BookBlast’s Five Random Reads of the Year is a bid to keep it simple and essential, as so much is published and we are deluged with end-of-year round-ups scattered across the Media.
The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance 1917–2017, Rashid Khalidi (Metropolitan Books)
Matthew Hughes writes in The Guardian: “Rashid Khalidi’s account of Jewish settlers’ conquest of Palestine is informed and passionate. It pulls no punches in its critique of Jewish-Israeli policies (policies that have had wholehearted US support after 1967), but it also lays out the failings of the Palestinian leadership. Khalidi participated in this history as an activist scion of a leading Palestinian family: in Beirut during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and as part of the Palestinian negotiating team prior to the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian peace accords. He slams Israel but his is also an elegy for the Palestinians, for their dispossession, for their failure to resist conquest. It is a relentless story of Jewish-Israeli bad faith, alongside one of Palestinian corruption and political short-sightedness.”
Sufferah, Memoir of a Brixton Reggae Legend, Alex Wheatle (Arcadia Books)
BookBlast Diary contributor Lucy Popescu writes in The Guardian: “Many of the characters in Alex Wheatle’s novels are sufferahs – those born disadvantaged; outsiders who take on a hostile world and fight against repression and loneliness. His poignant memoir gives us insights into his own suffering: his early life in care, the bullying and abuse he endured, the brutality of the police. Yet Sufferah also documents his love of reggae, the joy of discovering his paternal family and his journey to become an award-winning writer. Reggae helped define Wheatle, offering him solace during the dark times and inspiring his creativity. As novelist-playwright Vanessa Walters suggests in her introduction: “These anthems provided context and companionship in his struggle.”
Life at Full Tilt (Ed.) Ethel Crowley. Preface by Colin Thubron (Eland Publishing)
Life at Full Tilt is a whirlwind tour of Dervla Murphy’s travels. It begins in Spain in 1956, before her first book, and follows in her tracks for over fifty years, including descriptions of her beloved Afghanistan, of the Peruvian Andes, of South, West and East Africa and most recently of the troubled territories of Palestine and Israel. Ethel Crowley, an Irish sociologist, has, for the first time, looked at all Dervla’s writing and selected extracts from her journalism and her twenty-four books.
Irish Times: “Dervla belongs at the heart of the Irish literary canon, for the sheer quality of her writing as well as for her bravery and travelling savoir faire . . . Dervla’s qualities were curiosity, resilience, honesty, kindness, good humour and, above all, empathy. Her style of slow travel allowed time to record people’s stories . . . She laughed in the face of social convention, or at least smiled back over her shoulder as she cycled off into the mist towards her next adventure.”
Scenes from a Childhood, Jon Fosse trs. Damion Searls (Fitzcarraldo) Winner of the 2023 Prize in Literature
Scenes from a Childhood is a wide-ranging collection of five pieces of short fiction written between 1987 and 2013 in a neutral, deadpan tone which is oddly mesmerising. The individual stories run from three lines to two pages in length and do not form a coherent plot, but consist of random observations and incidents tumbling along in a swift-flowing stream of consciousness. The description of Geir and Kjell out in the new snow to “play car and make streets and a tunnel and everything in the snow” who are then trashed by some slightly bigger boys who come to see what they are doing whom they “barely know even though they live only a few houses away,” made me think of how wars start.
“Crappy road, they say.
You can’t fucking drive on a road like this, they say.
They have to repair the road, it’s a bad road, Geir says.
You can’t fucking repair a road like this, they say.
These road workers are useless, they say.
Making such a crap road, they say.
I want my car back, Kjell says.
Your crappy car, they say.
That car’s useless too, they say.
It’s all a bunch of shit, they say.
What’s that? they say.
A car park, Geir says.
Huh, a car park, they say.
You can’t park there, they say.”
Russian Gothic, Aleksandr Skorobogatov trs. Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse (Old Street Publishing)
A strange and sinister novella by a Belarus-born author originally published in Russian in 1991, Russian Gothic received major awards. Nikolai, a veteran-turned-drifter subsisting on a meagre government pension lives with his beautiful actress wife in a dismal Russian town. They are still grieving the loss of their child. His obsession and paranoia are fuelled by alcohol, erupting in madness and violence when the strange Sergeant Bertrand comes visiting.
“He’s gone batshit crazy! That’s the medical term – batshit! Look, our man’s shitting bats! He’s chatting away to himself! Nurse, we need urgent therapy pronto! He’s gone totally batshit!”
This novella is a great example of that certain kind of very Russian satirical dark comedy which combines supernatural elements and has you laughing and crying at the same time. It has faint echoes of The Master and Margarita, and I loved it. There is so much horror and bleakness in the real world right now, satirical dark comedy gives just a little relief.
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Many thanks for your support and for being part of the BookBlast Community over the past year. Season’s Greetings to you all!