Second-Class Citizen

Buchi Emecheta

Reviewed by Zoë Fairbairns

The reality of life in London proves less than grand. Second-Class Citizen by the late Buchi Emecheta (first published in 1974, and now reissued as a Penguin Modern Classic) chronicles Adah’s steady disillusionment. Housing is overcrowded and overpriced, and local attitudes are often hostile, whether it is the ‘Sorry No Coloureds’ of the British, or the reverse snobbery of her Nigerian housemates who, coming (as she sees it) from the servant classes, mock her for her social pretensions [Read more...] in Reviews

Cut Out

Michèle Roberts

Reviewed by Alison Burns

Denis’s journey from the present to Cleménce’s past and back is presented in alternate chapters interleaved with vivid descriptions of photographs of Matisse at work on his cut-outs, taken by one of the story’s subsidiary characters. Like so much else in this novel, these imaginary photographs sound extraordinarily convincing – familiar, even, to anyone who has studied Matisse, seen the archive or visited exhibitions of his work [Read more...] in Reviews

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

Emily Austin

Reviewed by Amy Wu

Due to her passiveness and disengagement with life, Gilda frequently gets into mishaps and misunderstandings. She barely answers texts from her girlfriend Eleanor. She snacks on crackers at the church and pairs them with cheese, not realizing immediately they are communion wafers: “I googled the cracker brand and learned that I paired marble Cracker Barrel cheese with God’s transubstantiated body.” [Read more...] in Reviews

The Penguin Book of Spanish Short Stories Edited

Margaret Jull Costa

Reviewed by Alison Burns

The collection is arranged chronologically according to the author’s date of birth. It starts with the tale of a man on a tram confusing fiction with fact and ends with a young mother confusing her baby with a vampire. In between are stories about miracles, murder, innocence, nostalgia; about work, sex and selfishness. The tones vary from the ominous to the comical, from the far-fetched to the utterly realistic. War, especially the Spanish Civil War, is ever present, but there is also mystery and joy [Read more...] in Reviews

The Balkan Trilogy

Olivia Manning

Reviewed by Elizabeth Hilliard Selka

The novels are autobiographical and thus offer us a riveting insider’s view of the confusion in Eastern Europe in the first year of the Second World War – and the insider, herself an outsider, is Harriet. Woven into the day-by-day unsettling upheavals of the politics and practicalities of war is the story of Harriet’s marriage, her growing understanding of the man she has so suddenly married and revelations about the unforseeable complexities of love [Read more...] in Reviews

How Beautiful We Were

Imbolo Mbue

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

Mbue switches viewpoints between genders and generations, allowing the restrained eloquence of her characters – whether children or grandparents, male or female, single or in a group – to express the beliefs and ways of the Kosawans. For all their pain, theirs is a world of immense grace and natural order, grounded in meaning derived from a spiritual, social, familial and healing credo. This culture and morality stands in blazing contrast to the rapaciousness and self-interest of the oil company, and the government that protects it [Read more...] in Reviews

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

Deepa Anappara

* A 2020 Notable Book

Reviewed by Rachel Hore

As a one-time journalist in Delhi, Deepa Anappara knows of what she writes, and her prose, richly punctuated by local idiom, is exceptionally vivid. She evokes the variety, individuality and vitality of the characters in Jai’s community with skill and humour, whilst underlining the appalling conditions in which they live. There’s little sanitation and they must join long queues for toilets or simply use the rubbish dump or the street [Read more...] in Reviews