“When you are a latecomer, outsider, immigrant, exile, there are fractures in your life that you can’t heal… I have a lot of respect for people that have stayed behind and have to deal with the wounds every day.” Elif Shafak
Saša Stanišić: Alternative visions

Saša Stanišić: Alternative visions

Saša Stanišić was born in former Yugoslavia in 1978 to a Bosnian Muslim mother and Serbian Orthodox father. Their flight into Germany at the outbreak of the Bosnian War in 1992 was fictionalised in his debut novel How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (Luchterhand Literaturverlag, 2006; Grove Atlantic/Weidenfeld & Nicolson,...
Cuckoo

Cuckoo

At first, I thought that old devil of a back problem had returned to haunt me. I assumed the position – lay down, knees up, feet flat on the floor. Unlike Martha, I’m not one for the dramatic, but I did text her to come back ASAP. My no-longer-little niece,...
Ink blots in the trunk

Ink blots in the trunk

Every aspiring writer is familiar with the concept of the ‘trunk novel’. This is the novel that doesn’t make it to the bookshelf, but instead gets tucked into a bottom desk drawer or old USB drive after refusing to do what its writer wants it to do. Often it’s the...
Magpies

Magpies

The girl tenses when her mother calls her name like that. She clings to the racks; sleeves brushing against her cheek. She crosses the store. Normally, her mother doesn’t like to be overt; only gentle movements when she’s found what she wants. Sometimes the girl won’t even notice. Today, though,...
Elif Shafak: Time to reconnect

Elif Shafak: Time to reconnect

Elif Shafak’s richly evocative, elegantly crafted novel The Island of Missing Trees transports readers between 1970s Cyprus and 21st–century London in a cross-generational saga of passion, trauma, memory and renewal. Greek Cypriot Kostas and Turkish Cypriot Defne fall in love as teenagers in the divided city of Nicosia in 1974,...
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The strange art of the short story

The strange art of the short story

When I decided to publish an anthology of short stories, I didn’t guess just how absorbing it would be. I had to choose, and choice focuses the mind beautifully. The short story is an intricate, difficult and intriguing beast. It isn’t a truncated novel but belongs to a genre all of its own and not...
Madness, lies

Madness, lies

Graeme Macrae Burnet’s fourth novel Case Study is an inventive, archly funny meditation on mental health and the nature of self, in which a young woman presents herself under an assumed identity as a patient to a charismatic, self-taught psychotherapist called Collins Braithwaite, who she believes may have encouraged her sister’s suicide. Set chiefly in...
Stepping on

Stepping on

Is there a genre of music more in love with itself than rock ’n’ roll? I ask not as a detractor but as a devotee. No form of art or entertainment has given me more joy, and none has fascinated me more than rock music. I’ve waxed poetic about it in a novel, in reviews,...
A thousand and one tales of a philosophical life

A thousand and one tales of a philosophical life

What can Hannah Arendt possibly teach us today? What was, and still is one hopes, her indelible imprint on the world, on our humanity, on what she so unwaveringly upheld as civilisation? And who was she? How did she become that singular multitude of perspectives, human facets, existential and conceptual spaces that can certainly lay...
Blind ricochets and unexpected avenues

Blind ricochets and unexpected avenues

“We want Jack! We want Jack! We want Jack!” It starts with just one voice, some anonymous drunken loser without a girlfriend to embarrass, hidden deep within the chattering mass of denim and leather. Cliché to begin with, those three syllables sound particularly obnoxious coming from just one person. But a restless herd of kindred...
The story of their history

The story of their history

The experience of lost places of belonging, of lost states of existence, together with the tenacity to defy and resist both loss and non-being, are deeply ingrained in the Russian language: thanks to Maxim Gorky, a term such as Бывшие люди, or ‘former people’, would come to acquire an eerily tangible corporeality, reality, and even...
Queer families

Queer families

Is blood thicker than water? Or is family chosen, acquired throughout our lives? Ask me in the immediate aftermath of a family Christmas, and I’ll say definitely, definitely it’s not about genetics – no ties but what we make! But sit me down with my sister in the peace of her kitchen for a cup...
Secrets and lies, red Welshmen and words of vagrant wisdom

Secrets and lies, red Welshmen and words of vagrant wisdom

“All families develop a special language, words and references no outsider can understand. My family’s special language was Rotwelsch.” Thus begins Martin Puchner’s complex, compelling, if at times ambivalent exploration of a family and a language, or in point of fact of Language (and perhaps Family) capitalised. Of language as an institution, as a structure...
A collector's thing

A collector’s thing

Nicholas Royle’s White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector reflects on the author’s passion for Picador’s fiction and non-fiction publishing from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. It explores the books themselves, the bookshops and charity shops he gathers them from, and the way a unique collection grew and became a literary obsession....
Tessa McWatt: A place in the world

Tessa McWatt: A place in the world

Tessa McWatt’s The Snow Line throws together four strangers at a wedding in the Indian Himalayan foothills. Twenty-five-year-old Reema is a classical singer born in India but raised as a Londoner, who has travelled without her Scottish boyfriend. Having recently discovered she is pregnant, she is facing a life-shifting decision about her future. Yosh is...