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

Spotlight | The 2019 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation

Translation is no longer marginalised as it once was, with its advocates being viewed as quirky oddballs lacking commercial sense and sensibility. The number of independent presses publishing translated literature in the UK has greatly increased in the past decade, often set up by people with a corporate publishing or banking background who are astute operators.  Booksellers are far less curmudgeonly than they once were. And somewhat unexpectedly, in 2015, Amazon Crossing published three times more translated fiction in the US than its closest competitors in America (FSG, which has a long tradition of publishing works in translation, and Atria, which mostly publishes books by celebrities).

The imprints of conglomerate publishers in the UK who publish works in translation – MacLehose Press, Harvill Secker, Sceptre, Vintage, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Penguin Press –  publish predominantly though not exclusively the sub-genre of crime fiction in translation, leaving the field open for the likes of Alma Books, And Other Stories, Arc, Carcanet, Comma Press, Dedalus, Fitzcarraldo, Les Fugitives, Gallic, Granta, Hesperus, Istros, Jantar, Norvik Press, Peirene Press, Portobello Books, Pushkin Press, Saqi Books, Scribe UK, Small Axes, and others, to publish experimental and literary translation. Continue reading Spotlight | The 2019 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation

Interview | Dina Nayeri | Author of the Week

Dina Nayeri is the author of The Ungrateful Refugee, one of the most widely shared 2017 Long Reads in The Guardian. Winner of the 2018 UNESCO City of Literature Paul Engle Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts literature grant (2015), O. Henry Prize(2015), Best American Short Stories (2018), and fellowships from the McDowell Colony, Bogliasco Foundation, and Yaddo, her stories and essays have been published by The New York Times, New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, New Yorker, Granta New Voices, Wall Street Journal, and numerous others.  www.dinanayeri.com @dinanayeri

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Tehran, lived in Isfahan until I was eight, then spent sixteen months as a refugee, arriving in Oklahoma when I was ten years old.

Did, or do, your family ever talk about life in Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution?
Constantly. The nostalgia around pre-revolutionary Iran was so visceral that it became a part of my growing up. All the joys and the rituals and the arts went underground or behind closed curtains, but we still had them. And our parents talked all the time about what Iran used to be.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
You had to be careful about what books you kept. So my parents kept very few novels, history books, or anything cultural, political, or even allegorical. Of course we kept the old poets: Rumi and Hafez and Sa’adi. There was The Shahnameh, of course. And lots of medical books. Shelves and shelves of medical books.
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Review | The Nowhere Man, Kamala Markandaya | Small Axes

History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us,” James Baldwin

Pete Ayrton, editor and publisher, who in 1986 founded Serpent’s Tail which he retired from in 2016, has teamed up with Rosemarie Hudson, the founder of HopeRoad (2010) to head up a new imprint: Small Axes.

The publication and promotion of literature from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean which challenges cultural stereotyping is becoming ever more urgent in the face of rising authoritarianism in the US, UK and across Europe.

The Small Axes list will focus on republishing post-colonial classics that helped to shape cultural shifts at the time of their printing and remain as relevant today as when they were first published.

He lapsed into bitterness, as people tended to do now, despite some shreds of conviction that still remained that Britain was an honourable adversary. ‘Over three hundred lives,’ he said. ‘A hundred Indians for each Briton. That is their scale, the scale by which they value themselves and against which we are measured. That is what we are up against: not their greed, or their anger, nor land hunger, nor the need to trade, but their arrogance, the mentality that produces such policies and acts.’” Continue reading Review | The Nowhere Man, Kamala Markandaya | Small Axes