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

 

Anne Bonny #Poetry #Review A collection by @DeanAtta 5* @SaqiBooks ‘Powerful, honest, raw and inspirational’

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I Am Nobody’s Nigger by Dean Atta
Review copy
Synopsis:

Revolutionary, reflective and romantic, I Am Nobody’s Nigger is the powerful debut collection by one of the UK’s finest emerging poets. Exploring race, identity and sexuality, Dean Atta shares his perspective on family, friendship, relationships and London life, from riots to one-night stands. Longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize 2014’Go Dean Atta. Speak the truth. Tweet the truth. Upload it. Let it ring out over the digital domain and strike at the heart of the offline wireless and disconnected.’ Lemn Sissay ‘Dean Atta’s poetry is as honest as truth itself. He follows no trend; he seeks no favours … Beyond black, beyond white, beyond straight, beyond gay, so I say. Love your eyes over these words of truth. You will be uplifted.’ Benjamin Zephaniah ‘Righteous and forceful’ Peter Tatchell’I can do nothing but take my hat off to Dean Atta for speaking out, saying what he believed, and doing it so effectively and powerfully that countless people heard it who would never normally have done so. Poetry is a powerful tool, and I Am Nobody’s Nigger is a perfect example of when that tool shows its full strength.’ Huffington Post’ Huffington Post ‘Raconteur Dean Atta doing what he does best; articulating London’s dark, deep-rooted social cancers through a beautiful and intricately personal narrative.’ Clash

My Review:

Powerful, honest, raw and inspirational. Just a few of the words I would use to summarise the poetry of Dean Atta.

Dean Atta moves around various social and political issues within his various poems. From the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the usage of racial terminology. To the plight of fatherless children or homeless people. He clearly is a very deep and thoughtful poet.

“Please listen when I speak
How many homeless you seen this week?”

There is a poem titled ‘Young, Black And Gay’ where Dean Atta makes it abundantly clear he is not going to apologise for who he is. This is a quality I absolutely love in an author. It was one of the qualities I admired in Paul Beatty’s Manbooker winning novel The Sellout. Dean Atta has a talented mind!

In the poem Fatherless Nation, he addresses the issue of abandoned children and how it in-turn effects the next generation to come.
With the poem Therapy, it is almost as if he is speaking to you, through the pages.

“I can speak against injustice
from a stage or on a page
I’m a poet not a politician
But I canvas for your vote
With these words I wrote”

Each new poem, has a new theme. His opinion on the London riots in Smash And Grab, questions the motives behind the behaviour, what we all saw unfold.

“it’s no wonder no one looted the libraries”

I had several favourites from the collection. Key To The City is emotional and brutally honest. Rome is Eternal, speaks of love and personal connections.
Fragmented, is just pure perfection.

“I send envelopes of hope
addressed to our tomorrow”

A deep-thinking poet, with an intelligent mind and open eyes. I’d love to buy him a cup of coffee and listen to his spoken word performances.
If Dean Atta was a politician, he’d get my vote 5*

DA
Dean Atta
Website – Don’t miss the video links of Dean’s spoken word.
Twitter
YouTube
Saqi Books

 

Anne Bonny #BookReview Song For Night by @chrisabani 5* #LiteraryFiction #ChildSoldiers #WestAfrica @SaqiBooks “Every star is a soul, every soul is a destiny meant to be lived out”

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Song For night by Chris Abani
Review copy
Synopsis:

Even with the knowledge that there are some sins too big for even God to forgive, every night my sky is still full of stars; a wonderful song for night. Trained as a human mine detector, a boy soldier in West Africa witnesses and takes part in unspeakable brutality. At 12 his vocal cords are cut to prevent him from screaming and giving away his platoon’s presence, should he be blown up. Awaking after an explosion to find that he’s lost his platoon, he traces his steps back through abandoned villages and rotting corpses – and through his own memories – in search of his comrades. The horror of past events is relived and gradually come to terms with as he finds some glimmers of hope and beauty in this nightmarish place.

My Review:

Firstly, let me say how beautiful the cover is on this novel. The falling skulls and feathers are beautiful. Secondly, I should state that the novel does centre around a character named ‘My Luck’. Who is a child soldier in West Africa. The novel is not overly graphic in its depictions of violence. It deals with violence and brutality but has been done in an intelligent manner and not to shock the reader.

‘What you hear is not my voice’

The novel reads like the internal thoughts of My Luck, similar to a journal of his thoughts. After waking up alone and abandoned, he attempts to make his journey back to his platoon. But the longer he is separated from them the more he becomes aware of his own wrong doing and the evil that surrounds him.

‘It is not good to be alone in a war for long. It radically decreases your chances of survival’

My Luck is 15yrs old, he has been a child soldier since he was 12yrs old. The violence has seeped into every part of his soul and he can no longer process his personal journey. That is, until he is separated from his platoon.

‘None of us can remember the hate that led us here’

My Luck joined up at 12yrs old. He was fuelled by revenge, grief and pain.
After witnessing the murder of his own beloved mother.

‘Every star is a soul, every soul is a destiny meant to be lived out’

My Luck talks you through his journey from young pre-pubescent boy, to trained killer. Beginning with a scene where starving villages turned to cannibalism for food.

‘After three years of civil war nothing is strange anymore’

He talks about the hierarchy in the group and their leader nicked John Wayne. After their training the soldiers are to have their vocal chords severed. So that their screams can not be heard and give away their location. This is just the beginning of the brutality inflicted upon these children.

‘What they couldn’t know was that in the silence of our heads, the screams of those dying around us were louder than if they still had their voices’

He talks of their and their enemies haste to lay landmines so that in the end. Neither side of the war, knows where they are. He is tortured by his past and who he has become.

‘We followed orders, did what we were told’

‘I realise the fire burning in me is shame; shame and fear’

He discusses the culture and is able to demonstrate some understanding. But at times appears to be immature and emotionally stunted. He may know his way around an AK47, but what he needs most is a hug.

As a mother of two young sons, 11yrs and 6yrs old. My heart ached. I didn’t even like it when My Luck lit a cigarette, because in my eyes he is a child that deserves a childhood. But My Luck is not getting a childhood. He is getting a life of violence and despair.

Given the option of ‘rape or die’ by John Wayne, one finally time too many. He puts a bullet in his head and assumes the role of platoon leader. My Luck has no appetite for rape, despite the evil atrocities of war he has committed.
What My Luck speaks of most is his mother.

‘If we are the great innocents in this war, then where did we learn all the evil we practice’

The novel is 138 pages and is one of the deepest novels I have read this year. It packs an emotional edge that I have not come across before. The last page touched my heart and I wanted to cry for this boy deprived of a childhood and a mother’s love.

The novel deals with a harrowing subject matter but provides multiple thought-provoking points. It would be ideal for book groups and possibly college or young adults to debate. I don’t think I will forget My Luck in a hurry and I am off to find out about the other novels written by the author. 5*

CA
Chris Abani
Website
Check out the other novels available from the author
Twitter
Saqi Books
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