Book Reviews

Read our Reviews twice every month in


October 1st 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #173


The Diary of a Madman by Nikolay Gogol
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Ukrainian-born author Nikolay Gogol was nothing if not imaginative, as displayed to great effect in this collection of plays and short stories. Unlike many of the great Russian-language authors of the 19th century who focused on social and economic themes, most of Gogol's work has the character of light entertainment absent a reformist agenda.

Read full review
Ukrainian-born author Nikolay Gogol was nothing if not imaginative, as displayed to great effect in this collection of plays and short stories. Unlike many of the great Russian-language authors of the 19th century who focused on social and economic themes, most of Gogol's work has the character of light entertainment absent a reformist agenda.

However, it is this very lack of rational purpose that makes Gogol so fascinating to read. Considering that the author suffered from psychological problems and eventually starved himself to death, it's not surprising to learn that he was a bit of an outside-of-the-box thinker. This eccentricity is reflected in his stories which turn again and again to the ridiculous, the bizarre and the downright insane, as in the famous Diary of a Madman (delivers exactly what the title promises) or The Nose (in which an official's nose takes on a personality of its own).

Oddly enough, perhaps owing to the author's inherent sense of humour and love of caricature, none of this comes across as particularly disturbing. "Life is crazy," Gogol seems, to say with a shrug, "but at least it's good for a laugh." It's Kafta-lite and, for the early 19th century in which Gogol lived and worked, practically alternative.

The general tenor of the collection is perhaps best summed up in Nevsky Prospekt which delivers a creepy foreshadowing of the author's own demise. While out for a stroll, two friends Piskarev and Pirogov are each attracted by a different woman and quickly part ways to pursue these objects of desire. Piskarev soon discovers that the beautiful woman he is following is a silly and shallow prostitute. Rocked to the core by this revelation and rebuffed in all of his virtuous attempts to save her from her fate, Piskarev retreats into a fairer and happier fantasy world, eventually committing suicide. Pirogov, on the other hand, turns out to have been pursuing the equally stupid wife of a German merchant. Completely undeterred by this state of marital affairs, Pirogov embarks upon multiple seduction attempts, eventually landing him a beating by said husband and friends. Initially furious, Pirogov manages to brush off the entire chain of events within a few hours and go back on the prowl. So if you want to stay sane in this world, the message seems to be, try not to take it all too seriously.


September 1st 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #172


Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
Review by Murad Karim

Touching the Void is the true story as written by Joe Simpson, of what happened on that fateful day in 1985. Joe was with his best friend and climbing partner, Simon Yates. Joe and Simon managed to climb the summit of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, this mountain is 6,344 metres high (20,813 feet) and the west face is almost impossible to climb as it is almost vertical. Joe doesn't write much about the ascent but the descent is this entire book about.

Read full review
Touching the Void is the true story as written by Joe Simpson, of what happened on that fateful day in 1985. Joe was with his best friend and climbing partner, Simon Yates. Joe and Simon managed to climb the summit of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, this mountain is 6,344 metres high (20,813 feet) and the west face is almost impossible to climb as it is almost vertical. Joe doesn't write much about the ascent but the descent is this entire book about.

Disaster stuck on the descent at about 6,000 metres, while the ascent had taken longer due to bad weather so their time frame of descending had to be in a faster pace, and they had already run out of fuel for their stove, which they needed to melt the ice for their drinking water, and their base camp was at 3,000 metres. Here Simpson slipped down an ice cliff and broke his knee. Now Yates had to help his friend and as it happens in these adventures, one cannot leave their partners to die, either in the cold, in the jungle or in sea. They had to help each other so both or all of them had to survive and reach safety and help.

Avoiding the mountain climbing gadgets names, Yates was now helping Simpson along and they had to be careful as Simpson had only one good leg, the other was now useless and couldn't do much, when the second disaster struck. While Yates was lowering Simpson over a 100 foot overhanging cliff and they couldn't see each other, Simpson was left dangling in mid-air. Yates couldn't see Simpson but felt that he was being pulled down slowly by Simpson's weight. He held for an hour and came to a conclusion that both of them could die, so he was forced to cut the rope linking them together, and Simpson fell into a crevasse.

The next morning Yates, lighter now, descended the mountain and found the cliff where his friend Simpson was and he saw the crevasse down and realized what must have happened and now he was certain that Simpson must have died, so alone he safely descended and reached the base camp.

In fact, Simpson had survived the fall despite falling a 100 foot and with a bad and broken leg but had fallen on soft ice on an ice bridge which fortunate for him had saved his life. When he looked at the rope and saw that the end was cut. He then managed to abseil to the bottom of the crevasse and spent three days, without food or water. He crawled and hopped for five miles back to base camp.

While Simon Yates stayed at the base camp hopping against all hopes that his friend, Joe Simpson might just make it alive. Then only a few hours before Yates was to leave Simpson reached the camp and back into civilization.

It is an amazing story of human survival instinct and the will to live. The book is written very nicely and it is a story of courage, of friendship, of suffering and fear. This amazing story went on to be made a movie and it also brought controversy in the climbing community about the cutting of the rope by Simon Yates.

Joe Simpson won some awards with this book and went on to write several more books like 'This Game of Ghosts', 'Storms of Silence', 'Dark Shadows Falling', and others. This book was written in 1988 and published by HarperCollins in 2004, amongst others. When I read this book I was enthralled and didn't want to put the book down, it's a page turner. I recommend this book if you're into adventures, human survival, climbing or just a book worm like me.


August 1st 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #171


Wanda's Jigsaw by Marta Gergely
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

When a book is said to be aimed at celebrating women, it raises my curiosity because I like reading about such things.

It offers me the avenue to ventilate, to throw logic around and sometimes even to get annoyed. The annoyance derives from the fact that in recent times, it seems that impropriety has at times been reduced as a binary to feminism. So I read Wanda's Jigsaw, and I must say that as far as celebrating women is concerned, perhaps it has its points.

Read full review
When a book is said to be aimed at celebrating women, it raises my curiosity because I like reading about such things.

It offers me the avenue to ventilate, to throw logic around and sometimes even to get annoyed. The annoyance derives from the fact that in recent times, it seems that impropriety has at times been reduced as a binary to feminism. So I read Wanda's Jigsaw, and I must say that as far as celebrating women is concerned, perhaps it has its points.

Growing up under the cloak of communism in 1980s Czechoslovakia, Wanda is a beautiful, intelligent girl who falls pregnant and gives birth just as she finishes the equivalent of her country's Leaving Cert. She is lucky in the sense that she goes straight into further study at a nearby university while being a hands-on mum.

On the other hand, she is not so lucky, due to life's mounting pressures - including her mother forcing her to 'accept' giving up her daughter for adoption. From here onwards, Wanda flies solo in her studies, and ends up as a lecturer at Cambridge University.

Wanda was hurt and at a young age, too, which perhaps gave her the strength to pursue her dreams, to eschew all ties and become so hardened and single minded? Well, I am still processing this.

Galway-based Marta Gergely does a good job of reminding us that perseverance pays more often than not, especially when all odds seem to be stacked against you. Readers are also given a glimpse into what life was for ordinary people in a communist society, capturing that longing to experience freedom that was supposedly resplendent in the west.

However, the books' storyline is not given enough to deliver. The narrative is pared down so much that it's skeletal. So many promises and hints that could have made the juices of the story flow are shed while some, though still there, are not followed through. Sayings are dumped all over the place, with stories then woven around them to suit. Reading this was a frustrating experience. But perhaps it is me: I love convoluted and robust stories, not hints.

'It's lonely at the top,' so the saying goes, and at the apex of her rise Wanda does relent and start searching for other meanings in life, which makes her almost human. Readers perhaps may sigh with relief at the end that everything eventually works out for her. But I kept thinking that there was a piece missing from Wanda's Jigsaw, even if I could not really tell what that was.


July 1st 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #170


The Childhood of Jesus by JM Coetzee
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

It's that magical time of life again: JM Coetzee has published a new book! And not only that: as a bonus the same publisher has also released Here and Now, a book of letters that Coetzee exchanged with friend Paul Auster between 2008 and 2011, which adds an interesting dimension to the manner in which one reads and understands this South African author.

Some of the ideas that Auster and Coetzee kick around in their correspondence seem to make an appearance in the latter's new novel, to a lesser or greater degree: for example, discussions on sports or the meaning (or non-meaning) of numbers.

Read full review


It's that magical time of life again: JM Coetzee has published a new book! And not only that: as a bonus the same publisher has also released Here and Now, a book of letters that Coetzee exchanged with friend Paul Auster between 2008 and 2011, which adds an interesting dimension to the manner in which one reads and understands this South African author.

Some of the ideas that Auster and Coetzee kick around in their correspondence seem to make an appearance in the latter's new novel, to a lesser or greater degree: for example, discussions on sports or the meaning (or non-meaning) of numbers.

Nevertheless, the thing that really struck me was how the tone in Coetzee's personal letters is so easy to recognise in his fiction. It's as if the person behind the works that I so admire shines right through, and very sympathetically so. And contrary to my prejudices against linking the author to their work, there is actually no reason to be so fearful. So much for personal revelations: let me not disgress further, but tell you why you should read this new novel.

Coming from what seems to be an old dying continent to which there is no return, a man and a young boy walk off a ship into a new, Spanish-speaking world. They are processed and given new names: Simon and David. Everything in their new world seems set up to accommodate at least the basic needs of the new arrivals, and there is no evidence of an indigenous population that could throw a spanner in the works.

As Simon and David settle in we learn that although the two have been more-or-less brainwashed of any remembrance of their past. They do know any more than that they are not related; Simon simply took it upon himself to help the little boy to find his mother somewhere in this vast land where people no longer are who they were. A futile task if there ever was one, as not even David remembers what his mother looked like, nor her original name.

But Simon still perseveres against his own reasoning, hoping to rely on intuition. And it pays off as he finally finds the woman he was looking for, but she seems most unsuitable for the task, although she takes it on. What follows is both frightening and irreversible. It seems to have been preordained, somehow. Things are out of control as much as they are in real life. Is David special or is he simply spoilt? Is he innovative or mad? Is there some kind of redemption at the end of it all?

It's up to you: either you believe or you don't. Life will take you anyhow.


June 1st 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #169


The Sett by Ranulph Fiennes
Review by Murad Karim

The Sett is a story that will make your hair stand. It tells about a man called Alex Goodman, who wakes up in a hospital severely beaten and with no memory of who he really is, and how he ended up in the hospital.
He struggles to find out his identity, and finally after a year he eventually knows who he genuinely was.


Read full review


The Sett is a story that will make your hair stand. It tells about a man called Alex Goodman, who wakes up in a hospital severely beaten and with no memory of who he really is, and how he ended up in the hospital.

He struggles to find out his identity, and finally after a year he eventually knows who he genuinely was.

Alex then spends the next nine years of his life, seeking revenge for his family's killers and in turn gets him into deep and even deeper trouble. He gets entangled with the CIA, the Mafia, and the most brutal and dangerous people in the underworld.

The story takes you, the reader into the Jamaican and Pakistani underworld, and how they operate; it takes you into drugs and arms dealing, into money laundering and into all kind of illegal activities of the criminal nature.

The book takes you to the now defunct and infamous BCCI (The Bank of Credit and Commerce International) which was involved (allegedly) in Money Laundering and other illegal activities. If you are into suspense and thrillers, then you would love this book. The story is a page turner in the proper sense of the word. It takes you into a world you don't believe exists in real life. You might have thought this only happens in the movies.

But this apparently is a true story that happened to Alex Goodman starting from 1984 and continued, for about ten years up to 1994. The story takes Alex Goodman, a down-to-earth, family man, with no real ambitions in this world, who lived in a quiet corner of the United Kingdom, into a world of espionage, of killings and drugs, and it turned him into a fugitive. The readers should, after reading the book, have their own opinion if this is fiction or true. Only an author like Sir Ranulph Fiennes could have mastered and pieced together this story and write it into a fiction and he wrote it well. Ranulph Fiennes is at his best here. He is after all a world renowned explorer and adventurer; he has been mentioned in the Guinness Book for his achievements.

He has reached both the South Pole and the North Pole, he has climbed Mount Everest, ran marathons for charity. He is the author of about twelve books, both fiction and non-fiction, including The Feather Men and Mind over Matter.


May 1st 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #168


Home by Toni Morrison
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

This is a lovely complex little book by this no-introduction-needed author. In the poor town of Lotus, Georgia, Frank has had a troubled upbringing through which he has steered himself and his little sister Cee as best as he can. However, trouble continues to visit them both and they get separated by war and what poses as love. When Frank returns from Vietnam a shattered man, haunted by the deaths of his closest friends as well as the lives that he has taken, he flounders and flails for a long while. Although he meets a loving woman that seems to help him break the circles of horrors through which he lives, he still can't shake his ghosts.

Read full review


This is a lovely complex little book by this no-introduction-needed author. In the poor town of Lotus, Georgia, Frank has had a troubled upbringing through which he has steered himself and his little sister Cee as best as he can. However, trouble continues to visit them both and they get separated by war and what poses as love. When Frank returns from Vietnam a shattered man, haunted by the deaths of his closest friends as well as the lives that he has taken, he flounders and flails for a long while. Although he meets a loving woman that seems to help him break the circles of horrors through which he lives, he still can't shake his ghosts. A sudden letter from a friend of his sister's urges him to come save Cee from the doctor for whom she works, as the doctor is not quite what he seems. Frank makes his way towards his sister and back towards the home town, the town he could not wait to get out of at one point in time. What will he find in his rejected home? Will the confrontation of the past be the final unravelling of him?

In a recent Guardian magazine interview Morrison professed that she has never felt she wanted to enhance and/or dull life through taking drugs or drinking alcohol, as she always wanted to experience live's pains and joys untainted, in their unadultered forms, and this philospohy of her's comes through quite clearly in this book. Especially in the way that she describes the poor but proud women of Lotus that end up taking care of Cee's attempts at recovery. These women are hard and have little time for whiners or complainers, but by being the way they are they help nurse Cee's vulnerable being in this world into a strong and self-confident woman that probably never will have to depend on anyone ever again, not even her brother. These women do not flinch or look away from the killing of an animal, the difficult detestable traits in others as well as oneself, such as meaness or wickedness, instead they look the issues straight in the eye and then organise their lives to stay away from being effected by the same as much as possible. They know they can't avoid them, that they will get affected but never be broken by them, and it is this faith that forms the spine of Home.


April 15th 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #167


One Inch Punch by Oran Ryan
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Oran Ryan is a Dublin native with two critically acclaimed novels to his name in The Death of Finn and Ten Short Novels. One-Inch Punch is his third novel, in which we meet the gifted Gordon Brock. Growing up, nobody wants Gordon as a friend because he was always one step ahead and, one way or the other, he will upstage you. But Brock is only a child: he wants friends, he needs friends. And his strategies and great efforts at remedying this friendless situation result in endless bullying, ostracism and loneliness.

Read full review


Oran Ryan is a Dublin native with two critically acclaimed novels to his name in The Death of Finn and Ten Short Novels. One-Inch Punch is his third novel, in which we meet the gifted Gordon Brock. Growing up, nobody wants Gordon as a friend because he was always one step ahead and, one way or the other, he will upstage you. But Brock is only a child: he wants friends, he needs friends. And his strategies and great efforts at remedying this friendless situation result in endless bullying, ostracism and loneliness.

One particular 'friend' - out of jealousy, and whatever else makes people bullies - takes things to a head when he beats up Gordon to the point of unconsciousness. Gordon recovers physically, but is traumatised, and everything for him from this point on is overshadowed by this life-changing event. And so he plots his revenge - till one afternoon, 20 years later, while out doing his Christmas shopping, he encounters this 'friend' once more.

In One-Inch Punch I want to believe that the author embedded the notions of forgiveness and jealousy in the fabrics of the text. Reading through I came to see how these two notions impede self-freedom for both the protagonist and his one particular aggressor. We spend our lived lives dodging and confronting punches; how well you do these things underpins your well-being and happiness. Gordon believes he worked this out for himself a long time ago, even as a child. But did he really?

Ryan appears to write from a place of knowing, a certain level of assuredness that conceals his punches. His use of footnotes is interesting in its cunningness, giving the novel a certain flair that adds to the intrigue. Antonio Lobo Antunes is called to mind here.

This novel, I believe, is designed to be thought-provoking, and it does hit its marks. However, Ryan does tend to have a roundabout way of getting to the point that raised my hackles. Perhaps it is a Dublin thing, perhaps it's me, perhaps it was intended. But still, One-Inch Punch is good read.


March 1st 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #166


The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

This incredibly prolific Belgian author wrote about fourhundred books, seventyfive of which have detective Maigret at their centre, and just by the sheer volume of Simenon's output one starts to wonder if the issue of quantity and quality might have become a problem. However, Simenon is a highly regarded writer that many an author have nothing but praise for. Indeed, he has been up for the Nobel prize a good few times, although he never got to the finishing line. Yet it was the comparison of Simenon to one of my own heros, Patricia Highsmith, which led me to him.

Read full review


This incredibly prolific Belgian author wrote about fourhundred books, seventyfive of which have detective Maigret at their centre, and just by the sheer volume of Simenon's output one starts to wonder if the issue of quantity and quality might have become a problem. However, Simenon is a highly regarded writer that many an author have nothing but praise for. Indeed, he has been up for the Nobel prize a good few times, although he never got to the finishing line. Yet it was the comparison of Simenon to one of my own heros, Patricia Highsmith, which led me to him. Browsing through a fairly slim collection (considering the above mentioned output) in a Dublin bookshop I quickly settled on an intriguing looking series of New York Review Books. I was hoping that I would be in for a huge treat, plus, one that would last me for a good while into the future.

The Strangers in the House (1940) is one of Simenon's so called roman durs, or psychological thrillers, and also one among the books that he himself seems to have referred to as his more serious works. From the very start one is impressed by his attention to details, and the ease with which he seems to create the book's universe. The protagonist is a former lawyer, Loursat, who has become a unkempt hermit in his own house, despite sharing it with his daughter and some servants. He barley sees the others, and they ignore his being as best as they can, although the servants also despise him and make no bones about it. Loursat's life evolves around his wine, cigarettes and study. What others might think is of no concern. That is, until he finds a dead man in a room in his vast mansion. The shock of the discovery pushes Loursat out into reality, makes him think of his past, and see the people around him. Does he like what he finds? Well, to answer that would be to give the plot away, so I will let you find that our for yourself should you chose.

I can see why people link Simenon and Highsmith, but with this book I found it no contest as to who is the more original writer. Simenon is said to have based all of his crime writing around real life cases, and although this is not a sign as to what is to ensue once in the hands of a creative writer, in this book you certainly get a real sense of the grey and mundane, even through some of the stranger-than-fiction events. Also, the manner in which Simenon deals with foreigners here made me feel quite uncomfortable (no matter the time in which the book was written, or perhaps because). Maybe after the next book I might change my mind.


February 1st 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #165


The Last of the Vostyachs by Diego Marani
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

There's a Finno-Ugric bee in Marani's Italian bonnet it seems. His most known work was New Finnish Grammar, the translation of which came out in 2011, and now this book which came out last year, and which also concerns itself with the mysterious origins of the Finnish language. The Last of the Vostyachs tells the story of the last living member, of an imaginary ethnic group, who wanders into reality when suddenly released without any reason from mines in some Russian mountains.

Read full review


There's a Finno-Ugric bee in Marani's Italian bonnet it seems. His most known work was New Finnish Grammar, the translation of which came out in 2011, and now this book which came out last year, and which also concerns itself with the mysterious origins of the Finnish language. The Last of the Vostyachs tells the story of the last living member, of an imaginary ethnic group, who wanders into reality when suddenly released without any reason from mines in some Russian mountains. Ivan, as the man is called, has been held in slavery for twenty years, ever since a little boy when he and his father were captured. The rest of their people suffered a much worse demise but during their captivity Ivan's father is soon murdered as well, leaving Ivan dumb with grief. Upon emancipation Ivan returns to the area where he grew up and slowly begins to remember and utter the sounds of his ancestors, but there is no one to hear him apart from a rapt audience of wolves, and the rest of the wild mountain animals. That is until a linguist scholar shows up and throws herself into Ivan's guttural world. Olga is delighted to have discovered Ivan, and thus the proof that she needs for her linguist theories which possibly link Finnish with certain American Indian languages. The two become friendly and Olga convinces Ivan to come along to a conference in Helsinki to share his knowledge with a wider audience. This is when things derail thanks to a certain Professor Jaarmo Aurtova who has a completely different, and murderous, agenda for the couple, as he harbours strong nationalistic beliefs along with his academic jealousies.

Marani's day job so far has been as a Senior Linguist for the EU, as well as writing a column in a Swiss newspaper in a language called Europanto, which he has made up himself. It is obvious that his work, and his conlanger (people who construct languages) merits, have bled into his fictional work, and they are interesting premises to use as a base, but the question is do they work? I feel they do. Much of this book I enjoyed, it was well constructed and interesting, and especially if you have no previous knowledge of the subjects dealt with, this forms a good platform from which to get further involved. The world of linguistics can to some of us seem very dry at times, but in this form one realises how very deep the issues go and how much is at play.


January 15th 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #164


Revisionists by Thomas Mullen
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Zed is an intelligence agent from "the Perfect Present" sent back to Washington D.C. ca. 2006 to ensure that the horrific event, known in "the Perfect Present" as "the Great Conflagration" happens, for without this horrific event which killed millions of people, the perfect, stable present will never be quite so perfect. Zed's presence in our present is necessitated by so-called historical agitators, who also have access to time-travel technology and are misguidedly attempting to alter history and prevent the Great Conflagration. Ensuring that this atrocity occurs is a tough and uninspiring duty, but Zed is the right man for the job, because after his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident, he knows that life is tough and doesn't have much to live for, anyway. So far, so typical sci-fi.

Read full review


Zed is an intelligence agent from "the Perfect Present" sent back to Washington D.C. ca. 2006 to ensure that the horrific event, known in "the Perfect Present" as "the Great Conflagration" happens, for without this horrific event which killed millions of people, the perfect, stable present will never be quite so perfect. Zed's presence in our present is necessitated by so-called historical agitators, who also have access to time-travel technology and are misguidedly attempting to alter history and prevent the Great Conflagration. Ensuring that this atrocity occurs is a tough and uninspiring duty, but Zed is the right man for the job, because after his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident, he knows that life is tough and doesn't have much to live for, anyway. So far, so typical sci-fi.

From this initial premise, however, Revisionists gets a lot more nuanced. In a recent interview with the Irish Times, sci-fi legend Iain M. Banks described the genre as one of ideas and philosophy. Revisionists lives up to this demand. In our present, Zed meets Tasha, a young African-American lawyer who is having difficulty reconciling her "having made it" semi-bourgeois lifestyle with her anger at her brother Marshall's death in the US Army in Iraq and her friendship with college boyfriend T.J., an anti-war activist. Tasha represents the quintessential educated American who has pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to a life of relative affluence, but who still sympathizes with less mainstream points of view. Her brother Marshall was a juvenile delinquent and while the army straightened him out, it ultimately killed him in a war to control the very resources that fund Tasha's lifestyle. More confusingly, while Tasha agrees with T.J.'s point of view on many topics, she recognizes that at bottom he is a self-serving jerk who will rage against anything that he doesn't happen to be in charge of.

Add to this mix Leo, a former CIA agent now working for a private 'security company' that is trying to frame T.J. while simultaneously spying on the Korean Embassy, and Sari, the Korean's Indonesian slave-maid, that the gallant yet sleazy Leo is sort-of-trying to rescue, and the plot thickens.

There is plenty of action in this book to keep you turning pages, the writing is impeccable, and the background well-researched and realistic. Author Tomas Mullen has received much praise for his work and it is certainly well-deserved.


January 1st 2013
Metro Eireann Book Review #163


The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

This month Jewish people in Denmark were warned, by the Israeli ambassador, not to speak Hebrew "loudly" and not to wear the Star of David too prominently displayed etcetera because of growing anti-Israeli sentiments. All over Europe there are reports of a definite rise in all sorts of extreme political views. The recession is an obvious instigator, as people usually get less tolerant when they have little to share, but where this kind of small-mindedness can lead is something far beyond economics, as well as culture and race.

Read full review


This month Jewish people in Denmark were warned, by the Israeli ambassador, not to speak Hebrew "loudly" and not to wear the Star of David too prominently displayed etcetera because of growing anti-Israeli sentiments. All over Europe there are reports of a definite rise in all sorts of extreme political views. The recession is an obvious instigator, as people usually get less tolerant when they have little to share, but where this kind of small-mindedness can lead is something far beyond economics, as well as culture and race. Especially at a time like this you would be wise to read a book such as The Kindly Ones, if for no other reason than to remind yourself of the horrors that can develop out of extreme politics. However, this is also a great, well-informed, horrific and strange book of the methodical madness of the Holocaust which should be read for lots of reasons.

From somewhere in southern France the protagonist Maximillian Aue, a former SS Lieutenant, recounts the history of his life and career. What follows is a virtual tsunami of horror which at points left me having to numb myself mentally before being able to continue, which in itself was quite a frightening realisation of an act that one can work on. Although very intelligent Max is also a very damaged human already from the start, before he rises through the ranks, although we never really get to the root of why this is there are dead giveaways. He has an obsessed incestual relationship with his sister, he is generally seriously confused sexually (which many reviewers suggest points to his homosexuality which I find preposterous given the general mess of Aue), he has an antagonistic relationship to his mother and her new partner, and so on. Yet, initially, and in retrospect, one gets a sense of that his reasoning and emotional life is somehow working quite normally (in comparison) to start with. Thereafter; in tandem with the descent of tasks asked of, and realities seen by, the man, in the name of the war, his descent into madness unspools in fits and starts until it takes over completely. To me, the latter part of the book is the most interesting, but saying that I think the clunkier, sober accounting parts of the first half also set a strange sort of framework to the chaos that ensues. Also, the nearly action movie ending with its implausible scenarios, whilst quite fantastic, made me wonder why Littell would chose to close such a heavy tome with such near glibness. All in all though, the contradictions are partly what makes this such an interesting read.


December 1st 2012
Metro Eireann Book Review #162


Engineering Paradise by David Gardiner
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Danny, the protagonist is 15 years of age. His father is a doctor and his mother an alcoholic. His classmate and friend, Wee Hughie, died playing with a gun his older brother supposedly got from the IRA as a volunteer. Before attending Wee Hughie's Requiem Mass, all the pupils in his Roman Catholic Boys' Grammar School went for confessions so as to be ready to receive the Holy Communion. Afterwards, Danny mentions to another school mate and neighbor, Bernie, how it seems a little curious that the priest who took his confession appears unusually inquisitive about how Wee Hughie died.

Read full review


Danny, the protagonist is 15 years of age. His father is a doctor and his mother an alcoholic. His classmate and friend, Wee Hughie, died playing with a gun his older brother supposedly got from the IRA as a volunteer. Before attending Wee Hughie's Requiem Mass, all the pupils in his Roman Catholic Boys' Grammar School went for confessions so as to be ready to receive the Holy Communion. Afterwards, Danny mentions to another school mate and neighbor, Bernie, how it seems a little curious that the priest who took his confession appears unusually inquisitive about how Wee Hughie died. He mentions this because he wants to know if it is the same for him. And before you could blink, he is spirited away to meet the commander of the Belfast IRA and that is how he unwittingly becomes a volunteer member. He is not to know that Bernie, who is younger than him even, is already one. It seems then that there are two ways to become a member: you walked into it purposely or like our protagonist. But whichever way was your mode of entry you could not renounce your membership or you did so at your peril.

From when Danny joins until he leaves at eighteen- 'on the run'- his little helps included jamming the police radio to enable a bank robbery, making and bombing 'empty buildings' with the intended purpose of destabilizing the British political machinery so as to hasten their freedom, etc,. You see, Danny is a self-taught engineering wizard who at ten years of age or so has built his own radio transmitter.

There is nothing as infuriating as wading into an argument without enough information or knowledge to give you real purchase. So I will refrain from taking the intricacies of the relationship existing between the Irish North/South and the British presented as given. However, Engineering Paradise with 'Belfast in the 1960s' as its premise made me realize that I have never really engaged with what the feelings and thoughts of the Irish in the North were about being left out of the independent Ireland: it will seem that there are lots of pain and longing lodged deeply in the souls of the northern Irish. The IRA then it seem, was the prince in shinning armour which progressed from being a benign mouthpiece of the disfranchised to perhaps an angel of death? It was admired, worshipped and feared at the same time and this may also account for the ease with which they recruited members then.

Reading about the business of the IRA through the eyes of a fifteen year old and all he contributed to the 'Second Irish War of Liberation' made me wonder- could so much be done with people this young? But then I retire with the consolation that what may present as complicated problem could have started out initially as a simple problem that was not resolved. Since Engineering Paradise is a fiction, I will read it as one.

That said Engineering Paradise was an easy read because the language was simple with the structure achieving an easy flow. My critique derives from the fact that Danny was naïve which for his age was understandable but at the same time he was too calculative and assured somehow for somebody his age.


November 15th 2012
Metro Eireann Book Review #161


Unrecognized States by Nina Caspersen
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Unrecognized states are one of the more obscure areas of international law and international relations. It lies in the very nature of a place that we do not acknowledge to exist that we don't hear much about it either. However, unrecognized states make for a fascinating study in power relations, not only because such entities are often ongoing conflict zones and can be focal points for many of the shadier international relations activities, but also because any people with aspirations to self-determination also spends some time on the rocky and dangerous road of unrecognized entity.

Read full review


Unrecognized states are one of the more obscure areas of international law and international relations. It lies in the very nature of a place that we do not acknowledge to exist that we don't hear much about it either. However, unrecognized states make for a fascinating study in power relations, not only because such entities are often ongoing conflict zones and can be focal points for many of the shadier international relations activities, but also because any people with aspirations to self-determination also spends some time on the rocky and dangerous road of unrecognized entity. No one rolls over and gives you anything on an international level and even recognition of Ireland post-1920 was not as clear cut as we are often in hindsight encouraged to believe. In the harsh world of international politics what happens is generally whatever someone makes happen. Hence unrecognized states, those entities which exist and function internally much as any other State would, complete with borders and structures for domestic power legitimization, but without recognition from other States that they in fact exist as sovereign entities. The UN Charter, for example, does not protect such a place from military action against it. They're the Wild West of international law.

Unrecognized States offers us a comprehensive look into the many factors affecting State practice in the area of recognition with a particular focus on Nagorno Karabkh, Kosovo and Somaliland. Author Nina Caspersen also explores how these entities manage to hold together and function in the absence of recognition of full statehood and argues against their common perception as little more than favourite hubs of international crime. I don't know of any other work which has put together such a comprehensive and modern study on a topic so often overlooked, yet of such vital importance to those affected. This is an ideal reference book for anyone concerned with this area of international relations and I must give it my highest accolade and say that it is both original and genuinely useful work. The only drawback is that the author spends a great deal of time quoting other political scientists, citations which do not add a whole lot to the discussion at hand and tend to slow down the delivery of what are otherwise very interesting facts. This might make the book more useful to those studying political science, but hampers its ability to cross over easily into related fields.


October 15th 2012
Metro Eireann Book Review #160


White by Marie Darrieussecq
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Edmée and Peter are two rootless strangers setting out to work at the scientific White Project at the South Pole. They both carry emotional baggage they long to leave behind. As they travel, one by sea, one by air, we are made aware of that their coming together will yield an explosion of some romantic kind. Journeying, Edmée battles seasickness and pangs of guilt but is also fascinated by the world that opens up and freezes in front of her, whereas Peter ponders his adopted life in Iceland, the death of his birth family as the airplanes and the airports whirl on by.

Read full review


Edmée and Peter are two rootless strangers setting out to work at the scientific White Project at the South Pole. They both carry emotional baggage they long to leave behind. As they travel, one by sea, one by air, we are made aware of that their coming together will yield an explosion of some romantic kind. Journeying, Edmée battles seasickness and pangs of guilt but is also fascinated by the world that opens up and freezes in front of her, whereas Peter ponders his adopted life in Iceland, the death of his birth family as the airplanes and the airports whirl on by. Having arrived, with six months of work in front of them, they isolate themselves and try to focus on their personal troubles, but they are very aware of each other, as is a chorus of Antarctic Ghosts that like in a Greek drama weave in and out of the story foretelling the coming together of the two. This, along with the dreams and mirages Edmée and Peter wrestle in this whitest and coldest of places, makes up the plot.

Darrieussecq is a lauded, widely translated, contemporary French writer that with this, her fifth book, again has been praised, and reading White you do get a inkling of reasons for her success. Nevertheless, it is a far cry from her previous book A Brief Stay With the Living which was fresh and exciting. White never feels like it really takes off. The English edition also has a tacky cover, which does not help. The story feels like it just trudges along, you do not warm to the characters, indeed when they finally get together, towards the end of the book, one does not even really care yet is bombarded with really nerdy explicit descriptions of what sounds like completely unappealing love making. Even the writer herself seems to give up: "P and E do not feel the passing of time. The ghosts are at the door and getting bored, on the verge of getting annoyed." The highlights are the Darrieussecq like strains that vaguely can be heard through this alien clunky text, and the ideas that one senses somewhere in there, that deal with the decline of the uncontrollable natural world, and our inability to really comprehend the impending disaster which leads us to keep on living and loving despite it all. Let's hope that this is solely a blip on Darrieussecq's sky, and that next time she can/is allowed to, return to that which she usually does very well.


October 1st
Metro Eireann Book Review #159


Great House by Nicolle Krauss
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

This book is held together by a monstrous piece of furniture, a desk so overwhelming that people instantly are divided into camps either for or against it. Although there are other important pieces of furniture in the stories it is this imposing desk that hangs over the plots and ties them together. It is as if the desk with its extraordinary amount of drawers is a house full of rooms and destinies some of which Krauss opens. Thus, this piece of furniture enables her to gel a number of disparate and interesting Jewish lives to paint a small history of the same.

Read full review


This book is held together by a monstrous piece of furniture, a desk so overwhelming that people instantly are divided into camps either for or against it. Although there are other important pieces of furniture in the stories it is this imposing desk that hangs over the plots and ties them together. It is as if the desk with its extraordinary amount of drawers is a house full of rooms and destinies some of which Krauss opens. Thus, this piece of furniture enables her to gel a number of disparate and interesting Jewish lives to paint a small history of the same. Through this look at people's passion for inanimate things, in particular she is referring to furniture that was taken from the Jews by the Nazis, she shows how memory and furniture can be so inexplicably linked, and how these blocks of wood etc., that accompany our lives, can come to mean so much, and how they can go on living and creating memories long after we are gone from this world.

Krauss spins a really good yarn; indeed she even uses the yarn and thread metaphors to emphasize the unspooling of tightly knit destinies in Great House, and it seems very likely that this book has been optioned by an American film production company. However, I believe that a film would not do Krauss justice given that it is the language that she uses, and the attention to detail, that are her real strong points (a rare thing in well-known contemporary authors). Few film directors would be able to pick up on this, and then turn it into its equivalent celluloid counterpart. I guess what I am trying to say is make sure to read Krauss before you make your mind up about her abilities, especially if you stand before a choice of the book or the film. Nevertheless, for all its positives, Great House did not really do it for me in the way that it perhaps would have under other circumstances as I read this book in between two books by Lispector, another Jewish female author with a strong focus on the mystical uses of literature, which left me wanting due to the claims of Krauss' similar leanings. Great House is a fairly light book dealing with dark subjects thus a reader won't be too bogged down by its being, so prepare to be well entertained and perhaps a little wistful at its end.


September 15th 2012
Metro Eireann Book Review #158


Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walther
Review by Roslyn Fuller

If you read one book this fall, read this one. It may have first appeared in 2010 and it may have taken me a while to get to, but it's still worth talking about. Because for a while there, I truly thought I was the only person left on earth who scorned "All the Single Ladies", had been to a nightclub exactly once, and snorted derisively at any newspaper article alleging that men and women were differently wired. I had actually gotten as far as the momentous conclusion that feminism might well perish with me.

Read full review


If you read one book this fall, read this one. It may have first appeared in 2010 and it may have taken me a while to get to, but it's still worth talking about. Because for a while there, I truly thought I was the only person left on earth who scorned "All the Single Ladies", had been to a nightclub exactly once, and snorted derisively at any newspaper article alleging that men and women were differently wired. I had actually gotten as far as the momentous conclusion that feminism might well perish with me.

Because no matter how vigorously you fly the flag for nurture over nature, committed relationships, and the right to choose whether or not to have children, you can only be denounced as "over-serious", "heartless", "naïve", "difficult", "unnatural" and "just not able to handle the truth" so many times before you start to feel like you are being suffocated in a sea of sentiment that is hostile towards you merely for having exercised your brain to the point of having an independent thought.

So when I started reading this book, I was ecstatic to realize that I am not the only person who thinks this way. My favourite part was Walther's systematic debunking of the "men and women think differently" myth. Watching her convincingly, yet elegantly, rip apart all of this determinist pseudo-science was beyond satisfying.

Walther also includes brilliant segments on the manner in which sex as an activity has become consumerised. As she explored the agonizing alienation experienced by many people (page 3 girls, lap dancers, the one-night-stand aficionados) who have pursued the "it's just a bit of fun" route, I felt truly vindicated in my views and lifestyle for the first time in a long time.

However, the book is certainly not lecturing or conservative in its values. Rather, the theme throughout was the one dimensionality of public female existence in our society and how that one dimension involves a high-level of self-objectification.

I would argue that men are nearly equal victims of this phenomenon, albeit in different ways: thus, we have all come to accept as a given a world that makes a mockery of all our former aspirations. Living Dolls begins the difficult work of figuring out where things went awry and how we can fix them. It is definitely one of the most important books of our generation.


September 1st
Metro Eireann Book Review #157


Food by Jennifer Clapp
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Not many people are interested in what the make-up of the food on their table is, that is, as in which continent or type of soil it came from. May be the purist- so that their body will not be polluted by unnecessary chemicals- would want the organic variety or may be those who want to make sure that the producers of what they eat are remunerated relatively well and so would seek out ethically produced food- coffee? So when this title Food was presented to me I baulked at its review but then I clawed in. I must admit that having read it, my desire to know the pedigree of my carrot was not ignited however, the information acquired is now filed in those 'kind of things' file until they need arises.

Read full review


Not many people are interested in what the make-up of the food on their table is, that is, as in which continent or type of soil it came from. May be the purist- so that their body will not be polluted by unnecessary chemicals- would want the organic variety or may be those who want to make sure that the producers of what they eat are remunerated relatively well and so would seek out ethically produced food- coffee? So when this title Food was presented to me I baulked at its review but then I clawed in. I must admit that having read it, my desire to know the pedigree of my carrot was not ignited however, the information acquired is now filed in those 'kind of things' file until they need arises.

Now, in the greater schema of things, it is a book that is well- researched, properly structured and well presented and thus was able to convey its intent succinctly.

The author started out by asking her readers to stop for a minute to ponder on 'how much you know about the path followed by the food you ate this morning as it made its way to your breakfast table' and thus the tone is set on how the book will progress, you reckon. As it happened the author's question took a different turn when she veered into such issues as world food system, food aid, bio diversity, unfair condition for farmers, ecological and social consequences of activities surrounding the growing, processing, buying and selling of food. Wow.

But then this book is a specialist book for the initiated but easy enough to absorb by pleasure reader as well, if you like this kind of stuff- food.

Jennifer Clapp, the author, is a professor of Global Environmental Governance and as such I had high expectations in the quality of the content and she did not disappoint. The theme of the book centres around the multiplicity of forces that shape the globalization of the world food system. The book is structured is in such a way as to achieve a flow that aided further illumination. The Chapters include:


  • Unpacking the World Food Economy
  • The Rise of a Global Industrial Food Market
  • Uneven Agricultural Trade rules
  • Transnational Corporations
  • Financialization of Food
  • Can the World Food Economy Be Transformed?


This book is very grounded in its subject matter as to afford the readers the opportunity to get the facts right. The language is simple and elegant, the content rich, well articulated and masterfully presented so that by the time you finish you'd come to know that the politics involved in an ear of corn, cultivated in the back of beyond and sold at wherever or found in your McDonald order, begging to be consumed, should never be sneezed at- very interesting indeed!


August 15th
Metro Eireann Book Review #156


Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Being deprived of the power to read all languages of our wide world leaves one sooner or later in the hands of a translator. If you are lucky you get a translator that is both a good writer as well as understanding/in tune with the writer whose work s/he is translating. If you are unlucky you might end up worlds away from the original, which, naturally still could be amazing, yet might not exactly be what you set out for. Now, the publishing company New Directions are no novices to the issues that arise "in translation" and maybe to widen the scope of hitting the right notes they have recently released a nice looking series of Lispector's work which all have different translators.

Read full review


Being deprived of the power to read all languages of our wide world leaves one sooner or later in the hands of a translator. If you are lucky you get a translator that is both a good writer as well as understanding/in tune with the writer whose work s/he is translating. If you are unlucky you might end up worlds away from the original, which, naturally still could be amazing, yet might not exactly be what you set out for. Now, the publishing company New Directions are no novices to the issues that arise "in translation" and maybe to widen the scope of hitting the right notes they have recently released a nice looking series of Lispector's work which all have different translators. In rereading this book by a new translator I found myself jumping back and forth into an older copy (that also was published by New Directions but translated by Giovanni Pontiero) to look for gaps and changes, rather than just take the translator's word for it, so to speak. What I found was illuminating, both in regards to the translating process, and for what I learnt about the notoriously complex Lispector. By looking at her work through the translations of it (which, as said above, is the only thing I would have available to me, but one might very possibly be able to say the same of the original Portuguese) it is so much more obvious that she truly accomplished her plans. She most definitely brought life to her writing: her writing shifts within itself, creates itself, and thus continues to stay alive long after the death of its author.

The story of book concerns the life of Joana. We encounter her in different important stages of her life: as a child, an adolescent, a married woman, an adulteress, and finally as a woman freed from the constraints of wifely duties or personal "love" relationships. Through each stage we see Joana trying to fit in, to feel, to understand, but nothing really makes sense to her until, at the end of the book, when she is on the way, on a ship, to a new life somewhere else, which hopefully will suit her better. This is a remarkable/remarkably spiritual work, like most of Lispector's oeuvre, which really should be read if you are looking for literature that does a hell of a lot more than try to make money or pass your time, and perhaps my tip above might enhance your enjoyment, if that is possible.


August 1st
Metro Eireann Book Review #155


Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Chinua Achebe is most famous for his iconic novel Things Fall Apart, but I prefer the slightly less famous Arrow of God. Set in the rural Igboland of Nigeria in the 1920s, Arrow of God is named for its chief character, the enigmatic priest Ezeulu, who sees himself as an arrow in the bow of the god Ulu, the local deity to whom he is dedicated. In contrast to Okonkwo, the macho-man protagonist of Things Fall Apart, Ezeulu is quieter and more calculating, but every bit as strong-willed. Where Okonkwo would have beaten his children into obedience, Ezeulu merely verbalizes restrained yet scathing disapproval to bone-penetrating effect.

Read full review


Chinua Achebe is most famous for his iconic novel Things Fall Apart, but I prefer the slightly less famous Arrow of God. Set in the rural Igboland of Nigeria in the 1920s, Arrow of God is named for its chief character, the enigmatic priest Ezeulu, who sees himself as an arrow in the bow of the god Ulu, the local deity to whom he is dedicated. In contrast to Okonkwo, the macho-man protagonist of Things Fall Apart, Ezeulu is quieter and more calculating, but every bit as strong-willed. Where Okonkwo would have beaten his children into obedience, Ezeulu merely verbalizes restrained yet scathing disapproval to bone-penetrating effect.

As British imperialism encroaches upon Ezeulu's village, bringing roads and Christian missionaries, the elderly priest finds himself placed on an unstoppable crash course pitted against the forces of modernism and monotheism which erode his own authority. It is this slow and fatalistic train-wreck of cultural collision that Arrow of God so masterfully evokes as Ezeulu bargains ever more recklessly in a bid to retain respect for both himself and Ulu, a respect so easily, if often unwillfully, undermined by the moderate Captain Winterbottom and his inexperienced sidekick Tony Clarke.You will often read in reviews that a writers' style is punctuated by proverbs or idioms, but Achebe often depicts whole swathes of village life almost completely in local proverbs, which give a sense of both playfulness and wisdom. The shift in atmosphere between Ezeulu's village Umuaro and Captain Winterbottom's headquarters on Government Hill is palpable; the portrayal of rural Igbo life captivating in its detail. However long you may have known something as a distant fact, Achebe can bring it home to you as a reality.

It would be an oversimplification to say that Arrow of God is about the tension between tradition and change - Ezeulu orders his third son to attend the church and learn to read precisely because he knows that knowledge of these things will help his family to thrive in the future - it's more an examination of a shifting power dynamic, in which both "sides" are host to traditions both cumbersome and liberating. Considering the meaty issue to hand, Arrow of God is a curiously subtle book, one you will want to read more than once.


July 15th
Metro Eireann Book Review #154


Satantango by László Krasznahorkai
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Hungarian Krasznahorkai's first novel is the second one of his to be translated into English and it sure has took its time to hit our shores in that it was originally published in 1985. Nevertheless, here it is, and we should be grateful for its arrival. It's here to take us on one hell of a dance where our senses are assaulted and exhaulted but never exasperated, unless perhaps we're feeling unable to focus and relax into its complicated constantly churning body (at which point you might want to put it down for a little while whilst you compose yourself). Krasznahorkai loves his sentences to meander, and isn't in the least hung up on tidying them up into neat little packages, so you simply have to let go and let yourself be carried down the torrential stream.


Read full review


Hungarian Krasznahorkai's first novel is the second one of his to be translated into English and it sure has took its time to hit our shores in that it was originally published in 1985. Nevertheless, here it is, and we should be grateful for its arrival. It's here to take us on one hell of a dance where our senses are assaulted and exhaulted but never exasperated, unless perhaps we're feeling unable to focus and relax into its complicated constantly churning body (at which point you might want to put it down for a little while whilst you compose yourself). Krasznahorkai loves his sentences to meander, and isn't in the least hung up on tidying them up into neat little packages, so you simply have to let go and let yourself be carried down the torrential stream. This is a book that eats itself, and all we can do is marvel at the contortionist manner in which it does it, and the very pungent, vivid life it reveals.

In a village somewhere in a somewhere world we find a host of characters on the brink of destitution and rebirth. Futaki, a disabled man with a healthy attitude of mistrust and self confidence, takes us into the book on a whirlwind of unrelenting language which won't let up even when the reins are handed over to more pliable hosts. Nevertheless, it all begins with a bell. Futaki hears a bell ring, and gets deeply disturbed by its presence. It's an impossible bell, an impossible sound in the the dismal surroundings where neither church nor chapel is known to still be standing. Futaki is thrown off course and rushes out to see what it's all about. One by one we are introduced to the rest of the cast left over in what seems a previously fairly well off little village: the doctor, the local prostitutes, the farmer, a little grim girl with learning difficulties and her evil brother, the holy moly, the seductress, and so on, but also two men somehow linked to the state services whom no longer reside in the miserable midst of the place but instead are off in the city seemingly coming up with dubitable plans for a return. It's this return that the people that have stayed put come to take as a way out. They're hoping that the leader of the two men, Irimiás, will be their saviour, their sound of hope, but what seems increasingly likely is that Irimiás has hopes of his own which have little to do with the rescuing of the futures of the locals. Prepare to be enthralled as well as disgusted, and to begin again.


July 1st
Metro Eireann Book Review #153


The New Scramble For Africa by Padraig Carmody
Review by Roslyn Fuller

It is no exaggeration to say that I loved this book. In fact, it is probably the best non-fiction book on Africa that I have read yet. While everyone hears a lot of about Africa in the media, it is often in relation to conflict, medical issues, such as AIDS, or environmental ones, such as deforestation. Not only does this very specific concentration give people in Europe a pretty warped view of the place, the economic realities underpinning many of these issues are rarely widely discussed. Yet, the fact that economics play a pivotal and even dictatorial role in all other social issues is something few international relations experts would deny. This book finally brings the economics of Africa to light for the general public.


Read full review


It is no exaggeration to say that I loved this book. In fact, it is probably the best non-fiction book on Africa that I have read yet. While everyone hears a lot of about Africa in the media, it is often in relation to conflict, medical issues, such as AIDS, or environmental ones, such as deforestation. Not only does this very specific concentration give people in Europe a pretty warped view of the place, the economic realities underpinning many of these issues are rarely widely discussed. Yet, the fact that economics play a pivotal and even dictatorial role in all other social issues is something few international relations experts would deny. This book finally brings the economics of Africa to light for the general public.

Topics covered range from the large role played by Chinese enterprises in many nations' economies to oil exploitation in Angola, to fishery rights on the West African coast to biofuel production in Mozambique. Personally, I was sold from page one by the excellent information regarding the continuing economic and military interests of erstwhile colonial powers in Africa. When someone knows as much about Franco-Chadian relations as I do - hey, it's time to sit back, be impressed and tune in to what else I can learn from them.

What sets this work miles apart from similar forays is that the author, a lecturer in geography, actually understands international relations. That isn't praise I gave lightly, because most people who write this sort of thing don't seem to have a clear handle on basic logic, instead preferring to wallow around in fluffy platitudes unable to find one sharp point in their entire ream of subject matter. Mr. Carmody on the other hand has a bang-on grasp on what makes international relations tick over and thus on what constitutes a relevant fact.

Therefore it is no surprise that the information in this book is laid out with a clarity that is rarely achieved, cushioned on a bed of fascinating background information. I love reading something that doesn't just talk about the pros and cons of biofuel, but also tells me what kinds of plants biofuel is actually generated from. It bespeaks a practicality that runs through the entire book and makes it a jargon-free joy to read.

New Scramble for Africa is literally the single most useful book I have ever read about Africa - you'll get your money's worth out of this one.


June 15th
Metro Eireann Book Review #152


He Gave Me Comfort by Eyum Ocheola-Oki
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

'He will not allow the Temptation to be more than I can stand. When I am tempted, He will show me a way out so that I can endure.' I took this quotation from page 49 of He Gave me Comfort because it seemed like the appropriate springboard to launch this review from. We humans are constantly besieged by problems, being buffeted into disempowering positions at one point or the other, but as many times as we were visited by problems, we, most often than not, overcame.

Read full review

'He will not allow the Temptation to be more than I can stand. When I am tempted, He will show me a way out so that I can endure.' I took this quotation from page 49 of He Gave me Comfort because it seemed like the appropriate springboard to launch this review from. We humans are constantly besieged by problems, being buffeted into disempowering positions at one point or the other, but as many times as we were visited by problems, we, most often than not, overcame.

However, sometimes some of us encounter problems that appear insurmountable. It is at this point that above quotation becomes relevant, because according to the author, Eyum Ocheola-Oki, our all-knowing Father in heaven, who knew us even before we were formed in our mother's womb, is with us and so will not allow what is bigger than us to besiege us. And writing from a personal experience, Ocheola-Oki tells us that it is at this low point in our lives that we should look up to God for comfort; that we should strengthen our faith and heighten our belief with the word of God, because it is only then that our miracle comes. Then all through the book, He Gave Me Comfort, she went on to delineate, step by step, how to access God's comfort as we look for solution and or miracle to our problems. Needless to say here but ones belief in God becomes very vital.

Readers may think at this point, like I did, that it sounded too easy, flippant even, but it is the process of accessing this miracle that will try ones patience; because the waiting period may become too long and, if I may say here, we are a generation of impatient people. However, knowing this, as a member of the said generation, Ocheola-Oki again provided us with suggested activities that will keep one busy while waiting, activities that will ultimately lend its strength towards the amelioration of the problem, some of them are: No more tears -here she advises that we should not wring our hands while crying woe is me, instead we should clean our tears and get on with it; Make time serve you - that we should strive to use this period to do something positive; Serve the Lord - here we must ensure that we are continually in the presence of the Lord so as to not only tap into His goodness but to be there when our blessing is released; Love -we should not allow the problem to blind us rather we should strive to see Christ in everybody, that way we will be able to do things with people and for people selflessly, in love.

Ocheola-Oki also led us through some of the problems that were suffered by others and what they did to overcome. I should note here however that some of the problems did not disappear but the circumstances of the sufferer was completely ameliorated. This part of the book, in my estimation, actually works to keep ones hope constantly alive. Finally, Ocheola-Oki notes that in our walk through problems, a time will come when we will look up and say 'now I can truly say thank you Lord.'

There are numerous self-help and life-point books out there but it's poignant and more reflective and thus more meaningful to the readers when that book is written within the space of suffering. It is incredible that Ocheola-Oki in the midst of tribulations still raised her head up as to see that some other people out there are also suffering and extended her love with He Gave Me Comfort - her solution to 'waiting.'

I believe that there should always be a purpose to what we do in life and it becomes even more meaningful when we bring God into the equation because then He will make those impossibilities in our life possible. Ocheola-Oki referred us to a passage in the bible that says that God's plans for all his children are always for good and that if we obey, believe, and have faith there is no reason why we should not reap God's blessings in the land of the living. I say Amen to that.


June 1st
Metro Eireann Book Review #151


The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Imagine The Rapture from the Bible really happened but you were not one of the chosen ones, instead you were one of the "leftovers". However, instead of it having any other huge catastrophic effect on you other than that you perhaps instantly having lost friends and foes, life pretty much goes on as usual. What would you do? How would you change things in your life? This is the premise from which this book winds its way. Although, by looks, perhaps not my standard fare, this book spoke out to me due to the main the idea right from the get-go, but I was afraid that it could go either way, depending on who's hands might have been instrumental in penning it, and I had never heard of this American author previously.

Read full review

Imagine The Rapture from the Bible really happened but you were not one of the chosen ones, instead you were one of the "leftovers". However, instead of it having any other huge catastrophic effect on you other than that you perhaps instantly having lost friends and foes, life pretty much goes on as usual. What would you do? How would you change things in your life? This is the premise from which this book winds its way. Although, by looks, perhaps not my standard fare, this book spoke out to me due to the main the idea right from the get-go, but I was afraid that it could go either way, depending on who's hands might have been instrumental in penning it, and I had never heard of this American author previously.

Mapleton is an average town in an average America after the rapture. The mayor Kevin Garvey and his still intact family, his wife Laurie, his daughter Jill and his son Tom form the nucleus of the storyline around which swirl a host of characters that all have been affected by the disappearance of important people in their lives. Although Kevin's family, at first, seem to have been graced with less of a loss than others things soon become increasingly more complicated. First his son disappears to follow a man called Holy Wayne, a charismatic "cult" leader who has a penchant for young girls, then his wife joins a group who calls themselves the Guilty Remnants, a fairly non-descript group with religious tendencies where smoking is seen as sign of faith and following people around silently a way of reminding them of the fact that they were not among the chosen ones, not this time at least, but things might be different the next time if you just repent. Finally, his daughter, who more or less remains in the family home, suffers a breakdown of sorts and her wild new best friend moves in to keep the chaos bubbling.

This is a fairly light hearted way of looking at the strangeness and heaviness of death and loss, yet never so light hearted as to be ridiculous. The characters are all very much believable, and the story is quite poignant. An interesting read that will allow the reader to at least momentarily spare a thought for the way we live our lives and the way that we all have to travel eventually.

Suggestion for a spectacular read that deals with similar issues in a very different way: Greg Bear's "Blood Music"


May 15th
Metro Eireann Book Review #150


The Shadow World by Andrew Feinstein
Review by Roslyn Fuller

The Shadow World is a fairly hefty volume and one I much looked forward to. The international arms trade is a fascinating subject and this book spans it all, from Serbia to Rwanda, Saudi Arabia to Somalia. It covers the careers and personalities of the major arms traders of the last century and the role that governments play in utilizing them to offload the merchandise of their homegrown arms manufacturers to dubious destinations.

Read full review

The Shadow World is a fairly hefty volume and one I much looked forward to. The international arms trade is a fascinating subject and this book spans it all, from Serbia to Rwanda, Saudi Arabia to Somalia. It covers the careers and personalities of the major arms traders of the last century and the role that governments play in utilizing them to offload the merchandise of their homegrown arms manufacturers to dubious destinations.

While many books of this type focus on moralizing and human drama only to come short on facts, The Shadow World veered a bit too far in the opposite direction. It is packed with facts, many of them minute, but it comes short on context and doesn't seem to have an overarching theme, unless it is that the international arms trade is kind of ruthless, which frankly, I could have guessed. A lot of research is spilled onto the pages, but why we want to read it remains unclear.

As such it is far more useful as a reference book for those researching this issue than an interesting read for the generally politically aware; a sort of Bible of the arms trade, from which one may want to read a few select passages now and then, but probably not churn through from cover to cover.

Whenever political context does come through, is a bit on the facile side, a kneejerk regurgitation of whatever the institutionalised left's current take on a given situation is. Yet political context is the A and the O of why arms are traded in the first place and I think the book could have benefitted from showing that angle more.

I'm a bit torn on this one: if you weren't aware that the main source of so many arms around the world (the alleged scourge and cause of so much suffering) were industrialized nations, complete with their governments' blessings and often subsidies attached, well then you might want to read this book and have your eyes opened (although renting Lord of War will probably achieve the same purpose, be more entertaining and set you back less cash); equally, if you happen to be writing your thesis on something that has to do with arms trade, then this is your lucky day, because this book has a whole lot of facts in it. If you already have certain ideas about world politics and wanted insight plus facts, you're going to be disappointed.


May 1st
Metro Eireann Book Review #149


The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Translated from the Portuguese by Benjamin Moser in 2011, The Hour of The Star was the last work of the late Brazilian author Clarice Lispector and was published shortly before her death in 1977. Written close to the time of her death it was a narrative that was set on the outside but rooted actually in the inside; haunting, fleeting, ephemeral in context yet deep. It was a narrative on 'poverty that is not poor, with statements that not only sum up but analyses life and death and the mystery of time and God.'

Read full review

Translated from the Portuguese by Benjamin Moser in 2011, The Hour of The Star was the last work of the late Brazilian author Clarice Lispector and was published shortly before her death in 1977. Written close to the time of her death it was a narrative that was set on the outside but rooted actually in the inside; haunting, fleeting, ephemeral in context yet deep. It was a narrative on 'poverty that is not poor, with statements that not only sum up but analyses life and death and the mystery of time and God.'

The Hour of the Star has the ability to make you see and create through a void. To make you pause and reconsider and to give a little luxury which all of us needs especially those living on the margin; the poor of the society, those that you never seem to notice, that appear unimportant, the unseen. And yet they are there. In the dedication Lispector remembered the time when she was poor, a time when everything was more sober and dignified. She ended the dedication by saying that the book is unfinished because it's still waiting for an answer which she hopes someone in the world can give her. In reading the book I firm somehow that we look to the old to be able live the new. The story started out with the narrative of how hard storytelling is with the accompanying pleasure that comes from it once in a while, then gradually, eventually the narratives comes round to the story of a woman named Macabea, an innocent victim of life, who is from the state of Alagoas in the northeast Brazil but who moves from the country to the slums of Rio de Janeiro and works as a typist. Macabea is so poor that according to Lispector, only ate hotdogs. The narrator of the story, a man, tells us that Macabea is 'underfed, sickly, and unloved.' At some point in the narrative she is wondering if she will be missed when she dies and this is deeply disturbing as it attests to the level of aloneness one can feel in a world full of people. Very scary. But in spite of this, the narrator tells us that Macabea is inwardly free. I wonder here if Lispector believes that poverty is synonymous to loneliness, but even as it was lived experience, that within that space, if you seek, whatever, that you will find? This is a poignant book whose true content Lispector tells us is about 'crushed innocence and an anonymous misery.' And I want to believe that in the world we live in today there are too many anonymous miseries that pass unnoticed in our rush to life. Lispectors' narrative style is disordered such that it seemed to not obey any accepted way of writing, but I like it because it gave it a distinct flavour. The language of the text is full and rich, transporting the reader to hitherto unknown crevices of conscience. It'd nudge you to explore, to look for the unseen through the seen, a self-reflexive book that will get you thinking.


April 1st
Metro Eireann Book Review #148
Ordinary Dogs by Eileen Battersby
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

This book won't be to everyone's taste, not because it isn't intersting, but very much due to differing views of animals and their place in our lives, especially so here in Ireland where animals often, but not always, are thought to have little to no rights to a happy life, or are simply seen as toys which can be thrown out or killed at the whim of the "owner". However, being from Sweden, and having been brought up with very similar attitudes to animals to Battersby I very much enjoyed hearing about her life with her two dogs. In fact I found myself on an emotional journey, and regularly shared the stories with my partner. There were a lot of similarities to our own life with our two crazy and wonderful rescue mongrels in these pages.

Read full review

This book won't be to everyone's taste, not because it isn't intersting, but very much due to differing views of animals and their place in our lives, especially so here in Ireland where animals often, but not always, are thought to have little to no rights to a happy life, or are simply seen as toys which can be thrown out or killed at the whim of the "owner". However, being from Sweden, and having been brought up with very similar attitudes to animals to Battersby I very much enjoyed hearing about her life with her two dogs. In fact I found myself on an emotional journey, and regularly shared the stories with my partner. There were a lot of similarities to our own life with our two crazy and wonderful rescue mongrels in these pages.

To start with I had not really been keen on reading and reviewing this book, even though I often agree with Battersby's book reviews in the Irish Times, as the subject seemed a bit out of my usual reading fare. Thus, I began the book with trepidation. I was praying that it would not solely be a tract on the author's brilliance and the animals simply being a cute cover to adorn such a soliloquy, but also I hoped it would not be all about the dogs. I was soon relieved. The book is very nicely written, and follows Battersby's career and private life on its ups and downs with the dogs as constant companions and enhancers of Battersby's existence. It was lovely to see another person that found such deep reverence for and trust in the part that animals play in our lives, and it was a joy to get to share that universe with Batterby for the short time that it took to read this book.

If even the idea of reading a book on this subject makes you cringe, or even just makes you laugh, I would suggest as an alternative reading John Gray's Strawdogs, which uncovers some of the deep seated reasons for people's negative attitudes towards animals, and how mislead, irreverent, and the opposite to life-affirming those sorts of ideas can be. Perhaps after that you might be ready for this, or in the least have had a reason to rethink the issue.


March 15th 2012
Metro Eireann Book Review #147
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
Review by Roslyn Fuller

It took a strange mind to think up this plot, and I mean that in a complimentary way. Brash and satirical, Lightning Rods is the tale of Joe, a failed encyclopedia and vacuum salesman, whose sexual fantasies finally lead him to a golden business opportunity. Men, Joe reasons, are unable to control their sexual appetites and this is all the more true of testosterone-fuelled high-earners who are reduced to either harassing their female colleagues or visiting prostitutes with all the attendant risks of exposure. Joe's solution: the lightning rod, a female employee who doubles up as quick, anonymous bathroom shag during working hours, thus allowing tensions to be discreetly relieved.

Read full review

It took a strange mind to think up this plot, and I mean that in a complimentary way. Brash and satirical, Lightning Rods is the tale of Joe, a failed encyclopedia and vacuum salesman, whose sexual fantasies finally lead him to a golden business opportunity. Men, Joe reasons, are unable to control their sexual appetites and this is all the more true of testosterone-fuelled high-earners who are reduced to either harassing their female colleagues or visiting prostitutes with all the attendant risks of exposure. Joe's solution: the lightning rod, a female employee who doubles up as quick, anonymous bathroom shag during working hours, thus allowing tensions to be discreetly relieved.

Sordid as this sounds, this book is actually hilarious. Just imagine the lightning rod scheme pitted against such items as Equal Opportunities legislation and you get the idea of where the humour lies. Joe's veneer of professionality and societal taboos collide every which way.

There are two things I loved about this book - which, by the way, is a must-read - the pop-culty, all-American, self-mocking writing style, and the fact that it pushed the basic rules of our society to their logical extremes. If the highest goal in life is to make money, to which self-debasement is no bar, why stop at reality shows, why wouldn't you become a lightning rod? In a world where people think nothing of one-night stands at the office Christmas party, how could anonymous workplace sex be anything to write home about? If men really are constantly on the prowl and "just can't help themselves", why not just cut to the point and institutionalize the entire experience? Really it's just capitalism and instant, mind-numbing gratification pushed to their logial conclusions, which, if anything, gives it a certain appealing honesty. Not to mention the all-important question which builds with Joe's increasing success: if a concept like lightning rods became mainstream to the point where no stigma was attached to it, would it really be psychologically harmful to anyone? Is it the act or merely the stigma associated with it that damages?

Unlike most literature, the characters in this book are the normal, the banal, and "people as they are". The types who studied sales and marketing and which most writers thus can never identify with. De Witt portrayed them all with mind-blowing accuracy. Lightning Rods reminded me a little of the film Idiocracy, funny and intelligent, but with an anxiety-inducing feeling of being all too close to reality. I haven't read something this original in years.


March 1st 2012
Metro Eireann Book Review #146
Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Linno and Anju are two sisters born with different talents; one artistic whiles the other academic. When their mother dies mysteriously, it is their father and maternal grandmother that bring them up in the everyday drudgery of poverty. Anju, true to form, gets a scholarship to an exclusive New York school but to provide that edge that will clinch the scholarship; she dips into her sisters' talent and so leads the reader through that sometimes masked, and sometimes open, love/hate relationship inherent in sibling rivalry, the pain of betrayal, and the ultimate sacrifice embodied in the act of forgiveness. In exploring this storyline the author brings to fore the essence of the adage of blood being thicker than water.

Read full review

Linno and Anju are two sisters born with different talents; one artistic whiles the other academic. When their mother dies mysteriously, it is their father and maternal grandmother that bring them up in the everyday drudgery of poverty. Anju, true to form, gets a scholarship to an exclusive New York school but to provide that edge that will clinch the scholarship; she dips into her sisters' talent and so leads the reader through that sometimes masked, and sometimes open, love/hate relationship inherent in sibling rivalry, the pain of betrayal, and the ultimate sacrifice embodied in the act of forgiveness. In exploring this storyline the author brings to fore the essence of the adage of blood being thicker than water.

Tania James is a good storyteller who brought even the uninteresting details to glow. The narrative was rich both in the texture of prose and in the strength it gave characters.

The storyline, in no way ephemeral, was handled in such a way that words, employed in certain ways acquired deeper meanings. Because then the characters suddenly assumed real life center stages that brought smile to your face. You cry when they did because you were them, your neighbors, and your friends. The story telling was masterful and entertaining as it navigated thorny landscapes like it was nothing.

Books about the travails of immigrants in their new countries abound, some good some not so good. I want to believe that Tania James fell within the bounds of the authors that were approximately in good stead. In reading this book, it struck me that, more often than not, it would seem that many immigrants plan; to make the most out of opportunities offered in their adopted countries, never seemed to acknowledge that obstacles would ever be encountered. Atlas of Unknowns was a good read.


February 15th 2012
Metro Eireann Book Review #145
Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

This was one of my favourite books of last year but unfortunately I did not get to review it in time for Christmas. No matter what this makes a fabulous present, at any time, for anyone in your life who loves fantastic adventures even/or especially of the armchair variety. I, for one, have bought it for almost any dreamer in my life from the age of ten to eighty.

Read full review

This was one of my favourite books of last year but unfortunately I did not get to review it in time for Christmas. No matter what this makes a fabulous present, at any time, for anyone in your life who loves fantastic adventures even/or especially of the armchair variety. I, for one, have bought it for almost any dreamer in my life from the age of ten to eighty.

In the preface Schalansky tells of her upbringing on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall and the ways in which she travelled to exotic destinations through running her fingers over maps and atlases, imagining lives far from her own. Islands in particular caught her fancy, for their isolation, and perhaps for their links to paradises and new beginnings, as well as for their way of enclosing and forcing issues by their mere limits of space. The list of authors that have used the same setting for famous books is almost endless: Defoe (Robinson Crusoe), Stevenson (Treasure Island), H.G. Wells (The Island of Dr. Moreau), Golding (Lord of the Flies), Coetzee (Foe), Fowls (The Magus), More (Utopia), Piñol (Cold Skin), Shakespeare (The Tempest) etcetera. There is something about islands that seems to bring out the mysterious and at times the macabre.

When Schalansky researched for this book, she not only had the pleasure of going over old maps but also the written records that were linked to each drop of land. What she found at points perfectly fitted the abstract, aesthetically pleasing, maps themselves. She tells of desperate stubborn lonely dreamers that were willing to risk their own lives in pursuit of science, perfection, imaginings and love. Lonely Island, Disappointment Island, Possession Island and Robinson Crusoe Island all seem to tell big stories simply by their names, but we find the same even in the fantastic names given to places on the islands themselves. Explorers experiencing these far flung paradises named and shamed according to first impressions and longings for home. Schalansky tells the true stories in an attractive poetic yet precise language. We hear of the real Robinson Crusoe and other forgotten castaways, natural phenomena, scientific explorations, and lost explorers. Each haunting story perfectly complemented by a beautiful map. This is a wonderful book that you will get plenty of use for throughout your life. It is a generous gift that keeps giving each time you venture into its wide and vivid screen. It encourages life, dreaming and creativity, which, I believe, is the best a book ever can accomplish.


February 1st 2012
Metro Eireann Book Review #144
Home Boy by H.M. Naqvi
Review by Roslyn Fuller

At times it is difficult to remember that before 9/11 being a Muslim in the USA was, while perhaps not always seen as perfectly normal, not considered to be threatening, either. In that sense this book, which depicts the lives of three young Pakistani men living in New York at the time of 9/11, is a powerful reminder of just how far intercultural relations have deteriorated over the last decade.

Read full review

At times it is difficult to remember that before 9/11 being a Muslim in the USA was, while perhaps not always seen as perfectly normal, not considered to be threatening, either. In that sense this book, which depicts the lives of three young Pakistani men living in New York at the time of 9/11, is a powerful reminder of just how far intercultural relations have deteriorated over the last decade.

Told from the first-person point of view of Chuck, a Karachi native who has come to New York to study and subsequently work in the financial industry, it's obvious from the get-go that the author has a serious poetical streak, with the story being not so much told as performed into your head. Even the Rozian vocabulary, so rarely expanded, was extended through such interesting terms as "milquetoast" (an unassertive and spineless person, in case you are wondering).

Chuck and best pals AC (a drug-dispensing sometime English teacher attempting to write a PhD) and Jimbo (a born-in-the-USA Pakistani DJ better known as DJ Jumbolaya) generally party their way through life, and this is my one criticism of the book - the self-obssessed and consciously calibrated "coolness" of the main characters and their apparent view that near-complete amorality is equivalent to fitting-in. It makes one sympathize with Jimbo's widowed father, the more seriously-minded and heart attack riddled Old Man Khan, and even hedge a vague feeling that the few days Chuck eventually spends in the slammer being mistreated by American cops who suspect him of being a terrorist, might just straighten him out a little. On the other hand, presumably people like Chuck and his friends really do exist and their selfish and irresponsible existence collides rather nicely with the "big issues" they end up facing. On the whole, it's rather more innovative than the tired trope of authorities picking on the innocently prayer bead-wielding.

Homeboy is pretty amusing in parts and will definitely keep you turning pages. It is incredibly well-written, with the author showing an absolutely brilliant ability to capture the atmosphere of a place, be that Old Man Khan's living room in Jersey or the dancefloor of the newest, coolest place to be seen. In fact, it's almost a pity that Homeboy got pigeonholed into winning a prize for South Asian literature, because it's good by any standard and in many ways, a very American novel.


January 15th 2012
Metro Eireann Book Review #143
Good Offices by Evelio Rosero
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

The Morality series of our weekly Sunday letters from my parish noted somewhere that "...the modern age has one great virtue; it provides little or no cover for hypocrites... exposure then is the only way." I had read this and filed it away in my mind at the time, today a good example of that exposure it mentioned was at the centre of Good Offices, Evelio Rosero's lurid and satirical attempt at exposing the happenings in one of the world's greatest social institution: the Catholic Church.

Read full review

The Morality series of our weekly Sunday letters from my parish noted somewhere that "...the modern age has one great virtue; it provides little or no cover for hypocrites... exposure then is the only way." I had read this and filed it away in my mind at the time, today a good example of that exposure it mentioned was at the centre of Good Offices, Evelio Rosero's lurid and satirical attempt at exposing the happenings in one of the world's greatest social institution: the Catholic Church.

Our protagonist in this slim volume is a young hunchback living in the presbytery of the parish church named Tancredo, whose duties among other include overseeing daily charity lunches for the town's poor and the needy, specifically the old and infirm, the destitute, the prostitutes, the blind, etc, each group attended to on a given day. It is a Thursday, the day for the old and infirm, but it so happens that the parish priest along with his sacristan second-in-command have to go and see a benefactor of the parish whose gifts to the church is at the risk of being withdrawn. So on this day, the parishes' position of authority is vulnerable and not only that the evening mass is left for a priest from another parish to perform. This priest that came is a stranger to all of them, a father Matamoros. He arrives amidst heavy rain and sings the mass instead of speaking it which has not happened for over forty years. The parishioners adore this as well as the priest that made it happen. To thank him, Tancredo with the three resident widows, known as Lilias, that take care of the household and any other work in-between, treats the priest with a lavish feast. Now filled with rich food, joyous mood, and the effect of the mass still floating in their blood stream, they let go of their inhibitions confessing their sins to the priest and in addition what happens behind closed doors in the parish. Needless to say, it is at this point that all sorts of unsavoury worms crawl out of the woodwork.

According to Evelio Rosero Literature can and should change reality and with Good Offices, he set about doing just that in a hilarious narrative that made the content palatable. However, I still didn't get certain issue raised; the classic charismatic personality arriving and setting right was all well and good but, some aspects of the stories were not brought to fruition for instance, the weekly lunches which Tancredo described as 'hell on earth,' never went anywhere. Again the purpose of the weird, violent ritual enacted by the Lilies in the garden towards the end was not explained and confounding.

So when I finished reading the book I had this disquieting feeling of something I could not determine. Nonetheless, I reiterate here, in line with a saying of my people, that a native doctor called in to cure a running stomach should not arrive

only to be stricken by the same ailment; that calls his qualification to question and his credibility in tatters thereafter. I believe that what Evelio Rosero was saying amounts to if one is in a position of influence or power but most especially where charged with upholding morality, it's given that that persons' life must be exemplary. If the opposite happened to be the case there's no telling what could accrue; proliferation of crippled lives being a case in hand from the counter actions of some of these priests which at best could be described as abomination at its worst, was one example.

All in all, I think this book should be read so that maybe it'd help in raising our consciousness to that level where we could be able to discern and choose to do what is right always.


December 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #142
Woolgathering by Patti Smith
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

In short bursts this sort-of-memoir tells of some of background of how the author was drawn into the arts. It speaks of the magic world, unburdened by rationality and heavy demands, which we inhabit as children. In "The Two Worlds" Smith writes: "I bounded from temple to junkyard in pursuit of the world." This makes evident the breath of the search that she has committed her life to, and in this book we learn that it started when she was just young.

Read full review

In short bursts this sort-of-memoir tells of some of background of how the author was drawn into the arts. It speaks of the magic world, unburdened by rationality and heavy demands, which we inhabit as children. In "The Two Worlds" Smith writes: "I bounded from temple to junkyard in pursuit of the world." This makes evident the breath of the search that she has committed her life to, and in this book we learn that it started when she was just young.

Earlier last year we were treated to a straight forward autobiography of Smith's friendship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe but if you are in search of more of the same when picking this book up you will not get what you are looking for. Rather, this is a cross between memoir and poetry. The name of the book, we learn, refers to Smith's farming and shepherding heritage, as well as being a nod to the small people that were thought to inhabit the world through which she moved as a child. The Woolgatherers lived in the dusky lands that Smith watched outside her bedroom window. On occasion she joined them and felt the kinship very deeply. In sleepy fields she "wandered among them, through thistle and thorn, with no task more exceptional than to rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the arms of the wind." She returned fully loaded with pictures, stories and experiences that she then bestowed upon her newly roused eagerly awaiting siblings.

This slim volume is very much about loosening oneself from the family fabric, about Smith happening upon/ becoming/creating her own being. She seems to have done this very much with the blessing of her family and still aware of the inevitable unbreakable strings of attachment to one's past. It makes us glimpse some sense of our brief lives and losses, all that we gather around and that which gives us love and meaning. Smith gives us the gift of encouraging creativity, as well as fuelling hope in life and possibilities. You can easily reread the book for further encouragement without having exhausted its importance. It is a lovely little book, sprinkled with charming photographs, that does not yield it all immediately but saves a little for each read.


December 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #141
Alms on the Highway by the Oscar Wilde School of English
Review by Roslyn Fuller

This collection of short stories and poems starts out strong with Chris Allen's Feathered Cargo (my favourite of the bunch), wavering ethereally down dark but cosy streets, and more or less keeps it up. This is by and large writers' writing, focused on the style, the atmosphere, the experimental turn of phrase, while at the same time pulling back from full-on arty abstraction. The emphasis is far more on the short story, with only a few poems interspersed.

The subject matter of Alms on the Highway is generally dark as in Suicide Drinking (self-explanatory, really), Blemish (told from the view of the uneducated teenage son of an impoverished ex-Marine redneck), and History Holds a Grudge (ethnic Ukrainian boy struggles with homosexuality and self-harm).

Read full review

This collection of short stories and poems starts out strong with Chris Allen's Feathered Cargo (my favourite of the bunch), wavering ethereally down dark but cosy streets, and more or less keeps it up. This is by and large writers' writing, focused on the style, the atmosphere, the experimental turn of phrase, while at the same time pulling back from full-on arty abstraction. The emphasis is far more on the short story, with only a few poems interspersed.

The subject matter of Alms on the Highway is generally dark as in Suicide Drinking (self-explanatory, really), Blemish (told from the view of the uneducated teenage son of an impoverished ex-Marine redneck), and History Holds a Grudge (ethnic Ukrainian boy struggles with homosexuality and self-harm). Sorrow and death also figure largely, as in Moments and Ash (details a road accident gorily killing cattle) and Eileen Casey's Fuschia (young couple attempts to come to terms with loss).

I personally enjoyed the somewhat offbeat Anyone, Anytime in which the off-balance protagonist attempts to seduce a travelling window salesman who calls at her door. Macabre, yes, but definitely kind of amusing. Fintan O'Higgins A Bunch of Flowers, which, although certainly sad (centering around the break-up of a relationship) features such a spot-on portrayal of local pub denizens, as to be a most gratifying read. Also deserving of special mention was Marianne O'Rourke's Big Pink. This was a very contemplative contribution and while the images it conjured up occasionally turned my stomach, I found the themes of identity, boundaries to self and self-sufficiency very intriguing. Barbara Tarrant's Doghouse, revolving around an unexpected visit from a sleazy yet charismatic ex-brother-in-law, was also psychologically penetrating.

While this sounds eclectic, the style of writing is actually fairly cohesive and the stories tend to blend into one another. Relationships rather than action are on centre-stage here, and there is a sense of many characters being more observer than participant. Events have occurred prior to the beginning of the narrative and the characters now react or reflect upon them. It's therefore no surprise that several of the contributions deal exclusively with relating past events from the first person.

As one would expect from a School of English, the writing is polished and well-formed, while the contemplative subject matter delivers more than a few thoughts to ruminate over.


November 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #140
The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Freedom.

The meaning and or message of this word seemed to have brought many a societies to their knees in recent times. Ideally people want to be able to make their own decisions, to live as they choose. In reality it's usually not so, in some societies more than others. So when you find yourself trapped in a society where most, if not all, of how to live were prescribed, taken out of your hands literally and any contrariness severely punished, even death, then it becomes a different ballgame altogether.

Read full review

Freedom.

The meaning and or message of this word seemed to have brought many a societies to their knees in recent times. Ideally people want to be able to make their own decisions, to live as they choose. In reality it's usually not so, in some societies more than others. So when you find yourself trapped in a society where most, if not all, of how to live were prescribed, taken out of your hands literally and any contrariness severely punished, even death, then it becomes a different ballgame altogether.

Sulaimann Addonia led us into Saudi Arabian society through the eyes of eighteen year old Naser, a young Eritrean immigrant. He lives a bleak life making ends meet with a dreary carwash job. It is summer and his friends have fled Jeddah for cooler places so he spends his pastime writing to his mother in Eritrea as he longs to meet a woman. Now this I see as an uphill expectation as men and women are separated with walls and veils. Then, one day, a black-clad woman drops a piece of paper at his feet, instructing him to follow her pink shoes. Naser's life suddenly blooms into color, but the same color that nearly ended his life.

It'd be a good thing to read about other places and cultures without being judgmental and most often than not maybe that could be achieved but then you read something that got your goat with the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel farfetched- it's absolute frustration. The contents of The Consequences of Love are a case in hand. In my place it's said that firewood found in a place usually cooked their food and this adage may have offered some sort of consolation in the belief that somehow any society in question would be alright but in this case this adage would not even cut it.

With Naser's eyes we saw this arid social landscape where the evil nature of domination was played to its ultimate. The women of this country appeared to be likened to the Devil's incarnate whose sole purpose on earth was to torment men and lead them astray, and thus the women were 'locked away' and when seen at all was as a shadow of moving darkness. But even as so covered any man found looking in their direction would be dealt with by the religious police, who keep watch through the 'shaded windows of their government jeeps.' So it would seem that the men were not as free either. All this strictness was based on the Wahhibism Law practiced in the State.

The question then becomes what is really going on?

I don't know that I am in a position to answer the question but I must observe here that Prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islamic faith, had a wife who was a prosperous trader and you did not achieve such heights by skulking in the dark. It became even more of a bitter pill to swallow when you note the high level of hypocrisy and corruption at play that I couldn't help but surmise that morality hegemony in the hands of anybody could never portend good.

The language of the text was simple, the issues pursued compelling but I must say that the imagery evoked was not as powerful as one would expect from a young narrator. However, I suggest that the book should be read so that at least we take note.


November 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #139
The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Maria Tatar
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

I've never really been a fan of fairy tales but I've always had an interest in mythology as well as the strange and this was the reason for me picking this book to review. I'd heard repeated references to the German Grimm brothers not at all being as mild and meek as the Disney fairy tales that seem to have spun off them. Supposedly there was a real sense of the macabre there, and for me the utter clash of the macabre and (the immediate links in my brain to) Disney was definitely something that elicited interest. It sounded so wrong, it might just really work. Thus I ventured in.

Read full review

I've never really been a fan of fairy tales but I've always had an interest in mythology as well as the strange and this was the reason for me picking this book to review. I'd heard repeated references to the German Grimm brothers not at all being as mild and meek as the Disney fairy tales that seem to have spun off them. Supposedly there was a real sense of the macabre there, and for me the utter clash of the macabre and (the immediate links in my brain to) Disney was definitely something that elicited interest. It sounded so wrong, it might just really work. Thus I ventured in.

The first surprise was: the brothers (born in 1785 and 1786) were not writers as such, indeed they did not even pen the stories that most of us can at least tell the base storyline of, such as, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Briar Rose and Snow White, all of which I more or less would have put money on having been their stories, instead they were academics and the collectors of such stories. Next, the reasoning behind the collection of the stories seemed to have been at least partly for stirring nationalistic emotions, even to the point of anti-Semitism, which again surprised me a bit given that it is given so little reference. And then the stories themselves, many of which did mingle the saccharine and the deadly through marrying childish innocence, princes and princesses with evil, murder, cannibalism, and incest. Nevertheless, beyond the initial surprises I ended up being more annoyed than beguiled. I do see the magic that the stories can evoke but the overwhelming taste they left in my reader's sense was that of disappointment. I was disappointed that mainly boys were the active and the instigators, and that even when girls were the adventurers it mainly seemed for the purpose of the males. It was nice that it always ended with the good person winning, but the fact that winning often meant heterosexual marital bliss (with the royal equivalent of a white picket fence) really did irk me. Surely, if you were to fantasise the most outrageous, you would not have to add the most mundane and obvious of endings to it for it to have any clout. No, even as a kid I would most likely have preferred Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, where even the weird is a bit more real, to a bunch of tales such as the Grimm brothers collected. Yet, that said, this book served as an interesting reminder of all the hard to shift stereotypes that still prevail in much of the literature offered to our children.


October 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #138
The Avenue by James Lawless
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Franky, a thirty or forty-something shy librarian, has spent his entire life on The Avenue, somewhere presumably in the less affluent part of Dublin. Having devoted his younger years to caring for his depressed father, Franky married young to the older Myrtle to avoid the scandal of a child born out of wedlock, and has shuffled along ever since, engaged in retiring activities like gardening and reading. When a set of go-go dancers comes to the local pub and Franky discovers a wad of heroin stuffed inside a soccer ball things begin to change: he must defeat the evil local cider-drinkers terrorizing the neighbourhood, liberate the go-go dancers from their pimps, find out whatever happened to his and Myrtle's miscarried child, help his assistant librarian find true love and free himself from Myrtle and her evil cohort Ida.

Read full review

Franky, a thirty or forty-something shy librarian, has spent his entire life on The Avenue, somewhere presumably in the less affluent part of Dublin. Having devoted his younger years to caring for his depressed father, Franky married young to the older Myrtle to avoid the scandal of a child born out of wedlock, and has shuffled along ever since, engaged in retiring activities like gardening and reading. When a set of go-go dancers comes to the local pub and Franky discovers a wad of heroin stuffed inside a soccer ball things begin to change: he must defeat the evil local cider-drinkers terrorizing the neighbourhood, liberate the go-go dancers from their pimps, find out whatever happened to his and Myrtle's miscarried child, help his assistant librarian find true love and free himself from Myrtle and her evil cohort Ida.

This is an extremely localized book in which the miserable lives of The Avenue's inhabitants are drearily exposed. I found the relationships between men and women most striking, with women near universally being portrayed as aggressive (man-hating lesbians Ida and Myrtle), deceitful (go-go dancer Judy and her drug-dealing mother), or cynical nymphomaniacs (terminally-ill Noreen). Men, on the other hand, tend to come across as the helpless victims of feminine wiles - Franky's father and one of his neighbours completely unable to cope with the deaths of their wives; the assistant librarian Michael, naively caught in Judy's toils; and Franky himself trapped in endless servitude to Myrtle. It is as if the men, unable to deal with life, have handed control to the women who either fail to take them into any further consideration, or ultimately abandon them through death. I have observed this underlying hostility between the genders in Ireland for many years, and it was interesting to see it come through in a novel.

Of course, Franky ultimately finds his backbone, turning a tale that was otherwise grim triumphal. The Avenue is a very well-written and well-produced book, steering clear of both misery memoir and nostalgic glorification, and the narrator Franky has an utterly credible voice. It was pretty page-turning and struck me as a much better portrayal of Irish life in transition from traditional to modern than many a more self-consciously reminiscent tale. If you want to see the world your Irish contemporaries are coming from, you really could do a lot worse than The Avenue. I'd be inclined to take it over many a celebrated bestseller.


October 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #137
The Seamstress and The Wind by Cesar Aira
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

The Los Angeles Times bracketed Cesar Aira with the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and W.G. Sebald as "those great modernists whom fiction was a theater of ideas." Not having read any of the mentioned authors before now I accepted the encomium at face value. Then I read The Mistress and the Wind, and understood.

When you read and the words literally dramatized the story, where the characters became alive before your very eyes, where every minuscule nuances were teased out, where the iridescent imagery enticed you, so much so, that you became immersed fully, then the author had achieved its mark on the targeted, in my estimation. The Seamstress and the wind was such a book.

Read full review

The Los Angeles Times bracketed Cesar Aira with the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and W.G. Sebald as "those great modernists whom fiction was a theater of ideas." Not having read any of the mentioned authors before now I accepted the encomium at face value. Then I read The Mistress and the Wind, and understood.

When you read and the words literally dramatized the story, where the characters became alive before your very eyes, where every minuscule nuances were teased out, where the iridescent imagery enticed you, so much so, that you became immersed fully, then the author had achieved its mark on the targeted, in my estimation. The Seamstress and the wind was such a book.

The book starts off nicely one afternoon in a sedate town of Coronel Pringles located in the south of Buenos Aires (I put these here for reality check because at certain times in the book you'd wonder) where we find the local seamstress busy making a wedding dress that the local art teacher has commissioned her to sew, even though there is no identified husband to be. In the town, as is set by Aira, the gossip is buzzing, the flies are doing what they do and the villagers are going about their business and not so their business, when out of the blue the seamstress is struck by the most weirdest of fear; that her son has been kidnapped and taken to Patagonia accidentally. She immediately hires a taxi, packs herself in along with the wedding dress- so as to finish it while in transit, and goes in hot pursuit of her son.

It was at this point in the story that I got lost because from there onwards it became fantastical- absolutely out of this world- filled up with adventurous and imagination-let-loose scenarios, that certainly were not meant to be grasped and explained away easily but I enjoyed the whole chase, my heart ricocheting alongside the taxi and upped a notch when the transportation becomes the wind.

But I believe that Cesar Aira used this novelette to make the reader look again at the power of the spoken word- the arrangement or placement of these words, what was said and what it conveyed- from voice to meaning and the continuum, 'the traveling words and the words that alight and stays forever,' but in all what did the word achieve, 'what balance on the scale did it achieve on the heart of man?' And from the power of spoken words Aira treated the readers further with the discourse of memory and forgetfulness. Though confusing atimes, this book, small as it is, was a feast of words.

And we should not fail to thank Rosalie Knecht for the wonderful translation that brought this lively book to the English readers.


September 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #136
On Elegance While Sleeping by Viscount Lascano Tegui
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

The first thing that struck me reading this book was the similarities between it and Isidore Ducasse's book Maldoror which was published in 1868; that is 57 years prior to this 1925 book. As I looked into this a little further I found out that like Ducasse, aka Comte de Lautréamont, Tegui had added a fake title to his name, and had hung around with people that most likely would have been both aware and enamoured with Maldoror, such as Appolinaire and Picasso. Also, Ducasse was actually born in Uruguay; even if moving to France quite early, that is, a neighbour of Argentina from whence Tegui came.

Read full review

The first thing that struck me reading this book was the similarities between it and Isidore Ducasse's book Maldoror which was published in 1868; that is 57 years prior to this 1925 book. As I looked into this a little further I found out that like Ducasse, aka Comte de Lautréamont, Tegui had added a fake title to his name, and had hung around with people that most likely would have been both aware and enamoured with Maldoror, such as Appolinaire and Picasso. Also, Ducasse was actually born in Uruguay; even if moving to France quite early, that is, a neighbour of Argentina from whence Tegui came.

Naturally, it would be unfair to solely base this review on similarities with another work but I do think that comparison in this case is quite relevant due to their concerns.

On Elegance While Sleeping is a disjointed diary account of a life led in a real suburban town upriver from Paris, called Bougival. Here, the Seine is "fleeing from Paris. Its dark green waters" dragging "in the grime from that happy city " From the first page the book intimates that the narrator will possibly commit some heinous crime, in an effort to feel something out of this world which then can be turned into life-transforming art, and most pages thereafter encircle this idea as divergent longings, most often sexual such, are expressed. In a way I think that Tegui very well might have liked, and wanted, to be a bit controversial by writing on these topics, as the ideas do not seem to be really "fleshed out", that is, they do not seem entirely sincere. Maldoror which, as mentioned above, was published well before this book would definitely be considered much scarier and true in its grappling with similar ideas. Yet, at the same time this is a good piece of work and for Tegui to be writing on such topics might have been quite a risky thing in 1920s Argentina; which after all is situated on a continent famous for its macho men, which would suggest that Tegui was quite ahead of his time. We'll never know the reality of this. What we do know is that the book is a well written and entertaining account of an outsider who is stumbling towards the fall of man. Will he manage to straighten up, or find what he is looking for? You will find this out if you read this little (if slightly flawed) gem.


September 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #135
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
Review by Roslyn Fuller

In this humourous non-fiction book, Guardian journalist Jon Ronson explores the worlds of insanity, psychiatry and the media. Really I just bought this book, because a) I liked Ronson's two previous books and b) I thought it would give me a convenient litte test to know just which of the jerks I have to deal with are actually clinical pyschopaths, meaning that in any ongoing disputes they are wrong and I am right. According to Ronson, absolutely everyone eventually latches on to this thought, and not entirely in vain, given that an estimated 1% of the population are pyschopaths, and up to 4% of those in powerful positions are. And therein lie the basic questions of the book: Are we ruled by pyschopaths? And if we are, do we fail to realize it because unable to accept the basic insanity of many political and economic rulers, we instead seek to rationalize essentially irrational behaviour? Moreover, does our society even foster and promote psychopaths?
Read full review

In this humourous non-fiction book, Guardian journalist Jon Ronson explores the worlds of insanity, psychiatry and the media. Really I just bought this book, because a) I liked Ronson's two previous books and b) I thought it would give me a convenient litte test to know just which of the jerks I have to deal with are actually clinical pyschopaths, meaning that in any ongoing disputes they are wrong and I am right. According to Ronson, absolutely everyone eventually latches on to this thought, and not entirely in vain, given that an estimated 1% of the population are pyschopaths, and up to 4% of those in powerful positions are. And therein lie the basic questions of the book: Are we ruled by pyschopaths? And if we are, do we fail to realize it because unable to accept the basic insanity of many political and economic rulers, we instead seek to rationalize essentially irrational behaviour? Moreover, does our society even foster and promote psychopaths?

Nearly a decade of international law specialization has left me in a position where I'd give an unqualified yes to all of the above, and as the chapters built through Ronson's interviews with former dictators, institutionalized psychopaths and star psychiatrists, I found myself bouncing around on my seat in joyous anticipation of someone finally clothing this gut feeling in hard facts. And it's right then, just as Ronson winds up interviewing a particularly ruthless American CEO that the book suddenly takes a different tack. Aren't we all a bit mad? Ronson queries, and hasn't the psychiatric profession sometimes been a bit overzealous in the past with devastating results? Isn't all this purely mental evidence a wee bit twilight zone?

And something that was a pointed question suddenly became a diffuse meandering. An entertaining meandering, full of fascinating thoughts and facts, but one that somehow completely lost its edge. This sudden deviation into muddling into larger, more philosophical questions after what looked like six chapters of going straight for the jugular is the only complaint I have about this book. It's hilarious (worth reading just for the description of the many acid trips that Canadian psychiatrists dutifully sent whole wards of psychopaths along), it's thought-provoking, and you have to admire any author who spent months if not years provocatively interviewing the crazy and proven dangerous.


August 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #134
The Leviathan by Joseph Roth
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

In The Leviathan the author Joseph Roth tells the story of Nissen Piczenik, a renowned coral merchant, who lives in a rural village of Progrody. Nissen Piczeniks' excellent craftsmanship, the quality of his corals and his honesty all combine to endear him to all and sundry, far and near, who do not mind the extra journey or money they will spend to buy from him. So even though he lives in a small farming village and there are other coral merchants around, Nissen Piczeniks' reputation precedes him and thus brings in the customers in their droves, this ultimately makes Nissen Piczenik a very wealthy man.
Read full review

In The Leviathan the author Joseph Roth tells the story of Nissen Piczenik, a renowned coral merchant, who lives in a rural village of Progrody. Nissen Piczeniks' excellent craftsmanship, the quality of his corals and his honesty all combine to endear him to all and sundry, far and near, who do not mind the extra journey or money they will spend to buy from him. So even though he lives in a small farming village and there are other coral merchants around, Nissen Piczeniks' reputation precedes him and thus brings in the customers in their droves, this ultimately makes Nissen Piczenik a very wealthy man.

But then the reader is presented with a twist in the character of Nissen Piczenik- he is an obsessive person, obsessed by not only his corals but also by the sea, for even though he trades in the product of the sea he has never seen one. As a result of his obsession Nissen Piczenik does not derive any joy from his house, his environment, his many wealth, and the companionship of his wife. All he ever wants is to have the opportunity to visit the source of his beloved corals. So when an off-duty sailor offers him the opportunity to sail with him, he jumps at the offer but on his return, his life is turned upside down and after one unsettling circumstances too many Nissen Piczenik sells off everything, leaves his wife and goes off to the big wide ocean. At this juncture the straight forwardness of the story ends taking the reader to a different realm altogether.

Whether we want to link Leviathan to its dictionary meaning of a monster or to take the allegorical view, I think we'd somehow arrive at the same point which I believe culminates in Obsession, a power that seizes the mind and would not let go until it overpowers. And from this singular strand develops other tangent that would combine to bring about ruination. In other words, when obsession is given full reign it will either make or mar and in this sixty-four page novella presented like folktale I believe that the author Joseph Roth presented us with the full implications of an obsessive mind and its ultimate downfall. In telling the story the author also touched on other tangents including moral boundaries, unnecessary pleasure in material possessions and retribution.

The Leviathan is a gem of a story presented in a non judgmental way with no apparent conclusion which in my understanding implies that what you make of the story, that is, the interpretation you give the story is what you probably need. The language is simple and the story is straight forward like you'd expect from your grandmother as you all sat crossed legged, with eyes trained to pinpoint the mouth that was telling the story. The Leviathan was engrossing as It also elicit the hunger to get to the end quickly, and such the pages keeps turning. It's only when you finally get to the end that you'd realize that this story was not as straight forward as it seemed. Mr. Joseph Roth's The Leviathan is a symbolic realism that is true to every generation and as such deserves to be read.


August 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #133
Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

In 2006 immersion journalist Norah Vincent wrote a book called Self-Made Man: My Year Disguised as a Man which made lots of noise and went on to the New York Times bestseller list. This time around; partly due to the emotional trauma that she suffered from having finished the first book, Vincent immersed herself in the American mental health system in an attempt to reveal its weak spots and contradictory existence. To do this Vincent used her own mental health CV which included a history of depression and previous mental health institution sojourns. To cover as much of the area as possible and to be able to get useful insights she chose three very different kinds of institutions, the first one being a public mental health ward in the inner city.

Read full review

In 2006 immersion journalist Norah Vincent wrote a book called Self-Made Man: My Year Disguised as a Man which made lots of noise and went on to the New York Times bestseller list. This time around; partly due to the emotional trauma that she suffered from having finished the first book, Vincent immersed herself in the American mental health system in an attempt to reveal its weak spots and contradictory existence. To do this Vincent used her own mental health CV which included a history of depression and previous mental health institution sojourns. To cover as much of the area as possible and to be able to get useful insights she chose three very different kinds of institutions, the first one being a public mental health ward in the inner city. Here Vincent discovers a staff team as apathetic as its patients. Nobody seems to be interested in recovery as staff is more focussed on keeping set rules and doling out a wide range of medicine which ensures that the patients are kept docile and drooling quietly in their corners. Having voluntarily put herself into this position Vincent gets away with her self intact by not taking the prescribed medications and being vigilant. Needless to say she leaves the institution in not much better form than she entered it. Her next stay is in a private hospital which offers her more freedom, and thus perhaps a bit more of a chance at altering her miserable state of mind, but in conclusion ends up having little effect. Finally, a more suitable and specialised place is chosen. This is Mobius, a fully kitted out sort of training centre with Buddhist leanings. Here Vincent finally feels at home and gets some real results, her biggest revelation being that it is a fulltime job to try to keep sane in today's world.

This is an engaging and sometimes painfully human book which leads to interesting if mostly predictable insights. The mental health system, in America and the west in general, is more or less in the dark as to how to treat people with mental health issues. However, there are some methods that are better than others, that is, those that are more aware of its short fallings, do not just pass the meds without thought or care, are more human and give more reason for the sufferer to become more proactive in her/his own recovery and healing. Nevertheless, Vincent also recognises that few sufferers are really ready or interested in the recovery side of mental health, and without that willingness to change, there is little that society or any treatment can do, other than contain for a while. But, at least, if that containment is a bit more human and empowering there might be a chance for someone to someday taste a life of some peace.


July 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #132
23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang
Review by Roslyn Fuller

This is a book that is about exactly what it says on the cover - 23 things they don't tell you about capitalism, although the identity of "them" remains unclear. Fox News, perhaps? Or maybe CNN? The media and politicians in general? It's hard to tell, because they definitely live somewhere more mainstream of me - the 23 things in this book are pretty widely acknowledged as fact in both academic and alternative circles.



Read full review

This is a book that is about exactly what it says on the cover - 23 things they don't tell you about capitalism, although the identity of "them" remains unclear. Fox News, perhaps? Or maybe CNN? The media and politicians in general? It's hard to tell, because they definitely live somewhere more mainstream of me - the 23 things in this book are pretty widely acknowledged as fact in both academic and alternative circles.

And therein lies both the downfall and the brilliance of this book: if you already know of, or agree with, such issues as the Tobin Tax, welfare as a method of discouraging labour exploitation or the fact that economies develop faster with some degree of protectionism, very little of what this book has to offer will come as news to you. It is clearly directed at those who have little to no education in economics and are contentedly swallowing whatever the powers that be tell them whole. In fact, considering the plodding place, 23 Things is clearly directed at those with little to no education at all. If that's not you, the occasional interesting fact thrown in about East Asia (Chang is from South Korea) will provide welcome relief from yet another "Thing" that is boring you to tears.

Of course, Chang is an economist of towering intellect, and therefore none of what disappointed me about this book was accidental. It was never intended for people like me. It was intended for your average Fox viewer who thinks that State medical care is commensurate with Stalinism and that taxing the rich is a bad idea, because, God knows, they might someday win the lottery. The title "What They Don't Tell You" was a marketing masterstroke, luring, as it does, such devotees into anything that sounds remotely like a conspiracy.

In this respect, 23 Things is an ingenious, even devious, attempt to finally reach out to such indoctrinees of market fundamentalism and bring them over where they belong. Like a quaint economic magician, Chang exposes the illogical double-think manouvers of hardline free-marketeers using nothing more than basic common sense, a few inconvenient facts, and the occasional amusing yet illustrative example. So go out and buy this book for whomever you think could do with having their brain rearranged on these points and then stand over them while they read it.


July 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #131
The Golden Cage by Shirin Ebadi
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

The author of The Golden Cage, Shirin Ebadi, is an internationally recognized human rights activist and a lawyer from Iran. In 2003, she won Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts especially in promoting the rights of women, children and political prisoners in Iran. It is believed that it was her call for the democratization of Iran that made her an enemy of the current Iranian regime and as such now lives in London on exile since 2009.

Read full review

The author of The Golden Cage, Shirin Ebadi, is an internationally recognized human rights activist and a lawyer from Iran. In 2003, she won Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts especially in promoting the rights of women, children and political prisoners in Iran. It is believed that it was her call for the democratization of Iran that made her an enemy of the current Iranian regime and as such now lives in London on exile since 2009.

The history of a nation is like a road map which, armed with, you navigate the current state of that nation. Therefore, the telling of any aspect of the history, most especially, where there was conflict, I believe, was no easy feat and unless you appreciated historical narratives, it's not always a straightforward venture and this in addition to not being in a position to confirm the veracity of what you read. However, Shirin Ebadi, in The Golden Cage was able to steer us through the twists and turns that was Iranian Islamic Revolution. Led by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, the Shah of Iran then, Shah Reza, was ousted. But then as it turned out Khomeini went on to eliminate not only the Shah and as many of his supporters as was possible, but as many as other political groups that was considered non-believers and all that is in it.

Ebadi did not tell the story of the revolution like in a history text book rather, she placed the story in the context of a family life, in this case, the family of her mother's best friend Simin. Simin and her husband Hoseini had three sons- Abbas, Touran and Ali and a daughter, Pari, the authors best friend. At growing up each brother subscribes to different political ideologies and over time becomes arch enemies of each other. In the unbending allegiance to these beliefs their family lives and ultimately that of Iran is torn to shreds. And one by one each suffer and die for their choices while still trapped in their golden cages of ideology.

Using the strategy of life stories in the narration of The Golden Cage brought to the fore the devastations, sufferings, displacements and human rights abuses that ordinary citizens all over the world endure in the face of conflicts for the 'love of life and country.' It also made me conclude that apparently peace can only be achieved through the loss of lives of millions but then it becomes extremely hard to take in when said peace and stability remained elusive

Watching and listening to television news of recent times for me would now be like watching Simin and Hoseini's family in every fleeing person. But then it seemed also that there appeared to be no joy in fleeing as Ebadi told her friend Pari " you understand what I'm trying to say. The revolution has already torn apart so many families and has reduced the country to exhaustion. fleeing abroad is not a solution, you know that yourself. One must stay and fight." Maybe this statement was the reasoning behind the unending conflicts that has continued to spread and tear the world apart: like a recalcitrant mule that will not give up.


June 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #130
Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East by Reza Azlan
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Reading this one of things I'd hoped to unearth was a sort of literary ghost that would hint at reasons for the current circumstances. I definitely got what I bargained for. This tour of the literary landscapes of the twentieth century "Middle East" is the heavy whirlwind that is suggested by its title; even if missing out one of my personal favourites, Egyptian Nawal el Saadawi, in the process, and the editor Reza Aslan has, it seems, made an effort to get a sense of gender equality into the process; even if I as a laywoman on the subject in many other ways would not be able to pick through gaps in what Aslan offers, this at least suggests that a well thought out process most likely had been in place in making the choices of authors.

Read full review

Reading this one of things I'd hoped to unearth was a sort of literary ghost that would hint at reasons for the current circumstances. I definitely got what I bargained for. This tour of the literary landscapes of the twentieth century "Middle East" is the heavy whirlwind that is suggested by its title; even if missing out one of my personal favourites, Egyptian Nawal el Saadawi, in the process, and the editor Reza Aslan has, it seems, made an effort to get a sense of gender equality into the process; even if I as a laywoman on the subject in many other ways would not be able to pick through gaps in what Aslan offers, this at least suggests that a well thought out process most likely had been in place in making the choices of authors. Aslan's open minded process again satiated my equality demons through offering some authors that outright dealt with glaringly problematic issues, such as, terms like the "Middle East" or other stereotypes without getting too one sided either way.

Aslan has divided his heavy tome up into three parts. He precedes each part with a timeline and a summary of the political set up in the countries and areas that he then goes on to cover, which is very helpful and a good tool for whetting the interest. The first part deals with the years 1910 to 1950. Here he looks at 1910-1920 Arabic Literature; where even a complete neophyte will recognise the name of Kahlil Gibran, the nationalisation of Turkish Literature in the 1920s, 1930s Persian Literature followed by a chapter on 1940s Urdu Literature. The second part covers the years 1950-1980. Here Aslan looks at mid century Arabic Literature; such as, for example, 1988 Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, followed by the literature that developed in Turkey after Atatürk, the Persian literature rising out the upheavals in Iran, and the Urdu literature which developed after Ghandi's assassination and alongside the partitions of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The third and final part of the book looks at the years from 1979 up to the so-called War on Terror. Aslan here moves the spotlight away from nationalistic issues to the more rapid effects of change that globalisation and the internet are having on these worlds and their written word. In conclusion, this is good introduction to the literature of the areas covered, in that it certainly offers morsels that encourage further tasting and interest; that is, as long as publishers take it upon themselves to translate and publish, and it certainly helps point at the long road to, and the contexts of, present revolutions.


June 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #129
Tyrant Memory by Horacio Castellanos Moya
Review by Roslyn Fuller

I'm nearly always impressed by the quality of work brought out by New Directions and this book was no exception.

Set in a 1944 El Salvador governed by the overtly fascist and occultly obsessed military dictator Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez (who incidentally actually existed and moreover actually fancied himself to be a warlock), Tyrant Memory tells the story of Haydee, an affluent, respectable woman whose equally respectable husband Pericles has been incarcerated - albeit in a very respectful manner - for political criticism. While Pericles is being held in his usual cushy cell, a coup is attempted involving the couple's party animal son Clemente, and the Warlock's gloves come off. Clemente is sentenced to death in absentia, Pericles is transferred to a "real jail", and Haydee, who is not herself "political" has to cope with the fall-out.

Read full review
I'm nearly always impressed by the quality of work brought out by New Directions and this book was no exception.

Set in a 1944 El Salvador governed by the overtly fascist and occultly obsessed military dictator Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez (who incidentally actually existed and moreover actually fancied himself to be a warlock), Tyrant Memory tells the story of Haydee, an affluent, respectable woman whose equally respectable husband Pericles has been incarcerated - albeit in a very respectful manner - for political criticism. While Pericles is being held in his usual cushy cell, a coup is attempted involving the couple's party animal son Clemente, and the Warlock's gloves come off. Clemente is sentenced to death in absentia, Pericles is transferred to a "real jail", and Haydee, who is not herself "political" has to cope with the fall-out.

That being said, Tyrant Memory isn't nearly as dark as the title and subject matter would suggest. Haydee is surrounded by a host of vibrant and resilient family and friends, whose lives of relative comfort evoke the grande bourgeoisie "decent people" society that she inhabits; a society where even in times of personal or political crisis there are still such things as moral standards and proper conduct. It's an extremely appealing world, both exotic and restrained.

The literary style is no less interesting with sharp divisions between the dignified voice of Haydee recording events in her diary and the bawdy Clemente's attempts to leave El Salvador, narrated playwright style. It's truly innovative writing, which the accomplished Moya carries off with ease, while simultaneously managing to let the serious, yet politically recalcitrant, Pericles dominate the work, despite his near total absence from any of the events recorded. Both he and Haydee are absolutely credible, as is the plotline, which avoids a thousand revolutionary clichees to end in an authentically realistic manner, accentuated by a few shreds of romanticism thrown in via the fanciful imagination of family friend and artist Chelon.

Not only is this book a truly interesting insight into the history of a tiny nation known for little more than its infamous 1970's right-wing death squads, it is an outstanding literary achievement that effortlessly combines intelligence with subtle sophistication. Definitely highly recommended reading.


June 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #128
An Emtpy Room by Mu Xin
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

An Empty Room is a collection of thirteen short stories that has the human conditions at its heart and is narrated with such flair and subtlety. Though each story stands on its own one can actually see the flow that somehow connects them all with each narrated in a ‘first-person personae that embody a different race, gender, history.’ Mu Xin, the author, is reputed to be a solitary aesthetic person who in tries to cultivate the whispering power of reverie and this characteristic heavily influenced this slim volume. It is a collection that is replete with wistfulness that impart to the reader the hunger to indulge in daydreaming, reminiscing and the gain that accrue therefrom.

Read full review
An Empty Room is a collection of thirteen short stories that has the human conditions at its heart and is narrated with such flair and subtlety. Though each story stands on its own one can actually see the flow that somehow connects them all with each narrated in a ‘first-person personae that embody a different race, gender, history.’ Mu Xin, the author, is reputed to be a solitary aesthetic person who in tries to cultivate the whispering power of reverie and this characteristic heavily influenced this slim volume. It is a collection that is replete with wistfulness that impart to the reader the hunger to indulge in daydreaming, reminiscing and the gain that accrue therefrom.

What is most striking to me in the stories is the fact that Mu Xin was not trying to argue and or convince he just tells the story as it is, weaving transforming insights into ordinary everyday events, allowing the reader to sum what was read as they deem fit. From the first title; ‘The moment when childhood vanished’ through ‘Fong Fong no 4’ to the closing story ‘The Windsor cemetery,’ Mu Xin gently nudges the reader to look ahead while looking back.

From when he states in- ‘Notes from the Underworld’ that -the genius of happiness is not an innate genius but the product of deliberate cultivation; through to the last story ‘Tomorrow, I’ll Stroll No More’ where he asks ‘what is sadness? If I knew what sadness is I would no longer feel sad’ and the concluding sentence that read ‘life means certain things are not yet done and must be done, and other things are done but not done well’ -I could feel my self merge with my thoughts and essence trying to connect to various of myself through the past and present as I also try to imbue the outcome into the future.

An Empty Room is a collection that is capable of invoking deep reflection that can take you back to the beginning or the middle or even the end, from childhood to the middle years to old age seeking, prodding, looking to change, to make amends, striving to learn to start anew. It is a wonderful collection narrated without a hurry making you want to slow down, to ruminate, and to enjoy even as you keep striding. Maybe this is why New York Magazine hailed him as ‘a man that creates an art of communion, one that brings together the masters of each tradition and unites past and present.’

An Empty Room therefore, is a book that should be read, if for nothing else, at least to help us cultivate the power of reverie, to learn to slow down a bit for that finer details of life that eludes as we hurry along.


June 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #127
Only this Room by Kerry Hardie
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Being an immigrant into Ireland I am doing my best to catch up with the literature and poetry of my adopted home country, although what stops me from immersing myself wholly is the fact that there is so much to read from all over the world, so much to keep up with. Nevertheless, here and there, I manage my bit. When approaching a work, which is culturally different, there is often an underlying sense of estrangement and I guess it forms part of the attraction for such literature. Can we understand and make sense to each other across cultural barriers?

Read full review
Being an immigrant into Ireland I am doing my best to catch up with the literature and poetry of my adopted home country, although what stops me from immersing myself wholly is the fact that there is so much to read from all over the world, so much to keep up with. Nevertheless, here and there, I manage my bit. When approaching a work, which is culturally different, there is often an underlying sense of estrangement and I guess it forms part of the attraction for such literature. Can we understand and make sense to each other across cultural barriers? Similarly, picking this slim volume up I fretted that perhaps I would not “belong” to such a degree that it wouldn’t make sense to me, but then again that is something that one always has to let go of if one is to meet anyone halfway, or learn new things, so I did. It helped that Hardie was not solely focussed on Ireland; she flitted from Spain to India and around, and the fact that she had been born elsewhere; Singapore to be exact, did also somehow encourage. We are all strangers, but this reality is easily lost in a world where we are all just trying to belong.

Hardie is an esteemed writer who has two novels, many poetry books as well as prizes under her belt, but you do not feel that she needs to assert herself in this manner at all. The poems that make up this book have been carefully written. They belong like prayers on the leaves of a tree, or mantras etched unto the wings of a sleeping bird, yet there is also a very physical appreciation here, especially in regards to nature. In many of the poems Hardie gets very personal, and I must admit that this focus on the personal alienated me a bit, but only for short moments which took little away from the whole. Overall, her deeply felt poems remained with me like poignant photographs. I feasted on her language, and felt the sentiments and issues, such as: how feelings change in a long partnership, what it is like getting older, how a sudden thought of ending things can surprise one in a very magical yet everyday moment, how birds paint skies and world with so much more than colour and sound, how to find ways to partake in life in the most careful yet generous way one can come up with, how the eternal chase of something, prevents stillness, how meditation on, and preparing for, what can come next is part of life as well.


May 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #126
Historic Images of Ethiopia by Richard Pankhurst
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Ironically, the images are the Achilles’ heel of this book, as there aren’t very many of them and they tend to be of the grainy, black and white variety. As such, the book can’t compete with the man glossy, high-definition coffee table books out there.

What it does offer is a compact history of Ethiopia from prehistoric times to WWII. More textbook than tour guide, Historic Images begins with the discovery of the remains of the early homind Lucy in Ethiopia’s Hadar region, as well as other finds, such as man-made stone tools dating back 2.5 million years and 10 000 year-old cave paintings.

Read full review
Ironically, the images are the Achilles’ heel of this book, as there aren’t very many of them and they tend to be of the grainy, black and white variety. As such, the book can’t compete with the man glossy, high-definition coffee table books out there.

What it does offer is a compact history of Ethiopia from prehistoric times to WWII. More textbook than tour guide, Historic Images begins with the discovery of the remains of the early homind Lucy in Ethiopia’s Hadar region, as well as other finds, such as man-made stone tools dating back 2.5 million years and 10 000 year-old cave paintings. The book also details trade contacts between Ethiopia and other ancient civilizations, such as Pharaonic Egypt and classical Greece. The relationship between Ethiopia and Jews was particularly intense and continues to this day with many Ethiopian Jews now residing in modern Israel. It is therefore only fitting that a chapter of the book is devoted to the possibly historical/possible mythical relationship between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Many Ethiopians were, however, also early converts to Christianity and Islam which gave the country a very unique position on the point of religion, along with some truly impressive architecture, such as the rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela, depicted over several pages in this book.

The chapters on recent history are more interesting still, detailing the connections between Ethiopia and many important Western writers, such as Alexander Pushkin and Samuel Johnson, as well as the modern consolidation of the nation under the charismatic leader Tewodros. If you can get over the rather severe style and obviously budget-production, Historic Images will give you a lot of information with a very exotic flavour, and you may well find yourself contemplating a visit to this historically rich and vibrant nation.


May 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #125
Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Say You’re One of Them was first published in 2008 and has since garnered numerous accolades, Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, Shortlisted for the Cane Prize and was nominated Book of the Month by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, to mention but a few, and this was because the author, Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian Catholic priest of the Jesuit Order has written what Sunday Times described as ‘an extraordinary debut about fighting for survival throughout the African continent.’ His vocation as a priest, I want to believe, must have afforded the author the opportunity to work with children thus making the narrative voices so real so poignant.

Read full review
Say You’re One of Them was first published in 2008 and has since garnered numerous accolades, Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, Shortlisted for the Cane Prize and was nominated Book of the Month by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, to mention but a few, and this was because the author, Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian Catholic priest of the Jesuit Order has written what Sunday Times described as ‘an extraordinary debut about fighting for survival throughout the African continent.’ His vocation as a priest, I want to believe, must have afforded the author the opportunity to work with children thus making the narrative voices so real so poignant.

Structurally the book is a collection of five short stories located in five different countries of Africa with each story narrated by a child.

The first story An Ex-mas Feast kicked off in Kenya where the lives of those living in the slums of Nairobi took centre stage. Here through the family of eight year old Jigana, the narrator, we were spared the gory details of their daily efforts at living: begging, pimping, prostituting, picking pockets, etc, as these were given normal and of course where food could not be provided through their trade, glue was sniffed to stave hunger, rather the narrative was of a given day- Christmas day, thus treating the reader to a family’s joy and pain on this world most elaborately celebrated day.

Then we move on to Benin Republic for the next heartbreak in the titled Fattening for Gabon where the biblical Judas’ action was beautifully re-enacted by Fofo Kpee who sold his brother’s children to sex traffickers for the princely sum of a brand new motorcycle and food.

Still smarting from above, the dazed reader stumbles drunkenly to the next story What Language Is That? which showcased in Ethiopia. Here the thorn that’s incessant religious wars rocking the globe was brought down to a level where its impact was profound as the friendship of two six year olds was irrevocably shattered for belonging to opposing religion.

And in the Luxurious Hearses centred in Nigeria, the religious war narrative that started from Ethiopia exploded into vivid red colours. At this point the reader, I imagine, could not help at wondering what has been unleashed on this earth; because as you read along the stench of hatred emanating from the practitioners of different religion was so palpable that it could be likened to a vicious tornado that wrecked havoc on its wake.

By now the reader is trembling from impotent rage, afraid to turn the next page for what it’d contain, but then ever curious you turn that page and is confronted by My Parents’ Bedroom where ethnic cleansing was at its basest.


May 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #124
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Review by Roslyn Fuller

One of Hemingway’s middling novels, both chronologically and in terms of quality, A Farewell to Arms tells the story of WWI ambulance driver Frederick Henry and his relationship with British nurse Catherine Barkley, told, of course, in Hemingway’s signature flat, unadorned prose.

The worst thing about this book is its seemingly melodramatic and slightly cliché plot – boy (Henry) meets girl (Catherine) during tumultuous times (WWI), she gets pregnant and dies (kind of wussily) in childbirth, and to top it off the child is stillborn. Throughout – as is customary in Hemingway novels – everyone drinks a veritable river of alcohol. Admittedly, it’s possible that this particular plot wasn’t so cliché back when Hemingway first wrote it, and to give the man his due, he could write well.

Read full review
One of Hemingway’s middling novels, both chronologically and in terms of quality, A Farewell to Arms tells the story of WWI ambulance driver Frederick Henry and his relationship with British nurse Catherine Barkley, told, of course, in Hemingway’s signature flat, unadorned prose.

The worst thing about this book is its seemingly melodramatic and slightly cliché plot – boy (Henry) meets girl (Catherine) during tumultuous times (WWI), she gets pregnant and dies (kind of wussily) in childbirth, and to top it off the child is stillborn. Throughout – as is customary in Hemingway novels – everyone drinks a veritable river of alcohol. Admittedly, it’s possible that this particular plot wasn’t so cliché back when Hemingway first wrote it, and to give the man his due, he could write well.

The best thing about the book is the fact that Hemingway was never a writers’ writer – he was more just a dude who wrote books and as such he had a unique take on life. He was also a person who could manage to write characters who were both normal and weird at the same time. In A Farewell to Arms, Henry isn’t quite your run-of-the-mill ambulance driver, he is an American somehow serving with the Italian forces despite having no further connection to Italy, and his attitude to the entire war is not so much negative or positive as basically blasé. Catherine, in some respects a typical Florence Nightingale type – caring, giving and slightly dependent – is also perfectly willing to endlessly shag Henry in his hospital bed while she is supposed to be on duty and then continue an extramarital relationship with him when she becomes pregnant.

There is also the irony of the fact that while Henry is clearly in perpetual danger of getting his block blown off, first by the Germans/Austrians, and then after going AWOL, by the Italians, it’s Catherine who eventually bites it through the much less glamorous route of childbirth gone wrong. The message is clearly one of bleak futility, of the inability to control one’s own life, the knowledge of a loss that can never be recovered. Even today, this book is a different kind of war novel, one that more than insinuates that life is a war in which concepts such as glory and ideology aren’t even on stage and where one can do little more than accept one’s fate. Interesting – but ultimately a bit of a downer.


May 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #123
Hate: A Romance by Tristan Garcia
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

In 2008 thirty year old writer Tristan Garcia managed to charm the journalists judging for the French Prix de Flore with this, his first, novel and thus ensured the receipt of that sought after price. Twelve years previous a writer which reviewers have been keen to compare Garcia to, that is Michel Houellebecq, also received this price, and perhaps this will be an indication of Garcia’s developing career. However, although Houellebecq is a fitting comparison for the very present day, very current French, issues that Garcia tends to; such as multi-cultural and multi-religious life, minority rights, pc’ness, liberalism vs fundamentalism, etc., there are a whole slew of other writers and artists that immediately and perhaps more pertinently come to mind ...

Read full review
In 2008 thirty year old writer Tristan Garcia managed to charm the journalists judging for the French Prix de Flore with this, his first, novel and thus ensured the receipt of that sought after price. Twelve years previous a writer which reviewers have been keen to compare Garcia to, that is Michel Houellebecq, also received this price, and perhaps this will be an indication of Garcia’s developing career. However, although Houellebecq is a fitting comparison for the very present day, very current French, issues that Garcia tends to; such as multi-cultural and multi-religious life, minority rights, pc’ness, liberalism vs fundamentalism, etc., there are a whole slew of other writers and artists that immediately and perhaps more pertinently come to mind, such as, in France, Genet and Guyotat, and elsewhere, Ginsberg, Burroughs, as well as Bacon and Warhol, not only for their dealings with specifically gay men’s interests and issues, but also for their very specific ideas of transgressions whether moral or otherwise.

Hate is, as the title suggests, an angry novel which manages few glimpses of what we think of as humanity, but then again it is not really interested in that. The main interest for Garcia seem to be the very ancient and ever present battle between love and death, the philosophies that people spin around them, and how these can be reconciled in life. Garcia’s love is philosophy and that comes through very clearly, and indeed it is that which makes the book interesting. However, one cannot help to feel that throughout the soul-searching of making our lives logical in all their ugliness, there is a part of the writer which cries out from behind the metallic structures of reason for a chance of a fleeting glimpse of a connection, of hope, of belonging, of justification, of flesh that can feel more permanently, although that part never really gets a chance. The perhaps most tender moment comes towards the end of the book when one perhaps psychologically can guess at the reasons for the life and behaviour of the extremely angry and lonely man William Miller, yet that moment is soon subsumed in the meaningless of life in general. Don’t get me wrong, I liked this book, but what really stuck in my craw was the fact that its’ chosen narrator is female and utterly unconvincing as such. I would have been much happier with the macho’ness of the book if it was narrated by someone that actually could have existed in the sad and empty lives of the three main men, that is, another man, but then again, I guess only a completely subservient doormat of a person would have stuck around these self-obsessed clever yet vacuous clogs, no matter the sex.


April 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #122
Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Review by Roslyn Fuller

It’s a testament, considering the relative disappointment Book Twelve was, to the late Robert Jordan’s abilities that I snapped up this book at the first opportunity, but then I did think that some previous shortcomings would have been rectified this time around.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. While glimmers of Jordan’s genius are still apparent in the epically complex plot, the prose via which it is conveyed is beyond disappointing, turning a world which once had a language and upbeat, if difficult, pattern of its own into one more sordid fantasy which borrows too much of its vocabulary from GI Joe-style Hollywood films.

Read full review
It’s a testament, considering the relative disappointment Book Twelve was, to the late Robert Jordan’s abilities that I snapped up this book at the first opportunity, but then I did think that some previous shortcomings would have been rectified this time around.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. While glimmers of Jordan’s genius are still apparent in the epically complex plot, the prose via which it is conveyed is beyond disappointing, turning a world which once had a language and upbeat, if difficult, pattern of its own into one more sordid fantasy which borrows too much of its vocabulary from GI Joe-style Hollywood films. To make matters worse, characters who were previously wily masters of the Great Game of high-level politics and intrigue all drop about fifty points in IQ to become a bunch of bumbling amateurs who are embarrassing to watch. To take one example, Rand, the previously embittered Dragon Reborn, meant to fight the Dark One and save the world, returns from his mountaintop epiphany a changed man talking more Messianic than the Bible, while childhood friend and Battle Lord Mat is reduced to a level of buffoonery that makes him play Han Solo II to Rand’s Super-Jesus. To say that subtlety has been destroyed is itself but a subtle understatement.

The real question, however, is why there wasn’t better editorial control of the process for a series as successful as Wheel of Time has been. It is all too obvious that a decision was made to maximize profit at the expense of quality. Both the ridiculously high number of typos and the decision to split what was supposed to be one action-packed final volume into three lumbering ones, each encumbered with its own unnecessary 300-odd page introduction, testify to this.

What you will get out of this book (eventually, provided you keep reading) is long-sought resolution to several plot lines that have been tantalizingly brewing for years: supporting cast members better-than-good-Galad and man-eating-Berelain finally meet up; childhood sweethearts Rand and Egwene face each other once more, each a changed person; original intriguant par excellence Moiraine reappears as the Tower of Genji plotline comes to a close, while evil guys Mesaana and Luc/Slayer finally get dealt with, and Rand integrates the reincarnated Lews Therin into his personality. But then, considering the quality of the book, you may just want to save yourself the money and google the results instead.


April 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #121
The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Little Bee is a fourteen year old Nigerian from one of the oil-producing villages in the Delta Region who witnesses the burning of her village and the killing of her parents during an inter-ethnic and or oil-related conflict. In the company of her elder sister, Nkiruka, she flees her village to a city knowing that having seen it all they will be next, and hides in a beach. When their assailants finally tracks them down and rustles them out of hiding they take refuge behind a British journalist couple, Sarah and Andrew holidaying in Nigeria, who happens to be on the beach at the time. At the request of the assailants Andrew refuses to have his finger cut off to save Nkiruka while Sarah sacrifices hers and saves Little Bee. The couple returns to their hotel and the sisters are dragged away where Nkiruka is raped and later killed. Little Bee manages to escape holding on to Andrew’s driving license that fell off during the altercation.

Read full review
Little Bee is a fourteen year old Nigerian from one of the oil-producing villages in the Delta Region who witnesses the burning of her village and the killing of her parents during an inter-ethnic and or oil-related conflict. In the company of her elder sister, Nkiruka, she flees her village to a city knowing that having seen it all they will be next, and hides in a beach. When their assailants finally tracks them down and rustles them out of hiding they take refuge behind a British journalist couple, Sarah and Andrew holidaying in Nigeria, who happens to be on the beach at the time. At the request of the assailants Andrew refuses to have his finger cut off to save Nkiruka while Sarah sacrifices hers and saves Little Bee. The couple returns to their hotel and the sisters are dragged away where Nkiruka is raped and later killed. Little Bee manages to escape holding on to Andrew’s driving license that fell off during the altercation.

Somehow she manages to stow away in a tea cargo vessel that berths in Britain after five weeks where she is handed over to immigration by the captain of the vessel and so begins her sojourn in the ‘Black Hill Immigration Removal Centre.’ Two years later she is deported to Nigeria for failing to fully meet the Refugee Act requirements.

The Other Hand is Chris Cleaves’ second novel and was Shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Novel Award. It has been variously applauded for being ‘searingly eloquent’ and ‘a powerful piece of art… shocking, exciting and deeply affecting.’ For me I think Chris Cleave did a good job of touching on the emotive plights of asylum seeking. The book is filled to the brim with ironies with every word, every sentence geared to provoke deep thoughts for instance; it was absurd and at the same time sad and hilarious even when Sarah informs the Nigerian Immigration officer at the port of entry in Abuja (having accompanied Little Bee) that ‘I am a British journalist. Anything you do to this woman, I will report it.’ Report it to whom? Ha!

The voices of the characters were well positioned to pierce our moral fibre while the storyline on the surface should have been straight forward but it wasn’t and the ensuing twists and turns ensures that the reader would not put the book down till the last page is turned.

Again the content of the story was presented in a fearless way exposing what lies behind the façade while the language of the text itself was simple. However, what struck the target and has coalesced into a firm resonance for me lies in realizing that apparently the strength of the strong springs from sapping the weak and in the frenzy to acquire the Little Bees of this world would always be flattened in the stamped.


April 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #120
The Life of an Unknown Man by Andrei Makine
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Siberian-born writer Makine sought asylum in France in 1987; when he was thirty, and has lived in Paris ever since. Although Makine has been prolific in his output this was the first novel of his that I’ve ever read. The book earns most of its keeps from an autobiographical connection, and partly for this reason it was easy for me to imagine that there would be similar returning strains in Makine’s other novels. Of course, this is the case for many a writer but with Makine I felt this too a higher degree, and after reading a few interviews with the author this feeling was confirmed. Makine is especially deeply marked by the life he left behind, or as he in an interview with a UK newspaper suggested, the Russia which left him, and this latest novel is another testimony to this.

Read full review
Siberian-born writer Makine sought asylum in France in 1987; when he was thirty, and has lived in Paris ever since. Although Makine has been prolific in his output this was the first novel of his that I’ve ever read. The book earns most of its keeps from an autobiographical connection, and partly for this reason it was easy for me to imagine that there would be similar returning strains in Makine’s other novels. Of course, this is the case for many a writer but with Makine I felt this too a higher degree, and after reading a few interviews with the author this feeling was confirmed. Makine is especially deeply marked by the life he left behind, or as he in an interview with a UK newspaper suggested, the Russia which left him, and this latest novel is another testimony to this.

Shutov is a Russian-born writer living in exile in Paris. As his life falls apart, when his much younger lover leaves him, he goes on a quest for his youth’s love back in Russia. After twenty years in exile what he encounters jars with his imaginings until a peripheral character takes center stage and recounts a life so incredibly hard and beautiful that everything else pales in comparison. How can anything else compete? When Shutov travels back to France it is Volsky, the old man that he encountered by default, that he thinks of, indeed that he identifies with somehow. A man of the past, a man of deep feeling and thinking, an unknown man who knew, achieved and learnt so much but who will go to the grave unknown with a lived life meaning little or nothing to people today. The present overwhelms and anesthetizes. Shutov slides out and closes the door somewhat disgusted, yet relieved at not being the only one, but he cannot escape that which makes up our world today. As he returns to Paris he discovers that his former lover has lost her mystery and pull as he sees her as part and parcel of the increasingly vacuous present. Shutov himself realizes that he belongs nowhere but somehow still believes in meaning. “He will remain to the end in an increasingly despised and indeed increasingly unknown, past. A period he knows to be indefensible, yet one in which some being lived whom must, at all costs, be rescued from oblivion.” Makine plays the music that conjures up the mirages that stab at the impossible gulf between the past and the present very well.


April 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #119
Sleepwalker by John Toomey
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

I have been putting off the reading of this book for sometime now on account of its sterile text-book look but then I came round to it not withstanding and nearly still didn’t read it for really I did not see the need to strain my brain in order to comprehend a novel and thus nearly missed the gem that is Sleepwalker.

Stuart Byrne is a twenty-five year old smart educated beautiful South Dublin man with a good job and an up-market family to boot. Having everything at his disposal apparently makes it even easier to get whatever he wants in our world of today.

Read full review
I have been putting off the reading of this book for sometime now on account of its sterile text-book look but then I came round to it not withstanding and nearly still didn’t read it for really I did not see the need to strain my brain in order to comprehend a novel and thus nearly missed the gem that is Sleepwalker.

Stuart Byrne is a twenty-five year old smart educated beautiful South Dublin man with a good job and an up-market family to boot. Having everything at his disposal apparently makes it even easier to get whatever he wants in our world of today. When the author establishes these facts early on the reader is now positioned to watch Stuart sleepwalk through life until he is forced by circumstances, which he considers to be beyond his control, to step back and take a closer stock of his life. The twist in this is that Stuart still didn’t get it because according to John Toomey ‘the world has never made the beautiful do anything they didn’t want.’

On the surface the subject matter of this offering was tough to pin down but John Toomey did a good job of it when it came together for me: that the skeleton upon which Sleepwalker was fleshened out, I believe, were apathy and disillusion of our today’s modern life which apparently have produced such pedestrian populace that are materialistically gluttonous, a generation whose life has no meaning as they genuinely did not see their relevance in the greater schema of the world: as in everything-has-been-done-where-do-I come-in-mind-set-and-so-frivolity-welcome- so much that even in the face of achievements they still harbour this ‘vague feeling of potential unrealized.’ However, somehow, John Toomey weaves in the fact that self-determination and strong moral fibre should be employed to counter this self-deception in the arduous journey that is life.

John Toomey is a teacher of English which accounts for the very erudite language in the text, difficult atimes, but apt as they were employed unflinchingly to skewer and spew out such highly didactic innards. And to carry off this succinctly, the storyline was finely aligned with array of characters that executed the job with aplomb.

‘History can continue to guide long after the finite relevance of advice has been exhausted’ said the narrator of Sleepwalker and having had the benefit of reading Sleepwalker I’d say that most of us have to be awake and very alert otherwise we will fail to learn from history like the protagonist did.

I like this book very much it probably will serve as oasis to desert on arid lives- for those looking for it, that is.


March 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #118
C by Tom McCarthy
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

The element of carbon is the chemical basis for life, as far we know it, and it is here that this UK writer embarks on this jaunt, hence the C of the title. With a see-through plastic cover decorated with swirls the designer of this book further emphasizes the energy that surrounds the element of C, that is, life itself, and thus gives us an inkling of the matters at hand. As the novel commences we tear into the life of a wealthy creative family by way of a swift and inspired language, although this tempo soon dissipates and settles into a gentle knowledgeable literary jog; which becomes so tedious and uninteresting that at one point I thought of giving the whole thing up, only to then up the tempo again, and amazingly so. However, the rises and falls in engagement continues throughout this novel, and takes a lot away from all the excitement it has to offer.

Read full review
The element of carbon is the chemical basis for life, as far we know it, and it is here that this UK writer embarks on this jaunt, hence the C of the title. With a see-through plastic cover decorated with swirls the designer of this book further emphasizes the energy that surrounds the element of C, that is, life itself, and thus gives us an inkling of the matters at hand. As the novel commences we tear into the life of a wealthy creative family by way of a swift and inspired language, although this tempo soon dissipates and settles into a gentle knowledgeable literary jog; which becomes so tedious and uninteresting that at one point I thought of giving the whole thing up, only to then up the tempo again, and amazingly so. However, the rises and falls in engagement continues throughout this novel, and takes a lot away from all the excitement it has to offer.

C follows the intense, if brief, time of Serge Carrefax, a man of many talents and interests. Serge, does, as his name pronounced in a particular way might suggest, surge into life on waves of static and vibrations coming from his father’s experiments with wireless medium, and from there on buzzes on a whirlwind ride through history. After Serge’s sister dies; seemingly by her own brand of chemistry, he goes to convalesce to get the darkness out of him in a fairly run of the mill spa town. Thereafter he finishes his education and joins the complex machinery that is to develop into the 1st World War as he helps chart the land whilst flying high above it. This is where the story and the writing get really inspired. Here I sensed the land, the plight and the madness of that particular situation like never before. Although, war usually is not something that draws me in this segment of the book is extremely well done and something that I will reread for sure. The following period; where Serge becomes a heroin addict in London and uncovers the fraudulent mechanics of séances, I found too self-indulgent and predictable for my liking. But as said the war chapter is the definite highlight; even though the final part describing Serge’s working life in Egypt contains some very interesting bits as well, and in the end should make the whole thing really worth your while.


March 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #117
The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Iain M. Banks is probably the greatest living sci-fi writer in the English language, and The Algebraist once again demonstrates his extraordinary ability to combine a complex plot with an imaginative setting and brilliant use of language. That being said, while well-executed the plot of The Algebraist did not appeal to me quite as much as some of his other books, such as Matter or Consider Phlebas , but then I like eccentric yet hard-core outsiders, and apparently Banks felt like a change in that department.


Read full review
Iain M. Banks is probably the greatest living sci-fi writer in the English language, and The Algebraist once again demonstrates his extraordinary ability to combine a complex plot with an imaginative setting and brilliant use of language. That being said, while well-executed the plot of The Algebraist did not appeal to me quite as much as some of his other books, such as Matter or Consider Phlebas , but then I like eccentric yet hard-core outsiders, and apparently Banks felt like a change in that department.

The Algebraist centres around “normal guy” hero Fassin Taak, a human born into a privileged family of Seers – people dedicated to the study of the far older, gas-giant inhabiting species of the Dwellers (it’s a credit to Banks that he can make this sound plausible while you’re reading it). The Seers live within a formalistic, hierarchical and deeply fascist empire, in which they are by no means at the top of the food chain, and while he flirts (literally) with both peaceable and armed resistance, Fassin is essentially just dilletantishly dabbling his toes in deeper waters. Until…(yes, until!)…among his adventures with the Dwellers he inadvertantly discovers a reference to a galaxy-spanning series of wormholes. This is important, because a) the armed resistance (known as Beyonders) previously destroyed the wormhole in Fassin’s star system and now a loosely associated renegade maniac in possession of some heavy weaponry is on his way to attack and b) everyone (Beyonders, Empire, Maniac) knows about the wormhole rumour and obviously whoever finds it first will have an enormous tactical advantage over the others. Fassin is ordered by the Empire to return to Dweller civilization and find it and, of course, the million dollar question is not only will he find the answer, but when he does, who will he give it to?

Unfortunately, none of the characters is really likeable enough to make you care. The entire book is permeated by a cold, shallow, sadomasochistic atmosphere, which while realistic and a sort of literary achievement in itself, wasn’t my thing. Fassin’s character-forming experiences failed to form his character to a satisfactory extent, the plot – while complex – was fairly easy to see through and the subplot between two of Fassin’s early friends wasn’t particularly engaging, either. Still far better than just about anything else out there, The Algebraist was – albeit purposely – emotionally lukewarm and left me feeling a bit blase.


March 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #116
Empty Promises: Bringing the Equality Authority to Heel by Niall Crowley
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Regardless of whether or not you agree with any of the views expressed in this first-hand account of the workings of the Equality Authority by its former CEO, it is still an extremely interesting read and an invaluable resource for anyone interested in this area of law or social science.

Empty Promises is organized into six parts: an overview of equality legislation, theories of equality and the functions and activities of the Authority; a collection of representative case studies which illustrate the Authority's work in Ireland; equality programmes in various public and private organizations ...


Read full review
Regardless of whether or not you agree with any of the views expressed in this first-hand account of the workings of the Equality Authority by its former CEO, it is still an extremely interesting read and an invaluable resource for anyone interested in this area of law or social science.

Empty Promises is organized into six parts: an overview of equality legislation, theories of equality and the functions and activities of the Authority; a collection of representative case studies which illustrate the Authority's work in Ireland; equality programmes in various public and private organizations; a chapter on several prominent equality battles waged in the media and and the courts; a bit of a tell-all chapter about the circumstances leading to Crowley's resignation in late 2008; and finally a "what should be done now" chapter, focusing on socioeconomic status as a grounds for discrimination. Each chapter is well-organized, the writing elegantly straightforward, the content both fact-packed and detailed with only the most occasional of veerings into vapid MBA-speak ("ownership", "local delivery landscape", etc.). This book is clear and concise and offers a wonderful insight into the potential workings of a government Authority.

Although it is obvious where Crowley's sympathies lie, there is little digression or pounding from the pulpit. Where opinions are included (while one may or may not agree with the reasoning) they are well-put, and I felt that some points, such as media pundits attempting to score points against the Authority by a cheap trivialization of equality issues (pg. 69), and the analysis of the systematic nature of discrimination against women in Ireland (pg. 119 et seq), did hit the nail on the head in a most gratifying manner.

While as a jurist I am tempted to wish that the content had been more legally-oriented, I suspect the fact that it isn't and that there is nary a footnote in sight is a further point in favour for most readers. In fact, while it is rich in detail, Empty Promises can easily be read in an afternoon and serve as an excellent handbook for the non-specialist. I suspect it paints a much different picture of equality issues and the work of the Authority than mass media would have most people in Ireland believe, and as such it tends to swim a little against the current of popular opinion. That alone, I think, makes it worth reading, with excellent structural organization and a total lack of fuzzy-thinking as added bonuses.


March 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #115
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Do you remember Patti Smith, the American rock/punk goddess of the 70s and the 80s? Well, I guess she belonged to the acolytes of a particular scene and few outside of that group would be too familiar with her music or poetry. Nevertheless, if you grew up in Europe or the States in those times it would have been relatively hard to not to have at least heard of her. I, for one, was a devotee, even if I came upon her too late for my own liking just because I was not old enough. Yet, once I had found her she had a radical influence on my life. From the walls of my teenage room she peered out beaming strength and independence. Patti Smith, to me, was an amalgamation of many of my aspirations and hope for the future. She could do it all. Not only was she a she, she sang, she drew, she wrote poetry and she was a surge of f**k you, I can do I even if it won't be in the usual way which just fit that teenage search for an alternative identity so perfectly.


Read full review
Do you remember Patti Smith, the American rock/punk goddess of the 70s and the 80s? Well, I guess she belonged to the acolytes of a particular scene and few outside of that group would be too familiar with her music or poetry. Nevertheless, if you grew up in Europe or the States in those times it would have been relatively hard to not to have at least heard of her. I, for one, was a devotee, even if I came upon her too late for my own liking just because I was not old enough. Yet, once I had found her she had a radical influence on my life. From the walls of my teenage room she peered out beaming strength and independence. Patti Smith, to me, was an amalgamation of many of my aspirations and hope for the future. She could do it all. Not only was she a she, she sang, she drew, she wrote poetry and she was a surge of f**k you, I can do I even if it won't be in the usual way which just fit that teenage search for an alternative identity so perfectly. Now, being far from my teenage years, she still holds a very special place in my personal mythology, even if that early blind reverence no longer is there. Even after reading this book, which remade, and perhaps humanised, her for me, she remains a fast and steady comrade in arms. In comparison to many early interests this one is one that still rings true, and perhaps especially so because of the reasons that would have been the downfall for her (personally) had I known of it in the 80s, such as, she reveals herself as having been far from the rebel that I envisioned her as.

Just Kids tells the story of the relationship that Patti Smith had with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. In the late 60s they both ended up in New York City in search of a future in art. Soon their paths crossed and the support that they could offer each other turned out to be lifeblood of their destined careers. They fumbled their way forward searching for an exact calling without really knowing how or when, just that it would eventually lead them to great heights. Patti was always mostly focussed on writing and Robert on the making of things. Robert was always more adventurous and questioning whereas Patti steered a fairly balanced way through the excesses on offer at that time. They complimented and had so much love for each other it seems that even when their romantic relationship ended it had little direct effect on their symbiotic entwinement. Art is where it was at, and that is where they together went, completely convinced.


February 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #114
Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Anthill of the Savannah was Chinua Achebe's fifth novel published in 1987 and made one of Penguin classics in 2001. Chinua Achebe is a foremost Nigerian author who has written over twenty books, including novels, short stories, essays and collections of poetry. His first novel Things Fall Apart written in 1957 sold over Ten million copies and has been translated to over 45 languages. Chinua Achebe is a wordsmith whose didactic writings have earned him several eagle feathers one of which was aptly coined by the British Guardian as 'The founding father of the African novel in English'.


Read full review
Anthill of the Savannah was Chinua Achebe's fifth novel published in 1987 and made one of Penguin classics in 2001. Chinua Achebe is a foremost Nigerian author who has written over twenty books, including novels, short stories, essays and collections of poetry. His first novel Things Fall Apart written in 1957 sold over Ten million copies and has been translated to over 45 languages. Chinua Achebe is a wordsmith whose didactic writings have earned him several eagle feathers one of which was aptly coined by the British Guardian as 'The founding father of the African novel in English'.

Anthills of the Savannah seemingly alludes to the corrupt and repressive leadership and its accompanying socioeconomic and political upheavals of the post oil-boom Nigeria but the perceptive eyes can also see a lot of similarities in the great turmoil of recent times in some countries beyond the continent of Africa where mismanagement of the economy and the alienation of the people by their leaders is the other of the day.

Kangan, is a fictitious republic found in West Africa, since her independence over a decade has witnessed succession of coups with their current head of state, His Excellency, Sam installed after another such coup. Sam's leadership gradually turns to dictatorship giving birth to an atmosphere of fear and paranoia with the slightest infraction leading to secret trials, torture and death as he tries to install himself as life president. Even his closest friends were not spared.

Anthills of the Savannah was imbued with prolific nuggets of wisdom one of which said that 'whatever you are is never enough, you must find a way to accept something however small from the other to make you whole and save you from the mortal sin of righteousness and extremism.' It seems to me that in our current haste to personal successes we tend to loose sight of this simple but life-changing words.

Again I want to believe that Chinua Achebe wants the reader to nurture and keep close in his pouch of knowledge where our thoughts and subsequent actions spring from a particular adage which he stated thus; 'that the story of what happened merits the eagle feather of chiefdom, because it is only the story that can continue beyond the war and warrior, it is only the story that outlives the sound of war drums and the exploits of the brave fighters. It is the story, not the others, that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind.

When I turned the last page of Anthills of the Savannah I can only concur with 'He who have ears should hear with them' as my people would say.


February 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #113
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

One afternoon at a barbecue, in an apparent attempt at warding off an attack in defence of his nine year old son, a man slaps a very unmanageable three year old child, the aggressor. This singular action forms the backbone upon which the narrative of this tome was fleshened.

Tsiolkas, beautifully launched a very impressive presentation of the impact of this violence on the lives of the people that witnessed the incident. And in doing this the reader was given a no-holds- expose on society in these modern times; her imperfections, her incongruities and her magnificence; a society where boundaries have been shifted so much so that the limit becomes infinite.


Read full review
One afternoon at a barbecue, in an apparent attempt at warding off an attack in defence of his nine year old son, a man slaps a very unmanageable three year old child, the aggressor. This singular action forms the backbone upon which the narrative of this tome was fleshened.

Tsiolkas, beautifully launched a very impressive presentation of the impact of this violence on the lives of the people that witnessed the incident. And in doing this the reader was given a no-holds- expose on society in these modern times; her imperfections, her incongruities and her magnificence; a society where boundaries have been shifted so much so that the limit becomes infinite.

What the reader is supposed to take away from this Christos Tsiolkas fourth novel hopefully is two pronged; that the business of living inevitably presents us with numerous challenges but that which we allow to get under our skin, to dominate, will ultimately overwhelm if not consume. Secondly, that ones happiness emanates from our innate and or subconscious self and when we loose sight of this, we may begin to situate or project our failures/frustrations on the other.

Tsiolkas is a calm logical writer, reeling in the reader with exquisite imagery, unwavering words, very exciting ambience and believable characters that seem to leap out of the pages. In this our increasingly law-driven melting-pot of a world it may do us good to take a backward step once in a while to review our boundaries and the incursions on our sense of self.


February 1st 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #112
Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meaning of Nursery Rhymes by Albert Jack
Review by Roslyn Fuller

I clearly remember one day in Scotland seeing an emblem of a lion and a unicorn rearing up and thinking, "Oh yeah - the lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown and the lion beat the unicorn all around the town" and then in a rare flash of insight (because after all I'd been staring at a very similar image on the front of my passport for years without giving it two thoughts) thinking, "so, like the unicorn is like some Scottish king, eh? And like the Lion presumably is some English king." and there the chain of thought ended. It was all just some nonsense nursery rhyme from the distant past. We all know how that ended, anyway.



Read full review
I clearly remember one day in Scotland seeing an emblem of a lion and a unicorn rearing up and thinking, "Oh yeah - the lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown and the lion beat the unicorn all around the town" and then in a rare flash of insight (because after all I'd been staring at a very similar image on the front of my passport for years without giving it two thoughts) thinking, "so, like the unicorn is like some Scottish king, eh? And like the Lion presumably is some English king." and there the chain of thought ended. It was all just some nonsense nursery rhyme from the distant past. We all know how that ended, anyway.

Then it happened again passing Shoreditch. "Wow, there really is a place called Shoreditch," I thought somewhere in the back of my brain, and then the words of a children's nursery rhyme inevitably surfaced, "When will you pay me? say the bells of Old Bailey/When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch".

So when I saw Pop Goes the Weasel, even I couldn't resist finally getting to the bottom of this. Just what is this weasel-popping all about? Sounds.interesting.
There are about a hundred rhymes and traditional anthems in this collection and if you grew up in a place that is or was part of the empire upon which the sun never set, you've probably been taught most of them at some point in your childhood. But what do they mean? What is, for example, this unicorn-thrashing all about? Imperialist propaganda? Folklore? How did it become so popular as to become taught to children living thousands of miles away and hundred of years later?

Pop Goes the Weasel explains it all in a humurous manner, often including various therories on the origins and meaning of the rhymes as well as analysis of their likely veracity. As such, it also offers some interesting cultural and historical insights.

Altogether it is an enjoyable book and perfect for those times when you want to read something that is informative, but not too demanding. It's concise, well-written and fun to read. Needless to say, it is a must-have for anyone who considers themselves a connossieur of obscure knowledge.


January 15th 2011
Metro Eireann Book Review #111
The Devil in The Flesh by Raymond Radiguet
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

The nameless narrator of this 1923 first novel by French writer Raymond Radiguet; an author who only had time for two novels in total before his untimely death at the age of 20, can at times seem not only a quintessential teenager but also a fairly unpleasant player who gets caught up in the game. It is perhaps these ideas that open up the novel beyond its own time constraints, as the translator Christopher Moncrieff explores in the afterword. The ideas of self, ego, as well as the invention of the teenager and teenage culture, were just being developed, or would be so much later, and maybe only a man just out of his own teenage years would be bold enough to transgress boundaries not yet known. However, there was no doubt that Radiguet was capable of seeing and understanding the complex psychological landscapes of his time, as the scandal surrounding the release of this novel in 1923 revealed.

Read full review
The nameless narrator of this 1923 first novel by French writer Raymond Radiguet; an author who only had time for two novels in total before his untimely death at the age of 20, can at times seem not only a quintessential teenager but also a fairly unpleasant player who gets caught up in the game. It is perhaps these ideas that open up the novel beyond its own time constraints, as the translator Christopher Moncrieff explores in the afterword. The ideas of self, ego, as well as the invention of the teenager and teenage culture, were just being developed, or would be so much later, and maybe only a man just out of his own teenage years would be bold enough to transgress boundaries not yet known. However, there was no doubt that Radiguet was capable of seeing and understanding the complex psychological landscapes of his time, as the scandal surrounding the release of this novel in 1923 revealed. Even if tender in age Radiguet definitely had the abilities to hit upon the sore points of his time and place. On the other hand, one is bound to feel the innocence of the author, even if his boldness and wit covers a lot of that up, yet it does not in anyway take away from the achievement and importance of the work.

So what is the story actually about? It is a coming of age tale in which the narrator meets a woman who is a few years older than him and falls madly in love. Radiguet tracks their happiness and unhappiness all the way to the end of the affair and shows the egotism of love with flare and sympathy. The timely concerns that surrounded the arrival of this novel; such as the fact that the man is 16, the woman 19 and married to a soldier who is serving at the front, might not nowadays seem as scandalous, but I think that if one cast one's eye back to the one's own teenage years one can easily recall the extraordinary gaps that a year or two could make, not only between people in general but perhaps more specifically between the sexes, and maybe this also partly gives the novel a broader appeal whatever the time, and not only that. It clearly reveals to us that values may change but judgment remains part of our humanity, and that is always something that one can do with being reminded of.


December 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #110
The Beautiful and the Grotesque by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Ryunosuke Akutagawa was a literary giant hailed as one of the greatest short story writers in the world. Considering that he died at the age of thirty five- that was quite a great feat. In this collection of short stories translated by John McVittie, Akutagawa weaves Japanese folklores into various socio-political and moral issues as well as other events that shape Japan as a country and as a people- thus pointing the reader to the various subliminal intricacies that inform their worldviews.

Individually the stories, most beautifully written, offers their own morals but collectively they offer the core of a society. For instance the Japanese believe that all souls -be it animal or human face the same challenges- to strive through good works to attain nirvana- and these are explored in the stories 'The Dog, Shiro' and in 'Gratitude' where failing to do good condemns one to perpetual societal scorn and to attain redemption certain acts must be performed.

Read full review
Ryunosuke Akutagawa was a literary giant hailed as one of the greatest short story writers in the world. Considering that he died at the age of thirty five- that was quite a great feat. In this collection of short stories translated by John McVittie, Akutagawa weaves Japanese folklores into various socio-political and moral issues as well as other events that shape Japan as a country and as a people- thus pointing the reader to the various subliminal intricacies that inform their worldviews.

Individually the stories, most beautifully written, offers their own morals but collectively they offer the core of a society. For instance the Japanese believe that all souls -be it animal or human face the same challenges- to strive through good works to attain nirvana- and these are explored in the stories 'The Dog, Shiro' and in 'Gratitude' where failing to do good condemns one to perpetual societal scorn and to attain redemption certain acts must be performed. In the 'Handkerchief' the temptation to dispose of what was with what is is examined, in the sense that some traditions are found to be too restraining compared to new progressive ideas that are considered liberating. 'The Dolls' following the same vein- the old giving way to the new however, portrays the great reluctance exhibited as we part from the old to embrace the new. In, 'The Faith of Wei Sheng,' the typical human nature to desire and purse is clearly explored and again the reader is treated to the conclusion that that which we pursue does not always bring expected/desired satisfaction. In the 'A Woman's Body', examines the fact that most often it is in the nature of us human to lose sight of the importance of what we have but in assuming the eyes of another perhaps we may see and then probably value more. 'The Kappa' are not of 'this world' yet they live and tamper with the lives of the people. Most societies have a Kappa and for the Irish I believe it is found in the Leprechaun, but the implication of the existence of such 'spirits' in human world exhibits the power of the mind to create in order to explain that which eludes and through it achieve a sense of meaning and closure. The animal Badger in Japanese folklore is in the form of a mirage and in the story Akutagawa probably intends to provoke reflections on the notion of 'what is so' and what is 'believed to be so' and to point out that in the long run no distinctions can be made between the two.

All in all the stories in this collection represents the era of great up-heaval in Japanese history and how they as a people came to terms with newness and change at the turn of the twentieth century.

Akutagawa's writing is definitive with subliminal didactic values as is found always in folklores, however his text have distinctive lyric resonance where each nuance persuades and teases thought processes. It seems that being politically correct was not one of his concerns as such and thus these rich cultural tales was without any varnish which would have marred their beauty and this was what endeared me to Akutagawa's writing. It is good to learn about other people and their way of life, that way it makes for ease of understanding and smoother relationships most especially in these recent times where migration has brought in a mix of diverse people together. The reader hopefully will take away from the stories not only the above but also the knowledge of the spirit of Japan and her people.


December 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #109
Bird Lovers, Backyard by Thalia Field
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

American poet Thalia Field reinvents the ground, as I imagine her carefully stepping forward intently watching each thought and word as she balances them on the back of her hands, in this strange book. It was not until the I had finished this book that I thought I understood what Field was trying to say, and even at that I cannot vouch for anyone else coming up with anything close to my own understanding of the work. What I can say is that Field did make me work on both my focus and my ability not to have to grasp everything immediately, and it was enjoyable work, and I would do it again. But how do I by these few chosen words convince anyone else to give this book a shot? Some might simply take the description of invention as a reason to read it, yet, let's be honest, most people do not seek out books that will demand a huge amount of concentration. Most want to lean back in their favourite reading spot expecting to be taken over, and Bird Lovers, Backyard will not allow for such a leisurely exercise.

Read full review
American poet Thalia Field reinvents the ground, as I imagine her carefully stepping forward intently watching each thought and word as she balances them on the back of her hands, in this strange book. It was not until the I had finished this book that I thought I understood what Field was trying to say, and even at that I cannot vouch for anyone else coming up with anything close to my own understanding of the work. What I can say is that Field did make me work on both my focus and my ability not to have to grasp everything immediately, and it was enjoyable work, and I would do it again. But how do I by these few chosen words convince anyone else to give this book a shot? Some might simply take the description of invention as a reason to read it, yet, let's be honest, most people do not seek out books that will demand a huge amount of concentration. Most want to lean back in their favourite reading spot expecting to be taken over, and Bird Lovers, Backyard will not allow for such a leisurely exercise.

Most of the book grapples with people's attempts at understanding animals as a way of understanding themselves and their own language. Field has read about scientists and trainers, and then feeds back the nuggets that might have been chosen both for their beauty and/or insanity. Such as: "We are all the animals and none of them. It is so often said that poetry and science both seek truth, but perhaps they seek hedges against it" and "..most failures between species are failures of authority, dignity, narrative, or essentially the will and commitment to back up what we say." Field also sets much of her questioning in the ether, in, space, cyber space and oceans, leaving us spinning looking for something to hold unto, in the same way as a wild child might do having been introduced for the first time to the world of people, language and all their contradictions.

Many times, especially towards the end of the book, I found myself in the midst of my own memories and my own histories, wondering at similarities between experiences and interpretations. However, as said above, it was only at the end of the book I thought myself having realised what it was all about, and then I was ready to really read it, again, for the first time.


December 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #108
Matter by Iain M. Banks
Review by Roslyn Fuller

This book was so good I went out and bought the first book in the series. What? I hear you gasp, That good? Yep. That good.

As is the case with all really original work, I did not take to Matter straight away. This is hardcore steampunk science-fiction and fantasy rolled into one, and at the first appearance of sentient be-tentacled aliens, I rolled my eyes skyward and nearly chucked it. Shortly thereafter I was frantically turning pages, forgetting to eat and simultaneously dreading the end. This is a writer who can make sentient be-tentacled aliens work.

Matter is set aeons in the future in a universe that is highly diverse, both in terms of culture and development, and in which technologically and ethically advanced civilizations exercise hegemonial mentorship vis-à-vis their less developed client civilizations.

Read full review
This book was so good I went out and bought the first book in the series. What? I hear you gasp, That good? Yep. That good.

As is the case with all really original work, I did not take to Matter straight away. This is hardcore steampunk science-fiction and fantasy rolled into one, and at the first appearance of sentient be-tentacled aliens, I rolled my eyes skyward and nearly chucked it. Shortly thereafter I was frantically turning pages, forgetting to eat and simultaneously dreading the end. This is a writer who can make sentient be-tentacled aliens work.

Matter is set aeons in the future in a universe that is highly diverse, both in terms of culture and development, and in which technologically and ethically advanced civilizations exercise hegemonial mentorship vis-à-vis their less developed client civilizations. The plot gets underway with Ferbin, the less than heroic heir apparent to the throne of a macho blood-and-guts client civilization witnessing the murder of his infinitely more warlike father. Ferbin does the - for him - natural thing, and flees the multi-layered Shellworld he has known from birth (layers of all sorts are a common theme in this book) to search for his sister Djan Seriy, together with his faithful, if sharp-tongued, servant Choubris Holse (think a smarter version of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza).

While Ferbin and Holse develop over the course of the novel, Djan is probably the most compelling character in a large cast. Bartered away by her father, she was inducted into the Culture at a young age. This super-tolerant, hedonistic, bohemian mega-civilization disposes over a level of technology which renders virtually nothing impossible. But Djan has been trained in Special Circumstances, the Culture's secret service which operates in a much less utopian twilight zone. Thus, her potential usefulness to Ferbin, and her character as an outsider, both by virtue of her career and her origins. Djan has also changed in her years away from the Shellworld. Despite her affection for her family, her birth civilization seems in many respects arcane and confining, while at the same time emotionally charged - a feeling more than familiar to many an immigrant.

Matter, however, is never cliché (it's far too weird for that) and its emotionality is conveyed in measured doses, often seasoned with sarcasm and humour. Combined with a relatively complex plot and a truly imaginative setting, this makes for a stunning read.


December 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #107
The Language of Pain by David Biro
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Dr. David Biro as a practicing physician has come to notice that feeling pain and being able to communicate this feeling to others is a problem most especially in the medical community this is because if the medical practitioners do not have the full knowledge of the pain patients feel, then they are limited in the solution they can provide to resolve the pain. Becoming ill with cancer Dr. Biro feels the perfect opportunity has come for him to finally lay to rest this thorny problem by recording his own experiences. Unfortunately at the crucial time he couldn't because apparently when pain hits, it becomes impossible to articulate let alone convey its essence. Even though, naturally, the sufferer would want to communicate their feelings, they can not because they do not have the right words- there is no language for what they want to share- and this knowledge of not being able to promotes a feeling of hopelessness and resignation, ultimately sufferers just want to be left alone, to withdraw into themselves with their pain. However, Dr. Biro was not deterred rather he became even more determined than ever to unpack the essence of pain and the result is The Language of Pain.

Read full review
Dr. David Biro as a practicing physician has come to notice that feeling pain and being able to communicate this feeling to others is a problem most especially in the medical community this is because if the medical practitioners do not have the full knowledge of the pain patients feel, then they are limited in the solution they can provide to resolve the pain. Becoming ill with cancer Dr. Biro feels the perfect opportunity has come for him to finally lay to rest this thorny problem by recording his own experiences. Unfortunately at the crucial time he couldn't because apparently when pain hits, it becomes impossible to articulate let alone convey its essence. Even though, naturally, the sufferer would want to communicate their feelings, they can not because they do not have the right words- there is no language for what they want to share- and this knowledge of not being able to promotes a feeling of hopelessness and resignation, ultimately sufferers just want to be left alone, to withdraw into themselves with their pain. However, Dr. Biro was not deterred rather he became even more determined than ever to unpack the essence of pain and the result is The Language of Pain.

Working from the perspective that pain is difficult to express because language, while it has captured much of the varied range of human experiences, has failed us in the case of pain, Dr. Biro in this literary medical philosophy of a book has afforded us a welcome link on how to access pain and thus provide relief.

In writing The Language of Pain, Dr. Biro had two goals in mind

a) To explore the reasons for this inexpressibility of pain and then

b) To discover ways of overcoming them.

To be able to achieve the stated objectives, he started with the questions

a) Why does the language run dry at the height of pain? And

b) How can we restore its flow?

The book is set in two parts. Part 1 captioned 'The Crises' explores pain and its effects on the individual, taking us through how it rises until it reaches to the level of crises, and then inevitably thrusting us inwards to the privacy of personal experience. Through this part made up of four chapters;

'The Quintessential Private Experience.'

'The Elusiveness of Pain.'

'The Public Side of Pain.'

'Man's Puny Inexhaustible Voice.'

Dr. Biro succinctly, using works of arts and literatures like Edward Munch's painting -The Scream, Hemingway's, 'He had just felt death' in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Styron's Darkness Visible, Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, to mention but a few, aptly captures the inexpressibility of pain

But all hopes are not lost however, for in part two entitled 'The Solution' which contains five sub-divisions

'Metaphor and Worldmaking'

'The weapon;

'Literary Agency'

'The Mirror'

'The X-Ray'

Dr. Biro provides a solution to the problem, which seems simple enough; that resolution to the crises of pain is through the use of metaphor. In order words by talking of what we 'don't understand in terms of what we do understand, metaphor gives words and objects where there were none, clarity where there was murkiness, and the potential to share where there was loneliness.'

A study of pain is not your regular layman's activity and reading of it and the subsequent outcome I think is not what your average man on the Street would want to pursue but The Language of Pain, I must confess, did not have that text booky intellectual read, rather the stated objective of the book, which was to unpack that essence of pain that cannot be expressed and, in the words of Dr. Biro, 'provide us with the language that ultimately offer sufferers the voice to generate a rhetoric of pain,' was highly achieved with simple clear and easy to understand words applied succinctly.

The subject matter of the book was keenly researched and the presentation and flow very accessible so anyone looking to understand the link between clinical medicine and the humanities, that is, the connection between medicine and real life, physicians who have to deal with pain daily, ordinary people struggling to voice their pain and of course your regular man on the street reading to gain information will find much to value in this book making it an outstanding winner.


November 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #106
The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds and Souls of our Soldiers by Nancy Sherman
Review by Roslyn Fuller

I ordered this book, because I was hoping to get an interesting insight into what it is like to be a soldier, particularly in a combat zone, as I feel that I've never completely gotten behind what makes someone who chooses to join State-run organized armed forces really tick.

Unfortunately, after reading this book, I'm still in the same position. Instead of transporting me into the hearts, minds and souls of soldiers, as promised on the cover, this book was one long apologia for neo-imperialism, or at least for those hapless pawns of the oppressor who get to carry it out on the ground. In particular, this book focuses on Iraq and Afghanistan, more particularly on the suffering of the American troops involved.

Read full review
I ordered this book, because I was hoping to get an interesting insight into what it is like to be a soldier, particularly in a combat zone, as I feel that I've never completely gotten behind what makes someone who chooses to join State-run organized armed forces really tick.

Unfortunately, after reading this book, I'm still in the same position. Instead of transporting me into the hearts, minds and souls of soldiers, as promised on the cover, this book was one long apologia for neo-imperialism, or at least for those hapless pawns of the oppressor who get to carry it out on the ground. In particular, this book focuses on Iraq and Afghanistan, more particularly on the suffering of the American troops involved. While fully acknowledging that all human suffering is tragic, the America-centric focus which brushes aside far greater Iraqi/Afghani suffering comes across as myopic and tactless. In fact, it is a mere replay of media concentration on American vets after the Vietnam War. While the plight of Vietnam Vets is of concern, intense focus on them and their suffering has served to remove all guilt from the American conscience for killing millions of South Asians, many of them not even in Vietnam. This book, intentionally or unintentionally, serves the same purpose vis-à-vis the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Another disappointment was that since the author is billed as a philosopher and psychoanalyst, one would at least think that some penetrating insight would be due. Instead, the alleged "philosophy" contained herein is a shallow picking and choosing of phrases from history's who's who list of philosophers and then grafting on an equally shallow observation. This kind of philosophy is more usually associated with that engaged in while having a beer in your hot tub than in publishing a book. The soldiers' insights recorded here were also shallow, centering mostly upon their apparent shock that people get killed and maimed in horrible ways during war, or that people worry about their spouses in the military, leaving me wondering when I would finally be told something I don't know.

This coupled with an incredibly annoying vocabulary, eg continually referring to soldiers as "warriors", means that actually I have nothing good at all to say about this book. So save yourselves - it's too late for me!


November 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #105
Taurus by Joseph Smith
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

This novel is very much a different animal vis-à-vis the debut novel of this British author. Firstly, and most obviously, the first one was called Wolf and as suggested dealt with the life of a lonesome wolf, whereas this second novel, again as suggested by its name, deals with the life and times of a bull. But there are also big differences in the emotional evocations that each novel brings to the surface. Whereas the first novel had overtones of an adult fairy tale, even if grim, this second one is far from such.

Read full review
This novel is very much a different animal vis-à-vis the debut novel of this British author. Firstly, and most obviously, the first one was called Wolf and as suggested dealt with the life of a lonesome wolf, whereas this second novel, again as suggested by its name, deals with the life and times of a bull. But there are also big differences in the emotional evocations that each novel brings to the surface. Whereas the first novel had overtones of an adult fairy tale, even if grim, this second one is far from such.

Having finished this novel almost on the day of Halloween I was already feeling overwhelmed by the news of large amounts of scared and mistreated animals in Ireland, especially so around this particular celebration. Thus, reading a novel in which an animal is more or less completely evil, and by extension more or less deserves maltreatment in the least, somehow felt wrong. Although Smith is an exceptionally skilful writer, and his writing often is suffused with dark and dangerous, but very real (and often painfully so), poetic imagery, Taurus was often crossing lines into almost a bull's version of American Psycho territory. Let me explain, the latter mentioned novel by Bret Easton Ellis was a gore-fest of gigantic proportions which; although I appreciate the intentions of it pointing out the malevolence of a dangerously vacuous world centred around making only money, I found too happy to fester in the wounds of nothing but negativity. In Taurus even the exquisiteness of the language and descriptions was not sufficient to cause the needed balance for the book to teeter the edge it seemed to somehow seek. In both novels (although definitely more so in the case of American Psycho) I was quite often so sickened by the lack of light that I felt unable to continue, and this although I absolutely adore an author that challenge me into a territory in which I will have to alter my perceptions and preconceptions. However, in Smith's defence, I have to say that I did not feel the absolute lack of creative reaction flood in as in the case of the aforementioned


November 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #104
Anthill by E.O Wilson
Review by Isabel Roleff

An eco thriller written by a former Harvard professor for biology, following the adventures of a boy growing up in the South of the United States? A coming of age novel or a modern Huck Finn as the sleeve notes inform us. E.O. Wilson is one of the best known and influential biologists of recent years, himself double Pulitzer Prize winner, known especially for his work on ants. I am interested hence, how he transforms scientific writing into a compelling novel.

Raphael, Wilson's main character, or short, 'Raff' Cody is obsessed with the eco-system around his home 'Nakobee County' in Alabama, an area he got to know during frequent picnic excursions with his family and an interest which became further fuelled by his developing friendship with a biology professor from Florida University.

Read full review
An eco thriller written by a former Harvard professor for biology, following the adventures of a boy growing up in the South of the United States? A coming of age novel or a modern Huck Finn as the sleeve notes inform us. E.O. Wilson is one of the best known and influential biologists of recent years, himself double Pulitzer Prize winner, known especially for his work on ants. I am interested hence, how he transforms scientific writing into a compelling novel.

Raphael, Wilson's main character, or short, 'Raff' Cody is obsessed with the eco-system around his home 'Nakobee County' in Alabama, an area he got to know during frequent picnic excursions with his family and an interest which became further fuelled by his developing friendship with a biology professor from Florida University. His family, constantly struggling for recognition amongst the richer family members, see Raff as their hope when his uncle promises to pay for his college fees as long as he becomes a lawyer. Raff, clearly leaning towards biology eventually agrees, succumbing to his family's pressure. We follow Raff from Florida State University, where he spends most of his time studying biology, to Harvard, where his interest in nature conservation becomes more serious and realistic while he focuses on studying law. Despite numerous interesting offers, the young law graduate returns to his native South working for a property developer, managing a delicate balancing act between property developers and conservationists, not without risks to his personal life.

Raff's coming of age is split into three sections: His youth in the swamps around Alabama, his college time including his Florida State thesis on life of the ants - an anthropomorphized rendering of life within an ant colony which forms the middle part of the novel, and his successful return home, now as a successful business man who has overcome his mother's shame not to belong to the local society.

Whereas Wilson's characters in the first third of the book remain strangely wooden as if they're not fully allowed to live, the novel becomes an absorbing page-turner in the last third. The modern-day Huck Finn label however does not do the book justice: Don't expect a loveable rogue when reading Raff's adventures, there aren't many mischievous adventures, quite the opposite: Raff works towards establishing common ground between the different interest groups.

Overall Anthill is an enjoyable read, even though Raff's quick success seems quite easy and not entirely realistic. The novel obviously has an agenda, but never in a didactic way. Only the 'Anthill chronicles', detailed description of life within one of the Nakobee County's ant colonies, even though interesting to read in themselves, remain strangely unconnected to the rest of the novel.


November 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #103
A Matter of Time by Alex Capus
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Alex Capus is a French-Swiss journalist turned author who writes in German language. A Matter of Time, his tenth novel, was beautifully translated by John Brownjohn.

War is always a serious, sad and harrowing business and when being recounted in books, one would always expect solemnity in the narrative to suit the graveness. In writing this account of the WW1 as it happened in the Lake Tanganyika, East Africa, Capus took a different route to the norm and in the process brought humor to otherwise grim events.

Read full review
Alex Capus is a French-Swiss journalist turned author who writes in German language. A Matter of Time, his tenth novel, was beautifully translated by John Brownjohn.

War is always a serious, sad and harrowing business and when being recounted in books, one would always expect solemnity in the narrative to suit the graveness. In writing this account of the WW1 as it happened in the Lake Tanganyika, East Africa, Capus took a different route to the norm and in the process brought humor to otherwise grim events.

At the thick of colonial era, Anton Ruter a master shipwright, is commanded by Kaiser Wilhelm 11, the German Chief Colonial master, along with two others of his colleague to dismantle the Gotzen- which Ruter designed and supervised the construction of and therefore, to him is the largest and finest vessel ever built at Papenburg, Germany, and send it, in parts, to the deep interior of German East Africa Lake Tanganyika where they are to reassemble it again for the ease of shipment of goods to Germany. Thus their sole mission to German East Africa is to deliver and reassemble the vessel and return back home all within a year.

Half-way into their one year sojourn in the Dark Continent WW1 breaks out and the British and the Germans are facing each other across the lake while the shipbuilders Anton and company at their utmost displeasure and very reluctantly become soldiers and are co-opted into the war thus kissing goodbye to their quick return home.

Yet again, in another part of Europe- Great Britain, Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simpson is sent by Winston Churchill to transport two dilapidated gun-boats- Mimi and Toutou, to the other side of Lake Tanganyika with the added order of sinking a pesky German steam-boat that has been terrorizing the British war efforts in that parts of the world.


October 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #102
Land of the Seal People by Duncan Williamson
Review by Roslyn Fuller

If you prefer your folktales a la Brothers Grimm as opposed to a la Walt Disney, then you might want to consider giving Land of the Seal People a go. In fact, as far as folktales are concerned, Land of the Seal People represents seomthing of a piece of specialist literature, given that most of the twenty-four short stories revolve around the mythical seal people (or "silkies" as they are referred to by Scottish Travellers), mysterious beings which can transfer themselves from seal to human form. In addition, all of the stories were collected from primary sources by one man, Duncan Williamson, a Scottish Traveller and storyteller, and are thus local to that area (with one exception: "Jack and the Golden Peats" is set - where else? in Ireland).

Read full review
If you prefer your folktales a la Brothers Grimm as opposed to a la Walt Disney, then you might want to consider giving Land of the Seal People a go. In fact, as far as folktales are concerned, Land of the Seal People represents seomthing of a piece of specialist literature, given that most of the twenty-four short stories revolve around the mythical seal people (or "silkies" as they are referred to by Scottish Travellers), mysterious beings which can transfer themselves from seal to human form. In addition, all of the stories were collected from primary sources by one man, Duncan Williamson, a Scottish Traveller and storyteller, and are thus local to that area (with one exception: "Jack and the Golden Peats" is set - where else? in Ireland).

Unusually in a work of this type, the stories have been recorded in the same language that would have been used by Duncan to deliver them orally, often complete with a short introduction explaining when, where and by whom he was first made aware of the tale at hand. The end result is that you feel that someone is actually speaking to you while reading. "In my travels many people have asked me who are the seal people, who are the silke folk?" the first story typically begins, "You may ask yourself the same question. You could ask, who is God?" Besides lending the book a sort of unique personal charm, this style gives it a double function - not only preserving the content of now obscure folklore, but also giving an idea of how it would traditionally have been conveyed.

While there is certainly a strong slant of what could now be termed "environmentalism" in many of the stores (i.e. woe to him who mishandles a silkie), the narrative of others simply occurs with no apparent moral, being merely the historical record of a (real or imagined) personal encounter with the seal people.

It's the combination of form and function that makes the book really stand out, while the subject matter is far enough off the beaten path to be genuinely interesting. Land of the Seal People is easy reading if you're an adult, and pretty much entirely "suitable for children", if you're looking for something to lure your kids away from the TV with.


October 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #101
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

This first book by Dutch author Gerbrand Bakker moves very slowly. The seasons trickle by one by one, leaving one to savour the smells and colours as well as the unhurried movements of things, animals and people at one's infinite leisure. Just when you think yourself safely tucked away in this sluggish country life Bakker begins to break that safety in such subtle ways that you're not even sure that they are happening. You may start to ask yourself, is this novel really about that which I think it is?

Read full review
This first book by Dutch author Gerbrand Bakker moves very slowly. The seasons trickle by one by one, leaving one to savour the smells and colours as well as the unhurried movements of things, animals and people at one's infinite leisure. Just when you think yourself safely tucked away in this sluggish country life Bakker begins to break that safety in such subtle ways that you're not even sure that they are happening. You may start to ask yourself, is this novel really about that which I think it is?

Helmer is the pivot around which the rest of the characters turn. He is a taciturn man with what at first seems like an affinity for the quiet life that he finds himself. Gradually, however, we realise that there are many things in Helmer's life that he would have had turn out differently if he had only ever been given the opportunity, or indeed took it when it came around. Nevertheless, Helmer goes on with the way things are because he sees no real way out, no real alternative. However, as his father approaches the end of his days Helmer begins to see cracks in the thick and often cruel darkness in which he is enveloped. Ill-defined cracks, but cracks nevertheless, which illuminate pent up desires. He begins to remember what it was like to want something for himself.

When Helmer's dead twin brother's former fiancée shows up and dumps her troubled teenage son on him Helmer's life tumbles faster into a strange, and perchance wonderful, future. It is as if Helmer is forced to relive his own youth through the boy and he lets this new phase of his life wash over him with a bit more relish than he has the previous parts of his life. However, one often feels that the door can close at anytime and that Helmer easily could be left in his lonely rural life as a person in an ageing photograph.

There is no doubt that this is a well crafted book. The language is sparse but filled with plenty of flickers of life's promises, which become all the brighter in its grey setting. The only issue I would have would be with Helmer's character development which sometimes feels a bit too far fetched, a bit too drastic, which in turn did not allow for me to fully empathise, and thus in the end left me feeling underwhelmed by this book which received the IMPAC award this year.


October 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #100
Microscripts by Robert Walser
Review by Isabel Roleff

There is always a voyeuristic element in publishing posthumous fragments of a great writer. Especially if the writer is as enigmatic as the allegedly schizophrenic Robert Walser. The pieces published here were written during Walser's years in a mental institution, with no chance to being published in the years of Nazi regime.
Microscripts are fragments, drafted or abandoned stories by the Swiss modernist writer. Their additional appeal stems from the fact that these fragments were undecipherable, written in an ideosyncratic almost microscopic shorthand version, individual letters sometimes only a millimetre high. Dismissed as further sign of his mental illness, these miniatures were only painstakingly deciphered in the 70ies and 80ies. 25 miniatures are selected here, together with 65 colour illustrations.

Read full review
There is always a voyeuristic element in publishing posthumous fragments of a great writer. Especially if the writer is as enigmatic as the allegedly schizophrenic Robert Walser. The pieces published here were written during Walser's years in a mental institution, with no chance to being published in the years of Nazi regime.
Microscripts are fragments, drafted or abandoned stories by the Swiss modernist writer. Their additional appeal stems from the fact that these fragments were undecipherable, written in an ideosyncratic almost microscopic shorthand version, individual letters sometimes only a millimetre high. Dismissed as further sign of his mental illness, these miniatures were only painstakingly deciphered in the 70ies and 80ies. 25 miniatures are selected here, together with 65 colour illustrations. These reproductions of the writers original manuscript are sometimes equally interesting as the text itself: Written on calendar pages, envelopes, and in general scraps of paper.

Are Walser's microscripts the germ of a story or a hermetic but completed piece of writing? On a factual level, the story often meanders, unexpected turns almost in each piece, revealing the writer's beautiful and virtuoso language, some microscripts only a few lines, others a couple of pages but not more. On a more abstract level, each piece is so dense that further dissection certainly reveals additional layers of meaning.

However, overall a feeling of unfinishedness is undeniable: Having glimpsed how Walser wrote, how his creative mind functioned but not being allowed to read the finished product and being left with often hermetic fragments remains somewhat unsatisfactory. The writer himself never published or tried to publish any of these pieces, they were never intended to be scrutinised - a little like being allowed a glimpse into a secret world.

Overall, no matter how enjoyable the playfulness of the microscripts is, there is something undeniable academic about it: Difficult to enjoy on its own, without further background on the writer. Even though the beautifully presented book itself has to be mentioned: Including full colour reprints of Walser's original writing it is perhaps the voyeuristic aspect and the novelty of the secret writing code that adds to the appeal of the book.


October 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #99
The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Fourteen year old Lindiwe Bishop becomes keen on their seventeen year old white neighbour Ian Mckenzie at their first encounter, days after this encounter however; he is arrested for burning his step-mother to death. His return two years later, cleared of all charges, is the beginning of a relationship that is shunned by families, friends and society at large informed by diverse prejudices. Irene Sabatini's inspired premise however becomes the canvas upon which she painted vividly the decay of Post-colonial Zimbabwe presented to the reader through the eyes of the teenage protagonist- Lindiwe.

Read full review
Fourteen year old Lindiwe Bishop becomes keen on their seventeen year old white neighbour Ian Mckenzie at their first encounter, days after this encounter however; he is arrested for burning his step-mother to death. His return two years later, cleared of all charges, is the beginning of a relationship that is shunned by families, friends and society at large informed by diverse prejudices. Irene Sabatini's inspired premise however becomes the canvas upon which she painted vividly the decay of Post-colonial Zimbabwe presented to the reader through the eyes of the teenage protagonist- Lindiwe.

In narrating the dynamics of this relationship we were treated to the colossal indifferences, massive corruption, willful lack of maintenance culture, strange and destructive leadership strategy that lack ownership, demerits of partisan politics and the destructive nature of ethnic rivalry with each contributing its quota to the destabilization of Mugabe's Zimbabwe -politically, socially, culturally and economically from after the baton changed hand. This is not unlike what we hear/read/witness about other independent African nation states and the most bizarre and absurd fact about this particular brand of democracy remained the high-handedness and oppression of the citizenry who were consistently made the enemies of the state that must be crushed by all means as the leaders loot their collective nation to the ground.

However, it was interesting for me because I was offered the opportunity to contrast what was with what became from what is at the very beginning and in contemporary times. But it would have been more interesting to see what Sabitini would have done with the moot question- Were Zimbabweans happy before or after? - An idea that was only aired but never pursued.

The short sharp and punchy sentences were artfully employed to evoke brokenness, confusion and massive up-heaval and social changes that had dodged the Zimbabwean and perhaps even up till now. Using a teenage narrator empowered Sabatini to say things as it were -what she saw is what the reader sees- and it was sad to see to picture to imagine. However the language remained at the teenage level even as Lindiwe matures. Furthermore a lot of assumptions were made regarding liberal use of colloquial words and inferences that were not elaborated thus leaving the reader a bit unsatisfied. However Sabitini did a good job of not only piquing the reader's interest but sustaining it as well even as the reader is rushing to get to the end; so as to not witness the death of this beautiful-but-problem-riddled love story surely?


September 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #98
Where Are You Really From by Tim Brannigan
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Where Are You Really From? is one of those rare books that has it all: a unique storyline, human drama, the thematic struggle to orient oneself in trying circumstances, all set against, as Terry Pratchett would say, the backdrop of A World Gonne Mad. And it's even non-fiction. Mostly, Where Are You Really From? is simply the story of an interesting life: Tim Brannigan's, product of a brief mid-60's affair between his married (to someone else) mother and a Ghanaian doctor. In order to avoid the scandal of a white woman married to a white man giving birth to a black child, Tim's mom faked that he was stillborn and sent him to an orphanage, from which she adopted him again a year later.

Read full review
Where Are You Really From? is one of those rare books that has it all: a unique storyline, human drama, the thematic struggle to orient oneself in trying circumstances, all set against, as Terry Pratchett would say, the backdrop of A World Gonne Mad. And it's even non-fiction. Mostly, Where Are You Really From? is simply the story of an interesting life: Tim Brannigan's, product of a brief mid-60's affair between his married (to someone else) mother and a Ghanaian doctor. In order to avoid the scandal of a white woman married to a white man giving birth to a black child, Tim's mom faked that he was stillborn and sent him to an orphanage, from which she adopted him again a year later.

Growing up in a very Catholic, Republican Belfast family, Tim was unaware that he was, in fact, his mother's "real" son until adulthood. In the meanwhile, he had the unique experience of being virtually the only black child in his area of Belfast, as well as being an occupied Irish person, whom strangers would habitually fail to immediately recognize as Irish, a circumstance that persisted as Tim himself became more proactively involved with the Republican movement in later life, eventually leading to a conviction for having permitted IRA members to store weapons on the family property. Doing time in the H-Blocks, Tim summed it up as "the least racist place I've ever been".

It's a gripping story from an emotional point of view, and while detailing what was in many ways a difficult childhood, the author steers clear of the all-too-familiar misery memoir and keeps everything in admirable perspective. What really makes it worth picking up is the "living history" account of life in the Falls Road area in the 60's and 70's. British Army raids and clandestine IRA arms shifting somehow take on a different light when treated as merely a casual everyday part of a 10 year-old's life, seasoned further by adult reflectons. This book - which, incidentally, is probably the best work by an Irish author I've read all year - is particularly suitable for readers who haven't spent their entire lives in Ireland, as Branngian has a great sense of conjuring up an atmosphere and giving the reader a sense of "what it must have been like" instead of assuming that you were there.


September 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #97
Nox by Anne Carson
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

This is an elegy for Canadian Anne Carson's brother Michael who left his family, home and country as an alternative to a prison sentence when he was just young. From there on he began travelling the world. To start with it seems he was in intermittent contact with the family but that contact soon came to a full stop. Eventually his mourning mother gave him up for dead. There just appeared to be no other alternative. In due course his parents one by one passed away, still in a state of not knowing, and eventually he himself also came to meet his death. This book is Carson's attempt to bring it all together somehow, yet all that she has at her disposal are those fragments of their early life and the sporadic unforthcoming contact that he made with the family or with his sister after having left.

Read full review
This is an elegy for Canadian Anne Carson's brother Michael who left his family, home and country as an alternative to a prison sentence when he was just young. From there on he began travelling the world. To start with it seems he was in intermittent contact with the family but that contact soon came to a full stop. Eventually his mourning mother gave him up for dead. There just appeared to be no other alternative. In due course his parents one by one passed away, still in a state of not knowing, and eventually he himself also came to meet his death. This book is Carson's attempt to bring it all together somehow, yet all that she has at her disposal are those fragments of their early life and the sporadic unforthcoming contact that he made with the family or with his sister after having left.

Through the fragments; offered in the form of slips of letters, photos, dictionary entries, words and art work we begin to gather a shadowy outline of a young man whose life had got increasingly complicated and hopeless. Before he left Canada it seems he got involved with drug dealing; which one assumes is the reason for the prison sentence, and then after losing what is referred to as the love of his life his own life spirals downwards in a steady silence leading to dependencies (on drugs/alcohol) and homelessness.

The manner in which Carson stitches the book together, both through the content but also through the general presentation, demands respect and careful contemplation. This piece of fragile work comes in a beautiful sturdy box. Once you open the box you have the book which actually is stitched together in a manner which makes it feel like it has been made especially for you, thus, underlining the incredible love and care which Carson offers her dead brother who never really was able to receive it in real life. It leaves you feeling very far away and painfully close to them at the same time. It was with reverence that I folded the book together again, returned it to its box, and slowly walked over to the bookshelf to settle it gently in between other containers of ephemeral worlds of words.


September 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #96
Geometry of God by Uzma Aslam Khan
Review by Isabel Roleff

Amal, the eight-year old daughter of a renowned Pakistani palaeontologist finds a strange fossilised bone while accompanying her grandfather. An occurrence that will define her life as we follow her over the course of the next 20 or so years.

Geometry of God is narrated from shifting points of views, that of the freethinking and progressive Amal who will become one of the first female Pakistani palaeontologists, overcoming many obstacles in a male dominated, very traditional environment. That of Mehwish, Amal's blind sister who because or despite of her handicap has a completely different and idiosyncratic outlook onto life; and that of Noman, a talented scientist who is attracted by the presence of Amal's grandfather Zahoor's.

Read full review
Amal, the eight-year old daughter of a renowned Pakistani palaeontologist finds a strange fossilised bone while accompanying her grandfather. An occurrence that will define her life as we follow her over the course of the next 20 or so years.

Geometry of God is narrated from shifting points of views, that of the freethinking and progressive Amal who will become one of the first female Pakistani palaeontologists, overcoming many obstacles in a male dominated, very traditional environment. That of Mehwish, Amal's blind sister who because or despite of her handicap has a completely different and idiosyncratic outlook onto life; and that of Noman, a talented scientist who is attracted by the presence of Amal's grandfather Zahoor's. As the son of the party leader of the ultra-orthodox Party of Creation Noman is torn between both worlds, unable to free himself from the officially supported viewpoint on creation which contrasts starkly with Zahoor's non ideological point of view. Or in other words: The old controversy between creation and evolution.

Oppressive religious and political power over scientific research, the equally oppressive power of a strict traditional system, especially over women, are constant themes throughout Khan's novel. Is Amal an example for women's liberation? Perhaps. But she is careful, not disruptive but inclusive with the past, unlike her Westernised friend Zara whose drug fuelled life chases one trendy club after the other. Mehwish is resting in herself, very different from the restless Amal, her strength coming from inner life, her rich imagination beautifully described by Khan's use of Mehwish's idiosyncratic language. Three very different modern women who all react differently to current oppression.

Noman shows the destructive power of ideology when mixed with ruling power and its effect on the intelligent and sensitive young man, brought to a climax when Amal's grandfather is arrested for ideological reasons. The old man remaining truthful to his ideas and does not succumb to political pressure and ill treatment in prison.

"Geography first exists in the mind" as Amals states, clearly also applicable to political or traditional or other borders.

Beautifully written, funny and full of tension, Geometry of God not just gives great insights into Pakistan culture and thinking but at the same time achieves to be great entertainment and due to its playful language and vivid characters what you expect from a novel: A great read.


September 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #95
Under Fishbone Clouds by Sam Meekings
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

I have always viewed historical novels as bulky and probably heavy going but I must say that I was sad to turn the last page of Under Fishbone Clouds. The vastness of and the insightful subject matter, the lyrics that were employed words, a keen sense of observation, highly detailed narrative, powerful imagination let loose on a landscape of folklore all combined to make Sam Meekings a master storyteller with this debut.

Yuying's father arranges her marriage to Jinyi, one of their many servants, but it is within the arena of their love story, laced in Chinese culture, myths and folklores, conducted during post-war China and the Proletarian Cultural Revolution that Meekings used to narrate the breaking and subsequent making of a people.

Read full review
I have always viewed historical novels as bulky and probably heavy going but I must say that I was sad to turn the last page of Under Fishbone Clouds. The vastness of and the insightful subject matter, the lyrics that were employed words, a keen sense of observation, highly detailed narrative, powerful imagination let loose on a landscape of folklore all combined to make Sam Meekings a master storyteller with this debut.

Yuying's father arranges her marriage to Jinyi, one of their many servants, but it is within the arena of their love story, laced in Chinese culture, myths and folklores, conducted during post-war China and the Proletarian Cultural Revolution that Meekings used to narrate the breaking and subsequent making of a people. His observation that, "survival seems to demand a suspension of rationality" aptly captures the "stripping away of self" that was starkly apparent until "only the country and her mercies remained."

In the telling of this tale, the cheer vastness of China and her four thousands years of history sits heavily on your chest and the weight of a peoples' repression through which what was, was dissolved for what will be blurs your perception of what exactly was that 'will be.'


August 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #94
Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles
Review by Roslyn Fuller

This is one of those books that tells you everything you wanted to know about its subject matter, plus a few things you didn't. The upshot is that even if you've never before heard the word "Carthage", you'll have no trouble getting into this non-ficton work which charts this culture from its Middle Eastern roots through its Spanish mining colonies, colossal showdown with Rome and eventual demise at the hands of said indefatigable Romans. Fact-packed and academically weighed, but somehow as easy to digest as a novel, whilst reading you will realize that a few things - albeit things you've previously remained blissfully ignorant of - do remain tantalizing shrouded in mystery. The reason for this is the rather thorough job the Romans did on the destruction front, virtually erasing the Carthaginians from history and vilifying the remnants.

Read full review
This is one of those books that tells you everything you wanted to know about its subject matter, plus a few things you didn't. The upshot is that even if you've never before heard the word "Carthage", you'll have no trouble getting into this non-ficton work which charts this culture from its Middle Eastern roots through its Spanish mining colonies, colossal showdown with Rome and eventual demise at the hands of said indefatigable Romans. Fact-packed and academically weighed, but somehow as easy to digest as a novel, whilst reading you will realize that a few things - albeit things you've previously remained blissfully ignorant of - do remain tantalizing shrouded in mystery. The reason for this is the rather thorough job the Romans did on the destruction front, virtually erasing the Carthaginians from history and vilifying the remnants.

The title takes its cue from a practice of Cato the Elder, who enterprisingly ended every speech with the words "Carthage Must Be Destroyed", a relentless campaign which finally bore fruit in a monumental genocide coupled with character assassination so complete as to leave traces in modern language: "Baal", for example, often a demon in Judeo-Christian religion, as well as countless fantasy novels, was simply Punic for "Lord", a title often granted as a prefix to Punic gods who were, in fact, remarkably similar to Greek and Roman ones; while "Hannibal", generally associated with horror, or at least wanton laying waste of the countryside, was really just the only Carthaginian general who ever managed to give the Romans a run for their money (one thing that becomes obvious from reading this book is how embarrassingly indifferent the Carthaginians were in all things martial). It's this twist - casting events as a somewhat cooked-up, ancient "clash of civilisations" - that sets the book apart, and imbues it with a very pressing modern relevance.

In addition, the author excels at putting one in the mindframe of the people involved, examining their motivations and experiences, and describing battles and political tactics in an engaging, personality-driven manner. As a bit of a bonus, while much misaligned by history, the Carthaginians had their own Dark Side (child sacrifice, routine crucifixion of unsuccessful generals, unceremonious pocketing of Spanish silver), which ups the already considerable drama. If you like history and/or political intrigue, you'll love this book.


August 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #93
In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

On the dust jacket of this book there is a quote by Eileen Battersby, the Irish Times book reviewer, who proclaims Galgut a kindred spirit to the great South African writer J.M. Coetzee, and although she certainly is not the first person to do so, it is a natural reaction. Yet, of course, Galgut is not Coetzee. Although I have a soft spot for Galgut, and part of the reason for that is the similarity to Coetzee, they are worlds apart as to accomplishments, so far. Also, thus far, Galgut has stayed on in South Africa whereas Coetzee has abandoned his homeland. But don't get me wrong when I say abandoned I mean this in the most generous way of the word. Few people will be able to keep on living in modern South Africa with the rampant violence and crime that is everyday. Even those that have their whole soul invested in that country might have to leave as if the choice to stay has been taken away. And we who live outside that country probably will never fully understand.

Read full review
On the dust jacket of this book there is a quote by Eileen Battersby, the Irish Times book reviewer, who proclaims Galgut a kindred spirit to the great South African writer J.M. Coetzee, and although she certainly is not the first person to do so, it is a natural reaction. Yet, of course, Galgut is not Coetzee. Although I have a soft spot for Galgut, and part of the reason for that is the similarity to Coetzee, they are worlds apart as to accomplishments, so far. Also, thus far, Galgut has stayed on in South Africa whereas Coetzee has abandoned his homeland. But don't get me wrong when I say abandoned I mean this in the most generous way of the word. Few people will be able to keep on living in modern South Africa with the rampant violence and crime that is everyday. Even those that have their whole soul invested in that country might have to leave as if the choice to stay has been taken away. And we who live outside that country probably will never fully understand. Nevertheless, Galgut has stayed on continuing a prolific literary career in its bosom and with the offering of this his latest book we have to be very grateful. This is a fantastic book.

The story is divided up into three parts, each which follows a man named Damon (like the author, and again something that Coetzee has a penchant for) on his travels through different parts of the world. In the first story we see him meet a stoic German fellow traveller. The two fast become friends, but as the situation develops the sexual tensions as well as differing attitudes to life and travelling rapidly becomes a growing gulf between them which can only end bad (very much in the vein of Highsmith). The second story is perhaps the weakest of the three but still very engrossing. Again we find Damon in the initial motion of solitary travel. But this changes as he meets up with a group of people (mainly from Europe) who have the audacity of belittling and criticising the African continent without really having any idea of what they are saying. An escape is found in the company of another smaller group of people who travel very differently and in which Damon finds another possible love interest. Nevertheless, life's prejudices again seem to stand in the way of this love. Finally in the third story Damon travels to India with a good friend of his who is experiencing sever mental health problems. To start with it seems a good idea; there'll be plenty of rest and relaxation, but things soon spiral out of control.

This is a deeply human book, deeply thought, deeply caring, and is evidence of that Galgut finally has come into him own after many books of serious promise of doing so which never fully delivered. Buy this book. You will want to read it again.


August 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #92
Call Mother a Lonely Field by Liam Carson
Review by Isabel Roleff

Growing up bilingually, the obvious advantages aside, poses its own problems: Problems linked to identity and culture, of belonging. I know a family who deliberately did not raise their children learning their mother's language as they were afraid for them to feel uprooted as that's how their mother had felt growing up abroad.

Language and the construction of identity through language are key to Liam Carson's memoir of a Belfast childhood. Starting with his grandparents' and parents' story, this small book starts in the 1920ies and brings the reader into the 90ies, including the time of the Troubles. His father, postman, language activist, story-teller, and teacher easily mixes both with the other Catholics on the Falls Road as well as with Protestants. Until the troubles start, it's a carefree childhood for the children, playing around the wastelands until one of their friends is shot.
Read full review
Growing up bilingually, the obvious advantages aside, poses its own problems: Problems linked to identity and culture, of belonging. I know a family who deliberately did not raise their children learning their mother's language as they were afraid for them to feel uprooted as that's how their mother had felt growing up abroad.

Language and the construction of identity through language are key to Liam Carson's memoir of a Belfast childhood. Starting with his grandparents' and parents' story, this small book starts in the 1920ies and brings the reader into the 90ies, including the time of the Troubles. His father, postman, language activist, story-teller, and teacher easily mixes both with the other Catholics on the Falls Road as well as with Protestants. Until the troubles start, it's a carefree childhood for the children, playing around the wastelands until one of their friends is shot.

Carson charters the process in which Irish becomes more and more ideologically charged with personal memories. At this point in time his mother who had brought up all children through Irish, refuses to speak anything but English; at the same time, the young Liam turns towards mainstream culture and thus more neutral grounds. Fascinated by science fiction and Punk music, before eventually leaving Belfast for Trinity College and still later for London, Carson traces the journey away from all ideological dead weight and physically from their Irish speaking community until ultimately returning and discovering Irish as his sanctuary, the emotional language. As he summarises the chasm between his father and himself: "Our cultures and worlds seemed oceans apart. I was thinking in English, he was dreaming in Irish".

The achievement of this memoir lies in the fact that it does not judge, does not get involved in political commentary or takes sides, but merely shows the effect the change in the political landscape has on the children and on society.

Call Mother a Lonely Field is an intimate memoir, linking a collection of loose memories, interwoven with Belfast's poignant history and personal history of a certainly unconventional and remarkable family. Carson's memoir is more than a memoir of a Belfast Catholic growing up during the Troubles but gives insights into the impact on identity language has.


August 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #91
The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Most people would want to be seen as altruistic because doing things for the benefit of others supposedly is enriching and rewarding and in a relationship? the act would be considered the ultimate show of love. Cowardice on the other hand is a different ball game as I do not really know of anybody that would want to be seen or known as a coward. Finally the question what makes man decide to seek redemption? is very beautifully applied.

All these and more were explored in Nigel Farndale's The Blasphemer but, to be able to bring out the nuances and thus set the proper tone to the understanding of this tome I will start with this notable saying in my place -that nbelede nyilu dike but it is the same nbelede kaeji ama dike- that the element of surprise transcends the abilities of the strong but it is also the same element of surprise that ratifies and affirms the strong.
Read full review
Most people would want to be seen as altruistic because doing things for the benefit of others supposedly is enriching and rewarding and in a relationship? the act would be considered the ultimate show of love. Cowardice on the other hand is a different ball game as I do not really know of anybody that would want to be seen or known as a coward. Finally the question what makes man decide to seek redemption? is very beautifully applied.

All these and more were explored in Nigel Farndale's The Blasphemer but, to be able to bring out the nuances and thus set the proper tone to the understanding of this tome I will start with this notable saying in my place -that nbelede nyilu dike but it is the same nbelede kaeji ama dike- that the element of surprise transcends the abilities of the strong but it is also the same element of surprise that ratifies and affirms the strong. As humans we do not know how we will react when confronted suddenly by a circumstance that forces you to make an instant decision. At making this choice you are not presented with any time frame to weigh other options or even the pros and cons of the decision, rather it's snap snap! and then you are left with having to live with the outcome of that choice and action. The Blasphemer took the element of surprise as it's launching pad and living with the outcome of the choice the kernel of the story.

Dipping from the past to the present and vice versa, the story runs concurrently about the lives of Private William Kennedy of Shropshire fusiliers, Eleventh Battalion of WW1 and his great grandson, zoologist Daniel Kennedy, the first of the Kennedy heir that did not take up career in the army, at the chagrin of his father, Philip, a retired and decorated army surgeon. Daniel and his partner of ten years, Nancy, in a light plane on a trip to Galapagos island, where he intends to ask her to marry him, crashes into the sea and Daniel is left with the choice of what to do- save himself or Nancy. The same scenario was enacted three generations back where Private Kennedy's mettle was severely tested in the heat of the battle of Passchendaele. Other juicy bits running through the storyline like professor Wetherby's content as a Christian is a backdrop to contrast Daniels' atheistic one while the content of a terrorist-besieged London, I want believe, is to give readers the opportunity to reprise, most often than not, the preconceived conclusions we have about 'the others' in our midst.

I was particularly keen on reading The Blasphemer because being a Christian I wanted to see how atheists think, how they live their lives devoid of God and my conclusion, after the read, reaffirms the notion that being a child of God does not only consist of mentioning Him all the time or in daily church attendance rather, it is more in the ways we conduct the affairs of our lives. For instance the character Wetherby richly played out this idea and is also used to contrast that of Daniels' to tie in the notion that God chooses who He wants to bestow favors on extant in the belief that "His thoughts and ways are not like ours." All in all The Blasphemer is a good read that will awaken your philosophical thought processes.


July 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #90
The Three Fates by Linda Le
Review by Roslyn Fuller

The back of this book states that it was written in a period of extreme isolation, an entirely credible claim. You'd have to subject yourself to extreme isolation to create literary work on this level. The Three Fates actually achieves what so many others only attempt - to encapsulate the profound within the prosaic.

Three young women - we never learn their names - spend an afternoon together in the home of "the reliable one", acceptably married to an affluent manufacturer/weekend Tantric Buddhist, and enjoying the stable luxuries of this position. All related - two sisters and a cousin - they attempt throughout the course of the afternoon to formulate a plan to bring the father ("King Lear") of the sisters to visit.

Read full review
The back of this book states that it was written in a period of extreme isolation, an entirely credible claim. You'd have to subject yourself to extreme isolation to create literary work on this level. The Three Fates actually achieves what so many others only attempt - to encapsulate the profound within the prosaic.

Three young women - we never learn their names - spend an afternoon together in the home of "the reliable one", acceptably married to an affluent manufacturer/weekend Tantric Buddhist, and enjoying the stable luxuries of this position. All related - two sisters and a cousin - they attempt throughout the course of the afternoon to formulate a plan to bring the father ("King Lear") of the sisters to visit. This is an epic enterprise, as the girls were taken, in circumstances of rather ambiguous consent, with their wealthy grandmother (often referred to as Lady Jackal) when she fled France at the end of the Vietnam War, and haven't seen King Lear since. This is the plot thread that pulls the story along, as the author dives into the minds of all the characters - Southpaw, the bitter amputee cousin; Gorgeous Gams, the vain telemarketer younger sibling; the matronly responsible older sibling; Theo, Gorgeous Gams' pie-in-the-sky boyfriend, King Lear, Lady Jackal, and the Wheezer, King Lear's gourmand friend, Catholic priest and martyr-without-faith.

Sliding effortlessly between points of view, time and place, in a manner reminiscent of Heinrich Boell, The Three Fates is not so much about the tragedy as the petty irony of life. Le absolutely flays her characters alive and then skewers them in broad daylight in a manner that is often grotesque, but also incredibly satisfying, while the historical perspective on Vietnam gives an added twist.

By constantly referring to objects and people, not by their names but their essential attributes, the work becomes more abstract, but more penetrating, all the more so because these words are being wielded by an author who is so obviously a master of the French language, and then translated by somone who frankly deserves a gold medal for their efforts. It can't have been easy. Definitely the most accomplished piece of literary work I've read all year by an enviably talented writer.


July 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #89
Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolaño
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

The growing popularity of this Chilean writer has led to a virtual explosion of new translations of his work to be published. Considering the relatively short life span of the author (1953-2003) Bolaño fans must be greatly appreciative of his productivity whilst here.

In Monsieur Pain the author brings us to Paris in the 1930s. Here, Bolaño moves his eponymous hero on a very Ulyssesean journey where nothing is what it seems. Monsieur Pain is a mesmerist who is asked to try to help the dying Peruvian poet Vallejo away from his seemingly closing destiny. Yet, Pain is constantly derailed by what can possibly be a malicious plot linked to Spanish jealousy of the Latin American poet's abilities, we are never quite sure. The streets are dark, the corners many and you might never really expect how it all will transpire.
Read full review
The growing popularity of this Chilean writer has led to a virtual explosion of new translations of his work to be published. Considering the relatively short life span of the author (1953-2003) Bolaño fans must be greatly appreciative of his productivity whilst here.

In Monsieur Pain the author brings us to Paris in the 1930s. Here, Bolaño moves his eponymous hero on a very Ulyssesean journey where nothing is what it seems. Monsieur Pain is a mesmerist who is asked to try to help the dying Peruvian poet Vallejo away from his seemingly closing destiny. Yet, Pain is constantly derailed by what can possibly be a malicious plot linked to Spanish jealousy of the Latin American poet's abilities, we are never quite sure. The streets are dark, the corners many and you might never really expect how it all will transpire.

Part of what makes Bolaño so interesting and popular is the freshness and continental twist that he brings to the Latin American foundation of Magical Realism. The language that he uses is made up of intricate imagery, and full of very few expected ways of a play with words and metaphors. Bolaño writes incredibly well-woven stories that are fast- paced jaunts which at times veer into slapstick yet simultaneously and equally produces delicate, beautiful, evocative, sensual word vistas that are delicious in every way. But it is also his street-smart type of writing that appeals so. He is never afraid of what could possibly not work. For example, a quite extensive part of this short novel is filled with an account that simultaneously describes a full-length film scene by scene during which the book's characters are trying to have a conversation with each other which only intermittently is linked to the development in the film which they are watching. And although this might sound slightly (or very) confusing Bolaño pulls it off with ease.
Nevertheless, with Monsieur Pain I do not feel that we find Bolaño in top form. Perhaps if he had decided to leave out the obituaries (he calls it the epilogue) at the end I would have been able to continue to believe in the fact that it is all about the journey and not the destination. Alas, that is not the manner in which he decided to end this novel, which left me a feeling of it have fallen rather flat from quite thrilling heights.


June 17th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #88
Before the House Burns Down by Mary O'Donoghue
Review by Isabel Roleff

Now, that the property market has crashed and the obsession with house ownership has turned to the issues arising from the crash and the likes of ghost estate and negative equity are topic of every other current affairs or talk show, it is quite an interesting idea to write a novel where the house as a physical location plays a key role. Do we really link a house to a specific phase in our life? What impact does a house have on children and what role does it play for them?

The physical location of its main protagonists is core to Mary O'Donoghue's debut novel: the changing houses Eva, the protagonist, lives in with her parents, and her sister and brother.
Read full review
Now, that the property market has crashed and the obsession with house ownership has turned to the issues arising from the crash and the likes of ghost estate and negative equity are topic of every other current affairs or talk show, it is quite an interesting idea to write a novel where the house as a physical location plays a key role. Do we really link a house to a specific phase in our life? What impact does a house have on children and what role does it play for them?

The physical location of its main protagonists is core to Mary O'Donoghue's debut novel: the changing houses Eva, the protagonist, lives in with her parents, and her sister and brother.

Before the House Burns is a childhood memoir. We follow about ten years in the quite animated lives of an unorthodox family and their constant move from one house and city/village to the next in ever changing points of view, always narrated from the children's perspective, including that of the baby brother Benny.

It's not a happy or common childhood: we soon discover that this family is unconventional and poor but contented. The constant struggle for money and food remain central. Eva, the oldest, takes responsibility, not only for her younger siblings but later also for her parents. Moving through uncle and grandparents houses, poor rented accommodation around Galway and Clare, this memoir is captivating in its own way, mainly through beautiful labyrinthine sentences or the very realistic child's point of view. Most successful are the passages of the baby and later toddler and the way his senses develop while he discovers the world.

Although very young, the children are aware of their parents' constant struggle, but it's the development of the children to see through their parents' strategies to play down their difficulties where further aspects in the development of a child's conscience are shown. However tragic events mean that their lives change even more dramatically.

Don't expect a light-hearted, tragicomic memoir in the style of McCourt, O'Donoghue's style with its intricate language is more introspective.

A study on trauma and pain and their effects on a child? A showcase of what shapes a child's conscience? Perhaps. O'Donoghue's novel and her multifaceted narrative technique certainly trace the workings of memory, the physical stability a house provides plays a key role as the extension of the protective family-bubble.


June 10th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #87
Halo Life by Jane Beatrice Ovbude
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

Halo Life is a bold move that, hopefully, will impact positively on our respective efforts at living. Written by Jane Beatrice Ovbude who is based in the tranquil city of Tralee, Ireland, Halo Life, which the author said also translates to Glorious Life, is an anthology of Essays; Poetry; Lessons; Romance and ‘an how to’ in the form of Writing and Creativity, thrown in for good measures. This collection will not spur you into a spontaneous action to seek to right your ways, no, rather it will make you reflective, kind of re-directing your gaze inwards to search out those lubricant nuances, the in-built kernel of life that makes one see beauty in a deluge, and only then that ...

Read full review
Halo Life is a bold move that, hopefully, will impact positively on our respective efforts at living. Written by Jane Beatrice Ovbude who is based in the tranquil city of Tralee, Ireland, Halo Life, which the author said also translates to Glorious Life, is an anthology of Essays; Poetry; Lessons; Romance and ‘an how to’ in the form of Writing and Creativity, thrown in for good measures. This collection will not spur you into a spontaneous action to seek to right your ways, no, rather it will make you reflective, kind of re-directing your gaze inwards to search out those lubricant nuances, the in-built kernel of life that makes one see beauty in a deluge, and only then that ...

The collection started off with the Essays; Black man in Ireland, Black and White Skin both of which are aimed at reminding us that ones colour, gender, and status is not the purpose of our being and the complexities intrinsic in these nuggets are untangled therefrom. Discrimination, Understand the System, Education advocates that we seek knowledge that will bring clarity in our understanding of life issues. Boys and Girls reinforces that opposites ultimately complements and on that premise the author infers that tolerance and acceptance are the key. Class difference pits democracy against any other unsavoury type of government with Nigerian leadership, and the fallout nasty social issues, on centre stage. In the Lessons section the author uses Forgiveness, Love and Mistake, and Filling the Gap to explore the complexities of life.

This collection will grow on you, creeping in like rain on parched earth, melting the jaded heart and textually one can immediately glimpse the nostalgic tinge in the voice [looking back on what was] running through.

The collection in its multi subject matter, I want to think, is designed to gently nudge us towards its’ one goal; know your purpose in life and set forth, every other thing is a distraction. However, the make up of this compilation had me worried until the author set me right in this quote ‘there is nothing wrong in creating new style, your idea is as good as anyone else.’ So I believe that the style employed in this motley is a kick against established framework of writing styles as in who sets these standards anyway? Creativity should be allowed to flow and not be pigeon-holed into styles. Halo Life also sounded a bit preachy, leaning towards ‘Life Coaches’ than Poetry but, all in all, it is a commendable outing that is rich in advice aimed at reminding us to cultivate a positive outlook in life.


June 3rd 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #86
A Splendid Conspiracy by Albert Cossery
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Somewhere in a nameless Egyptian city lives 26-year-old Teymour, recently returned from six years in “the West” where – in exchange for upkeep from his wealthy father – he has pretended to study chemical engineering, while in reality flinging himself headfirst into a hedonistic binge-athon. When finally ordered home for a reckoning, Teymour unabashedly shells out for a forged degree and, with infinite regret, leaves the heights of debauchery behind him.
Read full review
Somewhere in a nameless Egyptian city lives 26-year-old Teymour, recently returned from six years in “the West” where – in exchange for upkeep from his wealthy father – he has pretended to study chemical engineering, while in reality flinging himself headfirst into a hedonistic binge-athon. When finally ordered home for a reckoning, Teymour unabashedly shells out for a forged degree and, with infinite regret, leaves the heights of debauchery behind him.

Back in his detested hometown he quickly hooks up with childhood pals Medhat – who has stayed at home to marry a fallen woman beneath his station on a whim – and Imtaz – an extremely nearsighted one-time successful stage actor fallen from grace following an embarassing mid-performance misdemeanour. Together, they do what they have always done – not much, except party and attempt to find women to sleep with, preferably as young as possible. Any real job is viewed as a dangerous surrender to a life-sucking system of responsibility, so that the trio are not so much anarchists as particularly indolent nihilists, who have turned off, tuned in and dropped out to the fullest extent imaginable.

Such a mindset proves beyond the abilities of exiled police chief Hillali to grasp, and when local dignitaries begin to disappear he suspects the friends and their small circle of associates of plotting nothing short of violent revolution. Spying on them via the ill-suited Rezk achieves little except to amuse Teymour and Co., who are well aware of Hillali’s suspicions and have no intention of relieving them. Does this grave misunderstanding lead inevitably to a tension-riven, action-packed comedy of errors?

No, it doesn’t. This is an uncompromisingly literary work and Albert Cossery even won several high-profile awards proving his literary cred. Sadly, whatever talent led to such acclaim wasn’t much on display in A Splendid Conspiracy. The writing style that has been described elsewhere as “lucid” came across flat, while the main characters, professional dilettantes, obsessed with bagging juveniles and devoid of strong emotional attachments, are unsympathetic. The psychology behind virtually every piece of dialogue is explained in such detail as to leave absolutely nothing to the imagination, and in fact frequently enters onto tedious details that one would normally be inclined to filter out in the interests of sanity-preservation.

It has its moments and its points but altogether a disappointing piece of work from someone so highly thought of. Not only no conspiracy, also no splendour.


May 27th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #85
The Armies by Evelio Rosero
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Ismail is a dirty old man. Rosero’s chosen protagonist is unpleasant and dislikeable to start with as he openly and obviously spies on prepubescent girls as well as more mature creatures of the female sex. Nevertheless, gradually Ismail goes from being that lecherous old man that you would like to isolate from a community to a quite brave, if intermittently cantankerous, soul with just the same amount of weaknesses and ticks as anyone else.
Read full review
Ismail is a dirty old man. Rosero’s chosen protagonist is unpleasant and dislikeable to start with as he openly and obviously spies on prepubescent girls as well as more mature creatures of the female sex. Nevertheless, gradually Ismail goes from being that lecherous old man that you would like to isolate from a community to a quite brave, if intermittently cantankerous, soul with just the same amount of weaknesses and ticks as anyone else.

Set in rural Colombia the fictional town, San José, is a town like any other. Character by character it is set alive. There are the neighbours the Brazilian (who might not actually be Brazilian) and his nakedly sunbathing wife Geraldina, their home-help/foster daughter young Gracielita, Chepe the bar/café owner, Otilia the embarrassed wife of Ismail, Heey the empanada seller, and so the town grows. It seems a fairly contended and happy little space was it not for the lurking and ominous shadow of the war which circles the town. Increasingly the town is bereaved of another member who, if not killed on the spot, is held for ransom somewhere in the bush. To start with, although very unpleasant, the circumstances seem manageable. However, once the targets come a bit closer to home the horror heightens, and then when Otilia disappears without a trace then there is no way back, at least not for Ismail. He begins an impossible journey through his little town in search of her, making us realise that she meant a lot more to him than his behaviours at the onset had suggested. Ismail goes from house to house witnessing a life increasingly impossible to live. Nevertheless, as he runs on empty, he also runs on the hope of having no news. Maybe, just maybe, there is a light somewhere in the catastrophe that surrounds them all.

The slieve notes offered by New Directions for this book clarifies that the war described is directly related to the drug problems of Colombia, and in some ways this perhaps explains the complete lack of rational that the war seemingly suffers from. The soldiers arrive always faceless, nameless and apparently not belonging to any particular side, they do the evil that they do, and then disappear into the same madness from which they came. Although it is perhaps hard to see much rational in war as a whole this book offers a well written, engaging and sympathetic rendition of the very human attempt at making sense of the nonsensical, of hoping against hope.


May 20th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #84
Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland by Eva Bourke & Borbála Faragó (eds.)
Review by Isabel Roleff

What does an outsider’s view bring to contemporary Irish poetry? How does immigration and the change of linguistic and physical landscape influence a poets’ writing? Or indeed do immigrant poets blend in with Irish poets?

The anthology is not a scientific study or a survey reflecting the current status quo of poetry in Ireland, it is rather a personal and eclectic collection of poets 'writing from Ireland'. The editors don’t try to provide answers to these questions but leave it to the reader of Landing Places.
Read full review
What does an outsider’s view bring to contemporary Irish poetry? How does immigration and the change of linguistic and physical landscape influence a poets’ writing? Or indeed do immigrant poets blend in with Irish poets?

The anthology is not a scientific study or a survey reflecting the current status quo of poetry in Ireland, it is rather a personal and eclectic collection of poets ‚writing from Ireland’. The editors don’t try to provide answers to these questions but leave it to the reader of Landing Places.

Each poet is represented with a short biographical intro and a photo, followed by two to five poems, with only a few exceptions all written in English. Many of the selected poets make reference to immigration, identity, and rootlessness as well as Ireland’s physical space; nature and environment are themes in the majority of represented poems.

With 66 poets from around the world, the majority US and UK born poets, none of the selected poems seems to have been ‘forced’ to fit the immigrant theme, quite the contrary, many poems have been influenced by emotions and experience linked to immigration but very few deal with the topic directly. Poets range from internationally well established to poets published for the first time making this collection very varied and colourful in tone. The editors have not grouped poems in any thematic or other order but simply alphabetically, leaving it to the reader to make his or her decision and often creating interesting tensions when juxtapposing completely different styles.

I certainly enjoyed this anthology, a rich collection reflecting the easily overlooked non-national perspective of Ireland’s vibrant poetic life. Maybe it is the fact that this anthology raises awareness for the talent and diversity amongst Ireland’s immigrant community that makes ‘Landing Places’ special? A snapshot of this multiplicity of voices and a great introduction to contemporary poets and equally enjoyable for browsing, the only downside being the overwhelming representation of US and UK poets. However, it would not have been a wise decision to favour diversity over quality and seek a representative from each country. The ‘immigrant poetry in Ireland’-tag certainly provides a good anchor, something temporary or in flux and flexible enough to be lifted, as indeed the cover suggests.


May 11th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #83
Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

The burden of the migrant, it seems, is multi-faceted to include: the struggle to integrate into their new country; becoming economically viable and achieve financial stability; attain social relevance; retain firm hold on their home culture; and raise their children as desired. Having read a number of novels written on the travails of the migrant, these simple wants, one way or the other, always turn into nightmares, especially as regards the issue of raising their children.
Read full review
The burden of the migrant, it seems, is multi-faceted to include: the struggle to integrate into their new country; becoming economically viable and achieve financial stability; attain social relevance; retain firm hold on their home culture; and raise their children as desired. Having read a number of novels written on the travails of the migrant, these simple wants, one way or the other, always turn into nightmares, especially as regards the issue of raising their children.

Joseph Han left Korea with a wife and two daughters to settle in Manhattan where he runs a dry-cleaning shop with his wife. Casey the eldest daughter, who has armed herself with economics degree from Princeton and a white boyfriend, proves the antithesis of what Joseph wants and in telling their story Min Jin Lee explores the core predicaments facing immigrants’ children as they struggle to establish themselves. Using credible characters, readers are treated to various social issues like class struggle, social status, distinctiveness, clash of values and ideals, stoic ambition and the ever present love, laid out in a simple language and evocative text.

What I like most about Free Food for Millionaires is the seamless and undulating way the author weaves the minutest of distinct Korean ways of doing things, their struggles and triumphs, into the multi- landscape of Americas’ New York.

If you could get past the size of the book and the nightmare that was pagination however, then you’ll find that there is joy in the pages of a well written story.


May 6th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #82
Tales by Moonlight: African Stories for Children by Olubunmi Salako
Review by Roslyn Fuller

Tales by Moonlight is a series of three slim books by Nigerian author Olubunmi Salako meant to promote inter-culturalism and “reduce prejudice and racism in schools”. Aimed at 7-12 year olds, each volume contains several short stories based on traditional Nigerian fables and folktales, often with a pointed moral. These range from “Gogo the Spider”, explaining spiders as originating from a man punished for his greed and deceit, to “Oluronbi” the tale of a woman who pledges her daughter in return for success, and “The Foolish Tortoise”, who attempts to keep all wisdom to himself.
Read full review
Tales by Moonlight is a series of three slim books by Nigerian author Olubunmi Salako meant to promote inter-culturalism and “reduce prejudice and racism in schools”. Aimed at 7-12 year olds, each volume contains several short stories based on traditional Nigerian fables and folktales, often with a pointed moral. These range from “Gogo the Spider”, explaining spiders as originating from a man punished for his greed and deceit, to “Oluronbi” the tale of a woman who pledges her daughter in return for success, and “The Foolish Tortoise”, who attempts to keep all wisdom to himself.

The parallels between these stories and their Western counterparts are striking with “Oluronbi” bearing a passing resemblance to “Rumpelstiltskin”, along with incorporating the practice of making offerings to trees, also a common ritual in pre-Christian Europe, while “Gogo the Spider”, contains the familiar never-emptying magic vessel. Other stories differ markedly with “The Warrior Twins” recording a traditional practice of viewing all twins as bearers of evil and exposing baby twins to die in a certain forest (although these particular twins are, of course, Moses-like, rescued from their fate).

While the stories are interesting to read, apart from the covers, the numerous illustrations are all black and white, which might be a slight drawback for kids, and are also quite poor in the first volume (although they improve markedly in Volumes II and III). The glossary at the back helpfully explains Western English vocabulary, as well as the odd word of African origins (e.g. cocoyam, Iroki tree).

All in all, the books are a great effort on the part of the commendable Ms. Salako – Ireland could certainly use more of this sort of thing – and they will undoubtedly be a valuable resource to educators around the country.


April 29th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #81
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

It is a house, and especially so a room, that Mawer sets to contain his latest story. This is not just any house, and the room, as you might have guessed by now, is not just any old room. No, this house rather than a building is a statement of hope for the future; which at the time of its conception (sometime before the Second World War) seems against all odds, and it cradles a very particular room made of glass which breathes space and light in such a manner as never previously experienced. It is a modernist dream, a concrete glimmering bubble floating over a Czech town.
Read full review
It is a house, and especially so a room, that Mawer sets to contain his latest story. This is not just any house, and the room, as you might have guessed by now, is not just any old room. No, this house rather than a building is a statement of hope for the future; which at the time of its conception (sometime before the Second World War) seems against all odds, and it cradles a very particular room made of glass which breathes space and light in such a manner as never previously experienced. It is a modernist dream, a concrete glimmering bubble floating over a Czech town.

The very well-off Landauer couple are on the lookout for the perfect space for their marital future to expand in. Enter famous architect von Abt who takes a shine to the woman, Liesel, and immediately decides that he can create her a perfect abode to live her perfect life in. Once up and ready the building is given life by the arrival of children as well as the hectic social appointments of the fashionable couple. However, an ominous cloud is hanging in the distance darkening the transient light reflected throughout the house. The initial shudders of what Hitler will turn Germany into moves subtly through the happy times shaking the confidence of the Jewish husband as well as the friends and family of the couple. Eventually the family decides to flee to America leaving the house vacant except for a creepy former driver and his sister.

First the house gets occupied by Nazis doing “scientific” racial research. Then it turns into a physiotherapy centre for child polio victims, and finally it is considered for a museum of modernist architecture. Throughout the changes the one constant is Hana, Liesel’s best friend and confidant, a strong bisexual woman with few scruples. Somehow she manages to get herself into almost anything that concerns the house through entering into relationships with some of the more prominent people that end up working there. The obsession with the house seems to be related to her deep love for Liesel. Nevertheless, this part of the story hardly gets a look-in as the book closes which is a bit odd; giving one the impression of that she simply was a convenient colourful character to hinge the larger story on. In fact this book is littered with bisexual women to such an extent that one begins to wonder why. This, along with some episodes of clunky language takes away from a book that in other ways is half decent, even if a very likely candidate for a Hollywood film.


April 22nd 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #80
Montano by Enrique Vila-Matas
Review by Isabel Roleff

An intertextual play with the reader by means of an unreliable narrator? Certainly an unusual novel, pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling.
I picked up Vila-Matas novel with a lot of curiosity, however did find it slow to get into the author’s play until enjoying the skilful twists and turns when the novel gains in speed after the first hundred pages. Just don’t expect a page turner, all action here is internal or literary.
Read full review
An intertextual play with the reader by means of an unreliable narrator? Certainly an unusual novel, pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling. I picked up Vila-Matas novel with a lot of curiosity, however did find it slow to get into the author’s play until enjoying the skilful twists and turns when the novel gains in speed after the first hundred pages. Just don’t expect a page turner, all action here is internal or literary.

A novel without plot, maybe playing with Musil’s ‘Man without qualities, one of the many texts Vila-Matas’ protagonist always returns to. ‘Montano’ tries something new, Vila-Matas creates his own universe, seen through the eyes of his unreliable protagonist, a failed literary critic who, while being unable to write anything original himself, can’t escape the labyrinthine memory of Europe’s literary heritage that seems to haunt him no matter how far he travels. Montano’s Malady is the term used by the protagonist to describe his literary illness or writer’s block, the un-mentionable.

The protagonist travels from Barcelona to Nantes, to Valparaiso, to the Azores, to Budapest but never escapes his cultural memory, indeed tries to ‘turn into the complete memory of the history of literature […] because man is just a machine for remembering and forgetting’. Similar to Proustian memory, everything outside the narrator’s head remains strangely vague.

Divided into several chapters, each one revealing another game the author has played with the reader in the previous chapter, ‘Montano’ is part diary, part philosophical reflection and critical comment on literature, mainly reflecting on authors like Kafka, Musil, Proust, Montaigne, Borges, and Cervantes. It takes a while for the playfulness to reveal itself. After this, the novel becomes a game with false hints, dead ends in terms of plot development and intertextuality - after a somewhat slow start I found this game rather enjoyable. Don’t expect any logical sequence or obvious action but surrender yourself to the author’s labyrinthine storytelling, exploring the mechanics of literary tradition.

As the protagonist reflects: ‘the reader who seeks finished novels […] does not deserve to be my reader’.


April 15th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #79
The Last Patriarch by Najat El-Hachmi
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

The last Patriarch, first published in 2008 in Spanish as L’ultim Patriarca by Planeta, Barcelona, won the 2008 prestigious Ramon Llull Prize. This translation by Peter Bush will be out in May 2010.
Mimoun Driouch is the last patriarch of the book title and, firmly believing that his destiny will not be realized working his parents’ land he migrates. From his daughters’ narration, we follow his birth in rural Morocco through his journey and subsequent life in urban Catalunya, Spain. In material terms, even though it took a long time, it can be said that he is better off than his forbears but that is as far as it goes. But in this move he unwittingly flings two cultures at war with each other: traditional vs. modern, with him and his family as the battlefield, each seeking to wreck the most havoc.
Read full review
The last Patriarch, first published in 2008 in Spanish as L’ultim Patriarca by Planeta, Barcelona, won the 2008 prestigious Ramon Llull Prize. This translation by Peter Bush will be out in May 2010.

Mimoun Driouch is the last patriarch of the book title and, firmly believing that his destiny will not be realized working his parents’ land he migrates. From his daughters’ narration, we follow his birth in rural Morocco through his journey and subsequent life in urban Catalunya, Spain. In material terms, even though it took a long time, it can be said that he is better off than his forbears but that is as far as it goes. But in this move he unwittingly flings two cultures at war with each other: traditional vs. modern, with him and his family as the battlefield, each seeking to wreck the most havoc.

Mimoun’s sojourn in Spain is filled with frustrations as happens to most migrants but, in his case, with the added problem of drug and drink, his frustrations are tinged with paranoia and rage and this, he takes out on his family. The narrator, his favourite, amidst four other siblings, is the most affected, who constantly struggles with her identity, even as the two cultures she straddles tugs her into perplexity.

Over the years, as Mimoun gets older he seems to revert more and more to the culture he left behind and added to his already jaundiced and erratic behaviour, the resulting splintered lives of his family can only be imagined. Ultimately the daughter pushes for freedom which she wrests with such a resounding heart-breaking manner, and in the process, apparently, broke the cycle of Mimouns’ patriarchal role.

El Hachmi, in The Last Patriarch, artfully touches on the issue of the burden of the migrant where being the ‘other’, underlie their every effort; identity being foremost on the agenda, especially for the immigrant children who, not being old enough, straddle two cultures that buffet them ceaselessly and where, if not properly managed can lead to disastrous outcome as seen in the heart wrenching betrayal that occurred between father and daughter. Also the position of women within a patriarchal structure was brought to the fore thus opening a door through which we glimpse the realities of repression imbued in the culturally assigned gender roles of Muslim Moroccan society: In doing this, it attests to the fact that, in so far as freedom is a desirable state, repression of any kind will always be thwarted even if in a hidden and more sinister form.

This book broke my heart; the rawness of the imagery will seep into your bones refusing to let go, but it should be read because, though nobody has a blueprint to life’s events The Last Patriarch is an eye opener.


April 8th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #78
Black Rock by Amanda Smyth
Review by Roslyn Fuller

In this novel, set not in Blackrock, Ireland, but Black Rock, Tobago, the protagonist Celia grows up with her Aunt Tassi, two younger cousins and her Aunt’s second husband, Roman. She is, of course, both intelligent and beautiful – “You’re a bright girl, Celia. Just because you’re pretty, doesn’t mean you should forget about your studies,” her schoolteacher fawns. But when Roman’s harassment of her finally culminates in rape, Celia runs away to neighbouring Trinidad. Becoming ill on the journey, she is fortunate enough to run into William Shamiel, a young man who helps her find a job as a maid with his employer, a medical doctor named Emmanuel Rodriguez. The womanizing Rodriguez soon begins a not-so-covert affair with an acquiescent Celia, which contributes to his wife’s increasing mental imbalance.
Read full review
In this novel, set not in Blackrock, Ireland, but Black Rock, Tobago, the protagonist Celia grows up with her Aunt Tassi, two younger cousins and her Aunt’s second husband, Roman. She is, of course, both intelligent and beautiful – “You’re a bright girl, Celia. Just because you’re pretty, doesn’t mean you should forget about your studies,” her schoolteacher fawns. But when Roman’s harassment of her finally culminates in rape, Celia runs away to neighbouring Trinidad. Becoming ill on the journey, she is fortunate enough to run into William Shamiel, a young man who helps her find a job as a maid with his employer, a medical doctor named Emmanuel Rodriguez. The womanizing Rodriguez soon begins a not-so-covert affair with an acquiescent Celia, which contributes to his wife’s increasing mental imbalance.

Told from the candid child point of view, Black Rock is a rarity in its interesting depiction of life on a Carribean island, but while the setting is captivating, the plot is largely the same old story. Both juvenile sexual abuse and the husband-philandering-with-the-maid line have been pretty much done to death as literary themes and Black Rock doesn’t offer anything new to justify rehashing them yet again. The answers to such riveting questions as the identity of Celia’s real parents (another theme that’s been wrung dry) can be seen coming a mile off, and, as the icing on the cake, Celia confesses her affair to William while sitting in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, who apparently has an obligatory cameo in every Irish book ever published whenever the protagonist feels a confessional mood coming on.

But while the storyline is a bit bland (although well-told), the landscape never is. It’s clear that the author knows what she is talking about, and Celia’s island home of the 1950’s comes across both as authentic and asphyxiatingly entrancing. This is where Black Rock really shines, and it’s worth picking up solely for its languid yet vivid description, which instantly transports the reader to another time and place.

This is a book where nothing jars – no one ever drops irritatingly out of character, no gaps surface in the plot to nag at your brain – and this makes for a smooth, entertaining read. The fact that it’s just a little too neat is more than made up for by the exotic and vivid setting which the author conveys with unusual power.



April 1st 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #77
Moving Parts by Magdalena Tulli
Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

Magdalena Tulli is a contemporary Polish writer that, like many non-English writers on the margins of the literary landscape, only fairly recently has been translated into English. Tulli through her word knitting creates fantastically intricate fabrics which one almost can wear. At the same time as she is philosophical she is also emotional, which perhaps sounds like a contradiction but which becomes blatantly real when you are in her world. She turns and spins you around; I did get actual feelings of inebriation at points, and you have to be a very interested, careful and attentive reader to fully appreciate her work which perhaps leaves this sort of book of more of interest to writers than readers. But then again that depends upon how adventurous a reader you are.
Read full review
Magdalena Tulli is a contemporary Polish writer that, like many non-English writers on the margins of the literary landscape, only fairly recently has been translated into English. Tulli through her word knitting creates fantastically intricate fabrics which one almost can wear. At the same time as she is philosophical she is also emotional, which perhaps sounds like a contradiction but which becomes blatantly real when you are in her world. She turns and spins you around; I did get actual feelings of inebriation at points, and you have to be a very interested, careful and attentive reader to fully appreciate her work which perhaps leaves this sort of book of more of interest to writers than readers. But then again that depends upon how adventurous a reader you are.

Have you ever read a wave? Well, this is what this book is. It is a swelling of the sea of words, literally. In many ways it seems that the point of the book is not to function as literature as such but it is more like a deconstruction of what and how word art can mean. But not just that, it sets in motion everything that you are as a reader, a writer and a fictional character. The floors undulate and the lines between fiction and real life blur completely. Yet, this is not solely a cerebral gymnasium it is also a quite brilliantly tuned and executed piece of fiction, or prose if you will, even when the narrative keeps shifting. Every word is a layer which reveals connections to other words and meanings in tantalisingly new ways, and like a piece of modern installation art this one interacts with you in a very real and physical manner. There were many comparisons that I came to whilst reading this, such as, George Perec’s A Void; a full length novel written completely without a single e (for the similarity in exercise as such), Laurie Anderson’s art piece of the book which describes you in the act of reading it which in turn compels and eggs you on to finish what you have started, thus keeping you enthralled in, and possessed by, your own action (for the similarity in the allusion to, or description of, the act of reading and/or writing itself), as well as the film director David Cronenberg’s obsession with the fine lines between the fictional and the real. Nevertheless, Tulli is definitely her own animal and her world is something that you enter at your own peril.


March 25th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #76
Secretum by Rita Monaldi & Francesco Sorti
Review by Isabel Roleff

Set in Italy in 1700, Monaldi & Sorti’s sequel to ‘Imprimatur’ is a baroque novel opulently meandering along the time preceding the Conclave leading to Clement XI becoming Pope and the intrigue around the Spanish Succession brought about by the demise of King Charles II of Spain. We follow the same Holmes/Watson duo we got to know in the first novel: The elderly but vain Abbot Melani, castrato singer and spy in the service of Louis XIV and his young assistant.Together this unlikely couple spy on the congregation of cardinals, guests at Villa Spada for a cardinal’s nephew’s wedding, spy on each other, and follow shady underworld figures in their quest to obtain the Abbot’s writings on historical events, a book previously stolen from him and with the power to change the course of history should it fall into the wrong hands.
Read full review
Set in Italy in 1700, Monaldi & Sorti’s sequel to ‘Imprimatur’ is a baroque novel opulently meandering along the time preceding the Conclave leading to Clement XI becoming Pope and the intrigue around the Spanish Succession brought about by the demise of King Charles II of Spain. We follow the same Holmes/Watson duo we got to know in the first novel: The elderly but vain Abbot Melani, castrato singer and spy in the service of Louis XIV and his young assistant.

Together this unlikely couple spy on the congregation of cardinals, guests at Villa Spada for a cardinal’s nephew’s wedding, spy on each other, and follow shady underworld figures in their quest to obtain the Abbot’s writings on historical events, a book previously stolen from him and with the power to change the course of history should it fall into the wrong hands. While living through these adventures together, the apprentice and chronicler of events learns more about Louis XIV private life and the links between Italy, France, and Spain and the current political discourse of the time. There is a wealth of characters, all becoming clearly distinguishable under the writers’ skilful pen: Cardinals and bishops, servants at Villa Spada, beggars, criminals, catchpoles, seemingly crazy musicians, midwives and many more, covering a broad array of baroque life.

Melani as well as most other characters are real historic figures, brilliantly described and thoroughly researched. Monaldi & Sorti use the hunt for the stolen book as a foil to explore the historical context further, or in their words the ‘dark, unexplained points that seemed to be deviations from the course of history’. Following into Eco’s footsteps when it comes to constructing a historically sound thriller, the author couple question the events leading up to the Conclave and the Spanish Succession.

A historic thriller, packed with detail, vivid imagery of the intrigues among the curia while contrasting this to Rome’s underworld with a wealth of cultural and sociological background and the insiders’ view of the political landscape with its all competing powers in Europe; there are only rare instances when the baroque context is left for a more contemporary point of view.

However, whereas the historical detail questioned by the historian and musicologist authors in the first novel remained a lot more explosive and better integrated into the overall plot, the thesis underlying this thriller is a lot thinner. Nevertheless the wealth of detail and the multi-faceted character descriptions along with the narrative drive of the thriller make ‘Secretum’ a gripping read. The novel’s playfulness even transported into real life: the authors’ work is banned in Italy.


March 18th 2010
Metro Eireann Book Review #75
The Loss Adjustor by Aifric Campbell
Review by Ifedinma Dimbo

A successful loss adjustor in a City firm in London, Caro spends her days tallying injuries, losses and costs. But this line of work is merely a shield to protect her from re-visiting her past. It happens that Caro has been unable to unhinge herself from traumatic events that marked her formative years, which have left her not knowing what she wants out of life. Rather, she allows herself to be ‘hovered’ into life’s events – education, employment, friendships and so on. And even when she finally faces up to things at the age of 36, she fails to factor in where it all began. As a child, Caro, Estelle and Cormac were childhood friends, inseparable and enjoying an idyllic life together as long as she can remember – until this peace was disrupted by the rape and murder of Estelle at the age of 15. Not long afterwards Cormac left, found fame as a rock musician and never came back, leaving Caro to mourn the loss of both of her friends.
Read full review
A successful loss adjustor in a City firm in London, Caro spends her days tallying injuries, losses and costs. But this line of work is merely a shield to protect her from re-visiting her past.

It happens that Caro has been unable to unhinge herself from traumatic events that marked her formative years, which have left her not knowing what she wants out of life. Rather, she allows herself to be ‘hovered’ into life’s events – education, employment, friendships and so on. And even when she finally faces up to things at the age of 36, she fails to factor in where it all began.

As a child, Caro, Estelle and Cormac were childhood friends, inseparable and enjoying an idyllic life together as long as she can remember – until this peace was disrupted by the rape and murder of Estelle at the age of 15. Not long afterwards Cormac left, found fame as a rock musician and never came back, leaving Caro to mourn the loss of both of her friends.Since then, every Saturday without fail she visit’s Estelle’s grave, and shares a seat with an old man Tom in the graveyard – a friendship that gives her a new perspective on her own situation.

In the words of her publisher Serpent’s Tail, Aifric Campbell’s second book “portrays the power of the past to stifle the present and explores the emotional restraints that shackle our ability to experience life”.

The essence of The Loss Adjustor is this elegiac, regretful quality in her telling the story of a protagonist who played a major part in her own unhappiness.The language of The Loss Adjustor is solemn – befitting of the subject matter of longing, loss and the power of liberation. Campbell proves a master in her application of words, with sublime narrative and thoughtful prose. But when it comes to the substance of her main character, it surprised me that Campbell doesn’t recognise the role of nurture versus nature in the formation of human personality and character, to create a better understanding of the kind of existence Caro leads.

The book brings to the fore the idea that our refusal or inability to let go is the underlying cause of unhappiness or discontent, which is rather unfortunate as such a mindset does not allow for options or alternatives to seeking real freedom.

For an archive of older reviews, please click here






buy instagram followers . buy instagram likes . essay writing assignmentmountains service