Review | Sarajevo Firewood, Saïd Khatibi (trs. Paul Starkey) | Banipal Books

Saïd Khatibi’s polyphonic novel, Sarajevo Firewood, pays homage to the victims of civil war in Algeria and Bosnia in the 1990s, and gives the survivors a voice. Scarred by erratic memories and traumatic recall – indicative of the psychological wounds of war – writing is a way to come to terms with what happened.

“We might find a mass grave with a café or restaurant in front of it, which changed at night into a dance floor, on which the living took turns to move their bodies while the dead opposite them looked on silently.” Continue reading Review | Sarajevo Firewood, Saïd Khatibi (trs. Paul Starkey) | Banipal Books

Review | The Settlement, Ruth Kirby-Smith | 2QT Publishing, Yorkshire

He stood at the edge of the pavement, exactly on the corner, a full head higher than those around him. Olivia waited for him to dip his head as a sign of respect, but he stood there, very still, his hard blue eyes fixed on the oak coffin. Then he stepped forward and it seemed for a moment that he wanted to touch the coffin, to make the last contact with her grandmother before she was buried. Slowly, he lifted his head back, looking to the sky, then he jerked forward and spat a long stream down the window of the hearse.”

When all else fails and no peaceful solution can be found to end a struggle to control a country or a region, to achieve independence, or to force a change in government policy, warring camps form, families and communities are divided, and the killings and atrocities begin. The time and place and context might vary but the root cause for people taking up arms against each other is always the same: the pernicious polarisation of hate.

Continue reading Review | The Settlement, Ruth Kirby-Smith | 2QT Publishing, Yorkshire

Guest Review | Andrew McDougall | Theatre of War, Andrea Jeftanovic | Charco Press

Andrea Jeftanovic’s Theatre of War takes place over three acts and many scenes, and is acted out on various stages. True to its title, this is theatre in the shape of a novel, with the narrative being revealed to us in fragments, snapshots and scenes, rather than a continuous, flowing chronology. Often, however, of greater importance is what happens offstage, backstage, in the wings, behind the curtains, in the side corridors. The muffled voices, the memories, now louder, now quieter, echoes, dress rehearsals, the rumble of props being moved, the silence of anticipation, of waiting, of remembering.

“The curtain rises on the shadowy dining room of my first home. Some familiar objects: the stone statues and the flattened wolf hide. In the corner sits a table with five chairs; the one at the head wobbles. The wallpaper is stamped with faded rosettes. The spectacle of my childhood begins. Repeatedly changing houses, we are unable to anchor ourselves to any fixed point.” (p. 3)

Continue reading Guest Review | Andrew McDougall | Theatre of War, Andrea Jeftanovic | Charco Press

Book 2 Review | Wild Woman, Marina Šur Puhlovski & Under Pressure, Faruk Šehić | Istros Books

What can the novels Wild Woman by Marina Šur Puhlovski and Under Pressure by Faruk Šehić tell us about the breakup of Yugoslavia which caused such a tectonic shift in Balkan identity?

Each to their war and its troubled aftermath: one in the domestic sphere, the other out on the field and in the trenches. Both are informed by terror, brutality, power struggles and stubborn memories which refuse to go away. The gender split seems clear: survivors of domestic violence are primarily women and war veterans are mainly men each to their trauma.

Continue reading Book 2 Review | Wild Woman, Marina Šur Puhlovski & Under Pressure, Faruk Šehić | Istros Books

Lesley Blanch Archive | Giles: Friendship in a Time of War, British Vogue, 1944

Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.

In these unsettled, divided times in which segregation and racism are making an unwelcome comeback, positive historical reminders of tolerance and kindness are to be celebrated and shared.

The exhibition, Giles: Friendship in a time of war, curated by social historian David Cain, tells of the British cartoonist’s all-but-forgotten friendship with two African-American GIs, Butch and Ike, based near his Suffolk home during World War Two.

In the early 1940s, Giles lived with his wife, Joan, in Badger’s Cottage in Tuddenham St. Martin. He befriended several men serving with 923rd Engineer Aviation Regiment based at nearby RAF Debach. He often welcomed Butch and  Ike at his home for drinks. Giles loved Jazz and their musical evenings frequently spilled over into the local village pub.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Giles: Friendship in a Time of War, British Vogue, 1944