Culture & Conversation

Posts by Martyn Bryant

Toujours Faim

“Years ago, when I started first grade, my father had given me talks about fighting, as if I weren’t heading off to elementary school but to become a mercenary,” writes Deni Y. Béchard in his new book, Cures for Hunger. A biographical-novel set predominantly in British Columbia and Virginia, Cures for Hunger follows Béchard’s life from childhood through adolescence to college. He tries to understand how his youth was shaped by his father – a troubled man who turned to sporadic violence and crime to fuel a reckless appetite initiated by his childhood beginnings in Quebec.

Dining Out

Michael Ondaatje’s latest novel, The Cat’s Table, floats in a sea of magic, curiosity and the fantasy of youth. Ondaatje animates life aboard the Oronsay, a six-hundred…

Revolution Central

15-20 years ago, Egyptian journalist and novelist Ahdaf Soueif collected a third of an advance on a book that she didn’t write. She was asked to write about Cairo, the place of her birth and where she grew up and studied, but couldn’t bring herself to write an elegy for a city she saw as having long ago passed its prime.

Face to Face

In the introductory lines of Half-Blood Blues (reviewed by The Rover last year) Sid gives us a sense of Chip, “He got this booming voice, and when he talked it overwhelmed the air, shoved it aside like oil in a cup of water.”

Virgin Territory

Ami Mckay took on the imaginative opportunity to recreate the world of her great-great-Grandmother in her latest novel The Virgin Cure. It’s New York City in the early 1870s and she works as a visiting doctor for the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. Through her visits she meets the novel’s protagonist, whom she seeks to help, the lead narrator Moth.

Gorilla in our Midst

“I had vague memories, from the days when I used to read National Geographic in an effort to find out who I was.” So narrates Silver, the highly intelligent gorilla from Africa with white fur-covered arms that “speckled with gleams of silver,” in the parody novel of the same name by Pablo Urbanyi.

Saying I Do

Jeffrey Eugenides, author of The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, opens his latest novel The Marriage Plot with an epigraph by François de La Rochefoucauld: “People would…

The Wild Hunt

In life we have to live with contradictions. F. Scott Fitzgerald said in The Crack Up that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Christmas raises the most fundamental and visceral contradictions in me; it’s wonderfully loving and hedonistic but also nauseatingly cheap and shallow.

The Bigness of Things

“Somewhere, that is, between the verifiable and measurable tick and the ensuing, and otherwise unremarkable, tock…” Johanna Skibsrud moulds time and space to investigate the contents of what is shared and isn’t shared between friends, close relations and strangers.

Never Never Land

Dimitri Nasrallah’s first novel is centered on the playful and exuberant Niko, opening with his early childhood in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. Surrounded by a near constant backdrop of machine gun fire and exploding bombs, his proud and loving parents protect his innocence by, for example, asking him to hide from ‘ghosts’ (not militia) when the fighting gets close to their home.

Interview: Johanna Skibsrud

Johanna Skibsrud, winner of the 2010 Giller Prize for her debut novel, The Sentimentalists, returns with a collection of short stories This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories. She appears at Paragraph’s Books & Breakfast, Sunday 30th Oct to launch the book. I recently caught up with her in Montreal.

Getting Here is Half the Fun

“Who belongs in Canada?” “Are some Canadians more Canadian than others?” “Who is not an immigrant?” These are some of fundamental questions posed, researched and discussed in the book Culture and Difference, Essays on Canadian Society.

Magic India

“Jaggery-sweetened milk payasam clotted thick with raisins, orange jaangirs dripping syrup, coconut barfis” and other exotic food concoctions leave the reader salivating in Tiger Hills, the debut novel by Sarita Mandanna.

Summing up the Subcontinent

The wave of empires, religions, languages and cuisine that makes India such a rich, exotic and fascinating country also results in divides and migrations, such as the 1947 Pakistan-India partition and the disputed Kashmir border. Kasmiri poet and playwright Aziz Hajini, and poet Koyamparambath Satchidanandan from Kerala, described the long time over which they needed to absorb and reflect on 2002 state-sponsored genocide by Hindu Extremists on Muslims in Gujarat before they could write about it. They produced some extremely distressing poem