Tag Archives: Louise Rogers Lalaurie

Paperbacks to Look Out For in March 2020: Part One

March looks like another great month for paperbacks which will either please you or make you groan at the prospect or yet more additions to the TBR, or perhaps both. I’m beginning with a book many of you may well have already read but I’ve yet to do so. Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other surprised and delighted many last year by winning the Booker Prize. The judges chose to call it a tie with The Testaments, something which Margaret Atwood graciously acknowledged while managing to suggest that Evaristo ought to be the sole winner, or at least that’s how I chose to interpret her speech. It tells the story of twelve very different characters, most of them black British women.Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible’ promise the publishers. Evaristo’s Mr Loverman was an absolute joy raising my hopes for this one.

Letitia Colombani’s The Braid tells the story of three, rather than twelve, very different women all of whose lives intersect unbeknownst to each other. Smita is a Dalit, an untouchable, determined that her six-year-old will have a better life. Giulia works for her father in Sicily, preparing hair for wig makers in a family business whose finances are revealed to be precarious. Sarah is a partner in a Montreal law firm who hides her cancer diagnosis, scheduling her treatment to fit in with work. All three of these women change their lives for the better on their own terms in this heartening fable-like story.

Set in rural Malaysia, We, the Survivors tells the story of a man born into poverty, a decent man whose attempts to better himself end in tragedy. When the staff of the fish farm he manages succumb to cholera, Ah Hock turns to an old friend for help. On the night Keong has arranged to meet his Bangladeshi contact, Ah Hock is horrified to find that he’s armed with a knife. Aw’s writing is contemplative and perceptive, his characters well drawn and convincing.

Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans explores the fallout from a hit and run accident which kills a Moroccan immigrant who had been running his restaurant in a small Californian desert town for decades. Lalami tells her story in short chapters through a diverse set of characters whose backstories are meticulously sketched in. It’s a quietly powerful novel which seemed to have had less coverage than it deserved here in the UK.Cover image

It was its Berlin setting that first attracted me to Adrian Duncan’s Love Notes From a German Building Site, an irresistible backdrop for me. Duncan’s debut follows a couple in their mid-thirties who have left Ireland for Germany. Paul is a structural engineer refurbishing a building in the old East Berlin while Evelyn is waiting to start a job in a Cologne museum. As the project nears its end, tempers on site become dangerously frayed, crises flare and Paul feels himself increasingly out of kilter, grappling with a language which constantly eludes him. Written in spare, elegant prose, this beautifully crafted novella is wonderfully atmospheric.

That’s it for this first part of March’s paperback preview. A click on any title that catches your eye will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with the month’s new novels they’re here and here. Second instalment soon…

The Braid by Letitia Colombani (transl. Louise Rogers Lalaurie): Take three women

Cover imageLetitia Colombani’s The Braid is one of those elegantly structured novellas that manages to pack a great deal into fewer than two hundred pages. Three women’s stories intersect in a way that none of them can imagine when the book begins. They will remain unknown to each other yet each will have played a crucial role in changing the others’ lives.

Smita is a Dalit in the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh, an untouchable whose job is to empty the latrines by hand. The ostracism of Dalits from society was outlawed by Mahatma Gandhi yet Smita and her rat-catcher husband continue to be spurned. Smita is determined that her six-year-old daughter won’t suffer the same humiliation and is prepared to go to any lengths to protect her.

Giulia works for her father in Sicily, preparing hair for wig makers in a family business that has been established for generations. When her father is left comatose after an accident, Giulia discovers that all is not what it seems with their finances. Her Sikh lover offers a solution which isn’t welcomed by everyone.

Sarah is a partner in a Montreal law firm, a position hard-won and at great cost. She never mentions her children at work, hiding domestic difficulties and maternal guilt behind a mask of calm capability. Illness cannot be countenanced. When Sarah finds she has cancer she tucks the knowledge away, scheduling her treatment to fit in with work.

Colombani uses the conceit of telling the stories of Smita, Giulia and Sarah through a wig maker, interweaving their three separate narratives into a braid. It’s a device that works well: the wig maker makes a brief appearance at the start and end of the book with the occasional interpolation in between. Each of the stories explores the societies in which these three women live: Smita’s abject poverty, locked into a caste system sustained by corruption and lack of education; resistance to Giulia’s innovation in traditional, male dominated Sicilian society; Sarah’s discovery that the glass ceiling hasn’t been entirely shattered in her intensely competitive law firm where loyalty counts for nothing. All three women changes their lives for the better on their own terms, facing apparently insurmountable problems with courage and determination. It’s a heartening story, fable-like in its telling but not sugar-coated, and an appealing one. Proof, yet again, of the power of the novella – not that I needed it.