RaveFinancial Times (UK)Some of the greatest novelists write with a forensic honesty about history and their countries. Ismail Kadare is one of them ... In 2015, at 78, he published The Doll in Albanian, turning that questing skill to a fraught set of subjects: his family home and his mother. The Doll, now published in John Hodgson’s English translation, is a short but intense autobiographical novel. In just 176 pages, with concentrated brilliance Kadare — who received the first International Man Booker Prize in 2005 — fictionalises his youth and his mother’s life ... This is not a book that a newcomer to Kadare should read first but, in its weaving of family history, Albania’s turmoil, and the life of a writer shaped by women’s words and anguishes, it is an essential work. The Doll is mesmerising, and like Kadare’s family home, conceals both darkness and flashes of light in its interior. Perhaps no one ever fully unravels the puzzle of their own pasts, their parents’ lives, but Kadare takes us through a secret entrance as far as he, and we, can bear to go into those hidden chambers.
Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong'o
RaveFinancial Times (UK)In this rousing new version, the story becomes a powerfully feminist tale ... The Perfect Nine uses a deceptively simple language that lays bare deep truths ... Ngugi is most celebrated for his novels and plays, but perhaps this electric myth, with its free and fearless heroines and its vast narrative arc, chose the perfect teller.
RaveThe Financial Times... showed me that there is an unbeatable richness to reading about the present moment as it unfolds ... a powerful, incandescent snapshot of the changes rocking India today ... As I reached the last page of A Burning, I felt that Majumdar had reminded me what great fiction can do. Her gift is to make you feel empathy for those who fall through history’s cracks ... Sometimes, a novelist speaks for those who will never get to tell their stories, and Majumdar does so with a blend of empathy and contained rage.
RaveThe Financial Times... [a] strong, uneasy and sometimes dangerous friendship...acutely captured ... In interviews, Gunesekera has mentioned a personal loss, the death of a close friend of his youth many years ago. A novel need not be autobiographical to draw on life, but much of Suncatcher’s power comes from this place of intense feeling and remembered grief ...The story plunges into the darker parts of friendship — the enthralment, the pull exerted by the charmer over the charmed, the places into which one will dive, the other drawn along against his better instincts — with such skill that it’s an annoyance to have parts of it laden with heavy-footed symbolism ... The foreshadowing is often too blunt ... Yet...Gunesekera achieves something remarkable. As a coming-of-age novel, Suncatcher is memorable and sometimes brilliant in its ability to map the tensions between leader and follower, the arc and trajectory of boys trying so impatiently to become men. This is also a wise and poignant portrait of a country — Ceylon before it became Sri Lanka — caught in the moment before it loses its innocence, all the signs and portents in place, but the bloodiness of war still unthinkable.
RaveFinancial TimesHuman Relations & Other Difficulties collects 23 of her pieces for the LRB and starts with a surprisingly personal one ... The next few pieces gently and expertly warm up the reader, ranging from reflections on obituaries in The Times to a wonderful digression on Pears Soap and the Pears’ Cyclopaedia ... It is not Wilmers’ style to be prescriptive, but when she does deliver a rant, it’s good stuff, as when she deplores the epidemic of kindness tainting the once-gladiatorial book review ... Taken collectively, these essays summon up the lives of women, mostly writers, who kicked against the barriers, using whatever means they could ... Human Relations & Other Difficulties has a bite, and it makes you wonder what Wilmers would have produced if she had given her own writing as much time as she gave to the words of others.
Xuan Juliana Wang
RaveFinancial TimesHome Remedies doesn’t read like a first collection; like Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies...the 12 stories here announce the arrival of an exciting, electric new voice ... [a] mixed heritage of cultures, cities and influences comes together brilliantly as [Wang] explores the lives, compromises and yearnings of Chinese millennials and immigrants ... From New York to Beijing, Wang writes of China’s millennials and the preceding generation with a wonderful blend of urgency and understanding. She captures what lies beneath the surface of the apparent aimlessness of the twentysomethings ... Behind the bright colour of these worlds — an old man covered in a gold constellation of bees, oracle grandmothers — Wang is a powerful chronicler of failure and warped dreams ... The sublime \'Echo of the Moment\', which riffs on Haruki Murakami’s short story \'Tony Takitani\', features a young woman whose life is transformed, rendered dazzling, when she steals a dead girl’s clothes ... It’s a fairy tale come true, until it isn’t. Wang is too wise to guarantee happy endings.
PositiveFinancial TimesIf City of Girls were a cocktail, it would be the kind with a maraschino cherry, a purple umbrella and bubbles floating to the top of the glass ... fluffy but delightful ... Elizabeth Gilbert’s third novel starts off wobbly, in part because the young Vivian has the personality of a spaniel eager for attention, and in part because of the overuse of this framing device ... As Vivian bounces into the liberating, chaotic world of The Lily Playhouse, Gilbert finds her touch ... There are grim notes in this golden picaresque of young women discovering their sexual selves, and Gilbert doesn’t underplay the creepiness that the pleasure seekers often face. She’s fabulous at catching the absurdity of \'romping and rampaging\', but other erotic episodes come off as grindingly earnest ... has enough oomph and espièglerie, enough New York nostalgia, to keep this show on the road.
RaveThe Financial TimesIn Orange World, her superbly crafted third collection of short stories, Russell introduces a variety of monsters and lost creatures, often endearing, almost human in their vulnerability. Readers of her first two collections...know what to expect from this writer: freakishly imaginative worlds made to feel as real, as mundanely domestic, as our own everyday lives ... Russell is among the most skilled of this generation’s fabulist writers. In her surreal worlds, life is passing strange, but it is not devoid of wry comfort.
Olga Tokarczuk, Trans. by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
RaveFinancial TimesOlder women make excellent protagonists in murder mysteries ... Tokarczuk’s novels, poems and short stories consistently open up unpredictable wonders and astonishments, and there isn’t a genre that she can’t subvert ... Antonia Lloyd-Jones pulls off a flawless, intimate translation, even tackling the technically dazzling feat of presenting Blake’s poems as translations from English into Polish, back into English ... Seasoned thriller fans may guess who, or what, is behind the murders early on, but the novel is so richly layered that it has a multitude of other satisfactions to offer. Tokarczuk seems to reinvent herself with every book she writes, and between clinical descriptions of corpse-wax, meditations on ageing and the tenuous pleasure of surrogate families, this novel will upturn your expectations ... Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is not as ambitious as The Books of Jacob, or as soaringly inventive as Flights. It will, however, make you want to read everything that Tokarczuk has written.
PositiveThe Financial TimesIt’s unusual to read a taut historical crime fiction thriller that also interrogates the Imperial legacy. Mukherjee, never heavy-handed with his research, is wise to have chosen a protagonist who is more sympathetic to the \'native\' side than most, but whose perspective is necessarily British — it allows you a view into both worlds, that of the Indian nationalist setting up bonfires of foreign cloth, and that of the Englishman seeing the inevitable unfold as the colonies slip from the grasp of Empire ... The flaws in Smoke and Ashes are minor. Those familiar with Indian history of that period will find Surendranath Banerjee’s name a little jarring ... But these do not detract from the many thrills of following Captain Sam Wyndham and Bannerjee through 1920s Calcutta.
PositiveThe Financial Times[Lalami\'s] other first-person narrators are fleshed out in quick but compelling detail ... Lalami switches between their voices with deft skill — even minor characters feel refreshingly individual ... The drawback with having nine narrators is that there isn’t enough room for some characters to emerge into the light, and you’re left wanting to know more about the choices they make. But Lalami chose this form deliberately, perhaps suggesting that no American story can be seen or understood in isolation ... confirms Lalami’s reputation as one of the country’s most sensitive interrogators, probing at the fault lines in family, and the wider world.
PositiveFinancial Times\"There are delightful glimpses into the craft and the care with which she writes ... Some omissions are puzzling — [Morrison\'s] 2016 essay, \'Making America White Again\', for example, should have been included here — some repetitions across the essays are inevitable, and it’s frustrating that the dates and occasion for each piece are at the end, rather than included alongside. But this is a collection that is startling in its relevance to the conflicts and challenges of the present moment ... In a time of turmoil and political greed, [Morrison\'s] writings have the power to bring, not a false comfort, but the hard-won belief that words can reshape the world. Toni Morrison’s own words certainly have.\
PositiveThe Financial Times... can be luminous in outlining a young woman’s struggle to shape her own life, through train and road journeys, by adapting to the hardships and customs of far-flung mountain villages. At the same time, Vijay never loses sight of the fact that Shalini’s innocent recklessness is a liability, for her first hosts and for Bashir Ahmed’s family when she finds her way to them ... One of Vijay’s gifts is that she can make us feel for a protagonist who knows so little, yet yearns so deeply for something beyond her cushioned life ... Shalini’s quest to understand her mother’s life makes for a remarkable story, and Vijay is likely to be a talent to watch. But the most compelling stories here are not Shalini’s to fully tell. She can witness, and partly share, but not inhabit the lives of Bashir Ahmed and others. For all its sincerity, A Far Field is marked by these gaps and silences.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
MixedThe Financial TimesA pleasure to read ... Jhabvala had a gift for tackling the messiness of human lives, the chance decision that has savage repercussions ... Some stories are still sharp...Others can feel like pressed flowers — no longer relevant, the original perfume lost, trailing a flavour of dust ... Many stories, especially those set in Delhi or small-town India, feel dated, peopled with stock characters ... certainly has its share of glittering pleasures.
RaveFinancial Times\"... ferociously gripping ... Readers who have a weakness for trickster tales, for blood-soaked epics that read like a collision between Greek myth and the scarier parts of African folklore, will love Black Leopard, Red Wolf ... The shifts in landscape are dazzling — from sky cities to a forest haunted by the memory of elephants, James builds an extraordinary and unforgettable world, even though the narrative sometimes feels overpowered, the shifts almost too much to take in over one reading ... James has already made his bones as a novelist, and Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a game-changing modern fantasy classic.\
PositiveFinancial Times\"... Once Upon A River is magical, in every which way ... It’s the power of [Setterfield’s] storytelling that allows readers to suspend disbelief, and draws them through each tangled, dazzling chapter ... Is it possible for a novel to be a classic despite obvious flaws? The closing chapters feel gimmicky, the denouement wildly melodramatic — but then Setterfield swoops in with a final, breathtaking paragraph, shimmering with ancient dread and magic. Once Upon A River’s winding course drags you down into the reeds and marshy depths in places, but Setterfield’s imagination is powered by an otherworldly force. This riverine novel has the mood and feel of a ghost story told late into the night, and will win over readers who enjoy a touch of age-old enchantment.\
Yukiko Motoya, trans. by Asa Yoneda
RaveFinancial Times\"Motoya, in Asa Yoneda’s subtle and unobtrusive translation, never uses the word \'yearning\', but this story, like so many others, is saturated with a sense of longing. Her characters seem to be searching for the strangest, and most estranged, parts of themselves. While not explicitly feminist, her female protagonists share a capacity for small rebellions, sudden twitches against life-long habits of conformity ... Motoya’s signature, a gift she shares with other contemporary writers such as Carmen Maria Machado or International Man Booker-winner Han Kang, is the striking image — a girl who cries tears of blood, a woman glued to a man in a suit. As a result these arresting, hyper-real stories linger in the imagination and tend to engage your curiosity rather than your empathy ... By the first few sentences of The Lonesome Bodybuilder, you know you’re hearing the voice of a remarkable writer; by the end of \'An Exotic Marriage\', you’re certain that Yukiko Motoya’s shivery, murmuring voice will never completely leave you.\
MixedFinancial Times\"Told conventionally, Insurrecto might have easily won readers over ... The first 50 pages of Insurrecto are destabilising. Chapters tumble in and out of order and shift ... Apostol uses techniques from Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, expecting the reader to trust her as the story hopscotches through time and space. But for readers accustomed to the jump-cuts and montages of cinema, Insurrecto doesn’t present a challenge so much as a cascade of pleasures and possibilities ... Perhaps Insurrecto’s greatest weakness is that it is too much of a polemical argument, but when it returns to what you can experience, it has much to offer.\
PositiveThe Financial Times\"John Zubrzycki’s Empire of Enchantment, a...thoroughly engaging history of Indian magic, is bristling with anecdotes of this sort, tales of conjurors, tricksters, illusionists, jugglers, and cunning conmen across the centuries ...
Perhaps the most fascinating parts of Empire of Enchantment deal with the politics of these cross-cultural exchanges. \'They are simultaneously denigrated and celebrated,\'...The hunger for more of the tricks of \'Carnatics, Nuths and Jadoogheers\' did not prevent these performers from being duped by their managers when they crossed the Black Waters ... Zubrzycki closes his vast history with a reminder of their precarious existence, though some bans, such as the ban on the use of animals in magic acts, are more than welcome. And yet, as he writes in his foreword: \'There is enough disenchantment in the world and I don’t intend to compound it.\'
PositiveFinancial Times\"My Sister, The Serial Killer is like a stiletto slipped between the ribs and through the left ventricle of the heart — precise, sure of its aim, and deadly in its effect ... Nigerian novelist Oyinkan Braithwaite’s glittering and funny crime fiction debut set in Lagos is a quick, slick read ... Braithwaite grips you with her razor-sharp understanding of the twisted knot of family legacies and blood ties ... Strictly as a crime thriller, My Sister, The Serial Killer doesn’t hold up to a close first reading... But the real darkness and tension in My Sister, The Serial Killer, comes from the dance within the family, the love-hate, protector-betrayer relationship between these two siblings ... Braithwaite leaves the reader wondering which of these two sisters is more damaged: the killer, or the killer’s faithful rescuer.\
PositiveFinancial Times\"... magnificent ... Some readers will be worn out by the intensity of conversations in Unsheltered, the profusion of debates over immigration, outsiders, race, the living world and our relationship with it, cultural politics, healthcare, land rights, the unstoppable rise of the Bullhorn and the trials of home ownership. Others will be drawn to the novel precisely for this, the richness with which Kingsolver captures the Trump era and the choices it forces on ordinary Americans, the ways in which thoughtful speech can become a kind of shelter when all else is lost ... The wisdom Unsheltered offers is wry, hard-wrested and timeless, good balm when even the roof over your head seems shaky.\
PositiveFinancial TimesIn Washington Black, she takes what might have been a historical novel, a slavery narrative resting solidly on true accounts of plantation life, and spins it in the direction of steampunk. This won’t trouble readers of science fiction, accustomed to tackling novels embedded in history but obsessed with the technology and innovations of the era, but others might stumble as Washington Black takes flight ... Edugyan’s magnificent and strikingly visual prose carries the reader along a certain distance—this is a tale to be entered without disbelief or doubt, despite the contrivances and coincidences that stitch together the rough cloth of the plot ... But as Wash and Mister Titch are driven to and fro by a gleefully baroque series of unfortunate events—Wash pursued by a slave-hunter, Titch haunted by the ghosts of acts of cruelty that he and his brother once committed—the novel stands in danger of losing a more subtle track ... But by placing a black slave at the heart and centre of this epic romp, by making Wash the explorer of lands, science and art, Edugyan reclaims long-lost terrain in this ambitious, headspinning work.
R O Kwon
RaveFinancial Times...[a] pulsating, hypnotic debut novel ... Kwon’s subject is not so much love and betrayal — though both forces are presented as elementally destructive — as the power of religion, and the grieving that engulfs those who lose faith. She understands what a believer will do to retain her sense of belonging ... The Incendiaries doesn’t read like a debut. Kwon, who can write with lush power...chooses spareness, restraint ... The Incendiaries packs a disruptive charge, and introduces RO Kwon as a major talent.
RaveThe Financial TimesWarlight is Ondaatje’s most haunting novel after The English Patient, which won the Booker Prize in 1992 ... Warlight might frustrate some readers, with its recursive, looping structure, its gathering of fragments into a significant whole. It will disappoint any readers who want only a second English Patient and aren’t more open to Ondaatje’s extraordinary range of storytelling ... But over time — and this is a novel that should be read in long slow sips — Warlight is mesmerising, and powerfully sad ... This novel dives into the darkness, and finds small miracles among the shattered glass, the ruins.
RaveThe Financial TimesThe form that she [Edemariam] chooses is striking. It’s evident that she spent years gathering not just her grandmother’s tales, but also travelling and researching historical archives in order to bring alive Ethiopia’s shift from the age of empires and dictatorships to its present-day, turbulent democracy. But Edemariam doesn’t let the scaffolding of her research show. The Wife’s Tale is told with the turns and twists of a novel, layered with dialogue and stories taken directly from an oral tradition ... If Edemariam creates a sense of intimacy by imagining her grandmother’s innermost thoughts, she also brings history alive with her gift for vivid description ... It is one startling, unforgettable story among an abundance of riches.
PositiveThe Financial TimesJamison’s tone is earnest, but touched with flashes of beauty and humour. She offers the coin of depth and intensity rather than epiphanies ... It’s sobering, but as the dedication to The Recovering says, simply, \'For anyone addiction has touched.\' That means most of us ... Jamison made that journey to hell and back, and her readers are fortunate that she lived to tell that tale.
RaveThe Financial TimesA Tokyo Romance is a vivid account of what it is like to create your truest self by moving away from all that is familiar to embrace a foreign culture and country ... The years of glittering surfaces, of living as a foreigner who’s invited behind closed doors, have given him much. A Tokyo Romance is also about what to do when the romance ends, when it’s wise to take the plane out, turning to see a last glimpse of Mount Fuji from the window.
PositiveThe Financial TimesForna is a risk-taker, a writer who doesn’t hold back from tackling big themes, and Happiness is a sprawling forest of a novel, with many tracks and stories to follow ... The profusion of sub-plots, however carefully nested, might test the patience of some readers. But look more closely and you can see that Forna always lays a trail of pebbles, gleaming in the moonlight, that lead you back home — though not to any easy epiphanies or safe resolutions. Happiness is one of a handful of contemporary novels that take both the human condition and the animal condition seriously. Entering Forna’s sweeping universe transports you to a place that feels familiar, but also totally feral and full of surprises.
RaveThe Financial TimesBenjamin has an extraordinary ability to write about family tensions, the cracks over which you cannot safely step, the unwilled love that keeps people close despite all the fissures ... The Immortalists boasts some dramatic twists and turns but these in truth are unnecessary. Benjamin is a gifted writer, a creator of quiet asides and haunting images who mines a seam of sad wisdom.
Homer, Trans. by Emily Wilson
RaveThe Financial Times\"From this first sentence we realise that this will be an unselfconsciously contemporary telling of Homer’s ancient classic, and that neither Odysseus nor any of the other characters will be spared … Perhaps the most radical shift in Wilson’s version comes from her willingness to dive deeper into the hierarchies of power in The Odyssey. Odysseus, on a long voyage home to his faithful wife Penelope, meets many different women...While remaining true to the original, Wilson seeks to scrape off the meanings assigned to them by previous translators, who may have seen non-Greeks simply as savages … Wilson translates as though translation is a moral choice — you owe fidelity not to the author, nor to the protagonist, but to the truth behind the words and the times. She scrapes away at old encrusted layers, until she exposes what lies beneath.\
MixedThe Financial TimesIn the Midst of Winter is Allende’s 23rd book, and it brings together a trio of characters deeply marked by their pasts … The dead body here — a woman in yoga clothes with a neat bullet hole through her forehead — is given a back-story, and a somewhat more pleasant final resting place. But it is a clumsy and unconvincing plot device, a distraction from the slow unveiling of a far more thoughtful set of revealed histories … Of Allende’s 19 previous novels, The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna and Paula are probably still the best loved. In the Midst of Winter may not approach the kind of cult status those enjoy, but in her seventies, Allende has an unflashy wisdom to offer, a maturity that illuminates her storytelling.
RaveThe Financial TimesHis memoir, Endurance: A Year In Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, is a small classic of exploration literature as well as space literature ...brings life in space alive — the wonder and awe of it, and also the jagged edges, the rough parts of living in confined quarters in an alien element, far from everything familiar and beloved ...with its honest, gritty descriptions of an unimaginable life, a year off Earth, is as close as most readers will come to making that voyage themselves.
Carmen Maria Machado
RaveThe Financial Times\"Machado’s particular genius is to remove the safety net readers expect. In the eight stories that make up this brilliant and unsettling debut, the world of women and their bodies — both the delights they provide and the dangers they encounter — is presented coolly, with no promise that the writer’s protagonists will live happily ever after … Machado’s narrators are articulate and thoughtful, with vivid internal lives. But she’s sharp enough at capturing the messiness of ordinary human behaviour to distinguish one character from the next, keeping the stories distinct and marking each with flares of stark beauty … The stories in Her Body and Other Parties, on the vulnerability and the appetites of women, their transgressions and their disappearances, have the depth of fairy tales and the grim acid rasp of the best horror fiction.\
RaveThe Financial TimesCeleste Ng’s second novel begins with an act of arson... The youngest of the Richardsons’ four children, Izzy, is the prime suspect, but beyond the question of whether she did it, and if so, why, Little Fires Everywhere brims with unexpected diversions and riches ... Like Sue Monk Kidd or Madeleine Thien, Celeste Ng has a carpenter’s sure touch in constructing nested, interconnected plots, and it’s the second plot thread that brings the novel’s fixation with mothers and daughters to the boil ... Ng is particularly concerned with the choices people make, from teens in love, to thwarted mothers, to artists choosing between freedom or success ...resonates far beyond the minor satisfactions of dramatic climaxes and sharp character swerves. There are few novelists writing today who are as wise, compassionate and unsparing as Ng.
RaveThe Financial TimesFrom its first sentence, Sing, Unburied, Sing is steeped in blood ... Ward takes the classic American road trip novel and breathes an electric current of danger into it — a black woman travelling through Mississippi with her two young children and a stash of drugs...what might, in less sure hands, have remained a local tale, digging up the old bones of stories in Mississippi, becomes a searing story of universal power. Ward’s characters have much in common, in their particularity and their quirkiness... All of Ward’s writing rages against this particular injustice, and gives voice to those who have had their stories so roughly snatched from them, their lives twisted out of shape by ancient tyrannies ...takes the territory made so familiar by writers such as William Faulkner or Eudora Welty, and reclaims it, for her and for others like her in the future.
RaveFinancial Times“Tom Perrotta is the gentlest of sharp observers, even when he’s exploring the unruliness of sex, the force that drives most of the characters in his seventh novel. Mrs Fletcher is a light and sympathetic exploration of people in New England suburbs and college campuses, tentatively exploring their choices, identities and the problems posed by apparently unlimited freedoms … Adding layers to this carefully and episodically plotted novel are Margo Fairchild, an elegant transgender professor who’s outgrown her former life as a basketball star named Mark, and Eve’s colleague Amanda, who is “part of a hipster reverse migration, legions of overeducated, underpaid twenty-somethings getting squeezed out of the city”. Perrotta’s line in wry, deadpan comedy stops well short of savage satire, even though the territory he’s exploring is stark … Mrs Fletcher will not disappoint Perrotta’s fans. And it is true that writers don’t have to be brutal to be intense; comedy can make the sharpest of points without corroding from its own acid. This is a pleasant, light soufflé of a novel, but given the intense identity and sexual politics it plays with, you’re left wanting to get your teeth into something more substantial.”
RaveThe Financial Times\"In India, Gidla was influenced by tales of her uncle, the Dalit revolutionary, poet and Naxalite leader KG Satyamurthy, who was like a cinema hero to her. At 14, she was a radical; by the age of 16, she had joined the People’s War Group, which pledged to wage armed struggle; and as a college student, she was imprisoned and tortured for some months … The honesty with which Gidla shines the light on her own family is rare in Indian writing … Ants Among Elephants is resonant with ‘stories worth telling, stories worth writing down’ — one of the most significant, and haunting, books about India you’ll read.\