American Pastoral

American Pastoral is the novel that won Philip Roth the Pulitzer Prize. It’s also the first novel I’ve read by him. It recounts the life of a high school athlete, Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, from his schooldays during the Second World War to a point in his adulthood where his daughter’s countercultural leanings disrupt his American idyll.

People speak highly of Philip Roth. As well as the aforementioned Pulitzer Prize, he also received multiple PEN/Faulkner awards. His complete novels were published in his lifetime, in a nine-volume series, by the Library of America. I only really paid attention when he died, though. Until then, I hadn’t even heard of him. Or if I had, his name and status hadn’t registered. It’s a funny old literary world, full of reading lacunae.

The first few pages of American Pastoral put me in mind of John Updike and Richard Ford, but better. There’s also a bit of Ray Bradbury about the writing, particularly his Green Town books. Roth’s phrasing has a beautiful rhythm that carries you like a river burbling through the story. Roth also managed to make me care about something that I really don’t care about – the very male world of competitive sport.

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The Good Journal Issue One

June 2018 seems such a long time ago. So much has changed, so much hasn’t. The Good Journal launched in June 2018, to build on the success of The Good Immigrant and provide British writers of colour with a showcase for their work. Unlike The Good Immigrant, issue one of The Good Journal has a mix of fiction and nonfiction. The writers are a mix, as well, of established and never published before.

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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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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

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

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 Trial

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Read 28/12/2021-31/12/2021

Rating 4 stars

The Trial is my Czechia book on my European literary tour. I’m still at the beginning of my journey with Kafka. I read The Metamorphosis a fair few years ago, which I loved and have re-read, and then I bought a copy of The Castle from a book fair in Hebden Bridge. I struggled with it while reading, finding it quite soporific, but in the months after reading it, found myself still thinking about it. It’s taken me seven years to pick up my next Kafka, though. Continue reading

The Invisible Bridge

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Read 08/12/2021-27/12/2021

Rating 4 stars

An unplanned side trip to Hungary with my next book. On Margaret’s Six Degrees chain for December 2021, I spied a title that interested me. The Invisible Bridge is a novel about the experiences of Hungarian Jews following Hitler’s rise to power and during the Second World War.

Author Julie Orringer is American, so the book doesn’t fit my loose rule for my European literary tour of reading books by authors from the countries I virtually visit. A large amount of the book is set in Paris, too, with a brief period in Ukraine. Continue reading