RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... brilliant and unusually wide-ranging ... Jarman, a Scandinavian archaeologist based in Britain who did her PhD on the Repton charnel, is the perfect person to resolve this conundrum, and she does so with great skill, clarity and narrative drive. For Jarman likes her Vikings violent, and her tale — replete with witches, human sacrifice, Greek fire and funeral orgies — is at least as lively as any Netflix Viking romp, and a great deal more intellectually satisfying ... It helps that she has an enviable gift for turning dry archaeological data into thrilling human stories as she weaves cutting-edge science with chronicles, histories and Nordic sagas, moving effortlessly from laboratory readings of strontium and carbon-14 to the tales of the Icelandic bard Snorri Sturluson and legends of the Valkyries. In this way she gradually reveals the extraordinary history of the Vikings’ activity from Greenland and the Baltic to the walls of Constantinople and the bazaars of Baghdad. Some of it was peaceful; much of it was not ... After putting down my trowel in Repton, I left Viking archaeology to swim in the warmer waters of India’s ocean, and reading River Kings seemed to bring two disparate halves of my life together in the most wonderful and unexpected way. But the book — one of the most thrilling works of archaeological detective work I have ever read — will cast a spell on any reader who enjoys their history well-written and clearly argued. Just as Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad reminded us that the eastern front of the second world war was of far greater consequence than its western theatre, so Jarman shows how the westward trading and slaving voyages of the Vikings were only half the story. The real source of Viking wealth lay far to the east.
RaveThe Telegraph (UK)Thubron may now be an octogenarian, but his new book, The Amur River: Between Russia and China, shows him still at the peak of his powers ... The book that he has produced at the end of this ordeal is no less remarkable than the journey itself: a miraculous late-style masterpiece, the equal of any of his earlier works, which will cement his reputation as one of our greatest prose writers in any genre. There is barely a page that does not contain gorgeous descriptive passages, superb dialogue and pitch-perfect commentary founded on deep learning, lightly worn. But The Amur River is not just beautifully written: it is also a work of great importance ... The Amur River is not just a literary triumph in itself, it is also a demonstration of the continued power of great travel writing. In an age when attention spans are growing ever shorter, when articles are becoming more etiolated, the travel book remains one of the few venues to write with some nuance and complexity about a place or an alien culture ... As The Amur River so beautifully demonstrates, good travel writing allows you to use encounters with individuals to suggest complex contradictions within societies and imagine the otherwise unimaginable ... There is still no substitute for travel writing of this quality. One can only hope that this epic journey is not Thubron’s last.
RaveThe GuardianThe restraint of her prose, with its short, simple declarative sentences, makes the scale of the horror all the more unbearable ... This is possibly the most moving book I have ever read about grief, but it is also a very, very fine book about love ... And while in Wave love reveals itself by the bleak intensity of the pain of absolute, irreplaceable loss, it is in the end a love story, and a book about the importance of love.
RaveThe SpectatorThis month marks the centenary of the massacre, and a slew of new books mark the occasion. Few are likely to be half as good as Kim Wagner’s brilliantly clear and authoritative analysis of the massacre ... Wagner’s style is coolly forensic and scholarly. He sets the massacre in its full historical context, and with massive research into a wide range of primary sources—almost every sentence is footnoted — gets as close as we are ever likely to get to the truth of what happened in Jallianwalla Bagh. In the process, he demolishes a large number of myths that have grown up around the event, both imperial and nationalist.
RaveThe Spectator...[a] remarkable and brilliantly researched non-fiction thriller ... well-written, [contains] new research and [breaks] much fresh ground ... Through some remarkable research in archives around the world, Anand has reconstructed much of [Singh\'s] life ... Books such as...The Patient Assassin are now more important than ever because they help us to understand why Indians — like so many other peoples around the globe — often have such bitter memories of British rule.
RaveThe GuardianThere is throughout a transcendent beauty to Macfarlane’s prose, and occasional moments of epiphany and even ecstasy ... When not getting stuck himself, he regales us with tales of some of those who never returned ... But as always with Macfarlane’s books, the tales of adventures are only a takeoff point for discussions of deeper concerns ... premonitions of our present apocalyptic Anthropocene close in around Macfarlane like the shades of Hades around the backward-looking Orpheus. For this book is also about man’s almost incidental place in the world when seen from the perspective of geological time ... If fear is a constant companion on such journeys, for the reader at home there are many pleasures, most notably the armchair exploration of a far more benign landscape: the interior of Macfarlane’s magnificently well-furnished mind. For the darkly tangled path this book takes through the labyrinth of history and memory, literature and landscape, high-flown prose and underworldly observation are illuminated by Macfarlane’s inventive way with language. At its best, this has an epic, incantatory quality. There is a rare gift at work here: chiselled prose of such beauty that it can, on occasion, illuminate the darkness below ground as startlingly as a Verey light sent up into the vaults of one of Macfarlane’s subterranean stalactite cathedrals.
PositiveThe Guardian\"Gilmour, author of biographies of Rudyard Kipling and Curzon, in this book draws on more than 30 years of research in the archives, and presents an astonishing harvest from diaries, memoirs, letters and official documents of the era, many previously unused ... All British colonial life in India is here presented in elegant prose, 350 years of battles and durbars, maharajahs’ balls, viceregal tiger shoots and Shimla shenanigans telescoped down into telling anecdotes and witty, skilfully sketched vignettes. The only problem is what the book fails to address...Gilmour has chosen to write about the extremely diverse lives of British colonials in India. It is emphatically a social history, not an economic or political one and, as he writes, he \'has not tried to … make a particular argument.\' I found the decision not to engage in the current debate on empire frustrating, and it is a book that contains far fewer Indians and far fewer Indian perspectives than it should ... Though Gilmour writes about such men admiringly, we are left wondering whether these lives, even if led with moral probity, were in fact guilty of slowly ruining India ... however remarkable his achievement within the limits he sets himself, you still end up wishing, in the words of EM Forster, perhaps the best of all British novelists on India, that he would \'only connect.\' \
RaveThe GuardianAnd yet for all this, The Epic City is a wonderful, beautifully written and even more beautifully observed love letter to Calcutta’s greatness: to its high culture, its music and film, its festivals, its people, its cuisine, its urban rhythms and, above all, to its rooted Bengaliness ... Very occasionally, Choudhury can fall short as a guide to the deeply eccentric city he loves so much and he is notably rusty on his history and architecture ... This is a first book any author would be proud to have written and The Epic City clearly marks the arrival of a new star. Witty, polished, honest and insightful, The Epic City is likely to become for Calcutta what Suketu Mehta’s classic Maximum City is for Mumbai.
RaveThe Guardian... it is hard to imagine any student of his [Joseph Conrad's] work will produce a more strikingly original book than Maya Jasanoff’s magnificent The Dawn Watch ...not quite a biography or a work of criticism, though it contains elements of both, and fragments of travel writing too ...instead both a circumnavigation of Conrad’s world and a profound meditation on globalisation and colonialism, and of Conrad’s place in forming our perceptions of both ...writes beautifully and the book is worth reading alone for her finely crafted descriptions...he redefines the role Conrad played in helping us to comprehend the unequal, violent globalised world we live in ...an extraordinary and profoundly ambitious book, little short of a masterpiece.
RaveThe Financial TimesIf there was one thing the new Pakistani fiction seemed to lack, it was a Midnight’s Children – a single text to which the word masterpiece could unquestionably be attached. Now that moment may have come in the shape of Daniyal Mueenuddin and his outstanding collection of short stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. It is one of the most startlingly authentic works of fiction to come out of south Asia this decade, rooted in a rural landscape like the stories of RK Narayan, but far bleaker and blacker than anything in Narayan’s Malgudi tales. The trajectory of each story ends, almost inevitably, in a shell-burst of loss and tragedy … Mueenuddin’s Pakistan is visually beautiful – there are wonderful sketches of the rhythms of the landscape with its banyan trees and mango orchards. But it is brutal and savage too. Individuals can be generous and dutiful, but fate is rarely kind.