My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite


Blood might be thicker than water, but it’s also a lot more difficult to scrub out of carpets. Just ask Korede, a hardworking Nigerian nurse. By day, she is a well-respected, dedicated carer. At night she is on standby as an enabler for her wrecking ball of a little sister, Ayoola, who has a habit of killing her boyfriends.

Ayoola stabs them and Korede bags them, and though Ayoola pleads self-defense, Korede realizes that she has become a serial killer’s one woman cleanup crew. Until Ayoola sets her sight on Korede’s dream man, Tade.

The conflict is at one point explicitly focused on Korede’s Choice between her murderous sister and the object of her unrequited affection. The premise works as long as you don’t overthink it. Nigeria has the death penalty, but at no point is Korede seriously worried that her sister might hang. Instead, she frets about the prospect of losing hunky Doctor Tade to her sister’s sharp knife blade. Leaving aside considerations of logistics and logic, since we are reading a satirical(ish) tale, not a full fledged psychological thriller, the flimsy characterization of both Ayoola and Tade put the story under strain.

To her credit, Braithwaite does solve the Tade side of the equation by stripping him of his Mr. Perfect aura by the time Korede takes a side. This is more than many authors manage once they’ve set their hearts on convincing us that the boring, self-involved, hunky Doc types of this world are irresistible. Unfortunately, Ayoola doesn’t come across as any more well-rounded of a character. This is a far bigger issue given that her relationship with Korede is what anchors the book.

For all the attention she gets for her overwhelming physical beauty, Ayoola has a serious charisma deficit. She is simply put too dull of a psychopath and, as we rush through the plot without getting any insight into when exactly she started killing and what triggers it, she remains a beautiful blank slate throughout. The fact that she is often infantilized does not help. It is a missed opportunity to explore in more depth the themes of female agency, rage and violence the story only touches on very lightly.

Where Braithwaite does show more ambition is the flashbacks to the girls’ family life. There is a marked improvement as we get to see how Korede began her lifelong role as her sister’s keeper and how the two girls support each other to survive their father’s violence. You get the feeling this is the book that could emerge from a couple of rewrites. The good news is My Sister, the Serial Killer has been optioned for screen, a medium that has a lot of potential to bring out the story’s strengths. In the hands of a charismatic actress, Ayoola’s blankness might yet become chilling and cool. This might not be a whodunnit, but it is a very brisk, often fun read. I support publishing novellas under the radar with the help of generous formatting. I am even happier to have easy access to books set in a global metropolis outside of Europe or the US, so fingers crossed for the cinematic version and the advent of a Lagos noir trend. If the cover of this book is any indication, it’s going to be a stunner.

What’s interesting to note among the hype for this novella is that the audiobook version is getting great reviews, even from readers who had issues with the choppy plot and did not quite buy into the story on the written page. Perhaps My Sister, the Serial Killer was destined to be seen or heard rather

Sofia Fara is a book blogger and member of The Books Without Borders Bookclub

240 pages and published by Double Day

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My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

roopaGloBooks  finds out whether The Good Children  really was a good read. 

I was fascinated by how they are created,” she said during a recent event for lucky readers at the London based Foreign Fiction Bookclub…. and this fascination underpins her sixth novel The Good Children.

But rather than focus this fascination on a modern-day Hitler or a Joseph Fritzl, Farooki looks for the evil in everyday life, peeling the facade that covers a supposedly happy society family in the midst of the heat of Lahore in post-partition Pakistan to reveal the ugly interior.

While riots rage around them and others wilt under the pressures of a demanding and repressive society, the Saddeq household comprising of a couple, four children and assorted servants, smile through this turbulent period in the history of the Indian subcontinent, albeit with gritted teeth.

Later, the eldest of the four children , Sulaman Saddeq, or Sully, is to become an expert on how evil spread through Nazi Germany and otherwise “normal” people ended up as accomplices to the slaughter of the country’s Jewish population.

roopan.jpg
Roopa Farooki  was the Foreign  Fiction Bookclub`s Guest Author

But the real study begins much earlier in his life and that of his siblings.

The Good Children is told through the eyes of the two sons and two daughters of the household. But the central figure, the anti-protagonist, is their sociopath mother, who puts Grimm’s stepmother into the shade with the brutal manner in which she brings up her children and forces them into stereotypes of perfect children – the two boys are designed to be doctors, the two girls to be wives. Thus she becomes of a metaphor for that most callous of monsters – a repressive society.

The story charts the attempt of  each these four children to escape the clutches of the fate she has bestowed on them. But as Sully, the eldest son, finds out, physical distance alone does not banish her ghost.

The story begins with the four children in their teens. Mrs Saddeq is intent on projecting an image of the perfect family. So she trills over her husband’s every word and whips her sons and daughters into shape, forcing them into the stereotypes of perfect children: her sons are sent away to become doctors, her daughter to become good wives.

Perhaps the most compelling portion of the novel is a brief and thrilling few chapters where the eldest daughter Mae, denied her dream of being a doctor like the boys, rebels by playing the role set down for so well that she briefly threatens to take unseat her mother’s place at the head of the household. Eventually, the coup fails and there’s no physical escape for Mae, who stays behind as all three of the others make good their escape, Sully to the U.S. and Jakie to the U.K. where he is followed eventually by Lana.

The rest of the book comprises their adventures in these countries and how each of them come to terms with their upbringing, and it becomes much more about the clash of an old way of living and a new.

Jakie is possibly the most successful, his relationship with Irishman Frank, while far from perfect, allowing him to express his compassionate side and cure his wounds with love, enchantingly portrayed by Farooki.

An improbable adoption of an abused Indian maid and her son by this homosexual couple – surely a hard arrangement to square with society in the 1980s? – and his charitable work in Pakistan further helps him heal.

For the women, the road is a much harder one. Both are trapped by marriages, and yet they eventually do escape in their own ways, the perfidy of their husband’s serving as reasons to leave. Lana eventually follows Jackie to London and establishes a life there.

Even though the subject is a tough one, the book is throughout as compelling as any airport page-turner, and almost worth reading for Farooki’s gorgeous imagery alone. She uses violent images to describe the most domestic of tasks, constantly jarring the reader out of their complacency.

Amma beat us ferociously, as though it was exercise, and something that she needed to stretch and limber up for in advance. Like a local lawman in the villages, charged with administering a hundred lashes to a young rape victim for her adultery.”

For a book that evocatively describes the hardships and injustice women face in society, both in Pakistan and beyond, it’s a pity that she doesn’t spend more time on It is unfortunate, then, that she appears to lose interest in the female half of her set of protagonists, spending a majority of time describing the lives of Sully and Jackie and the various people they meet, Irishman being the most compelling of the side characters.

Lana, and particularly Mae, don’t get this sort of special treatment even though they are arguably the more interesting characters whilst growing up.

It’s easy to get tired of Sully’s morbid and flawed introspection, and the reader has to exercise a large slice of suspension of disbelief when reading about Jakie’s life.The overall impression is of a muscular giant of a book in the making that runs out of steam halfway through the journey.

Farooki’s decision not to delve into arguably the books most interesting character – the mother – except in the most cursory manner, is another point for debate. Given the understanding she shows to almost all the other characters, surely a few chapters exploring her backstop wouldn’t go amiss?

But perhaps the book is the more effective for it. Once dissected, the monster becomes pitiable rather than fascinating. And that fascination is what gives The Good Children its tremendous energy.

The Good Children  (416 pages ) Published by Tinder Press

2016-06-12 09.47.42Abhinav Ramnarayan is a Journalist and Foreign Fiction Blogger 

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The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

I AM CHINA BY XIAOLU GUO Book Review

Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel
Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel

I AM CHINA written by Xiaolu Guo is a cautionary story of exiled Chinese musician and former Chinese Punk Jian and his girlfriend Mu. The title comes from Vassily Grossman’s magnum opus, Life and Fate, the epic novel of human survival under totalitarianism and the closing line of his own manifesto .

Iona Kirkpatrick is a 31 year old translator tasked with making sense of the letters given to her by her publishing company. Slowly but surely she perseveringly pieces together a love story across the ages. Layer by layer,she gives us a backdrop to the love affair, which is a politically harsh, angular regime which never-endingly excoriates its citizens.

This a book which takes you on an odyssey, a love story across continents that spans the generations and is written in the first person of the character Iona. Guo presents something of a detective story and invites our curiosity, cleverly hooking the reader in from the beginning to end. The translator seemingly unlocks secrets from the past and decodes the story hidden between lines of language. As the story unfolds before us, we get glimpses of the character`s past and their seemingly disparate lives. Guo has a gift for being allegorical without feeling as a reader you are being clubbed on the head with meanings or sign-posted for themes. There are clearly over-arching themes of cultural displacement, distance, and how we stead-fastly remain wedded to our beliefs to a fault; that they can shape us perhaps even hijack us and prevent us from changing in an ever-changing world. In a letter to Jian, comparing America to China, Mu talks of how America is the land of living and live clichés and points to the stark comparison with China. She writes; Its like ideology, you are told to believe some stuff and you are not supposed not to give it up ! Maybe that’s the difference with China. We struggle like buffalo all our lives and we still don’t become someone.”

Just as Jian is in exile thousands of miles away from his own country, there are parallels with Iona who is also someone who has become a reticent London resident. Iona herself is from the isle of Iona and it could be argued is culturally displaced. Yet as she was growing up, she wanted to escape the confines of her small island upbringing. Describing Iona`s childhood, Guo writes; her childhood was about waiting, wondering and the promise of what lay beyond the sea.”

It`s a complex love story which at times is laconic, brutal, uncompromising and laced with Guo`s ironic humour, that is at times bitter-sweet but never saccharine. There’s a juxtaposition between Mu`s rhythmic life, full of life’s nuances and Jian`s life of physically being trapped at the detention centre and trapped by his own beliefs. We see Iona who is emotionless, grasping for human contact in meaningless sexual one off encounters.

In one part of the book, we have Kublai Jian penning a letter to the Queen during his detention in a Lincolnshire Psychiatric Hospital in the vain hope that he can appeal to what he thinks is the highest law in the land “In China we say that if you can talk to the boss then don’t talk to the boss`s secretary and if you can talk to the boss`s wife then no need to talk to the boss. So dear Queen you are the boss lady, you are the top one! Whilst not actually a prison, it has a semblance of one and the oft-quoted line. “detained at the majesty`s pleasure taking on a
whole new meaning.

There is a literary play-off between the adventurist Mu who leaves behind her native Beijing to go to the States to pursue her dream of being a performance poet, persuaded by her manager that she should off-load her name and adopt the hip name of Sabotage Sisters. She becomes part of the touring group Beijing Maniac. There’s almost an ironic wink to the American Dream and a literary homage to the road movie as they tour from state to state. There is a boldness, a courage, and this contrasts to Iona`s life of existing on “a loop” living. Yet Mu feels a strange disconnect with her new life. She writes “Is that me? I feel that I am wearing a disguise – underneath I am a hundred percent Chinese daughter of the countryside.. its as if Im pretending to be someone else.”

Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China
Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China

Guo however simply falls into the trap of polarising the free and righteous West with the politically harsh China rather then presenting a 21st century view with its grey areas and political nuances. We hear that the publisher has to pull Iona from the translation task as he cannot risk possible ramifications if he goes ahead and publishes the book following a sinister call from the Minister of State Security that he should not publish anything in relation to Kublai Jian who is the son of a high ranking Chinese politician, fearful of any media publicity. Iona`s character felt listless and it felt there wasn’t enough substance to lift her off the page. However in an ending befitting of a novel that is epic in its story telling and fluid in its prose, I AM CHINA will certainly be on your must-read list for this year and beyond.
I AM CHINA published by Chatto and Windus.

Philip Chadha – Founder of http://www.globooks.net – Destination Point For Foreign Fiction Fans

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I AM CHINA BY XIAOLU GUO Book Review

Meatspace: The Novel by Nikesh Shukla

meatspace
A satire on the online generation

Meatspace defined as the physical world, as opposed to cyberspace is the second novel from author Nikesh Shukla; the writer behind Coconut Unlimited which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award so certainly no dilettante when it comes to the realms of fiction writingHis second novel could be described as a satire and a poke in the eye for the  new social media generation. Its an exploration of the  excesses  of being 24-7 ” connected” through that modern day monster, we call social media and how it is increasingly becoming the currency for measuring one`s own popularity and defining the way we connect to people.

coconut
Debut novel Coconut Unlimited

Novelist Kitab Balasubramanyam is a writer sandwiched in that hellish place between his first novel which suffered a  failure to launch and writing his follow-up. He is experiencing something of a second album syndrome as he tries to write his second book, grappling for inspiration from social media and becoming a serial tweeter in the process. He finds life has an annoying tendency of getting in the way as he tries to contend with the breakup with his girlfriend among other things.

Shukla really gave you a sense of what it must be like for a writer shuffling from day to day, listless, and searching for the illusive someone or something to be the lightening rod for his creative energy. The character just comes off the page and is so well drawn thanks to Shukla`s deftly constructed prose.

Nikesh Shukla
Nikesh Shukla

There are sections which read like a deliciously black (ish) style of comedy with  Kitab`s own day caught in a groundhog day. Shukla seems to tip his hat in appreciation to the comedy legend Tony Hancock. He beautifully  taps into this  Hancockian comedy-vein and there is more of the same in the form of his relationship with his father, giving us more comedy fodder.However Shukla seemed to momentarily  dangerously tread the fine line between character and caricature  but fleshes out his father`s character just enough to make you warm to him. We learn that his father is a widower who survived some dark years following the death of his wife and now  seems to be having a second wind in life. A serial dater with a penchant for attractive women  who seems to score more female attention and more Facebook likes(70% more just to add insult to injury) then his own son. His father   clearly seemed to be far more seasoned in the art of seduction then Kitab. His dad`s lion- heart courage and seize the day attitude left you wondering whether the  father and son were even  actually biologically related.

There is  a moment in the book when Shukla  unexpectedly receives an email from his Dad who usually leans more to texting. He finds a forwarded email from a woman  on a dating site declaring her intention to meet his son. The cringe  dial is turned right up when his father writes in bold “kitab son wen u free?!! Touching and cringing in equal measure. Infact  far from being a typical father he is atypical and not the least bit avuncular either.

Shukla illustrates the absurdity of social media and how  its all pervasive element seeps into  our daily lives; dictating  the way we engage with others with some light  comic touches. We are introduced to his online friend Cara who he rarely sees and lives just 45 minutes away. Yet she is annoyed that they missed their Skype dinner… yes you heard me !  Skype dinners ! and whilst they aren’t exactly separated by rough and uninhabitable jungles or terrains, the implicit rule is that they don`t meet up unless its on Skype.

Funny-Pictures-For-Facebook2
Sometimes even the best laid plans can get rumbled.

Rach is the ex- girlfriend  who occasionally gets a look-in. I personally  would have liked to have seen the character given much more page-time. It would have been interesting to have been given a first-person perspective or ring-side seat to viewing Kitab`s mad, bad and crazy world. Whilst she was apparently unfashionably unversed in the black art (to some) in managing social media and yearned for a simpler time before mobile phones, (the very antithesis of Kitab), she would have undoubtedly given the novel everyman appeal .

Shukla demonstrates he is not just about scoring laughs though and adds a layer of sensitivity to the story. There is a lovely literary motif in  the form of the left-over chutneys in a fridge, reminders of better times when they were both deliriously taken with coupledom.

We are eventually introduced to another central character in the form of Kitab2; Kitab`s own doppelganger who  finally catches up with him in person after a series of  Facebook friend requests. He is a living apparition, the  embodiment of everything nightmarish about social media all rolled into one, a sort of ghosts of all Facebooks past. Against his best efforts to unfriend ,unfollow, and block him, he soon realises that the situation is complicated. Kitab2 outstays his welcome and becomes a permanent fixture in Kitab`s life, desperately wanting to ape his own lifestyle, believing it will somehow allow him to be more successful with women.

There is of course Kitab`s brother Aziz who goes on a quest to find his own doppelganger  and chart his journey through his own blog entries which prove to be very popular, much to Kitab`s annoyance. Whilst lightly amusing, I thought  that it was an unnecessary distraction from a good story. It seemed that the character had been introduced for comedic effect only. However not to post a spoiler alert, his character does however become pivotal towards the end.

You might be forgiven for thinking it`s a  zeitgeist novel  but you would be mistaken. The book never aspires to be a all you wanted to know book or a looking- glass on the online generation. Instead Shukla delivers a novel that is more about the foibles of human nature, the bitter-sweet tragi-comedy, that is life and the vagaries of those signed up for life to the 140 character brigade. It also delivers  a cautionary tale of how  social media becomes the way we socially engage and the currency for measuring popularity as well.

Shukla demonstrates a wonderful eye for detail and gives you a warm, fuzzy at the edges story, guaranteed to have you laughing out loud at times and at others, nodding a knowing smile, over his acute observations of life, love, and everything between. Never soporific. Meatspace is a hard to put down read which will have you reaching for the next page and then the next until you dissapointingly finish.

Meatspace is published by The Friday Project.  Get it now at www.amazon.co.uk

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Meatspace: The Novel by Nikesh Shukla

New Pan-Asian Fiction Event – Asian Literature Festival

New-Fiction-Event-
It`s not very often you get to feature a wonderful gamut of writers with their own literary DNAs, a troika of literary talent.

Dilettantes of Asian literature attended the recent pan Asian Fiction event held recently as part of the Asian Literature Festival. Curator Adrienne Loftus Parkins commenting on the festival said “The 2014 Festival was host to some of the best discussions we`ve had in the history of the Festival.Over the two weeks of the festival, we visited 17 Asian countries, explored British Asian humour, discussed Changing Sexual Mores, engaged in political and social discussions of North Korea and profiled two outstanding novelists making their UK debuts, Omar Shahid Hamid from Pakistan and Tew Bunnag from Thailand, as well as Prajwal Parajuly`s first novel. Overall, the theme of Changing Asian Values as discussed in most of our events stimulated understanding of the issues in developing Asian societies.”

Left-Right Interviewer Paul Blezard,Roopa Farooki,Romesh Gunesekera,Xialou Gua
Left-Right Interviewer Paul Blezard,Roopa Farooki,Romesh Gunesekera,Xialou Gua

It was a wonderful opportunity to get a sneak preview of novels from three established novelists, including authors Romesh Gunesekera (Noontide Toll), Roopa Farooki (THE GOOD CHILDREN) and also Xia Guo (I am China) and deliver an under the hood look at just what was involved in the mechanics of writing a novel. Interviewer Paul Blezard proved to be something of a Michelin trained chef who sliced and diced the respective authors` novels and gave us an insight into the germ of the novel`s idea and delivered a personal vision of the author behind the book. Rather then simply give us a dry academic review, he treated the audience to an intimate portrayal of the author and how their experiences shaped their own writing. It was refreshing to see an interviewer far from simply being obsequious, actually challenging the authors to give us a glimpse into the creative process, their own personal makeup and how it informs their writing.

Author Roopa Farooki - The Good Children
Author Roopa Farooki – The Good Children

Author Roopa Farooki was born in Lahore, Pakistan and brought up in London. She graduated from Oxford and worked in advertising before turning to write fiction. Bitter Sweets, her first novel, was nominated for the Orange Award for New Writers 2007. He other works include, The Way Things Look to Me, Half Life and The Flying Man. Interviewer Paul Blezard spoke to her about her novel THE GOOD CHILDREN set in 1940s Lahore. It involves two brothers and their two younger sisters who are brought up to be ‘good children’, who do what they’re told. Beaten and browbeaten by their manipulative mother, to study, honour and obey.THE GOOD CHILDREN is the universal story of discipline and disobedience, punishment and the pursuit of passion and how the “game-changing generations” break with the ties that have previously bound them across generations.The novel has been described as “a landmark epic of the South Asian immigrant experience.”

Author Roopa Farooki`s latest novel
Author Roopa Farooki`s latest novel
According to Farooki, international fiction is far from just a category.”we are keen to put them [Asian literature novels] on the syallabus.. What`s different, whats exotic.Its about what we share as our world becomes a smaller place, I think its input through literature is what is common between us… so we take Asian literature as a microcosm of that…. We write about universal themes.Its not about putting it in a box.Its about opening it out and understanding about who we are and what we share” According to author Romesh Gunesekera it is about focussing on the writing.”It`s the idea of national literature.. Its more interesting to look at its genre. It`s not bound by nationalities ..its not bound by genre.” Is the term Asian literature a misnomer asked interviewer Paul Blezard. Author Xiau Gua seemed to chime with Romesh`s comments “As a good novelist you go beyond that.”

Roopa Farooki was asked just what were the seeds for the novel ? “I was literally writing a story and another thing comes to me. do good children do what we are told and that was the seed for the novel. Children are manipulated over the generations about being good to authority [there are also] game changing generations, what do you do when you break rules, what do you do loose? How do they stand up and say no rather then yes.” Just what was she like as a child? “I hope I was a good child.I was super academic. And what about her children ? Are they rule breakers ? “I think my children are good but they break out [from the norms].I admire the rule breakers and the game changers.”

I saw undeniable political parables, whether intentionally or unintentionally, considering the backdrop to the novel. There were the rule breakers and game-changers set within Pakistan`s own political scene. 1940`s Lahore was a time of dramatic political change where you had the creation of The Lahore Resolution which was a formal political statement adopted by the All-India Muslim League called for the creation of ‘independent states’ for Muslims in north-western and eastern British India.
Lahore_Resolution_News_BurhanAhmed The constituent units of these states were to be
autonomous and sovereign.The resolution was presented by A. K. Fazlul Huq, the Premier of Bengal. It was later interpreted as a demand for a separate and single Muslim state, called Pakistan.

Author Romesh Gunesekera
Author Romesh Gunesekera
Interviewer Paul Blezard then spoke to author Romesh Gunesekera. 1992 saw his first collection of stories, Monkfish Moon, which was one of the first titles in Granta’s venture into book publishing and shortlisted for several prizes and named a New York Times Notable Book for 1993. His widely acclaimed first novel, Reef, was published in 1994 and was short-listed as a finalist for the Booker Prize, as well as for the Guardian Fiction Prize. He is certainly no stranger to receiving accolades, having received the inaugural BBC Asia Award for Achievement in Writing in 1998.

Romseh Gunesekera`s latest novel.
Romesh Gunesekera`s latest novel.
Blezard asked just how did the novel take flight “I started out to wanting to write a short story or a couple of short stories but then one just went onto another and I just liked the company of this guy [Vansantha].It became Vasantha`s story as well.” Does he have a responsibility in how he portrays Sri Lanka in his writing? “As a writer, when you open the book,you don’t want to close it. So my responsibility is to do with language, the place or politics and the two come together acutely [in the new book] Do you consider yourself a writer or a storyteller? asked Paul Blezard “Hopefully I`m a writer who tells stories. Stories have come back into novels due to Asian writers..The story is important to me.” Gunesekera reveals the wonderfully paradoxical nature of the reader`s experience. He commented “You want a novel where the story will want you to turn the pages but the writing will want you stay on the pages.” One could ask that in times gone-by successive generations were bestowed with knowledge through the storytelling of their elders. Yet as the world lives and immerses itself in the digital age has the art of story telling died? It is definitely a question that has you chewing the colloquial fat over.

Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China
Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China
Next in the literary line up was author Xia Guo. With a number of capstones to her name, Xiaolu Guo is both writer and film-maker. She has published seven works of poignant and witty fiction, including ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’ which was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007, and ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’. She was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 2013. Her film ‘She, A Chinese’ won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno film festival 2010 and her ‘UFO in her Eyes’ is a compelling and funny satire on contemporary Chinese consumerism.

Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel
Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel
What was the germ of the novel? “It was an enclosed story and I am always interested in the dislocation of the individual. Iona [female protagonist] is living another space and time even though she is living in London.” What was it like to find out you had won the Granta award? asked Paul Blezard.”I was not familiar with Granta. What is this Granta ? and I was then told that it was a big thing. Far from someone who yearns for literary recognition, she reveals herself to be a very different kind of literary animal. She commented “I had no ambition to be someone on a social list but [had] a big ambition as a writer, as intellectual as a thinker.”

I AM CHINA Xiaolu Guo

THE GOOD CHILDREN Roopa Farooki

Noontide Toll Romesh Gunesekera

New Pan-Asian Fiction Event – Asian Literature Festival

Where The Devil Cant Go: Anya Lipska

Anya Lipska Author of Where the Devil Cant Go. (One of the authors featured on Polish Crime Night.

Lipska`s debut novel begins when a girl gets washed up on a banks of the River Thames.The case involves what appears to be a suicide victim otherwise known in police lexicon as a “floater”.The case is given to the reluctant young career climbing detective Natalie Kershaw by her sergeant. DS Bacon, a wonderfully archaic character who would have his picture right next to the “what is an anachronism ?

Sergeant Bacon otherwise known as Streaky to the team; resorts to shouting at people by their surname and barely masks his chauvinism and near the knuckle sexism. This is a character who seemingly forgot that times have changed and so have our policeman, yet bounds along like an extra from a 70`s Brit cop show. Janusz Kiszka is a Polish builder whose gruff exterior belies a man racked with guilt in all its guises; religious, personal and emotional and one often having to pursue a tenuous relationship with religion, often careering between right and wrong but occasionally hitting the skids in trying to live a life of a God fearing; good Catholic, Polish citizen. His priest and surrogate father figure, Father Pietruski, implores the hard man with a heart to find a missing young waitress. He sets out to find the girl and becomes embroiled in the shady underworld of drug selling, encounters with less then pleased thugs, and cold blooded murder.

After a small but important piece of evidence is discovered, following the death of a second young woman,Kershaw is led straight to Janusz`s door and is doggedly convinced that he is certainly involved in her death. During the first moment of questioning, Kershaw offers her polite but bullet like questions to Januz, gently poking and prodding for the truth. It grates and riles him and forces him to recall his grandfather`s proverb “where the devil cant go, he sends a woman”, a back-handed compliment, if ever there was one.

A wonderful cat and mouse relationship then ensues where Janusz the hunter, now becomes the hunted. Aside from well drawn out characters, Lipska demonstrates a knack for producing wonderful moments of deliciously black comedy; scenes that are dark as much as they are wickedly funny. In one part, Janusz and his cohort Oska are on their way to deliver a lead coffin in a van bound for Poland. Oska has been offered 2000 euros to “repatriate” a body to Poland inorder to avoid a proper burial and any awkward questions being asked about the accidental death of the construction worker. Janusz is clearly frustrated by the fact that they are heading to Poland in a van carrying a coffin and running the very probable risk of being caught not with illegal contraband but a lead coffin. “I still don’t understand how come youre an undertaker now ” Janusz shouts. “Business, Janek what else ?” Oska replies.

For fans of criminology and all slavish followers of television dramas such as the excellent BBC drama “Silent Witness” et al, her meticulous police details especially during autopsy scenes make really engaging reading.

The author later dials up the intrigue and pace of the novel and you are pulled into the criminal underworld, leaving you cooking up possible summations and leaving conspiracy theorists frankly cooing with delight. This pacy novel serves up a delicious cocktail of intrigue, murder, and black humour. Personally I would have liked maybe more descriptions of an atmospheric London backdrop, darker urban undertones and an even thicker spread of conspiracy plotting. On a few fleeting occasions the plot line felt a little truncated near the end as Lipska slowly pieces the clues together. However she soon ratchets up the heat once more and gives a barnstormer of an ending that more than adequately delivers. This is a pitch-perfect novel which will have you turning the page in auto-mode. Something tells me that Lipska is set to become the poster-girl for great Polish crime fiction.

Where The Devil Cant Go: Author Anya Lipska. Published by The Friday Project

Where The Devil Cant Go: Anya Lipska

Polish Crime Fiction Night : Celebrating Crime Fiction Writing

Polish Crime Fiction NightThe event celebrated the brightest and best in Polish crime fiction writing talent. The literary- set included William Broderick author of The Day of a Lie; Anya Lipska author of Where the Devil Cant Go, Joanna Jodelka author of Polychrome and also Mariusz Czubaj author of 21:37
Journalist Rosie Goldsmith charmingly picked apart the ingredients of Polish crime fiction. Was there something unique to Polish crime fiction that stood it apart from the well thumbed novels of Ian Rankin and what were the common characteristics, if any, amongst the selected writers?

Mariusz Czubaj
Mariusz Czubaj is the author of the intriguingly entitled yet easily memorable 21:37 Interestingly in case you were wondering just what was behind the title of Mariusz`s book 21:37, it signifies the time Polish Pope John Paul was meant to have nearly died. Interviewer Rosie Goldsmith asked Czubaj if he was brave to write a story involving potent topics such as politics, religion, and corruption and expose himself to criticism in the process. As far as abuse allegations within the church were concerned, Czubaj was blissfully unaware of any allegations of abuse within the church until after the book was published. However he struck me as something of an iconoclast with a healthy irreverence for the shortcomings of institutions, and would not risk fear garrot his creativity. A great novel but something of a sleeper in literary terms. Czubaj revealed when published in 2008, it received a lukewarm response from the Polish public. Was there no appetite for crime fiction or did the novel offend conservative (with a small c) Polish reading tastes? Journalist Rosie Goldsmith then commented on the main character within 21:37 Interestingly the main protagonist in the book Rudolph was an interesting character, free from stereotypes. Czubaj explained that the character’s profession as profiler, was a “metaphor” for someone who was basically a “good person in a crazy world” and far from a two dimensional character, he was one made of real “blood and guts”.

L-R  William Broderick. Anya Lipska, Joanna Jodelpa, and Mariusz Czubaj
L-R William Broderick. Anya Lipska, Joanna Jodelka, and Mariusz Czubaj

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Joanna Jodelka won the High Calibre Award for the Best Polish Crime Novel, taking the prize in 2010 for her debut Polychrome (Polichromia, 2009).Former art historian, Joanna Jodelka explained that she was determined to write a crime novel and used her thesis to help her write the book. Infact we may have not have seen her first book, had it not been for her then professor`s constant goading. It seemed it was a torturous experience but a cathartic one for her. Jodelka was in fact the first Polish female to win the High Calibre award. Were there a distinct lack of Polish female crime fiction writers? interviewer Rosie Goldsmith asked. Jodelka revealed that since winning the award, there were more Polish female crime fiction writers coming forward. Could we expect a whole new sub genre of crime fiction with darker, intelligent female insights with less machismo, to rival the current body of American or English male crime fiction writers? Do female crime fiction writers make better writers then male crime fiction writers ? Now that’s a question to get the male literary rabble roused.
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Next to bask in the glow of literary adulation was novelist Anya Lipska, with her debut novel Where The Devil Cant Go. The sometime television producer wanted the structure of a crime novel which could get into peoples` motivations and has issues of morality, guilt, loss and betrayal. Interviewer Rosie Goldsmith made a salient point of how Lipska manages to bridge the two cultures by producing the two key characters; the ambitious young detective Natalie Kershaw and hard man with a heart Janusz Kiszka , a kind of underworld fixer/sleuth who is less sleuth and more ruthless. Interviewer Rosie Goldsmith asked Did she know people like them? According to Lipska, Natalie is a woman in a man`s world and like her, she was a woman in a man`s television exec world so they were “composite characters”.

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Finally William Broderick author of The Day of the Lie. An interesting background, beginning his life as a friar in Dublin, Ireland. After several years as a friar, he left the order to help set up a charity at the request of Cardinal Hume, The Depaul Trust. In 1991 he became a barrister and is now a writer. He has written several books featuring the character Father Anslem. Rather then a protagonist flawed and haunted by inner demons, we have Father Anslem who Broderick explains is plagued by the never -ending question of why people commit crimes. Broderick has several books with a Polish connection. Why Poland ? interviewer Rosie Goldsmith asked. Broderick commented that his mother who was of Dutch origin, believed that the “English know what it is to be bombed but not to be occupied and according to Broderick there was a “profound ignorance of the Polish (war) experience.”

The event proved to be a wonderful foray into Polish crime fiction writing, peppered with interesting insights and personalised with readings. For me, the well-organised event was a seminal moment and provided a photo-fit of Polish crime writing in 2014. We were witnessing possibly the beginning of a literary movement that could see the birth a whole new sub-genre which in time will hopefully see a burgeoning Polish Crime fiction scene.

Anya Lipska: Where The Devil Cant Go Published by Friday Project

Joanna Jodelka: Polychrome Polychrome was translated by Danusia Stok

William Broderick: The Day of The Lie It is published by Little Brown.

Mario Cibaj: 21:37 published by Stork Press and translated by Anna Hyde.

Interviewer
Rosie Goldsmith is Chair of European Literature Night held at the British Library.She is a journalist specializing in arts and international affairs, in the UK and abroad. As a BBC broadcaster she travelled the world, from Libya to Japan to East Timor. She began her career at the BBC in 1989 on a programme called ‘Europhile’, covering events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolutions of Eastern Europe. She also presented flagship BBC radio shows like Front Row, Open Book, A World In Your Ear and Crossing Continents.

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