Yes and no

Who Are We – and should it matter in the 21st Century?

By Gary Younge

What I enjoyed most about Younge’s fascinating study of identity in the 21st Century is the stories. He uncovers conflicted Belgians unsure which language to speak in their own town halls and South African coloureds trying to rope in some sense of community. It is across thousands of miles and through these complex examples – and many more – that Younge travels in his latest book.

It is a sustained and lively study etched from surprising experiences and occurrences we’re all familiar with but never looked behind (for example, what it meant to all the different groups he fingered when Tiger Woods identified himself as ‘Cablinasian’). Younge’s achievement at bringing all these disparate groups – and more – together for the purpose of this book is profound. He writes about division and difference and yet cannily manages to produce a coherent whole. For that I admire him deeply. Had he failed to do this, his book would have collapsed: at its heart is Younge’s expected thesis that, yes, identity does matter in the 21st Century but not enough to start wars or stop people from becoming president. That said, Younge steers away from polemic and lets his examples speak for themselves. This is more exposition, less conclusion.

At times I found a few passages to be wanting in clarity. I had to reread certain sentences, but that may be because I am now unaccustomed to academic expression. Even if so, I don’t want to let Younge off for it: he is a talented writer and his prose should be kept clean at all times. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book. Younge is, as Andrea Levy said, “A critical writer at a critical time.”

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