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 | 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

Review | The Last Days of Ellis Island, Gaëlle Josse & Ellis Island: A People’s History, Malgorzata Szejnert

The Last Days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse @WorldEdBooks and Ellis Island: A People’s History by Malgorzata Szejnert @ScribeUKbooks offer an excellent complementary read, giving a different take on getting through the gateway to the Promised Land that was the United States a century ago.

Ellis Island in New York harbour remains the ultimate symbol of American immigration. It was the continent’s busiest inspection station for sixty years until it closed in 1954. Millions of immigrants went through an extensive and elaborate legal and medical vetting process when they disembarked: Jews escaping from political and economic oppression in czarist Russia and Europe; Italians escaping rural poverty; Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks and Greeks . . . along with arrivants from Syria, Turkey and Armenia. Approximately forty per cent of U.S. citizens today can trace at least one of their ancestors back to Ellis Island. Continue reading Review | The Last Days of Ellis Island, Gaëlle Josse & Ellis Island: A People’s History, Malgorzata Szejnert

Review | Vernon Subutex 3, Virginie Despentes | MacLehose Press

Look who’s back! Vernon Subutex: DJ guru of the nineteenth arrondissement. He is still homeless in Paris and more Peter Pan than ever. We first met him at the turn of the millenium as he was losing his record shop, flat and material possessions after his friend and benefactor, the rock star Alex Bleach, died of a drug overdose in a hotel bedroom.

Film producer turned sex predator, Laurent Dropalet, is desperate to find compromising videos revealing the truth about the death of his porn-star mistress recorded by Alex Bleach. He hires the Hyena, a tech whiz and ravening lesbian to track down the tapes (and therefore Vernon who has them); she switches allegiances to join the DJ and his cohorts.

Continue reading Review | Vernon Subutex 3, Virginie Despentes | MacLehose Press