Burning Books

Moods by Yoel Hoffmann

Start a story that never began and won’t end, spreading like chill to everything made of words, the kind of release that comes from depriving your most often used senses and engaging the ones you neglected.

Khirbet Khizeh by S Yizhar

A soldier reflects on a just-finished mission to systematically round up and expel those left behind in the small village of Khirbet Khizeh. Photo Gabriela Gleizer

I Pity the Poor Immigrant by Zachary Lazar

From King David (aka Kid Bethlehem) to Meyer Lansky via Bugsy Siegel, and the many pulled in their wake, a novel that charges from Las Vegas to Jerusalem, capitals of imaginary kingdoms. Photo:Francoise Gaujour

Interview with Todd Hasak-Lowy

Interview with Todd Hasak-Lowy – author and translator of novels from Hebrew to English, including Dror Burstein’s Netanya – with digressions into Orly Castel-Bloom, Yaakov Shabtai, different kinds of literary culture and the novels they produce.

Netanya by Dror Burstein

Is it a novel? Memoirs? A book of geology? Anthopology? Marine Biology? Yes yes yes.

Human Parts by Orly Castel-Bloom

Permanent winter in a desert climate, a dentist with no face, a woman finding material wealth in the midst of poverty, a governmental minister whose full time job is to attend funerals – all this and much, much, much more. Photo: Abhijit Patil

Almost Dead by Assaf Gavron

The man who keeps surviving terrorist attacks and the person who is determined to finish him off once and for all square off in this chapter by chapter account of what goes wrong when you add the human element to a simple ideological cataclysm. Photo: Serkan Mercan

Dancing Arabs by Sayed Kashua

A heavyweight tale in featherweight prose. A beautiful story about a boy who slips away into adulthood. A ghost story about a person who’s still alive. Burning Books is back with a brand new season! Photo: Fr Gaurav Shroff

A Star Called Henry – Roddy Doyle

Part One of the Doyle’s The Last Roundup charts the raising, rising and falling of Henry Smart, scamp of Dublin, caught up in the machine of so-called national so-called liberation.

Three Deaths – Josip Novakovich

A sliver of a book unfolds as a triptych, brilliant and beautiful, the subtlest of writing making the greatest of waves. Featuring Walter Benjamin.

Some Do Not . . . – Ford Madox Ford

Somebody please hand me a glossary of terrible non-puns from the 1910s, although no post-rationalisation is going to save this dip into the addled mind of a bureaucratic toff. By the author of some very good novels as well as this one. Dot and carry one, WHATEVER THAT MEANS. Photo: touchedmuch

Regeneration – Pat Barker

Part one of Pat Barker’s justly renowned trilogy about WWI (re)introduces us to Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, Dr William Rivers and Billy Prior – all men who have been changed beyond recognition by a new, modern mode of civilisation destruction – wash, rinse, repeat. With additional cameos by Erich Maria Remarque and Modris…

My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

Elena is friends with Lila, whom hurts Elena in all kinds of ways that Elena finds fascinating, and painful. Slums, slums, slums, creepy older men, and not a single moment of levity. Prepare yourself.

School of Velocity – Eric Beck Rubin

Jan and Dirk were inseparable as teenagers, right up till the moment they separated. That didn’t end the friendship, though, which lives on even as the two grow estranged from one another. Read Eric’s interview in The Guardian about the writing of The School of Velocity. And buy it here: Or from Amazon.com:

River of Smoke – Amitav Ghosh

Part Two of Ghosh’s ‘Ibis’ Trilogy looks at the run-up to the Opium Wars. From Bombay to Canton, Mauritius to Malacca – set sail for adventure, knowledge, and a number of excellent descriptions of the twists and turns of the early 18th century, globalised drug trade.

The Sportswriter – Richard Ford

New Jersey stands in for Algeria, not that Frank Bascombe would have noticed, living the good life and everything’s okay and nothing bears too much looking into – like the giant chasm of nothingness opening up beneath his feet. With guest appearances from Steinbeck, Faulkner and AC himself.

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The Adversary – Emmanuel Carrère

In the quiet Jura region of France, a physician goes completely haywire in a series of crimes that are hard for his friends and acquaintances to grasp. But then their grasp loosens further. And disappears altogether. Because the man at the centre, the man they thought they knew, turns out to be a dangerous and…

My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok

Tender Asher Lev has a gift – he can draw exceptionally well – and a drive to be an artist. Everyone around him has a drive to make him into a leader in the Ladover Hasidic community, spreading the word of Ladover Hasidism to the far corners of the world. Something has to give. It…

Morality Play – Barry Unsworth

Monk on the run in 14th Century England has more to worry about than building himself a time machine to get out of 14th Century England. Obviously kidding about the sci-fi bit because this is Barry Unsworth. The book is the time machine. The moral of the story is less story, more moral. Photo Douglas…

Latecomers – Anita Brookner

Hartmann and Fibitch arrived in England as refugees on the Kindertransport and then they had had wives and children and those children had families and – what was the point of this story again? Served (saved?) with a side of Sebald (how can you not) plus the flavour of Rushforth, which is the name of…

The Scapegoat – Sophia Nikolaidou

The real life murder mystery of a CBS reporter is foreground and backdrop for a modern day high school student trying to figure out why the wrong man was put down. Also a love story. Salonic. Picture: George Laoutaris

Little Man, What Now? – Hans Fallada

Pinneberg is the Little Man; What Now is what everyone is asking at the outset of the Depression, when this novel is set. Fallada’s novel is about the piece by piece destruction of a young man by forces that are both incomprehensibly great and pathetically familiar, from the collapse of the world economy to the…

Frost – Thomas Bernhard

Medical intern sent by boss to spy on a painter named of Strauch.  What the intern finds is the gaping wound of Lower Austria, which may or may not stand in for the entire world. Extremely bleak.  Extremely funny.  Basically, extreme in all senses. Photo: Florin Draghici

Master Georgie – Beryl Bainbridge

Spare parts make up the engine of this rickety ride from here to there. One solipsistic young man from England leads friends and acquaintances to Crimea, and for some reason they follow him. With allusions to Nicholson Baker and Peter Carey, this episode also features a drop from Masterchef Australia, which is what I’m into…

The German Mujahid – Boualem Sansal

A history of one aspect of the Nazi genocide is brought to present day Parisian suburbs via a massacre in an Algerian village. Extremism, integration, ghettos, religion – all the elements are refashioned to their new context. A memorably good book by an excellent writer and thinker. Fresh. Photo – John Perivolaris

The Luzhin Defense – Vladimir Nabokov

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

Can’t seem to shake the memoirs thing . . . This time it’s James Joyce writing about himself as the character Stephen Dedalus, a precocious, self-regarding artiste who one day is destined to become James Joyce. Not necessary. Photo by ☰☵ Michele M. F.

Deaf Sentence – David Lodge

Author David Lodge stars as his thinly disguised protagonist, Old Man Bates, who is entering retirement, uselessness, and, worst of all, permanent deafness, in this tragi-comi-tragic tale of David Lodge, starring as his protagonist. Largely good. Picture by clogsilk

A Tale of Love and Darkness – Amos Oz

One of the world’s great authors goes back in time and space – from the Jerusalem of the 1940s to the Eastern Europe of the 19th Century, from a boy’s heart to a mother’s face to a father’s brain – and brings back everything, but not enough. Cuts close and hurts so good. Wizardly? Masterful.…

Exiles – Michael J Arlen

The name Michael Arlen will mean nothing to most readers but Arlen was once the cream of the jazz age novelists, the envy of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Maugham, the owner of speedboats and a villa on the Mediterranean. Then he fell completely into obscurity. By the time his son was born, the golden days were…

Hadrian’s Memoirs – Marguerite Yourcenar

At the end of his days, sitting in his villa outside Rome, the Emperor Hadrian writes a long letter to his adopted son, and next great leader of Rome, Marcus Aurelius. In Hadrian’s world, thoughts duel with power, ideas with reality, books with life. Aurelius often gets praise as the first philosopher king, but in…

Measuring the World – Daniel Kehlmann

Gauss and Humboldt set off to the same destination in opposite directions and unfortunately this novel was written about it. Tedious.

Shantytown – César Aira

Fall forward into one of the stranger stories you’ll encounter this year – or any other. Maxi, a young man from the middle classes of Buenos Aires, collects used cardboard, lifts weights, busts a drug ring, but can’t seem to surprise a sleeping street kid. Makes sense, right? No? Who cares – no plot outline…

The Nature of Blood – Caryl Phillips

A novel that includes displaced persons, new countries, war, Cyprus, the OED, Venice, Blood Libel and Othello – this should be sweet. So why does it all taste so healthy? Caryl Phillips sucks all the sugar out of what should be a thrilling experience. Why? Granola. Photo by Ivan Lian

Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler

One man goes against the system he helped create and the results are not encouraging. Koestler fictionalizes the Moscow Show Trials of the 1930s, where parts are fused onto the whole and the whole is broken into parts. A masterful novel. Picture by Alex Cairncross

Hygiene and the Assassin – Amélie Nothomb

Morbidly obese misery of a writer – and Nobel Laureate (topical) – more than meets his match in the slender and deadly Nina, who conducts the last interview of the writer’s life. Secrets are dredged up and, in a twist, it is pretty. Keep your daggers handy. This is going to get nasty.  Photo by…

Truth or Beauty – David Orrell

From particle physics to market predictions, we thought scientists, right or wrong, traded in the world of facts. What we did not expect is that all the while they were deeply concerned about their looks. Beauty is at the heart of scientific endeavour, and has always been. As the stakes get higher, however, can we…

Demons (aka The Possessed) – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Everything’s more or less normal in the little town of N until Piotr Stepanovich and his equally psychopathic sidekick, Nikolai Stavrogin, come back from abroad. One thing leads to another leads to another and another and some more after that in Dostoevsky’s extraordinarily rambling (as rambling as this sentence) novel, which does not end well…

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. – Robert Coover

Like a precocious fireballer at top of the prospect rankings … a kid who has shown so much promise and from whom so much is expected … who has three plus pitches and is working on a fourth … whose intangibles are as off the charts as his athleticism … who is putting it all…

The Devil – Leo Tolstoy

St Matthew is going to poke out your eyes. Or some such. After what seemed like a millennium of exile from the Motherland, we go back to the heart (and other parts) of Russian literature with a Tolstoy short story. Brilliant.

A True Novel – Minae Mizumura

A novel that says it’s based on Wuthering Heights is taking a risk – because Wuthering Heights is a crazy effective soporific. But the further it strays from the original, the better A True Novel becomes. Don’t underestimate your originality, Minae Mizumura! You’ve produced an eminently entertaining read. In a nice turn, this very long…

American Pastoral – Philip Roth

Feel like making glove?? That’s not a typo. This week we discuss perhaps the best passage in any of Philip Roth’s novels, the ‘glovemaking scene’ (again, not a typo) in American Pastoral. And we do this with American lit scholar and Gloversville, NY native, Menachem Feuer. Also, we discuss the definition of a schlemiel, a person…

Satan in Goray – Isaac Bashevis Singer

The Messiah is coming! His arrival is imminent! That’s the bad news. The good news is his arrival and social schedule are narrated with a combination of enthralled immediacy and distrustful distance by a Nobel Laureate, Isaac Bashevis Singer. And yet, is it ‘all that’? Some readers will be super-pumped, others might not catch messiah fever.…

Seven Days in the Art World – Sarah Thornton

‘They believe what they say in the moment they say it.’ And then the moment is gone, and someone’s stuck with a desiccated horse’s head or a painting of Jesus framed in piss. In this episode we learn about the high prices and low motives of the contemporary art world while schmoozing in Basel, getting lost in Venice, and,…

A Heart So White – Javier Marías

Did we like this novel? What does it mean to like? What is our past, really, if we continue to relive it? And relieve it? And relive it? And – you get the point, but I’ll say it again. And again. And – you have just sampled the experience of reading Javier Marías’ massively successful…

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge – Rainer Maria Rilke

Enter the eminently other world of Malte Laurids Brigge – and don’t plan on coming back in one piece. The big window shatters and the little pieces giggle. What? You didn’t hear that? We talk about Rainer Maria Rilke’s one and only novel with literary critic Scott Esposito.

The Blue Fox – Sjón

Things are not what they appear to be, and not even what they appear later to be. Foxes are animals that cannot be trusted, and sometimes they are not even animals. This is that in Sjón’s slender novel. Intriguing.

The Man Who Made Vermeers – Jonathan Lopez

Is there anything better than the story of a master forger?  If there is, I don’t know it.  This time we take a trip to the realm of non-fiction, looking into the complex world of Han Van Meegeren, a forger working in the style of Frans Hals and, especially, Johannes Vermeer, who sold his work…

The Private Life – Josh Cohen

An interview with author, professor and psychoanalyst Josh Cohen, spy of our inner selves, examiner of the lies we live, and creator of the smash new meme, ‘#pervingon’. No secrets, please – we’re going English. Photo Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

The End – Hans Erich Nossack

Hans Erich Nossack’s rare first person account of the 1943 destruction of Hamburg is served with a side of WG Sebald, who employs the word ‘should’, with grave consequences. BFFs.

Sexing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson

King Charles, Oliver Cromwell, a vagrant narrator, hedge mazes and dreaded puritans – Jeanette Winterson goes historical fiction on us again in her 1989 novel that is less than the sum of its parts. For a short book, it’s quite long.

Mother Night – Kurt Vonnegut

Traitor? Spy? Loyal American or self-serving amoralist?  Howard W Campbell Jr tries to write his own get out of jail free card in in Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Mother Night’. Vintage.

The Tin Drum – Günter Grass

Canonical fodder about a little boy with a man’s mind, who becomes a fully grown man in a little boy’s body, born and raised in the foreshadow and shadow of the Second World War. Blechtrommel is one word for it…

Leaving the Atocha Station – Ben Lerner

Review of the 2011 debut novel by Ben Lerner in which a young American goes to Spain on the US government’s buck, meets two girls, and learns to fall in love with himself. Excellent book. Photo by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada