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

Review | A Country to Call Home (ed.) Lucy Popescu | Book of the Week

So refugee week is over. The fact that the UK is the only country in Europe where refugees who arrive looking for a safe haven are detained indefinitely, and are often sent back home to face persecution, torture or death, will be kicked into the long grass once again. Certain politicians continue to use the language of disaster and provoke fear by swelling numbers of arrivals, backed by box-ticking Home Office officials.

Refugees are individuals seeking asylum for humanitarian reasons and suffer trauma, broken dreams, love and loss as a consequence. They are not amorphous groups to be rendered and processed and imprisoned in detention centres like criminals. Such a hostile environment is anything but a welcoming new home, and some go crazy with grief.   Continue reading Review | A Country to Call Home (ed.) Lucy Popescu | Book of the Week

Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck

On 9 November, the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published a list of 33,293 people who died trying to emigrate to Europe between 1993 and May of this year. The vast majority drowned in the Mediterranean. As a death toll, the figure is numbing. As a proportion of the EU’s population of 510 million, it is less than 0.007 percent – smaller than the population of, say, Skelmersdale or Haywards Heath – an influx that could easily be accommodated within our large, wealthy continent.

Jenny Erpenbeck, the brilliant German novelist whose four previous books have probed her country’s troubled 20th century history, has now turned to the greatest challenge it has faced in the 21st: the refugee crisis. Her latest book, Go, Went, Gone, eschews the magical realist elements of its predecessors in favour of a crisp documentary approach. It also draws on that classically German genre, the Bildungsroman, a novel charting the moral education of its protagonist. Continue reading Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | October 2017

Here is our October round up of eclectic reads to delight and inspire you, belatedly yours Georgia @bookblast

Joyful satire

Don’t Panic, I’m Islamicwords and pictures on how to stop worrying and learn to love the alien next door, edited by Lynn Gaspard  (Saqi Books) buy here

chris riddell don't panic i'm islamicCommissioned in response to the US travel ban, Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic includes cartoons, graffiti, photography, colouring in pages, memoir, short stories by 34 contributors from around the world, including: Hassan Abdulrazzak, Leila Aboulela, Moris Farhi, Alex Wheatle, Sabrina Mahfouz, Chris Riddell . . .
Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | October 2017

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | August 2017

BookBlast® presents our curated monthly top 10 reads, a little late because of taking time out in New York and Rhode Island.

bob mehr bookblastSex, Drugs, Rock’n’Roll

Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr (Da Capo, Boston) buy here

The definitive biography of one of the last great rock ‘n’ roll bands of the twentieth century. Though they hated punk bands that is how they were on and off stage.
Reclusive singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, and the family of late guitarist Bob Stinson opened up to Bob Mehr. Described by Alfred Soto in The Chicago Reader as being “A roaring rock ‘n’ roll adventure, a heartrending family drama, and a cautionary showbiz tale,” the book features new interview material and 72 rare photos.

Teen Rebellion 

How To Set A Fire And Why by Jesse Ball (Text Publishing Company, Melbourne) buy here

Sixteen-year-old Lucia Stanton’s father is dead, her mother is catatonic in a mental institute, and she lives in an unheated garage with her elderly impoverished aunt. She’s all in black and angry at our materialistic, capitalist society. Expelled from school for pencil-stabbing a boy who invaded her space, she is intelligent, interesting and impossible to be with, which comes clear as she relates the events of her life in a series of diary entries. To Lucia, arson is a form of class warfare. “I . . . thought about the fire. I know it was just an abandoned building but I felt like something had happened, a real thing for once. My aunt’s stroke had felt pretty real too. I guess real things happen all at once, and then you go back to the false parade of garbage that characterizes modern life.”

These first two books are recommended by a bookseller&lover working at one of the best  bookstores in NYC: The Strand, 828 Broadway (& 12th Street), NY 10003. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | August 2017