Things That Were Lost in Our Vaginas by Nyachiro Lydia Kasese

trigger warning: sexual abuse

a nutshell: among Tanzanian writer Nyachiro Lydia Kasese’s many brilliant poems, I found this one particularly moving in its reflection on the struggle to vocalise childhood trauma

a line: “and she would smell his scent on my body and know that we shared the same demons”

an image: the way in which the poet writes about whether a penny or a set of keys is in there gives this poem an atmosphere that feels paradoxically humdum & horrifying all at once

a thought: this interview shares how the scene was drawn from Kasese’s life – the moment triggered her to think back to her own sexual abuse at that age and, as she couldn’t find the words to vocalise it to anyone, she wrote about it

a fact: this poem was longlisted for the 2014 Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize

want to read Things That Were Lost in Our Vaginas? visit here

Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap (tr. Tess Lewis)

a nutshell: drawn from her family’s experiences among southern Austria’s Slovenian-speaking minority, this book follows the coming of age of a girl whose grandfather fought as a partisan in WWII, whose grandmother scarcely survived a concentration camp, and whose father continues to relive the trauma of torture at the hands of the Nazis

a line: “But is the peace in this region truly ours or do the languages spoken here still wear uniforms?”

an image: Haderlap portrays the war as a devious fisher of men, which has cast out its net for the adults and trapped them with its fragments of death, its debris of memory – she imagines her Father as snagged on memory’s hooks

a thought: with the world finally paying attention to the glaring epidemic of police brutality and racism, it’s worth nothing that this book makes many references to police officers’ unprovoked attacks on both children & adults during southern Austria in the Second World War, as well as the police’s violence in tearing apart families of anyone allegedly disloyal to the Third Reich

a fact: Haderlap’s focus on the effects of conflict on survivors and their children made me think back to human rights lawyer Phillippe Sands’ talk at Edinburgh Festival, where he spoke of the intergenerational traumas that prompted him to research & write East West Street in which he traces the lost history of his mother’s family in WWII

want to read Angel of Oblivion? visit here

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

a nutshell: set in postwar Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, this is a vast & raw novel that delves into grief, loss, love – and the complex psychological struggles that often haunt survivors of civil war

a line“I fall down, I get up”

an image: looking up at a commercial airliner passes overhead from one country to another, Kai likens himself to a man drowning as a ship sails by; he wonders at the passengers’ ignorance of the self-devouring nation below while they drink wine and summon the cabin crew

a thought: though I found the first fifty or so pages languid/disengaging, The Memory of Love then grew on me immensely, yet I never shook off my dislike for the main characters Elias & Adrian (the latter is a Brit who’s loath to consider the idea that he’s neither wanted nor needed in Sierra Leone)

a fact: many of the novel’s characters are suffering from various conditions of post traumatic stress; in particular the book taught me about dissociative fugue – a disorder often precipitated by trauma, characterised by reversible amnesia for memories, personality, identity


want to read The Memory of Love? visit here

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

a nutshell: this compelling memoir relives a child’s horrendous struggle for survival under the Khmer Rouge regime

a line“I think how the world is still somehow beautiful even when I feel no joy at being alive within it”

an image: in the later chapters Ung repeatedly expresses immense self-hatred and guilt for the fact that, as a very young child, she once secretly took a handful of rice from the family stockpile during one of their times of extreme starvation and thus deprived her baby sister of a few grains; the way in which this memory plagues her is excruciatingly sad

a thought: the author’s introductory note pays tribute to the two million Cambodians – a quarter of the country’s population – who were systematically killed by the Khmer Rouge through execution, starvation, disease and forced labour from 1975-9; she adds, “If you had been living in Cambodia during this period, this would be your story too”

a fact: this memoir has been adapted into a film (produced and directed by Angelina Jolie), which premiered in 2017 in Siem Reap, Cambodia


want to read First They Killed My Father? visit here

The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugrešić (tr. Michael Henry Heim)

a nutshell: taking on two semesters of teaching ‘Yugoslav literature’ at the University of Amsterdam and very much grieving the loss of her country of origin, Yugoslavia-born Tanja coaxes her fragile students towards ‘Yugonostalgia‘ – and there begins Ugrešić’s stimulating exploration of exclusion, memory, language, identity…

a line: “Retouching is our favourite artistic device. Each of us is a curator in his own museum.”

an image: breaking down after admitting she got lost in her old Zagreb neighbourhood, Tanja tries to express to an unmoved passenger on a plane how the trauma of exile hit her where she had least expected it 

a thought: I picked this book up from my local library and thought it sounded interesting – but now, since Ugrešić seems to have taken a vehemently anti-nationalist stand after war broke out in 1991 in her native former Yugoslavia, I’m a little uneasy about putting it out there as my ‘Croatia’ book for the project (esp. given the author in fact holds Dutch citizenship); in time perhaps I’ll come to swap in another

a fact: Ugrešić worked for many years at the University of Zagreb’s Institute for Theory of Literature, which explains the many literary references interweaved into the pages


want to read The Ministry of Pain? visit here