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Archive by tag: Lucy PopescuReturn
Sep 25, 2022

In weaving together the stories of two gay men, the award-winning Syrian-Canadian author constructs a vivid portrait of life under Assad

Danny Ramadan, a Syrian-Canadian author, is a prominent advocate of LGBTQ+ and refugee rights. Like his debut, The Clothesline Swing, which won the Independent Publisher gold medal for LGBT+ fiction, The Foghorn Echoes explores the lives of gay men born into a repressive culture.

The narrative is divided between Damascus and Vancouver. When teenage friends Hussam and Wassim fall in love in Syria in 2003, we guess it won’t end happily. They live in a society where homosexuality is criminalised and homophobia is rife. Tracking back and forth in time, Ramadan gradually reveals their overlapping trajectories; the love that binds them and their shared trauma.

The Foghorn Echoes by Danny Ramadan is published by Canongate (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Aug 21, 2022

The author and playwright’s latest novel incisively captures the search for meaning in uncertain times

Like much of Barney Norris’s work (his 2018 novel Turning for Home and his latest play, We Started to Sing), Undercurrent deals with beginnings and endings, love and loss, and borrows from his own family’s experience. It opens at a wedding where Ed meets a young woman, Amy, who claims he rescued her from drowning when they were children. Ed feels the pull of something, as does Juliet, his girlfriend of six years. Shortly afterwards, they split up and he begins to see Amy.

At first you think this is going to be a novel about thirtysomething relationships, lovers recognising the “secret currents which align our lives”, but then the focus shifts. Norris offers a profound meditation on dealing with loss and finding your moorings in destabilising times. Throughout, he compares the ebb and flow of life to the undercurrents of water.

Undercurrent by Barney Norris is published by Doubleday (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Aug 14, 2022

This heartfelt debut from Marie-Claire Amuah about an ambitious young woman confronting career challenges and domestic abuse powerfully interrogates trauma

Marie-Claire Amuah’s bittersweet novel, set in London and Ghana, follows the rites of passage of an ambitious young woman whose damaged childhood threatens to derail her career.

Stella and her brother, Sol, children of Ghanaian parents, grow up in south London. Their mother works long hours as an NHS neonatal nurse. Their father, a car mechanic, nurtures Sol but is violent towards his wife and daughter. Eight-year-old Stella observes: “When my dad gets angry, it is like lightning and thunder and hailstones.” He beats Stella for being “in-sol-ent” and she cannot understand why her mother and Sol fail to intervene. To compound matters, Stella has Addison’s disease, which affects her mood and energy. School and friends are Stella’s salvation until her parents’ divorce.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy by Marie-Claire Amuah is published by Oneworld (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Aug 07, 2022

Three junior doctors share the gruelling rite-of-passage of night duty in the practising oncologist’s poignant novel

We usually think of hospitals as somewhere safe, where patients get better or move on. The quote from Dante’s The Divine Comedy prefacing Austin Duffy’s latest novel implies an extreme version of this liminal space. This is underlined when his protagonist suggests his workplace resembles “one of those medieval paintings of hell, swarming with devils and the wretched”. The demons are the medical staff “directing the show”, the wretched are their helpless patients.

The unnamed narrator is one of a trio of surgical interns on call during the hospital’s gruelling night shifts. They prefer to patrol as a group, although it makes sense to take turns to sleep. Two, however, are anxious about several rudimentary procedures such as “putting in lines” or conducting a blood gas test. The inexperienced interns are wary of practising on the sick: “They didn’t know that we didn’t know anything, and it was probably better that way.”

The Night Interns by Austin Duffy is published by Granta (£12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Jul 24, 2022

On the run from responsibility and lying about her compulsions, the unreliable narrator in this unsettling debut is fascinating company

Twenty-six-year-old Daphne Ferber believes she is worldly wise and a good judge of character. Rather than face up to her shortcomings she runs from them. At the start of Bea Setton’s debut novel, she’s left London for a fresh start in Berlin.

As Daphne drip-feeds us information we learn she’s from a privileged background, failed to get accepted on a postgrad philosophy course (despite a degree from Oxford) and is living off her parents. We swiftly realise she is an unreliable narrator.

Berlin by Bea Setton is published by Doubleday (£14.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Jul 10, 2022

This anthology of short stories for writers’ association English PEN is packed with poignant and moving tales from around the world

The central tenet of English PEN’s charter is that “literature knows no frontiers”. This richly varied collection of 11 short stories explores the barbed-wire fences of refugee camps, the barriers that divide communities today and the legacy of historical walls as well as celebrating how literature unites us across borders.

Brazilian author Paulo Scott, translated by Daniel Hahn, weaves an imaginative tale around the acrylic barriers erected during the 2016 summer Olympics to “stop the tourists with their photographic equipment from feeling like they are being exposed to a Rio de Janeiro that perhaps they would rather not face quite so close up”.

All Walls Collapse, edited by Sarah Cleave and Will Forrester, is published by Comma Press (£12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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May 29, 2022

In a moving series of interviews with those fleeing persecution, the authors expose the appalling conditions in Greek refugee camps

In this timely book, Helen Benedict, a British-American professor, and Eyad Awwadawnan, a Syrian writer and refugee, expose the appalling conditions of the overcrowded Greek camps where desperate people fleeing war, persecution, poverty and violence are confined and denied their legal rights under the watch of the west.

As a consequence of the 2016 deal the EU made with Turkey, Greece has become “a trap” for those detained in camps while they wait to be granted refugee status or returned to Turkey, which many consider unsafe. Since 2020, thousands have been left in limbo in a country that does not want them and cannot accommodate them.

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Apr 26, 2022

An Albanian and a Serbian in Kosovo are wrenched apart by homophobia and conflict in this dark, powerful novel

In his award-winning novels My Cat Yugoslavia and Crossing, Kosovan-born Pajtim Statovci explored love in a homophobic society, fractured identity and exile – his family fled to Finland when he was two. He covers similar ground in his third novel Bolla, deftly translated by David Hackston, although this book feels considerably darker.

In 1995 Pristina, Arsim, an Albanian who dreams of becoming a writer, meets and falls for Miloš, a Serbian medical student. Chapters alternate between their two narratives. Arsim is married to Ajshe and deeply resentful of the loveless marriage orchestrated by his father “because a man… is expected to reproduce and continue the family tree”. When Ajshe dutifully becomes pregnant he beats her.

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Apr 17, 2022

A couple exiled by an authoritarian government begin to have doubts about their situation – and each other – in Tom Watson’s entertaining debut

Near-future dystopian debuts have been quite the thing over the past 12 months – see Oona Aristide’s Under the Blue and Kate Sawyer’s The Stranding. Tom Watson’s evocative first novel follows suit.

Aina and Witney have been living in a dilapidated croft on a windswept island for 12 long years. She’s a musician, he’s a sculptor and his figures dominate the landscape. Their exile is a punishment for having had an illicit child after being denied permission by the state.

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Apr 03, 2022

The author’s account of her early years in exile and her family’s massacre in the Rwandan genocide is a timely reminder of the horrors of war

Scholastique Mukasonga’s tender paean to motherhood and community (originally published in French in 2008 and seamlessly translated by Jordan Stump) explores how exile robs people of their traditions and identity.

Born in Rwanda in 1956, Mukasonga experienced early on the ethnic conflict that has scarred her country. In 1960, her Tutsi family was exiled to the “dry, dusty plain of the Bugesera”, close to the Burundi border. They left behind their beloved mountains and the cows they had once proudly herded, forced to scrape together a living from growing sorghum, beans and vegetables.

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Mar 14, 2022

This debut novel is a surefooted, art-filled and wholly 21st-century take on bloodsucking

Claire Kohda’s debut is memorable for the refreshing perspective of her conflicted heroine: a vampire of mixed ethnicity and recent art graduate. Lydia struggles to accept the demon inside her and yearns to love, live and eat like a human. Her father, a successful Japanese artist, died before she was born. Lydia has committed her mother, a Malaysian-English vampire in declining health, to a home in Margate and accepted an internship with a contemporary London gallery known as the Otter.

Woman, Eating opens with Lydia renting an artist’s studio in a converted biscuit factory. She’s shown around by the kind and friendly Ben, to whom she is immediately attracted. At the gallery, Lydia is given banal jobs cleaning labels off bottles and adding velvet pads to coat hangers in preparation for the next opening. Largely ignored by the staff, Lydia receives the unwanted attention of the director – cold, predatory Gideon – who, she learns, had collected her father’s art. He stands in the shadows observing her, unaware that, as a vampire, Lydia can see him in the dark and the blood coursing through his veins. One day, passing on the stairs, he gropes her buttock. It’s an act he’ll later regret.

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Feb 27, 2022

From the author of Bearmouth, this stirring tale of women who sprout wings is impressive in its scope

Liz Hyder sold the film rights to her YA debut, Bearmouth, a dystopian thriller about child miners fighting injustice, before it had arrived in the bookshops. In The Gifts, a Victorian novel for adults, four feisty women struggle against the constraints of a patriarchal society. When two of them grow wings, they are exploited by a ruthless surgeon, Edward Meake, who believes he is serving science and God’s purpose.

Etta, inspired by the real-life Mary McGhie from Ludlow, is the daughter of a freed slave and a former plantation owner. After their father’s death her stepbrother banishes her from the family house and she resides in the keeper’s cottage with her beloved dog, Scout. A budding botanist, Etta spends her days tramping over the Shropshire countryside classifying and sketching plants.

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Feb 21, 2022

The Irish author’s debut fiction is a keenly observed and deeply unsettling collection of tales

In her assured fiction debut, Sheila Armstrong combines unsettling themes with the commonplace and reveals a keen eye for detail. The author, who is originally from Sligo and now lives in Dublin, sets several of these stories in her home country. Lemons is a response to the eighth amendment campaign in 2018. A woman’s life is described in terms of her body: a home abortion is “a pulling from deep inside”, while a mastectomy is “negative space, like a scoop removed from an ice-cream tub”. With an impressive economy, Armstrong distils each passing decade into a few paragraphs.

In the title story, a fisherman recounts in meticulous detail the gutting of a mackerel. Written in the second person as a series of numbered points, it builds tension through Armstrong’s deft foreshadowing: “Look your fish in the eye: they say the last thing a man sees is imprinted on his pupil. You check every catch this way for your own reflection, but there is only a dark hole of fright.”

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Jan 09, 2022

Two Puerto Rican-American siblings fall foul of corruption, idealism and the American dream in this impressive debut

Reading Xochitl Gonzalez’s opening meditation on how wedding napkins signify wealth in the US, my heart sank. I need not have worried. Gonzalez is interested in far more than domestic one-upmanship and Olga Dies Dreaming is a multilayered debut about identity, race, the power of elites and the marginalisation of the poor.

Two Nuyorican siblings, Olga, a successful wedding planner, and Prieto, a congressman, come up against a corrupt and hostile system in their pursuit of the American dream. Olga yearns to be the “Puerto Rican Martha Stewart”, but becomes disillusioned by the relentless drive to accumulate wealth and “its phantom cousin… fame”. Prieto enters politics determined to protect his Brooklyn neighbourhood and its minority community but, as Gonzalez implies, is successful because “he was handsome and eloquent… the perfect salve for White Guilt”. Politically naive, nicknamed “Pollyanna” by his peers, Prieto finds himself blackmailed by property developers intent on gentrifying the area.

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez is published by Fleet (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Jan 02, 2022

An illuminating examination of racial classification in a skilfully constructed story of two brothers divided by the colour of their skin

According to Brazil’s 2010 census, 43% of citizens identify as mixed-race, while 30% of those who consider themselves white have black ancestors. Brazil has always wrestled with issues surrounding colourism and racial classification. Even affirmative action policies – such as race-based quotas at universities – have proved contentious. Paulo Scott explores these tensions in his latest novel, seamlessly translated by Daniel Hahn.

Lourenço and Federico are from the same Porto Alegre family – their father is black, their mother white. Lourenço is dark-skinned, while Federico’s pale skin means he passes for white. Uncomfortable with the privilege this brings him, Federico works with disadvantaged black youth and dedicates his life to fighting racism. But guilt taints his close relationships and fuels his quick temper. Eventually he moves away, while his brother, a basketball coach, remains a popular figure in their neighbourhood.

Phenotypes by Paulo Scott (translated by Daniel Hahn) is published by And Other Stories (£10). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Jul 04, 2021

In a small French village a family of five are murdered in this taut examination of race and class based on a shocking real-life case

The French-Algerian author (and actor) Samira Sedira believes that a writer’s role is not to judge or take sides, but to “attempt to get closer to the shadows”. Inspired by a 2003 murder case in a small French village, her taut novel, deftly translated by Lara Vergnaud, does precisely that.

Anna and Constant Guillot’s world is turned upside down when Bakary and Sylvia Langlois and their three children become the first black family to live in Carmac. We know from the start that Constant is guilty of their murder. It is the intersection of class and race that interests Sedira; what propelled his savage crime?

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Apr 26, 2021

A young boy looks after his disabled sibling in this shrewd and humorous International Booker-longlisted novel

The central premise of Summer Brother, Jaap Robben’s evocative coming-of-age novel, longlisted for the International Booker prize, is that love can thrive in the unlikeliest of places. Thirteen-year-old Brian lives in a dilapidated caravan on a piece of scrubland with his feckless father, Maurice. His older brother, Lucien, physically and mentally disabled, resides in the local care home. Their mother, Milou, has remarried. One summer, the manager offers Maurice a generous allowance to look after Lucien while they undergo renovation works.

Maurice manages to evade a “house” inspection and Lucien duly arrives by minibus at the end of their dirt track. Naturally, Maurice cedes responsibility to Brian and we follow his ill-fated attempts to look after his brother, from changing his nappy to teaching him to walk. Brian is aided by Emile, their enigmatic tenant-neighbour, who arrives one day with a car full of boxes and a portable aquarium and moves into the caravan next door.

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Jan 03, 2021

Stream of consciousness and indirect speech bring life and layers to a sharp evocation of women caught up in civil war

Salvadorian writer Claudia Hernández’s immersive novel, superbly translated by Julia Sanches, explores war and its aftermath from a female perspective. Hernández never states the setting is El Salvador, places are referred to as “the farm named after a horse” or “that place named after insects”, and her characters are unnamed. During the conflict, “not knowing a person’s real name or where they were from was a safety measure”. Instead, they are referred to as “mothers”, “daughters” and “sisters”. This lends a universality to the text, reminding us that the brutalities of war are the same the world over.

As a young girl, Hernández’s main narrator follows her beloved father into the hills and becomes a guerrilla, fighting for the rights of the poor. There, she conceives her first daughter with a fellow combatant, but is forced to give her up for safe keeping. When the war ends, she discovers the nuns have sold her baby to a childless couple in France, “to help fund the cause”.

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Nov 22, 2020

This overwhelming novel by ‘Iraq’s Irvine Welsh’ captures the alienation of people exiled by conflict

Hassan Blasim, winner of the Independent foreign fiction prize for The Iraqi Christ, conveys the violence of conflict and the bleakness of the refugee experience with stark imagery and unapologetically brutal prose. In the 1990s, as an Iraqi film-maker living under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Blasim suffered intimidation and arbitrary arrest. He fled to Kurdistan, endured a four-year journey across Europe, and eventually found asylum in Finland in 2004, where he began his short-story career.

Described as Iraq’s Irvine Welsh, Blasim avoids writing in classical Arabic, claiming it does not reflect ordinary lives or adequately describe human suffering today, and clearly delights in shocking his reader. At one point he is musing on the work of Italo Calvino, before describing “fucking” and licking “arseholes”. I suspect he wants to jolt the reader into thinking about language – the search for the words to confront violence and trauma is a recurring theme. God 99 is messy, and occasionally feels like a work in progress, although there are flashes of brilliance throughout, and Jonathan Wright’s translation of Blasim’s street Arabic is no mean feat.

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Nov 17, 2020

This poignant tale of a mismatched couple in turn-of-the-century Germany gives away its secrets too early

Bernhard Schlink’s latest novel about an ill-fated couple is quieter, more reflective than his international bestseller The Reader. Olga, an orphan, is brought up by her aloof grandmother in Pomerania, where she falls in love with her aristocratic neighbour and childhood friend, Herbert.

She dreams of becoming a teacher and educates herself in order to be able to attend the local training college. Herbert is an adventurer who yearns for vast, empty spaces. His parents disapprove of their relationship and threaten to cut Herbert off from his inheritance if he marries Olga, while his snobbish sister conspires to have her transferred to a school in East Prussia: “the end of the world”.

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Nov 02, 2020

The German author reflects on borders, memory and her East Berlin childhood in a collection of essays shot through with anger

When the Berlin Wall fell, German author Jenny Erpenbeck was oblivious. In her essay Homesick for Sadness, she tells us: “I literally slept through that moment of world history, and while I was asleep, the pot wasn’t just being stirred, it was being knocked over and smashed to pieces.” Erpenbeck was initially sceptical about East Berlin’s newfound liberty. “Freedom to travel? (But will we be able to afford it?) Or freedom of opinion? (What if no one cares about my opinion?) Freedom to shop? (But what happens when we’re finished shopping?).” Later, she admits that her experience of this “transition” was what prompted her to write.

Erpenbeck’s refreshing frankness and incisive thinking permeate this collection. Written over two decades, Not a Novel includes snapshots of a happy childhood in the German Democratic Republic, literary criticism on writers she admires (including Hans Fallada, Walter Kempowski, Thomas Mann and Ovid) and meditations on her own work as a writer. We learn of her love of folk tales, how their “intensity” and “harshness” infiltrate her own fiction, and how music (she worked as an opera director) taught her “to give shape to the gaps between the words, those mute spaces, to give rhythm to the silence between the words. The pauses are part of the text, they may be the finest part…”

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Sep 13, 2020

This outstanding novel incorporates elements of memoir, essay and history to explore post-9/11 America through the eyes of a Muslim and his father

In Ayad Akhtar’s 2013 Pulitzer prize-winning play, Disgraced, his principal character, Amir, a Pakistani-American lawyer, admits feeling a “blush of pride” at 9/11. Akhtar was exploring the crisis of identity felt by many Muslim-Americans in the wake of the terror attacks. The line shocked some at the time and continues to haunt him today.

Akhtar returns to the theme in this courageous and timely novel, deftly interweaving fact and fiction, memoir and history. The narrator, who shares Akhtar’s name and profession, and is no longer a practising or believing Muslim, finds himself “still entirely shaped by the Islam that had socially defined me since 9/11”, interrogating “a culture that didn’t understand us, that didn’t want us”. For this reason, he says, “I only ever voiced my thoughts indirectly, through that particular prevarication called art.” Presumably it’s why Akhtar decided to examine his own life through the lens of fiction.

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Jun 08, 2020

A Hiroshima survivor seizes a chance to confront his past in this timely novel about how nations and individuals deal with trauma and recovery

Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that celebrates imperfection. Artisans repair and renew broken ceramics using a gold lacquer to accentuate the breaks. Or, as Andrés Neuman describes it his latest novel: “The art of mending cracks without secret. Of repairing while exposing the point of fracture.” 

Fracture begins in Japan during the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which devastated the nuclear reactor at Fukushima. Yoshie Watanabe, a retired business executive, lives alone. News of the catastrophe takes him back to the end of the second world war. As a boy, Yoshie miraculously survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, but has spent his life trying to escape his memories of the horror and the shame of his double hibakusha status. Yoshie lost his closest family and was brought up by his aunt and uncle. As soon as possible, he moved abroad to study economics in Paris. 

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