Six Degrees of Separation: From The Book of Ramallah to The Book of Istanbul

It’s the first Saturday of the month and time once again for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. This month we start our chains with the book that was the final link in last month’s chain.

I chose The Book of Ramallah, a collection of short stories by writers from or based in this Palestinian city. This month, I’m going to use it to promote the books of its Manchester-based radical left wing publisher, Comma Press, and the female editors and writers featured in their books.

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Variations

Variations is a collection of short stories inspired by real events that explore transgender history in Britain. The stories take a variety of forms, from diaries, letters and oral history interviews to blogs and screenplays. Across the collection, Juliet Jacques follows a series of trans people and their experiences from the 19th through to the 21st century. She opens each story with a paragraph that contextualises what follows and regularly includes footnotes with further context. This gives such an air of authority that I began to question whether this book gathered together fiction or fact. In a way, it does both. Jacques has written a history of trans experience but disguised it as fiction.

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Notes from Childhood

Notes from Childhood is Norah Lange’s memoir of her childhood, published in Charlotte Whittle’s English translation by And Other Stories in 2021. I chose to substitute it for one of my original 10 Books of Summer as I wanted to read it for Women in Translation Month.

I don’t know much about Norah Lange, other than she was part of the same Buenos Aires writing circle as Jorge Luis Borges. And Other Stories published a translation of her novel People in the Room, also with Charlotte Whittle, in 2018.

Lange’s memoir begins in 1910, when she was around five years old and the family left Buenos Aires for their estate in Mendoza. It documents her observations of the world and her family, with some fictionalisation here and there.

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Jolts

Jolts is a short story collection from the Argentine writer Fernando Sdrigotti. It’s a punchy collection that looks at being an émigré from somewhere and an immigrant to somewhere. Across the nine stories there is anger, frustration, a sense of being lost in spaces in between, broken up by leaving bits of yourself in the places you inhabit and move on from.

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Ways of Living

Gemma Seltzer’s collection of short stories centred on the lives of female Londoners is in some respects more Ways of Leaving than Ways of Living. Its principal characters are seeking escape. In their escape, they’re also looking for understanding, whether that’s understanding themselves or being understood by others. The nature of friendship is placed under a microscope and found to be largely a matter of convenience.

The women could be anywhere. That they are in London adds a different flavour – the proliferation of people performing an artistic life and vying for attention, the particularities of multicultural working class life in the unmonied areas – but the lives portrayed here could be lived in any city. Even a global city is parochial, when you dig down into it. Perhaps the London-ness of these stories is that the strangeness of the characters’ behaviour is normalised.

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Into The Wilds

Into The Wilds is an anthology of short stories from British South Asian writers and the first publication from new imprint Fox & Windmill. Set up by two graduates from the University of Huddersfield as a start-up company, this independent publisher aims to publish works that reflect British South Asian culture. Habiba Desai and Sara Razzaq, like many readers from a non-white background, didn’t often see themselves in the fiction they read and decided to do something about it.

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Many People Die Like You

Many People Die Like You is Lina Wolff’s first collection of short stories, originally published in 2009 and made available in English by And Other Stories in 2020. The English language edition has two additional stories. All are translated by Saskia Vogel, who also translated The Polyglot Lovers.

I love Wolff’s writing in both of the novels I have read. I especially love the way she revels in people’s strangeness, and this collection didn’t disappoint. It takes us into Wolff’s odd but compelling world of unconventional women and the men they are bemused and offended by, and sometimes attracted to. In these brutal and funny stories, Wolff has things to say about loneliness and questions the absolute necessity of belonging.

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What Concerns Us

What Concerns Us is Laura Vogt’s second novel and her first published in English translation. Her translator Caroline Waight has done an excellent job of maintaining the poetry of Vogt’s story of three women.

I was offered the opportunity, by the publisher Héloïse Press, to read and review Vogt’s novel ahead of publication in August, as I’d loved Erica Mou’s Thirsty Sea. I was intrigued by the description of the novel as “A book without filters, a blunt depiction of pregnancy, sex, maternity and relationships through the lives of three women.”

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Staying Home: Short Stories

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Read 02/06/2022-03/06/2022

Rating 4 stars

Staying Home is a collection of four short stories selected from the 2020 Comma Press Short Story Course. These course collections are available exclusively in Kindle format for 99 pence each, and are often the first time the included writers have been published.

The 2020 course collection features four women writers, one of whom is a friend. The course took place online in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, and this is reflected in the subject matter of one the stories. Continue reading

The Book of Ramallah

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Read 29/05/2022-02/06/2022

Rating 5 stars

Comma Press in Manchester publishes a series called Reading the City, in which stories from cities around the world are brought together in an anthology, often stories that have not been translated into English before. I picked up The Book of Ramallah at the recent Northern Publishers’ Fair at Manchester Central Library.

During the pandemic, I’d watched Mayor, the 2020 documentary by David Osit that follows Mousa Hadid as Mayor of Ramallah over a two year period. Hadid comes across as that rare thing – a man of honour in politics. It’s a moving, funny, heartwarming look at what it means to be a Palestinian in a city hemmed in by occupation. It made me want to know more about Ramallah. This collection seemed a good place to start. Continue reading