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The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski

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The Emperor

A hero for some and villain for others, Haile Selassie cuts a controversial figure. Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, Selassie stood up to white imperialism, introduced a wide range of reforms and courted Western powers who showered him with foreign aid. He’s considered God by some in the Rastafarian movement. He also ignored millions of starving Ethiopians while spending lavishly on himself and his courtiers, imprisoned or executed his own people on a whim and built up a considerable fortune in Swiss bank accounts. The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski, is a collection of interviews with some of his surviving courtiers, conducted clandestinely after Selassie’s fall. It’s an absorbing study in what power does to people and of a court which makes the courtiers at Buckingham Palace seem like pussycats.

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Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin

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Madonna in a Fur Coat

Haunting Turkish tale of love and destiny

A novel of doomed love in 1920’s Berlin, Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali is a Turkish treasure. It tells the story of Raif, an introspective and solitary young man who leaves Turkey for the bright lights of Weimar Berlin. In this city of flourishing intellectual and cultural freedoms, he encounters Maria, an enigmatic artist who will come to transform his melancholic life. Told in two parts by an unnamed narrator, we follow Raif’s journey of discovery, as the free-thinking Maria challenges his notions of romantic love, gender roles, and self-reliance.

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Small Things Like These by Clarie Keegan

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Small Things Like These

A tender story with a dark backdrop

Set in 1985 in an Irish seaside town, Booker Prize long-listed Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan feels like it might as well have been set in 1885. We meet protagonist Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, as he delivers goods to his freezing clients in the run up to Christmas. Poor but happily married with five bright daughters, Furlong takes nothing for granted. Bill was born outside wedlock and owes his relatively harmonious upbringing to the kindness and acceptance of his mother’s employer. Up at the abbey, not everyone has had the same luck.

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Spies in Canaan by David Park

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Spies in Canaan

Ghosts of the past

Michael Miller lives a comfortable East Coast life as a retired diplomat. One day, a padded envelope arrives which will rip open a part of his past he’d rather forget. As a young man, Michael was a paper pusher at the American embassy during the final days of the Vietnam War. Ostensibly a benign role which became less so as he fell under the spell of hawkish CIA analyst Ignatius Donovan. Spies in Canaan by David Park, follows on from his exquisite Travelling in a Strange Land, and, again, Park creates a complete and gripping fictional universe within a mere 200 pages.

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The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant

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The Tenants of Moonbloom

A bizarre epiphany in bygone New York

The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant is an unjustly neglected American gem. A deliciously peculiar novel, comic and melancholic in equal parts, it takes us to a down-at-heel New York at the turn of the 1950’s and the dreary life of daydreamer and rent collector, Norman Moonbloom. Norman’s days are spent chasing rent from hapless tenants, whilst attempting to dodge their numerous demands, complaints, and often riotous domestic dramas. Too sensitive for the world of the mercenary slumlord, he will undergo a quiet epiphany against a disintegrating backdrop of leaking taps and treacherous wiring.

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Love Marriage by Monica Ali

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Love Marriage

Page-turning love-story

All’s not well in the Ghorami family, although not even its own members are fully aware of that. Yasmin, daughter of Bengali immigrants is a trainee doctor to the immense pride of her self-made GP father. Her mother, Anisah, is the perfect Indian housewife, endlessly cooking fragrant dish upon fragrant dish. Arif, Yasmin’s younger brother, is the only one showing the cracks as he struggles to find out what to do with his life. When Yasmin starts planning her upcoming marriage to fellow junior doctor Joe, darker secrets emerge. Love Marriage by Monica Ali is her first book in 15 years. Will this one be a match for her 2003 mega best-seller Brick Lane?

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Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali

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Beer in the Snooker Club

A lighthearted look into a confused young mind

With the most English sounding of titles, Egyptian 1964 classic Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali portrays Ram, a penniless and charming Egyptian Copt who lives well off his wealthy aunts, his own father having lost a fortune on the ‘bourse’. Seduced by the sophistication of Europe, Ram and his friend Font travel to London to immerse themselves in the political and cultural ideas of the time. Meanwhile, Egypt is going through its own political upheaval with the end of British imperialism, Nasser’s revolution and a burgeoning Communist movement. Which side, if any, will Ram come down on?

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The Passion According to G.H by Clarice Lispector

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The Passion According to G.H.

Mesmerising avant-garde Brazilian classic

If your experience of transformative insect fiction is limited to the Kafkaesque, then it’s high time you met the ‘heralding quiver’ of cockroach antennae in The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector. A novel that demands the utmost concentration, this Brazilian modern classic tells the story of a somewhat intense sculptress, who discovers a large cockroach in her home. Her initial attempt at extermination leaves the creature slowly dying in front of her eyes, a protracted process that sparks a full-blown existential crisis. Enlightenment, madness, or possibly both, await.

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The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg

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The Antarctica of Love

Giving the victim a face

There are voices we don’t hear from often enough in literature. Shuggie, the young son of an alcoholic in Shuggie Bain, is one example; Kristina, or Inni, in The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg, another. A drug addict and prostitute about to be murdered in the most gruesome way imaginable, invisible to society until, for a fleeting moment, she grabs the public’s attention as a victim of a horrific crime. Inni, talks to us from the afterlife, taking us through the day of the crime and how she got there. It’s a tough read this book, mainly because of the graphic violence but perhaps even more because it holds up a mirror to ourselves and our society’s failure to see people like Inni. Shell shockingly good.

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The Madness of Grief by Ricard Coles

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The Madness of Grief

An illuminating and moving memoir of bereavement

Briefly an 80’s pop star before becoming a vicar and beloved broadcaster, the Reverend Richard Coles was often teasingly referred to by his late partner, David, as ‘a borderline national trinket.’ It’s a rueful irony that this book has likely propelled him from trinket to treasure, for The Madness of Grief by Richard Coles is an eloquent, incredibly affecting, and often beautiful account of David’s death. Providing solace for similarly bereaved readers, this poignant memoir is also a testament to abiding love.

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