BookBlasts® | Top 10 Black Classics for independent minds | June 2020

The prolific outpouring of support in the press, book trade newsletters and across social media in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd in eight minutes and forty-six seconds in Minneapolis gives a glimmer of hope at a time of pandemic bleakness and flawed leadership.

The murder of a black citizen at the hands of a white policeman, and protests against it, is nothing new, and is not only an American problem, but “shooter bias” is prevalent in Britain and Europe too. The 1967 film In the Heat of the Night starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger is a must-see film classic. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Black Classics for independent minds | June 2020

Extract | Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, T. J. Gorton

T. J. Gorton’s debut novel Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy (Quartet Books) has been shortlisted for the Author’s Club First Novel Award. The winner will be announced tomorrow, Sunday 17th May, at the Authors’ Club LitFest Online 2020

The narrative moves back and forth between civil war in Beirut and the Levant of 1915-18, as Vartan Nakashian, an Armenian from Aleppo, looks back over his tumultuous life, involving espionage, betrayal and revenge at a time of war and genocide. Here is an extract to give you a taste of the author’s style and voice. You can buy a copy of the novel HERE

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“Dust motes danced in the sunbeams. Leaning back, he watched their senseless, ceaseless movement and for some reason thought again of old Bustros, the patriarch of a great Greek Orthodox tribe. He would be amazed to see his house today, nearly two hundred years after he built it; surrounded by roads and overlooked by an office block, its gar- dens bulldozed for another road that never happened, was never intended to happen. Turned into a no-man’s land where the militias dump bodies, sometimes burning them. Another reason to keep the windows shut, the oily smoke reeking of gasoline and barbecue. As though anyone cared to identify yesterday’s victims. It’s tomorrow’s they’re worried about.     Continue reading Extract | Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, T. J. Gorton

Interview | T. J. Gorton, author

TJ Gorton lives between London and SW France, when not locked down.  He had a brief academic career teaching Arabic at St Andrews, before being lured into an unloved career working for oil companies, mostly in the Middle East.  Since retiring, he has published seven books, from translations of Classical Arabic Poetry, to anthologies of travel writing about Lebanon, Beirut, and Jerusalem. His biography of a 17th-century Druze prince Renaissance Emir: A Druze Warlord at the Court of the Medici by Ted Gorton and debut novel, Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, shortlsited for the Best First Novel Aard, are both published by Quartet Books. Author website. @tedgorton1

Where did you grow up, and what sorts of books were in your family home?
I was born in Texas to a military family, beginning an itinerant life which went on to include spells in Turkey, Japan, Argentina, Turkey again, Beirut, Paris, Oklahoma, and Oxford. Growing up, there were not a lot of books around, though my mother subscribed to the Reader’s Digest so I would read that and anything else I could scrounge.

What books had the greatest impact on you?
One seminal one (early teens) was The Wisdom of the West by Bertrand Russell, who explained the mysteries of Greek philosophy in brilliant graphics and exquisitely clear prose; I still rummage through it from time to time. But the one book that blew my mind at about age 18 was Joyce’s Ulysses. Coupled with a superb English teacher, it opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of literature for remaking the world. Continue reading Interview | T. J. Gorton, author

BookBlasts® | Top 5 Nature Books for Independent Minds | May, 2020

Never has the word “social” been more used, just when this is probably one of the most antisocial times of our lives! To be locked down indoors with an azure blue sky and gorgeous spring sunshine outside the window is frustrating. So I decided to indulge in some armchair escapism, and find out what independent publishers have recently released, heralding the seasonal shift from Spring into Summer, and the annual arrival of winged visitors from the south.

According to the RSPB, not only do we have swallows and martins landing on our shores, but also warblers, flycatchers, wheatears, whinchats, redstarts, nightingales, yellow wagtails, tree pipits, cuckoos, swifts, nightjars, turtle doves, hobbies, ospreys, terns, puffins and gannets. An uplifting discovery, since here in West London, the pigeons and parakeets have colonised the back gardens, chasing away the starlings and sparrows, blue tits and robins who once flashed and flittered about.
Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 5 Nature Books for Independent Minds | May, 2020

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