Posts in Reading

“Tram 83” by Fiston Mwanza Mujila: Review

It isn’t every day that you get to read a Congolese novel in English. In fact, the last time it happened, the country was still called Zaire. Tram 83 is an innovative literary novel that also deals with issues like neocolonialism and the scramble for Congolese resources.

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On the violence of borders

I recently visited Ceuta, a piece of the north African coast that belongs to Spain and is hence part of “Europe”. It was a very strange and disturbing experience to cross that border so easily just by showing my British passport, when many people with different-coloured passports die trying to do the same thing. Here’s a photo I took of the border fence. The houses to the left are in Spain; the hillside to the right is in Morocco. There’s also a small village on the Moroccan side, just out of… Read More

The Russian Window by Dragan Velikic: Review

When I was in Belgrade a while back, I bought four novels in a wonderful bookshop on the main street, Knez Mihailova. They were all literary novels by Serbian writers, translated into English. One thing they all had in common was a lack of plot. In literary fiction in any language, of course, plot can be less central than it is in other types of novel, but I was struck by the fact that in all of them, very little actually happened. They had a quieter, more meditative feeling than most novels I’ve… Read More

Review of Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

Did you know that there’s an Albanian tradition in which, if there are no male heirs, a woman can choose to become a man, as long as she swears herself to virginity for life? Neither did I until I read Sworn Virgin, a fascinating novel by Albanian writer Elvira Dones, translated into English and published in 2014 by And Other Stories (a wonderful not-for-profit, largely reader-funded UK publisher). I’ve been interested in Albanian literature ever since I discovered Ismail Kadare (who wrote the foreword for this book) many years ago, and… Read More

Completism

Can you recommend a good book by an author whose surname begins with Q, U, X or Y? It’s a strange question, I know. The thing is, I’ve been documenting all the books I’ve reviewed on this site since it started ten years ago, and I’ve organised them alphabetically, and… Yeah, OK, I admit it. I’m a frustrated librarian. In another lifetime, I would have loved to spend my days quietly shuffling books around from shelf to shelf in a library or bookshop. My choices have taken me down a… Read More

Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

The self-fulfilling prophecy is an ancient and fascinating component of literature. From Oedipus to Macbeth and beyond, characters have wrestled with disturbing or tempting prophecies, often with tragic results. As we survey the wreckage of their lives, we wonder to what extent the events were indeed fated or foreseen, and to what extent the characters’ own actions brought about their downfall. It’s a great device for exploring the concept of free will. A recent addition to the literature is The Fishermen by Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma. In a way, this is a simple… Read More

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

I read this book back in the spring, before it got shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize and got a fair bit of attention. But, as you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t been blogging very regularly, so I’m only writing about it now. What I liked about Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun was the way it explored the contrast between the internal and external life of its main character. We all have an internal life, don’t we? A set of memories and desires and fantasies that often don’t bear much… Read More

Q&A With Dodge and Burn Author Seraphina Madsen

Recently I read and reviewed Dodge and Burn, a startling and very original debut novel by Seraphina Madsen. I had the chance to interview the author about her writing journey and process, how it felt to convert painful personal memories into fiction, her experience of writing a novel and seeing it published, and more. She took the time to write very full and interesting answers, so please read on to get an insight into her experience as a novelist. Could you give us an overview of your writing journey so far? I have… Read More