Anne Bonny #BookReview Bitter Sun by @bethklewis #CrimeFiction #Psychological #Mystery #NewRelease @BoroughPress ‘A protective brother, a mother seeking validation from men and a scared little girl’

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Bitter Sun by Beth Lewis
Review Copy
Synopsis:

It all started when we found the body.
Then nothing was ever the same.

The Dry meets Stand by Me and True Detective in this stunningly written tale of the darkness at the heart of a small mid-Western town and the four kids who uncover it.

In the heatwave summer of 1971, four kids find a body by a lake and set out to solve a murder. But they dig too deep and ask too many questions.

Larson is a town reeling in the wake of the Vietnam draft, where the unrelenting heat ruins the harvest, and the people teeter on the edge of ruin.

As tension and paranoia run rife, rumours become fact, violence becomes reflex. The unrest allows the dark elements of the close-knit farming community to rise and take control.

And John, Jenny, Gloria and Rudy are about to discover that sometimes secrets are best left uncovered…

My Review:

‘I killed her’

Bitter Sun is a novel that begins in a heatwave of 1971 and ends in summer 1973. It takes place in the rural town of Larson and the Vietnam war and its impact on small rural communities sets the backdrop for the novel.

The novel follows brother and sister John and Jenny and their childhood friends Gloria and Rudy. They discover the body of a female murder victim, which the town is quick to hush up! Too quick for John and Jenny’s liking and they set out to unmask the killer. John names the victim Mora, and Jenny is unusually drawn to her and her possibly background. Who is she?

‘It was the drink. It was the sickness. Not my momma, not really’

John and Jenny Royal have an alcoholic and abusive mother. She openly favours John and systemically physically and mentally abuses Jenny. The kids are bullied at school and rumoured as ‘freaks’. John tries to protect his sister the best he can, but it is 1971 and he is just a kid!
When the police don’t take the case seriously, he turns to Pastor Jacobs.
But is the Pastor a friend or a predator himself?

‘We have to find out who she is and who hurt her.
Someone has to’ – Gloria

John and Jenny’s mother appears changed after the news of the murder. However, the change never lasts long, with alcoholics.
The kids have what they refer to as ‘pigeon Pa’s’ a series of men that come in and out of their mother’s life. But they aren’t the only kids in Larson to have abusive family members, unfortunately. . .

Rudy lives in poverty, he has a lonely and abusive homelife. There is a specific scene of Rudy being abandoned at Christmas which brought tears to my eyes. A further scene of violent child abuse left me sobbing and Rudy nursing a broken arm. Rudy becomes convinced his father has something to do with the murder and he is desperate to expose him.

The barren landscape is written brilliantly, you can easily imagine this bleak town impacted by war and poverty.
‘Dozens went. A handful came back’
It describes the returning Vietnam veterans as ghosts of their former selves. As stated this creates a fantastic backdrop for this similarly haunting and bleak story.

As months roll by with no leads, no ID and no new news. The kids grow impatient. Jenny vows that as soon as she is old enough, she’ll leave Larson. The bullying by her mother continues, growing more and more vicious.

With a local car accident resulting in the deaths of two local teens and the Easton mill going up in flames the people of Larson move on with their lives.
John, Jenny, Rudy and Gloria do not.

This novel is a ‘coming of age’ under the harshest of circumstances.
A protective brother, a mother seeking validation from men and a scared little girl. 4.5*

BL
Beth Lewis
Twitter
Website

Anne Bonny Q&A with Leila Aboulela #Author of Elsewhere, Home #Literary #ShortStories #NewRelease @SaqiBooks

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Elsewhere, Home by Leila Aboulela
Synopsis:

Intimate stories of longing and exile by one of our finest contemporary writers.

A lonely housewife fascinated with a famous writer learns to find her own voice in Abu Dhabi; a bus route passing the Christmas lights along Oxford Street is a stark reminder for a female passenger of her brother’s tragic death on the eve of his wedding; and a Scottish man working in a kebab shop and his girlfriend try desperately to reconcile Islam’s place in their fragile relationship.

From the heat of Khartoum at the height of summer to the wintery streets of London, from the concrete high rises in the Gulf to the blustery coast in Aberdeen, this elegant and moving collection vividly evokes the overlapping worlds of Africa, Britain and the Middle East. Beautifully observed and written with empathy, Leila Aboulela’s stories deftly capture the search for home in our fast-changing world.

Q&A:

Q: When you first began to write, where did you think writing would take you?

A: At first, writing was a hobby. I wanted to make good use of my free time (which wasn’t much as I had two young children and a part-time job as a Statistics lecturer), make friends, have an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. Ambition and taking writing seriously developed later. I did have a clear intention, though, when I first started to write. I wanted to cure my homesickness and I wanted to put Islam in English literature. To some extent I achieved these goals almost immediately with my first novel The Translator. Being a writer enabled me to have a new life in Britain, to become someone I could not have been had I stayed in Sudan (not because one can’t be a woman writer in Sudan but because for me personally the writing was triggered by the move from Sudan to Britain). And I was happy that the reading public in Britain and elsewhere were open to the faith content in my work.

Q: Where do you do most of your writing? Can you describe to me the space where you are happiest working?

A: I am not fussy about space as long as I am alone, it’s quiet and no one is looking over my shoulders! I would never be able to write fiction in a café, for example. The room I am writing in now is my study. I keep the blinds down and the lights on. This probably sounds awful, but it makes me feel sealed in. I’ve written in rooms with views before, but I don’t particularly miss them. The sun would sometimes hurt my eyes and I’m inside the text anyway and not seeing anything else!

Q: What were the things you missed most about Sudan when you first moved to Aberdeen?

A: Everything – the visuals, the people, my sense of belonging. At the same time, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what I was missing! The writing was a way of answering this question.

Q: Have those things changed over time?

A: Over time, the homesickness did recede, but it would flare up like flu from time to time. Over the past ten years, I’ve visited Sudan more and more. It has changed so much that it’s not the same place that I miss anymore. I miss the Sudan I grew up in but that’s nostalgia for childhood and yearning for the past- it’s not the same as homesickness.

Q: What does ‘home’ mean to you?

A: Home is where I feel a total sense of belonging, where I don’t have to explain or justify my presence, where I am taken for granted but not devalued, a place where I have agency, where I am not frightened to speak out, or feel wary of being misunderstood. A place of safety and nourishment. Home could be a physical space- the Aberdeen Central Library, a cousin’s house in Khartoum, Mecca during the Pilgrimage. Or it is being surrounded by my family anywhere in the world, even in an anonymous hotel room. The intellectual space I occupy with readers, writers and publishers, inside the pages of fiction, is also a kind of home.

Q: You have won and been listed for many, many prizes over the years, including the Scottish Book Awards, the Caine Prize for African Writing, The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Orange Prize. What does it mean to you to have your work recognized in this way?

A: It means a great deal. Especially when I was starting out, this kind of prize recognition did feel like a stamp of approval. I think prizes are great for writers and for drawing attention to a particular work. On the other hand, they can create a competitive, superficial culture of winners and losers- regardless of content. I have recently started to place more emphasis on the response of academics to my writing. Most of the learned, nuanced readings of my work is taking place within scholarly articles. I am happy that my work is taught in universities and that students are using it as subject matter for their PhDs.

Q: As well as your short stories, your novels The Translator, Minaret, Lyrics Alley and The Kindness of Enemies are loved by readers far and wide. Do you approach writing short stories and novels in the same way? If not, what are the differences?

A: Novels are long journeys. It is not only the number of words, but the years spent in writing them. Embarking on a novel is a commitment. I have to ask myself, ‘Will I be able to sustain fascination is this particular topic and in these particular characters for several years?’’ Short stories, on the other hand, don’t require this kind of long-term commitment. I can dip into the world of a short story and be out again within a relatively short period of time. This enables me to take risks and to follow instincts. Some of the stories in Elsewhere, Home such as The Aromatherapist’s Husband or Farida’s Eyes are detours, taking me away from my regular themes and yet they were fun to write. A story like Pages of Fruit, which is the longest in the collection and covers several decades and countries, felt like a novel when I was writing it, especially as it was very emotional for me and I could have kept going with the theme- but the narrow focus on the two main characters made it more suitable for the short story form. I must admit that writing thirteen separate short stories is much more difficult than writing one novel. In total, there is more work packed in a story collection, more skill than in one single novel.

LA
Leila Aboulela
Website