Law and Literature

By Heather Casey
The author is a member of the IALL Board of Directors

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the ways law permeates my life. Though I do my best to keep my work and personal lives separate, law has a funny way of seeping from one compartment to the other – down to the things I read! When I was in law school, one of my favorite classes was a Law & Literature course. Because, as a librarian, what could be better than mixing my love of books with my love for law? And in the spirit of blending things I enjoy, I thought it would be nice to focus this blog post on several recent books I’ve read, from authors around the world, which incorporate law in its many and varied forms. Some of these books are recently published, some not so much, but all of them are compelling looks at how law touches our lives wherever we find ourselves.

Argentina – Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica

Brief Synopsis: Tender is the Flesh portrays a society in which a virus has contaminated all animal meat. Because of the lack of animal flesh, cannibalism becomes legal. Marcos, a human meat supplier, is conflicted by this new society, and tortured by his own personal losses. 

This book is not for the faint of heart – though it is likely the shortest book I’ve included, it’s also the one that has kept me up at night, still reeling from its conclusion. I’m not much of a fan of horror – this is as close as I’ll get to the genre but, in some ways, this is perhaps worse than horror because the monsters in this book are the people. I’d definitely classify this as dystopian – and my reason for including it in this collection is because it shines a light on what happens when the law allows for and encourages horrible acts.

Colombia – One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

I’ve read this book several times in my life – it’s as stunning on the fourth read as the first. To try and summarize a novel that covers seven generations of a family, a book steeped in magical realism – well, it seems like a fool’s errand. What ties it to law? From the patriarch founding a city to the interactions between that city and the Colombian government, including rigged elections and civil war, law is present throughout if you’re looking for it.

Brief Synopsis: One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family, whose patriarch founds the town of Macondo.

France – The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier

This book won the 2020 Prix Goncourt, one of France’s highest literary awards. It is a mix of many genres – there’s some sci-fi, some romantic comedy, some mysticism and mystery; a hard book to pin down. But one of my favorites from the past couple of years. Law comes into play here at an international level as various countries try to decide how to handle the anomaly – look for a particularly well-done satire of a certain former U.S. president.

Brief Synopsis: A plane from Paris to New York experiences some serious turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean but is able to land…however now there are two planes, filled with the exact same passengers. We all think we live double lives but what happens when we actually meet our doubles?

India – A Burning by Megha Majumdar

This book is such a fascinating portrayal of how social media can be weaponized as well as the corrupting urge to bend a story for better headlines. Law has its fingerprints all over this book; be it the use of a Facebook post to accuse someone of a terrorist act, to the subsequent trial and punishment. I found this to be a quick read, but one that had me in suspense throughout.

Brief Synopsis: Three characters seek to rise – one to the middle class, another to political power, and the third to fame in the movies. Their lives become entangled in the wake of a catastrophe in contemporary India.

Ireland – Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

This isn’t a work of fiction but I think it deserves a spot on this list because I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it. It is the kind of nonfiction that reads like a thriller and when it hits you that it all really happened, you have to take a moment. From the abduction that starts the book to the interactions between the British Army and the IRA, law (be it criminal or international) is front and center throughout.

Brief Synopsis: The books focuses on the Troubles in Northern Ireland, beginning with the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville. Keefe began researching and writing the book after reading the obituary for Dolours Price in 2013.

Japan – My Ex-Boyfriend’s Last Will and Testament by Hotate Shinkawa

Full disclosure: I’m not finished with this book yet but it’s the book that got me thinking about how often law pops up in my recreational reading. I got this book based on this interview with the Washington Post. I don’t have to justify including it on this list because so much of the novel is focused not just on law, but on what it means to be a lawyer in Japan.

Brief Synopsis: Reiko Kenmochi is a 28-year-old lawyer who has ambitions for success and wealth. The novel begins when she learns that her ex-boyfriend, who recently died, has left behind a mysterious will that gives his entire inheritance to “the person who murdered me.” Kenmochi decides to represent a friend of the dead man who wants to be proved as the murderer.

Nigeria – No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe

This is the third of Chinua Achebe’s incredible African Trilogy and while I very much encourage everyone to read all three books, I’m including this one because it offers a captivating portrayal of post-colonial Nigerian government workings and the lingering, often negative effects of British colonialism.

Brief Synopsis: Obi Okonkwo is an idealistic young man who has now returned to Nigeria for a job in the civil service. However in his new role he finds that the way of government seems to be corruption. Obi manages to resist the bribes offered to him, but when he falls in love with an unsuitable girl, he sinks further into emotional and financial turmoil.

This list is far from inclusive but these are some of the books I’ve read over the past couple of years in which law plays a part, in small and large ways. I hope this list acts as inspiration, with er to read one of the books I’ve mentioned here, or to think about what books you’ve read or are reading and whether law plays a part within them.

This Blog contains entries by members of the International Association of Law Libraries on issues germane to the Association’s areas of focus. Views expressed in an individual entry only represent the views of the author.