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 | 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

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

Guest Feature | Lucy Popescu reviews three novels by Slovak authors on tour

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

BookBlasts® | Top 5 Reads for Independent Minds | Central & Eastern Europe

The fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago marked a symbolic end to the ideological split between East and West, spreading across Europe and dividing the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, and their allies, during the Cold War. 

Since 9 November 1989, European countries have built over 1,000 kilometres of walls along their borders, with the backing of new populist parties in Hungary, Austria and Italy, in a bid to tackle the continent’s biggest migrant and refugee crisis since the World War Two. By the end of the Cold War there were approximately fifteen walls and fences along borders around the world; today, there are at least seventy.

The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the issue of enforcing border checks, is a central issue in the Brexit negotiations. [Chatham House] Even if a border wall falls, it stays in the minds of people. A link between walls and a country’s mental-health problems has been made by psychiatrists. [The New Yorker Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 5 Reads for Independent Minds | Central & Eastern Europe