by Rana Asfour
“Velvet” by Huzama Habayeb, translated from the Arabic by Kay Heikkinen won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2017. Its translation released in 2019 by Hoopoe has won the 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
The novel, set in Jordan, follows a day in the life of Hawwa, a woman hailing from the grinding hardship of the Palestinian camp of Baqa’a. We meet her at a point when she’s fallen in love - an unexpected miracle in a life that for 40 odd years has known only humiliation & family abuse. The novel unfolds over the day in Hawwa’s life in which she is preparing for a new life that will finally see her leave the camp.
A strong cast of characters & extremely powerful imagery. The author engages the senses in a way that renders readers fully immersed in the narrative, deeply invested in Hawwa. Through Hawwa’s present recollections of her past we are treated to the meager ways women in a domineering patriarchal society scavenge for relief amid the relentless generational sorrow & abuse rendering claustrophobic parts of the novel closer to prison literature than plain fiction.
Just over 250 pages, this is one of the darkest novels I’ve read in a long time. I applaud authors like Habayeb who bravely & brazenly expose societal & domestic violence even though this was a real toughie. I’ve exhausted my reserves of steel on this one. My tears (of sadness & pain, frustration & anger) are another matter.
by Rana Asfour
To date I’ve read every single book that Robert Thorogood has put out into the world. So, I was super excited to hear of his new series launched last month by HQ Publishing which is in a nutshell fabulous!
Thorogood, an English screenwriter & novelist is most known as the creator of the British BBC TV hit series ‘Death in Paradise’ and is the author of the subsequent 4 books based on the series itself.
"The Marlow Murder Club" by Robert Thorogood is perfect for lovers of Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote (which btw I still watch re-runs of if I happen to come across as I’m channel surfing).
The book takes place in the beautiful serene english town of Marlow where 70 yr-old Judith Potts lives alone in a faded mansion, setting crosswords for the Times newspaper & drinking scotch. Whole out swimming - naked - she witnesses a murder. The local police don’t believe her, so this reclusive woman decides to carry out her own investigation. Soon she’s joined by two other women who couldn’t be more different: extrovert, loud, say-it-as-it-is dog walker Suzie, & the prim & proper, dust-phobic Becks, wife of the local vicar. Together, they are the murder club.
The novel is charming, fun & devilishly sassy. And all I want now is to move to Marlow (even though for such a small quaint town, the bodies do pile up). What I loved about it is that not only are the three women no match for the murderer, they are no match for any person (male or female) who tries to undermine them either for their age, class, gender or looks.
The novel is an absolute riot of a read and you (as I did) will enjoy putting the pieces together to figure out who dunnit (if from the start you pay close enough attention to the clues dotted around). The writing is superb and I’m betting my M&Ms stash it’ll make it to TV — you can say you heard it here first 😉
The official book launch will be held virtually on Thursday, Februay 11, 2021 and it's free and open to the public. You can RSVP HERE
by Rana Asfour
There were tears for this one my friends. Fat, cascading, hiccup-accompanied ones. This is THAT book where you live & love every word. "The House in the Cerulean Sea" is storytelling at its finest from Lambda award-winning author TJ Klune published by Tor.
The 2020 novel is about love, family, & being exceptional. It’s about living and caring & stepping up even when just going along is the much safer & more comfortable route. It’s about finding yourself no matter your age, finding your passion in the unlikeliest of places & finding a community that accepts you for who you are becoming at once shelter & home. It’s about a magical island with magical children thought to be so dangerous that they’re likely to bring about the end of days (and in a way they do!!)
It’s fun, genuinely scary in parts but extremely heart warming. I get how some readers thought it heavy on the moralising or even the cuteness but I found it worked and the characters won me over totally and completely. One would have to be made of stone not to. Read it. Now!
You can listen to an excerpt of the book HERE.
by Rana Asfour
With most of us in lockdown in some form or other imagining all the lives we could be having & all the possibilities missed as we wait for things to change, Matt Haig's 2020 New York Times bestseller "The Midnight Library" slots in perfectly with its questioning of what exactly makes a life worth sticking with? And if you had the choice to live an alternative life, or several, would you take up the offer?
In this novel, Nora Seed wants to die & she’s made a choice to end it all. With no boyfriend, no job & no future prospects she is utterly & hopelessly sad. And her cat has died. She blames it all on herself & regrets every decision she’s ever made. After her overdose, she wakes up in a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. Nora is given the choice of transporting to different lives & undoing her regrets. The problem is: does she care enough to try or has she reached that point of no return.
The novel reminded me a lot of the Netflix series ‘Being Erica’ which I adored. I found this novel very interesting in its concept but didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected given all the hype that’s been attached to it. I LOVED its beginning & appreciated its ending but I’m not sure about the journey in the middle. But I love Matt Haig’s writing & his book ‘The Dead Fathers Club’ remains in my top favourite reads & he dedicates this book to ‘all the health workers. And the care workers. Thank you.’ - just amazing!
So, please! Yes! Do give it a go & then we’ll talk again!
by Rana Asfour
Am loving how this entire book uses a concise question and answer format to inform of the afflictions that have long tormented the Modern Middle East thus revealing the fundamental struggles that the region has endured since 2010.
In "The New Middle East: what everyone needs to know", James L. Gelvin presents ‘an overview of the contemporary Middle East, touching on topics including ‘the perverse results’ of the Arab Spring, the Syrian civil war, the rise of jihadi groups, the involvement of external actors & more.’
Published by Oxford University Press in 2018, this short book (only 167 pages) is part of a class offered virtually by DC's Politics & Prose Bookstore titled ‘A Ten-Year Retrospective of the Arab Uprisings: 2010-2020) with Heba F. El-Shazli.
I liked it because of its brevity, the question and answer format it applies throughout the book and that it stayed away from past history concentrating instead on the ten years following the thwarted 2010 Arab Spring and how the events of those days have translated into today's reality for those living in the Middle East and out of it and the role the United States (particularly the Obama administration) played in how the region got to what it is today and where it is headed in the future.