BookBlasts® | Top 10 Black Classics for independent minds | June 2020

The prolific outpouring of support in the press, book trade newsletters and across social media in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd in eight minutes and forty-six seconds in Minneapolis gives a glimmer of hope at a time of pandemic bleakness and flawed leadership.

The murder of a black citizen at the hands of a white policeman, and protests against it, is nothing new, and is not only an American problem, but “shooter bias” is prevalent in Britain and Europe too. The 1967 film In the Heat of the Night starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger is a must-see film classic. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Black Classics for independent minds | June 2020

Review | Negative Capability: A Diary of Survival, Michèle Roberts | Book of the Week

Who am I addressing in this diary? Diaries are private documents, written for the author alone. The diarist writes to herself. Perhaps keeping this diary will compose a self for me, a future self, a possible self, a strong self I’ve touch with. In any case I need to keep on writing it. If I don’t, I may lose myself in that strange, timeless, scattered state again.”

An intimate confessional, a personal dialogue between the diarist and their persona, a record of private thoughts and feelings, an internal investigation juxtaposed with external observations of people set against a certain social and literary milieu – everyone is fascinated by diaries. A writer’s diary is of particular interest and very readable since storytelling is second nature. The text becomes a work of literature in itself, and is not just a record of daily doings. Continue reading Review | Negative Capability: A Diary of Survival, Michèle Roberts | Book of the Week

Review | Along the Amber Route, St Petersburg to Venice – C. J. Schüler | Book of the Week

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

Review | Memories of Low Tide, Chantal Thomas | 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

Review | The Ungrateful Refugee, Dina Nayeri | Canongate Books

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