Books & Literature
Prayaag Akbar PIC: Shanta Rana

Book review: Leila, by Prayaag Akbar

One of the most depressing ironies of our age – and there’s some pretty stiff competition out there – is that, at a time when the most serious threat facing our species is man-made climate change, a problem which requires people from all over the world to work together towards a common goal, we seem to be increasingly obsessed with demarcating and defending our own little patches of dirt. Well, make that a little patch of dirt with a moat in the case of the UK; a big patch of dirt in the case of the United States. When Donald Trump, the climate change ostrich-in-chief, first started slobbering semi-coherently about building a “big, beautiful wall” along the US-Mexico border, he shocked a lot of people, but Trump was in tune with the times: since 9/11, border walls and fences have become quite the thing. According to Canadian academic Elisabeth Vallet, the world had seven border walls at the end of the Second World War, still just 15 by the time the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, yet now we have a total of 77. Our heads of state are looking more and more like a posse of bad-tempered, shotgun-toting farmers, taking it in turns to shriek “get off my land!” And meanwhile, the planet literally burns.

Edinburgh festivals
Rose McGowan, is at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this week. ''Picture: Benjamin Lozovsky/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

Interview: Rose McGowan is out to expose the real Hollywood

Rose McGowan, one of the first women to make public allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, has become a lightning rod for the #MeToo movement. The writer and campaigner talks to Janet Christie about misogyny and movies ahead of her Edinburgh International Book Festival appearance

Matt Haig

Book review: Notes On A Nervous Planet, by Matt Haig

When I was asked to review Matt Haig’s latest book, I have to admit I was quite excited. I loved his last novel, How To Stop Time – an intriguingly written example of dystopian fiction. What I hadn’t realised, when I agreed to review this one, was that it was a self-help book based on the author’s own battle with anxiety and depression and the tools he uses to deal with those conditions.

Edinburgh festivals
Yan Lianke

Book review: The Day The Sun Died, by Yan Lianke

Few of us know what to make of China. We see polite and elegant, evidently well-educated young men and women on TV, products of the remarkable transformation of the country since the dark and brutal days of Chairman Mao. And yet, as the novelist Yan Lianke puts it, beneath “the bright ray of light illuminating the global East… there is a dark shadow”. The Party remains in control and the Party cannot free itself from the past. It speaks of “the Chinese dream… The great renewal of the Chinese nation,” but in this novel dreams suggest that the present is still haunted by nightmares.

Edinburgh festivals
Us, by Zaffar Kunial

Book review: Us, by Zaffar Kunial

One useful side-effect of DNA testing is that it shows how the toxic notion of racial purity, as fetishised in Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa, has never really existed in any scientific sense. Regardless of the colour of our skin – or our passports – in terms of our genetic make-up we are all citizens of everywhere, and of nowhere.

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Leila Aboulela

Book review: Elsewhere, Home, by Leila Aboulela

Some short story collections are enjoyable but instantly forgettable – the literary equivalent, perhaps, of empty calories. Happily, however, this isn’t the case with Leila Aboulela’s Elsewhere, Home. In spite of the obvious constraints of the form, the award-winning Sudanese writer, now living in Aberdeen, manages to conjure up characters as believable and as memorable as any you might expect to encounter in a full-length novel.

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Michael Donkor

Book review: Hold, by Michael Donkor

‘Post-colonial” always strikes me as a problematic term. It tethers things back rather than liberates. Musing on this novel having finished reading it, I found it strange that so many works by BAME writers – many of whom, like NoViolet Bulawayo and Taiye Selasi, I have lauded – involve an encounter with an estranging Occident. There are, of course, honourable exceptions; notably Chinua Achebe (referenced in this novel) and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Edinburgh festivals
Prague Spring by Simon Mawer

Book review: Prague Spring, by Simon Mawer

It’s 50 years since the Prague Spring, when it seemed that socialism could wear a human face. The dream was broken by the invasion of the “fraternal” armies of the Warsaw Pact, and Russian-controlled communism resumed its grip, not to be relaxed till the Soviet empire crumbled in 1989. Fifty years is long enough ago to make a novel set in Prague in 1968 historical, even though it is ten years short of the criterion for the Walter Scott Historical Novel Prize which Simon Mawer won two years ago with Tightrope. Reprehensibly and stupidly, his publishers mention that he has been shortlisted for the Man Booker, but not that he has won the Walter Scott.

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