With his latest book, Three-Letter Plague, Steinberg has produced a groundbreaking work of reportage about pride and shame, sex and death. The book sheds new light on the place the African AIDS pandemic has come to occupy within society. He follows the story of Sizwe, a spaza shop-owner in a remote village in the Transkei, and his attitude towards HIV-testing, AIDS and what it means to him and his culture. Moving and thought-provoking, with surprising touches of humour, this is a book that everyone should read.
Just Arrived: A Chosen Few
His Illegal Self
by Peter Carey
This is the story of Che, a young boy raised in great privilege by his grandmother in New York, son of hippy parents who have gone on the run. He longs to see his parents again – but he too becomes an outlaw, and his journey of discovery takes him to a succession of seedy motels and finally to a hippy commune in Queensland. Here he struggles to come to terms with his past. Never sentimental, this is a deeply moving exploration of the parent/child bond, from one of the great novelists of our time.
The Year of Living Biblically
by A. J. Jacobs
Product of a secular upbringing, AJ Jacobs decides to go in at the biblical deep end, and follow the 10 Commandments, and hundreds of other biblical rules, as closely as he can (without getting arrested!). Avoiding shellfish is easy, but the stoning of adulterers proves a trickier challenge – a sometimes hilarious and surprisingly moving book.
The Clothes on Their Backs
by Linda Grant
Vivien’s refugee parents have brought her up to be an English mouse – but her Uncle SÃ¡ndor is no small furry animal. He roars into their lives in his mohair suit and flashy watch and turns their lives upside-down. An evocative story of love, family and survival, from the author of Still Here.
The Second Plane
by Martin Amis
Amis turns his extraordinary prose to the 9/11 attacks. Starting with the emotional, gut-reaction piece he wrote for the Guardian just after the event, he continues to explore the theme as the war against terror and its attendant chaos escalate. This new volume collects together his articles, essays and travels around 9/11, as well as two new short stories. Always controversial, Amis has managed to anger a whole new generation of readers with this latest offering.
Swimming in a Sea of Death
by David Rieff
This is David Rieff’s memoir of his mother, Susan Sontag, who lost her battle with cancer last year. Both diary and tribute, it is a deeply moving exploration of someone fighting to live, while trying to die with dignity.
Dinner with Mugabe
by Heidi Holland
“I don’t make enemies. Others make me an enemy of theirs.” Heidi Holland traces Mugabe’s path from freedom fighter to tyrant in this extraordinary and timely book. She charts his gradual self-destruction, and uncovers the dreadful complicity of some major international players in the tragedy of Zimbabwe. A penetrating and important book.
The Unknown Terrorist
by Richard Flanagan
Out now in paperback, this highly regarded novel deals with the modern reality of suspicion in times of the war on terror. Gina has a one-night stand with a stranger. When she wakes up he is gone, and she finds herself the prime suspect in a terror investigation. Now a wanted person, every truth of her life is twisted into betrayal. A gripping and relevant book.
by Michiel Heyns
From the local author of the highly acclaimed The Reluctant Passenger comes this dramatic story of the lives of three suffragettes. Set against a backdrop of huge world changes the three women look back at the past they shared, the sacrifices they made and their conflicting memories.
Pretty Vacant: A History of Punk
by Phil Strongman
Pull out the tartan and safety pins, get out your old Sex Pistols records, it’s time for a trip down memory lane. This book recaptures the essence of punk, from London in early ’76, through New York and Detroit underground bands. Phil Strongman was at the 100 Club in 1976 when the Sex Pistols first performed, and knows many of the greats of punk – here he talks to Malcolm McLaren, Glen Matlock, Jah Wobble and many more. A fascinating book about an extraordinary era.
We Are Now Beginning Our Descent
by James Meek
A new novel from the author of the wonderful The People’s Act of Love. Adam Kellas’ life is falling apart and, against his better judgement, he accepts a war assignment from his newspaper. It takes him on a journey that spans continents and cultures, exploring human folly and the pursuit of love.
by Tom Eaton
By the author of the hilarious The De Villiers Code, this novel takes his writing in a completely new direction. Life on the island of Cape Formosa is gentle and peaceful, but when the supply aircraft is crippled in a storm, stranding the pilot and his granddaughter, the idyll is broken – and conflict comes to the island. A beautiful story of love, loss and betrayal.
Remembering the Bones
by Frances Itani
On her way to Buckingham Palace to take part in the Queen’s birthday celebrations, Georgie drives off the road and crashes into a ravine. Stranded, injured and waiting for someone to find her, she must use all her mental and physical resources to keep herself together – going over family memories, her relationship with others and remembering the names of all the bones in her body. An unforgettable portrait of a woman who has to aks herself, what is her life really worth?
by Sadie Jones
“In the tradition of Atonement and Remains of the Day but in her own singularly arresting voice, Sadie Jones conjures up the straightlaced, church-going, secretly abusive middle-class of 1950s England…I loved reading this wonderful debut.” Margot Livesey
“An assured voice, a riveting story, and an odd, wrenchingly sympathetic protagonist. I would never have imagined this was a first novel.” Lionel Shriver
Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy
by Eric D Weitz
A new look at a fascinating era in German history. It was a complex and remarkably creative time, and even a time of great promise, which with hindsight tends to have been written off as the decadent slide into the Nazi era. Weitz shows how Germany rose from defeat in WW1 to forge a new democratic era. He takes the reader on a walking tour of Berlin in the 20s, and vividly illustrates life there – taking in culture, art, literature and architecture – all of which had taken on a fresh and new lease of life.
Megan’s Non-fiction Choice
Some old, some new, but each a gem…
GÃ¶del, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Douglas R. Hofstadter
This classic and extraordinary book brings together themes from biology, psychology, philosophy, physics, music and visual art to explore the core mystery of human existence – the intangible sense of ˜I-ness’. At times playful, always astounding, this is a “first-class workout in the best mental gymnasium in town.” (New Statesman)
by Orlando Figes
From the author of A People’s Tragedy and Natasha’s Dance, comes a book about private life in Russia under the tyranny of Stalin, and an aspect that has rarely been explored so deeply – that of the informers and accusers – when one wrong word could have you incarcerated, exiled or killed, and that word could come from the people closest to you, and a whole society was made of whisperers.
by Carne Ross
Although diplomats negotiate many major aspects of world affairs, we generally have little idea of what they are doing in our name. Written by an ex British diplomat, this book offers both an account of what is wrong with diplomacy, and a bold and cogent solution.
Flat Earth News
by Nick Davies
Award-winning reporter and author of Dark Heart, Nick Davies, breaks all the rules by taking on his own industry – and finds that truth in reporting has been slowly eroded by the ˜mass production of ignorance’. Described by John Humphreys, Ian Hislop and John Pilger as a must read.
The Magna Carta Manifesto
by Peter Linebaugh
This book shows how long-standing restraints against tyranny and governmental oppression – habeus corpus, trial by jury, due process of law, prohibition of torture, and the commons – are gradually being eroded. Indeed, in just a few short years, all these features of the Great Charter, established in 1215, have been whittled away in the name of our protection. Linebaugh covers various continents and cultures and shows that true freedom is about guaranteeing the economic and social rights that allow all of us to partake in political freedom.
A Short History of Byzantium
by John Julius Norwich
Also available in its original three volumes, this is an epic romp covering over a thousand years of history of the great empire of Byzantium. Decadent and violent, yet scholarly and deeply religious, peopled with some of the greatest leaders and some of the worst despots, the Byzantine history is an extraordinary story, and no-one tells it better than Norwich – positively page-turning!
Jonny’s Choice from New York
A History of the Siege of Lisbon
by JosÃ© Saramago
A magical tale of love, memory and the revision of things past from a Nobel Prize-winning author. Raimundo Silva leads a quiet life as a proofreader, but when he changes a key word in a history text it leads to events that change the course of European history. This is one of Saramago’s most ambitious, sweeping novels to date – a meditation on history, language, politics and love.
As far as Monkeys go, Curious George has always been my favourite. Even more so when I recently discovered that he nearly did not survive WWII. I thought I’d share this amazing story with you from the Curious George website:
Hans and Margret Rey were married in Brazil (1935) and they moved to Paris after falling in love with the city during their European honeymoon. It was there that Hans published his first children’s book, after a French publisher saw his newspaper cartoons of a giraffe and asked him to expand upon them. Raffy and the Nine Monkeys was the result, and it marked the debut of a mischievous monkey named Curious George. The late 1930s and early ’40s were a tumultuous time in Europe, and before the next manuscript could be published, the Reys”both German Jews”found themselves in a horrible situation. Hitler and his Nazi party were tearing through Europe, and they were poised to take control of Paris. Knowing that they must escape before the Nazis took power, Hans cobbled together two bicycles out of spare parts. Early in the morning of June 14, 1940, the Reys set off on their bicycles. They brought very little with them on their predawn flight ” only warm coats, a bit of food, and five manuscripts, one of which was Curious George. The Nazis entered Paris just hours later, but the Reys were already on their way out. They rode their makeshift bicycles for four long days until reaching the French-Spanish border, where they sold them for train fare to Lisbon. From there they made their way to Brazil and on to New York City, beginning a whole new life as children’s book authors.
We’ve just received the Complete Adventures of Curious George which features the seven original stories, including Curious George Goes the Hospital – which was commissioned by Boston Hospital to help children deal with the trauma of a hospital stay.
Aural Poetry or CD of the Week
We are very excited to have back in stock this month all three albums by Scottish band Camera Obscura. Fronted by husky-voiced chanteuse Traceyanne Campbell and lushly backed by 6 band members, this band has yet to record a dud track, and has definitely emerged from the shadow of fellow Glaswegians Belle & Sebastian. Latest album Let’s Get out of This Country is a case in point. It spawned four singles last year, and even then it must have been hard to choose. Always melodic and heartfelt, this beautifully-produced album ranges from the sassy spikes of “If Looks Could Kill” through anthems such as the title-track and witty Lloyd Cole rejoinder “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken“, to the elegiac and confessional “Country Mile” and “Dory Previn“. This is literate, melodic indie-pop at its very, very best.
Reading, Writing & Arithmetic
French avant-garde group Ouvroir de LittÃ©rature Potentielle (Workshop for Potential Literature) was founded in 1960, and has counted amongst its members Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau and Georges Perec, whose monumental Life: A User’s Manual probably remains their best known product. Less well known is that Perec also holds the record for the longest palindrome in French (5,566 words) has written an entire novel – A Void – without using the letter “e” at all – and which remains so well-written that some of the original reviewers did not even realise!)… and then promptly wrote a novella – The Exeter Text – which only uses “e”s as vowels. Spare a thought too for Perec’s tireless translators (Gilbert Adair and David Bellos) who had the task of rendering all this in to English!
The idea behind OuLiPo is to marry mathematical constraints to literature – if this sounds like intimidating reading, then it’s anything but! The overall impression is one of an irrepressible playfulness, and much of the writing induces a childish sense of wonder. Tlooth, by sole American member Harry Mathews, for example, is a wonderful comic fantasy whose subtle structure, arcane erudition and wackiness enhance rather than diminish its sheer entertainment value. Mathews also has a wonderful lightness of touch in his non-fiction writing, and is well worth exploring.
Bekroonde dramaturg Willem Anker se debuutroman Siegfried het reeds einde laasjaar verskyn, maar is terdeÃ« ˜n herbesoek werd. Dit is ˜n donker maar liriese byna-sprokiesverhaal, op ˜n realistiese wyse geskryf, oor die omswerwinge en wedervaringe van die vertraagde en onwÃªreldse frats, Siegried, wat – na sy boer-pa se dood – Kaapstad toe reis om sy oom te gaan soek. Maar sy onskuld en sagte hart pas nie in die stad nie, veral wanneer hy in ˜n groteske onderwÃªreld verstrengel word. DiÃ© besonderse roman werk soos min met die Afrikaanse taal, veral wanneer Siegried se ongewone spreekstem aan die woord is. Anker se toneelstuk Slaghuis het gedui op ˜n deeglike vertroudheid met die werk van Etienne Le Roux, en laasgenoemde is die naaste Afrikaanse voorsaat van die roman, alhoewel die tema en hantering daarvan eintlik ˜n nuutjie vir die onlangse Afrikaanse literatuur is, en eerder herinner aan die idioot-verteller van Faulkner se The Sound and the Fury asook Katherine Dunn se Geek Love en die werk van Chuck Palahniuk en Carl-Johan Vallgren. ˜n Baie belangrike nuwe stem in Afrikaans, waarvan mens nog baie sal hoor.
Michiel Heyns se Engelse vertaling van Marlene van Niekerk se roman Agaat is onlangs benoem as een van 6 boeke op die kortlys vir die Britse koerant The Independent se “Foreign Fiction Prize” vir 2008. Onder die Britse title The Way of the Women, verkeer Agaat tussen uitstekende kompetisie soos Daniel Kehlmann se hoogsaangeskrewe Measuring the World, en dit is dus ˜n wonderlike pluimpie vir diÃ© hartroerende en grootse Afrikaanse roman.
French pioneer of the Nouveau Roman (“New Novel”) who died on 18 February at the age of 85. Elected to the AcadÃ©mie Francaise in 2004, Robbe-Grillet was best-known for his novels The Voyeur and Jealousy as well as the screenplay for Alain Resnais’ film Last Year at Marienbad. In a seminal collection of essays entitled For a New Novel, Robbe-Grillet advocated a new approach to fiction writing which is embodied in these works. Most noticeable about this approach was its focus on the minute description of objects, rather than character – a vision very much in line with the then-current revolt against humanism in French culture generally – but which still retained a remarkable emotional punch and psychological acuity, while paradoxically emphasizing the subjective nature of fiction. In The Voyeur, for example, the same story – about a young girl’s murder on a remote island – is told 3 times, but by shifting the emphasis of the descriptions and the narrative point-of-view, Robbe-Grillet, in masterful fashion, gives the reader 3 completely different versions of what happened. He was truly one of the Grand Old Men of French Letters.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
With this first novel, based on his own experiences in the labour-camps – Solzhenitsyn emerged as an eloquent opponent of government repression. Banned upon publication, the book was only published when Kruschev intervened.
“Woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force. This is…the sealing up of a nation’s heart, the excision of its memory.” Solzhenitsyn
“The misuse or misappropriation of public money is the most heinous of crimes as it abuses the trust placed in public servants and representatives to utilise this money for the benefit of all the peoples of our country.” Andrew Feinstein, After The Party
“‘I suppose he doesn’t suffer?’
˜Oh yes, I think he does. One can have no idea what the suffering may be, to be maimed as he is – no dignity, no power of will. No one is ever holy without suffering. It’s taken that form with him…I’ve seen so much suffering in the last few years; there’s so much coming for everybody soon. It’s the spring of love…‘” Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited