Thursday, 5 August 2021

WorldReads - Five Books From Afghanistan

If this is your first visit to my WorldReads blog series, the idea of the posts is to encourage and promote the reading of global literature. On the 5th of each month I highlight five books I have read by authors from a particular country and you can see links to previous countries' posts at the end of this post. From May 2016 until March 2020, WorldReads was hosted on my Stephanie Jane blog. From April 2020 onwards it is right here on Literary Flits
Click the cover images to visit their Literary Flits book review pages.

This month we are going to Afghanistan!

That's it for August's WorldReads from Afghanistan. I hope I have tempted you to try reading a book from this country and if you want more suggestions, click through to see all my Literary Flits reviews of Afghan-authored books!

If you missed any earlier WorldReads posts, I have already 'visited'

Africa: Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Zimbabwe,

Americas: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, United States of America,

Asia: China, Hong Kong, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Syria, Turkey, Vietnam,

Australasia: Australia, New Zealand,

Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Ukraine, Wales.

In September I will be highlighting five books by Algerian authors. See you on the 5th to find out which ones!

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Red Crosses by Sasha Filipenko

Red Crosses by Sasha Filipenko
First published as Красный Крест in Russian by Время in Russia in April 2017. English language translation by Brian James Baer and Ellen Vayner published by Europa Editions tomorrow, the 5th August 2021.

How I got this book: 
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A heart-wrenching novel exploring both personal and collective memory spanning Russian history from Stalin's terror to the present day.

Tatiana Alexeyevna is 90 years old and she’s losing her memory. To find her way in her Soviet-era apartment block, she resorts to painting red crosses on the doors leading back to her apartment. But she still remembers the past in vivid detail.

Alexander, a young man whose life has been brutally torn in two, would like nothing better than to forget the tragic events that have brought him to Minsk. When he moves into the flat next door to Tatiana’s, he’s cornered by the loquacious old lady. Reluctant at first, he’s soon drawn into Tatiana’s life story – one told urgently, before her memories of the Russian 20th century and its horrors are wiped out.

The two forge an unlikely friendship, a pact against forgetting giving rise to a new sense of hope in the future. Deeply moving, with flashes of humour, Red Crosses is a shining narrative in the tradition of the great Russian novel.

The first aspect of Red Crosses that caught my attention was the similarities between elderly Tatiana in this novel and grandmother Appamma in A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam: both formerly strong women trapped by the frailties of aging and striving to maintain as much of their previous independence as they can for as long as they can, yet also desperate for companionship and human connections. I love Tatiana as a character. Often bluntly direct in her responses to Alexander, she is also a wonderfully engaging narrator with a particularly grim story to tell. I think, on the strength of Tatiana alone, that Red Crosses would appeal to fans of Ruta Sepetys' historical novels. I was also reminded of Good People by Nir Baram and Daniil Kharms' sharply observed essays.

Alexander is perhaps less immediately appealing a character, but I appreciated that seeing through his eyes enabled me to understand the contrasts between these two apparently very different people who discover they actually share similar griefs. Filipenko's inclusion of original historical documents - letters, telegrams and reports - gives a real sense of authenticity to the fictional tale woven around them and, like the Swiss Red Cross workers, I struggled to comprehend official Soviet attitudes.

Red Crosses is a pretty dark novel set mostly in a horrific period of history, but I loved reading it. Tatiana's need to come to terms with what was done to her and her family, as well as the wrongs she inflicted upon others, is beautifully portrayed, especially in the light of her encroaching dementia. This woman could easily have been reduced to a caricature, resulting in the novel itself losing plausibility, but instead Filipenko has written a perfectly balanced work that I am grateful to have had this opportunity to read.

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Tuesday, 3 August 2021

The Living Sword 3 by Pemry Janes + #Giveaway + Excerpt

The Living Sword 3 – The Burden of Legacy
Pemry Janes
(The Living Sword, #3)
Publication date: August 6th 2021
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Leraine has finally returned home, but the welcome is not as she imagined it. Tension is rising within the Mochedan Federation as many advocate for an end to the long peace and a return to the glory of war.

She sets off to the most important festival of the Mochedan, hoping to preserve the peace for at least a little while longer. Eurik joins her, to help his friend and to finally find the answers about his parents he’s been chasing since he left the island.

What they find is theft, murder, and a conspiracy to end their world.

Goodreads / / Amazon UK


“Ah, so we’re heading for smithies,” Misthell said.

Startled, Eurik glanced over his shoulder at the blade. “We are. How did you know?”

“We’re looking for my makers, that’s the point of this whole story. Also, there were at least two carts laden with iron bars and coal we passed heading the same way we are.”

Looking past Misthell, Eurik spotted one of the carts in question. “Right. I should have noticed that.”

“You’re too focused on one thing. Or should I say, one Way. Why don’t you try Dance of the Whirlwind to find what you’re looking for?”

He hesitated for a moment as the people flowed around him. But these past weeks, what little time he’d had for training had been taken up by Silver Fang. And on the Road, even wind chiri didn’t quite work as it should.

Taking a deep breath, he reached out only to have Misthell whistle sharply in his ear. Eurik flinched away. “What was that for?”

“Because you’re starting wrong. The wind is motion, so if you’re trying to become one with the wind . . .”

He sighed. He should know this and he did. “So must I.” Eurik moved forward, arms hanging loose at his side, fingers lightly splayed, and felt for the flow of wind chiri. Though flow was the wrong word for the chaotic mess swirling around him, a chaos he added to with every step, every breath. On reflex, he closed his eyes to better concentrate on his other sense.

He tried feeling for the ringing of steel, of hammers striking hot iron. But the wind chiri shied away from his reach, his flow rebuffing those around him.

Eurik sidestepped a group walking toward them, their wake washing over him. A sharp flow snaked its way out of a tavern to his left, carrying a jaunty tune. Behind him an ox exerted himself, hot air blasting out with every huff.

Those flows he could feel, because they mixed and bounced off his own, but they also constrained his world. He pushed, wind ruffling clothes and hair, and he felt his perception expand. So did the chaos, new flows emerging within his flow while more flows beat at it from without.

The wingbeat of a lake gull, the wind blowing over the rooftops of Urumoy, hot air rising from a dozen chimneys, the staccato of a thousand voices whispering, speaking, hollering.

Eurik swayed, and a wagon wheel ground past his toes, almost crushing them. “Look where you’re going!” Opening his eyes, he staggered away as he lost his connection with the world. Out of the flow of traffic, into a narrow, shadowed alley. The air hung in there, thick and fetid. His deep breaths only set him to coughing.

“What did you do wrong?”

“I—” Another cough. Eurik shook his head. “I don’t know.” Breathing through his nose wasn’t better, only made the smell worse, but it helped against the coughing. “I tried to reach out to find the smithy, but I got swamped by the city. There was too much.”

“Wind is not earth,” Misthell said, his voice changing into a familiar one. One Eurik had not heard in months. “It is more like water, flowing from a place of abundance to one where there is absence. The wind dances to its own music, and you must dance with it if you wish to guide it to where you need it.”

Eurik blinked until his sight stopped being blurry. “You talked a lot to sesin.”

“Yeah. What, you thought I’d spent all that time in a box?”

Eurik shook his head. “Hard to imagine. I would have found you within a year or so if that were true. All I would have to do is follow the stream of complaints.”

“You mean pointed reminders. Not my fault your fleshy minds leak memories like sieves.”

Author Bio:

Pemry Janes grew up on a family-owned farm. He has had a love for history for as long as he can remember and studied it at university. Fantasy he discovered a few years later and now tries to combine the two in his writing.

Website / Goodreads / Newsletter


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Monday, 2 August 2021

Inheritance Of Loss by Kiran Desai

Inheritance Of Loss by Kiran Desai
Published by Hamish Hamilton in September 2006.

One of my WorldReads from India

How I got this book: 
Swapped for at a campsite book exchange

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

High in the Himalayas sits a dilapidated mansion, home to three people, each dreaming of another time. 

The judge, broken by a world too messy for justice, is haunted by his past. His orphan granddaughter has fallen in love with her handsome tutor, despite their different backgrounds and ideals. The cook's heart is with his son, who is working in a New York restaurant, mingling with an underclass from all over the globe as he seeks somewhere to call home. 

Around the house swirl the forces of revolution and change. Civil unrest is making itself felt, stirring up inner conflicts as powerful as those dividing the community, pitting the past against the present, nationalism against love, a small place against the troubles of a big world. 

I first blogged this review on Stephanie Jane in December 2014.

According to my Goodreads, I first read Inheritance of Loss in 2009 and a few events in the story did seem familiar as I got to them, but I couldn't remember how it would all end so enjoyed immersing myself in the tale again. Desai has a beautifully rich style of writing which really brings her views of rural Himalayan India and immigrant New York to life. No one in this book has it easy whether they are truly poverty-stricken or stuck in between Indian, Nepali or colonial worlds.

For me, some of the saddest characters were those desperately clinging to remnants of a superficial British past despite its total unsuitability, and those denied a homeland by the British who didn't care who gained when they left. Desai's descriptions of the decaying house in which the Judge, Sai and the Cook exist, the barely there shacks where Gorkha families live, and the grim accommodations of illegal New York workers are heart-rending. There is a thread of careless violence that joins many of the characters, each trampling others to get ahead even when the gain is slight and, often, easily lost again.

Inheritance of Loss isn't a happy book to read, but is very worthwhile to experience even though it is another book which has left me with a bitter taste at British Empire dreams - we did mess up a lot of the globe and the repercussions still ripple. 

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by The Night Press

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Sunday, 1 August 2021

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam
Published by Granta Books on the 15th July 2021.

How I got this book: 
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It begins with a message: a telephone call informing Krishan that his grandmother's former care-giver, Rani, has died in unexpected circumstances, at the bottom of a well in her village in the north, her neck broken by the fall. The news arrives on the heels of an email from Anjum, an activist he fell in love with four years earlier while living in Delhi, bringing with it the stirring of distant memories and desires.

As Krishan makes the long journey by train from Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province for the funeral, so begins a passage into the soul of an island devastated by violence. Written with precision and grace, A Passage North is a poignant memorial for the missing and the dead, and a luminous meditation on time, consciousness, and the lasting imprint of the connections we make with others.

A Passage North is an introspective, meandering novel in which a young Tamil man, Krishan, reminisces about three women who have particularly influenced his recent years, exploring the way in which they have inspired him to reconsider his life's path. Overall I felt a poignant sadness throughout the novel. Years of war across Sri Lanka have resulted in a traumatised population with both those people on the island and its wider diaspora being affected. Krishan, living in India, feels intense guilt for not suffering at first hand and it is this emotion, as much I think as the example set him by former lover Anjum, that drives him back to the area most deeply affected by warfare. 

I loved Arudpragasam's portrayals of interpersonal relationships, particularly that of Krishan with his fading grandmother. Formerly a vibrant and active woman, Appamma's frailty now sees her confined to the upstairs rooms of the family home and dependent on her daughter and grandson for all information. Krishan obviously loves his grandmother, but I could clearly sense his frustration at daily interrogations on what is irrelevant minutiae to him, but these conversations are the only way in which Appamma can still feel involved and important within the household. Finding Appamma a new companion, widowed Rani, seems an ideal solution, but the losses she suffered are heartbreaking. 

A Passage North's measured pace and psychological explorations mean it won't be a novel that appeals to everyone, though I was pleased to see it get recognition with its recent Booker Prize longlist nomination (despite my own history of not getting on with Booker winners!) I would recommend it to readers who appreciate deep character studies and who are interested in the long-term social implications of war and violence on individuals and communities. This haunting novel is a beautiful, yet disturbing read.

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Saturday, 31 July 2021

Myths And Music (Black Magick #2) by Whitney Metz

Myths And Music (Black Magick #2) by Whitney Metz
Self published on the 30th September 2020.
Included in my Vegan Bookshop and a Book With a Vegan Character

How I got this book: 
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this second volume of the Black Magick series, Ben Black (formerly Ben Harrison) continues his search for a way to rescue his girlfriend, Carrie, who has become trapped in another world. His stay with the healer, Jacob Weston, has cured him of the illness inflicted by the demon who took Carrie, and helped him to understand his own ability to communicate with the other side, but he is still poorly prepared for the trials before him. 

Ben finally meets the mysterious Camille, who he has been told is the only one who can help him get Carrie back, but soon learns that task is not as simple as he had hoped, and finds himself back on the road. He makes new acquaintances including a trickster god, a great boar, a friendly chicken, and a group of animal rights activists. 

Over the course of his travels, Ben learns more about himself, his past, and his own strength, and begins to consider the possibility that this is the path that was meant for him all along. 

It's been five months since I read the first book in Whitney Metz's Black Magick series, Sigils And Secrets. Myths And Magic takes up from where that novel left off and I soon found myself immersed in its dark fantasy world again, clearly remembering the events that led Carrie and Ben to their present predicaments and enjoying their continuing adventure.

I appreciated how Metz portrays Ben's increasing knowledge of the magick world around him and how he struggles to square this with his previous understanding of reality. On one hand he is physically experiencing the effects of charms, amulets and intense connections with the natural world, but on the rare occasions he has a moment to reflect, it is obvious he cannot quite rationalise what is happening. Ben's growing self-belief and acceptance of his new-found skills provides a convincing story arc throughout Myths And Music and I felt this gave a good depth to his character.

Metz also deftly incorporates animal welfare subplots into her narrative - Henny Penny's changing fate being a perfect example of this. These scenarios worked well along the magickal ideas Ben explores and they often provided real moments of horror to Myths And Music too. Contrasting the darkest of human behaviours with the demonic realm was an inspired touch and I think it gives Metz's writing a memorably unique slant.

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Friday, 30 July 2021

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
Published in America by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1957.

How I got this book: 
Swapped for at a campsite book exchange

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Frank Alpine, a drifter fleeing from his past, runs straight into struggling Brooklyn grocer Morris Bober. Seeing a chance to atone for past sins, Frank becomes Bober's assistant and keeps shop when the owner takes ill. But it is Bober's daughter, Helen, who gives Frank a real reason to stay around, even as he begins to steal from the store.

Widely considered as one of the great American-Jewish novels, The Assistant is a classic look at the social and racial divides of a country still in its infancy, and a stunning evocation of the immigrant experience - of cramped circumstances and great expectations.

I first blogged this review on Stephanie Jane in December 2014.

I'd not heard of Bernard Malamud until I picked up a Dutch edition (in English) of The Assistant from the campsite library in Xabia. Dave thinks there has been a film made of this book though and the essay at the back pins him as an important influence on the American self-viewpoint.

Set in a poor New York neighbourhood, The Assistant charts a year in the life of struggling Jewish grocer Morris Bober, his wife Ida and daughter Helen. It is possibly not the best book to read over the festive period as there is little in the way of joy in the Bobers' tale. The family live over their run-down shop and work ridiculously long hours to bring in the little they need to live. Even when their situation begins to look up, as a reader you can tell that it probably won't last and something else is waiting just around the corner to knock them back. Ida often nags Morris to sell up and leave, but he seems to bound to his struggling existence and almost views their poverty as essential to their Jewishness. Morris's insistence on his life being so much poor luck is such a strong facet of his character, but how much is really down to luck and how much, as Ida says, could have been changed if opportunities had been grasped at the right time is a constant theme of the novel. Malamud writes Ida's speech particularly in a 'Jewish style' with Morris also using her patterns when the two are together. I found it interesting that Malamud's narration also slips into the same style at these times. He gives a very real picture of the surroundings and I found it easy to imagine the dingy shop, the apartment and even the 'bright lights' of the competing grocer's shop around the corner. The character I had most trouble pinning down was Frank, the eponymous assistant. Despite his obvious personal need to make amends to Morris, his philanthropy was often double-edged and as much based in selfishness as charity. His later treatment of Helen baffled me but his final acceptance of his position fitted the story perfectly - the continuation of the eternal struggle.

I liked how The Assistant is a quiet novel made up of small occurrences. I think the style perfectly suits the subject and, although 'enjoy' isn't the right word to describe the sadness encountered throughout the book, I am glad to have read it. I recently saw the phrase 'book hangover' used to describe a novel that stays in one's thoughts long after it has been finished. I think this is an accurate moniker for the effects of The Assistant. 

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