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
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
The king’s fool has had a distinct, privileged and vital role to play at royal courts throughout history. Mahi Binebine’s fool is contemporary, even though the story reads as though it happened in a distant past, since it is inspired by the fate of the author’s father and brother at the court of King Hassan II of Morocco. Continue reading Review | The King’s Fool, Mahi Binebine | MacLehose Press