The following reviews have recently appeared in the Sunday edition of The Gazette. Want more reviews? Check out the archive.

British author Jon McGregor doesn’t waste a moment getting to the action in his latest work, “The Reservoir Tapes,” a haunting compliment to his Man Booker Prize longlisted novel “Reservoir 13.” If you missed the original, don’t worry: “The Reservoir Tapes” stands tall on its own, well accessible for readers (like this reviewer) who showed up late to McGregor party.

Thirteen-year-old Becky Shaw is visiting rural Derbyshire with her parents when she disappears on a family hike. One minute she’s a petulant teenager, lagging behind in her canvas shoes; the next minute she’s simply gone into thin air.

An interviewer arrives in the village and attempts to piece together a portrait of Becky as well as the village itself on the time of her disappearance. In the interwoven stories that follow we catch glimpses of Becky, seen along the road while Claire and Donna go out for a night of drinking; seen swimming alone in a dangerous quarry by Ian, a former quarry worker who lectures her; seen eating an apple in Ginny’s backyard, reminding her of her daughter who ran away. Read full review

“For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors,” the winner of the 2017 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction, is just as quirky and curious as the title suggests. Made up of thirteen essays that range in topic from health and wellness to reflections on family to the power and confusion of loving someone who doesn’t speak your native language, the book functions more like a memoir than a collection, as the essays bend and weave together, forming an intricate portrait of a unique literary talent.

During the 1980s, author Laura Ester Wolfson studied Russian and worked in the USSR, building a successful career as a Russian to English translator and interpreter: “State banquets at the Kremlin, mafia trials, forgotten literary masterpieces, KGB files declassified under Yeltsin (later to be reclassified under Putin) – I translated them all.” 

Spending so much time in another language, she writes, was an experience “both freeing and confining,” and her essays involving language acquisition – and her marriage and divorce from a Georgian man who, before they married, didn’t speak English and had never been west of Montenegro – are among the books’ strongest. Read more

During a sleepless night in her early twenties, writer and illustrator Hallie Bateman had a sobering realization: one day her mother would pass away. What would those first days without her be like? Bateman wondered. What about the 10th day, or the 1,000 day?

Her sadness turned to inspiration, and Bateman asked her mother to collaborate with her on a book. The result is “What to Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to her Daughter,” a heartfelt illustrated manual to navigating the grieving process.

Written from the perspective of the deceased, and told through punchy language and moving illustrations, “What to Do When I’m Gone” feels less like a self-help book and more like your deceased loved one taking your hand as you move from one stage of grief to the next.

The result is a thoughtful, engaging work that serves as a guidebook, a comfort, and a reminder of a mother’s love. It’s funny, too. Read full review

Literature has the power to connect us across geographies, cultures, and languages, and the seven short stories collected in “Banthology” do just that. From the horrors of war to the challenges of beginning a new life abroad, each of these stories quickly (and sometimes playfully) confronts a different truth about the exile experience. And while the stories are powerful on their own, read together they form a moving chorus that is too great — and too beautiful, frankly — to be ignored.

First published by Comma Press in the UK, Banthology has recently been released in the United States through Deep Vellum Press. The themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement guide the collection, but the authors address these topics in various ways. In “Return Ticket” author Najwa Binshatwan takes an absurdist approach, as the main character is subjected to one preposterous travel requirement after another when she attempts to leave Schrodinger, a floating village that moves “through time and space, changing its orbit spontaneously as if it were the sun rising in one place and setting in another.”  Read full review. 

‘This Mournable Body” by Zimbabwe author Tsitsi Dangarembga is a gripping, personal story of one woman’s drive to succeed despite mounting obstacles in her path, a narrative meant to mirror the journey of Zimbabwe itself.

Despite her education and training, Tambudzai finds herself middle-aged and living in a youth hostel in downtown Harare, with no job and dwindling savings.

Her previous position at an advertising agency was lucrative, but she tired of “the white men who put their names to your taglines and rhyming couplets,” and quit. Now she spends “much time regretting digging your own grave over a matter of mere principle.”

Yes, the novel is written in second person, to startling effect, as readers are implicated in all of Tambudzai’s actions and decisions, from turning on a housemate to secure her own survival, to refusing to support her rural family, represented as a bag of mealie meal that follows her from residence to residence until, in a moment of both independence and deception, she buries it in the backyard. Read full review

In her new book “It’s Only Blood: Shattering the Taboo of Menstruation,” researcher Anna Dahlqvist traveled to Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh and India to conduct interviews with women and activists about the connection between money, gender, power and menstrual shame.

What Dahlqvist discovers will be unsurprising to many: “that the unmet menstrual needs of women and girls puts them at a huge disadvantage to men, which contributes to their social, economic, and political subordination in the constant interplay between gender and power.”

“In the long run,” Dahlqvist explained, “by being denied access to education and work, women and girls are prevented from becoming equal citizens. They are held back.” Read full review

Written by great Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour, “Moon Brow” is a powerfully imaginative novel about war and its long-lasting repercussions.

Here is the story of Amir Yamini, a young playboy who willed away his days drinking, reading poetry, and chasing women until, after a particularly spectacular bit of drinking, he attacked his father. This event, coupled with the changing political climate, set Amir’s life off on a very different trajectory: he served in the Iran-Iraq war and spent years in a mental hospital before being found by his mother and sister.

Now back at home with an amputated arm, Amir is celebrated as a living martyr but also feared because of his delicate mental state. Amir claims to not be mentally ill — he says he was hiding in the hospital — but his family believe differently and hire guards to keep him confined to the walled garden. Read full review.

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