book review

READ THE WORLD – Kazakhstan: The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

Translated by Jan Butler and edited by Anthony Gardner.

The story of Mukhamet Shayakhmetov from childhood to his early twenties as he grows up under Stalin’s rule and how the collectivisation of agriculture forever changed his peoples’ nomadic lifestyle and caused a famine that killed over a million Kazakhs.

The Silent Steppe is the kind of historical memoir that’s written in a way that’s pretty easy to read and easy to get engrossed in. It’s not necessarily a literary masterpiece but it manages to capture so many emotions so well and it’s a really interesting insight into a time and a culture I knew nothing about. The Silent Steppe is split into three parts: “Class Enemy” which focuses on what the nomadic life was like, how it was forced to change, and how Shayakhmetov’s father was branded a “kulak” (a well-off peasant and therefore an enemy of the people) and imprisoned, “Famine” which covers the 1932-34 famine, the build up to the disaster and how eventually things started getting a bit better, and “War” when Shayakhmetov was a young man and joined the Red Army to fight in World War Two.

Shayakhmetov was born in 1922 and for his first seven years or so his life was normal, helping his father to look after the animals, travelling hundreds of miles with the rest of the family and the village as the seasons turned. Obviously a life not without hardships but positively idyllic compared to what followed.

What The Silent Steppe does well is not shy away from the horrors of what Shayakhmetov experienced. From the age of eight he was having to travel for dozens or even hundreds miles on his own in search of news of his father, or to learn about other family member. He had to do so much at such a young age as his mother either had to stay at home to look after his siblings or to find work so they could eat. The famine and its effects on him, his family and the people is described in vivid detail and it’s often unsettling. Shayakhmetov combines the personal with the factual almost seamlessly as he gives facts and figures on how the collective farms worked (or more often didn’t) and the cruelty and short-sightedness of government officials who repossessed people’s livestock, belongings and even their homes. It’s hard not to get angry when you read how livestock was taken from people and when the newly set up farms couldn’t deal with them, they slaughtered them and then the meat was just left to rot – not given to or even sold to the people. How Shayakhmetov and his mother managed to survive so much, like the fact they were homeless for so long and unable to settle anywhere due to being the family of a kulak, is a testament to their resilience but also a lot of luck and kindness from others. There’s so many other people mentioned, family and acquaintances, who didn’t survive the famine and a lot of the time who managed to survive and who didn’t was down to where people happened to be living and who or what they knew. Just pure chance.

One think that sticks out in Shayakhmetov’s story is how hospitable the nomadic Kazakh are. Their whole culture was forced to change under Stalin’s rule but so many people would still help him and his family when they could, and his family would always help others. They whole country and millions of people were forced to change and for the most part they kept their core values. Or at least, it took the combination of famine, war, and economic struggles for people to start to change.

The Silent Steppe is a really interesting book that covers a place and time I knew little about and shows how far-reaching Stalin and his policies were. How a whole nomadic culture was forced to change and never returned to what it was in such a relative short space of time is amazing – and not in a good way. The Silent Steppe is sad, informative but also a little hopeful as it really demonstrates the power of community – something the Stalin-regime tried to enforce in a structured way when it was already there.

READ THE WORLD – Turkmenistan: The Tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar

Translated by W.M. Coulson.

After industrialists convince a village of fishermen and their families on the coast of the Caspian Sea, they start to make plans to move to the city. All but one, Araz refuses to leave and give up his ancestral home and his trade of being a fisherman. As tensions rise between Araz and the elderly fishermen, the ghost of Aypi, a woman betrayed and murdered by her husband and her village, begins to exact revenge on the villagers.

The Tale of Aypi is such a strange little story. It’s one that starts out relatively simple but then becomes a story that’s laced with mystery and magic as it becomes difficult to tell what is and isn’t real.

There’s a lot of true to life problems Araz and the other fisherman are facing. The majority of them have come to terms with the fact they are being forcibly relocated, and many of them are starting to see it as a necessity in order to keep connected to their children and grandchildren, as their city-living is so different to village life. Araz is like a one man protest as even his wife is looking to the future outside the village, even though she wouldn’t tell him that. The way Araz is almost abducted by the police so corrupt officials can hold and intimidate him to try and get him to agree to move from the village is very uncomfortable but also almost funny as Araz has such a strong sense of purpose he refuses to move.

Then there’s the ghost of Aypi. The way she interacts with the village and its people is interesting. It’s like she changes shape depending on who she is trying to influence or torment, and the thin line between real and imaginary is always there. Sometimes she’s a physical presence, she can be seen by the villagers and have conversations with them, while there’s other times where she attacks them in a fit of rage and they see a sandstorm. Then there’s also the blurring between dreams and reality where thing’s happen before someone wakes up and is unsettled by the whole encounter.

Aypi’s rage is certainly justified, and she offers some interesting ideas on the roles of men and women and their relationship in society. How what both men and women want has changed so men are more interested in finding foreign wives to fit in their strict moulds as the local women are striving for something else. There are some impactful lines like: “Women’ve lost their natural personality, and men’ve become too submissive and they can’t take it anymore.”

The Tale of Aypi is odd and melancholy as so many characters in this story have sad or hard lives. While many of the villagers have decided to give in and move, it’s clear that they won’t have it easy when they’re in the city as their attitudes are so different to people from the city. The Tale of Aypi is a story of community and cultural clash. The inclusion of Aypi the vengeful spirit is sometimes hard to follow as she often goes from being an almost solid person to some sort of spirit who isn’t connect to anything. Still, The Tale of Aypi is a compelling story and at less than 200 pages it packs in a lot of thoughts and ideas into it.

READ THE WORLD – Moldova: The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov

Translated by Ross Ufberg. Narrated by Daniel Thomas May.

Trigger warnings for rape, child trafficking and suicide.

Set in the early 2000s, a group of villagers in Moldova dream of a new life in Italy. They live an impoverished life in Moldova and through any methods they can think of they try to get to Italy where they’ve been told you get paid thousands of euros for just washing dishes.

The Good Life Elsewhere is a strange and funny story. The ways these people attempt to get to Italy become more and more absurd. To begin with there’s the understandable and realistic attempt to cross by paying smugglers who promise to get them across the Italian border and con them out of €4,000 each as it’s revealed that they never left Moldova. From there the attempts get more outrageous and include building both an aeroplane and a submarine out of a tractor.

I think listening to the audiobook helped me take in and understand this story. The narrator does a good job at distinguishing the many characters voices and I think the humour of the various situations came across a lot better than if I was just reading it. Hearing someone tell a funny story is often more entertaining than reading the funny story yourself.

The Good Life Elsewhere follows multiple characters including a man who has been obsessed with Italy since he was a child and has spent years learning the language and a priest who accidentally starts a couple of crusades leading hundreds of people to Italy on foot. There’s also a number of politicians who seem the most realistic out of them all aka could be from a Moldovan version of The Thick of It.

You can almost get emotional whiplash from The Good Life Elsewhere. The antics these villagers get into to try and get to Italy are often ridiculous and amusing but, as the trigger warnings suggest, there’s also a dark underbelly to it all. People who lose everything in their quest to get to Italy take their own lives, and when a woman is repeatedly raped over the course of years, it’s almost like a footnote and there isn’t time to linger on it before the next strange event is discussed. Besides the triggering content, often just after an amusing escapade or attempt to conduct a plan to get to Italy, something suddenly happens that turns to comedic into a tragedy.

The Good Life Elsewhere is an interesting story to consider in terms of European politics and the extreme lengths people will go to, to try and get somewhere they believe will give them a better life. The “fear” of immigrants Italy and Romania seem to have, the way Moldovans have to pay bribes to the police or other officials in order to keep travelling, how people are detained for no reason and have no idea if or when they can continue. It’s all very sad. Moldova joined the EU in 2016, as The Good Life Elsewhere is set in the early 2000s there’s often discussions of the EU, Moldova potentially joining it and what that could mean for the people. Especially as Moldova was once a part of the Soviet Union so there is the stark contrast between what was once a pro-Soviet country and how they almost idealise the West – in this case Italy. It really is weird but interesting how Italy becomes the almost promised land to these people, and how a whole village becomes enamoured with it.

The Good Life Elsewhere is equal parts tragedy and comedy. It’s satirical and odd and often unbelievable, but even today thousands of people travel from their homeland, risking death in the hope of where they end up might provide a better life for them and their loved ones, so it’s not totally unbelievable. It just pushes everything to the extreme.

REVIEW: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Just a little quick backstory on me and the Grisha’verse. I read and reviewed Six of Crows way back in 2016 without reading the original trilogy. I enjoyed it and still agree with a lot of my review but now that the Shadow and Bone TV show arrives on Netflix tomorrow, I decided to revisit the world. I read the original trilogy for the first-time last month and reread Six of Crows on audio and enjoyed that even more than I remembered due to now having a better understanding of the world and the magic system and I got all the little references. And now I have read the conclusion to that duology on audio, which was narrated by Roger Clark, Jay Snyder, Elizabeth Evans, Fred Berman, Brandon Rubin, Kevin T. Collins, Lauren Fortgang and Peter Ganim.

I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible but as it’s a sequel events of the first book are likely to be mentioned. Kaz Brekker and his crew may have pulled off the most audacious heist, but they didn’t come home to the fortune there were promised. Betrayed, alone, and weakened they have to pull together to find away out of this mess as criminals, merchants, and officials are all after them. Because it turns out it’s not just their lives on the line, when a powerful drug is the most sought-after tool in the world, the fate of the Grisha world hangs in the balance.

I loved Crooked Kingdom. Much like Six of Crows it’s full of twists and turns and even when you think you know the plan either something goes wrong, or it turns out it was an illusion and the real plan was something else entirely. There isn’t one big job to pull off this time. Instead, there’s a series of schemes to try and keep them all alive and to get the money they were owed.

As events unfold, the crew has to rely on one another even more and seeing how the different relationships, both platonic and romantic, evolve is just incredible. All six of these characters (and you get chapters from all of their points of view this time) have gone through so much trauma. Some of the things they’ve gone through include drug and gambling addictions, surviving sexual assault, parents or family dying or just being terrible people. You get a lot more of Wylan’s backstory and perspective in Crooked Kingdom and it really adds something to the group dynamic.

While I still think you can get by not having read the original trilogy when reading Six of Crows, that is definitely not the case for Crooked Kingdom. Characters from the original trilogy make an appearance (one of which caused me to actually gasp because I was that excited) and a lot more of various countries politics and conflicts come into play here.

The pacing of Crooked Kingdom is just so good. There’s pretty much nonstop action and scheming and even when there isn’t, the conversations between various characters is just as compelling. When characters argue, and some of them are big conflicts, you feel it because slowly you as the reader realise, as a lot of the characters are doing, that these people actually care about each other. They are still liars and thieves and, in the case of Kaz Brekker especially, can be cruel and ruthless, but they’re also growing as people and making connections and even in some small way want to do better.

Crooked Kingdom is a brilliant conclusion to this duology. It expands this fantasy world, gives the characters more development and nuances and does a great job at building tension. All the twists and turns keeps you guessing and it’s just a fun ride with a lot of emotional payoff. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Malta: In the Name of the Father (and of the Son) by Immanuel Mifsud

Translated by Albert Gatt.

After the funeral, a grieving son starts reading the diary his dead father had kept during the Second World War. As he turns each page, searching for a trace of the man he remembers, a portrait of an individual unfolds; a figure made both strange and familiar through the handwritten observations, the yearnings and the confessions.

At under 70 pages this novella manages to be impactful and almost whimsical at the same time. It can be a little hard to follow at times as the unnamed narrator tends to jump back and forth in his memories of his father. Sometimes he’s recounting a story of when he was a young child, and what he felt in that moment, while in others he’s then looking back on an event with through the eyes of his adult self, offering a different perspective to the one he had as a child.

The first chapter was the most interesting to me as that contained extracts from the father’s diary from when he joined the British army, in the King’s Own Malta Regiment in December 1939 at age nineteen. A lot of it was just the everyday goings on of life in the army but the diary is the springboard for the son’s thoughts about his father’s time in the military and how that shaped him as a man.

What it means to be a man and how soldiers and men don’t cry is a big factor. How the father’s attitude towards his son for any perceived weakness, how the son likes the feeling of tears running down his face, and how he only ever saw his father cry twice and both times his father had tried to hide it from everyone. It’s clear to see how this strict masculinity has affected the son and caused him to rethink certain elements of himself. It’s something he also muses about, masculinity and the role of a father, when he has his own son.

One thing that was a bit unusual, was how the narrator would bring in quotes or ideas from different writers and theorists and then relate them to his father and his memories of him. This little novella had footnotes with references to textbooks and it made the reading experience a real mix of things.

With the theory stuff it sometimes seemed academic, then there was the historical aspect, giving a brief rundown of the political landscape in Malta and how his father interacted with it, and then there’s the family and relationship history making it a condensed memoir. All these elements means that when reading it, there’s a distance to In the Name of the Father (and of the Son). It’s like the narrator is looking through the fog of memory, trying to work through his grief and thoughts. It’s an interesting and thoughtful reading experience and one that cant help but leave you feeling a little melancholy. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Tonga: We Are the Ocean by Epeli Hau’ofa

We Are the Ocean is a collection of essays, fiction, and poetry by Epeli Hau’ofa, whose writing over the past three decades has consistently challenged prevailing notions about Oceania and prescriptions for its development.

I found We Are the Ocean fascinating. It’s been a long time (since my uni days) since I’ve read academic essays, so I was a little apprehensive how I’d find these but quickly I realised my fears were unfounded. These essays were very readable and Hau’ofa’s voice came through clearly. As a lot of the essays were originally speeches at conferences, or adapted from a speech, that easy, conversational voice came through a lot.

I found these essays really interesting. I’ll readily admit I know little to nothing about the Oceanic region and the various island nations in that part of the world, so I learnt a lot from these essays. A lot of them were about the anthropology, history and financial structure of the countries in the Oceania/Pacific region. The relationship between the smaller island nations and Australia and New Zealand were a big part of it. How the trade worked, and how culture had been shared between the various countries and how people’s identities in some of the island countries were shaped by the influence of Australia and New Zealand rather than major western countries like America.

It was all super interesting and understandable because there was also talk of self-fulfilling prophesies as young people are told things like you’ll never amount to much in your home country unless you get an education abroad – so then is it of little surprise why the people in charge of banks, government etc aren’t fully educated in their home country. In fact, there’s often people of European, Australian, and New Zealander decent in positions of power due to colonial history.

The talk of anthropological studies and how historically anthropologists have been white and European and when they came to these countries, they made their own observations and didn’t think to make the effort to consult the native people who were experts in their own traditions. Hau’ofa being one of the only anthropologists from that region means he feels a great weight of responsibility of expanding the textbooks and the whole area of study.

The couple of short stories in this collection are kind of satirical and because they come after the majority of the essays it means you can pick up more of the references to the things and attitudes Hau’ofa is highlighting.

We Are the Ocean was incredibly interesting and easy to read. If you’re interested in history, social and cultural studies and how that all can interact to a person’s or country’s identity then this collection of work is for you. I learnt a lot from it and I’m please I read it. 5/5.

SERIES REVIEW: Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

As I said in a recent TBR post, though I read and enjoyed Six of Crows years ago I never finished that duology and I’d never read the original trilogy that started this Grisha’verse. Thanks to the trailer for the Shadow and Bone Netflix show, it got me reinterested in this series and now I’ve read the trilogy for the first time – and plan to reread Six of Crows and then read Crooked Kingdom for the first time. And then at some point I’ll probably also read the other duology in this world that has my new favourite character in it.

Set in a fantasy world inspired by Imperial Russia, Shadow and Bone sees Alina Starkov, a mapmaker in the army, suddenly learn she has a dormant but extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. She’s whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling, and soon she learns nothing is what it seems as she may be in more danger than she realised.

Shadow and Bone is my least favourite in the trilogy. I think it’s partly because it’d been a while since I’ve read fantasy, and while it’s still a genre I like, just getting in that YA fantasy mindset took some time. Also because of general internet osmosis, I knew going into it who was the big villain so I was kind of just waiting for that to be revealed too.

That being said, I think it did a great job of introducing the really interesting magic system. I liked the fact that while the Grisha are powerful, they have their limitations. They aren’t all powerful in all types of magic, there’s three different types of magic and they each have the skills for one type. How the magic and the history of this warring country is woven into the story is done well as there never seems a moment where you’re just listening to a history lesson. A lot of the time, you’re learning about things the same time as Alina is. This continues throughout the next two books and it makes the story all the richer for it.

The dynamic between Alina and the Darkling gets more interesting in each book but its here that all that important foundation is set. Their relationship verges on creepy a lot of times in the book before characters intentions are clear, and it gives their interactions an unsettling edge. Their powers compliment one another so they often appear to have the whole two sides of the same coin deal going on.

I gave Shadow and Bone 3/5.

Siege and Storm is my favourite in the trilogy. It feels like almost non-stop action and even when it’s not there’s more political intrigue as Alina learns to navigate the court and starts to become a leader which is just as gripping.

I thought the pacing in Siege and Storm was excellent and how it introduced new characters and new aspects of this world was nicely done. Here you see more of the technology of this country, not only are there pirate ships but also these aircraft which are unlike anything we’ve seen in these books before. The mixture of technology and science/magic in this world is really interesting.

Also, Siege and Storm introduces one of my favourite characters I’ve read in a long, long time – Sturmhond. He is clever and charming but also ambitious and ruthless, and I pretty much loved everything he said. As you learn more about him you see how he’s a man of many faces. He’s almost a chameleon as he can fit in in any social or political situation and often can get people to agree with him. I just loved him a lot.

I gave Siege and Storm 5/5.

Ruin and Rising is a near perfect end to this trilogy. Like Siege and Storm, I read it in two sittings because I was instantly pulled into the story because of the characters and the cliffhangers at the end of each book. While Alina has formed various bonds over the course of the previous two books, in this one there’s almost a family of choice trope happening as Alina and her small band of survivors fight to stick together and to do the right thing. The final act almost seemed to feel rushed. Throughout the book Alina had been working towards one goal but then that changed suddenly and, while there were possible hints in the previous book her original goal had still been an overarching theme, it made the final showdown seem more of a Plan B and it didn’t quite have the same effect.

I gave Ruin and Rising 4/5.

Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy. Alina is a great and believable heroine. She acts to things how you’d think any sane person would react, she’s constantly learning from her mistakes and evolving into a powerful leader as she accepts and relishes in her newfound power. The rest of the characters are great too. As I’ve said, Sturmhond is my favourite but how some of the secondary or minor characters are allowed to develop is really cool as you see sides to them you wouldn’t have expected to begin with. While Alina’s closest relationship is with her best friend Mal, there’s a lot of good dynamics and friendships between female characters in these books which I always appreciate.

The Grisha trilogy is, on the whole, fast-paced, action-packed, and has compelling characters and a vivid world. I can see why these books have become so well loved and I’m definitely looking forward to the Netflix show.

READ THE WORLD – Grenada: The Ladies are Upstairs by Merle Collins

The Ladies are Upstairs is a collection of short stories. The first is about Rain Darling and the following ten follow Doux Thibaut who from the 1930s to the new century negotiates a hard life on the Caribbean island of Paz. As a child there is the shame of poverty and illegitimacy, and there are the hazards of sectarianism in an island divided between Catholic and Protestant, the rigidity of a class and racial system where, if you are Black, your white employer is always right. When Doux is an old lady moving between the homes of her children in Boston and New York, she wonders whether they and her grandchildren really appreciate what her life has taught her.

The first story, “Rain Darling”, is about fifty pages long and sees three women travelling to a hospital to see another, that being Rain. It then goes back and forth between Rain’s present in the hospital and her past from childhood to teen years to adulthood and how one secret shatters her whole world. Rain’s life is a sad one, stuck with an aunt who doesn’t care or nurture her, forcing her to leave school at a young age even though Rain is bright, not being able to be with her mother, sister or her beloved father. It’s really quite depressing.

What makes Rain’s story even sadder is how it’s juxtaposed with Doux’s. They both live lives that have ups and downs but how they, and their families, respond to those hazards of life is vastly different.

Doux is headstrong even as a child and will stand up for herself. She’s also smart and capable but she has teachers and family who support and encourage her. Looking at Rain and Doux it’s easy to see how vastly different a child’s life can be if they have people who care about them. There still may be issues like money, and Doux’s mother can be strict, but the fact that Doux gets to have an education and then goes to have a family of her own shows how life can be a little easier when you’ve got a firm foundation from childhood.

The ten short stories about Doux follow her as she grows up. In most she’s the main character and the story is from her point of view but in some it’s about the people around her including her children and even her midwife. There are also some stories that get a bit creepy which I wasn’t expecting. They’re like short horror stories as a woman finds an abandoned child on the street at night who is not what they seem or a woman who disappears from a car. It’s those kinds of supernatural tales that are passed on as something a friend’s uncle saw once and they’re quite disconcerting after the more standard family drama type stories.

Both Rain and Doux live in Paz, a stand in for Grenada, and the way the landscape and towns are described paint a vivid picture in your head. The fact that characters speak patois and other colloquial languages make them seem more real. Also, how language and speech patterns change over time, especially in Doux’s stories that span sixty or more years, helps show how people and society changes.

The Ladies are Upstairs is an interesting short story collection and consuming Rain and Doux’s stories back-to-back make each of them more layered and interesting.

READ THE WORLD – Cyprus: Selfie and Other Stories by Nora Nadjarian

A collection of twenty-five short stories that are narratives about women on journeys of self-discovery.

First of all I want to give a shout out to the publisher, Roman Books. I love a pretty cover as much as the next person, but the actual packaging of the book was something I don’t think I’ve had before. It’s a cover that feels really nice to hold, it’s all buttery and smooth and I just really liked that and don’t think I’d ever really noticed the texture of a book before.

Anyway. Onto the contents of the book!

Twenty-five stories in a 88 page book means some are super short. I think the longest was seven pages, a few were only a page in length and the rest were somewhere in between. A lot of them certainly packed a punch while being so short. The writing in a lot of them have a dreamlike quality to it. It would lead you in one direction and in the final sentence or paragraph would reveal something that would make you look at the whole story differently. It’s really quite impressive as that was often all done in less than three pages.

The stories are all about or from the points of view of women. Some are written in first person, others in third, and they are all about love, loss, and relationships. Whether it’s romantic relationships or familial ones, it shows the different aspects of women’s relationships and how they can change depending on age. “Origami” is about a ten-year-old girl learning that her father left her and her mother before she was born and how that reshapes her entire outlook on both her parents while “Lemon, Stars” is about two sisters.

A lot of the stories have a melancholy tinge to them, and some are downright sad. “Mrs Gaslight” is, as you might be able to guess from the title, about a woman in an emotionally abusive relationship, and how even if her sister sees the problems, she refuses to. It’s the second story in the collection and I think having it so soon into the book makes it even more impactful.

Selfie and Other Stories is a well-written and interesting short story collection. It’s been a long time since I’ve read short stories that are this short and I’m always impressed how the author can create an atmosphere in so few words.

READ THE WORLD – Guyana: In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy

After false starts in teaching and social work, Melda Hayley finds her mission in fostering the damaged children of the first generation of Black settlers in a deeply racist 1950s Britain. But though Melda finds daily uplift in her work, her inner life starts to come apart. Her brother Arnie has married a white woman and his defection from the family and the distress Melda witnesses in the children she fosters causes her own buried wounds to weep. But though the past drives Melda towards breakdown, she finds strength there too, especially in the memories of the loving, supporting women of the yards.

In Praise of Love and Children is a story about love. Not romantic love, though some secondary characters are in relationships, but familial love. The love Melda does (or doesn’t) feel from certain members of her family are a big part of this story, likewise how she has a huge capacity to love the many children she fosters. Some might be only for a few weeks while others find a home with her for years.

I’m not sure how to write about this without coming across ignorant and/or racist but I’ll give it a go. When Melda moves to London and stays with her older brother Arnie she meets his girlfriend Trudi (who later becomes his wife and mother of his child), a white woman who had escaped to Switzerland after her family was killed in Germany when she was a teenager. Melda has an instant dislike for Trudi and it’s clear it’s because Trudi is a white woman and Melda feels she is turning Arnie into something he is not and distancing him from their family. I found those passages hard to read as Melda has a visceral hatred for Trudi. It took me (a white woman) by surprise and it did make me a little uncomfortable. After thinking about it though, I think it made me uncomfortable more because it surprised me. I hadn’t really seen this hatred in a book like this before. I think it’s because in media – films, books and TV – that’s set in the past, so often the Black characters are shown to be the better people in the face of racism, they turn the other cheek or do their best to ignore it and not interact. In In Praise of Love and Children Melda isn’t passive, she knows her own mind and is unafraid to show hostility towards Trudi, even when at times it seems like Trudi is generally trying to be friendly towards her future sister-in-law.

It’s interesting because the conflict between Melda and Trudi becomes this underlying element throughout the whole book. While it is tied to Melda’s view on white people, it’s also tied to how she sees and feels about her family. Family is very important to her and while she believes that the children must always defer to the parents and they are their family first, with Arnie he starts to see Trudi as his priority rather than his parents and siblings that are either in London or New York.

I’ve read books, and seen a lot of film/TV, set in post-segregation America but I haven’t really experienced as much media about Black Britons post-WWII. Starting out set in the 1950s and spanning nearly two decades, In Praise of Love and Children is a small snapshot into life in Britain for the children of what we now call the Windrush generation. People from former British Empire and Commonwealth countries, especially those in the Caribbean, were encouraged to come to the UK to live and work and make a home here. There’s the little racist comments Melda hears about the few Black children in her class from the white headteacher or other staff, and there’s the mention of the culture shock parents have in bringing up their children without the support of a wider community that they had in their villages back home. There’s a line I really liked, and it can (unfortunately) be applied to people looking for a better life for themselves and their family today: “Immigrant workers went from having a firm identity – of family, village, island or religion – to having only a nominal one: foreigner.”

I ended up really enjoying In Praise of Love and Children. I thought Melda’s capacity for love after growing up being abused by her mother was admirable. There’s flashbacks to her childhood and the care and support she got from the women of the yards near her childhood home, was enough to help her when her mother’s love wasn’t there. She is a principled character and may verge on cutting of her nose to spite her face territory, but she is also caring and just. For a pretty short book (it’s under 150 pages) In Praise of Love and Children manages to pack an emotional punch as Melda tries to discover who she is and make a success of her dream to foster and care for such troubled children. 4/5.