Sverker Johansson’s The Dawn of Language, adroitly translated by Frank Perry, weighs in at over 400 pages. We’re in the age of Great Simplifiers: each month produces a new crop of hefty volumes.
The Great Simplifiers
Each new volume aims to survey and simplify complex, important scientific arguments for a fairly well-educated reading public. These tomes resemble each other in their ambitions: they review tons of recent research; they give their readers an impression of the intensity and importance of debates; they’re stuffed with colourful examples to hold their reader’s attention; and – usually – they conclude on a vaguely re-assuring, half-optimistic note. As you look closer, differences become apparent. Continue reading Guest Review | Sharif Gemie | The Dawn of Language: Axes, lies, midwifery and how we came to talk – Sverker Johansson | MacLehose Press
Venetia Welby’s futuristic second novel, Dreamtime, has an altogether different atmosphere and resonance to her first, Mother of Darkness, set in London’s Soho. Both novels, however, feature central characters in crisis seeking to put themselves back together one way or another as they struggle with their instincts and the conscious/unconscious part of their personality. Both are super-charged and simmering narratives with a twist, which suck you right in. Dreamtime is an unusual novel that lingers in the mind.
The Law of contagion
“Nature is not dead but livid. Here she is thriving: alive with seething, uncontrollable rage. A devouring Mother Earth despairing of her children, washing them away with floods and burning them with electricity from the sky. And here are her minions, her monsters of the sea [. . .] A sea full of krakens.” Continue reading Review | Dreamtime, Venetia Welby | Salt Publishing
Imbued with her hallmark humour and heightened sensitivity, Faïza Guène’s Men Don’t Cry (Un homme, ça ne pleure pas) is her latest offering to lovers of good fiction in translation, deftly rendered into English by Sarah Ardizzone. We witness a family struggling with exile and integration as experienced by Mourad, born in Nice to Algerian parents.
He is keen to escape the clutches of his well-meaning but excessively controlling mother who imposes traditional ways of thinking and living on her three children – along with copious helpings of home-cooked food – handing down community values and morality in a bid to fend off the potentially corrupting influence of the host culture, and to impose order on the complexities of modern France. Continue reading Review | Men Don’t Cry, Faïza Guène | Cassava Republic Press
Tell us a bit about your childhood and where you grew up.
It was a very privileged upbringing in the sense of growing up with a mother whose protective love and unquestioning belief in me gave me a strong sense of self and a confident “I can” rather than the terrorising “I cannot” which so many girls are schooled into. This early self-belief no doubt ensured that I came out of an English boarding school relatively unscathed. I grew up with a fiercely intelligent, industrious, and unlettered woman who equated education, financial astuteness, and sartorial elegance with freedom and brilliance! There was no drama of a gifted or damaged child; it was a very comforting childhood on Lagos Island.
Life was lived on the street and from our balcony with Yoruba Fuji, Juju and American soul music, the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer and the evangelists church bells knifing the air, all fighting for our souls, and all winning, because, in that Yoruba accommodative world all have their place. It was a childhood peopled by women of courage and self-possession, errant men, incessant noise, theatre, much laughter and without contamination. I love and appreciate this world and grounding, even as I craved solitude. It is the nucleus by which my identity, especially as a questioning being derives its meaning and purpose.
Were your parents great readers? What were the books that made you fall in love with reading?
There were no oak floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in our house. In their place, were hundreds of LPs of different genres of Yoruba music, played on the Grundig Stereogram. These records were probably my first introduction to text without writing. Music was the first thing that held my being in its fold and made me conscious of the evolving social and political landscape of Nigeria in the early 1980s. It was also the first art form that introduced me to the transformative power of storytelling to stir the emotion. So, my parents were not great readers of books, but they came to reading through music, so did I. Continue reading Interview | Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Cassava Republic Press | Indie Publisher of the Week
Remember the Great Fear of March 2020? Remember the empty supermarket shelves, stripped bare of pasta, loo-rolls and flour? Many Brits feared that this was the End of Civilization as We Know It, like in a horror film.
Charif Majdalani’s book is a useful corrective to such needless panics. Last year, people living in Beirut really did see the collapse of a civilization, and Beirut 2020 is a gripping, perceptive account of the process. Continue reading Guest Review | Sharif Gemie | Beirut 2020: The Collapse of a Civilization, a Journal – Charif Majdalani | Mountain Leopard Press