Review of Clandestines

January 11, 2009

Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Tuesday June 20, 2006

“The rebel must return to their own past with a knife in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other,” writes Ramor Ryan in Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile. For nearly two decades, Ryan has been a political traveler, crossing the globe as both a keen observer and an earnest participant in many of the world’s resistance movements. From Turkish Kurdistan to Sandinistan Nicaragua to East Berlin, he has kept one eye on the lookout for the powers that be and the other on history, contextualizing the adventures of the present by examining the lessons of the past in a manner both critical and celebratory.

Ryan’s exhilarating and inspiring tales reveal the intersections of globalized politics’ grand narratives and everyday life.

The people he meets welcome him into their lives, into crowded Havana tenements and seedy Guatemalan port-town bars, as he searches for the spirit of struggle that underlies survival. “We look about us, our own lives, and we begin to resist where we are,” he writes.

Clandestines is a tribute to resistance, which in his view, in the 21st century, is best enacted not in the trenches but in carved-out autonomous spaces — spaces of clandestinity. After examining failed revolutionary struggles in a world with one superpower, Ryan concludes that rather than battling power on its own terms, we must create our own alternatives. “Clandestinity is about protecting ourselves, our rebel spaces, and allowing the seed to germinate underground,” he writes, taking us into German squats, Zapatista villages, and Sandinista coffee co-ops. But not just any autonomy will do — it must be engaged, not escapist, as is evident from his condemnation of a naively hedonistic Rainbow Gathering he attends in Croatia.

A rousing, insightful, humorous tapestry of cultural resistance, Clandestines impels us to fear inaction, not failure, for mistakes are made to be learned from, and our lives are our own.

Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile
By Ramor Ryan
AK Press

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