BookBlast™ reviews Peirene No. 23 The Orange Grove.
UNICEF estimates that child soldiers are currently employed in thirty conflicts around the world. How are they swept up into a life of violence and used as instruments of war? 
“Ahmed and Aziz found their grandparents in the ruins of their house. Their grandmother’s skull had been smashed in by a beam. Their grandfather was lying in his bedroom, his body ripped apart by the bomb that had come from the side of the mountain where every evening the sun disappeared.”
BookBlast™ reviews Writers, Lovers, Soldiers, Spies: A History of the Authors’ Club of London 1891-2016.
“The history of the Authors’ Club is studded with famous names: Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, Rider Haggard, Ford Madox Ford, Graham Greene. Yet in the course of writing this history, I have learned that life, the culture, and often the very survival of the club have depended on others who are not so well remembered today. A healthy literary culture is not sustained by a handful of greats alone; it requires a significant number of dedicated, skilful practitioners who may not achieve critical accolade or vast commercial success yet persist in writing worthwhile, interesting books.” C J Schüler
Founded in July 1891, the aim being to “advance the cause of Letters”, the Authors’ Club was originally the social arm of the Society of Authors; admitting journalists, editors, men of science, dramatists and academics, and not only the writers of books. “While many clubs, including the Athenaeum and the Savile, had a number of literary figures among their numbers, none was specifically aimed at them. For an example of what he was trying to achieve, Walter Besant had to look across the Atlantic to New York, where an Authors’ Club had been founded in 1882, and included Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie among its members.” The Copyright act had just been passed, allowing British authors to receive royalties on American sales of their work. At the club’s inaugural dinner, Oscar Wilde raged at the Lord Chamberlain’s inspector censoring his new play, Salomé, with Sarah Bernhardt in the lead role.
“‘What a strange world this is,’ he said to me suddenly when the bus turned into Pulaski Street. ‘Before I’ve even had time to blink, they’re already calling me old, when inside I’m like an unripe fruit’.” – Wioletta Greg, Swallowing Mercury
Invasion, occupation, partition: Poland’s strategic location between Germany and Russia has made it a target throughout history. In 1990, after the fall of Communism, Lech Walesa became Poland’s first popularly-elected president. In 2004, Poland was one of ten new states to join the EU. Britain’s nationalist-minded tabloids make Poles the enemy, taking away jobs and homes. Post-truth politics thrive on ignorance, breeding fear and hate. We have much to thank Poland for – not least Chopin, Copernicus, Marie Curie, Joseph Conrad, Helena Rubinstein … and Häagen-Dazs ice cream!
Roberto Bolaño called novelist Alan Pauls from Argentina “one of the best living Latin American writers.” The Past, first published in the UK in Nick Caistor’s English translation, is about obsessive love, addiction and self-destruction, played out against a bewitching backdrop: Buenos Aires. It is a strange, unsettling read.
Protagonist Rimini is good looking and easy going; his partner Sofia is eccentric and strong. Their relationship seems inviolable and eternal to their friends, but “occasionally Rimini faltered. He wavered, ran away from Sofia, and then was enraged at his own weakness.” They split up after twelve years, but Sofia refuses to accept that they are no longer a couple, “two people like us cannot separate”. She writes letters and leaves messages on Rimini’s answering machine, obsessing about the importance of sorting through the hundreds of photos of their time together, but he is scared to look at them, “for fear of being sucked into an emotional whirlpool and drowning in it.” Sofia’s presence becomes ominous like that of a stalker. She clings on as he struggles to let go and make a new life.
“Style is not an end in itself: it is a result,” René Magritte.
A thinker, Magritte was in permanent revolution against banality and crass assumptions. He communicated his ideas through paintings, which he called “visible thoughts,” upending society’s conventions. He united the familiar in unexpected ways to create what is unfamiliar and often disturbing. Famous for playing with words and image, millions of people know his iconic painting of a pipe with the words beneath it, Ceci n’est pas une pipe (“this is not a pipe“) — point being the image may be of a pipe, but the pipe is not representative of the image.
In this brave new world of twenty-first century “post-truth politics” in which image matters to an alarming degree, and words no longer need bear any relation to reality, how everyday language disguises thought; the vagueness and ambiguity of words; and the gap between words and seeing, are hot topics. Déjà vu? Magritte captured the essence of the relationship between words and image over half a century ago. The first-ever publication of his Selected Writings in English by Alma Books is long overdue, and timely.
Lucien d’Azay is a novelist, essayist and translator whose work has been published by Éditions Climats, Éditions Les Belles Lettres, Éditions Sortilèges and La Table Ronde. He divides his time between Paris and Venice.
Once upon a time in the West, marriage was a strategic alliance between families, and it was often between first and second cousins. Polygamy was common until the Church prevailed and monogamy became the status quo, although men enjoyed extramarital affairs. Only in the 19th century did love get a look in; and in the 20th the idea of marriage being a partnership of equals took hold.
Divorce rates around the world have rocketed over the last few decades and in the UK more than a third of people are single, or have never married. Yet the happily married couple is still idealised. It is the domestic holy grail; the stuff of fantasy. ‘Brangelina’, ‘Kimye’, and ‘Billary’ are regular red-top fodder on to which we can transfer our dreams and desires, envy and self-righteous outrage, all depending . . . Image, image, image – but what really lies behind?
A happy marriage is a mirage, a miracle, or, according to Lucien d’Azay, a masterpiece. Two very different perspectives of marriage, desire and fantasy are offered to us, in his beautifully-written narratives, Sonia Stock and Ashley & Gilda. I just hope a canny British publisher picks them up and translates them into English, so that they can be savoured by readers on this side of the Channel.
“She had known from the start, before she could even speak or understand, that Malinka and her mother meant nothing to anyone, that this was how it was and there were no grounds for complaint, that they were lowly flowers, their existence unjustified, lowly flowers.”
Whatever reality is, it isn’t what it seems. Ndiaye goes through the looking-glass into a world of barren parent-child relationships, rootless limboland, and racial being and nothingness in this bewitching and unsettling novel. The eerily poetic prose is limpid yet has a blurred effect like reading with the wrong pair of glasses. Translator Jordan Stump has done a great job.
Three women − mother, daughter and granddaughter − form a cursed constellation; a yawning void between them. The banality of everyday life, and a desire for normality, are underpinned by a surreal, destabilising atmosphere.
Manuel D’Exil − comment réussir son exil en trente cinq leçons (A Survivor’s Guide to Exile in 35 Chapters) by Velibor Čolić
Both World War I and World War II originated in the Balkans. Central-Eastern Europe is a region that is terra incognita to most Brits. Prime Minister Chamberlain famously remarked about the Czechoslovak crisis in 1938: “How terrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.” Dictator Marshal Tito held Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and others in a state of uneasy alliance until his death on 4 May, 1980. Ethnic tensions grew in Yugoslavia and war broke out in 1990.
“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.
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 by Melanie Schwapp