LBF Book Club – British Council Recommendations

LBF Book Club – British Council Recommendations

The LBF book club was not only designed to bring together our team here at The London Book Fair but also to connect us with our wider online community. This week we teamed up with the British Council who reached out to their colleagues from all over the world in order to produce a global collection of spectacular book recommendations – just for you. If you’re wondering what to read next, check out these international suggestions.

CANADA

My book recommendation for UK readers is Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq. This is the first book from the Inuk throat singer, improvisational performer, avant-garde composer, and experimental recording artist.

Tagaq’s powerful and prescient debut work examines the themes of coming of age, and women’s resilience. Above all, her ability to masterfully depict the rugged and beautiful landscape of Nunavut transports readers to a place of extremes, where nature is both unforgiving and awe-inspiring. Now, more than ever, we need voices like Tagaq, who is both unflinching and poetic in her ability to bring clarity and imagination to a world whose borders first appear rigid but quickly fall apart with her words.

Find it here.

Carrie Hage, Arts Manager

British Council Canada

UKRAINE

The long-awaited novel by Sophia Andrukhovych, Amadoka, tells a story of love and reconstruction of the memory of a man who was rescued after the war operations in the East of Ukraine. The war left his face torn and unrecognizable while his mind fell into total oblivion. The man’s wife, who immediately and intuitively recognizes him, is convinced that his family’s feelings can heal him and recover his lost memories, so day after day she recounts episodes of his family’s life as affected by tragic historical events such as the Second World War, the Holocaust, the Stalin terror.

Amadoka is a name of the largest lake in Europe, located on the territory of modern Ukraine. Herodotus first mentioned it in his histories, and for many centuries Amadoka was reproduced on maps by medieval cartographers until its sudden and complete disappearance. А small notebook with the image of the lake was found in the family storage. The story of the notebook’s acquisition, as well as the thing itself, attracts the man’s attention as if it were the key to unravelling his life.

It is a multi-layered complex novel that will capture foreign readers not only with detailed modelling of people’s life and relations amid the central events of the twentieth century but also with an incredibly authentic description of human psychology, feelings of guilt and difficult moral choices. Finally, it asks what is sincere love and what it is capable of.

While not currently available in English, check out this online interview.

Daria Stokoz, Arts Manager

British Council Ukraine

GERMANY

At this moment of global uncertainty, when governments have introduced mobility restrictions for people worldwide, we all become painfully aware about what we are losing and how we are changing under the lockdown. In this bizarre situation I would recommend the British reader to go on a short but intense walk with Thomas Bernhard, this great, Kafkaesque master of German story-telling. Bernhard’s fascinating novella Walking (1971) records the walks and conversations of an unnamed narrator and his friend Oehler on anything that appeals in Bernhard’s dark, tragicomic Austrian universe – isolation, loneliness, madness, disease, friendship, and human relationships. Walking and thinking are reflected on as essential, parallel human faculties, which strongly interrelate, but which never totally merge. One of the two always proves more intense than the other, but both can cheer us up, make us flow and help liberate our minds and bodies, particularly in times of restraints.

Find it here.

Dr Elke Ritt, Head of Arts

British Council Germany

POLAND

I recommend Jakub Żulczyk’s Blinded by the Lights. Kuba is a cocaine dealer in the dark, electric streets of Warsaw, believing he is smart enough to stay in control, unlike the top lawyers, doctors, TV personalities who are his client base.

However, after calling in the debt of a failing nightclub owner, breaking his own rules on other people’s property and being caught in the consequences of his clients’ actions, all control starts to slip from his grasp.

Now suffering under the glare of the spotlight and dragged into the dark underbelly of the drug world, Kuba must find a way through the middle of the whirlwind of violence and betrayal sweeping him away.

The universality of the themes and the nod given to vintage British crime fiction, coupled with the well-known appetite amongst UK readers for gritty urban storytelling will make this a popular choice. Now a major HBO Europe TV series.

Find it here.

Ewa Ayton, Director Projects (Creativity)

British Council Poland

BANGLADESH

Humayun Ahmed, the prolific Bangladeshi author whose writing style is sometimes characterized as ‘Magic Realism’, is considered by many as “A custodian of the Bangladeshi literary culture whose contribution single-handedly shifted the capital of Bengali literature from Kolkata to Dhaka without any war or revolution” (Times of India). Shonkhonil Karagar, considered one of his best works, is a refreshing real-world look into the lives of a contemporary Bangladeshi middle-class family narrated eloquently to reflect their place in society, focusing on their relationships and day-to-day lifestyle. Exploring themes in Bangladesh’s social context such as community mindsets that favour the fair skinned are also highlighted (where one character drops out of college because of her skin complexion). While succinctly capturing the socio-economic struggles the family face, it also examines the characters’ feelings of love and hate associated with ‘growing up middle class’ (which many South Asian diaspora communities that have grown up in similar contexts can relate to).

Find it here.

Ifra Iqbal, Nahin Idris and Souradeep Dasgupta, Arts Team

British Council Bangladesh

KENYA

Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani generously weaves stories of love, family and culture against a backdrop of British colonial rule in Kenya. The lyrical narration is really enjoyable and there is a real sense of journey with the characters across generations. This novel paints such a compelling picture of how deeply the past shapes the present

Find it here.

Sandra Chege, Programme Manager East Africa Arts

British Council Kenya

AUSTRALIA

The Coconut Children is the first novel by 19-year-old Vivian Pham, it’s set during the late 1990s in the Western Sydney suburb of Cabramatta which is home to the largest Vietnamese community in Australia. The novel is a love story between teenagers Sonny, a fierce reader and lover of romance novels, and Vince who has recently been released from juvenile detention. This captured a piece of Sydney in the 1990s, full of slightly twisted romance and difficult emotions. Vivian Pham wrote the first draft of The Coconut Children when she was only 17-years-old at the non-profit writing centre for young people called the Story Factory, it was meant to be a short story course but she ended up writing 93,000 words which was the first draft of The Coconut Children. On the novel Vivian says: “I wanted to tell a story about our community from the inside out, not the outside in.”

Read the Guardian review. It’s also available from The Book Depository.

Kate Murray, Communications Manager

British Council Australia

  

CHINA

Recently I have just started to read Beautiful Days: Two Novellas since I got hold of the book from the author Teng Xiaolan at The London Book Fair last year. The title demonstrates the complexion of the two stories – ordinary people in typical Chinese families like random days on the calendar. Xiaolan uses gentle narrative to tell us the conflicts between generations and values, mildly yet sharply described with links to the different mindsets of individuals through different times. The plots are narrated and viewed from the perspective of women in the family, breaking stereotypes and seeking mutual understanding. The role of women as well as dilemma of gender equality in traditional Chinese communities is discussed and conveyed in the novel. There is merely any dramatic plots or ‘highlights’ in the book nonetheless the soft touches from Xiaolan on details and emotions kept me reading through to the end with excitement and reflection. Despite tough and even absurd happenings, ultimately there will be joy and understanding in family and social connections, just as the nice and beautiful days to come.

Find it here.

Jiali Luo, Arts Manager South-West China and Wuhan, Literature Lead

British Council China

 

PAKISTAN

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Powered by Mohammed Hanif’s wry voice, A Case of Exploding Mangoes is a fictionalised – some would say barely fictonalised (Hanif himself refers to it as an “alleged novel”) – account of the tail end of the dictator General Zia’s decade long reign in Pakistan, which ended in his dramatic murder, unresolved to this day. In this absurd novel, Hanif creates a narrative of how Zia was killed. There is suspense, intrigue, slapstick elements, and – my favourite – an unexpected and strangely compelling romance. It is that rare book: a thrilling page-turner that also makes you think.

Find it here.

Hira Azmat, Manager Library Services

British Council Pakistan

PAKISTAN

I recommend The Rebel’s Silhouette: Selected Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Translated by Agha Shahid Ali). Faiz, a giant of contemporary Urdu poetry, needs to be read in the original Urdu – the sharp pathos, the incisive yet compassionate social commentary, and the deeply stirring romance of his verses is most impactful in his native language. But if there’s any translation that comes close to capturing Faiz at his best, it is Agha Shahid Ali’s. Shahid is a formidable poet in his own right, and his love for Faiz is evident in his translation, which captures so much of the tenderness and wordplay of the original.

Find it here.

Hira Azmat, Manager Library Services

British Council Pakistan

PAKISTAN

If there’s anything that comes close to ‘The Great Indian Novel’, it is likely River of Fire, by Qurratulain Hyder, the most acclaimed Urdu novelist of all time (the original is in Urdu, and has been translated into English by the novelist herself). British-Pakistani writer Aamer Hussein has said that River of Fire is to Urdu fiction what One Hundred Years of Solitude is to Hispanic literature. River of Fire covers 2,500 years of history in modern-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh—beginning with the Nanda Dynasty on the brink of defeat by the founder of the Mauryan Empire (323 to 185 BCE), and ending in the post-Partition despair of the 1950s. The deep past is used to understand the suddenness and chaos of Partition: the event that resulted in one of the greatest mass displacements in history and the formation of two countries, India and Pakistan, as the British departed their former colony after 200 years of occupation. The abrupt, unanticipated and unimaginable violence of this event, and the desperate confusion, rage and despair it engendered is captured poignantly by Hyder. It is a staunch anti-nationalist challenge to both India and Pakistan, as it points out the absurdity of the claim of two distinct and disparate national identities in its sweeping, audaciously syncretic depiction of the Indian subcontinent.

Find it here.

Hira Azmat, Manager Library Services

British Council Pakistan

COLOMBIA

I highly recommend The Bitch by Pilar Quintana which is a short novel that can, and demands to be read in one sitting. It tells the story of Damaris, a barren woman living in the tropical rainforest in the pacific coast of Colombia, the most abandoned and deprived area of the country with 98% African Colombian populations. It explores themes of motherhood and despondency with a high level of sensitivity while at the same time painting a detailed picture of the violent landscape, torn between the temperamental pacific, the equis snakes that invade the lives and spaces of people and the jungle itself. This winner of the English PEN award is published in English by World Editions.

Find it here.

Paula Silva, Arts Manager

British Council Colombia

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.