Sunday, 31 July 2022

Short Story Review: A Slow Boat to China by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami (signature), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Slow Boat to China by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Murakami's first short story can be found in the collection The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami and if you have access to Jstor at

The introspective narrator tells the reader the stories of his first encounters with Chinese - the teacher in the Chinese elementary school at the edge of the world", mistakes made on a first date with a Chinese co-worker, an encounter with a encyclopedia salesman.

Written with some beautiful phrasing eg "The years '59 and '60 stand there like gawky twins in matching nerd suits." and "...the new me - five chickens and a smoke away from what I was...."

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Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Book Review: Songbirds by Christy Lefteri


Songbirds by Christy Lefteri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First some facts
(1) In Cyprus, an estimated 605,000 migratory birds were caught in mist nets and killed in the autumn of 2021 to lace the diner plates in fancy restaurants and homes - see

(2) The UK issues over 20,000 Overseas Domestic Worker Visas per year to people coming from outside the EU , https://www.thevoiceofdomesticworkers...

(3) It is very common for migrant women to work in domestic servant jobs in middle class Cypriot homes. In 2019 the body of one was found and with it a multiple murder investigation into the disappearance of 5 woman and 2 children their hopes for a better life brutally ended.

Lefteri, herself from a Cypriot family, weaves a rich brocade of a story around the fictional disappearance of Nisha, a maid from Sri Lanka, a widow with a young daughter back home whom she has not seen for 10 years. For those 10 years she has served Petra, herself a widow and brough up her daughter. Nishi and Yiannis, the tenant in Petra's upper flat, are lovers. Yiannis confesses to her that following the bank crisis he lost his job and has ended up catching birds. They both live on the edge of complex, far reaching and in Yiannis's case illegal, operations. Their love affair remains hidden as Nishi fears losing her job and being unable to repay her 'arrangement' fee.
The story alternates chapters from Petra and from Yiannis as Nishi's story is released to the reader. As I started to read this I was struck by how involved I felt in the story even although the final outcome of Nishi's death is all to apparent from the start, but my involvement all the more surprising because I disliked both the bird hunts and the attitude of Petra to her maid. We know Yiannis will finally break from his bird hunter role, that he will go and see Nisha's daughter in Sri Lanka, and that Petra will finally see the wealth of love that Nisha brought into her and her daughter's life. We also see the horrid nationalistic racist misogynistic attitude of the police who will not investigate Nisha's disappearance and who did not investigate the initial reports of the disappearances of the women murdered in Cyprus. Interspersed with these two character’s chapters is the story of the hunter, the Red Lake and a dead hare. It is beautifully crafted and well worth a read. The excellent audio version is narrated by Indira Varma, George Georgiou, Art Malik and Lolita Chakrabarti. Totally compelling read, Highly recommended

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Monday, 16 May 2022

Book Review: China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

China Room

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota
My rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Beautiful. One thread is the heart wrenching story set in 1929 Punjab of 15 yr old Mehar's misreading of who is her husband - how can this happen? she is one of three young wives to three brothers, all ruled over by the strict, often callous, family matriarch. The girls live together in a small room, and are veiled at all times, in absolute segregation. But Mehar is inquisitive and thinks she has worked it out. Intertwined with this is the modern storyline where a teenage recovering addict from the UK visits family in modern Punjab.

In what I think is one of the most honest author video interviews I have watched Sahota tells how a story from his own family gave rise to Mehar's, how structure is all important to him when writing. That structure, apparent to some extent when I read the novel, is one of the two threads circulating each other,  spiralling closer and closer, with shorter and shorter chapters building reader tension as he explores social and pyschological imprisonment and escape. Personally, I found Mehar's story by far the strongest, but at the same time the reflections of it in the modern line cleverly bring out more than the sum of the parts.

This is his only third novel, he is now an Assistant Prof teaching Creative Writing at Durham Univ in England. I read his second [book:The Year of the Runaways|42200524] which I thought was marvellous - see my review . It is clear that Sahota can write both men and women characters, in stories which totally engage the reader. Now I really must go and read his first [book:Ours Are the Streets|9826870].

Highly recommended