NoViolet Bulawayo: We Need New Names


The latest addition to my website is NoViolet Bulawayo‘s We Need New Names. Narrated by a ten-year old girl, Darling, in Zimbabwe, this novel recounts, on the one hand, the grim situation in Zimbabwe as as seen by Darling, and how people, particularly the children survived, and, on the other hand, the cultural differences that emerge when Darling goes and lives with her aunt in Michigan. The children play games, often grim ones, such as Find Bin Laden but also doctors and nurses planning to perform an actual abortion on one of their number who is pregnant at the age of eleven. But they also forage for food, stealing where they can. They see a woman who has hanged herself, police brutally destroying a shanty town and a white couple beaten up by black militants. Despite this, while appreciating the material benefits of the US, Darling misses home, even with its problem. The book was nominated to the Man Booker short list.

Jhumpa Lahiri: Two Novels


The latest additions to my website are the two novels by Jhumpa Lahiri. The first is The Namesake, a novel which has deservedly received much acclaim and has been made into a successful film. It deals with the issue of names, identity and cultural differences. Gogol Ganguli is so named because, thanks to a book of Gogol’s short stories, his father was spotted in the wreckage after a train crash. However, he has problems with the name, not least because it was meant only as a pet name and not his permanent name. During the book he will continue to have concerns about the name. His parents had moved from India to the United States and while Gogol and his sister, Sonia, were both born in the United States and feel that they are American, they still have concerns about their roots and identity. Lahiri, who went through some of the same things herself, skilfully explores these issues.


The second book is her The Lowland, which is on the Man Booker shortlist. Though it is not a bad novel, I do not think that it is as good as The Namesake. It tells the story of two brothers, who are very close when young, but drift apart as they get older, with the younger, Udayan, getting more involved in politics, particularly relating to the Naxalbari Uprising, while the older, Subhash, goes to the United States to continue his studies in chemical oceanography. When Udayan is brutally murdered by the police, Subhash decides to marry his pregnant widow, not least because she is being harassed by the police. He takes her to the United States and treats her daughter, Bela, as his own but things do not seem to work out for any of the three of them. At this point, the book seems to lose some of its focus, as all three drift somewhat aimlessly through life. It is certainly not a bad novel but not up to the quality of its predecessor.

The intangible benefits of literary fiction

How to be more empathetic
How to be more empathetic

Scientists have now “proved” that reading literary fiction makes you a more feeling person. After reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence, the study says. Even though I am happy to have an excuse for reading literary fiction, I don’t believe a word of it. They have said reading reduces the chance of getting Alzheimer’s but it didn’t help Iris Murdoch or Terry Pratchett, did it? They also said brushing your teeth reduces the chances of Alzheimer’s. Sometimes scientists seem to talk as much rubbish as politicians.

Lawrence Durrell: The Black Book


The latest addition to my website is Lawrence Durrell‘s The Black Book. This was Durrell’s first novel, written when he was twenty-two and published in France when he was twenty-four (it was considered too obscene to be published unexpurgated in England). It has some of the hallmarks of a first novel by a twenty-two year old, in particular its over-flowery language. It tells the story of Lawrence Lucifer, Durrell’s alter ego, who has lived in a somewhat seedy residential hotel in South-East London and tells his story but also quotes from the diary of Herbert Gregory (who nicknames himself Death), who also lived there. Gregory, an intellectual who marries a poor prostitute with tuberculosis and the other residents are all examined, while Lawrence ruminates on his own life, now in Corfu, like his creator. The best that can be said is that it is an interesting failure.