“In Turkey, nothing official works. It’s like a display window: you see very nice clothing in the window, but if you go into the back room people are in rags. There’s exploitation, violence, dark places, but the lights are all on the display." Burhan Sönmez
Strange fascination

Strange fascination

The 1970s took their shape from any number of events, tragedies, trivialities, crises, obsessions, conflicts, characters, fashions, inventions, resignations, processes and social and cultural situations. It was a decade of cults, terrorists, protests, scandals, strikes, recessions, environmental panic and a sense of constant crisis. It was also the decade of...
Chibundu Onuzo: Sticking together

Chibundu Onuzo: Sticking together

Chibundu Onuzo’s vibrant second novel Welcome to Lagos – following 2012’s acclaimed The Spider King’s Daughter – is the story of an unlikely band of runaways thrown together as they escape civil unrest in the Niger Delta to start a new life in Nigeria’s chaotic and sprawling megacity. Army officer...
Faith, grief and passion

Faith, grief and passion

As 2017 kicks off with two stunning but radically different novel-inspired blockbusters in the shape of Silence and A Monster Calls (with Liam Neeson looming large in both), we launch a regular round-up of unmissable literary adaptations and biopics coming soon to UK cinemas. Here are our picks for January....
On Silence

On Silence

How do you tell the story of Christian faith? The difficulty, the crisis, of believing? How do you describe the struggle? There have been many great twentieth-century novelists drawn to the subject – Graham Greene, of course, and François Mauriac, Georges Bernanos and, from his own very particular perspective, Shusaku...
That sinking feeling

That sinking feeling

If art’s mission is to change public perceptions or to transcend established practices, it can no longer be apolitical, unaware of social or economic currents. The creators of an exhibit that examines the “cultural afterlife” of taxidermised polar bears, nanoq: flat out and bluesome, by Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson,...
Colson Whitehead: Making it

Colson Whitehead: Making it

Colson Whitehead has just won the National Book Award for fiction for his bold and provocative novel The Underground Railroad, a nightmarish historical saga about a slave girl called Cora who’s on the run from the horrors of life on a Georgia plantation. Giving literal life to the metaphor for...
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In defence of book learning

In defence of book learning

Running for President in 1952, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson came up with a peculiar rallying cry. “Eggheads of the world, unite!” he declared in a stump speech. “You have nothing to lose but your yolks!” These days, of course, such a bad pun wouldn’t make it out of a Democratic Party focus group alive, but...
Keeping it pastoral

Keeping it pastoral

Tim Pears’ spellbinding new novel The Horseman tells the story of a touching, unexpected friendship between a carter’s son and a landowner’s daughter. It’s the first book in a planned trilogy that begins in a remote valley on the Devon–Somerset border in the early years of the twentieth century. He fills us in on his...
The hydra of memory and forgetting

The hydra of memory and forgetting

“If you have no wounds, how can you know you are alive?” wrote Edward Albee in 1998’s The Play About the Baby. Steven Uhly’s Kingdom of Twilight could be said to be all about physical, psychological and historical wounds and about the true meaning of knowing oneself to be alive – the true worth of...
Timely and timeless books

Timely and timeless books

Book browsing in a bookshop is as much an art as it is a way of life. Here is my trawl through some rather beautiful children’s books, with delighted thanks to Hatchards and Waterstones Piccadilly, for being not only shops but especially worlds of books, with wonderfully rich departments dedicated specifically to children.   Seasonal...
Measuring change – and holding onto it

Measuring change – and holding onto it

“You’ve come a long way, baby!” Such was the tagline of a US ad campaign launched in 1968 to sell Virginia Slims cigarettes. Images of women portrayed as hip, mod, and independent (all with cigarette in hand), were paired with historical depictions of drudgery and repression. Clearly, Madison Avenue wanted American women to believe they’d...
Dalliances at the dacha

Dalliances at the dacha

On rereading Pushkin’s fictional fragment ‘The guests were arriving at the dacha’ for about the seventh time in 1873, Leo Tolstoy found himself transported and inspired. “Despite myself,” he noted, “not knowing where or what it would lead to, I imagined characters and events, which I developed, then naturally modified, and suddenly it all came...
Watertight rules

Watertight rules

The hardback edition of James Swallow’s latest novel Nomad was a Sunday Times bestseller last summer. It’s a gripping spy thriller for the post-WikiLeaks world, in which private military contractors, agile terror cells and corporations wield as much power as national intelligence agencies. On the release of the paperback, he shares some words of advice...
Tumult and majesty

Tumult and majesty

Looking back on an eye-opening year in literature and politics, I winnow down my favourite books of 2016 and pick out some of the spring 2017 titles that have so far caught my eye. It’s a captivating mix of reliable favourites, new voices, and authors striking out on a new path.   MY 2016 TOP...
Reclaiming both past and future

Reclaiming both past and future

Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben ist barbarisch – it is barbaric to write verses after Auschwitz – is Theodor Adorno’s famous, massively quoted and frequently misunderstood 1951 declaration about the state, the potential and the responsibility of a life of the mind, of the voice of any spirit and intellect, after what Joseph Roth...
Berlin by twilight

Berlin by twilight

“Who in all the world goes to Berlin voluntarily?” wrote Joseph Roth in The Wandering Jews in 1926–27. For him, as for so many others who were acutely attuned to the particular dissonances of a global order in turmoil, Berlin represented the metaphorical and real space of a harrowing existential predicament: the new paradigm for...