Book reviews: Long Shot tells of horror and humanity in Kurds' fight against Isis
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Long Shot: My Life As a Sniper in the Fight Against Isis by Azad Cudi is published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £20 (ebook £9.99)
SARDASHT, the Zagros Mountains, the Euphrates – beautiful names to evoke beautiful places. Except that, historically, if not politically, they are in Kurdistan; and history has not been kind to the Kurds. Azad Cudi's vivid account of his involvement in the defence of Kobani against Isis in 2014-15 tells firstly how he fled a part of his homeland that's within the borders of Iran after being conscripted into the Iranian army and ordered to fight fellow Kurds. He stole across Europe to England but when war erupted in Syria heeded the call for help from his Kurdish compatriots there. After volunteering in the YPG militia he ended up in Kobani, a Kurdish-majority city that backs up against the closed frontier with Turkey in northern Syria. This record of what he did and went through is profoundly affecting, the first-person narrative offering a condensed history of the Kurds and a personal take on their role in the ongoing war that is accessible and, for a complacent westerner, chastening. There are horrors but also humanity – inspiration, even, alongside the tragedy. A surprisingly lyrical tribute to a much-put-upon people and to fallen comrades in arms – as often women as men – that deserves a wide audience.
The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey is published in hardback by Atlantic Books, priced £14.99 (ebook £6.47)
THIS is a tale of two artists, a husband and wife, entering old age. He is feted wherever they go – people, especially women, respond to his handsome features, courteous manner and discretion. She, on the other hand, is bitter about her lack of professional recognition, blaming it on the sexist art world of 1950s America. Her prickliness rubs people, especially women, up the wrong way. The story unfolds at their summer beach-house, where a neighbouring villa has been rented by an extended family. These new neighbours have been deeply affected by the Second World War – a child has lost a father; a mother a son; a woman a husband. A second child is German, orphaned. Another of their group, an attractive young woman, is dying of cancer. The interaction between the artists – fictionalised versions of Edward and Jo Hopper – and this family provides the narrative by which the relationship drama gently billows to a taut, bursting point. While the story is engaging, what I loved most was the languid, reflective mood – like a painting itself, Dubliner Dwyer Hickey's novel seems to evoke a different plane of consciousness, in the emotional spaces between words.
Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff is published in hardback by Tinder Press, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.99)
IF YOU like your fiction dystopian and mildly terrifying, this debut should pique your interest. In an unrecognisable Ireland, where Skrake – humans turned rabid, hungry and deadly, their flesh falling from their bodies – stalk the land, alive humans are scarce, and history (even the recent past) has been fragmented. Teenager Orpen has been kept safe and strong by her mam and Maeve, on a Skrake-free island off the mainland, but now she's alone, apart from a barrow, a water bottle, her knives (which she very much knows how to use) and a dog called Danger. Her plan is to set out to find more of anything – and hopefully, anyone. An apocalyptic road trip by foot, Davis-Goff captures the teetering fears of a world asunder, and so minutely details Orpen's exhaustion and determination, you feel haggard and worn with her. It's also vividly gruesome – you'll feel dead breath on the back of your neck.
Make Me A City by Jonathan Carr is published in hardback by Scribe, priced £16.99 (ebook £16.14)
JONATHAN Carr's debut novel is a curious take on historical fiction. Although the story does follow the creation of Chicago between 1800 and 1900, it feels more like a collection of character vignettes. From Echicagou's first settler, Jean Baptiste Pointe de Sable, to Antje Hunter, the first woman to report for the Chicago Tribune, Make Me A City utilises fictional fragments of letters, diaries and personal accounts to tell the stories of the people of Chicago. It is these relationships and journeys that take precedent over major factual events, such as reversing the Chicago River. Carr's decision to take this route will divide the crowd – the history part is a rather sweeping view, despite the novel taking the form of a non-fiction book – but ultimately these mini-biographical sketches impart more serious commentary on aspects of history such as racism, greed, and love.
Vagina: A Re-education by Lynn Enright is published in paperback by Allen & Unwin, priced £14.99 (ebook £5.69). Available now
CONVENT-educated Lynn Enright was raised in an easy-going Dublin family where her visible sexual organs were referred to as her 'front bottom'. I was spared that – but only because they weren't spoken about at all. And a couple of chapters into her – very angry – book, I too was uttering primal howls of rage at the idea of this stuff delivered, even today, as 'sex education'. Sample: The clitoris isn't, as sometimes represented, a little button. It's more like the tip of a volcano extending into your bum and thighs. Sample: The vagina isn't a wide corridor as portrayed in some supposedly accurate medical diagrams – it's a closed but flexible muscular tube with touching sides. And as for the 'cling-film lid' myth of the (actually crescent-shaped) 'hymen'... well, young women aren't the same as microwave dinners. So read this book. Hetero men too. Time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is published in hardback by Walker Books, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.88)
THE third in a series (we've so far had stories from Triangle and Square) this tale for smaller children focuses on Circle. Circle has a beautiful waterfall but warns her friends not to hide behind it when they play hide and seek. Triangle duly disappears behind the sheet of pale green water, into the darkness, and Circle must set off to rescue him. Fears, friendship and rule-breaking abound, and the illustrations are as beautiful as you'd expect from artist Jon Klassen, although there are whole pages blank, with all but the whites of Triangle and Square's eyes showing. These are obviously less impressive. Not as dynamic, wry or poignant as last year's witty Square, but a decent bedtime read none the less.