“I am standing in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In a glass case in front of me are some small, irregular beads of dark, honey-coloured amber. Discovered in a Mycenaean tomb in Crete by Sir Arthur Evans, they date from between 1700 and 1300 BC, the dawn of classical civilization. At around the same time, in north Wales, hundreds of amber beads were placed in a stone-lined tomb along with a body wrapped in the spectacular gold shoulder ornament known as the Mold Cape, now in the British Museum. Amber has been found in the tomb of Tutankhamun and in the ruins of Troy. The Etruscans imported large amounts of it, which they used to adorn jewellery, as doid the Romans after them.” So begins literary critic, cartographer and historian, C. J. Schüler’s illuminating and entertaining travelogue-cum-memoir following the Amber Route, retracing “some of the deepest fault lines in European history,” and his family’s hidden history as he goes.
A dinosaur DNA-carrying mosquito preserved inside a piece of amber was the catalyst for classic film Jurassic Park, based on the novel by Michael Crichton. As Schüler points out, this may have seemed far-fetched back in the 1990s, but not so now. A mosquito dating back to age of dinosaurs was found preserved in amber in 2019.
Continue reading Review | Along the Amber Route, St Petersburg to Venice – C. J. Schüler | Book of the Week
Summer in Nice on the Côte d’Azur. After a blistering two months without rain there’s a violent storm. Chantal abandons herself to the torrential rain and wades into the sea, “it’s pure joy to be swimming in both sea and rain at once, the rain falling in sheets, drenching my head.” She acquired an obsession with the sea from her mother whom she sees in her mind’s eye, “swimming, alone, unreachable, a minuscule speck against the blue immensity, an almost imperceptible dot, except in my own memory.”
Continue reading Review | Memories of Low Tide, Chantal Thomas | Book of the Week
Today the United Kingdom, after over three years of turmoil, officially leaves the European Union. Plus ça change. Its relationship with Europe over the past thousand years has always been one of conflict and collaboration. The historian David Starkey has argued that Henry VIII’s break from the Catholic Church in Rome made him the first Eurosceptic. “Catholic Europe was now the threat, the launch pad for invasion. In other words Henry was the first Eurosceptic: the xenophobic, insular politics he created have helped to define English history for the past five centuries.”
Continue reading Review | French New Wave – A Revolution in Design | Tony Nourmond, Graham Marsh, Christopher Frayling | Reel Art Press
Raising the Velvet Curtain is a festival of literature introducing a new generation of writers from Slovakia to British audiences (22 October – 28 November). Balla, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Ivana Dobrakovová are currently on tour, visiting Manchester, Oxford, Cambridge and London. The grand finale at Rich Mix in London’s Bethnal Green looks unmissable! Info & tickets HERE. Meantime, Lucy Popescu gives BookBlast’s armchair readers an exclusive flavour of what’s on offer in her three-novel roundup.
Big Love by Balla | Trs. Julia and Peter Sherwood | Jantar Publishing | Buy here
The Night Circus by Uršul’a Kovalyk | Trs. Julia and Peter Sherwood | Parthian Books | Buy here
Bellevue by Ivana Dobrakovová | Trs. Julia and Peter Sherwood | Jantar Publishing | Buy here
It is thirty years since the Velvet Revolution, so fitting that there is a surge of interest in literature from the region. The efforts of a two-translator team stand out. Julia and Peter Sherwood have worked tirelessly to find Slovak fiction a loyal English readership. They have been rewarded with the recent launch of three acclaimed books in their translation. Continue reading Guest Feature | Lucy Popescu reviews three novels by Slovak authors on tour
“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