Villager

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Read 08/05/2022-12/05/2022

Rating 5 stars

Villager is Tom Cox’s first novel. I’m not going to call it a debut, because the author has a wealth of writing already in his back catalogue.

Cox is a writer of place. His books 21st Century Yokel and Ring the Hill explore landscape and folklore, mixed with Cox’s eye on the world and its margins. His short story collection Help the Witch marries that sense of place and love of folklore with fictions that open the door a crack to the other places hidden just behind what we experience as real.

His writing in Villager is a beautiful leap off from the coiled force present in some of the longer pieces in Help the Witch. There is folklore here, but also Bildungsroman, speculative fiction, diary writing and cultural reference points that span Mary Oliver, Mike Leigh, Oliver Postgate and Public Enemy. The story sprawls over time and place, slipping through the margins and brushing up against its own past and future. At its heart is a collection of songs written by an itinerant musician, and one ancient song in particular that echoes through the narrative. Continue reading

Where We Find Ourselves: Poems and Stories of Maps and Mapping from UK Writers of the Global Majority

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Read 29/04/2022-30/04/2022

Rating 5 stars

My friend Dipika has a story in this anthology, which gathers together poems and stories of maps and mapping from UK writers of global majority communities.

These are tales of place, covering diaspora, exile, identity, childhood and family. The writers are all based in the UK and are from a wide range of communities. After finishing The Good Immigrant, I wanted to sink my teeth into more writing from communities that are underrepresented in the literary world, and this offering from Arachne Press gave me the opportunity to do just that. Continue reading

The Good Immigrant

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Read 19/04/2022-29/04/2022

Rating 5 stars

The Good Immigrant is a collection of essays by 21 British writers who “explore what it means to be Black, Asian and minority ethnic in Britain today”. It was published by Unbound in 2016. In the six years since it first appeared in print, the world has moved on and the white devised acronym BAME is rightly seen as reductive now.

On the back cover is a question that each of these essays seeks to answer: “What’s it like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you unless you win an Olympic gold medal or a national baking competition?” Continue reading

The Silence of the Sea

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Read 07/04/2022

Rating 4 stars

The Silence of the Sea is a novella of occupation and resistance. It was published in German-occupied France in 1942, not quite two years after the occupation began. Its author, Jean Bruller, wrote it in roughly eight months, publishing under the pseudonym Vercors. I borrowed a bilingual edition from the library that reproduces the definitive French text published in 1964 alongside Cyril Connolly’s 1944 translation into English. Continue reading

Sugar and Slate

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Read 15/03/2022-29/03/2022

Rating 4 stars

Sugar and Slate is a memoir about growing up mixed race in North Wales. Paula chose it as this year’s Dewithon book and I managed to find a library copy. It’s partly fictionalised and the author’s reminiscences about her own life are punctuated by poetry and dramatic scenes that tell the story of her parents and the broader stories of nationality, race and belonging. Divided into three sections, Africa, Guyana and Wales, the book examines how these places have impacted and influenced the author’s life, and how their presence as points in the slavery triangle explain how the author came to exist. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: From The End of the Affair to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Here we are at the first Saturday in March, meaning it’s time for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

The starting book for this month’s chain is Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, about extramarital love in a time of war. Although I haven’t read this one, I like Graham Greene’s writing and am interested in reading this novel at some point.

Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: From No One Is Talking About This to Pachinko

January disappeared quickly, which is most unlike it. Here we are at the first Saturday in February, which makes it time for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

This month, Kate has chosen a recent novel that made the Booker shortlist last year, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I haven’t read it myself, but I have read other people’s opinions of it.

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Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain

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Read 09/01/2022-27/01/2022

Rating 4 stars

I like Sathnam Sanghera. He makes difficult, emotive subject matter accessible. His documentary about the Amritsar massacre led me to Kim Wagner’s book Amritsar 1919. I haven’t yet watched his Empire State of Mind series, but I reserved his book Empireland somewhere in the distant past of 2021 and it arrived from the library at the start of this year.

Empireland begins with a set of acknowledgements that include the following statement, “… I’m going to spend as little time as possible fretting about definitions: almost every term used in discussion of empire, from ‘colony’ to ‘commonwealth’ to ‘colonialism’, to say nothing of ‘race’ and ‘racism’, can be contested, their meanings changing over time.” Sanghera goes on to say that immersion in definitions produces long academic books, and his ambition in writing Empireland was to create the opposite.

He has succeeded. Empireland is Sanghera’s personal exploration of who he is, as a British Sikh, and how empire has created the environment he grew up in, as well as influenced the language and attitudes everyone in Britain has, across race, gender, religion and politics. Continue reading

The Radetzky March

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Read 02/01/2022-09/01/2022

Rating 5 stars

Onwards in my European literary tour to Austria. Joseph Roth was born in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now in Ukraine, but studied in Vienna and is considered to be an Austrian writer. I have his novel The Radetzky March in a Folio edition, which is no longer in print.

The Radetzky March is considered to be a political masterpiece that draws parallels between the elevation and subsequent fall of a military family and the decline and eventual collapse of the Habsburg monarchy. The focus of the novel is the Trotta family, Austro-Hungarians of Slovenian origin, the patriarch of whom rescues Emperor Franz Joseph I from death during the Battle of Solferino. This earns him an elevation to the nobility and the title Baron Trotta von Sipolje.

It’s a funny book that captures the camaraderie of military life, the ridiculous nature of civil service life, the generational changes in parent-child relationships, and the curious rigidity of friendship between men of a certain class. Having studied the causes of the First World War at school, it also provided a different, more social context to the political one I garnered from O Level text books in the 1980s.

It’s also a poetic book, in the way Roth describes landscape, seasons, thoughts and emotions. His turn of phrase is perfection. I loved the lightness of his touch, the humour and fondness for his characters, and the way he skewers the social structures of the time, while simultaneously mourning their passing. Continue reading