RaveThe New York Times Book Review... El Akkad keeps his plot and focus tight. Told from the point of view of two children, on the ground and at sea, the story so astutely unpacks the us-versus-them dynamics of our divided world that it deserves to be an instant classic. I haven’t loved a book this much in a long time ... El Akkad cleverly shuffles between the reflections, prejudices and back stories of the two groups, effectively effacing assumptions of superiority and inferiority, good and bad ... Wisdom abounds, but as stark observation rather than comforting homily or advice ... reads as a parable for our times ... In a moment of drowning, in that liminal space between life and death, Amir suddenly understands everything: All our love and avarice and hopes and failings are unbound in a passage of such beautiful writing that I would cite it here in its entirety if I didn’t want people to have the joy of reading it fresh on the page ... This extraordinary book carries a message, not of a trite and clichéd hope, but of a greater universal humanism, the terrifying idea that, ultimately, there are no special distinctions among us, that in fact we are all very much in the same boat.
Banine, trans. by Anne Thompson-Ahmadova
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)A love story between a Georgian princess and a noble Azeri boy set in Baku during the Russian Revolution ... The poignancy is clear from the very first page: we know communism is coming, and with it the end of everything. Childhood slips into adulthood. Family scandals — her sister’s elopement, her widowed father’s second marriage to an Ossetian — weave into the bristling history: war, exile and a shortlived period of Azeri independence, during which her father was a minister. When the Bolsheviks arrive, it is only fitting that Banine and her cousin fall for a dashing commissar and espouse all the excitement of historical materialism even as her father is imprisoned ... The language is a free-flowing river — an adventure written decades later. Like Nabokov, fellow writer-in-exile, she writes memoir almost as fiction, as though it happened to someone else. Banine falls out of a love triangle and into marriage with an apparently eligible gambler with the right connections to get her father a passport ... a delightful memoir of an eventful life set against the helter-skelter of the 20th century, which plunged her family into exile and penury just as arbitrarily as it had set them in gilded houses and bedecked them with diamonds.
Witold Szablowski, Trans. By Antonia Lloyd-Jones
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)...anecdotal and easy-going ... Szablowski is a limpid and gently brilliant storyteller ... Szablowski lets his subjects speak for themselves ... their bosses’ preferences...are curiously banal. More interesting are the behind-the-scenes glimpses of hypocrisies, capriciousness and bullying ... But while the dictators enjoy their cameos as stage villains in the stories, the unexpected heart of this book is the odysseys of the chefs themselves. Almost all were plucked by chance from a poor village and thrust into the high life, rewarded with money and privilege, and then cast out again. As they alternate between the boastful and reflective, their talent to please difficult masters frames a disquieting complicity ... Throughout, the chefs are rendered as compelling and complex characters. Szablowski’s skill is to hang back from judgment; moments of humour and honest reckoning are mixed in with the caprices of pride and success ... The book that originally sought to shed light on the private interiors of iconic dictators ends up posing more universal questions about collusion and responsibility.
Nino Haratischvili, Trans. by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... just as I was jotting the familiar tropes \'ripping yarn,\' \'fairy tale\' and \'soap opera\' in my critic’s notebook, something rather extraordinary happened. The world fell away and I fell, wholly, happily, into the book...The fulcrum tipped, the clichés I had ascribed were now overwritten with new ones: poignant, heart-stopping, sublime ... Haratischvili is acute on the push-me, pull-you complex of Georgia’s relationship with Russia ... Haratischvili writes compellingly from inside her characters’ heads, but from time to time she pulls back, admitting to her reader that she dare not trespass too far into interior hinterlands. Her misgivings subtly afford her characters privacy for the most intimate of deliberations, the fine lines between betrayal and hypocrisy. Here lie the powerful silences of unspeakable traumas and of culpability too, the \'blanks\' of \'all those who have been forgotten\' ... The book concludes with a devastatingly brilliant announcement of hope.
RaveFinancial Times... clear and vital reading. This is the book that connects the dots between climate change, shrinking biodiversity, the global rise of the agro-industrial food complex and our nutrition, eating habits and evolving diet ... an authoritative and brilliantly compelling description of the economic, political and emotional issues around our food ... [Wilson] is mercifully non-judgmental.