Review: Shatila Stories

August 8, 2018 in Book Reviews, Contemporary, Translated Literature

Review: Shatila Stories Shatila Stories by Various
Published by Peirene Press on 18th June 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Most novels are written by professional writers using second hand material. Not this one. Peirene commissioned nine refugees to tell their ‘Shatila Stories’. The result is a piece of collaborative fiction unlike any other. If you want to understand the chaos of the Middle East – or you just want to follow the course of a beautiful love story – start here.

Adam and his family flee Syria and arrive at the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. Conditions in this overcrowded Palestinian camp are tough, and violence defines many of the relationships: a father fights to save his daughter, a gang leader plots to expand his influence, and drugs break up a family. Adam struggles to make sense of his refugee experience, but then he meets Shatha and starts to view the camp through her eyes.

How The Book Came About

I was a bit late in finding Shatila Stories, discovering it on its publication day rather than during the Kickstarter campaign to support the publication of this book.

Commissioned by Peirene Press, Shatila Stories is a work of collaborative fiction created by nine Syrian and Palestinian refugees who reside in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon.

The Shatila camp was founded in 1949 for 3000 Palestinians but now houses up to 40000 refugees following the Syrian crisis. It’s a camp that was made infamous by the 1982 massacre there.

Meike Ziervogel, Publisher of Peirene Press, together with London-based Syrian editor Suhir Helal, travelled to Shatila in 2017 to run a creative writing workshop. With participants ranging from 18 to 42 years old, some of whom hadn’t completed their formal schooling, and others still had never read a novel before. The Introduction shares how this process worked, how nine refugees came together with Peirene to create this work of collaborative fiction.

My Thoughts

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading Shatila Stories, but what I found was a power, insightful story that opened my eyes to life in the camp.

We follow various characters, many of whom are interlinked in some way. Within the overcrowded, harrowing conditions of the camp we see families trying to make ends meet, drug problems driving families apart, violence, people trying to find their place in the camp, and music bringing people together. There are so many interweaving tales that address many issues of life in the camp.

I found this book so easy to read, devouring it in a day. The quote on the cover from one of my favourite authors, Khaled Hosseini, sums up the importance of this book.

this remarkable novel isn’t about refugee voice; it is born from it and told through it

The writing may, at times, be less refined than some may be used to, but surely this can be forgiven for what is a truly inspirational project and a remarkable read.

Charitable Donation

It would be remiss of me not to tell you that Peirene will donate 50p from the sale of this book to charity, specifically Basmeh & Zeitooneh (The Smile and The Olive).

Basmeh & Zeitooneh ‘aims to create opportunities for refugees to move beyond being victims of conflict and help them to become empowered individuals who one day will return to their own country to rebuild their society.’

B&Z are currently managing nine community centres, seven in Lebanon and two in Turkey. By purchasing this book you will be supporting their projects.

The Authors

Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbawi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud and Hiba Mareb. Translated from Arabic by Nashua Gowanlock.

four-half-stars

Review: FEAR

January 24, 2018 in Book Reviews, Psychological Thriller, Translated Literature

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: FEAR FEAR by Dirk Kurbjuweit
Published by Orion on 25th January 2018
Genres: Psychological, thriller
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
three-stars

YOU'D DIE FOR YOUR FAMILY.

BUT WOULD YOU KILL FOR THEM?

***

Family is everything.

So what if yours was being terrorised by a neighbour – a man who doesn’t listen to reason, whose actions become more erratic and sinister with each passing day? And those you thought would help – the police, your lawyer – can’t help you.

You become afraid to leave your family at home alone. But there’s nothing more you can do to protect them.

Is there?

FEAR is the story of Randolph Tiefenhaler, a married father of two who works as an architect in Berlin. He and his family live in an upper ground floor flat in the city. It’s upon purchasing this flat that the family find themselves under the scrutiny of their downstairs neighbour, Dieter Tiberius, a man who lives alone and rarely leaves his home. Dieter Tiberius’ notes to the family start off fairly innocuous, but it isn’t long before he is accusing Randolph and his wife of abusing their children. When Randolph seeks help from the police on this slanderous matter he is turned away – they can do nothing to help him. With everything in his life hanging on the words of his downstairs neighbour, Randolph is desperate to find a solution to his Dieter Tiberius problem.

The story is told by Randolph as he looks back on the events of his aforesaid problem. But as readers we spend a lot of time looking at Randolph’s own personal life, his upbringing and marriage in order to understand the man whose family are being stalked.

Originally written in German, the FEAR is the first of Dirk Kurbjuweit’s work to be translated into English. It’s a very interesting concept for a novel, not least because the author is drawing upon his own personal experiences. I think knowing this adds additional weight to the story and, as readers, we begin to wonder what we would do in Randolph’s position?

This was somewhat of a strange book for me in that I found it easy to read and thought-provoking but I really didn’t like Randolph! I grew weary of his selfishness, talk of his father’s guns and his constant reference to class. I don’t know if this is perhaps something in the translation that just didn’t sit with me, but I really disliked the man. Yet I was intrigued, I wanted to know how this Dieter Tiberius had forced a family to such lengths. I would actually have loved to have read some chapters from Tiberius’ perspective!

While I can’t say I was blown away by this book, I certainly found the concept interesting. I suspect that in not caring about the protagonist I probably missed out on much this book has to offer.

three-stars

Review: Everything I Don’t Remember

September 3, 2016 in Book Reviews, Contemporary, Translated Literature

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Everything I Don’t Remember Everything I Don't Remember by Rachel Willson-Broyles (Translator)
Published by Scribner UK on 2nd June 2016
Genres: European Literature, Contemporary, Mystery
Format: Hardback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-stars

A young man called Samuel dies, but was it an accident or suicide? An unnamed writer with an agenda of his own sets out to piece together Samuel's story. Through conversations with friends, relatives and neighbours, a portrait emerges: the loving grandchild, the reluctant bureaucrat, the loyal friend, the contrived poser. The young man who would do anything for his girlfriend Laide and share everything with his friend Vandad. Until Vandad, marginalised and broke, desperate to get closer to Samuel, drives a wedge between the friends, and Samuel loses them both.

Everything I Don't Remember is an enthralling tale of love and memory. It is also the story of a writer who, in filling out the contours of Samuel's life, is trying to grasp a universal truth - in the end, how do we account for the substance of a life?

A young man, Samuel, is killed in a car crash. But was it an accident or was it suicide? An anonymous author decides to uncover the truth.

Everything I Don’t Remember is written as transcripts from the author’s interviews with Samuel’s family and friends.

At no point does our interviewer tell us who is talking. He jumps from person to person as he relays their memories of Samuel.  Despite this format, it’s actually easy to follow once you become accustomed to it.

This is a work of translated fiction. It’s been translated from Swedish, and is done very well. It’s a very timely novel, relevant to society across Europe right now.

Our anonymous author focusses his interviews on Samuel’s friend Panther, his best friend Vandad and his ex-girlfirend Laide, all in the effort of trying to uncover what happened that April afternoon.

So we jump back and forth between the memories and perspectives of the interviewees. But whose version of events is most accurate? Is Vandad, who tells of his solid relationship with his best friend, actually the free rider that Laide says he is? Are Laide’s memories of life with Samuel accurate or is Vandad’s darker image of her more true?

Basically as we read these accounts we aren’t sure who to trust. Does the truth lie in some kind of middle ground?

I enjoyed the way we jump from character to character without explanation. We go back and forth in time and place. It might sound confusing but it’s actually easy to follow once you get going.

Samuel’s grandmother suffers from dementia and we are repeatedly told of Samuel’s own poor memory. To me, it feels like the broken, jumping narrative echoes the confusion of this condition.

I should also say that this novel is predominately set in Sweden. It has been translated from Swedish, and honestly I’d never have known it was translated; it’s done so well.

While uncovering Samuel’s story, this novel also looks at immigration. Many of the characters we encounter are second generation immigrants. We also see the plight of immigrants in Sweden and the battles they face, through Samuel’s work for the Migration Board and Laide’s profession as a translator. This feels so relevant right now. It’s not a situation apposite to Sweden; it’s an issue that is currently being encountered throughout Europe. I appreciate how this issue is weaved into the story. It adds a different dimension to the novel and encaptures Sweden’s political past and present.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved our unreliable narrators in the form of our interviewees. I loved trying to uncover who Samuel was, from a distance. It’s an interesting way to discover a character, looking from the outside in.

The only thing I would say about this novel is that there is a lack of closure. We are presented with evidence (however flawed it may be) and have to come to our own conclusion.

The uncertainty of the ‘evidence’, the issues of memory loss, dementia, immigration, identity and life experience all make for a fantastic read. I definitely recommend it.

four-stars