Review | Monkey King: Journey to the West, Wu Cheng’en (Trs. Julia Lovell) | Penguin Classics

Views of China in the West have grown increasingly negative, with tensions heating up over the crushing of human rights in Hong Kong, the Uighur genocide and the activities of technology companies like Huawei. Violent attacks on Asian Americans have gone up since the start of the pandemic a year ago. Public officials representing the United States and China squabbled openly at official talks held this month in Alaska.

According to The Palgrave Handbook of Ethnicity, more than 40 million people of Chinese origin live outside mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau forming one of the biggest diasporic populations in the world. Cultural understanding is preferable to culture wars . . . It’s better to be enriched than impoverished, right? Continue reading Review | Monkey King: Journey to the West, Wu Cheng’en (Trs. Julia Lovell) | Penguin Classics

Guest Review | Andrew McDougall | Kokoschka’s Doll, Afonso Cruz (trs. Rahul Bery) | MacLehose Press

Kokoschka’s Doll is a surreal, poignant and sometimes dizzying reflection on the nature of the universe, life’s coincidences and, of course, the human condition.

“I’m writing a new book.”

“What’s it about?” Isaac Dresner asked.

“Who knows. About love or hate, the human condition, that sort of thing. What is any book about?” (pp. 99-100)

The narrative contains stories within stories within stories and different timelines shift and align and become revealed to us as the book progresses. There are frequent philosophical musings and many tales so unlikely they simply must be true. Chance, fate, destiny, divine intervention, call it how you will, weaves together an improbable cast across decades and continents to deliver us this Russian doll of a novel. Continue reading Guest Review | Andrew McDougall | Kokoschka’s Doll, Afonso Cruz (trs. Rahul Bery) | MacLehose Press

Review | In Glad or Sorry Hours – a memoir, Alastair Niven | Starhaven Press

Why write an autobiography? Setting aside the ‘celebrity’ memoir, it is generally undertaken in a person’s later years, usually to give insights into how experiences have shaped them as a person . . . to preserve their life story for future generations . . . to shed light on an important moment in time . . . or to set the record straight.

Alastair Niven starts his engaging memoir, In Glad or Sorry Hours, in his early childhood, ending in the present, spanning a period of social and cultural innovation. He played an influential role, contributing to shaping the evolution of culture in England for over three decades: at the Africa Centre, the Arts Council, the British Council, as President of English PEN and at Cumberland Lodge. For twenty years he was Chairman of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Discerning and generous in using his power, he clearly deeply cares about the value and wellbeing that literature and culture bring to individuals and to society. Continue reading Review | In Glad or Sorry Hours – a memoir, Alastair Niven | Starhaven Press

Book 2 Review | Andrew McDougall | Havana Year Zero, Karla Suárez & Fate, Jorge Consiglio | Charco Press

Havana Year Zero by Karla Suárez, translated by Christina MacSweeney, is a brilliant, intense mystery where the past resurfaces in the present to suggest new possibilities for the future, amidst growing tension and constantly subverted expectations.

When the city and everything around you is a shambles, the best course of action is to build something, however small, something that will bring back the taste of the word future to your mouth. (p.227) Continue reading Book 2 Review | Andrew McDougall | Havana Year Zero, Karla Suárez & Fate, Jorge Consiglio | Charco Press

Review | Venice Noir, Isabella Panfido trs. Christine Donougher | Dedalus Books

Venice Noir: The Dark History of the Lagoons is by a Venetian writer, cultural journalist and radio presenter, Isabella Panfido. To read about the folklore, myths and legends of the lagoon replete with an insider’s knowledge is not so usual. Venice Noir is a declaration of love for the islands and their inhabitants, and the sacred, inviolable waters of the Lagoon. It is neither straight history, nor a tourist guide, or pure fiction, but a poetic amalgamation of all of these. 

A truly unique city built on a series of low mud banks between the tidal Adriatic, La Serenissima has charmed, fascinated and ensnared legions of romantics, visitors, artists and writers for centuries . . . Proust, Henry James and Thomas Mann . . .  Muriel Spark, Lesley Blanch and Janet Todd . . . Anita Brookner, Daphne du Maurier and Donna Leon to name but a few. Continue reading Review | Venice Noir, Isabella Panfido trs. Christine Donougher | Dedalus Books