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Things that Can and Cannot Be Said: Essays and Conversations

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,180 ratings  ·  180 reviews
In late 2014, Arundhati Roy, John Cusack, and Daniel Ellsberg travelled to Moscow to meet with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The result was a series of essays and dialogues in which Roy and Cusack reflect on their conversations with Snowden.

In these provocative and penetrating discussions, Roy and Cusack discuss the nature of the state, empire, and surveillance in an er
Paperback, 124 pages
Published October 14th 2016 by Haymarket Books (first published August 5th 2016)
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Average rating 3.71  · 
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May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Compelling and urgent, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said critiques the surveillance state and considers the dangers of perpetual imperialist war. The work gathers together a series of sharp conversations between actor John Cusack, intellectual Arundhati Roy, activist Edward Snowden, and Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers. The four met in Russia in the aftermath of Snowden’s whistleblowing, and discussed everything from the atrocities committed in Vietnam to the insidious threat NGOs ...more
Dec 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
Let me stipulate from the beginning of this review that my objection to it is not because I disagree with the politics of the authors or the two other participants in their discussions: Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. Debates about the advisability or legality of Snowden's actions, in particular, are grist for a different mill.

No, what annoys me about this slender volume is the smug, self-congratulatory voice in which it is written, as if these precious intellectuals have a corner on the mar
Sep 16, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
courtesy: Outlook
4 renegades (3.5, if you please) assemble in a hotel room to talk about war, greed, terrorism, basically all those things that make you anti-national.
The build-up to the conversation was brilliant. But, the conversation itself, well….. how should I put it…..leaves you keep wanting.
As Ms. Roy put it, "what mattered, perhaps even more than what was said, was the spirit in the room."
courtesy: Guardian
How I wish I were there in that room. As a lamp post, perhaps. Darn! Doesn't he stand against the idea of surveillan
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book just blew my mind. Never thought of the government in this way.
Jen from Quebec :0)
This is a re-read for me, but really...this is one of those books that I am sort of ALWAYS reading, you know? It's a book that I often grab and flip through and highlight and underline, etc. It's one that is never truly closed forever. It's a book I re-visit often, and I'm so glad to own a copy. It's an important work, and constantly relevant. (UPDATE = Currently there's another 'whistleblower' story in the US news, and the same questions the books tackles about privacy, deception, patriotism, g ...more
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Want to read more by Arundhati Roy, but maybe next time she could talk to Noam Chomsky (for example) instead of John Cusack? I mean, I was slightly obsessed with John Cusack for a significant subset of the years between 1989 and 2005, and he's not a dummy. But he doesn't quite have the chops for this conversation.
Cristina Ana
Ahem, I have mixed feelings about this book. I absolutely love Roy, have a lot of respect for Ellsberg, mixed feelings for Snowden (and this book doesn't change them to the better or worse as his input is modest, although he serves as the pretext for the book), and nothing at all (perhaps just some curiosity) for John Cusack, I do think his sister is brilliant, though.

There are limits to such transcript-books, of course, and I guess some of the eyebrow raising paragraphs the book generously pr
Nikhil Kumar
Aug 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a world of capitalism, mass surveillance and perpetual warfare, we often give into the common narratives perpetuated by the state and its puppets. ‘The Things That Can And Cannot Be Said’ challenges every aspect of the normal public discourse.

Who defines what can be said? Who defines normal? The most powerful, the most dominant people in society, the powers that be – most importantly, the state. ‘Many acts that are termed extreme go beyond what we currently define as normal, the status quo an
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Required reading; for someone not versed much in international politics or history, it lays bare some of the tidy assumptions I had about nation states and how they inevitably wield power. Short version: It's not pretty.

One of those books that opens up a whole new way of thinking...exhilarating to feel that much closer to the truth, humbled by being able to see what you did not know before.

This book's closing sections on nuclear weapons were particularly hard-hitting for me - as an Air Force off
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Who comes out smelling sweet in the atrocity analysis? States have invested themselves with the right to legitimize violence—so who gets criminalized and delegitimized? Only—or well that’s excessive—usually, the resistance.
JC: So the term human rights can take the oxygen out of justice?
AR: Human rights takes history out of justice.
JC: Justice always has context . . .
AR: I sound as though I’m trashing human rights . . . I’m not. All I’m saying is that the idea of justice—even just dreaming of ju
Chavelli Sulikowska
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thought provoking and entirely relevant little read. An eclectic but brilliant collection of bright minds talking honestly on the most critical social, political and moral topics of our time. Thanks Arundhati and John for talking about all the things that cannot be said that should be said.
Ryan Mishap
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Did you know John Cusack was an ardent activist from a long line of lefty agitators? Well, you certainly know that Arundhati Roy is one of the most fierce, intelligent, and compassionate people on the planet, right? Oh, and they went to hang out with Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden in Russia.

If that ain't enough to intrigue, I must therefore harangue you into reading this accessible, deadly collection of conversations and thoughts.

Consider yourself harangued. Go read now.

It's short--I read it
Mrinalini Dayal
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I forgot how much I enjoy Roy's writing.
May 02, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 Stars
In 2014, John Cusack brought together whistleblowers Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers exposing USA's position during the Vietnam war, and on which the movie The Post was made recently) and Arundhati Roy for a discussion on the nature of the state / nation, on a surveillance led world where patriotism and dissent are narrowly defined and the role of propaganda driving interests of capitalist economies.

That 2 day meeting in Moscow, resulted in this short col
Chittajit Mitra
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book starts with a chapter where John Cusack is the narrator & he imagines a conversation between Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden & Arundhati Roy whom he had met several times in the past. John Cusack recorded several discussions of theirs which helps him to pen down some of the talks. They discussed about patriotism, flags, capitalism, surveillance & the brave acts of Mr. Snowden & Mr. Ellsberg to stand up for the right thing. One fine day John Cusack planned to meet Snowden after all & too ...more
Nov 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
“Things that Can and Cannot Be Said” by John Cusack and Arundhati Roy is one of the most disappointing things I have ever read. I think many of the ideas brought up in the text are worth discussing. But it a paranoid, self-congratulatory, shallow, and ultimately futile work that promises much but is at heart “all sound and fury, signifying nothing”

The book is essentially a series of essays built around an “extraordinary” meeting between Cusack (an American actor), Arundhati Roy (an Indian autho
Andy Hickman
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
“Things that Can and Cannot Be Said: Essays and Conversations” by Arundhati Roy, John Cusack
An eye-opening slap in the face! Must read!
Outraged to find out more about the US policy of “kill everything that moves” during the war in Vietnam.
Other significant revelations include:

“[T]he language of the Left, the discourse of the Left, has been marginalized and is sought to be eradicated. The debate -- even though the protagonists on both sides betrayed everything they claimed to believe in -- used t
Jessica Jin
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
Cool concept, half baked, kinda smug.
Want to read more from Arundhati Roy. She carried this text and Cusack was really only there for her to bounce ideas off of. I can already tell she's gonna radicalize my ass.
Roy has really fresh and foreboding views on modern humanitarianism and NGOs and borders and power. I'm afraid of the hopeless cynic I might become as I read more of her work but I'm going to read it anyway.
These two flew all the way to Moscow to chat with Ed Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg
Mar 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting, observant, evidently good for culling quotes and slapping sticky notes onto poignant passages. Not incredibly expansive, though I certainly learned new things. In short, an unexpected motley of intellectuals hammering out thoughtful examinations on nationalism, surveillance, whistle-blowing, capitalist rebranding, NGO-ization, etc.; though John Cusack's presence seemed mostly like a perfect avenue for him to drop punctual, screenplay-worthy quips on stately affairs rather than to fo ...more
Mar 11, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Arundhati Roy's powerful critique of the world order is often engaging and challenging. I don't always (or often) agree but it's important to read things by authors that challenge your perspective. But this book... Ugh, the presentation of this book - and Cusack's sycophantic responses to what she's saying, even when it's absurd, just made my skin crawl. It made me long for president Trump to start on the book-burnings as soon as possible, and that's not a feeling I want to have, so I stopped re ...more
Camille McCarthy
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The by-line on Goodreads is very misleading - it's actually by Arundhati Roy AND John Cusack, and it's about a trip they took with Daniel Ellsburg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War) to visit Edward Snowden in Russia. It is a very short but very personal book, mostly containing transcriptions of conversations between Roy and Cusack. It is very deep and the information is conveyed in conversations, so it is very accessible. I really liked intimacy of the book.
Peter Abolins
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I personally liked this book, and would recommend it to anyone who is open to the idea that "everything is not what it seems".

A lot of different thoughts are covered, and while not all of the thoughts are nicely wrapped up with a socially accepted conclusion, you are definitely left thinking that even if the world is currently a mess, there are at least some people who recognize that and are prepared to voice their concerns.
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Cusack and Roy are excellent. I'm going to keep this near me so as to re-read at every opportunity. There is so much insightful commentary in every section, from both the authors and Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden are amazing to 'meet' in the flesh, as such.
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
Most of us are more familiar with seeing John Cusack on the movie screen (whether as actor or as credited director) as opposed to seeing him on the political scene. In Things That Can and Cannot Be Said: Essays and Conversations, he has accomplished something intriguing—a conversation between Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, and Edward Snowden, exiled leaker of NSA strategies, moderated by radical activist writer Arundhati Roy and himself.

I find myself very much in sympathy with
Joy Messinger
[2.5-3 stars] I honesty can’t remember how this book made into my house but because Haymarket is big in Chicago, I probably bought it on sale at some point or got it from an organizing / activism friend. Either way, it’d been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while so it was time to move it off.

What had been billed as in-depth conversations and essays with Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg on a variety of political topics was actually a bunch of John Cusack’s musings, some transcripted chats betwe
Abhisheka Jhunjhunwala
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
A short and easy read.
John Cusack and Arundhati Roy bring up some very interesting points about the nation state and patriotism. It did make me think for a while and caused rumbles in the foundations of my own ideas of patriotism.
There are many instances in this book that really make you think about your own perceptions of capitalism, communism, democracy and government. I will refrain from giving spoilers.

Do give this one a read if you want an insight into the authors' minds, philosophy and the
Anusha Jagannath
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps the things discussed in this book is common knowledge to others, but for me a lot of it was brand new information. I was shocked at times but at other times I found my thoughts being expressed in words. For instance, how it is embedded in us to care more about imaginary lines over real lives. A very timely read. Also goes to show, nothing has changed for years and that we're allowing history to keep repeating itself.
Kerry Pickens
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2019
This short book is a transcript of ongoing going conversations between actor John Cusak, writer Arundhati Roy, journalist Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. It reminded me of the quote by Dave Chappelle that if you are woke, you have to dumb down 98% of your conversations or you sound like a lunatic. Personally I believe the jest of their concerns except when it comes to the Palestinians. But I am entitled to my opinion like everyone else #firstamendment
Hoda Marmar
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
4 stars for the things that should be said and were said, and looking forward to hopefully hear about the other stuff that weren't said in these recordings.
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
This is thought-provoking and terrifying. I’m a little unsure of John Cusack’s role in this group, but I appreciate anyone talking about the dangers of mass surveillance and nuclear war.
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Arundhati Roy is an Indian writer who is also an activist who focuses on issues related to social justice and economic inequality. She won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things, and has also written two screenplays and several collections of essays.

For her work as an activist she received the Cultural Freedom Prize awarded by the Lannan Foundation in 2002.

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Twenty years after The God of Small Things, Roy's second novel arrives this month. She talks about her political activism in India and how she...
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“We're told, often enough, that as a species we are poised on the edge of the abyss. It's possible that our puffed-up, prideful intelligence has outstripped our instinct for survival and the road back to safety has already been washed away. In which case there's nothing much to be done. If there is something to be done, then one thing is for sure: those who created the problem will not be the ones who come up with a solution.” 4 likes
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