The BookBlast Review | Arab Jazz by Karim Miské

La vie est belle, le destin s’en écarte
Personne ne joue avec les mêmes cartes
Le berceau lève le voile, multiples sont les routes qu’il dévoile
Tant pis, on n’est pas nés sous la même étoile.”
IAM – Nés sous la même étoile [Born Under the Same Star]

Although a thriller, Arab Jazz is really about muddled identities, lives destroyed by religious extremism, and dysfunctional families coexisting in fragile racial harmony in impoverished neighbourhoods. The narrative travels between the ungentrified 19ième arrondissement of  north-east Paris, home of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket killers, and Brooklyn, with its Sephardic and Hasidic synagogues and kosher diners. Karim Miské’s debut novel excellently translated by Sam Gordon is a good, very ‘real’ read. 

Continue reading The BookBlast Review | Arab Jazz by Karim Miské

Book of the Week | Oh, Freedom!

“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ − one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” The spirit of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech made on 28 August, 1963, underpins this captivating and lyrical children’s book, deftly translated from the Italian by Siân Williams. The Oh Freedom! playlist at the end of the book is a natty touch.

Freedom of thought, religious freedom, freedom to live a fulfilled and happy and better life . . . People fleeing from the violations and abuses of tyrannical regimes all around the world dream of it. Oh Freedom! How precious you are!  To what lengths will people go, in the hope of starting a better life?
Continue reading Book of the Week | Oh, Freedom!

Indie Publisher of the Week | Ghassan Fergiani

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My father was a teacher, a bookseller and a publisher. He was a reader. I grew up around books in our family house. My mother was not a reader of books, more of magazines, but I remember growing up listening to all the stories she told us at night time.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Growing up in Tripoli, I spent most of my time after school at my father’s bookshops, sometimes at the Arabic bookshop and sometimes at the English Language bookshops. I wasn’t the only one, my siblings and cousins were there too, so it was a bit of fun and a bit of work. When I was young I did think I would be in the book life.
Continue reading Indie Publisher of the Week | Ghassan Fergiani

Translator of the Week | Siân Williams

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a translator and the founder of The Children’s Bookshow, a national tour of writers and illustrators of children’s literature which has been taking place in theatres across England each autumn since 2003. For most of my working life I was a publisher, initially founding, with three others, Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
The Old Curiosity Shop, Jane Eyre, Little Women, Ten Twentieth Century Poets (which I remember included poems by Auden, T.S. Eliot, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, Edwin Muir, Yeats, Thomas Hardy amongst others, perhaps I didn’t like the others!).  I also loved Longfellow as a child and Palgrave’s Golden Treasury I think it was called.  Many many more, I’ve always been a voracious reader so a list would take a book!

Later, I came to love Russian literature, so Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Mandel’shtam’s poetry in particular during adolescence.
Continue reading Translator of the Week | Siân Williams

The BookBlast Interview | Melanie Schwapp

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I love life . . . the good, the bad and the messiness of it. I love the fact that we are all here bumbling our way through, and that each of our messes are the lessons that help to straighten out the jumbled lines. I live my life as such – I think that perfection is over-rated, so I do the things that make me happy, albeit imperfectly. I was never formally trained in landscaping or interior design, yet these are the occupations I’ve chosen because of my sheer love of plants, nature, sun, dirt, and families. The best part is, at the end of the day, I get to write about perfect imperfection.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A mother. I dreamt of the day when I would hold a tiny little being in my arms and build a home around it. Continue reading The BookBlast Interview | Melanie Schwapp

The BookBlast Review | Dew Angels

Dew Angels is one of the best young adult novels I have read in a long time. It’s not just Melanie Schwapp’s strong, lucid writing; believable, engaging characters; compelling plotlines; and snappy pace, but also how the reader sees the world through fourteen-year-old Nola’s eyes. My ‘inner teenager’ certainly identified with underlying aspects of the story: the need to be loved and to belong; the agonies of first love and heartbreak; the power of anger; to feel comfortable in my skin and at one with the roots of my identity; and, most of all, the need for self acceptance. These are concerns that never completely go away even when one is a so-called ‘adult’ who has – supposedly! – learned how to handle things.

At birth, Nola Chambers is ostracized by her family for having skin “black as a moonless night”, while her siblings have skin “as golden as the retreating sun”. She is obliged by the headmistress  of her school to do homework with Dahlia whose mother runs Merlene’s Bar and Grill, known locally for being a den of evil. “There was music coming from the bar. The deep reggae bass seemed to spur on her racing heart as she walked past the red door. A woman in a tight orange mini skirt and tubed top leaned against the jamb, blowing streams of smoke from her nose as she drew on a cigarette.” The gambit works and Nola discovers the meaning of committment, friendship and fun. She also learns that gossip is malicious and fuels prejudice founded on ignorance, fear and envy.
Continue reading The BookBlast Review | Dew Angels

Book of the Week | Betty Boo

A new literary genre: paranoid fiction. Everyone is a suspect; everyone feels pursued,” Ricardo Piglia (published by Deep Vellum & Duke University Press).

Beef, gauchos and the tango. Eva Perón, military dictatorship and The Disappeared. Maradona, the 1986 World Cup and Thatcher’s last stand for Empire. Such are the answers of friends when asked what images Argentina conjures up in their mind’s eye. To which I would add, bookishly, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar and Ernesto Sabato.

Crime novelist Claudia Piñeiro is a welcome discovery. All Yours, A Crack in the Wall, Thursday Night Widows published by Bitter Lemon Press, and now Betty Boo, give an alternative, very contemporary view of Argentina. The abuse of public power for private benefit is increasingly a global problem, manifested in myriad nuanced ways at a local level. Corruption is invariably intrinsic to the way power is exercised. Just recently, the name of Argentina’s new president, Mauricio Macri, appeared in the Panama Papers leaked files. Continue reading Book of the Week | Betty Boo

Indie Publisher of the Week | François von Hurter, Bitter Lemon Press

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
With a Greek mother and a Swiss/Austrian father, the bookshelves at home were the reflection of a mad continent. Goethe, Mann, Holderlin rubbing shoulders with Leigh Fermor, Kavafy and Seferis. And many biographies of T.E. Lawrence.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Loved reading ‘from the start’ but publishing is a second career, begun at age 57.

Has your vision from when you started Bitter Lemon Press 13 years ago changed?
We entered the water gingerly, with a narrow focus on translated crime fiction. We have since diversified into novels written in English, both literary crime and general literary fiction, and also added a non-fiction imprint called Wilmington Square Books. WSB publishes thoughtful and engaging books about culture and society. Continue reading Indie Publisher of the Week | François von Hurter, Bitter Lemon Press

Author of the Week | Claudia Piñeiro

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Woman, writer, mother, honest, curmudgeon.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My top three careers were: Sociologist, Ecologist, Mathematician. In other words, everything!

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
David Grossman’s To The End Of The Land.

Why do you write?
Because writing is part of who I am. It’s existential. I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t write.
Continue reading Author of the Week | Claudia Piñeiro