Autoportrait and the writing under constraint of Perec and the OuliPo group, Pawson’s poetic recounting of facts also shares something of Kathy Acker and J. G. Ballard, in its attempt to write through both the extraordinary horror and the extraordinary mundanity of trauma.’
– Tim Etchells
An earlier, shorter version of This Is the Place to Be was commissioned as a sound installation for the 2014 London International Festival of Theatre programme After a War. It was directed by Tim Etchells and performed by Cathy Naden.
Praise for Lara Pawson’s In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre (IB Tauris, 2014):
Longlisted for the Orwell Prize, shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing and the Political Book Awards Debut Book of the Year, and nominated for the Royal Africa Society Book of the Year.
‘a bomb of a book’ – Claire Armitstead, Guardian
‘unflagging intelligence, fearlessness and compassion’ – Teju Cole
‘A brilliant piece of sleuthing . . . I greatly admire this book’ – Paul Theroux
‘engrossing and disturbing’ – Cassie Werber, Wall Street Journal