Reading lists have to be practical, as well as sometimes thematic or current, so this month for me is all about trying to clear up my digital bookshelf. Many of these are review copies I am very grateful to have the chance to read, including one of the titles shortlisted for this year’s International Booker Prize.
As ever, not having a theme means I am ranging far and wide in terms of setting and subject – from Senegalese soldiers fighting in the trenches of the First World War to an exploration of Indigenous language and culture in Australia, from the decline of Communist Europe to a brutal genocide in Eastern Anatolia. In non-fiction, publishing later this month is Edmund Richardson’s Alexandria, which explores the quest of desert adventurer Charles Masson to find the lost Afghan city of Alexandria Beneath the Mountains – the perfect piece of escapism.
Other titles not appearing on this list but which I will be reading soon include Raül Garrigasait’s The Others, translated by Tiago Miller and published by the brilliant indie Fum d’Estampa Press, and Torrey Peters’s Detransition, Baby, one of the only books from the Women’s Prize longlist I have felt moved to pick up more or less immediately. And in case you missed it, last month I wrote a review for Lunate of Polly Barton’s Fifty Sounds, an absolutely extraordinary memoir of language learning, translation, identity and finding your place in the world. One of the best books I’ve read this year so far, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
With high expectations for this month too, my reading list for May is as follows:
The Yield by Tara June Winch (HarperVia)
What the publisher says: ‘Told in three masterfully woven narratives, The Yield is a celebration of language and an exploration of what makes a place “home”. A story of a people and a culture dispossessed, it is also a joyful reminder of what once was and what endures – a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling, and identity, that offers hope for the future.’
Alexandria: The Quest for the Lost City by Edmund Richardson (Bloomsbury)
What the publisher says: ‘For centuries the city of Alexandria Beneath the Mountains was a meeting point of East and West. Then it vanished. In 1833 it was discovered in Afghanistan by the unlikeliest person imaginable: Charles Masson, an ordinary working-class boy from London turned deserter, pilgrim, doctor, archaeologist and highly respected scholar [. . .] This is a wild journey through nineteenth-century India and Afghanistan, with impeccably researched storytelling that shows us a world of espionage and dreamers, ne’er-do-wells and opportunists, extreme violence both personal and military, and boundless hope. At the edge of empire, amid the deserts and the mountains, it is the story of an obsession passed down the centuries.’
At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis (Pushkin Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Alfa and Mademba are two of the many Senegalese soldiers fighting in the Great War. Together they climb dutifully out of their trenches to attack France’s German enemies whenever the whistle blows, until Mademba is wounded, and dies in a shell hole with his belly torn open. Without his more-than-brother, Alfa is alone and lost amidst the savagery of the conflict. He devotes himself to the war, to violence and death, but soon begins to frighten even his own comrades in arms. How far will Alfa go to make amends to his dead friend? At Night All Blood is Black is a hypnotic, heartbreaking rendering of a mind hurtling towards madness.’
Every Fire You Tend by Sema Kaygusuz, translated by Nicholas Glastonbury (Tilted Axis Press)
What the publisher says: ‘In 1938, in the remote Dersim region of Eastern Anatolia, the Turkish Republic launched an operation to erase an entire community of Zaza-speaking Alevi Kurds. Inspired by those brutal events, and the survival of Kaygusuz’s own grandmother, this densely lyrical and allusive novel grapples with the various inheritances of genocide, gendered violence and historical memory as they reverberate across time and place from within the unnamed protagonist’s home in contemporary Istanbul.’
Die unschärfe der Welt (The Blurriness of the World)by Iris Wolff (Klett-Cotta)
What New Books in German says: ‘The Blurriness of the World is a kaleidoscopic portrait of life in Communist Eastern Europe. Iris Wolff achieves the extraordinary feat of condensing four generations of family life, along with all the attendant emotions and drama, into a little under two hundred pages. The Blurriness of the World is notable for its vivid characterisation and the subtle, evocative power of its storytelling, interleaving a moving tale of personal love and loss with the historical context of the decline of Communism in Europe.’