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

Review | The Book of Birmingham, Kavita Bhanot (ed.) | Book of the Week

The Book of Birmingham is the latest title to be published by Comma Press in their cities in short fiction series which serves as an excellent introduction to some superb contemporary writers. The ultimate in armchair city tours, the series is ideal for discovering other places, other lives.

The Book of Birmingham – focusing on the second largest city in the UK after London which “sits at the central crossroads of England, the industrial heartland of the country” – brings together short stories by some writers known to me, (Kit de Waal, Bobby Nayyar, C.D. Rose, Sharon Duggal, Kavita Bhanot), and some not, (Sibyl Ruth, Malachi McIntosh, Joel Lane, Jendella Benson, Alan Beard, Balvinder Banga). The city’s “working-class foundation is inseparable from the city’s literature, reflected in the voices of its best-known contemporary authors: Jonathan Coe, Catherine O’Flynn, Benjamin Zephaniah, Kit de Waal, Joel Lane . . .

The voices in this eclectic collection are all significant and have a powerful sense of engagement with the city. They convey a thoughtfulness and lyrical elegance imbued by anger as well as a tender melancholy. Continue reading Review | The Book of Birmingham, Kavita Bhanot (ed.) | Book of the Week

Review | Emma, Other Ways of Seeing | Massot Éditions

Summer is the time for comics and graphic novels. They are an easier read when hanging out by the pool, or on the beach, than that 624 page whopper you finally have some time for, now that it’s the holidays.

Comic Books & Graphic Novels

From  Mad Magazine, The Beano, Billy Bunter and Asterix while growing up . . . to Charles Adams, Robert Crumb’s Kafka, Maus and Persepolis as an adult . . . comic books, and more recently, longer more complex graphic novels, are a delight. As culture has moved from being a print to a visual one, great novels like The Three Musketeers or Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way are now available in comic book versions. The trend is growing and business is booming. Those literati who turn their noses up at them are missing out!   Continue reading Review | Emma, Other Ways of Seeing | Massot Éditions

Review | Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1 | Maclehose Press

Some said it was karma, the industry had grown at an extraordinary upturn in the era of C.D.s – selling their clients their whole discography on a medium that cost half the price to make and was sold for twice the price in shops . . . with no real benefit to music fans, since no one had ever complained about vinyl records . . .” Age twenty, Vernon Subutex started work as an assistant at the record shop Revolver, and took over when the owner moved to Australia. File sharing on the internet thanks to the likes of Napster and Limewire heralded the beginning of the end of the party. In 2006 he shut up shop. 

Live for today, who cares about tomorrow?

Easy-going Vernon had drifted through Parisian night life, lost in music and high on sex and drugs, oblivious to time passing and how people change. “He didn’t do monogamy . . . Vernon understands women, he has made an extensive study of them. The city is full of lost souls ready to do his cleaning and get down on all fours to lavish him with lingering blow jobs designed to cheer him up.” Continue reading Review | Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1 | Maclehose Press

Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week

 “Our own, personal experience of the event – as it unfolded live in front of us – gets over-written, overlain with any narrative available that complies with Thomas Carlisle’s ‘Great Man’ theory, that ‘history is but the biography of great men’, that the rest of us, the ‘bystanders’, aren’t part of history. The short story rejects this version of events because, as a form, it has evolved to prioritise the non-heroes – the bystanders, the disenfranchised, the ‘submerged’ (as Frank O’Connor would say). And when it comes to ‘world events’, none are more suited to the short story than the protest. In a protest, we’re all bystanders, we’re all there because of some attempt to marginalise us; the bystanders are the people making history,” writes Ra Page, editor of Protest! Stories of Resistance.

The workings of the state when it is under threat are not pretty. One man’s system is another man’s nightmare. Protest! takes the long view. From the Peasants’ Revolt sparked by the Poll Tax of 1381 to the anti-Iraq War demo of 2003, the 20 movements featured in this superb book have parallels in terms of ideas and tactics and emotional charge. The framework of the anthology brings to life the events and the people involved. A short story like a snapshot in time is followed by an afterword by an academic who, in certain recent cases, was an eyewitness.

Prior protests loom large over present ones. This struck me forcibly while reading the stories and simultaneously following Westway 23’s facebook posts about the Grenfell Tower Protest in my neighbourhood. It is no coincidence that safe Tory seat, Kensington, went to Labour by a narrow margin for the first time ever in the recent snap election. The gruesome fire has illuminated years of institutionalised abuse and disregard for the law on the part of the corrupt powers-that-be. Establishment standard bearers The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Spectator have been accusing the ‘hard left’ of ‘hijacking’ the Grenfell fire tragedy for their own ends. Plus ça change.

Continue reading Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week