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Book reviews

Three Daughters Of Eve by Elif Shafak, published by Viking

Three Daughters Of Eve by Elif Shafak is published in hardback by Viking, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.99). Available now

FOR anyone trying to make sense of the current political tumult, Elif Shafak's timely novel is a good place to start.

At first glance, Three Daughters Of Eve tells the story of Peri, an academic introverted young girl from Istanbul, torn between the religiosity of her devout mother and the secularism of her irascible atheist father.

At Oxford, she is determined to find out which of her parents is right about God and where her own beliefs lie – and, under the tuition of an unorthodox but beguiling professor, she flourishes.

It's also the story of modern Istanbul and the constantly changing ley lines of politics, money, faith and patriotism.

Perhaps, most significantly, this book is an intelligent exploration of the questions and anxieties thrown up by Trump and Brexit. It looks at how people of different faith and cultures view each other and shows us that many of the divisions we cling to are based on our own assumptions and lack of knowledge.

Shafak's characters are forced to question everything, whether fervent believers, ardent atheists or totally bewildered by religion – as the author explodes myth after myth about right and wrong. Ultimately Shafak shows that whether religious or atheist, remain or Brexit, East or West, we are all human, all worthy of love and understanding.

Tory Lyne-Pirkis

Euphoria by Heinz Helle is published in paperback by Serpent's Tail, priced £11.99 (ebook £4.31).

FIVE old schoolfriends trek through the wintry landscape of the Alps, but this is no happy reunion or jolly holiday anymore.

It is the aftermath of some (vague) apocalyptic event, with their path taking in burnt-out cars, dead bodies and a general sense of desolation.

In short chapters that feel like a series of bleak, brutal prose poems, Helle's writing (and Kari Driscoll's translation of it) creates a vivid, troubling and distinctly disturbing sense of quiet desperation.

The narrator slides between flashback reveries of the world he's lost (including, at one point, an unexpected and lengthy description of an online porn clip) and the savage lifestyle of primal instinct he now inhabits. This grim eschatology makes for a dark and uneasy struggle to survive, and at just over 200 pages it is short enough that, like the human race, it is over before you really notice.

Stephen Wood

The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer is published in hardback by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99 (£5.69).

FROM its opening lines, "My name is Ruby. I live with Barbara and Mick. They're not my parents..." bestselling author Kate Hamer's novel is disturbing and compulsive.

We quickly learn teenage Ruby is physically abused by her repulsive stepfather, but must pretend the bruises on her arms and black eyes are a result of clumsiness.

Delighted to discover they are not her blood relatives, she vows to hunt for her real parents and from this point unfolds a curious and chilling tale of voodoo doll rituals, secrets, lies and surreal events.

Kate Hamer's previous book The Girl In The Red Coat was a huge hit and The Doll Funeral looks likely to follow suit. With poetic, but crisp prose, she explores what it means to belong and how the past is far more entwined with the present than most of us imagine.

Gill Oliver

Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories Of Love And Other Obsessions by Orlando Ortega-Medina is published in hardback by Cloud Lodge Books, priced £12.99.

FOR many authors, Booker-winner Kazuo Ishiguro among them, the short story form is a fertile training ground, where they can plant and nurture ideas and themes that will one day grow into tall oaks of novels (if you'll bear with the tree analogy).

Orlando Ortega-Medina's debut short story collection, the first title from new independent publisher Cloud Lodge Books, is full of literary promise, each story a vignette of troubled characters that leaves the reader yearning for the next chapter in their lives.

Some of the stories don't quite capture the imagination – Star Party reading like an exercise in dialogue writing and perhaps a freshman tale – but when they work, they're beautifully wrought, deeply unnerving and will stay with you.

After The Storm tells of the wife of a lighthouse keeper, who finds a dead body washed up on the sand, and in her loneliness, looks after it with a fierce passion.

Torture By Roses, a homage to Japanese author Mishima Yukio, tells of a young student who becomes fearfully indentured to an elderly and tortured patron of the arts, while the titular story, Jerusalem Ablaze is about a young priest going to visit a prostitute.

Ortega-Medina holds a mirror up to our darkest thoughts and urges – while showing the oneness of the human condition.

Expect to be hearing more from him.

Kate Whiting


No Wall Too High: One Man's Extraordinary Escape From Mao's Infamous Labour Camps by Xu Hongci is published in hardback by Rider, priced £20 (ebook £9.99).

XU HONGCI'S story is so cruel and frustrating that it reads like a Hollywood film, but this account is true – the brutality was real.

Hongci spent his early years toeing the line of China's totalitarian Communist Party, sincerely believing in its politics and approach. But one day he spoke his mind at university and his peers pounced, criticising him for his apparent anti-regime beliefs.

Hongci was imprisoned on trumped-up charges in one of Chairman Mao's labour camps in April 1958. Over the next 14 years, he worked diligently – as a doctor, metalworker, miner or labourer – at a number of camps. The work was hard and food was often scarce.

Hongci saw people die around him and watched his friends betray him publicly, yet he never lost his resolve. He tried to escape four times, finally succeeding in 1972, and is thought to be the only person to have done so.

Everything about Hongci's story, from his childhood to how this book came to be published, is fascinating, but heartbreakingly sad.

Thankfully, he got his happy ending.

Caroline Firth


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