Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Beautiful Side of the Moon by Leye Adenle

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

For those of you familiar with Adenle’s Amaka series of crime novels set in Lagos, this is a very different book. This is a fantasy – written in part so Adenle’s nieces and nephews might read something he wrote. And it's a fantasy grounded in Nigerian Edo tradition.

Osaretin is an IT guy, working in a typically boring job in downtown Lagos. He is vaguely aware that is father was a magician – the sort who can make money appear in a handkerchief and eggs disappear in the palm of his hand. But then one day he receives a letter written on light purple paper, smelling of lavender, purporting to be from a Most Magnificent Magician of the second to highest level and announcing that he will shortly pay Osaretin a visit to instruct him in the magic his father was famous for.

Of course, to begin with he assumes it is a prank. But then he receives two visits – the first from a beautiful woman called Adesua, the second from a man in a purple fedora who calls himself Brother Moses.

From there begins a journey that will involve a sphere that can turn back time, flying magicians, body swaps, a magnetic, healing garden – and a battle between good and evil. Is Osaretin really his father’s heir – the champion they have all been waiting for? Or have they picked the wrong man?

The Beautiful Side of the Moon is a less tightly plotted that Adenle’s crime novels. It unfolds in a dreamlike way, reminiscent of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Reading it, you experience something of the same sense of dislocation as Osaretin himself. It’s best to just hang on to Osaretin’s coattails and enjoy the ride.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Avoid If You Dislike: Books with a winding, dreamlike plotline.

Perfect Accompaniment: Fireworks and a glass of wine

Genre: Fantasy

Buy a copy here

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Hope by Terry Tyler

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of the French Historical, The Bone Angel trilogy (Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel) and Australian 1970s series: The Silent Kookaburra and The Swooping Magpie.

What we thought: Hope is a frightening exploration of a not-too-distant, dystopian future, the fourth decade of the 21st century. Frightening, and very disturbing, because this near future is entirely plausible in a world where social media has become even more intrusive than it is today, and where people share their lives online.

UK Prime Minister, Guy Morrissey, his health and fitness fanatic wife, Mona, and their perfect children, have become role models for the entire nation: Brand Morrissey. Any individual who doesn’t conform to Mona’s fitness regime (#FitForWork) finds themselves unemployed.

The power behind Brand Morrissey is the Nutricorp company, founded by Mona’s father, Paul Bettencourt. While it appears, on the surface, that Nutricorp has the nation’s best interests at heart, Nutricorp’s underlying motives are purely financial, through control of the population.

Young woman, Lita Stone earns her living from the profitable adverts people place on her well-known blog, where she posts honest reviews and comments on social issues. She shares accommodation with a sensitive young girl, Kendall, and with Nick, a journalist and anonymous icon behind the satirical and scathing online persona, Widow Skanky.

When the lives of Lita, Nick and Kendall take a downward turn, the trio find themselves homeless. And since there is no place for homelessness in this Brand Morrissey nation, they are sent, along with many others, to a Hope village, all of which are funded by Nutricorp.

The title of the book primarily indicates the Hope villages, which, with their policies of total control over the residents, hold anything but hope. But as we follow the struggles of Lita, Nick and Kendall, the true meaning of “hope” does emerge, as the ending leaves us with hope for the battle against such evil.

Terry Tyler is a skilled and talented writer, her descriptions vividly depicting the people living in this disturbing dystopia she so well imagines: those existing on both sides of the coin. She portrays a wide array of personalities: the ones who thrive in such situations, those who suffer, and those who decide to fight back.

I found Hope a thought-provoking and compelling read. I highly recommend it, not only for readers who enjoy dystopian fiction, but for those seeking a believable, multi-layered and suspenseful psychological thriller.

You’ll like this if you enjoy: Plausible dystopian tales and psychologial thrillers.

Avoid if you don’t like: Believable predictions about our world in the near future.

Ideal accompaniments: any kind of available food, for if you end up in a Hope village, there might not be any!

Genre: Dystopian/Psychological Thriller

Buy a copy here

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a joyous patchwork quilt of a novel, celebrating seven generations, and over a hundred years, of Black British womanhood.

It begins with Amma, radical lesbian feminist playwright who now, in her fifties, finally has a play on at the National Theatre. From her, the narrative fans out, through family and friends, chance encounters and hidden connections.

There’s Yazz, Amma’s daughter, to whom her radicalism is out-dated and rather quaint. Dominique, her friend, survivor of an abusive relationship with another woman. Carol the successful banker, Bummi her highly educated Nigerian mother who worked as a cleaner to give her daughter the chances she never had. Shirley the uptight teacher. Morgan who self-identifies as gender-free. Hattie who has spent her life running a farm in a remote part of the north of England. Grace, her grandmother, daughter of an Ethiopan sailor she never met...

Evaristo plays with sentence structure – eschewing a lot of punctuation and capitalisation, and instead putting separate sentences and clauses and phrases on separate lines, so the whole thing is presented rather like an extended prose poem. You might think this would make it difficult to read, but in fact the brain adapts and the text flows perfectly .

Just as our eye is drawn across the pattern of a quilt, we are drawn from story to story by juxtaposition, while the bigger picture is formed by harmonies and contrasts of tone and shape. It’s a fascinating book – one that led more than once to my reading far too late into the night, as I finished one story only to be sucked into the next.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker 2019. And I will be sorely disappointed if this book does not make it to the shortlists of both the Women’s Prize and the Jhalak Prize in 2020.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Break by Katherena Vermette, Subjunctive Moods by C G Menon, Smash All The Windows, Jane Davis

Avoid If You Dislike: Defying the rules of punctuation

Perfect Accompaniment: Impossible - each story deserves its own!

Genre: Literary Fiction

Buy a copy here.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Celestial Bodies is the Winner of the 2019 Man Booker International – first book in Arabic to do so, and the first book by an Omani woman to be translated into English.

The novel, whose original title translates into English as ‘The Ladies of the Moon', chronicles three generations of an extended Omani family – taking them from not long after the Second World War, when slavery, though illegal, was still commonplace, to the early part of the 21st Century and an uneasy relationship with a world that has changed almost too fast for comprehension.

It is not however told chronologically. The narrative passes back and forth between different characters and different time periods. There is Salima, domestic matriarch with =in a highly patriarchal society. Her husband Azzan and their three daughters: Mayya, the pragmatist, Asma, the scholar and Khawla the romantic. Abdallah, Mayya’s husband, haunted by memories of his brutal father. Their daughter, London, training to be a doctor. Zarifa, born a slave, who has played both substitute mother and substitute wife to the family who ‘owned’ her. Her daughter-in-law Shanna who locks her own mother away in cell, claiming she’s mad...

It’s a fascinating tapestry - a glimpse into a world that, to Western eyes, might belong a century or more in the past, were it not for the periodic intrusions of modern technology. A world that has been informed as much by the belief in the supernatural as much as it is by the rigid structures of the patriarchy.

The translation is beautifully handled. It includes translations of Arabic and Persian poetry, such as the 12th Century love poem, Layla and Manjun, with which Azzad seeks to beguile his Bedouin mistress, Qamar.

If you have never read anything translated from Arabic before, this is the perfect starting point.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela, If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here by Sarayu Srivatsa

Avoid If You Dislike: Fragmented narratives

Perfect Accompaniment: Coffee with cardamom

Genre: Literary Fiction, Fiction in Translation

Buy a copy here.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones was a worthy winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

The novel is the story of a miscarriage of justice. Not the sort that makes headlines, but the banal sort that leads to a man walking out the back door of a prison with his belongings in a bag after serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. It was written in protest against wrongful imprisonment and mass incarceration, endemic among Black men in the US. (One quarter of the world’s prisoners are held in US jails, and Black men are incarcerated at 6 times the rate of white men.)

Ray and Celestial have been married barely a year when they find themselves staying in a motel near his parents’ home in Alabama. They have a foolish quarrel, he goes out to get ice from the dispenser – and a chance encounter with an elderly white woman leads to him being wrongfully accused of rape.

This is Alabama, and even though Celestial can testify to his spending the night beside her in bed, Ray is convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison.

The middle section of the novel is told through the letters Ray and Celestial exchange while he is in prison. Neither she nor anyone in their families doubts his innocence, but the strain placed upon their young marriage is almost unbearably painful to read, as they drift further and further apart in their experience of life. Jones barely hints at the brutal realities of life behind bars – Ray is trying to shield Celestial from all that – but the little we glimpse is horrific enough.

The final section of the novel charts what happens when, after five years, Ray’s conviction is overturned and he is released from prison. As to the final outcome, you will have to read it for yourself. But Jones turns a magnifying glass on what imprisonment does to men and to their families.

As Jones said in her acceptance speech for the 2019 Women’s Prize: “Keep in your hearts and have empathy for the millions of people who are incarcerated around the world ... Hold your governments accountable for those who are held in bondage in our names.”

(Lest those of us in the UK should get too smug – a reminder that we have the highest rate of incarceration of any country in Europe – and one of the highest rates of recidivism.)

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Secret Letters from A to X by Nasrin Parvaz, Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Avoid If You Dislike: Looking at the human cost of at a justice system in crisis

Perfect Accompaniment: A perfectly ripe pear

Genre: Literary Fiction

Buy a copy here.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

The Healing Next Time by Roy McFarlane

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Longlisted for the 2019 Jhalak Prize, The Healing Next Time, by the former Poet Laureate of Birmingham, Roy McFarlane, comprises three sequences of poems that rage against the violence inflicted on Black people by the state. Reminiscent of poems like Di Great Insohrekshan and Inglan is a Bitch by Linton Kwesi Johnson, which were written in the wake of the New Cross Fire and the Brixton Uprisings of 1981, The Healing Next Time moves the story on another 30 or 40 years and, sadly, shows how little has changed.

The first sequence, ‘New Millennium Journal’ records moments – public and private – in the life of a man referred to as ‘the activist’ or ‘the family man’ between 1999 and 2007 – weaving together his relationship with his wife, his lover, his mother and his children with events such as the Brixton bombings and the Bradford riots

The second sequence, ‘...they killed them,’ is written in honour of some of those who have died in police custody – some well known, like Joy Gardner, Cherry Groce, Mark Duggan, Rashan Charles, but many others whose names and stories have been forgotten or were never heard.

In the final sequence, ‘Gospel According to Rasta,’ Rasta becomes a personification of everything that drives McFarlane to write.

One poem in particular in the third sequence jumped out at me. I first saw Chris Ofili’s painting No Woman No Cry when Freedom From Torture’s Write to Life Group were creating poems based on art works in the Tate Gallery. Here it inspires McFarlane just as then it inspired Ugandan torture survivor Jade Amoli Jackson.

Powerful poetry with a voice and rhythm that leaps off the page.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Love: Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Agard

Avoid If You Dislike: Powerful political poetry

Perfect Accompaniment: Roast breadfruit, ackee and saltfish.

Genre: Poetry

Available on Amazon

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

It’s Not About the Burqa (ed. Mariam Khan)

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought Of It:

“Being among peers asks us [...] to delve into the granularity of our experiences as Muslim women beyond the obvious.”

This quote from ‘Life Was Easier Before I Was Woke’ by Yassmin Midhat Abdel-Magied sums up why this collection of essays, put together by Mariam Khan, makes it possible to present a rarely seen complex and nuanced picture of Muslim women in Britain today.

There are women here who wear the hijab, the veil or other forms of Islamic dress, and others who reject it entirely. There are women whose families came originally to Britain from all parts of Africa and Asia, as well as those with complex combinations of heritage. They include journalists, poets, novelists, publishers, lawyers, an engineer, a comedian ...

In the course of these essays they take on the fashion industry, toxic masculinity, White Feminism, mental health, sexuality and women’s legal rights (to name just a few).

Some of the stories show how savage the backlash can be from society when Muslim women step outside the bounds of what is defined as a Good Immigrant and dare to speak up for themselves. And yet they continue to do so.

As Afsham D’souza-Lodhi says in 'Hijabi (R)evolution': “I’m done engaging in conversation with people who don’t understand that human beings are complex. That I can wear a hijab and a dress. That I can be queer and Muslim. That I can exist.”

A book that smashes into smithereens every stereotype of Muslim women so assiduously pursued by our mainstream media. Read it!

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Good Immigrant (ed. Nikesh Shukla), The Things I Would Tell You (ed. Sabrian Mahfouz)

Avoid If You Dislike: Seeing your preconceptions torn to shreds

Perfect Accompaniment: An open mind and a listening ear

Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children (ed. Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff)

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

It is the bitterest of ironies that the Windrush Scandal blew up in the year that was supposed to have been a celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the arrival of the “Windrush Generation” – those British subjects from colonies and former colonies who answered the cry of the “Mother Country” to come and fill the massive labour shortage resulting from years of war.

There is a lot to unpick in that oversimplified summary of the situation, and Mother Country, telling as it does the individual stories of twenty-two of those immigrants and their descendents, does a lot to show the true complexity of their history. It includes stories from David Lammy, Lenny Henry, Sharmaine Lovegrove, Corinne Bailey Rae and Jamz Supernova among others.

The Empire Windrush was not the only ship – nor even the first – to bring workers from the Caribbean to these shores. Nor was it just young men who came. Women came, on their own or with their families. Children came, as children did in those days, travelling on their mother’s passports.

Those who came were only in the Caribbean because their ancestors were transported there by the British – whether as chattel slaves from Africa or as indentured servants from other parts of the Empire. They had been taught to think of Britain as the ‘Mother Country’, and they answered her call for help.

And they are far from a monolith, as these stories show. There were those who come from desperately poor backgrounds and those who came from comfortable homes. Those who were highly educated and forced to take much more lowly work than they had been doing back home, and those for whom the Caribbean of the post-War years had nothing to offer.

I wept over the description of the funeral in Natasha Gordon’s 'Nine Nights', and salivated over Riaz Phillips’ celebration of Caribbean food. There were recurring themes, too. Like the house parties “centred on the pulsating ska rhythms of the day – accompanied by rice and peas, curried meats fried dumplings and run – [that] ran deep into the night.” Parties that took place in people’s homes because they were not welcome in any of the public spaces where white people socialised.

And then there was the notion of ‘barrel children.’ As so often with immigrant families, part of the motivation for coming to Britain was to be able to try and make life better for those back home. So families would scrimp and save and send what they could. And they would keep a barrel which they would gradually fill with clothes and toys and other goods. And then they would seal it up and send it back home to be distributed to those who needed them.

The Windrush Generation are often celebrated as immigration ‘success stories’. Academic Maria del Pilar Kaladeen might be regarded as one of those successes, but the story she tells of her two brothers shows how some were broken by the racism they faced in this country. Gail Lewis evokes the term ‘natal alienation’. “You are natally alienated both from your nation of origin and your culture, and you are alienated from your mother. Quite literally.” That is part of this story too.

The shocking death of Joy Gardner in 1993 (recalled here by her mother, Myrna Simpson) reminds us that the roots of the Hostile Environment go back long before 2017. If her tragedy is not to be repeated, we need a fundamental change in our attitude to immigration. But that will require us to acknowledge the roots of our present-day multi-ethnic society lie deep in Britain’s past

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Good Immigrant (ed. Nikesh Shukla), A Country of Refuge (ed. Lucy Popescu)

Avoid If You Dislike: Facing up to the human consequences of  Britain's past

Perfect Accompaniment: A dish of rice and peas

Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays

Available on Amazon

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Inspector Nick Paris doesn’t believe in fairies. Until he finds one crucified at the bottom of a garden. How is he supposed to investigate the murder of something that doesn’t exist?

He needs help and his intellectually challenged sergeant is more of a hindrance. Instead, he must put his faith in a talking crow with a nicotine addition, Tergil the elf, a rock troll and assorted other magical creatures from another realm. He is not ready for this and doubts he ever will be, no matter how much whisky he drinks.

This is a wonderful mash-up of crime caper and comic fairytale, with a laugh on every page. Redsmith has created a thoroughly enjoyable cast of characters, including the deadly Vanethria and his unexpected ally, a witch called Cassandra. The pace is crackling and this tone witty and dry, making this light-hearted adventure one to relish.
I hope we see more of Inspector Paris and his unusual companions.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Anything by Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams

Avoid if you don’t like: Urban fantasy and so-bad-they’re-good puns

Ideal accompaniments: Toast with crunchy peanut butter, ginger ale and Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King

Genre: Comedy, crime

Available on Amazon

Saturday, 1 June 2019

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Ayoola summons me with these words – Koreda, I killed him. I had hoped I would never here these words again.

There are so many amazing authors, Nigerian or of Nigerian heritage, who today are providing an antidote to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called ‘the dangers of the single story.’ Leye Adenle, Olumide Popoola, Chinelo Okparanta and Tomi Adeyemi, to name but a few, are creating stories that paint a far more nuanced picture of Nigeria than we in the West usually see, or drawing on traditional culture – be it Yoruba, Edo, Hausa – to create entirely new kinds of fantasy worlds.

The latest of these, for me, is Oyinkan Braithwaite. My Sister the Serial Killer is a fantastically original crime thriller. Like Leye Adenla’s Easy Motion Tourist it is set in Lagos, but in tone, style and setting, the two could hardly be more different.

This is the story of two sisters, Koreda and Ayoola, tied to one another by a secret that just keeps on getting darker. Ayoola is a fashion designer, spoilt and beautiful, the kind of person everyone falls in love with. Koreda is older, a senior nurse in a Lagos hospital, forever in her sister’s shadow.

There are shades here of Dexter (from the television series of that name or the crime series by Jeff Lindsay) – but Ayoola is no Dexter. She is chaotic, unpredictable and a nightmare for her sister. Koreda is the one who must think ahead. Spot dangers. And clean up after her sister.

The chapters here are very short – almost as if they were journal entries, or brief glimpses into Koreda’s mind, as Ayoola rocks her world again and again. There are flashbacks to a brutal upbringing with a tyrannical, abusive father, revealing the roots of a loyalty that goes deeper than self-preservation.

A darkly hilarious crime thriller, shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for literature and longlisted for the 2019 Man Booker prize.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenla, Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Avoid If You Dislike: Amoral Crime Thrillers.

Perfect Accompaniment: Pineapple upside down cake.

Genre: Crime

Available on Amazon

Friday, 31 May 2019

Circe by Madeline Miller

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Of all the mortals on the earth, there are only a few the gods will ever hear of. Consider the practicalities. By the time we learn their names, they are dead. They must be meteors indeed to catch out attention.
Like many children in the Anglosphere, I grew up on retellings of the Iliad and the Odyssey. In them, as a rule, heroes are allowed but one fatal flaw. And gods are either cardboard cut-outs or petulant humans with super-powers. Madeline Miller’s gift is to flesh out those stereotypes of myth and legend and give them fully formed lives of their own.

Seven years ago, when I reviewed Miller's The Song of Achilles, I ended by looking forward to her promised retelling of the Odyssey, with Odysseus – one of The Song’s most intriguing characters – as its central character. What Miller has delivered instead is a tale told by Circe, the nymph – or witch – who turned Odysseus’s men into pigs. In doing so, she reveals Odysseus in a fresh perspective – both hero and, in his own way, monster.

But Circe’s story stretches back long before her meeting with Odysseus and survives well after his death. Miller picks up the multiple threads of her life from different myths and weaves them into a rich and complex tapestry. What is it life to be born the daughter of a Titan – a lesser god, immortal yet all but powerless, subject to the whims of Titans and Olympians alike? What does it mean that she becomes a witch? And how, and why?

And what of those whose lives intertwine with hers? Prometheus. Scylla. Pasiphae. Daedalus. Odysseus, Telemachus and Penelope. Miller delivers them all as fully realised, complex characters.

Miller succeeds in finding a balance between Circe as someone we can relate to, but also someone who is not merely human. You can look at Circe as someone who survives an abusive childhood, sexual assault and abandonment. Who is deeply wounded and draws on her own resources to heal herself.

“All my life had been murk and depth, but I was not part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.”

Yet we are never allowed to forget that her immortality gives her both powers and limitations .

“Guilt and shame, remorse, ambivalence, those are foreign countries to our kind, which must be learned stone by stone.”

An even greater achievement than The Song of Achilles, the breadth and scope of Miller’s imaginings here are breathtaking.

Shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Literature

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. The Bees by Laila Paul

Avoid If You Dislike: Myths given depth and form

Perfect Accompaniment: Olives, cheese and wine

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Sometimes in the lives of ordinary people, there is a great halt, a revelation, a moment of change. It occurs under low metal skies, never when one is happy.

Diana Evans' Ordinary People is the slow meandering study of the dissolution of two marriages.

It’s been done before, of course. But these four people are not the usual white suburbanites of such tales. They are Black Londoners. And that changes the texture of the story and the nature of the strains upon their marriage. Michael and Melissa, Damian and Stephanie come from the kind of backgrounds that Afua Hirsch writes about in Brit(ish) or Akala in Natives. Melissa’s mother is a Nigerian women, who still carries with her elements of her traditional beliefs. Damian’s father is a Jamaican man who was often too wrapped up in the struggle against racism to remember to be a father ...

The story opens with the election of Obama and is rocked by the death of Michael Jackson. Over and above the usual strains on married life - money, work, bringing up children - lie  whole other set of pressures. When a young black kid is stabbed on Michael and Melissa’s patch, there is a tension between Melissa’s visceral need to get away from London’s knife crime and the threat it poses to her children, and Michael’s need to live among people who look like him.

Yet this is very much London. Michael and Melissa live on the edge of Crystal Park, and the slow disintegration of the once magnificent Great Exhibition becomes a metaphor for the disintegration of their marriage – even as it reminds us of the role of Empire in bringing Black people to live in Britain. (“We are here because you were there,” as Stuart Hall once said.) It manifests itself in a kind of haunting of their house, where they both feel increasingly out of place.

Evans’ situation may be domestic, but her language is lyrical: “Long clouds lay out, some moving and pink and slipping away, and at one end, in the south, the mood slid full, round and golden into a case of silver wisps, until it was swallowed, whole.”

The style of the writing is close and intimate – and yet at the same time, slightly detached, as if we were a roving camera following the four characters around, without ever quite slipping inside them.

“His love for her was still deep and wide, it shattered him, it was destroying him.”

In the end, the pathos of the story lies in the fact that love on its own is not always enough to sustain a marriage.

Shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Literature

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Celeste Ng, Carole Shields, Anne Tyler

Avoid If You Dislike:
Intimate inspections of a marriage

Perfect Accompaniment: Barbecued pork belly and rather too much beer

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The String Games by Gail Aldwin

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Nim’s family life is shifting. Dad has left and Mum’s happiness revolves around her new friend Dee. That summer holiday in France, Nim’s life changes forever. She notices boys. They notice her. Her little brother Josh is annoying and embarrassing and always underfoot. Until he disappears.

That childhood trauma imprints itself on her adult psyche, shrouding her outlook in grief and endless questions. Finally, she chooses to return to the scene and find some answers.

The String Games is aptly titled, drawing the reader into the world of Imogen/Nim, Josh and Maxime, while leaving us up in the air and uncertain. The reader feels every bit as clueless and on shifting sands as the characters themselves.

This is a psychological drama a cut above the average in that the story is more about reaction than action, process rather than procedure. Aldwin blends her dark and light with an artistic touch, leaving the reader with just enough detail to ask ‘What would I do?’

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Spilt Milk by Amanda Hodgkinson, A Child in Time by Iain McEwan

Avoid if you don’t like: Long-term grief, loss, a child’s point of view

Ideal accompaniments: Vanilla ice cream, a cider shandy and Les Négresses Vertes with C’est pas la mer à boire

Genre: Literary fiction, Coming of Age

Available here

Thursday, 16 May 2019

The Stopping Places: a Journey Through Gypsy Britain by Damian le Bas

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

In a Jhalak Prize longlist dominated this year (2019) by non-fiction books, this one stood out for me. It struck me as I read it that anti-Roma prejudice could be called ‘the last non-taboo’ – a bigotry to which many otherwise liberal members of the white middle classes would still admit to without blushing.

It is also a voice rarely heard. Almost my only other encounter with non-romanticised writing about contemporary Romanies was at the 2011 Sanctuary London event, when New Zealand author Garth Cartwright read from his book Princes Among Men, an account of his travels with the gypsy musicians in the mahalas (ghettos) of Eastern Europe – and even then, that was writing ABOUT Romanies, not the voice of a Roma author. I am sure part of that is my failure to look, but it is certainly a voice is desperate need of boosting.

Damian le Bas comes from a long line of English Romanies based around Surrey. He was raised in a Romany family, speaks the Romani language and has suffered his fair share of anti-Roma prejudice. But because he is of mixed blood – with fair skin and fair hair – even some of his own family don’t fully accept him as a true Gypsy (the word, always capitalised, that he himself most often uses to describe his people).

So one autumn he sets out in a white transit van to discover the aitchin tans – stopping places – used by Romanies and Travellers around the country. He starts with the ones his family have used for generations – Pagham’s Copse, Butler’s Down, Messenger’s Meadow, names that are unlikely to appear on any map.

Then he branches out, travelling around the country, going to famous horse fairs like Horsmonden in Kent and Appleby in Cumbria. He crosses the channel to attend the annual ceremony of Sara-la-Kali in Petit Camargue – where the Manouche (French Romanies) commemorate the arrival of the first Gypsy in Europe. He follows the trail of the Welsh Gypsies of Lake Bala – said to be the home of the purest form of Romani spoken in Britain. (Though why, le Bas asks, is English praised for its ability to adapt, to taken on board words from other languages and to invent new ones, and yet Romani scorned for the same adaptability?) At his furthest point north, finds the site in Scotland of the first recorded Gypsy presence in Britain, at the beginning of the 16thC.

His writing throughout is richly evocative – as in this description, early in the book, of his family’s flower selling business at Petersfield market.

“There were boxes of daffodils packed squeaky tight; tall green buckets of chrysanthemums, yellow and copper and pink, stargazer lilies that burst into purple and white streaked with orange. There were little black buckets of freesias, their buds like fruit humbug sweets sucked to a tight bright core...”

In the course of le Bas’s year long journey discovers the rigours of living on the road through winter, and the joys of the summer. He rediscovers some of the tricks and habits that made such a life possible. He encounters friendliness among settled folk who remember Gypsies as season workers in hop fields and on fruit farms, and rare hostility from fellow Romanies determined to maintain old demarcations.

By the end of the year, le Bas has begun to come to terms with his dual identity, reflecting:

“I am at the roadside, miles from anyone I know, and yet still in my place, inside my home, my own little world. I feel a mounting dislocation form the constant need for an endpoint ... I’ve lost the constant need to get somewhere.
We are all somewhere, I tell myself. I go back to the van and put the key in the igniting, in no great hurry to hear the engine start.”

The way of life that le Bas’s great grandmother, Nan, grew up with is gone, and with it some terrible hardships. Yet le Bas shows there was a time when Romany life slotted in with the seasonal nature of farm work and a kind of coexistence was possible. The present day almost complete lack of tolerance by settled communities of Travellers and Romanies is, in the end , in the interests of no one.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Travels in an Old Tongue by Pamela Petro; Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, Princes Among Men by Garth Cartwright.

Avoid If You Dislike: Pulling back layers of romanticism and demonisation

Perfect Accompaniment: A cup of tea brewed by the side of the road

Genre: Non-Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

A Stranger in Paris by Karen Webb

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

What could have been a dull memoir of any British au-pair arriving in France is given a sincere emotional charge by an exceptional heroine. 

The naïvete of the gauche yet observant nanny makes the reader both cringe and smile. The gossamer hopes of her romances set against the expectations of the household set up moments of delight and sadness.

This is a hiccupy, awkward and yet charming insight into the British abroad. There are times when you want to give almost every character a shake. The nuances of cultural difference are mountains not molehills to this young woman. Overconfident, underprepared but always optimistic, our heroine stumbles from situation to situation, slipping from the dangerous to the futile with blithe belief. 

The characterisation is uneven but when it works, the personae leap off the page. Most importantly, this book conveys the pumice stone of cultural interaction. Travelling changes people, almost always for the better. The gradual acclimatisation is a joy. Those were the days. 

This book should be compulsory reading for school-leavers across the UK. More now than ever.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle or When in Rome by Penelope Green

Avoid if you don’t like: Naïve young Brits, student life, cultural confusion

Ideal accompaniments: Cheap red wine, Chinese takeaway and this version of I Love Paris by Zaz.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Shortlisted for The Jhalak Prize
The Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, is an annual literary prize awarded to British or British-resident writers. It is the first and only literary prize in the UK to only accept entries by writers of colour.

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Raymond Antrobus’s stunning debut poetry collection, The Perseverance, has been shortlisted for both the 2019 Jhalak Prize and the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize International.

Antrobus is Deaf. (The capital letter distinguishes between those who are born Deaf and who regard Deafness as part of their culture and identity rather than a disability, and those to become deaf later in life, whose relationship with deafness is primarily medical.)

For Antrobus, late diagnosis as a child led to years of low expectations. When he attended a Deaf School in London attached to a hearing school where he had many of his lessons. There, hearing children mocked him for using sign language, while Deaf pupils mocked him for his lack of fluency. In Echo, A Deaf Sequence, as essay he wrote for, Antrobus writes: “This was when I most needed the nurturing of a Deaf identity, one that wasn’t medical, but philosophical, one that embraced my natural of language and valued Deafness as a way of being."

Many of the poems in this collection address the experience of being Deaf. He rails against the othering of the Deaf – writing poems that respond to Ted Hughes’ Deaf School, and to Charles Dickens writing about Laura Bridgman (a Deaf-Blind woman born fifty years before the more famous Helen Keller) or his sentimental tale, Doctor Marigold.

He confronts the murder of three deaf women street vendors in Haiti in 2016, and the fatal shooting by a state trooper in America of a deaf driver trying to use sign language.

In Dear Hearing World (a poem which plays on Dear White America by Danez Smith), Antrobus challenges reluctance of the education system to recognise the validity of sign language as a means, not a barrier to communication – an attitude that goes right back to Alexander Graham Bell.

The Perseverance of the title refers in part to the pub in Broadway Market in London where his alcoholic father drank. Many of these poems were written shortly after the death of his father, who he nursed through the last two of his life as he suffered from dementia, and explore different aspects of their relationship.

There is ambiguity too in his mixed race identity, which he explores in (Jamaican British / Miami Airport / Maybe I Could Love a Man)

Poetry does not take you by the hand and lead you, as fiction does. It demands work from the reader to chisel out meaning. I found myself spending time delving back into Antrobus’s references before reading the poems again. I also sought out YouTube videos of Antrobus performing his poetry, to hear the spaces he left between words and where he placed the stresses. It was effort well worth putting in, as it opened up layers of understanding and appreciation.

This is an exceptionally talented poet at only the start of his career. As he points out, Deaf culture has too often been silenced, patronised, othered and misrepresented. Antrobus’s cuts through that with shining clarity.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi

Avoid If You Dislike:Having to put a bit of work into your reading 

Perfect Accompaniment: Red snapper, rice and peas, and a few lessons in BSL

Genre: Poetry

Buy the book here.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Happiness by Aminatta Forna

Shortlisted for The Jhalak Prize
The Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, is an annual literary prize awarded to British or British-resident writers. It is the first and only literary prize in the UK to only accept entries by writers of colour.

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

So many layers of complexity are woven into this story of two lives colliding (literally) on Waterloo Bridge.

Attila is a psychologist from Ghana specialising in trauma resulting from war. Jean is an American biologist who studies human interactions with wild animals. He is in London for a conference; she for a long-term study of urban foxes. Their first encounter, as they both hurry across the bridge, is barely registered by either of them, but then their paths cross again and again.

The core story takes place over a mere handful of days, but through shifting timelines, we see something of Attila’s work in war zones from Bosnia to Sierra Leone, and the three women has loved in his life. And behind Jean’s story lies the history of human response to encroaching predators, from wolves to coyotes to London’s growing population of foxes.

And then there is Tano, the runaway boy, and the army of mostly immigrant workers who comb the city to find him.

This is the London most of us never see. The London of street sweepers, security people, care workers, kitchen staff – those who work when the rest of the city sleeps, behind the elegant facades of theatres and hotels. It is beautifully evoked without being sentimentalised.

Along the way the novel takes on the brutality of the Hostile Environment and the failings of the care system. It challenges the Western notions of ‘normality’ that underpin psychologists’ assumptions about trauma and PTSD. And it questions our relationship with urbanised wild animals like coyotes and foxes.

Even the notion of happiness, captured in the title, is questioned, its place taken instead by the more enduring notion of hope.

One of only two novels to make it to the shortlist of the 2019 Jhalak Prize.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Kamila Shamsie, Esi Edugyan, Ruth Ozeki, Elif Shafak

Avoid If You Dislike: Descriptions of late-stage dementia

Perfect Accompaniment: Suya (Nigerian kebabs) and a rumba in the background

Genre: Literary Fiction

Monday, 22 April 2019

Brit(ish) - on race, identity and belonging by Afua Hirsch

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

This conversation is long overdue: a conversation begun in the spirit of honesty, not defensiveness, or fear, or blindness.”

Afua Hirsch is a British born woman of mixed race. On one side, the father is half Yorkshire, half German Jewish. On the other side, her grandparents were Ghanaian. She grew up in relatively privileged circumstances in the leafy London suburb of Wimbledon, going first to private school and then Oxford University.

While Hirsch acknowledges that her experience is a world away both from the brutal racism faced by her parents’ generation and the life of young black people growing up in places like Tottenham, where poverty and lack of opportunity are rife:

“I didn’t find race, race found me: in the playground, or the classroom, on the street, in the shops.”

Hirsch describes searching for an identity in Africa, first as a new graduate working for a non-profit organisation in Senegal, and later with her young family in her grandparent’s home country of Ghana. Yet what she discovers is that, though Britishness contains the threat of exclusion, there is in fact nowhere else to go. Her identity IS British.

In this wide-ranging book she addresses such topics as our failure to properly address the truth about imperialism and British involvement in the slave trade. She examines the changing policies towards interracial adoption, Home Office attitudes to immigration and the concept of the Good Immigrant. She looks at colourism and the attitudes towards black women’s hair. She looks at riots in the 1980s and the Brixit vote in 2016.

Above all, she castigates white British society for its failure to acknowledge that racism and white privilege are still facts of life – and that this affects all members of society.

“Failing to acknowledge that whiteness exists, means ignoring the burden for a white child born into a culture that tells them they are innately superior, that they are entitled.”

Rarely have I gone through a book highlighting so many passages. Hirsch brilliantly captures both the positive and negative aspects of having multiple cultural identities. On the one hand, it: “offers the possibility of full-body immersion, deep-sea diving; an experience that is difficult to pin down, but feels mystical and profound.”

On the other, “at its worse ... (it) can feel like being helplessly adrift, unable to embrace the beauty of any one place, fearful of the water, awkward on land.”

This feels like a more deeply personal book than Eddo-Lodge’s Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race. As well as her own experiences, Hirsch draws upon individual experience of other black and mixed race people – like Lola who experienced some of the worst aspects of the care system and who now provides a home of teens emerging from that system.

Despite the depth of racism – structural and otherwise – in British society that it exposes, this book feels optimistic. But if we are truly to become a post-racial society, it is vital that we stop trying to pretend that we already are. We have to have the courage to have to difficult conversations, to acknowledge ugly truths about ourselves. To have humility.


You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Natives by Akala, Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Avoid If You Dislike: Honestly appraising the role of race in our society

Perfect Accompaniment: Jollof rice and herbal tea

Genre: Non Fiction

Available on Amazon

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Natives – Race and Class in the ruins of Empire, by Akala

Shortlisted for The Jhalak Prize
The Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, is an annual literary prize awarded to British or British-resident writers. It is the first and only literary prize in the UK to only accept entries by writers of colour.

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

“When I say I could have been a statistic – another working-class black man dead or in prison ... people that grew up like us know just how real this statement is, how easily the scales could have been tipped.”

As a white woman on the upper end of middle age, it’s not surprising that I know Akala not from his music, but from his articles and speeches. If I come across a link to one of them on Twitter, I always click on it, knowing that what I will hear / read will be insightful, challenging, thought-provoking and scholarly. This book is no exception.

If David Olusoga’s Black and British was a history of Black people in Britain, Natives takes aspects of modern British society and traces their roots back into Britain’s imperial past – a past which present-day citizens have been taught to see only through blinkers and some heavily rose-tinted spectacles.

Akala was born in 1981, the year that began with the New Cross Fire, in which 13 black children died in what was widely believed at the time to have been an arson attack. The utter indifference of media and the rest of society to their fate led directly to a march on parliament by twenty thousand black people. Together with police’s brutal application of the so-called sus laws in areas like Brixton, it was also one of the triggers for the series of riots that erupted across Britain that spring and summer.

Such outward manifestations of racism may have been less in evidence in the intervening years, but that does not mean that racism has gone away. Akala forensically examines Britain’s role in the slave trade (conveniently forgotten in our haste to pat ourselves on our backs for our part in ending it). It looks at the history of scientific racism and the hypersexualisation of black men in the imaginations of white people. And it connects those things to clearly and directly to language and attitudes prevalent today.

Scholarly as it is, this is also a personal book. Like Afua Hirsch, Akala is mixed race. His mother is white British (half Scottish, half English), and his father is from Jamaica. He grew up in Archway, on the borders between white, leafy, privileged Highgate and the much poorer, rougher area of Tottenham. The year he was twelve, he was stopped and searched by the police for the first time. It was also the first time he witnessed someone more or less of his own age attacked with a meat cleaver.

The picture Akala paints of his childhood – his adolescence in particular – is profoundly shocking to someone who has lived her life in a far more sheltered corner of England. Yet Akala swiftly demolishes the myth of ‘black on black violence,’ showing a correlation between youth violence and poverty, deprivation and lack of expectation that goes back in time hundreds of years and spreads geographically to cities where few Black people live. He shows how class is systematically used to trap white and black people alike – but how the few that break free may escape class, but that race follows them wherever they go.

At the end of the book, he looks forward into the coming century, at the growing economic power of countries outside the Anglo-America/European sphere, and wonders how and if white people will adjust to no long being the dominant world group.

“The shape of the world children born now will inhabit will be determined now just by politicians and billionaires, but by millions of supposedly ordinary people like you and me, who choose whether or not to engage with difficult issues, to try and grasp history, to find their place in it, and who choose whether to act or do nothing when faced with the mundane and mammoth conflicts of everyday life.”

A book that will challenge your world view – particularly those of us who have, however unwittingly, inherited the benefits and privileges of our imperialist forebears.


You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge; Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

Avoid If You Dislike: Shattering the myths of British imperialism

Perfect Accompaniment: A willingness to address the difficult questions

Genre: Non Fiction

Available on Amazon

Friday, 12 April 2019

The Boy At the Back of the Class by Onjali K Raúf

Shortlisted for The Jhalak Prize

The Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, is an annual literary prize awarded to British or British-resident writers. It is the first and only literary prize in the UK to only accept entries by writers of colour.

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

The Boy At the Back of the Class is the only children’s book to make it onto this year’s Jhalak Prize longlist, and one that I hope will come to the attention of the Little Rebels judges too.

It is a story that centres on Ahmet, a refugee child from Syria. But it is not the story of his perilous journey escaping a war zone and making his way to England. Rather it is the story of four friends at the primary school he starts to attend and how they react to learning his story.

The story is told by nine year old Alexa, who doesn’t understand why with the new boy at the back of the class doesn’t speak or smile, or why he disappears every break and lunchtime. And she certainly doesn’t understand the way some adults talk about him – what is a refugee kid anyway? Nonetheless, she is determined to make friends.

As the barriers between them begin to break down, and she learns that he and his family escaped from bullies who bombed their home back in Syria, that Ahmet made it safely to England, but that his sister has drowned in the sea and his mother and father are still missing. Thus emerges The Greatest Idea In The World – a plan to find Ahmet’s parents and reunite the family.

Although it is clearly aimed at younger children, the book this most reminded me of was The Hate U Give. by Angie Thomas. Like Starr, Alexa finds herself having to deal with the consequences of taking a stand for what she believes in. Those consequences can be frightening and overwhelming, but they can also be amazingly rewarding.

Raúf does not shy away from showing the ugliness of some adults’ views. Teachers, neighbours and the Press are all among those who show Alexa just how cruel and unfeeling the world can be. But there are also heroes and acts of kindness, and people who learn to change their minds.

At the back of the book, Raúf provides information for children about refugees, as well as questions that might be used in class – or within the family – to provoke discussion. A portion of her royalties are also going towards supporting refugee charities.

A joyous, life-affirming book about acceptance and the power to change the world


You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Worry Angels by Sita Brahmachari, The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Avoid If You Don’t believe every child deserves a safe place to grow up in.

Perfect Accompaniment: A pomegranate

Genre: Children’s, Middle Readers (typically 8-11 years olds)

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Built by Roma Agrawal

Shortlisted for The Jhalak Prize
The Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, is an annual literary prize awarded to British or British-resident writers. It is the first and only literary prize in the UK to only accept entries by writers of colour.

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

The opening lines of this book sent me straight back to an afternoon years ago when I was doing my A Levels. On Friday afternoons, we would periodically have speakers come in to talk to us on something our teachers thought would interest us. I don’t think any of us were particularly enthused at the prospect of a talk on the history of London Bridge – yet by the end of that afternoon, half the year group were studying their UCAS forms and wondering if they could change to studying Civil Engineering.

Roma Agrawal’s Built is full of the same infectious enthusiasm. A structural engineer who has worked on bridges and buildings including London’s iconic Shard, she takes you on a journey under the skin of city skylines and deep into their infrastructure. She shows how engineers use physics and maths to grapple with the complex intersection of forces from gravity and wind. She explains the difference between load bearing and frame bearing constructions, between tension and compression. She studies the nature of brick and steel and concrete and how those three materials determine so much of our built environment. She compares buildings that rely for their strength on an inner core to those that use an exoskeleton. She shows how the world’s tallest buildings have to be damped to prevent them from swaying. She explores at the challenges involved in providing our buildings with water and in taking away our waste.

In doing so, she looks at structures that have suffered catastrophic failure and others that have survived thousands of years. She takes us from the Taipei Tower in Taiwan, to an underground city in Anatolia; from a bridge in Japan that is a modern development of the ancient rope bridge, to a Cathedral in Mexico City that has been saved from collapse due to subsidence. (And imagine my delight when a run-through of five of her favourite bridges takes in Old London Bridge.)

Towards the end, she peers into the future of our built environment, imagining the possibilities opened up by developments such as 3D printing, bio-mimicry and self-healing materials.

This book was a joy to read! All the principles are explained simply and accessibly (with diagrams). And even if you don’t grasp some of the details, enthusiasm and wonder will carry you through. Agrawal will leave you with a profound respect for engineers and the magic they weave – magic that most of us scarcely give a passing thought to as we go about our daily lives.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Science of the Discworld series; Bill Bryson; Jared Diamond; Jacob Bronowski

Avoid If You Dislike: Getting excited about science and engineering

Perfect Accompaniment: A glass of bubbly to toast the minds behind some of the world’s greatest buildings

Genre: Non-Fiction.

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

My Conversations with Canadians by Lee Maracle

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

“The question of why settler Canadians get a better life off my continent does not pop into white men’s heads, nor into the heads of other nice white women either.”

Like Why I Am Not Talking to White People About Race, and Between the World and Me, My Conversations with Canadians is a challenge to the dominant social group – most especially those who consider themselves to be liberal and enlightened – to wake up and realise the harm they are unwittingly doing.

Maracle is a member of the Stó:lō Nation, part of the Coastal Salish Confederacy, from the Fraser Valley region of British Colombia; the daughter of a Métis mother and Salish father. As well as being an author and a poet, Maracle is an Instructor in Indigenous Nations Studies at the University of Toronto and a Traditional Teacher at First Nations House

To being with, she quietly demolishes the illusions of Canadians like me of being the ‘nice’ settlers.

“In line with having no clue about their world, Canadians continue to insist that they are ‘better then America.”

Yet American reservations are on average 300 times the size of Canadian reserves. Canada’s residential school programme has been recognised as an act of cultural genocide. Indigenous women continue to be murdered at a rate of four times that of any other ethnic group. Indigenous children are still taken into care at a disproportionate rate.

The chapter that spoke particularly strongly to me was the one about Cultural Appropriation. This is a term that has been treated with undisguised contempt by some in the literary and art worlds. Maracle explains how, among her people, land and physical objects were not considered that property of individuals but something over which they shared stewardship. Knowledge, on the other hand, was personal. You passed it on the members of your family – but you traded for it with those outside your family. And knowledge was not written down but passed on orally, often in the form of story. People were trained in the art of remembering to ensure accuracy.

“Colonial white society assigned itself some crazy Knower’s Chair and handed white people the authority to sit in it They alone get to sit in this chair and decide what is true knowledge and what is false.”

When the white settlers came along, they took what knowledge it suited them and wrote it down. They packaged it up in books and university courses that had to be paid for. At the same time, they separated indigenous children from their parents and grandparents through the residential schools system, thus destroying the natural flow of knowledge down through families, forcing them to buy it back from the settlers who had appropriated it.

Small wonder then, that now First Nations people have the opportunity to revive their traditional skills, knowledge and languages, they are wary of settlers who once again want to repackage these things for commercial gain.

Since 2008, Canada has been going through a process of Truth and Reconciliation. When asked what reconciliation means to her, Maracle answers acerbically – “Well, stop killing us would be a good place to begin. Then maybe stop plundering our resources, stop robbing us of our children, end colonial domination – return our lands, and then maybe we can talk about being friends.”

And yet, it is clear that, despite everything, Maracle does want to find a route to that friendship.

“Some of our people wish Canadians would move back to their original homelands. Not me – I hope they fall in love with the land the way I have – fully, responsibly and committed for life.”

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Why I Am Not Talking To White People About Race by Renni Eddo Lodge, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Avoid If You Dislike: Checking Your Privilege

Perfect Accompaniment: A willingness to give up the Knower’s Chair.

Genre: Non-fiction, Essays, Indigenous Writings

Available on Amazon