In The Fig Tree, deftly translated by Olivia Hellewell, Goran Vojnović portrays three generations of a family whose lives are marked by the disintegration of Yugoslavia and its brutal aftermath.
Jadran’s grandfather Aleksandar was born in Novi Sad in 1925. Long before the Nazis marched through, Aleksandar’s cautious single mother, Ester Aljehin, married a dentist for his name and abruptly left him to settle in Belgrade, where she worked as a nurse. When she “caught sight of the first Nazi uniforms in the city,” fear drove her to move again and she arrived in Ljubljana in February 1942: “Slovenes seemed less intimidating than Serbs,” although they still treated her with suspicion. Years later, her son Aleksandar Dordevic arrives in Buje, Croatia. Employed as a forest warden, he feels like “an outsider with a local-sounding name.” Aleksandar and his pregnant wife Jana settle in Momjan (which later become part of Croatia), in a house he builds with his own hands with its own fig tree. Continue reading Guest Review | The Fig Tree by Goran Vojnović | Istros Books
Anna Kim’s The Great Homecoming, published by Granta Books just before Lockdown is a sweeping tale of friendship and betrayal that explores the devastating impact of the Korean War, Russian and American politicking and the Cold War on individuals, families and cities in Korea and Japan during the 1950s and ’60s.
Anna Kim was born in Daejeon, South Korea but grew up in Austria and wrote the novel in German. She has garnered much praise and recognition for her previous work, and is the recipient of, among other accolades, the Austrian State Fellowship for Literature and the 2012 European Union Prize for Literature, for her second novel Frozen Time. This slick and accomplished translation by Jamie Lee Searle is sure to widen Kim’s fanbase and acclaim, and rightly so.
The novel begins in the present day. A young translator, Hanna, who was born in South Korea but then adopted by a German couple, visits an elderly Korean man, Yunho Kang, who lives in the American missionary quarter in Seoul. When Hanna translates a letter that Yunho has received from America informing him of the death of a Mrs Eve Lewis, he embarks on reminiscing about Eve Moon, or Yunmee – for she is a woman of many names and identities – and his friend Johnny, in Seoul in 1959. Continue reading Guest Review | Rachel Goldblatt | The Great Homecoming, Anna Kim | Granta Books
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.
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
The prolific outpouring of support in the press, book trade newsletters and across social media in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd in eight minutes and forty-six seconds in Minneapolis gives a glimmer of hope at a time of pandemic bleakness and flawed leadership.
The murder of a black citizen at the hands of a white policeman, and protests against it, is nothing new, and is not only an American problem, but “shooter bias” is prevalent in Britain and Europe too. The 1967 film In the Heat of the Night starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger is a must-see film classic. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Black Classics for independent minds | June 2020
Michèle Roberts is the author of twelve highly-acclaimed novels, including The Looking Glass and Daughters of the House which won the W.H. Smith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She has also published poetry and short stories, and is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a member of PEN and of The Society of Authors.
I caught up with her by the telephone, on the eve of the Covid 19 lockdown, to talk about Negative Capability: A Diary of Surviving, her latest book out today with Sandstone Press, and much more besides.
Continue reading Podcast LIVE | In conversation with Michèle Roberts, Franco-British novelist