Friday, 21 August 2015

Book Reviews: 21 August

The Lady reviews of the latest books available to buy or download now


Books-Aug21-AWholeLife-176A WHOLE LIFE by Robert Seethaler (Picador, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
Can a whole life be compressed into 150 pages? In the case of this German bestseller, yes. Andreas Egger is an orphan raised by his farmer uncle in the Austrian Alps. The 20th century is beginning, and will bring profound changes to Andreas’s silent, snowy valley: in the wake of a cable car comes electricity, then motor transport and tourism. Then, the Second World War sees Andreas conscripted and subsequently spending eight years in a Russian PoW camp, but along with hardship and tragedy there is also love and unlookedfor good fortune.

Andreas is no intellectual but a labourer, a man of few words whose emotions are often a mystery to himself. Seethaler hones in on his hero’s limbs – his hands ‘heavy and dark like bog soil’, his legs like ‘debarked sticks’, his toes ‘like lumps of cheese’ – to remind us what frail and strange creatures we human beings are.

Animated by wisdom and wit, and as beautiful as it is unshowy, this is a truly memorable read.
Stephanie Cross

Books-Aug21-TheFishermen-176THE FISHERMEN by Chigozie Obioma (Pushkin Press, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
Longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, this dazzling debut set in mid-1990s Nigeria depicts the slow unravelling of a family. Four brothers – Ikenna, Obembe, Boja and Benjamin – slip from their stern father’s grip as he leaves town on a transfer with his job. They go fishing in the Omi-Ala River, which is associated with dark rites, where they meet a madman who issues a disturbing prophecy: Ikenna will be killed by one of his siblings, ‘a fisherman’, an encounter that sets off a tragic chain of events.

Told by Benjamin, the narrative alternates between the present day, when the adult Benjamin reminisces about his childhood, and the point of view of his nine-year-old self. Obioma handles this shifting perspective deftly, capturing the wonder and mystery through a child’s eyes and an adult’s clarity with hindsight. This mirrors the novel’s blend of traditions, where the English novel meets African oral storytelling to evocative and powerful effect.

With vivid descriptions of local fauna and larger-thanlife characters, and layering a mythical quality over a shrewd observation of modern Nigeria, it is darkly beautiful and strikingly original.


Books-Aug21-BookOfTheWeek-176Growing pains
GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee (William Heinemann, £18.99; offer price, £15.99)
The most anticipated book of the year, allegedly written before its predecessor and stashed away in an archive for decades, it is the only other work ever published by the author of cult classic To Kill A Mockingbird.

Literature’s best-loved tomboy, Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, now a feisty 20-something living in 1950s New York, returns to her Southern home town. While revisiting places, people and reliving memories from the past, she is forced to question everything she believed about her father, Atticus Finch, the central influence in her life. When Atticus is revealed to hold disturbing views on the Negro question, Scout’s world is thrown into turmoil. In a rapidly changing society, where racial tensions are entangled with the struggle for states’ rights, she must find her own voice and truly grow up.

Inevitably, critics have focused on how the book measures up to Mockingbird: many found it wanting. This seems ungenerous: writing one epoch-defining masterpiece is surely enough in one lifetime. Still, to approach this novel without the burden of expectation requires an imaginative leap – one that is worth taking. This is a finely voiced and deeply affecting novel. Zooming out to encompass a nuanced appraisal of American history, and in again to the characters’ intricately sketched inner worlds, it is an absorbing read.
Juanita Coulson


THE CHARLIE CHAPLIN ARCHIVES edited by Paul Duncan (Taschen, £135; offer price, £100)
British-born Chaplin was the first true international firm star: an instantly recognisable figure in his signature bowler hat, cane and baggy trousers. His rise was meteoric: within a year of hitting Hollywood in 1914, he had made it in America, and a year later he had gone global.


With unrestricted access to the Chaplin archives, this lavish book tells his story in 900 glorious images, featuring previously unseen stills, posters and on-set photographs. It also explores the making of his films, from featurelength classics like Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940) to lesser-known shorts. A fitting tribute to a comic genius.


THE DOG by Jack Livings (Penguin Books, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
An eye-opening look into modern China, these lucidly told stories offer the reader a moment of calm. The worlds they create are brought to life with flawless attention to detail.

‘Donate!’ gives a lifelike portrayal of family life, while in the title story a couple’s relationship is tested due to the ill-fated purchase of a racing dog. Darkly humorous, ‘The Crystal Sarcophagus’ is a stand-out piece for its ingenuity but also its setting in an important time in China’s history. A captivating read.
Isobelle Whitaker

FROM FIELD TO FORK by Paul B Thomson (OUP, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
This study of food ethics is required reading for anyone who cares about where their food comes from, and the human and environmental impact of its production. This has rightly become a hot topic, but in a climate of scaremongering news, marketing buzzwords and dietary fads, it is refreshing to find a truly rigorous analysis. The first chapter, controversially, is entitled You Are NOT What You Eat. A leading scholar in food ethics who has served as an adviser for the UN , Thomson combines a philosopher’s critical mind with insider knowledge of the food industry. From livestock welfare to obesity and social injustice, this thoroughly researched book will stimulate debate and informed choices.

The Black Book of Arabi a by Sheika Hend Al Qassemi (Bloomsbury Qatar, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Determined to overcome the stereotype of Arab women as oppressed, subservient or secondclass citizens, the author has collected tales from a vast array of women from the Arabian Gulf – from princesses to paupers – showing that their life experiences are widely relatable, even for Western readers. The stories themselves are engaging, but most are lightweight and do not tackle in depth any of the popular misconceptions or preconceptions. Lilly Cox


Our pick of this summer’s essential reading, no matter where you are enjoying a well-deserved break. By Victoria Clark
Mas querade by Joanna Taylor (Piatkus, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Lizzy Ward walks the streets of 18th-century London, dodging debt collectors and ginsoaked roués. When she meets Edward, Lord Hays, she is astonished by his courtesy and charm to one such as she. He offers her the chance of a lifetime, a week posing as a lady, accompanying him as he tries to strike a business deal. But during that week Lizzy’s whole life changes…

Bitter Almonds by Lilas Taha (Bloomsbury Qatar, £16.99; offer price, £15.29)
This love story set in Damascus in the 1960s and 1970s is an enthralling mix of history and Palestinian culture. Orphaned at birth, Omar is taken in by his mother’s best friend’s family. But when he falls for their daughter, life gets complicated. In a world of tradition being swept by the winds of modernism, he has difficult choices to make. Riveting.

Good Hope Road by Sarita Mandanna (Orion, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
Action with the Foreign Legion during the First World War has left James Stonebridge a recluse. Retired to his apple farm in Vermont, he spends his days contemplating a curious black mirror he brought back, while his son runs the farm. The action switches between the war and the 1930s, when US veterans marched to demand unpaid bonuses. A sweeping novel of guilt, loss and misunderstanding.

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