"There is no centre anymore. We live in a multipolar world, and culture reflects that." Fatima Bhutto
Enter Officer Anderson...

Enter Officer Anderson…

Cops are easy. All you have to do is show him your ID, explain you’re a congressman. There will be some perfunctory chit-chat, and you will make the officer feel important, for you know, like, providing the civil service that he provides, and he may or may not write you...
Deb Olin Unferth: Free the birds!

Deb Olin Unferth: Free the birds!

Deb Olin Unferth’s ferociously funny novel Barn 8 drops Brooklyn teenager Janey Flores into the utterly alien environment of rural Iowa, where she is recruited into a thankless job as an auditor for the US laying-hen industry. Appalled by the grim conditions in the vast chicken barns, she and her...
Playing God

Playing God

Nikita Lalwani’s latest novel You People poses the tantalising question: in a world where the law is against you, how far would you be willing to lie for a chance to live? Set in London pizzeria where half the kitchen staff are undocumented immigrants, it is a witty and humane...
Petina Gappah: Follow the body

Petina Gappah: Follow the body

When British explorer David Livingstone died in 1873 in a small village in present-day Zambia, he was accompanied by an entourage of around seventy African guides, porters and helpers, who came to the remarkable decision to carry his remains over 1,500 miles to the coast at Bagamoyo to be transported...
Camilla Bruce: Away with the faeries

Camilla Bruce: Away with the faeries

Camilla Bruce’s debut novel You Let Me In is a gripping, genre-shifting psychological thriller written in the form of a long letter-cum-memoir from missing, 74-year-old romance novelist Cassandra Tipp to nephew and niece Janus and Penelope – her only living heirs. In the letter, she tells dark parallel tales about...
The accidental activist

The accidental activist

‘‘To say that Rob Bilott is understated,’’ his colleague Edison Hill says, ‘‘is an understatement,’’ reported Nathaniel Rich in the New York Times Magazine article that inspired Mark Ruffalo to snap up the film rights to story of the mild-mannered corporate defence lawyer who went rogue and took on the...
The Mourners' Kaddish

The Mourners’ Kaddish

Sometimes it is very hard to put words to experiences. In Adorno’s much used (and misused) own words, “there can be no poetry after Auschwitz”; the human soul and mind can conceive of no recreation of experience, no seamless relating to, or of, life through words alone, once the humanity...
Deepa Anappara: Other realities

Deepa Anappara: Other realities

Deepa Anappara’s debut novel Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is an exuberant and captivating child’s-eye depiction of hand-to-mouth living in a sprawling, determinedly self-sustaining slum in an unnamed Indian city. Nine-year-old narrator Jai is a fan of reality cop shows beamed into his family’s one-room shack in a crowded...
This great horse-faced bluestocking

This great horse-faced bluestocking

There are books that have transformed the world; stories that have changed the course of lives. For more than 150 years now, the novels of George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) have done just that for an unwavering and undiminishing succession of readers: they have stopped them in their tracks almost...
Homesick for another land

Homesick for another land

Musician and cartoonist Carol Isaacs’ graphic memoir The Wolf of Baghdad traces her family roots among Iraq’s departed Jewish community. Wordless chapters are bookmarked by the testimonies of family members who lived in and were exiled from Baghdad. Born and raised in London, fuelled by family anecdotes and customs, Carol...
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The dream of Norway

The dream of Norway

In 1920, two years after the end of WWI, the League of Nations officially began its work of rebuilding the world. It was a grand scheme, a tremendous dream, a triumph of a reconstituted modernity, and the legacy of enlightenment humanism over militarism, colonialism, barbarity and tribalist divisionism. It should have been idealistic. It has...
History from the wings

History from the wings

In times of crisis, sociohistorical impasses, and what the French scholar John Cruickshank has termed, on a different occasion, the despair in the face of “man’s metaphysical dereliction in the world”, the individual and collective instinct is to turn to parallels, contrasts, and to recent or very distant memory. To familiar or unfamiliar territory. We...
Marbles

Marbles

I have lost plenty of people. Every loss is a lessening. Every loss makes one more aware of how much there is to lose. But the death of my mother was something else. I don’t know when she died. She had dementia. For ten years she was among us in the midst of life cut...
The country of cats

The country of cats

As he had walked aimlessly, the boy had crossed the border of Gorbstan, the country of cats. The patrols found him half-dead, licked his face, and took him to the city. He slept for two more days before he opened his eyes. The city was built around a large pond surrounded by low hills. The...
Island voices

Island voices

Most people’s vision of the two-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago would comprise gorgeous, untainted beaches, lively festivals and scrumptious Creole cuisine, while V.S. Naipaul put the islands on the literary map with his early Trinidad-set novels, most notably A House For Mr Biswas. Two singularly brilliant debuts – One Year of Ugly by Caroline...
Telling it straight

Telling it straight

In dark times, it’s only natural for readers to seek an escape. So it’s no surprise that, to fill the tedium of society-wide lockdown in the darkest, saddest days I’ve witnessed since 9/11, many friends of mine have wiped their reading lists clean of brave and hard-hitting ‘literary’ fiction in favour of lighter genre fare....
All he surveys

All he surveys

The eponymous King of Warsaw in Szczepan Twardoch’s first book to be translated into English is Jakub Szapiro: a champion prize-fighter; a secular Jew, whose exploits in the ring, especially against Aryan opponents, have made him the darling of his community; a devoted family man, who dotes on his two young sons. All this is,...
It's coming!

It’s coming!

At stake: the contested objects, nine hundred thousand white leghorn hens, their foremothers brought over from Italy in the mid-nineteenth century and bred in a frenzy ever since. Were they property or individuals? That’s what had to be decided. — It was from this farm, don’t forget, that Cleveland had taken Bwwaauk some three months...
Ah Fang's lamp

Ah Fang’s lamp

People often have grey days, just as there are sometimes grey skies. I walked down that wet little side street, and every single door was shut. Raindrops rapped on the concrete road, rat-a-tat-tat, spattering echoes in the empty street. Gazing at the leaden cloud, the monotonous sound of rain all around, an indescribable gloom welled...
Deciding not to die

Deciding not to die

Increasingly frequently, when out in the street, I run into people I know, but when I go to kiss them I remember they’re dead and realize to my horror that I’m about to kiss a doppelganger. It’s pretty unsettling, having to stop yourself saying hello to the dead. “Hi Régine!” “Excuse me?” “You’re… you’re not...