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

Extract | Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, T. J. Gorton

T. J. Gorton’s debut novel Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy (Quartet Books) has been shortlisted for the Author’s Club First Novel Award. The winner will be announced tomorrow, Sunday 17th May, at the Authors’ Club LitFest Online 2020

The narrative moves back and forth between civil war in Beirut and the Levant of 1915-18, as Vartan Nakashian, an Armenian from Aleppo, looks back over his tumultuous life, involving espionage, betrayal and revenge at a time of war and genocide. Here is an extract to give you a taste of the author’s style and voice. You can buy a copy of the novel HERE

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“Dust motes danced in the sunbeams. Leaning back, he watched their senseless, ceaseless movement and for some reason thought again of old Bustros, the patriarch of a great Greek Orthodox tribe. He would be amazed to see his house today, nearly two hundred years after he built it; surrounded by roads and overlooked by an office block, its gar- dens bulldozed for another road that never happened, was never intended to happen. Turned into a no-man’s land where the militias dump bodies, sometimes burning them. Another reason to keep the windows shut, the oily smoke reeking of gasoline and barbecue. As though anyone cared to identify yesterday’s victims. It’s tomorrow’s they’re worried about.     Continue reading Extract | Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, T. J. Gorton

Interview | T. J. Gorton, author

TJ Gorton lives between London and SW France, when not locked down.  He had a brief academic career teaching Arabic at St Andrews, before being lured into an unloved career working for oil companies, mostly in the Middle East.  Since retiring, he has published seven books, from translations of Classical Arabic Poetry, to anthologies of travel writing about Lebanon, Beirut, and Jerusalem. His biography of a 17th-century Druze prince Renaissance Emir: A Druze Warlord at the Court of the Medici by Ted Gorton and debut novel, Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, shortlsited for the Best First Novel Aard, are both published by Quartet Books. Author website. @tedgorton1

Where did you grow up, and what sorts of books were in your family home?
I was born in Texas to a military family, beginning an itinerant life which went on to include spells in Turkey, Japan, Argentina, Turkey again, Beirut, Paris, Oklahoma, and Oxford. Growing up, there were not a lot of books around, though my mother subscribed to the Reader’s Digest so I would read that and anything else I could scrounge.

What books had the greatest impact on you?
One seminal one (early teens) was The Wisdom of the West by Bertrand Russell, who explained the mysteries of Greek philosophy in brilliant graphics and exquisitely clear prose; I still rummage through it from time to time. But the one book that blew my mind at about age 18 was Joyce’s Ulysses. Coupled with a superb English teacher, it opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of literature for remaking the world. Continue reading Interview | T. J. Gorton, author

BookBlasts® | Top 5 Nature Books for Independent Minds | May, 2020

Never has the word “social” been more used, just when this is probably one of the most antisocial times of our lives! To be locked down indoors with an azure blue sky and gorgeous spring sunshine outside the window is frustrating. So I decided to indulge in some armchair escapism, and find out what independent publishers have recently released, heralding the seasonal shift from Spring into Summer, and the annual arrival of winged visitors from the south.

According to the RSPB, not only do we have swallows and martins landing on our shores, but also warblers, flycatchers, wheatears, whinchats, redstarts, nightingales, yellow wagtails, tree pipits, cuckoos, swifts, nightjars, turtle doves, hobbies, ospreys, terns, puffins and gannets. An uplifting discovery, since here in West London, the pigeons and parakeets have colonised the back gardens, chasing away the starlings and sparrows, blue tits and robins who once flashed and flittered about.
Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 5 Nature Books for Independent Minds | May, 2020

Review | Pomeranski by Gerald Jacobs | Book of the Week

Loosely based on the author’s memories of Brixton in the 1950s and 1960s, Pomeranski reimagines a particular time and place very different to the gentrified South London neighbourhood of today. Now black-and grey-corporate outfits fill the streets, new hipster stores have purposely paint-chipped rustic interiors, and the over-priced street-food is largely for tourist consumption.

A motley crew is reunited at Benny Pomeranski’s funeral which “took place at a burial ground in Essex on a cold November morning in the year 2000, a week after his eighty-first birthday.” His son Simon recites the mourner’s prayer, the Kaddish, and then with his mother, Bertha, leads the way to the open grave where relatives and close friends shovel a handful of soil on to the coffin. Continue reading Review | Pomeranski by Gerald Jacobs | Book of the Week