Days in the Caucasus by Banine (tr. Anne Thompson-Ahmadova)

a nutshell: this is the captivating memoir of Banine, born in one of Baku’s multimillionaire oil-rich families in 1905, who shares how she came of age in a time of immense sociopolitical turbulence

a line: “Who can tell the importance of dreaming? And of reading!”

an image: I loved Banine’s halcyon memories of the countryside, and of the family’s travels by carriage through the heart of the oil district – surrounded by derricks & cisterns – bathed in the smell of oil that delighted her nostrils

a thought: some of their childhood ‘games’ seriously unsettled me, particularly in Banine’s cousins’ abject hostility towards both women & Armenians from a young age (I know it was more than a century ago, but still I found some of her revelations horrifying)

a fact: I was curious about Banine’s description of New Year being celebrated on 21 March in Azerbaijan to coincide with the first day of spring – it seems more meaningful than the mid-winter one we celebrate in the UK!

want to read Days in the Caucasus? visit here

The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia Mcleod (tr. Gerald Mettam)

The Cost of Sugar book with Sarith and Minimini on front cover under big leaf

a nutshell: set in the 18th century, this utterly absorbing novel weaves together stories of love and cruelty during the period of slavery in Suriname – a raw exposé of life under the chief sugar colony for the Dutch

a line: “Five cents for a pound of sugar, and how many hands, arms, legs and human lives were sacrificed for this!”

an image: many parts of this book were heart-wrenching – one of these moments was the scene in which a child throws himself between his hateful mother and his beloved slave to protect the latter, reflecting how family dynamics were twisted in these oppressive households

a thought: I haven’t been so addicted to a book in a long time – I was reading it at breakfast, on my lunchbreak, right after work – I even had to be comforted by a colleague when I was visibly upset by one plot twist; McLeod is an absolutely masterful writer

a fact: the book was made into a major motion picture, framed differently from the book but still potentially worth a watch!

want to read The Cost of Sugar? visit here

Our Women on the Ground: Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World (ed. Zahra Hankir)

Our Women on the Ground - on the ground

a nutshell: an extraordinary, ground-breaking, and pulsingly intimate collection of essays by 19 Arab women journalists – rather than meeting my high expectations, it soared above & beyond them

a line“We don’t publish the picture. It’s too graphic, and people are too sensitive. Those of us who count as people, with sensibilities” – Natacha Yazbeck

an image: born in Iraq and raised in Hull, Hind Hassan recalls many beautiful scenes of hospitality in the unlikeliest circumstances during assignments in her homeland, as well as a memory from the Iraqi community in which she grew up: a friend secretly slipping in & out of an ajar window to clean and cook for the whole family while Hind’s mother was having birth complications

a thought: I was fascinated by Egyptian journalist Lina Attalah’s reflections on her journey towards activating a “belated lens on gender” in her work, particularly her thoughts on the duality of selves (in the family home and the “street home”) and on power both inside & outside the newsroom – its complexity and, at times, invisibility

a fact: many of the women’s stories include the trauma of losing family, friends and colleagues to conflict zones or political repression, and it’d be remiss not to mention the very real risks they face just for doing their job – I hope their voices resound worldwide

N.B. Amira Al-Sharif’s chapter Yemeni Women with Fighting Spirits is my recommendation for writing by a woman from Yemen; as its title suggests, it’s a unique insight into resilience and empowerment in even the most trying conditions

want to read Our Women on the Ground? visit here