David Olusoga is fast becoming one of my favourite BBC presenters (though David Attenborough will always have my heart). Olusoga presented the excellent two part series on Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners in 2015, showing how after slavery was abolished the legacy continued in the compensation paid out—not to the erstwhile slaves but to their “owners”—and in the underlying prejudices that became embedded in the culture. Brilliant documentary, watch it if you can.
His latest documentary is a review of African literature in the English language. It’s called Africa Turns the Page: the Novels that Shaped a Continent.
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Two books by Eileen Merriman
Get hooked onto Eileen Merriman for some fast, compulsive reading. These are page turners, books for which you need a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. Believe me, Merriman will disturb you enough. Don’t worry about the categorisation, read the YA books, too.
I first dipped into Merriman’s writing with A Trio of Sophies. Young adults must be into pretty dark stuff these days. The main character, Sophie, is a school girl with two other Sophies in her group, but there’s nothing Sweet Valley High about them. Plenty of rocks below those schoolgirl smiles. The main theme is a teacher/pupil power imbalance, a subject that probably could use talking around before giving this to your teenage daughter.
Continue reading “A Trio of Sophies & The Silence of Snow – book reviews”
No Friend but the Mountains, by Behrouz Boochani
This is an indescribably sad book about inhumanity. A man, born and raised in a war zone, escapes his home country with nothing more than his life (and “home” is a word that needs re-thinking in the context of this story) and yes, he gets away and is rescued at sea from a sinking boat by the Royal Australian Navy.
Thank God, you would think. Wouldn’t you?
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The Bell in the Lake, by Lars Mytting
Norway, 1880. So cold a woman leaned against a wall in church and froze to death, her skin stuck to the wall. No wonder my ancestors left. I love stories like this that are so atmospheric you need to wrap yourself in a blanket to read them.
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Tidelands, by Philippa Gregory
Apologies to those who were relieved when I recently announced I’d come to the end of my Philippa Gregory phase. Here we go again. I got a note from my wonderful local bookshop (Wardinis, since you ask) when online orders were allowed and thought this latest looked looked the perfect lockdown book. Delivered and gobbled. I have no desire to binge on Netflix in lockdown but I could re-read every Philippa Gregory on my bookshelves and be happily entertained for a few weeks, in a mindless-but-it’s-still-history sort of way.
Tidelands is a very readable book. Typical Gregory, meticulously researched setting, lots of truth in the detail and flights of ridiculous fancy to drive the story along. Continue reading “Tidelands – book review”
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
The book opens with a mass-shooting at a family gathering in Acapulco, Mexico. Luca, eight years old, is in the toilet. His mother, who has been waiting in the corridor, bundles him into the shower enclosure and “is clinched around him like a tortoise shell”.
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Pachinko does exactly what a good book should; it takes you somewhere else and shows you the world through different eyes. A story has to make normal to us what may seem strange, and to explain the world enough so the reader understands the observations without the narrator being too “telly”. This is hard to do across a cultural divide but in this epic story, Min Jin Lee gives us full immersion.
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Lenny’s Book of Everything, by Karen Foxlee
I was up at 3am crying this morning. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep and I thought I’d read a quick chapter of Lenny’s Book of Everything, ended up finishing the book and bawling my eyes out. Some books do that to you. This is one of them.
Audience-wise it’s a cross-over book, equally for teens and adults, about a young girl’s world. The voice is so honest and appealing, I can’t imagine anyone starting to reading this and not want to sit down with Lenny and hear her story. She is totally engaging.
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The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
The portrait of the girl in the red coat is of Maeve, and this is her story.
We come at this fact obliquely, as the narrator is Danny, her much younger brother.
I love this painting, presented on the cover of the book. I referred back to it many times as I read to bring Maeve into the room with me. She looks a damn good kid, but with a bit of spirit. Sharp. Initially, the painter is brought to the Dutch House to paint Maeve’s mother, who decides she is having none of it. So Maeve stares out at the painter throughout several long sittings, a little bit in love with him, but she keeps to her seat, steady and calm, the still focus of the house while things go on around her.
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Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
This is one of those books like a pregnant women. When you’re lugging the great lump around, so, it suddenly seems, is everyone else. The thing is everywhere. In the course of one week my son recommended it, my husband was reading it, I met a bloke on a tramp who couldn’t look up at the trees because his head was in the book and his girlfriend said it changed her life. Yeah, yeah. I got a copy.
Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind is a big book. Lots of pages, yes, but I mean big in the sense that every chapter is packed with some thought provoking perception. I didn’t agree with all Harari’s ideas but they were all interesting enough to make me rest the book on my lap for a while and think…hmmm…maybe he’s right. This is designed to be a life changing book. Bill Gates and Barack Obama both recommend it on the cover. It claims to be the “thrilling account of our extraordinary history—from insignificant apes to rulers of the world,” Quite the thesis.
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