Garner and Rovelli

covers of Rovelli and Garner booksOne of the lovely things about the first few weeks after Christmas, at least in my corner of the world, is having lots of new books to read. This year was a little different, however, because I found myself with an odd pair of books, loving both of them but unable to read either of them straight through.

There are places…

The yellow one is nonfiction. Rovelli is a theoretical physicist working on loop quantum gravity. The fact that a physicist could publish a book – any book – with such a title attracted me to him, and to it, immediately.

There Are Places turned out to be a collection of his newspaper articles, three to six pages each, on science, history, philosophy, religion and politics. Every single one was a pleasure to read – calm, lucid and enlightening – but I couldn’t read the book straight through. Continue reading “Garner and Rovelli”

Adventures in Khazaria

Khazaria floats on the outer edges of our literary and historical consciousness, if we know it at all.

Most of us have a general idea of the histories of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish worlds, but Khazaria belongs to none of them; and we think we know Europe, Asia and the Middle East, but Khazaria is peripheral to all three; and we have a fair idea about the ancient and modern worlds, but Khazaria existed only in the Dark Ages between them.

Its semi-mythical existence is a gift to writers, who can make of it what they will.

Khazaria in the imagination

All the Horses of Iceland

All the Horses of Iceland (Tor, 2022) is a beautiful novella by Sarah Tolmie. As a poet, novelist and mediaevalist she is almost uniquely qualified to write about a ninth-century Icelandic trader’s journey to Central Asia and back.

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Gemmell: The Book of Rapture

Book of Rapture coverNikki Gemmell tackles big themes in her new novel – science, religion and the evils of tyranny, no less. She universalises her subject by disguising ethnic groups, religions, cities and languages and the supposed origin of her text, while simultaneously individualising it by focusing on a mother’s love for her children.

The political situation is all too familiar to us, an authoritarian regime attempting genocide against a minority within its own population. (No, I won’t call it ‘ethnic cleansing’, because that disgustingly cynical phrase attempts to give state-sanctioned racism, persecution, brutality and murder a semblance of virtue, and using the term legitimises it.) The minority is defined by both ethnic and religious affiliation — again, an all-too-familiar scenario.

One minority family is caught in the middle. Continue reading “Gemmell: The Book of Rapture”

Gleitzman: Grace

book coverGrace tells the story of her family’s escape from a fundamentalist Christian cult in this powerful Young Adult novel from one of Australia’s best writers in the field. She is a teenager who has never known anyone outside her church community, because its members are forbidden to speak to the ‘unsaved’ except with special exemptions. They go to church schools, marry within the church and work in church-owned businesses. They accept the Bible, as interpreted by their Elders, as the ultimate authority on every aspect of their daily lives, and they accept cruel and bizarre punishments meted out by the Elders for any questioning or infringement of the doctrine.

Grace’s father has quietly questioned this peculiar way of life and brought up his children to do the same but he has not been quiet enough and, as the book opens, is expelled from the community. Continue reading “Gleitzman: Grace”

Sara Gruen: Water for Elephants

Sara Gruen Water for ElephantsIf you ever wanted to run away with the circus, if you have ever been passionately in love with the wrong person, if you are scared by the idea of a lonely old age in a nursing home, if you know some animals are cleverer and nicer than most people, if you love larger-than-life characters, lost worlds, high adventure and fairytale endings, then this book is for you.

Set in the USA in 1931, a period defined by Prohibition and the Depression, Water for Elephants follows Jacob Jankowski as he drops out of veterinary school and accidentally joins Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show On Earth, travelling by train across the country.

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