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.”
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
“Tomorrow, yes, I will leave this house. I’ll abandon the village and the life here, all the faces that I love I will leave. The friends, the objects, the doors, the pavement slabs, the tall eucalyptus and the wild olive trees, the orange groves, the roads, the markets, the music, the fruit, the dancing, the window of blue, I’ll leave it all, no strength left.”
Looking out to sea, Collette Fellous remembers her 1950s Tunisian childhood, her father, and lifelong friend, the writer Alain, who “died like a Greek hero, with an unheard howl, in the middle of the Aegean Sea, at the helm of his yacht.” She looks at the past in attempt to understand the brutal present on which she wishes to turn her back.
I could talk about that death; I haven’t the strength to discuss the others. This tilting world, how can we talk about it, how make sense of it? Only by naming the appalling blow those deaths have dealt each one of us, the deep wound they have gouged which can never be healed, the birth of a new kind of warfare, and this terror that is taking root everywhere, even within our own bodies. Continue reading Review | This Tilting World, Colette Fellous trs. Sophie Lewis | Book of the Week
“Unlike economic migrants, refugees have no agency; they are no threat. Often, they are so broken they beg to be remade into the image of the native.”
A blend of memoir and reportage, The Ungrateful Refugee packs a powerful punch and should be recommended reading for secondary school aged children.
Dina Nayeri describes her personal experience intertwined with that of the people she interviews as they all flee from persecution and death. Boats are braved and seas crossed by people fuelled by terror, courage and hope. The refugees are rescued and pitied — often by the regimes that created the trouble and strife they are escaping from in the first place. This small but important fact is invariably overlooked as the new arrivals are demonised by populist rhetoric that is bolstered by polices that reek of organised selfishness. Refugees “need friendship, not salvation.”
Nayeri revisits her own chaotic past in 2016 when she becomes a mother. “I had changed my face and hair, my friends, my education, my country and job so often, that my skin felt raw.” The five sections of her narrative — Escape, Camp, Asylum, Assimilation, Cultural Repatriation — recount the fate of individuals from different backgrounds as well as refugee support volunteers, lawyers and other decent human beings. The uniting theme is that refugees be given a voice, an identity, and that their stories be heard.
Continue reading Review | The Ungrateful Refugee, Dina Nayeri | Canongate Books