During another period of ex-pat existence, in Italy, I sat at a Roman café table in a Renaissance square rolling my eyes at the soap opera of Italian political life: wire-tapped politicians and footballers and TV stars, backroom media deals, glaring conflicts of interest, tabloid culture run riot, politicians in the pockets of newspapers. I used to chuckle over la Repubblica and tease my Italian friends about the kind of problems we didn’t have in our basically sound British parliamentary democracy.
And so I recognize myself to be an intensely naïve person. Most novelists are, despite frequent pretensions to deep socio-political insight. And I retain a particular naivety concerning the British state, which must seem comical to many people, particularly younger people. I can only really account for it by reaching back again, briefly, into the past. It’s a short story about debt—because I owe the state, quite a lot. Some people owe everything they have to the bank accounts of their parents. I owe the state. Put simply, the state educated me, fixed my leg when it was broken, and gave me a grant that enabled me to go to university. It fixed my teeth (a bit) and found housing for my veteran father in his dotage. When my youngest brother was run over by a truck it saved his life and in particular his crushed right hand, a procedure that took half a year, and which would, on the open market—so a doctor told me at the time—have cost a million pounds. Those were the big things, but there were also plenty of little ones: my subsidized sports centre and my doctor’s office, my school music lessons paid for with pennies, my university fees. My NHS glasses aged 9. My NHS baby aged 33. And my local library. To steal another writer’s title: England made me. It has never been hard for me to pay my taxes because I understand it to be the repaying of a large, in fact, an almost incalculable, debt.
(Source: nybooks.com)@1 year ago with 2 notes
#Non-fiction #Zadie Smith #The New York Review of Books #Literature #State services #Local government #London #Willesden #Libraries #Austerity