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

Dead Souls

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Read 27/10/2021-17/11/2021

Rating 5 stars

Next on my literary tour of Europe, I’m off to Russia. Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls is set in an unspecified Russian provincial capital, only referred to as N—. This undefined location means that I can fudge my journey on the map and visit Kaliningrad. This city is also a Russian provincial capital, but in a small exclave of Russia that sits on the Baltic coast between Lithuania and Poland, the Kaliningrad Oblast. Continue reading

Hadji Murat

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Read 11/08/2021-18/08/2021

Rating 4 stars

Hadji Murat is Tolstoy’s final novel, drafted and redrafted between 1896 and 1904, going through eight iterations before the final version was created. It is an examination of war and political posturing between opposing cultures that has relevance to the world we live in today. Continue reading

Knucklebone

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Read 04/08/2021-10/08/2021

Rating 3 stars

Knucklebone is a police procedural with a twist set in Johannesburg. Detective Ian Jack has left the South African police force to fulfill his late mother’s dream for him to get an education and not turn into his father. His former colleague Reshma Patel has risen up the ranks in the meantime and is now a Captain. They reconnect one night when Ian is shadowing a security guard as research for his Criminology MA, and the police are also called to the scene of a crime. Continue reading

Cockfight

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Read 25/05/2021-31/05/2021

Rating 4 stars

Cockfight is the debut collection of short stories by Ecuadorian writer María Fernanda Ampuero, translated by Frances Riddle, that explores the violence and exploitation that comes with being a woman in Ecuador.

The writing is lyrical and Riddle’s translation chooses words and phrases with care, capturing the visceral nature of Ampuero’s original narrratives. Continue reading

A Glastonbury Romance

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Read 01/03/2021-14/03/2021

Rating 4 stars

A Glastonbury Romance is an incredible piece of literature. It won’t be to everyone’s taste. It rambles and gets bogged down in verbiage at times, but it also soars. I was utterly absorbed and entertained by it. The story examines the nature and meaning of life on Earth through the peccadilloes of its characters and John Cowper Powys’s commentary on various philosophical ideas, from religion to politics via environmentalism. I think it portrays human nature honestly, for the most part, but also reveals that Powys at best didn’t understand women, and at worst was a chauvinist. Continue reading