Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds III Book Blast Presents

bookblast diary top ten reads september 2017

Welcome to a monthly Top 10 Reads  from Book Blast rounding up deliciously eclectic, mind-altering reads to see us into the Autumn.

Uncovering a Parisian Life

The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, translated by Alison Anderson (New Vessel Press)

A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman’s attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era.

BUY The Madeleine Project 

Gallic Flair

yves bonnefoy poemsPoems by Yves Bonnefoy (Carcanet)

This volume of poetry is edited by three of Bonnefoy’s long-time translators, the poet Anthony Rudolf, John Naughton who is the pre-eminent Bonnefoy scholar outside France, and the poet Stephen Romer. Contributing translators include Galway Kinnell, Richard Pevear, Beverley Bie Brahic, Emily Grosholz, Susanna Lang, and Hoyt Rogers. A second volume will be devoted to Bonnefoy’s celebrated essays on literature and art.

Yves Bonnefoy (1923-2016) started out as a young surrealist poet at the end of the Second World War and, for seven decades, produced poetry and poetic prose of great, and changing, depth and richness. At his death at the age of ninety-three, he was Emeritus Professor of Comparative Poetics at the College de France.

Bonnefoy was an accomplished translator into French of Leopardi, Petrarch, Donne, Keats, Yeats, and Shakespeare: 10 of the plays, together with the sonnets and the longer poems. He felt that the encounter with Shakespeare ‘tested’ the more abstract and less concrete French idiom, and that his own poetry had been enriched by the challenge.

BUY Poems

Armchair Travel

123 palces in turkey francis russell123 Places in Turkey, A Private Grand Tour by Francis Russell, with illustrations (Bitter Lemon Press)

In the spirit of Xavier de Maistre who famously went on a forty-two-day journey around his room, what could be better than travelling around Turkey from the comfort of your arm chair whilst enjoying hot buttered crumpets by the fire?

Francis Russell has been visiting Turkey for over thirty years, and he provides a fascinating and wonderfully well informed itinerary of 123 places to visit, with a particular focus on art and architecture.

He covers the finest sites in the obvious tourist centres such as Istanbul, and all the major Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine sites, and provides extensive and thoughtful coverage of Armenian and Georgian churches, Seljuk and Ottoman monuments and all the great buildings of Islamic Turkey. While much of the book focuses on the popular south-western coast, his recommendations and deeply informed accounts extend also far across the vast plains of Anatolia to the East; all are easily accessible by road. Perfect for fans of Nedim Gürsel, Orhan Pamuk, Yachar Kemal, Pierre Loti and Lesley Blanch.

BUY 123 Places in Turkey

Italian Libya and the Roots of the Migration Crisis

confines of the shadow cover alessandro spinaThe Confines of the Shadow by Alessandro Spina (Darf Publishers)

Alessandro Spina was the pen-name of reclusive writer, Basili Shafik Khouzam, a Syrian Christian born in Italian-occupied Benghazi in 1927. After study in Italy, he managed the family textile factory in Libya until Gaddafi’s revolution drove him into exile in Lombardy. During and after his business career, he wrote novels and stories that drew on the Italian invasion of 1911 and its bloody aftermath to reflect on the forced encounter between cultures. Described as the “Italian Joseph Conrad” and “a twentieth century Balzac” in his heyday, many of his books had fallen out of print in  the 1990s.

Even if they did not take place mostly in Benghazi, these tales of an Arab land under European rule would still have a salutary relevance today. Whatever happens in the Westernised city, “a graceful little fable fenced off from the outside world”, in the desert hinterland, tribal traditions that “nobody could uproot” hold firm. Cameron, Sarkozy and their allies could have profitably read these stories of colonial hubris and nemesis in Libya before they ousted Gaddafi.” Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

The Confines of the Shadow is a sequence of novels and short stories that map the transformation of the Libyan city of Benghazi from a sleepy Ottoman backwater in the 1910s to the second capital of an oil-rich kingdom in the 1960s. A cosmopolitan array of characters illuminates Italy’s colonial experience from the euphoria of conquest, ranging from Ottoman functionaries, to Sanussi aristocrats and Italian officers, to the rise and fall of Fascism in the aftermath of World War II . . . and the country’s independence in the 1950s. The Confines of the Shadow was awarded the Bagutta Prize in 2007.

BUY The Confines of the Shadow 

Childhood and Difficult Emotions 

horatio clare bookblast promoAubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare (Firefly Press)

My god-daughter loves Horatio Clare’s Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot (winner of the Branford Boase Award 2016). Hilarious and moving it is perfect for read-aloud fireside family fun. We have been celebrating fifteen years of The Children’s Bookshow: Horatio Claire is one of the authors on tour this year.

Aubrey is a rambunctious boy who tries to run before he can walk and has crashed two cars before he is old enough to drive one. But when his father, Jim, falls under the horrendous spell of the Terrible Yoot, everything changes. With the help of the creatures of Rushing Wood Aubrey sets out to break the spell. Everyone says his task is impossible, but Aubrey will never give up, even if he must fight the unkillable spirit of despair – The Terrible Yoot – itself!

Funny and fearless, Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot is a modern-day fable that mixes real family life with fantastical woodland creatures and a more than a touch of myth and mystery, to tackle the theme of depression head on, complemented by unforgettable line drawings by illustrator Jane Matthews.

BUY Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot 

It’s Chiller-diller Time . . .

so the dove heidi jamesSo the Doves by Heidi James (Bluemoose Books)

If you haven’t yet read Heidi James you’re missing out! Her poetry, essays and short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including  Mslexia, Galley Beggar Press and Dazed & Confused.

So the Dove is a psychological thriller about corruption, lies, the media and government. Good news is that it is the opposite of bleak, unrelenting Nordic Noir since it is ultimately a timeless story about how love and enduring friendship shape who we are. The novel exposes the fault lines in our reality and who and what we believe to be true, including ourselves. Thrillers such as this are a welcome alternative to the daily diet of nasty politics, human tragedy and environmental disasters fed to us by the Media. If more books that emphasise empathy and kindness are commissioned by editors, it is good news indeed that good news sells (unlike what those doom mongers would have us think!).

BUY So the Doves 

the golem gustav meyrinkThe Golem by Gustav Meyrink, translated by Mike Mitchell (Dedalus Books)

Hallucinatory and elliptical, The Golem was originally published in serial form in 1913-14 and conveys the mystical associations and interests that the author was exploring at the time.
The novel centres on the life of Athanasius Pernath, a jeweler and art restorer who lives in the ghetto of Prague; as well as the lives, the characters, and the interactions of his friends and neighbours.
The Golem, though rarely seen, is central to the novel as a representative of the ghetto’s own spirit and consciousness, brought to life by the suffering and misery that its inhabitants have endured over the centuries.

A remarkable work of horror, half-way between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Frankenstein,” The Observer

BUY The Golem 

Classics revisited

Conradology edited by Becky Harrison & Magda Raczynska (Comma Press)

Polish-British Joseph Conrad is regarded as one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language. To celebrate his name, as well as his vision, this anthology brings together specially commissioned short stories and essays, written in English or Polish (the latter being translated into English), which celebrate, respond to and critique the literary legacy of Joseph Conrad. Including 16 of Britain and Poland’s most revered fiction writers and critics, this collection will demonstrate Conrad’s enduring relevance in both countries, bringing together the themes that shaped his own life and work – the sea, colonialism, war, travel – in conceptual essays, near futuristic tales, and new journeys through the heart of darkness, cementing Conrad as a true ‘citizen of the world’.

BUY Conradology

Tales of Partition

qaisra sharaz bookblast diaryThe Concubine & the Slave-Catcher: Stories from Around the World by Qaisra Shahraz (Hope Road Publishing)

 “As a child I learnt about the partition of India and Pakistan by listening to an aunt’s heartwrenching story about how she wept for days after she parted from her Hindu best friend whose family fled south to India. Later, through a series of interviews with my sister-in-law’s father, I learnt that the partition was a momentous, highly traumatic episode in world history,” writes Qaisra Shahraz.

Her new collection of short stories is set on several continents and at different periods in history. A well-meaning Abolitionist learns the sordid and violent truth about slavery from her African servants in Boston USA. The sundering of India and Pakistan in the 1947 Partition is revealed when a Muslim boy is adopted by a Hindu family during the chaos of mass migration. A young university student finds her engagement broken off because her fiancé’s family disapproves of her Western attire. The horrors of the Holocaust are writ large in one pregnant woman’s experiences. With each unique story, Shahraz captures nightmarish reality, all the while saying no to hate, intolerance and extremism as her wisdom and storytelling magic shine through.

BUY The Concubine and the Slave-Catcher

Environmentalism and the New World

green lion gallic booksGreen Lion by Henrietta-Rose Innes (Aardvark Bureau, Gallic)

He walked on, fingers trailing across each archway. Bars, stone, bars, stone – and then a clang as his arm was smacked back by the force of some huge hot weight throwing itself against the metal [ . . .] The creature had retreated but was still there, hidden in the shadows, pacing growling . . .” A young South African man, Con, goes to pick up the belongings of an old friend, Mark, who is lying in a coma in hospital. He worked at a small zoo with a rare black-maned lioness – the last of her kind – who mauled him. Green Lion is about species loss, bereavement, animal magic and the human desire for connection.

I was intrigued by the idea that, as humans grow estranged from the natural world and as we lose more and more wild species, we seem increasingly to mythologise nature. We value the images of animals and long for almost mystical communion with them. This feels connected in a profound way to the human condition of loss and desire for connection, and our helpless wish to preserve the things we love from death. In a way, then, as well as being about ecological concerns, Green Lion was an attempt to deal with my own anxieties about bereavement. My late mother’s spirit hovers over this book,” Henrietta-Rose Innes

BUY The Green Lion

Book Launch

Dance by the Canal by Kerstin Hensel, translated from the German by Jen Calleja, (Peirene Press) will be launched at John Sandoe Books, 10 Blacklands Terrace, London SW3 2SR on 21 September 2017 at 6.30pm

Gabriela grows up in the East German town of Leibnitz. Her father is a famous surgeon, her mother a respected society hostess. The girl, however, struggles to fulfil their expectations. She shows no talent as a violinist and, worse, she fails to choose the right friends at school. When her father falls out of favour with the communists, Gabriela drops out of school. Eventually she ends up living beneath a canal bridge. Then the Wall falls . . .

BUY Dance by the Canal 

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About Georgia de Chamberet 381 Articles
Bilingual editor, rewriter, anthologist, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.