Every Fire You Tend by Sema Kaygusuz (tr. Nicholas Glastonbury)

every fire we tend cover with sterile room and plant shadows, in front of my plant

a nutshell: an unnamed narrator tells many varied stories to a silent woman – tales that stretch across thousands of years, including repeated encounters with the figure Hızır – inspired by the brutal events in 1938 when the Turkish Republic launched an operation to erase an entire community of Zaza-speaking Alevi Kurds

a line: “Every move you make cracks open the husk of a memory hidden inside me”

an image: Kaygusuz conjures many beautiful images, including a musing on the white-heat beauty of hope that you’ve been born elsewhere – she describes how you become a fruit rid of its peel, a honeyed thing, ready to be bitten into

a thought: throughout this novel, Kaygusuz is a self-aware narrator – she writes that despite her “authorly audacity” she still worried about you

a fact: the author’s own grandmother, an exile from Dersim, often told stories but never spoke of what she saw while fleeing the Turkish army’s massacre

want to read Every Fire You Tend? visit here

My Grandmother: A Memoir by Fethiye Çetin (tr. Maureen Freely)

cover of My Grandmother

a nutshell: this intimate memoir shares how Çetin learned of her grandmother’s hidden history – that she was born a Christian Armenian and was abducted from the ‘death march’ to be raised in a Muslim Turkish household

a line: “suddenly her eyes brightened, and a smile spread across her face. ‘So they didn’t forget us, she said”

an image: in conversation with a bookseller, Çetin learns that several women in her hometown used to make çöreks (sweet braided bread), just like her grandmother, to share with visitors – while hiding their truths from children & grandchildren, this was a beautiful way of continuing their Armenian traditions in secret, and it was only years later that the significance became known

a thought: Çetin writes movingly about how her grandmother’s story was barely believable for her at first since it was so at odds with the heroic poems she had to recite at school on national holidays – it felt reminiscent of my own feelings about British  history lessons which focused on heroic efforts in the World Wars and never once touched on the British Empire & its atrocities

a fact: as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the genocide that took place between 1914–22 and there are, by some estimates, two million Turks who have at least one grandparent of Armenian origin – Çetin’s aim for this book, first published in 2004, was to “reconcile us with our history; but also to reconcile us with ourselves”

want to read My Grandmother? visit here

Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga (tr. Melanie Mauthner)

a nutshell: set in 1970s Rwanda, an elite Catholic boarding school for girls becomes a microcosm for racial tensions

a line: “‘As far as I’m concerned, she’s neither Hutu nor Tutsi, she’s my mother.’ ‘Maybe one day, there’ll be a Rwanda with neither Hutu nor Tutsi.'”

an image: having just learned the fate of her Tutsi friend, a schoolgirl silently struggles to hold back tears and blot out the horrific images assailing her

a thought: despite its eventual tilt into brutality, overall this novel did not feel like a difficult read – incredibly well written & paced, it easily carried me away into the world of the lycée

a fact: by the time of the 1994 genocide, Mukasonga had settled in France after fleeing to Burundi – she later learned that 27 of her family members had been massacred

bonus fact: a film based on the book is being released soon

want to read Our Lady of the Nile? visit here