Guest Review | Lucy Popescu | The Blessed Rita, Tommy Wieringa | Scribe UK

The Blessed Rita is a compelling portrait of the forgotten, and Tommy Wieringa makes a convincing case for empathy with those living on the margins of society. There is a chilling beauty to many bleak landscapes and this stark portrait of a remote Dutch community, expertly translated by Sam Garrett, reminds us that the same is true in literature. Continue reading Guest Review | Lucy Popescu | The Blessed Rita, Tommy Wieringa | Scribe UK

Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | Mazel Tov, J.S. Margot | Pushkin Press

Ahead of the first two live podcast recordings of the 15-part weekly #BridgingTheDivide series going out on Thursday 30 July, here is a guest review of the featured book, Mazel Tov,  to give a taste of what you’ll hear and experience. Tune in on Thursday at 5 and 6 p.m. to hear author J S Margot and publisher Adam Freudenheim talk about their experiences.

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Towards the end of this marvellous memoir the narrator writes “If I occasionally had the temerity even briefly to think I could penetrate the millefeuille of Jewish culture, I was soon disabused of this idea.” The book is full of various cultural millefeulles that require penetrating – ironic considering that patisserie is the one gastronomic art that the Belgians do not excel in. 

Mazel Tov is the story of an extraordinary friendship – in fact several extraordinary friendships that marked the twenties of the author J.S.Margot. At first sight it is the story of a young Flemish woman at university in Antwerp who teaches the four children of an Orthodox Jewish family to earn a bit of extra money. It is also the story of her first great love for an Iranian political refugee. In both cases she is exposed to a culture and religion that is not her own. She also begins to realise that she is on the receiving end of a certain amount of paranoia and suspicion from both her employers and her boyfriend. Continue reading Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | Mazel Tov, J.S. Margot | Pushkin Press

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Self-isolating Minds | April 2020

According to HISTORY UK, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, “infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide – about one-third of the planet’s population – and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.” Luckily, however horrific the current pandemic, numbers such as those have not yet been reached, with 2,214,461 people declared infected 148,979 deaths and 560,309 people who have recovered at the time of writing. [Worldometer]

As Covid-19 wreaks havoc on all parts of the publishing and writing worlds – the Guardian’s listing of major cancellations makes for sobering reading – book fairs are starting to operate online, the Society of Authors has just announced its Home Festival (20 April to 1 May 2020), and The Royal Society of Literature is sending out an Only Connect thrice-weekly letter to subscribers, “helping us to stay close to one another in these times of isolation”. How sad it is to hear that the Chilean author, Luis Sepúlveda, has died of the dreaded virus at the age of seventy. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Self-isolating Minds | April 2020

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

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