"There is no centre anymore. We live in a multipolar world, and culture reflects that." Fatima Bhutto
Contexts
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...
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,...
Coming in and going out

Coming in and going out

Plague diary, 29 March 2020. I’m reading about one of the biggest icebergs in history, “a tabular iceberg” in Antarctica, which was “more than 31,000 km2”. “Significantly larger than Belgium,” they add. I read that another giant iceberg, a sort of island 61 metres thick, “took seventeen years to be mapped.” I start studying bunkers,...
A month of singular vision

A month of singular vision

Hisham Matar is undeniably a remarkable man, with a talent for unusual journeys and their tales. A gifted storyteller, he excels in that rare balancing act between the personal and the universal, the minutely concrete and the sublimely abstract. He loves to explore the terra incognita between permanence and transience, presence and errantry, past and...
Every animal has its own madness

Every animal has its own madness

Plague diary, 25 March 2020. Sometimes, in the terrible world, people open their front doors just slightly and spit as foreigners pass. Foreign, I’m told, in one of the Slavic languages, means mute. Whoever does not speak my language, is mute. Whoever does not have my history, is mute. “Virus detected in the sewers in...
My opposite hand

My opposite hand

From the day I learned to write until I was 52 years old, I wrote with my right hand. Then, in April of 2018, due to intense repetitive-stress soreness in my right hand and wrist, I began teaching myself to write with my left. I’ll never be the same. I write my first drafts longhand...