Book review – Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki

Next World NovellaOpening with an unsettling, misidentified smell, Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki immerses you deep in the moment, making use of every sense to evoke a tale that is at times sublime, at others disturbing.

It begins as a story of love and loss, and unfolds into something far more complex, where the life lived by Hinrich Schepp, a scholar of ancient Chinese languages, seems revealed to be almost utterly at odds with the one he remembers. A study in perception and the fallibility of memory, the novel examines of the way we rewrite our experiences as we go along, so that our past may be completely different to the past known even by our closest companions. Continue reading

Book review – Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall

Chasing the King of Hearts coverRelaying the experiences of Izolda, a young Jewish woman living in Poland as the Nazi regime comes into force, Chasing the King of Hearts is that rare thing – a story of an extraordinary series of experiences made utterly relatable.

Few of us (thank goodness) will ever face the persecution endured by Izolda and her friends and acquaintances, but so vividly is her character portrayed by Hanna Krall as translated by Philip Boehm that empathy is unavoidable. This is a girl who has loved, had a change of heart, and loved again – a girl who takes pride in her height and ‘sturdy legs’. She lives in a world where there are people with ‘bad’ looks and ‘good’ looks – the latter being those than can pass convincingly as Germanic.

Izolda’s ‘good’ looks and her pragmatism keep her alive, as she learns to trade whatever it takes to survive, from tobacco to cyanide to her own body. Continue reading

Book review – Mr Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson

Mr Darwin's GardenerWriting the first paragraph of a novel is an artform in itself. At the very least it must intrigue the reader sufficiently to make them hunger for the remainder of the story, while setting the tone for the pages that follow.

Mr Darwin’s Gardener achieves this with unwavering audacity, opening with the sentence: ‘Edwin lopes along the road, picking his nose’, before spilling into the degenerate mockery of the jackdaws surveying the scene.

It’s an unconventional start that makes what follows – a drifting narrative that alights in the minds and thoughts of the residents of the Kent village of Downe – easier than you might expect to absorb and devour. Continue reading

Book review – Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal

Stone In A Landslide book coverAlmost an entire lifetime is captured between the creamy covers of this slim, thoughtful book. Beginning with 13-year-old Conxa leaving her family to live with her uncle and aunt in Pallares, she leads us through the important moments in her life, from becoming accepted in the village she now lives in, to falling in love, to suffering the worst affects of the Spanish Civil War.

I’ve never read a book by a Catalonian before, and while most of the world regard Catalonia as part of Spain, it’s interesting to realise that from their own point of view, then and now, Catalonia is its own country, with its own language, customs and beliefs. Continue reading

Book review – The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

The Mussel Feast coverThe latest slim volume from Peirene Press is an elegant tale by German author Birgit Vanderbeke, which is as tightly wound as its young narrator. Beginning with the seemingly joyful preparation for a father’s return from a business trip, cracks soon begin to appear through the celebratory veneer, widening and splintering as the father fails to materialise at the expected time and the night wears on.

The dad, seen through the eyes of his teenage daughter, is a man with a very specific idea of how family life should be. Having escaped with his wife and two children from East to West Germany just a few years previously, it’s seems that this success heightened his expectations of their behaviour and appearances to unreasonable levels. That’s the excuse hinted at, but we’re left for the most part to deduce this fact for ourselves, along with the actions he is being excused for. Continue reading