I edited the magazine, alongside Riveter-in-Chief and Director of the European Literature Network, Rosie Goldsmith. I also contributed reviews of Zinovy Zinik’s Sounds Familiar, and China Miéville’s October to the publication.
To celebrate The London Book Fair 2017 Poland Market Focus, the European Literature Network launched its very first print magazine, The Riveter. Born out of the Network’s monthly #Riveting Reviews and with much help from a range of knowledgeable and discerning contributors, the magazine is guest edited by Deborah Levy, with a cover illustration by Chris Riddell.
I had the honour to edit the magazine, in collaboration with Rosie Goldsmith, and contributing editors, Anna Blasiak and Antonia Lloyd-Jones.
I also reviewed for the magazine what in my view is one of the most important novels of the twentieth century – Wiesław Myśliwski’s Stone Upon Stone.
With more content than we could fit into the forty pages of the print publication, we focused the European Literature Network’s March #Riveting Reviews on Polish writing too. I edited these and wrote a companion review of Myśliwski’s award-winning A Treatise on Shelling Beans.
The Riveter, Edition One, March 2017, is supported by The London Book Fair, the British Council and the Polish Cultural Institute, and will be available at Polish literature events throughout 2017. The European Literature Network will also make a pdf of the expanded magazine available to download at the end of March.
In November, I travelled to Reykjavík with Karen Sullivan and a host of Orenda authors for Iceland Noir – a crime fiction festival organised by two of those authors and an Orenda translator, among others.
Attended by crime fiction greats such as Val McDermid (who gave the keynote speech) Ann Cleeves and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, the three days of talks were intriguing – as was my first visit to the North Atlantic island.
My feature piece about the festival was published on ELit Literature House Europe and on the European Literature Network:
In January I was once again editor of the European Literature Network’s monthly Riveting Reviews.
January’s reviews were devoted to Dutch Literature. Celebrating #HighImpactAllStars – the Network’s evening of literature from the Low Countries, ably hosted, as always by Rosie Goldsmith – alongside Dutch specialist Aimee Hardy, I commissioned and edited reviews of new titles in English from Herman Koch, Gerard Reve, Esther Gerritsen, and others. I also wrote a feature review of The Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories.
Over the past few months, I’ve been contributing monthly reviews to the excellent European Literature Network, a project led by journalist and champion of all things literary and European, Rosie Goldsmith.
My first experience of Estonian author Rein Raud was when I selected one of his short stories for Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2015. His novella The Brother, is the first piece of his long-form writing to appear in English. I reviewed it for Eurolitnetwork and I was rapt by this ‘exquisite literary puzzle’.
Our discussion about the motivations behind publishing two translations of the same book within the same year, and the significance of Ó Cadhain’s masterpiece can be found both here on the European Literature Network website, and here on Elit’s observatory of European literature.
This time I reviewed the two translations of Máirtin Ó Cadhain’s seminal Irish-language work Cre na Cille, pushlished by Yale University Press.
I preferred Alan Titley’s more vigorous, urgent version, published as The Dirty Dust, over Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson’s Graveyard Clay. However, either translation is a wonderful introduction to a truly masterful piece of twentieth-century modernist literature.
When Karen Sullivan first sent me the manuscript of Yusuf Toropov’s urgent, experimental, thoughtful novel, I was intrigued. A few pages in, I found myself bamboozled. A few more and I was fascinated. Then awed by the writing. Then unsure what I was being encouraged to think. But finally I was sure that this was a book that Karen should consider for Orenda’s line-up of novels.
Now Jihadi: A Love Story has been published, I see that I am not alone in my complicated, perhaps even confused reaction to this novel. Early reviews have described faltering starts and cautious approaches to the book, even some questioning by reviewers: is this my type of book?
Yet universally, readers have found themselves drawn in. Drawn in by a book that so accurately skewers the West’s conflicted relationship with the Islamic countries, and the Muslim lives, it is involved with. Drawn in by Yusuf’s intelligent, sophisticated and absorbing writing, which perfectly reflects the intelligence, sophistication and magnetism of the novel’s subject matter. And drawn in by a story that at its heart is simply very, very human.
At the centre of Jihadi is Thelonius Lidell, an American CIA officer whose covert operation in the fictitious ‘Islamic State’ ends tragically. He narrates his side of the story while detained in a CIA facility. Parallel to this core plot is the narrative of Thelonius’s estranged wife, Becky, also a CIA officer. Ostensibly annotating Thelonius’s ‘text’, Becky provides an increasingly erratic alternative storyline, which questions and at time contradicts Thelonius’s version of events. There is a third thread running through the novel – that of the translator, Fatima, whose efforts to protect her family from the deepening crisis in her country is told by Thelonius.
I have accompanied this complex, challenging and thought-provoking novel for at least part of its journey – from my first reading to the published version, helping Karen edit the manuscript and even seeing the final typeset draft to bed with the printer. And each time I have read it, each time I have thought about a chapter, each time I have considered how a sentence could be improved, suggested an alteration or proposed something less or something more, my understanding of Yusuf’s powerful insights has deepened.
For the complexity of Jihadi is the complexity of the West’s relationship with the Islamic world, and the Islamic world’s relationship with the West. It is the complexity of truth; and of truth-telling. And, as the novel’s subtitle suggests, it is the complexity of love. Progressing through the patchwork of scenes, flashbacks and accounts, the reader can only guess at who among Thelonius, Becky, Fatima, and gun-ho US Marine, Mike Mazzoni, is describing accurately and authentically the events of the novel. In fact, the reader is left doubting the possibility that any one of them – indeed anyone at all – can tell the truth of an incident with complete, unbiased truth.
It is a very special book that manages to convey such uncertainty, yet at the same time is a success as a thrilling, gripping, emotionally rewarding tale. Jihadi is that success. Karen and I, from the very outset, were determined to preserve this – Yusuf’s vision – for the book. We were sure that its very difficulty was its strength. And were convinced the challenge it presents would be the reader’s reward.
Indeed, having read Jihadi again for this article, looking at my early notes and making new ones, I have been confronted by fresh insights, have appreciated new subtleties, and have been moved by its great, great humanity.
And so, with unapologetic partiality, I recommend that everyone – fans of thrillers, of love stories, and of literary experiment – read Jihadi. Because it is a book that conveys the predicament of the current moment; and hopefully helps us understand that moment a little better.
Based on my reviews for the European Literature Network of Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2016 and Trafika Europe’s Essential New European Literature, I was asked to write a blog on similar topics for ELit, the observatory for European contemporary literature.
My piece, focussing on literary merit and contemporary themes in European literature, can be found here.