Beyond the Door of No Return
by David Diop
Pushkin £16.99, 256pp
(Pushkin £16.99, 256pp)
In 18th-century France a young woman is bequeathed her late father’s entire possessions, right down to a rusty oil lamp and a spyglass with a broken lens. Amid the bric-a-brac is a desk and, contained within it a secret drawer and, within that, a series of letters, written by him to her recounting an episode that changed his life.
David Diop’s novel similarly wraps its various stories inside each other like nesting dolls, but at its heart is the story of the real-life French botanist Michel Adanson, who travelled to French colonial Senegal at the age of 23 on a field trip and who Diop imagines falling in love with a fugitive Senegalese woman who is later sold into slavery — an encounter that will mark him for ever.
This is an unexpectedly thrilling novel, full of escapade and adventure, but it’s also an elegant meditation on the relationships between fathers and daughters, and on the challenges of reckoning with the legacy of personal and political histories.
If that doesn’t persuade you to read it, then Barack Obama was a fan of its predecessor, which also won the international Booker Prize.
The Beaver Theory
by Antti Tuomainen
Orenda £16.99, 272 pp
(Orenda £16.99, 272 pp)
Quirky crime capers don’t come more left field than the Rabbit trilogy by Finnish novelist Antti Tuomainen, of which The Beaver Theory is the concluding instalment. Our hero Henri Koskinen, if hero is the right word, is a former insurance actuary who believes pretty much everything in life can be solved by mathematical theory.
Yet while his private life has stabilised — he’s moved in with the love of his life, Laura, and her young daughter — once again he is struggling to keep the adventure park he inherited from his brother afloat, this time in the face of an aggressive marketing campaign by a competitor. And when a body is found on the rival premises, and he is cast as the lead suspect, faith in logic and common sense are tested to the limit.
It’s extremely funny, with a wicked line in social satire — if you are a member of a dads’ WhatsApp group, for example, you might find yourself wincing in painful recognition.
Sisters in Arms
by Shida Bazyar
Scribe £9.99, 288 pp
(Scribe £9.99, 288 pp)
This worthy novel about immigration and racism in contemporary Germany is tough going. Three women, friends from childhood, have met up again at a wedding of an old friend. Hani is settled in a job. Saya, obsessed in particular by the rise of the far right in Germany, has devoted herself to political causes.
Kasih, our narrator, is struggling to find a job. But one night something appalling happens that sees Saya accused of political extremism, prompting Kasih to look back upon the story of their childhoods to probe the extent to which their various experiences of prejudice and bigotry have shaped the people they’ve become.
Bazyar is astute in her depiction of a contemporary climate that explicitly ‘others’ migrants. More interestingly, Kasih is an extremely slippery narrator, repeatedly using counter narratives and time slippages to force the reader to question whether their assumptions over what they are reading are reasonable, or the product of unconscious bias.
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