Review | Witchbroom, Lawrence Scott | Book of the Week

BookBlast® reviews Witchbroom by Lawrence Scott.

Here at the window of the turret room, Lavren, at the sill of the Demerara window, Marie Elena behind him on her deathbed telling the last tales before the end of the world as bachac ants attack the rose bushes in Immaculata’s sunken garden, and woodlice eat their way through the pitchpine floorboards, and Josephine sits by the kitchen door shelling pigeon-peas: from this vantage point, Lavren can listen and write and tell the history of the New World.” So begins a hallucinatory Caribbean tale involving the imperialist land-grab, sexual anarchy, abandoned women, religious mania, “the destruction of the Amerindians, the enslavement of Africans and the indentureship of the Indians,” and culminating in self-rule and independence. “People were dreaming in the twilight barrack-rooms, in the kerosene-lit villages for the setting of the imperial sun.”

Caribbean-style magical realism

Lawrence Scott weaves a magical, lush tapestry of words and images, bringing alive local legends and family narratives; and redressing written histories. The impact of the events recounted still resonate in Caribbean society today. A quasi-historical novel, Witchbroom recounts the story of a colonial white enclave on an offshore island through muddled memories. The central narrator repeats what he remembers “from the distracted mind of his muse Marie Elena, and her art of telling stories while they eat Crix biscuits, rat cheese and guava jelly together in the turret room overlooking the Gulf of Sadness.” The stories are bewitching and highly disturbing. The reader surfs a tidal wave of addictive fascination like a Dickensian tricoteuse sitting beside the guillotine in Paris watching heads roll during the public executions of 1793-4.

puerto ayacucho bookblast

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Review | Arab Jazz, Karim Miské | MacLehose Press

As subdivisions or departments of bigger publishers, imprints break up monolithic companies, give space to individual editors to stamp their list with a defining character and originality, and reassure authors that they are not disappearing into the corporate ether. The MacLehose Press is an independently-minded imprint of Quercus Books, founded by Christopher MacLehose and publishing the very best, often prize-winning, literature from around the world; mainly in translation but with a few outstanding exceptions as English language originals.

La vie est belle, le destin s’en écarte
Personne ne joue avec les mêmes cartes
Le berceau lève le voile, multiples sont les routes qu’il dévoile
Tant pis, on n’est pas nés sous la même étoile.”
IAM – Nés sous la même étoile [Born Under the Same Star]

Although a thriller, Arab Jazz is really about muddled identities, lives destroyed by religious extremism, and dysfunctional families coexisting in fragile racial harmony in impoverished neighbourhoods. The narrative travels between the ungentrified 19ième arrondissement of  north-east Paris, home of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket killers, and Brooklyn, with its Sephardic and Hasidic synagogues and kosher diners. Karim Miské’s debut novel excellently translated by Sam Gordon is a good, very ‘real’ read. 

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Interview | Ghassan Fergiani, Darf Publishers | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My father was a teacher, a bookseller and a publisher. He was a reader. I grew up around books in our family house. My mother was not a reader of books, more of magazines, but I remember growing up listening to all the stories she told us at night time.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Growing up in Tripoli, I spent most of my time after school at my father’s bookshops, sometimes at the Arabic bookshop and sometimes at the English Language bookshops. I wasn’t the only one, my siblings and cousins were there too, so it was a bit of fun and a bit of work. When I was young I did think I would be in the book life.
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BookBlast® Archive | Empire Windrush, Onyekachi Wambu (ed) | Victor Gollancz 1998

BookBlast® was founded in 1997 to give voice to new or neglected writers, and to showcase world writing. The agency was one of the first in the UK to adopt online technology — the company website went live in 2000. It was selected by the curators of Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, as being of lasting research value and worthy of permanent preservation in the Web Archive of the Bodleian Libraries in March 2015.

At a young age, I was introduced to writers, stories and imaginary worlds from many lands.   To cross cultural boundaries and explore alternate ways of seeing and being is a great gift to give a child.

Sorting through the BookBlast agency archive has thrown up happy and sad memories, not only in terms of the projects and writers I have been lucky enough to collaborate with, but also the visionary commissioning editors who backed untried-and-tested writers and projects.

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Guest Review | Philip Marsden | The Sabres of Paradise, Lesley Blanch

The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.

Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11. Who, in 1960, would have dared predict that the heirs of the Red Army − that vast force which had done so much to shape the geo-politics of the late twentieth century, already humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen − should in 1996 be defeated, run out of its own territory by a band of lightly-armed Chechens which rarely exceeded a few thousand in number?

Continue reading Guest Review | Philip Marsden | The Sabres of Paradise, Lesley Blanch