Weekly round-up: book reviews

I’ve been enjoying read A LOT of reviews this week – for some reason I love pouring over reviews (on blogs, in newspapers, in magazines…you name it, I’ll read it!) Here are some of the great reviews I’ve read of books that I’ve reviewed too. I hope it gives you some weekend reading inspiration.

The Vanishing Half

The Vignes twins, Stella and Desiree, grow up together in a small, southern, black community. Mallard is a town that Desiree longs to escape. And so, aged sixteen, the twins run away to New Orleans in search of somewhere new. It is here that their lives diverge. When Stella takes on a new job, she “passes” as white and becomes involved with her employer. It isn’t long before she abandons her sister, leaving her family forever. Despite the miles and decades of silence between them, Stella and Desiree will always be intertwined. When their own daughters meet coincidentally many years later, the secrets and lies of their mothers’ past collide.

My review of The Vanishing Half 

This was perhaps one of my favourite books of the year so far. It’s gained so much attention over the past few months and for very good reason.

Michael Donkor, The Guardian

Throughout the opening of this epic novel, Brit Bennett presents the townsfolk as protective of Mallard’s unique constituency. Those within the community marry to maintain the lightness of bloodlines and to ensure that “the darkest ones [are] no swarthier than a Greek”. With a judicious hand, Bennett outlines how this regulating of racial purity comes with no small measure of emotional cruelty.

Lila Shapiro, Vulture (an interview with Brit Bennett)

Partly set in a mythical town in the Jim Crow South, the story offers a critique of whiteness from the perspective of someone who passes for white by choice — a choice motivated by an understandable desire for privilege, financial stability, and most of all safety.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Nuri is a beekeeper who lives with his wife, Afra, in the city of Aleppo in Syria. When their home is all but destroyed, and they have suffered unimaginable loss, Nuri and Afra are forced to flee Aleppo, taking a treacherous journey through Europe, towards the UK where Nuri’s cousin Mustafa awaits them. Blinded by grief and shock, Afra is reluctantly led by her husband across Turkey and Greece, in the desperate hope that safety is within reach.

My review of The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Overall, I think this was a moving and eye-opening read and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an engaging and heart-wrenching novel about hope and survival.

Naina Bajekal, Time

A former psychotherapist and the daughter of Cypriot refugees, Lefteri sensitively charts what it’s like when war comes home, alert to the subtle effects of trauma and grief. Nuri and Afra are not broadly sketched as victims, but rather suffer in different and complex ways from PTSD

Kathryn Eastman, Nut Press

In The Beekeeper of Aleppo Christy Lefteri tells a bruising, often brutal, story beautifully, putting a human face to the Syrian refugee crisis

White Teeth

As veterans, Archie and Samad are bonded by memories of World War II (and one troubling memory in particular that unfolds throughout the novel). Much later in life, Archie, an awkward, luckless, mediocre man, marries a much-younger Jamaican woman named Clara and they have a daughter named Irie. Samad, a strong-minded yet down-trodden man, enters into an arranged (somewhat loveless marriage) with Alsana and together they have twin boys. Set against the backdrop of 1980s north west London, the novel looks at the many ways in which families and cultures intersect and try to survive in less-than-easy circumstances.

My review of White Teeth

I had endlessly mixed feelings about this book (hence the less-than-succinct review!) I’d love to know what you thought if you’ve read it. 

Sam Jordison, The Guardian

Twenty years after it first arrived, I think it’s an established modern classic. No list of the best novels of recent times is complete without it. More to the point, people are still buying it, reading and enjoying it.

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

”White Teeth,” by the young British writer Zadie Smith, is not one of your typical small, semiautobiographical first novels. It’s a big, splashy, populous production reminiscent of books by Dickens and Salman Rushdie with a nod to indie movies like ”My Beautiful Laundrette,” a novel that’s not afraid to tackle large, unwieldy themes.

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