Review | French Muslims in Perspective: Nationalism, Post-Colonialism and Marginalisation under the Republic, Joseph Downing | Palgrave Macmillan

The French Muslim community numbers nearly 6 million, according to Joseph Downing, author of French Muslims in Perspective: Nationalism, Post-Colonialism and Marginalisation under the Republic. The largest in Western Europe, it has more often than not been under a harsh spotlight following years of terrorist attacks, national debates over the hijab, the burkini and the right to offend and blaspheme.

Most are modest Muslims leading normal lives, appreciative of laïcité (secularism) and its freedoms, while the number of violent extremists is estimated to be only in the few thousands – “less than 1% of the French Muslim population become jihadists” – though this reality is not that which is portrayed by the mainstream Media. Many are fashioning new Islamic institutions and developing new ways of listening, reasoning and teaching.

Continue reading Review | French Muslims in Perspective: Nationalism, Post-Colonialism and Marginalisation under the Republic, Joseph Downing | Palgrave Macmillan

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

Review | As a God Might Be, Neil Griffiths | Book of the Week

What was the grand plan? Build a clifftop church and then hurry away back to London when it was finished? Or was he to remain and become a spiritual guide of some kind? He didn’t know . . .” 

Midlife crisis, existentialist angst, spiritual awakening, burnout, soul loss . . . the list of labels is a long one, but whatever the inner crisis, transformation or degeneration are among the possible outcomes.

Proctor McCullough and his business partner Jim are consultants on catastrophe – “futurology at its most pessimistic“. They run an “independent agency that analysed behaviour during terrible events and helped businesses plan better resolution strategies . . . Their small client base included corporations, broadcasters, and now the government.” He and his partner Holly, a solicitor for asylum seekers, have been together for 13 years and have six year old twins, Pearl and Walter. They live in a semi-detached Victorian house in Wandsworth. Continue reading Review | As a God Might Be, Neil Griffiths | Book of the Week

Interview | Neil Griffiths | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up? 
I was born in South London and grew up in various place in the South East of England.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
There were very few books in the house. No fiction at all. My first influence came from English teachers at school – a rather enlightened man gave me Crime and Punishment at fourteen. It all started there. And probably all ends there. My new novel has been compared to Dostoyevsky. Continue reading Interview | Neil Griffiths | Author of the Week

Review | Travels in a Dervish Cloak, Isambard Wilkinson | Book of the Week

The next morning, standing in the doorway to see me off on my way to the north of Punjab, to the capital, Islamabad, the Begum strained with both hands to raise a heavy old leather-bound Koran under which I ducked to receive divine protection. She resembled a classical figure holding up a torch so that I might see the good in her country.”

Two great matriarchs loom over this memoir which flies over Pakistan like a magical flying carpet: Isambard Wilkinson’s grandmother, and her friend, Sajida Ali Khan a.k.a. the Begum, from Lahore in the Punjab. As a small boy visiting the Irish family home that is suffused with a “heady, dusty fragrance” and chock-full of Anglo-Indian mementoes dating back to the 19th century, a warm and intoxicating vision of another world offered an antidote to the cold austerity of boarding school. His first actual visit to Pakistan was with his grandmother in 1990, to attend a wedding of one of the Begum’s children; and then in 2006 as foreign correspondent. His desire to explore the country and live there eventually was cut short by kidney failure, dialysis and successful surgery when his brother gave him a kidney. Travels in a Dervish Cloak has been seven years in the making. Continue reading Review | Travels in a Dervish Cloak, Isambard Wilkinson | Book of the Week

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