I ended my month by going to a friend’s book launch. I am very proud, and impressed, by Lizzie’s dedication to becoming a poet. So I’m going to start my April round-up by recommending that you all go out and buy In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker. Look out for my review of it soon.
This month I also went to the Bristol Old Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire. I had never seen a stage production of this play before, only the Vivien Leigh film, and it was terrific. Funny, disturbing, full of heat in every sense. Many thanks to my friend T for inviting me along.
As always happens with those first glimmers of summer, my lupus is flaring a little, so I am watching a lot of films and TV and not reading many books. But it will pass. And the month’s reading started off strong.
How was your April?
The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby
Lampedusa is an Italian island that is closer to Africa than Europe. Though refugees crossing the Mediterranean rarely aim intentionally for Lampedusa, it has over the last decade become a common site for boats gone astray. A few years ago Lampedusa’s optician Carmine Menna was taking a pleasant boat trip with his wife and friends when they heard the screams of hundreds of drowning men and women. He was reluctant to speak to reporters, but BBC journalist Emma Jane Kirby talked him into telling his story in novelised form.
Published 2016 by Allen Lane Books.
Bye Bye Babylon by Lamia Ziadé
I bought this from a comic shop but it’s not a comic in a traditional sense. It’s more of a heavily illustrated book. A graphic memoir. Ziadé recalls her childhood in Beirut, from 1975 to 1979. She traces the path from Lebanon’s heyday of luxury shops and international jetsetting citizens to the outbreak of war and how those first few years of the war wrought devastation on her home and her life (a sort of afterword brings us up to 1990, primarily making the point that the war was still ongoing).
The illustrations are raw and simple, ink drawings picking out surprising details. There are maps of Beirut, the badges of the many militia, her favourite cinemas, the various guns she became familiar with. It’s an eye-opening window on a conflict that lasted my entire childhood and yet I knew shockingly little about.
Published 2011 by Jonathan Cape.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Darling is 10 years old and lives in a shanty town called Paradise in Zimbabwe. She spends her days with her friends and lives with her mother and Mother of Bones. At first it seems innocent, though the poverty is clearly extreme. Hints are dropped, details revealed of how far from paradise this is. Darling and her friends have their ways of dealing with unfairness and poverty and violence, but something worse is always just round the corner. This is a beautifully told, disturbing but positive tale of poverty and migration.
Published 2013 by Chatto & Windus
Ghost Children by Sue Townsend
The story follows Christopher Moore, a lonely middle-aged man who is still in love with his ex, Angela, who is now married to another man. 17 years earlier she had an abortion without telling him and it destroyed their relationship, but now he wants to hear the full story. One day in a cafe Christopher offers to mind a toddler for an hour, and so we meet young Storme and her parents Crackle and Tamara. They fulfil every tabloid stereotype of “unsuitable parents”. It is a book fuelled by anger, which is not itself a bad thing, but it does lack empathy for most of its characters.
Published 1997 by Methuen.
Giant Days Volume 7 by John Allison (writer) and Liz Fleming (artist)
Susan, Daisy, and Esther continue their second year at Sheffield University. We meet more of their families (Susan has six sisters!), they protest a supermarket, they learn about MMOs. It’s still one of the most fun comic series out there.
Published 2018 by Boom! Box.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
This is an imaginative, lateral take on the Snow White fairytale. Boy, the lead character, runs away from her abusive father in 1950s New York and sets up home in a small New England town called Flax Hill. She takes a series of short-term jobs, never really fitting in until she marries a local man. Finally she has found safety and security. Boy finds herself stepmother to the beautiful, delicate Snow, a young girl she loves dearly until she finds herself pregnant with her own daughter, Bird. This is gorgeous book, beautifully written and deeply humane.
Published 2014 by Riverhead.
Short stories read
“The metal bowl” by Miranda July (New Yorker)
“Foreign returned” by Sadia Shepard (New Yorker)
“Extra” by Yiyun Li (New Yorker)
“The lazy river” by Zadie Smith (New Yorker)
“In these islands” by Shirley Hazzard (New Yorker)