Fiction / FACTS
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Memories of a Pure Spring
by Duong Thu Huong
Translated from the Vietnamese by Nina McPherson and Phan Huy Duong
(Picador, ISBN 0 330 48182 7)
Duong Thu Huong is one of Vietnam’s foremost writers and her early novels were all bestsellers. However, in 1988 after publishing Paradise of the Blind, a scathing criticism of the disastrous 1950s land-reform programme, she was expelled from the Communist Party and her novels banned. In 1991, after sending abroad the manuscript of her Novel Without a Name, she was imprisoned for seven months. Despite not being allowed to publish, she continues to live and write in Hanoi. Memories of a Pure Spring concerns the colossal disruptions that convulsed Vietnamese society in the 1980s after 30 years of war. The book follows the lives of Suong and her husband Huong who were both members of a famous wartime entertainment troupe, sent into the countryside to ‘sing louder than the bombs’. After the war, Huong is mistakenly arrested along with a group of ‘boat people’ attempting to flee the country. The struggle of Hung and Suong to make a living despite the systematic vindictiveness of a controlled and intolerant regime is at once a powerful comment on the place of the artist in society and a haunting and painfully honest love story.
by Bandula Chandraratna
(Phoenix House, ISBN 1 861591 84 5)
Bandula Chandraratna is Sri Lankan by birth and has worked in Saudi Arabia and the UK. His first novel Mirage was privately published by the author and only came to wider notice when it was praised by the 1999 Booker Prize jury. Mirage is a deceptively simple and beautifully written novel set in the present in a closed desert kingdom. It concerns Sayeed, a good, ‘ordinary’ man, and Latifa, a village girl wrenched from the everything she knows into the harsh realities of city life. From the unpromising beginnings of an arranged marriage, their brief love flowers, only to fall victim to forces far beyond their control. The novel ends in tragedy and death but there is hope too, with the birth of Sayeed and Latifa’s daughter, Leila. A sequel, Eye for an Eye, published this year, tells Leila’s story.
by Oonya Kempadoo
(Picador, ISBN 0 330 48252 1)
Oonya Kempadoo’s second novel is set in Plymouth on the island of Tobago. For teenagers Cliff and Ossie life revolves around fishing, sex and Baywatch and ‘Opree Winfree’ on the TV. The arrival of Bella, a Caribbean woman and her husband Peter, an Englishman provides both a diversion and an opportunity to break the shackles of their humdrum existence. Written in energetic patois, the novel is a searching examination of the responsibilities that come with relative wealth and the strains imposed on a young society which looks to America for its role models and its aspirations. Born in England of Guyanese parents in 1966,Oonya Kempadoo was brought up in Guyana and has lived in Europe and various Caribbean islands. Her first novel Buxton Spice was published in 1998.
by Jamal Mahjoub
(Phoenix House ISBN 1 861 59100 4)
This novel is set at the start of the 17th century as Rashid al-Kenzy, incarcerated in the prison of the Dey of Algiers, is offered a deal: his freedom in exchange for agreeing to travel to Europe in search of a mysterious Dutch device – the telescope. Things do not go to plan, however, and he is shipwrecked off the coast of Jutland. Saved by Heinesen, a pupil of the Astronomer Tycho Brahe, Rashid is enlisted to help build a tower to the stars. The Carrier is a fast-paced and continent-spanning story of one man’s thirst for knowledge and the quest for enlightenment that manages to combine high drama and serious scientific inquiry. Other books by Jamal Mahjoub include Wings of Dust and In the Hour of Signs. He has also contributed short stories to the New Internationalist. Jamal Mahjoub was born in London in 1960 and grew up in Sudan. Originally trained as a geologist, he now lives in Denmark, working as a writer, translator and journalist.
by Mayra Montero
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman.
(Harvill, ISBN 1 86046 464 5)
This brooding mystery touches on ecological and political themes. Thierry Adrien is assistant to the American zoologist Victor Gregg, as he searches for the elusive and possibly extinct Blood Frog in the forests of Haiti. As the search progresses, it begins to mirror for Thierry his father’s obsessive search for the Living Dead in the land of voodoo and tonton macoutes. In tape-recorded conversations with Thierry, Gregg, steeped in the rational certainties of Western science, begins to delve into the magic and menace pulsing under the surface of Haitian society. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1952, Mayra Montero studied journalism in Mexico and Puerto Rico and worked as a correspondent in Central America and the Caribbean for 10 years. Her other books include Veintitres y una tortuga, La trenza de la hermosa luna, La ultima noche que pase contigo, Del rojo de su sombra and Como un mensajero tuyo ( The Messenger).
by May Telmissany
Translated from the Arabic by Roger Allen
(Saqi Books, ISBN 0 86356 552 2)
May Telmissany’s first novel is semi-autobiographical and, as her translator Roger Allen says, is ‘both a document of powerful emotive force and an important contribution to modern Arabic fiction’. Dunyazad is the story of one woman’s long, slow recovery from the trauma of the death of her baby. The book explores her own private journey through grief and the effects of the death on her family and friends. Through the narrator’s personal story we also come to know the stresses and pressures on Egypt’s emerging middle class as they adapt to the new demands of a rapidly changing society.
Born in Cairo in 1965, May Telmissany studied French Literature at Cairo University and is currently preparing her doctoral thesis on the representation of the ‘Hara’ (the popular neighbourhood) in Egyptian cinema. She is author of a short-story collection, Repetitive Sculptures.
by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani
(Bloomsbury, ISBN 0 7475 4632 0)
Literature professor Bahiyyih Nakhjavani describes The Saddlebag as ‘a fable for doubters and seekers’. Although she has written four books on the Baha’i faith and documentary film scripts, this is the Persian writer’s first work of fiction. In a bewitching series of ingeniously linked tales, we learn of what befalls nine individuals as they travel the trade routes between Mecca and Medina in the mid-19th century. Within the space of 24 hours, each encounters a mysterious saddlebag and each is irrevocably changed by the experience. What are the contents of this saddlebag, so precious and potent that they can bring death or joy, destruction or deliverance?
The Last Jet-Engine Laugh:
India 1930 – 2030
by Ruchir Joshi
(Flamingo, ISBN 0 00 257089 0)
Ruchir Joshi is a filmmaker and writer. Born and raised in Calcutta, he now lives and works in Delhi. The Last Jet-Engine Laugh is his first book. It begins in 2030, as the modern, competitive state that India has become is engaged in a war with a Pakistan/Saudi alliance. We are introduced to Para, a spirited and clever female fighter pilot and, as the story shuttles back and forth in time, we get to know her father Paresh, an aimless drifter and her grandparents, who met on a non-violent demonstration against British rule 100 years before. In telling the stories of these individuals, Joshi has also crammed in the narrative of a turbulent and confused time. This boisterous book is an ambitious and spirited attempt to encapsulate the development of India over the last century.
by Ahdaf Soueif
(Bloomsbury, ISBN 0 7475 3081 5)
This is a sharply observed and vivid collection of stories from the award-winning author of A Map of Love. In Sandpiper Soueif’s characters – whether they are from Alexandria, Istanbul or England – are usually experiencing some sort of defining crisis in their lives and her writing mixes tenderness with caustic observation. Her fine eye for the telling detail, the nuance of behaviour, allows her, as one character says of another, ‘to lightly draw the fine-lined patterns that pull so many lives together’. Other books from the Egyptian writer include Aisha and In the Eye of the Sun.
by Hwee Hwee Tan
(Michael Joseph, ISBN 0 7181 4255 1)
Hwee Hwee Tan’s first novel, concerns the trials and tribulations of Mei, a young Singaporean lawyer and her disaster-prone boyfriend Andy. Andy is in jail, accused of being the mastermind behind a multi-million dollar football gambling syndicate. Under the draconian Singaporean laws, Mei and her friend Eugene have just two weeks to prove Andy’s innocence. Foreign Bodies is a fresh and witty look at the confusions that arise when east and west, modern and traditional collide. Born in Singapore in 1974, Hwee Hwee Tan has since lived in the Netherlands and England. Her stories have been broadcast by the BBC and published in PEN International and Critical Quarterly. She has won several awards.
Under the Frangipani
by Mia Couto
Translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw
(Serpent’s Tail, ISBN 1 85242 729 9)
Although he has several books to his name, this is Mozambican Mia Coutu’s first novel to be published in English. Under the Frangipani is set in a coastal colonial fort once used to store slaves and ivory but now a refuge for the dispossessed and the elderly. The central character is Ermelindo Mucanga, dead and buried under the frangipani tree, whose spirit emerges to occupy the body of a detective from Maputo investigating a murder case in which, strangely enough, all the suspects wish to claim sole responsibility. Blending history, dreams and a uniquely African flavour of magical realism, Under the Frangipani is a powerful and trenchant evocation of life in a society traumatized by decades of war and poverty. Born in 1955 in Beira, Mai Coutu has been director of the Mozambique Information Agency and editor of the magazine Tempo and the newspaper Notícias. His other books include the short story collections Voices Made Night, Every Man is a Race, Dreamed Stories, and the novels Somnambulist Land, and The Last Flight of the Flamingo.
The Faber Book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories
edited by CK Stead
(Faber and Faber ISBN 0-571-16765-9)
This collection shows a variety of South Pacific writing, including the work of Emma Kruse Va’ai. Born in Samoa in 1956, and currently a lecturer in English at the National University of Samoa, Emma Kruse Va’ai is a strong advocate of bilingualism in English and Samoan. She has written and published stories for adults and children, including ‘The Wedding’, which is available on the internet, illustrated by Regina Meredith Malala, at http://members.tripod.com/~Siu_Leo_o_Samoa/index-14.html. Her story ‘Te Tatau’, which appears in the Faber anthology, deals with the tradition of tattoing and its place in society and family structures in Samoa.