FEAR OF BARBARIANS
Petar Andonvski (Parthian)
A short, shadowy novella filled with ambiguity, Petar Andonvski’s Fear Of Barbarians feels both timeless and piercingly contemporary. It follows the dual narratives of Penelope and Oksana, both of whom find themselves isolated on the Greek island of Gavdos. The book feels very much like a modern myth, and it’s no coincide that Gavdos is the island where a shipwrecked Odysseus was “rescued” and kept captive.
Both Penelope and Oksana are also held captive, by the present and by their pasts, and they detail their lives though journal-type confessionals written to an unidentified ‘you’. What’s most impressive about the book is that Andonvski takes timeworn mythic influences and turns them into something fresh and alive.
It’s not perfect: the affectless, subtly poetic prose mostly works well, but occasionally it becomes too flat, causing Penelope and Oksana to sound as if their stories are coming from the same voice, and the conceit of these characters writing out their histories leads to some clunky exposition (“Your grandmother, who brought you to the convent, was standing there…”). But none of this detracts from the depth of the questions Andonvski asks. Who are the barbarians of the story? The book offers no easy answers.
Price: £9. Info: here
words JOSHUA REES
Alice Hattrick (Fitzcarraldo)
Ill Feelings offers spellbinding reality unlike anything I have ever read. It conquers the sense of grief that we have to learn to live with; this deep guttural fear in humanity is addressed compassionately.
Alice Hattrick’s writing style melds together freeform prose and a referenced essay about the symptoms of an illness relatively unknown to the mainstream audience, unless it happens to intersect with their lived experience. The narrative criticises the expanse of illness and treatments of women, whose own accounts are expressed in personal, epistolary formats. The white cover, in the familiar Fitzcarraldo style, envelopes its pages in a straitjacket of cleanliness and its title holds its main message at its core. Each section is labelled with a typeset and heading, to ensure that the themes are well rounded and argued properly in their turn.
It hit me much like reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, as the stream of consciousness is potent when addressing the subject at hand. This exploration of self and tangible illness is a thing of which we all have some level of comparable understanding.
Price: £12.99/£5.99 eBook. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
NINA SIMONE’S GUM
Warren Ellis (Faber)
When chief Bad Seed Nick Cave was invited to curate the Meltdown Festival in 1999, band member Warren Ellis found himself in a position to capture an unusual item of music memorabilia: a piece of chewing gum fresh from the mouth of Nina Simone, stuck to the side of her piano. Keeping the gum in a piece of towel in a Tower Records bag for many years, Ellis saw it as a holy relic of sorts, a totem to gain strength and inspiration from. When Cave was asked if he could donate anything to the Stranger than Kindness exhibition, he asked Ellis if he had any unusual mementoes from a lifetime on the fringes of the mainstream.
What follows is a captivating, often moving memoir – a tribute to the power of great art wrapped in an exploration of the minutiae gathered in the itinerant life of the nomadic musician. Beginning with the discovery of a battered accordion on a waste tip in his childhood Australia, Ellis takes us on a parallel journey through the instruments of his life, and the movement of Nina Simone’s gum from piano to plinth. The contents of old suitcases and lockups are dissected, seemingly random items documented in a way that suggests that in a world as fetishized as that of music, even the musician themselves can be captivated by the unusual power of ephemera, endowing even the humblest pieces with startling, transformative qualities.
Price: £20. Info: here
words PAUL JENKINS
THE SECOND WAVE: THE NHS FAMILY AND THE FIGHT WITH COVID-19
Glenn Dene & Dr Ami Jones (Graffeg)
The Second Wave is a new collection of photography by south Wales-based documentary photographer and Operating Department Practitioner, Glenn Dene. The photographs document the moving of the Nevill Hall Hospital Intensive Therapy Unit to the new Grange University during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The accompanying text by intensive care consultant Dr Ami Jones provides plenty of context for the images, but it is Dene’s photography which transports the reader to the scene itself.
The images here are of the sort with which we have become thoroughly familiar by now: an exhausted doctor or nurse, head in their hands; teams of doctors and nurses in layers of protective equipment attending a bedside emergency; intubated patients somewhere between life and death. Thankfully, there are lighter moments to be had as well: hospital staff having an impromptu party; a nurse smiling as she administers the vaccine; a mother with her newborn child.
While nearly everyone in the photographs wears a mask, Dene’s unflinching eye has captured some deeper truth about the toll of this ongoing pandemic, seen on the faces of the ceaseless, exhausted medics and their patients.
Price: £20. Info: here
words DAVID GRIFFITHS
THE STRANGERS OF BRAAMFONTEIN
Onyeka Nwelue (Abibiman)
Nigerian author Onyeka Nwelue’s filmmaking career sets apart his latest novel, The Strangers of Braamfontein, with prose that reads like a movie playing in your head as you read. Though at times the dialogue is jarring – written in Nigerian dialect – it becomes an important part of the authenticity of this eye-opening story about African immigrants living in South Africa.
Set on the streets of Braamfontein, a suburb of Johannesburg, strangers from African countries congregate in a city famed on the continent for its potential for employment and betterment – but they are not always welcome. In a country where so many fight against poverty, “eat or be eaten” trumps kindness every time.
We meet a cast of characters, including Nigerian painter Osas, Canadian-born Zimbabwean Chamai, Ruth and her “girls” who elicit sex for survival, thrust together by their association with a Nigerian drug lord, Papi. At times masterfully skirting the line of stereotype and intense realism (stereotypes are always rooted somewhere, right?), The Strangers Of Braamfontein holds up a cracked, blood-stained mirror to modern, post-colonial Africa.
Tackling themes of xenophobia, homophobia, racism, sex trafficking and more, The Strangers Of Braamfontein lays bare the desperate lengths people will go to in search of a better life.
Price: £8. Info: here
words MEGAN THOMAS