The Book of My Lives – Aleksandar Hemon
In this moving memoir Aleksandar Hemon combines humour, compassion and a deeply felt humanity to create what is ultimately a lovesong to his native Sarajevo and equally to his adopted city of Chicago. It recaptures the exploits of a young boy growing up amid football, books, and an annoying younger sister. But this is no simple memoir. In the end, this book is a heart-breaking portrait of a city under siege and an entire world lost to one of history darkest and most bitter conflicts. For those who have enjoyed Hemon’s fiction, this offers a deeper insight into the man, the writer and the world from which he comes. For those yet to discover him, this is a timely, and intimate introduction. - ShivaunFor more recommended reads, click here.
We're shining the spotlight on the other Murakami in store. Not Haruki Murakami of Kafka on the Shore fame but Ryu Murakami. I remember reading Almost Transparent Blue when I was 18 or 19, that was more than two decades ago... What can I say? It left an indelible impression on me. To me, it felt like an indictment of a post-war modern Japan generation that had lost its way, and the author was riling against the emptiness (maybe even soul-lessness) of an un-tethered age. So, to celebrate the recent publication of Ryu's translated works by Pushkin Press, we thought we'd highlight several of his works. Check them out when you're next in!
Kishwar Desai's debut novel reads like part crime-thriller and part social commentary. Through this novel, we are informed about the scourge of female infanticide in India - certainly something I knew nothing about. I thought it only happened in China. After reading this novel, I looked online and found articles written by Kishwar on the topic. A real eye-opener - apparently, such practices are not limited to India; there is a growing trend among the Asian population here in the UK too.
We are introduced to Simran Singh, a social worker who returns to her hometown to help in a case where a 14-year old girl has been accused of killing her family - 13 members in all. Her investigations lead us into a world where caste systems prevail, where tradition and modernity collide, and one in which girls are perceived as a liability. The action moves quite swiftly along, with enough twists and turns to keep turning the pages. If there's any criticism, it's that I felt like everything tied up too neatly in the end and in an almost offhanded sort of way; kinda like a Miss Marple wrap-up if you will. I don't know why that bugged me a little. Perhaps because of the gravity of the issue raised, I was left wanting for some real justice to be meted out. Author Kishwar Desai will be speaking at Woolfson & Tay in October
. It will be an opportunity to understand and learn about the facts of such crimes. So don't miss the event. - Fran
Let's face it. This is not a book you read in one sitting. This is not a book you read for fun. This is a book that will invoke claustrophobia and feelings of helplessness. This is also not a book for the squeamish. This is a tale about an Afghan woman, stuck in her home, nursing a husband who is barely alive, keeping her children in check, even as she totters between grief, anger, frustration, sanity and helplessness. Outside, the bombs explode, sending dust and dirt everywhere; now and then, the sound of chants from wannabe martyrs punctures the silence; occasionally there is also the peppering of gun fire. Haunting, dark and sad. Very sad. - Fran
Imagine multiple afterlives. Imagine they are not as usually portrayed - not just harps and angels and pearly gates. One of them is a waiting room. This is where you go and you must wait, and wait, and wait. Until your name is no longer spoken on the earthly plane. Otherwise, you're stuck.
David Eagleman's deceptively simple scenarios in this collection of short stories can be read in a few ways. As the wanderings of a very imaginative mind. Or the musings of a neuroscientist (which is what he is) about the correlation between the mind, the body and the soul. Or a man who's just trying to remind us to stop griping and be grateful for all the many little things we take for granted, 'cos life really ain't that bad. Read it whichever way you like. You'll still be amused no doubt. - Fran
I really, really enjoyed this book. Read it in two days I did. Was transported to Mississippi circa 1960s, into leafy suburbs with rusty Cadillacs lining dust streets, where at any moment I imagined Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman's FBI agents would turn round the corner and would not be amiss. A story with believable, likeable protagonists, and where a few 'villains' are, it must be given, wafer thin in terms of personality or character development. Nevertheless, a story with heart and a good handful of twists and turns to keep the page turning. And I ended up rooting for a good ending for all the long-suffering, tough-as-old-boots, indomitable women who inhabited this novel. In fact, I 'saw' the entire book in my mind's eye as a Hallmark/HBO mini series with Oprah or Lisa Bonnet on the cast. Nothing wrong with that. Visceral, visual and exhilarating. - Fran
You know I haven't read fiction in quite a while, and I found myself feeling quite tentative when I decided to foray back into this genre. I'm not really sure why but I tend to go through spells when it comes to reading. If I'm doing non-fiction, that's all I do for a while, and over the last couple of years, it's been nothing but non-fiction, history or self development stuff.
But hey, you have to hand it to the publishers, Sceptre. The blurb on the back cover of The Other Hand reads more like an instruction manual than a synopsis, and it caught my eye. It's cleverly worded and potential buyers are admonished to not tell others what it's about after they've read it. So... like the good girl I am, I will not spoil it for anyone else. Except to say that when I read the first paragraph, I knew I had to buy it.
The book starts like this:
Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead - but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy, like lovers who met on holiday and forgot each other's names.
Now, who can resist an opener like this? I couldn't. It's a cleverly told tale about two women, who meet under extraordinary circumstances, and who years later, meet again. While the storyline is certainly engrossing, I enjoyed the book in large part because of Chris Cleave's mastery of imagery and the way in which he uses words in telling this unusual story. I remember the last time I felt such admiration was when I read Arthur Golden's 'Memoirs of a Geisha.'
But beyond all that, The Other Hand also paints a vivid picture of the trials and tribulations faced by an asylum seeker. Oops, I hope I haven't given too much away. This is definitely a worthy read. - Fran