Le Déserteur by Hélène Kaziende

Text of Le Deserteur against blue sky

a nutshell: in a letter addressed to Africa from Samzi Dikinfa of Erquifa, this short yet immensely powerful piece of prose shares an insight into the complexities around why someone might leave a homeland – not necessarily by choice

a line: I’m leaving, tired of aborted promises and murdered suns” (“je m’en vais, lassé des promesses avortées et des soleils assassinés”)

an image: I found myself moved by the portrayal of being surrounded by ‘professional’ drunks, while the self-described deserter thirsts not for alcohol but rather for a bit of justice and freedom

a thought: I wondered whether there was any significance to the date of the letter, 15 August 1990, and discovered through the internet that it was on this day that at least 150 people were killed in clashes between the African National Congress and Inkatha Freedom Party, South Africa

a fact: this story won a prize in a competition by radio station Africa No. 1 and features in the 1992 collection Kilomètre 30, which I managed to get a copy of through Better World Books – its arrival was quite poignant, as it was the very final book to arrive for my entire project

want to read Kaziende’s writing? visit here

As Good as Gold by Kathryn Bertine

a nutshell: this memoir follows an athlete’s attempt to make the Olympics via the beautiful dual-island nation of St Kitts and Nevis

a line: “doable, with its amazing ability to promise nothing and everything all at once, still left me in charge, I hung onto that word fiercely, to its calm positivity, its quiet hope, and its spunky little go-getter syllables”

an image: when recalling her first trip to St Kitts and Nevis, Bertine recounts Christopher Columbus’ error in believing the clouds above Nevis’s highest peak were a snowcapped mountain, hence the name from the Spanish ‘nieves’ (‘snows’)

a thought: I was moved by Bertine’s honesty about leaving her ex-fiance, an alcoholic, and her memories of how she gathered what was left of her confidence, courage & energy after realising she couldn’t rewire another person’s ‘happy button’ – I was particularly interested in her reflection about the danger of thinking if physical pain was something she could endure then why not pain of the emotional variety?

a fact: at one point, Bertine visits my home city of Melbourne for the Bloody Big Swim, an 11.3km route through the open sea, which I know *for a fact* that I wouldn’t stand a chance at!

want to read As Good as Gold? visit here

An Orange Lemon by Alla Pyatibratova (tr. Rohan Kamicheril)

orange lemon

a nutshell: this short story from Kyrgyzstan follows an out-of-work hydrologist and mother, Maria, who spends tiring & uninspiring days undertaking paid protest in a square

a line: “From the first day, Maria had promised herself that she wouldn’t buy into the rules of the game; that she would only try to abide by them. Even if it was a game for fools.”

an image: at one point Maria looks at the square and can see only a live, shifting, varicolored mass, surrounded like a force field by a thick wall of sound – colour is important to the narrative (there are 11 mentions of yellow, the colour worn by the protestors on this particular day) as Maria struggles to keep up with the changing significance of certain colours

a thought: it felt like Maria was losing her awareness of what was going on not just externally but also internally  – early on she doesn’t notice that her sleeve is torn and her arm is bruised, and pauses to wonder how she could’ve hurt her arm yet not felt it –  which seemed to stem from protesting out of desperation for a paycheck

a fact: Pyatibratova is a journalist based in Osh – near the border with Uzbekistan, this city has over 3,000 years of history, incl. having been a major market along the Silk Road; in 1990 and 2010, the city has seen ethnic riots & violence break out

want to read An Orange Lemon? visit here

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Redemption in Indigo against blue sky

a nutshell: partly inspired by a Sengalese folktale, this is the story of a woman who comes to the attention of the undying ones (‘djombi’) and gains magical powers

a line: “she could still feel the salt water sitting heavy on her heart”

an image: in describing the evil acts of a senior djombi, Lord talks of how such moments act on his boredom as splendidly as champagne on a jaded palate

a thought: the author writes in a very colloquial manner and often directly addresses the reader – at one point, she notes that stories are not a way to live vicariously; they’re meant to be an inspiration, not a substitute

a fact: born in Barbados in 1968, Lord has travelled the world and holds a phD in the sociology of religion; she writes speculative fiction to balance the nonfiction she produces as a research consultant

want to read Redemption in Indigo? visit here

Crimson by Niviaq Korneliussen (tr. Anna Halager)

a nutshell: a punchy, fast-paced, almost-stream-of-consciousness novella charting the major realisations & life decisions of five queer characters in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk

a line“The island is swollen. The island is rotten. The island has taken my beloved from me.”

an image: the ongoing prison metaphor (at least, I think it’s a metaphor…) in Inuk’s chapter threw me somewhat but does vividly evoke the claustrophobia that has engulfed him so far in his life

a thought: I read this book within a few hours and found it a stressful read what with the endless binges & hangovers / childhood traumas / emotional crises – but it’s certainly a bold debut from Korneliussen

a fact: the author first wrote the book in Greenlandic (published as HOMO Sapienne) aged 24, before translating it herself into Danish and presumably then into English (?) – I liked how she gives a glossary at the back to explain various Greenlandic words left within the English translation, e.g. ‘inuugit’ meaning ‘live your life’


want to read Crimson? visit here

Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

a nutshell: intimate & nonconforming, this debut is a beguiling insight into a Brazilian-English girl becoming a woman while treading a tightrope between multiple worlds

a line: “Here was the wide mouth, the big open bellied loneliness of the Atlantic. Of course, there had been no first trip”

an image: lingual affinity is v significant across this scattered family’s generations – one recurring image is that of unfamiliar words lodging like Lego bricks in the mouth, clunky

a thought: each page is shaped by cultural osmosis, with constant flux between English/Portuguese, thought/dialogue, even present/past (as she grows up, she looks to the stories of her mother, aunt & grandmother)

a fact: Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964-85 is a whispering undercurrent for the protagonist’s mother, who was an activist; “I am history now!” was her gleeful response to a thesis on the dictatorship’s relations with students – today this rings a devastating note after Bolsonaro’s election


want to read Stubborn Archivist (pub. 2019)? visit here

[PS. big thanks to Yara for the copy!]

Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo (tr. by Charlotte Coombe)

a nutshell: visceral novellas/stories of longing, repulsion, tumult – Robayo beckons her readers into moments that distill what it is to be human & unsettled; even the prose discomfits, simultaneously stark & evocative

a line: “he zealously fed his American dream in fear that if he forgot to feed it one day, it would keel over in front of him like a starving baby bird”

an image: a disabled obese boy lies back watching clouds – surrounded by his dad, uncle & carer – inwardly wishing he’d be swept away

a thought: the author never tells you what to think, but the potency of a passage in which a young girl is gang-raped then expelled by her Catholic school due to her parents administering a morning-after pill speaks silent volumes about the lot of women in society

a fact: this collection includes Robayo’s previously unpublished story, Sexual Education – a semi-autobiographical glimpse of a student’s disorientation between her school’s obsessive doctrine of abstinence & societal norms beyond the classroom


want to read Fish Soup? visit here

Seeing Red by Lina Meruane (tr. Megan McDowell)

a nutshell: a short, graphic examination of a NY-based Chilean woman’s raw spiral into near-blindness and the resulting reorientation in dynamics with those around her*

a line: “A medusa, a jellyfish, an ocean flagellum, a gelatinous organism with tentacles that would cause a rash. There was no pulling my mother off of me”

an image: at one point the narrator describes a hot water bottle that had fallen to the floor as like a dead child, which typifies the blunt, unapologetic indignation quick to rise in the midst of the blindness

a thought: there were – when I could look – curious quirks throughout, e.g. the way Lina often truncates thoughts with a full stop, sometimes ending sentences abruptly with “I” or “we” – again perhaps a sign of her vexation

a fact: the author shares a first name with the protagonist and was herself temporarily blind when her eyes haemorrhaged and blood flooded her vision during her PhD at NYU – this novel is semi-autobiographical


want to read Seeing Red? visit here

*N.B. not for anyone with a particular squeamishness for eyes – a category which, by a stroke of bad luck, I fall v firmly into

Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf (tr. Mara Faye Lethem)

a nutshell: a pure expanse of curiosity about polar exploration conceals, at first, the most pressing exploration in this book: selfhood, in the midst of challenging family relations

a line: “it’s in relationships, and not in places, that we rest”

an image: Kopf reveals her secret thought: all pools are interconnected, and this same water filters through us – making up 70% of our bodies – while the dry 30% of our bodies renews every 7 years; the only continuous part of us is our history

a thought: the narrator’s reflections on growing up with an autistic brother resonated strongly with me as the sister to an autistic brother myself – at one point she says she had to be an easy presence, independent, and describes a thin layer of ice forming between her and the others, almost paralleling her brother’s attitude

a fact: the earliest one in the book stuck with me – the word ‘Arctic’ comes from the Greek word ‘árktikos’ meaning ‘near the bear’ while ‘Antarctic’ is from ‘antárktikos’, ‘the place with no bears’, but rather penguins


want to read Brother in Ice? visit here

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (tr. Thomas Teal)

a nutshell: on a small island in the Gulf of Finland, a six-year-old girl Sophia and her grandma amble through summer in 22 scenes crystallising the ebb and flow of life

a line: “‘I hate you. With warm personal wishes, Sophia.’ All the words were correctly spelled.”

an image: in ‘The Cat’, Sophia’s wrestling with the emotional turmoil of an adopted animal that doesn’t want her affection is absolute perfection

a thought: a small, mighty book – tardis-like in its power to transport you back to a place of secluded bliss, stringing together pearls of childhood wonder & fury

a fact: Jansson wrote the book in 1972 after the death of her mother, who successfully campaigned for the right of Swedish girls to sleep outside in tents (subtly alluded to in the book)


want to read The Summer Book? visit here