Book news

  • The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza review – a fairytale quest
    Anna Aslanyan

    One of the greatest contemporary Mexican authors weaves a suspenseful fable around a seach for a lost couple in the woods

    An unnamed narrator travels to a forest – the subarctic taiga of the title is the only geographical hint we are given – to investigate a disappearance case. Her client asks her to find his wife, who has gone off with another man, but whose messages appear to suggest that she wants to be found. The woman’s photograph, with a forest in the background, reminds the narrator of the story of Hansel and Gretel, and although she is urged to treat this investigation as ‘a story about being in love’, it is fairytales that are on her mind as she follows the couple. She hires a translator to help, and they end up communicating in “a language that was not strictly his nor mine, a third space, a second tongue in common”. Again, we are left to imagine the rest.

    Eyewitness accounts are outlandish, but what the narrator sees with her own eyes is stranger still

    Related: Farytales: Hansel and Gretel

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  • James Baldwin: Living in Fire by Bill V Mullen review – a smart, concise introduction
    Houman Barekat

    A brisk account of the African American writer’s insights on race, class and sexuality, which are more relevant than ever

    Some biographies are weighty, definitive tomes that add substantially to the sum of human knowledge; others are brisker accounts that condense the existing record into a digestible narrative. This new biography of the African American novelist, critic and playwright James Baldwin falls squarely in the latter category, but is well worth a read. It examines the trajectory of Baldwin’s political thought on the interlocking questions of race, class and sexuality. At just under 200 pages, it is a smart and concise introduction to a writer whose trenchant insights into the nature of US politics and culture are as relevant today as they have ever been.

    Baldwin laid the groundwork for what would come to be known as intersectional criticism

    Related: Professor who quoted James Baldwin's use of N-word cleared by university

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  • Travels with a Writing Brush edited by Meredith McKinney review – the joy of Japanese travel writing
    PD Smith

    Spanning more than 1,000 years, this is a remarkable work filled with wonderful vignettes of Japanese life and sensibility

    In this delightful anthology, McKinney traces the evolution of travel writing in Japan through diaries, stories, drama and poetry. She reveals how a distinctive poetics of travel emerged across more than a thousand years of literary history, very different from that of the west.

    She begins with the Manyōshū, Japan’s first extant work of literature, which includes an austerely beautiful example of classical poetry by an eighth-century Buddhist monk, Sami Mansei: “To what shall I compare / this world? / It is like a boat at daybreak / rowing away and gone / leaving no trace.”

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