“I owe these lines to a century that cheated and deceived everyone, all those who hoped. I owe these lines to an enduring betrayal that settled over my family like a curse. I owe these lines to my sister, whom I could never forgive for flying away . . .” writes Niza in the prologue to this epic and addictive Georgian family saga spanning the 20th century.
“Carpets are woven from stories”
Germany, 2006. A twenty-eight-year-old visiting professor from Georgia – a small country sandwiched between Russia and Turkey on the Black Sea – has lived in Berlin for several years to escape the weight of a painful family past. When her twelve-year-old niece runs away from her dance troupe “in search of answers” during a trip to the West, she sets off to find the girl who turns up near Vienna. In search of her identity, Niza undertakes to write, for herself and her niece, the story of their family over six generations. “I owe these lines to you Brilka because you deserve the eighth life. Because they say the number eight represents infinity, constant recurrence. I am giving my eight to you.” Continue reading Review | The Eighth Life (for Brilka), Nino Haratischvili | Scribe Books UK
“Tomorrow, yes, I will leave this house. I’ll abandon the village and the life here, all the faces that I love I will leave. The friends, the objects, the doors, the pavement slabs, the tall eucalyptus and the wild olive trees, the orange groves, the roads, the markets, the music, the fruit, the dancing, the window of blue, I’ll leave it all, no strength left.”
Looking out to sea, Collette Fellous remembers her 1950s Tunisian childhood, her father, and lifelong friend, the writer Alain, who “died like a Greek hero, with an unheard howl, in the middle of the Aegean Sea, at the helm of his yacht.” She looks at the past in attempt to understand the brutal present on which she wishes to turn her back.
I could talk about that death; I haven’t the strength to discuss the others. This tilting world, how can we talk about it, how make sense of it? Only by naming the appalling blow those deaths have dealt each one of us, the deep wound they have gouged which can never be healed, the birth of a new kind of warfare, and this terror that is taking root everywhere, even within our own bodies. Continue reading Review | This Tilting World, Colette Fellous trs. Sophie Lewis | Book of the Week
“Unlike economic migrants, refugees have no agency; they are no threat. Often, they are so broken they beg to be remade into the image of the native.”
A blend of memoir and reportage, The Ungrateful Refugee packs a powerful punch and should be recommended reading for secondary school aged children.
Dina Nayeri describes her personal experience intertwined with that of the people she interviews as they all flee from persecution and death. Boats are braved and seas crossed by people fuelled by terror, courage and hope. The refugees are rescued and pitied — often by the regimes that created the trouble and strife they are escaping from in the first place. This small but important fact is invariably overlooked as the new arrivals are demonised by populist rhetoric that is bolstered by polices that reek of organised selfishness. Refugees “need friendship, not salvation.”
Nayeri revisits her own chaotic past in 2016 when she becomes a mother. “I had changed my face and hair, my friends, my education, my country and job so often, that my skin felt raw.” The five sections of her narrative — Escape, Camp, Asylum, Assimilation, Cultural Repatriation — recount the fate of individuals from different backgrounds as well as refugee support volunteers, lawyers and other decent human beings. The uniting theme is that refugees be given a voice, an identity, and that their stories be heard.
Continue reading Review | The Ungrateful Refugee, Dina Nayeri | Canongate Books
“I always stay at the Louisiane when I’m in Paris, if only for sentimental reasons. It is not the most comfortable of hotels, but I like to think of figures such as Henry Miller and Ezra Pound staying there in the years between the wars. There is still a lingering louche whiff of a hôtel de passe, and of what I imagine Paris to have been like in the immediate post-war period, with those cobbled streets, open-backed buses and the faces that you see in Brassaï’s photographs.”
Madeleine is a perfectly-formed, psychologically acute first novel of love and war, shameful secrets and cowardly treachery. Euan Cameron’s prose sparkles with unsettling beauty and intelligence as he vividly brings to life the world of the French haute bourgeoisie that is shot through with chauvinism, moralistic posturing and anti-Semitism.
Continue reading Review | Madeleine, Euan Cameron | MacLehose Press
What can the novels Wild Woman by Marina Šur Puhlovski and Under Pressure by Faruk Šehić tell us about the breakup of Yugoslavia which caused such a tectonic shift in Balkan identity?
Each to their war and its troubled aftermath: one in the domestic sphere, the other out on the field and in the trenches. Both are informed by terror, brutality, power struggles and stubborn memories which refuse to go away. The gender split seems clear: survivors of domestic violence are primarily women and war veterans are mainly men – each to their trauma.
Continue reading Book 2 Review | Wild Woman, Marina Šur Puhlovski & Under Pressure, Faruk Šehić | Istros Books
“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us,” James Baldwin
Pete Ayrton, editor and publisher, who in 1986 founded Serpent’s Tail which he retired from in 2016, has teamed up with Rosemarie Hudson, the founder of HopeRoad (2010) to head up a new imprint: Small Axes.
The publication and promotion of literature from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean which challenges cultural stereotyping is becoming ever more urgent in the face of rising authoritarianism in the US, UK and across Europe.
The Small Axes list will focus on republishing post-colonial classics that helped to shape cultural shifts at the time of their printing and remain as relevant today as when they were first published.
“He lapsed into bitterness, as people tended to do now, despite some shreds of conviction that still remained that Britain was an honourable adversary. ‘Over three hundred lives,’ he said. ‘A hundred Indians for each Briton. That is their scale, the scale by which they value themselves and against which we are measured. That is what we are up against: not their greed, or their anger, nor land hunger, nor the need to trade, but their arrogance, the mentality that produces such policies and acts.’” Continue reading Review | The Nowhere Man, Kamala Markandaya | Small Axes
So refugee week is over. The fact that the UK is the only country in Europe where refugees who arrive looking for a safe haven are detained indefinitely, and are often sent back home to face persecution, torture or death, will be kicked into the long grass once again. Certain politicians continue to use the language of disaster and provoke fear by swelling numbers of arrivals, backed by box-ticking Home Office officials.
Refugees are individuals seeking asylum for humanitarian reasons and suffer trauma, broken dreams, love and loss as a consequence. They are not amorphous groups to be rendered and processed and imprisoned in detention centres like criminals. Such a hostile environment is anything but a welcoming new home, and some go crazy with grief. Continue reading Review | A Country to Call Home (ed.) Lucy Popescu | Book of the Week
“The flooding was not going to subside. Linden had turned off the TV. He had felt slightly nauseous. The Seine’s upwelling had upset him, but his parents’ state worried him all the more. The bad timing of their visit to Paris stupefied him. How could their family weekend have turned into such an ordeal?”
After a prolonged separation, the Malegarde family is set to celebrate the fortieth wedding anniversary of Paul and his wife Lauren, as well as his seventieth birthday. It is a shock for the elderly couple used to secluded rural life in the Drôme valley to arrive in a capital saturated by monsoon-like rain. Linden and Tilia, based in San Francisco and London respectively, join their parents in Chatterton Hotel in the 14th arrondissement. The family has not been reunited in such a way since they were teenagers.
Continue reading Review | The Rain Watcher, Tatiana de Rosnay | Book of the Week
The Horseman’s Song is the sixth in the Martin Bora series and follows on from the success of Road to Ithaca, Tin Sky, A Dark Song of Blood, Lumen and Liar Moon, also published by Bitter Lemon Press.
“Bora felt kinship for the dead. The ancient and the new, the long buried and the exposed, those over whom people wept, and the dead whose name or gravesite no one knew. All of them claimed brotherhood with him tonight. It might be the balmy scent of the evergreens brushing against his boots, or the day closing like an eye, or knowing that Lorca was dead, as was Colonel Serrano’s son. The man from Mockau, too, was as dead “as all the dead of the earth”, in Lorca’s own words. It might be any of those things, but his narrow escape only made him kin to the bones of Spain.”
A whole generation was passionately entangled in the Spanish Civil War – politically, militarily and ideologically – preceding World War Two. Foreign volunteers actively participated, siding with different factions. Several countries defied the Non-Intervention Agreement, and also took sides, contributing arms, funds or fighters. Picasso’s Guernica is the most famous image of the 1936-1939 clash of bourgeois democracy vs. Fascist aggression. Continue reading Review | The Horseman’s Song, Ben Pastor | Book of the Week
“Be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” – Nora Ephron
A strong woman is not defined by men, but is in full possession of herself and her life. She balances her masculine and feminine sides; is her own person. She has fought and survived many battles; internal and external. She works hard, gets straight back up when knocked down, speaks for herself.
Such is Grandma: the first in a triptych of very different women whom we meet at the opening of this thought-provoking first novel that is rooted in feminist tropes which the author understands and conveys so well. Continue reading Review | Three Women, Lucy Tertia George | Book of the Week