The former president’s long-awaited biography is finally here, and a Women’s Prize-winning author pens her first children’s book…
Real, non-fetishised bisexual characters can be few and far between in literature, but You Exist Too Much isn’t just worth reading for its efforts in representation. It’s a stunning debut from Zaina Arafat, following the life of its nameless narrator: a 20-something Palestinian-American writer struggling with her identity. The story jumps between her memories of visiting Palestine as a child and growing up in America, and her present day dealings with failed affairs and love addiction. At its core is a troubled relationship with her mother, who refuses to accept her for who she is. It’s a devastating portrayal of what it’s like to feel as though you never fit in – both in terms of the narrator’s sexuality and racial identity. Arafat handles these weighty topics with real compassion.
(Review by Prudence Wade)
Is there a job out there that requires no reading, no writing, and, if possible, no thinking at all? This is what the protagonist in Kikuko Tsumura’s latest work is searching for. She’s thoroughly burnt out and feels unable to face the working world’s requirements. After trying five seemingly banal job roles, she finds each time there are hidden mysteries that spark her interest and help her realise her own capability. Tsumura’s heroine offers some kinship for all those who have often wondered whether a job is right for them, or if the way society views work makes any sense. With hints of magical realism and a quirky approach to chronicling burnout, the novel’s slow approach and focus on the minutiae might lose its readers’ interest. However, There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job could be a soothing balm for those pondering some of life’s deeper questions on the nature of how we occupy our time.
(Review by Rosemin Anderson)
What makes a refugee different from anyone else? Are they transformed by shared experiences, or can they remain individuals with their own inner lives and personal histories? In Blasim’s novel, Hassan Owl, an Iraqi living in Finland, sets out to collect refugees’ stories for his blog, God 99. The resulting patchwork sketches the dizzying extremes well, from harrowing loss and danger to everyday drudgery. However, Owl’s commentary on the stories and his own life sometimes lacks the same personality and nuance. Throughout, letters from an unidentified literary translator arrive, and the revelation of their author’s identity at the novel’s climax is one of its most effective moments. While Owl complains that Arab publishers find his prose too vulgar, for English readers the sexual frankness and profanity may no longer shock. At best, they show him dealing with the same banal frustrations and urges as everyone else.
(Review by Joshua Pugh Ginn)
This isn’t Barack Obama’s first memoir, but he still takes us through a whistle-stop tour of his life before his presidency; fast forwarding through his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, his time at Harvard, entering politics via community organising, before diving into the gruelling years spent as a senator criss-crossing America on the campaign trail, first in a bid to secure the Democratic Party presidential nomination, then battling John McCain in the race for the White House – a race he would, of course, go on to win. In the first of a two-volume series, the 44th President of the United States chronicles his first two and a half years in office with a knack for simplifying even the most complex political processes, and decades-long conflicts. A Promised Land is never hard going, but – inevitably for a 701-page tome – some chapters are more compelling than others. Where the brilliantly written book really comes to life is when Obama lets down his guard and gives us a glimpse of the swearing, cigarette-smoking, martini-drinking man behind the myth, offering deliciously acerbic assessments of world leaders. Exasperation is a recurring theme as the idealistic Obama butts heads with adversaries at home and abroad – it’s reassuring to learn that even the most powerful man on the planet felt helpless at times, and a delight to discover what was really going on behind that seemingly unflappable exterior.
(Review by Katie Wright)
Children’s book of the week
Where do snow angels go? According to this beautifully illustrated book, the impressions left in the ground eventually melt and fade to become our guardians looking on from above. This is a good job, as Sylvie has a habit of finding herself in some scary situations, brought to life with inventive descriptions. Kids will love the daring protagonist – Sylvie is a young girl not afraid to break the rules, inquisitive enough to push her protector’s limits and defined by her caring nature. Women’s Prize-winning O’Farrell’s debut children’s story is an imaginative tale and a genuine heart-warmer for winter.
(Review by Sean Coyte)
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