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  • Editors' Notes
  • John David Zuern and Craig Howes

International Year in Review

I began writing this note introducing the fourth installment of Biography's International Year in Review on the first day of June 2020, which meant that I couldn't help reflecting on this year's collection of essays across a horizon defined by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25. These uprisings have inspired people in London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and other cities around the world to take to the streets, despite stay-at-home orders and curfews, to express their outrage at systemic injustice in the US and in their own countries. In many places, the two phenomena are linked: the disproprotionate impact of the coronavirus on particular populations—in the US, people of color, low-income workers, and the elderly—has dramatically exposed longstanding inequities and the failure of institutions to protect the most vulnerable members of society. The individual names and foreshorted life stories of those who have died, whether by outright brutality or malign neglect, are providing powerful touchstones for collective demands for change.

This year a striking number of contributions attest to the important role of life narratives in confronting inequality and institutionalized violence. In the first essay in the lineup, Kylie Cardell surveys a range of publications in Australia that engage urgent social concerns, among them Behrouz Boochani's No Friend but the Mountains, the Kurdish writer's account of his detention in an Australian government facility for asylum seekers on Manus Island, and the anthology Stories from the Australian Movement: #MeToo. The #MeToo movement in the US provides the framework for Leigh Gilmore's discussion of Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House, Brittany Cooper's Eloquent Rage, Chanel Miller's Know My Name, and several other memoirs and essay collections that bear witness to women's experiences of sexism, racism, sexual violence, and domestic abuse. Two of the memoirs Nick Tembo reviews decry the South African medical establishment's callousness and indifference toward people with conditions like autism (Ilana Gerschlowitz's Saving My Sons) and HIV (Helena Kriel's The Year of Facing Fire). Along similar lines, Liam Harte's presentation of Emilie Pine's Notes to Self, Sinéad Gleeson's Constellations, and Mary Cregan's The Scar emphasizes these memoirists' indictment of the pervasive misogyny of the medical profession in Ireland. Sleiman El Hajj directs our [End Page v] attention to texts and performances that contest the marginalization of non-conforming members of Lebanese society such as queer people, Syrian refugees, sex workers, prisoners, and women who wear the hijab, while Alana Bell explores how both Harold R. Johnson's Clifford and Tanya Tagaq's Split Tooth disrupt conventional narrative forms to convey the precarity of Indigenous lives in Canada. Ricia Anne Chansky introduces us to the "mass-listening projects" that are giving survivors of the waves of natural disasters in Puerto Rico a space to tell their stories and distribute resources in the absence of adequate government support. Essays by Gunnthorunn Gudmundsdottir (Iceland), Heui-Yung Park (Korea), Ana Belén Martínez García (Spain), and Szidonia Haragos (United Arab Emirates) also touch on works that demonstrate life writing's capacity to document injustice and spur resistance.

Life narratives by and about political figures continue to be well represented. Ilaria Serra includes Antonio Scurati's biography of Benito Mussolini in her selection of publications in Italy; Lu Chen discusses a variety of recent works representing the life of Akihito, who abdicated his position as Emperor of Japan in 2019; Rose Mary Allen and Jeroen Heuvel devote their essay to Bernadette Heiligers's biography of Miguel Pourier, the former prime minister of Curaçao; and Maarit Leskelä-Kärki gives a sensitive reading of Johanna Venho's formally inventive narrative of a short period in the life of Sylvi Kekkonen, the wife of former Finnish Prime Minister Urho Kaleva Kekkonen.

As in past years, I'm impressed by the wide variety of approaches our contributors have taken. Some give us an expansive view of the publishing scene in their countries...


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