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 | 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

Podcast LIVE | Talking Thai with Narisa Chakrabongse, River Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

With the arrival on the scene of indie trade publishers like Deborah Smith’s Tilted Axis Press, and Will Evans’ Deep Vellum Books in the US, bringing new fiction from South-East Asia to English- language readers, and young translators like Mui Poopoksakul bringing Thai literature to the English-speaking world, writing offering an inside take on the region is getting fresh impetus and visibility.

River Books has been a respected publisher of books on the region for many years, offering readers in-depth, insider knowledge about South-East Asian art and culture. Narisa Chakrabongse, the founder and CEO of River Books, is the editor of the Oxford River Books English-Thai Dictionary. Chakrabongse Villas, the family home, is a small boutique hotel in Bangkok.

I caught up with Narisa Chakrabongse some months ago at the launch of Rabbit Cloud and the Rain Makers, and we met up later to talk about her unusual Thai-Russian-British background, being a foreigner living in a strange land and, of course, River Books. Continue reading Podcast LIVE | Talking Thai with Narisa Chakrabongse, River Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Lesley Blanch Archive | Lesley Blanch: One of a Kind | virago.co.uk

Article first published on posthumous publication of On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life by Lesley Blanch,15 January 2015 by virago.co.uk

As far as godmothers go, Lesley Blanch (1904-2007) was as good as it gets. She was an understanding and generous friend; listening without judging. She opened up new ways of seeing the world and was modern and free, with tremendous wit and style. Seductive and glamorous, she was a superb storyteller. A scholarly romantic, her passion was for all things Russian and Oriental. She never apologized for who she was, took risks and relished writing about her adventures. Resilient and alert to the end of her long life, she stood firm and dignified in the face of back-biting and envy.  

Lesley was ahead of her time, and prescient in the way she attempted to bridge West and East: especially the West and Islam. Although most people today associate her with the classic book which pioneered a new approach to history writing, The Wilder Shores of Love, her greatest work is The Sabres of Paradise. The way she writes about the struggle of the people of the Caucasus to remain independent of Russia is dramatic and disturbingly relevant to our world today. As Philip Marsden put it: “Like Tolstoy’s, her [Lesley Blanch’s] sense of history is ultimately convincing not because of any sweeping theses, but because of its particularities, the quirks of individuals and their personal narratives, their deluded ambitions, their vanities and passions.” Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Lesley Blanch: One of a Kind | virago.co.uk

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