Martínez Arias

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After Raúl Castro formally took over as Cuba’s president in February 2008, his government signed the UN covenants on human rights, something his brother, Fidel, had refused to do. Raúl also ordered the release of 130 political prisoners. However, if anyone thought that the new president was going to soften Fidel’s hard line towards free […]

Summer Lovin’

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Weather, like the best novels, is unpredictable. In two recent releases, Maggie O’Farrell’s much-anticipated sixth novel, Instructions for a Heatwave, and Anna Stothard’s The Art of Leaving, two very different London summers mirror the unsettled lives of their inhabitants, from stifling, oppressive heat to drizzle which alternately threatens to become a downpour or to stop completely but never quite

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A Wing & a Prayer

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Patrick Ness won a mantelpieceful of awards for his last book, A Monster Calls (2011), about a 13-year-old boy with a dying mother who learns how to relieve his suppressed anxieties by talking about them. The figure who coaxes his secrets from him is, as the title suggests, an obliging monster who pays him midnight […]

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Enduring Love

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Duro first lays eyes on Laura and her family through the cross hairs of his rifle, as their four-wheel drive winds through the Croatian hills. Like Aminatta Forna’s previous novels, Ancestor Stones (2006) and The Memory of Love (2010), The Hired Man is told from the perspective of one who has suffered but survived conflict. […]

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First Fruit

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These novels all share a concern with that which is hidden and that which is lost – or, at least, seemingly so. Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 448pp £12.99) is a tender, rich, earthy novel that takes place in northwest America at the turn of the 20th century. The orchardist is Talmadge, who leads […]

Band on the Run

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Novelists, when writing in the first person, have various techniques to account for the existence of the document they present to the reader. One way is to grant the reader magical access to the protagonist’s mind and thought processes – to overhear him rattling along with his tale. Then there’s the epistolary novel, the journal […]

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Short Stories

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Alix Ohlin’s Signs and Wonders (Quercus 261pp £8.99), a collection of stories set in contemporary East Coast America, contains much to admire. The title story relates the collapse of Kathleen and Terence’s marriage. Just as Kathleen is prepared to tell their son about the decision to divorce, Terence is attacked and beaten into a coma. […]

US & Them

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T here is a scene early in Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s superb new novel, that perfectly captures the tortuous, squeamish lengths white, liberal America will go to avoid causing offence in matters of race. Ifemelu, Adichie’s female protagonist, has recently traded her native Nigeria for the USA. A friend, Ginika, takes her to a clothing […]

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Rupee Cushion

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The speed with which we race through this arc is both an asset and a failing. This is a slight book, in terms of heft and resonance, but it is oddly compulsive. Characters fall ill and die within a few sentences, dreams are expunged with a dismissive stroke of the pen. Time passes in devastating measures: ‘It has been five years, the age of your son, since you last entered your wife’s body.’

Hamid’s economy of cruelty can be impressive. Here he is on the relationship between a mother and daughter: ‘The older woman

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Riddle of the Sands

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Like any desert trip, Lawrence Osborne’s The Forgiven is alarming and liberating in equal measure. Here is a tale as hot, claustrophobic and gritty as being rolled in the sand after a sweat bath. But it’s also a novel with a vast moral horizon, which recedes and advances disorientatingly, leaving the reader with a sense […]

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Zarganar, Zaw Thet Htwe and U Zeya

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Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s democracy movement, may have been freed from house arrest, but many writers and prisoners of conscience continue to languish in Burma’s prisons. On 21 October, English PEN is organising a poetry protest outside the Burmese Embassy from 12pm in order to raise awareness of the plight of […]

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All That Jazz

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Esi Edugyan’s Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Half Blood Blues could have been so good. Set between Paris and Berlin in 1939 and Berlin and Poland in 1992, it charts the fates of a group of American and German jazz musicians in the shadow of the war. That context alone should lend it a certain solemnity, or weightiness.

Edugyan writes in tightly controlled phrases, the similes she puts in the mouth of her narrator

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Karachi Casualties

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Mohammed Hanif’s second novel marks a change of scene and tone from his debut, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, about Zia-ul-Haq’s fatal air crash. Here we have a mixture of love story and well-observed description of Karachi life. Corrupt police shenanigans and interfaith dialogue share a bed with the inpatients of the Sacred Heart Hospital […]

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Five First Novels

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Madeline Miller, in The Song of Achilles (Bloomsbury 352pp £18.99), has chosen a grand canvas, having attempted nothing less than the rewriting of Homer. Her novel gives a new account of the Trojan War and all that led up to it, related through the eyes of Patroclus, the lover of Achilles. Such a project (as […]

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Snapshots

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Cees Nooteboom is one of several well-known international writers whose work was made available in English through Christopher MacLehose’s Harvill Press. Nooteboom’s readership in the UK, unlike that of Murakami and Henning Mankell, was insufficient to tempt Random House, Harvill’s purchaser, to continue publishing him. It is cheering to see the phoenix MacLehose turn some […]

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In Memoriam

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This fêted novel by the Italian author and EU linguist Diego Marani is a clever variation on the whodunit – or rather, who-issit. A man is found at the harbour in Trieste during the Second World War. He’s nearly dead, having been violently assaulted. He’s wearing a jacket with a label inside it bearing the […]

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Jaffy Abroad

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Carol Birch’s eleventh novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is a rich and strange tale, haunted by fate, the sea, visions, insanity and the apparent cruelty of Providence. Its language is full of invention as it follows the life of little Jaffy Brown, who is ‘born twice’. The first time is the actual moment […]

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Unideal Husband

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Jeffrey Eugenides is a writer who takes his time – a decade-between-novels sort of writer. And the investment of time has paid dividends. Between his eerily brilliant debut, The Virgin Suicides (1993), and the baggier Middlesex (2002) his books have sold more than three million copies. After Middlesex, one had a sense of an author […]

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