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THE EMPLOYEES by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken : The Best book of 2021?

Olga Ravn’s absolutely remarkable title, most deservedly shortlisted for 2021 International Booker prize, beautifully translated by Martin Aitken from Danish follows a series of statements of the employees of a spaceship (Six Thousand Ship), in relation to their behaviour regarding taking some strange objects from the planet New Discovery.

The whole book is structured in these statements not in chronological order from all the employees as it progresses it becomes clear that some of these are from humans and some from humanoids.

The main essence of the book is the deep questioning of humanity and geneneration of feelings from both humans and humanoids alike.

It’s really interesting how all the statements are jigsaw puzzled like a mosaic, very skilfully done, like reading one statement you are utterly moved, then by another quite puzzled, then there’s humor, then sadness, then anger and everything in between.

How the writer and translator creates this sense of hypnotic momentum in these 136 pages is masterful.

The Employees A workplace novel of 22nd century – Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken. Published by Lolli editions

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IN MEMORY OF MEMORY- Awestruck by the scope of writing

Maria Stepanova’s International Booker shortlisted title In memory of memory stunningly translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale starts with death of her aunt and this book continuously surprises us with the form it takes.

This book is a profound meditation on art remembering remarkable artists like Rembrandt, Francesca Woodman, Joseph Cornell and many others,

Stepanova has written some extraordinary chapters on Jewish ancestry taking into consideration her own family history and great Jewish biographies of people and preservation of identities during turmoil during war and its aftermath.

I have truly never encountered such an interesting and interesting perspective on Russian history, I mean she’s writing biographies, personal history and giving them such creative fictional form.

The book is filled with prose of stunning poetic power and beauty and truly each sentence is beautiful. Sasha Dugdale has done something quite extraordinary in the language to English readers.

Russian time periods are shown so virtuosically in the book through photographs, letters and stunning descriptive texts to support it, it feels really immersive.

This is truly a remarkable gem of a book.

In memory of memory- Maria Stepanova, translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale. Published by Fitzcarraldo editions. Thank you so much to Fitzcarraldo editions for the copy of the book.

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I live in the slums – Can Xue’s Brilliant short story collection

This short story collection longlisted for International Booker Prize 2021 with publication history of stories spanning from 1996 to 2018 range widely in perspective, some of the narrators are human and many non human (magpies, willow tree, cicadas and many others)

Can Xue is often termed as a difficult writer due to her avante-garde fiction, as in there’s hardly any plot in her fiction but a huge focus on the psychology of the characters. So yeah, this title has also divided the readers. For me personally being familiar with Xue’s work before, I absolutely adored this collection. Yeah, I know it definitely can be difficult for a first time reader without having any knowledge of her background.

Some stories in the collection are similar to her previous work like supernatural queens, characters roaming cities searching for swamps, shadow people, and many others with supernatural, magical, mystical or shape shifting world which is built instantly and quite wonderfully.

But the most unique stories in the collection are from non human narrators which are all remarkable. First story (creature roaming around people’s houses at night) builds the tension amazingly, and some extraordinary stories of magpies, cicadas, and a beautiful willow tree story near the end.

Can Xue is a master at gripping the reader and bending their minds with her wild wild worlds.

I LIVE IN THE SLUMS – Can Xue, Translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. Published by Yale University Press. Thanks to Yale University Press for e-copy of this collection.

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SUMMER BROTHER: Simply moving

Jaap Robben’s 2021 International Booker Prize longlisted coming of age novel Summer Brother follows thirteen years old Brien living with his divorced and uncaring father, and follows a particular Summer when his older sixteen year old disabled brother comes to live with them.

The novel is full of simplistic writing so that the evocation of emotions is done in a very pure way.

The whole novel is written in a play like manner with tremendous dialogues ( no surprise as Robben is also a playwright) but I liked how simple yet effective it was.

The novel handles the subject matter of caring for disabled, childhood in the marginality in a very delicate way i have to say.

You know for each and every character, what’s going on in their minds, so yeah the reader is present in the novel, the translation is very good. But I have to say this title is traditional I.e. least experimental or innovative on the whole longlist.

Summer Brother : Jaap Robben, translated by David Doherty Published by World editions. Thank you so much to world editions for the e-copy of this title .

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AN INVENTORY OF LOSSES : True cabinet of curiosities

Judith Schalansky’s extraordinary book longlisted for this year’s International Booker Prize deals with the theme of loss. The interpretation of loss in the whole book is done in a very wide and accessible way.

First and foremost this is the most stunningly designed book (which is no surprise because Schalansky is also a book designer) but what is inside is even more glorious.

I am in love with the structure of this book in which first there is information about a particular loss and then there are short stories, histories, meditations, travel logs supporting each loss.

The losses range in a wide variety such as there are lost animals, islands, poems, films, manuscripts, infrastructures and many more.

Due to this amazing structure and variety, I was not at all bored by any of the losses, I was utterly gripped by each and every story or information supporting that loss.

The preface alone is so amazing that if you read that preface you are guaranteed to read that whole book.

The more time I gave to each part, the more it made me think and fell. An absolutely stunning book.

An inventory of losses by Judith Schalansky translated by Jackie Smith. Published by Maclehose press

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AT NIGHT ALL BLOOD IS BLACK: Poetic Savageness

The absolutely deserving International Booker Prize 2021 winner is terribly heartbreaking with dark brilliant vision.

This quite short novel is told from the point of view of Alfa, a young Senegalese soldier fighting for French during the First World War and his searing descent into madness after the death of his childhood friend in the battlefield.

The story is terribly dense, savage and extremely compelling which sheds a light on young African soldiers in battlefield and their colonial past and how they are taken into a world completely different with unexpected dangers of death.

The novel stunningly captures the harrowing present and past about Alfa’s family, love, youth and brotherly love in a moving way.

The translation is beautiful full of poetic and lyrical prose but what’s most extraordinary is that yes this book is full of sadness yet there’s rage running deeply in this absolutely stunning piece of work.

At night all blood is black : Written by David Diop, translated by Anna Moschovakis Published by Pushkin Press.

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THE PEAR FIELD by Nana Ekvtimishvili tr. Elizabeth Heighway : A Compelling novel with a ferocious heroine

Nana Ekvtimishvili’s International Booker longlist (so deservingly) title The pear field is set in an orphanage post Soviet era on the outskirts of Tbilisi , called The school of intellectually Disabled or as locals call it the School of idiots which is understaffed and the orphanage is falling down. The children in it have very terrible life choices.

The story is led by really I think one of the most extraordinary heroines ever Lela, who is 18, which means she could have left the school but she doesn’t and stays and works there.

The children in the orphanage are accustomed to violence, sexual assault, poverty from childhood and which shapes them further.

Despite such darkness, there is so much heart in the novel, these children are loyal and very close to each other.

Personally I thought the writing was very cinematic, as Ekvtimishvili is also a filmmaker. But what’s extraordinary in this book is that the evocation of emotions is done is an unsentimental way yet it’s so moving.

Centrally at the heart of it is a most beautiful relationship between Lela and Irakli (young 9 yr. old boy) and the bond between these two is so realistic and moving, that you really wanna know what happens to them all the way through it.

What I loved in the book is how realistic it is, it’s ruthless because what this book does is not betraying reality, this world is ruthless but it makes for a deep, visceral and unforgettable read.

The pear field – Nana Ekvtimishvili translated by Elizabeth Heighway. Thank you so much Peirene press for e-copy of this remarkable book.