Barbara Rhine’s List of Activist Fiction

Local author recommends her favorite “activist fiction.”

Oakland resident Barbara Rhine is a lawyer, activist and writer whose work has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Oakland Tribune and Counterpunch. Her vast personal history as an activist reaches back to her college years and has included participation in Martin Luther King’s demonstrations in Skokie, an attempt to travel to Cuba with a National Lawyers Guild delegation that ended in imprisonment and deportation from Mexico, and service as staff attorney with the United Farmworkers Union during the largest agricultural strike in California history.

So it comes as no surprise that the theme of social justice looms large in her 2014 novel Tell No Lies. Her novel tells the story of three radical activists caught in a love triangle as a huge UFW demonstration takes place. You can find a copy of Tell No Lies in the Oakland Public Library catalog here.





Barbara’s recent appearance at the Rockridge Library prompted her to share with us this list of personally recommended “activist fiction.” Barbara cherishes these books for the way they "portray the lives of those who organize for social change and social justice."


American Woman
by Susan Choi
In hiding after committing an act of terror against the American government, twenty-five-year-old anti-war radical Jenny oversees three young fugitives, including a newspaper magnate's daughter who has become a national celebrity for joining the ranks of her terrorist captors.

The Book of Daniel
by E. L. Doctorow
In 1967, Daniel, the son of two convicted spys executed by their own country, ponders his life, his sister's radicalism, his appreciation for his wife and son, and the hypocrisy of the moralistic ideals upon which this country was based.

A Lesson Before Dying
by Ernest J. Gaines
In 1948 Louisiana, a young teacher is asked to impart some of his own pride and learning to a young Black man awaiting execution, only to come face to face with his own cynicism and hopelessness.

The Long Night of White Chickens
by Francisco Goldman
At the height of Guatemala's military tyranny during the 1980s, Guatemalan aristocrat Roger Graetz leaves his comfortable home in Boston for his homeland to investigate the death of Flor, the beautiful orphan with whom he was raised.

My Son’s Story
by Nadine Gordimer
Will, an adolescent black South African, finds his already unsettled relationship with his father further confused by his father's political activism and his affair with a young white woman.

Flight Behavior
by Barbara Kingsolver
Tired of living on a failing farm and suffering oppressive poverty, bored housewife Dellarobia Turnbow, on the way to meet a potential lover, is detoured by a miraculous event on the Appalachian mountainside that ignites a media and religious firestorm that changes her life forever.

Small Changes
by Marge Piercy
Small Changes is the explosive novel of women struggling to make their places in a man's world. Set against the early days of the feminist movement, it tells of two women and the choices they must face.

The Invisible Mountain
by Carolina de Robertis
On the first day of the year in 1900, a small town deep in the Uruguayan countryside witnesses the mysterious reappearance of Pajarita, a lost infant who will grow up to begin a lineage of fiercely independent women.

That Winter the Wolf Came 
by Juliana Spahr
That Winter the Wolf Came is written for this era of global struggle. It finds its ferment at the intersection of ecological and economic catastrophe. Its feminist and celebratory energy is fueled by street protests and their shattered windows. Amid oil spills and austerity measures and shore birds and a child holding its mother’s hand and hissing teargas canisters, it reminds us exactly what we must fight to defend with a wild ferocity, and what we’re up against. (Poetry)

In Dubious Battle
by John Steinbeck
Set in California apple country, Steinbeck's classic work depicts the worker's bitter revolt against the landowners and working conditions.

by Alice Walker
A black woman who grew up amid prejudice and poverty in the South finds comfort and strength in the civil-rights movement.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist 
by Sunil Yapa
Follows seven different people, including a marijuana dealer and his estranged police chief father, who have their lives altered one afternoon in Seattle during the WTO protests that tried to shut the city down in 1999.

Thank you Barbara!


Book descriptions from the publisher and the Oakland Public Library catalog.