By Beth Johnson, Boekhandel Van Rossum
Flood of Fire, the long-awaited third book in the Ibis Trilogy of Amitav Ghosh, has just been released and I am eagerly devouring it – while trying to savour every word of this impeccably researched tale. The characters we first met in Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke recur in this saga of the opium trade between India and China. The third book opens in 1839 with the British Foreign Secretary ordering a colonial expeditionary force in India to descend upon China and reinstate the trade which the upright Commissioner Chin has banned. The plot is rich in characters and immensely complex so I will not share the details here but the threads of action from the two previous novels are cannily drawn together in this culmination. Ghosh is a craftsman and a master storyteller. Each volume can be read separately as the reader is cleverly reminded of past events – but I do recommend spending your summer enjoying the complete series. An absolutely terrific read!
During a lightning visit to London last week, I picked up several books recommended by my favourite booksellers Daunts and John Sandoe Books. Daunt Books publishes their own selection of “beautiful new editions of lost classics” and Ann Bridge’s Peking Picnic of 1932 gives a charming and somewhat alarming picture of British Embassy life in the early part of the last century. Of particular interest to those of us who live transplanted lives is the reflection upon living in two different worlds at the same time which runs through this book. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book with humour, wisdom and adventure. See also the recent re-issue of Illyrian Spring by the same author.
Arabella at John Sandoe’s thrust a number of books into my hands during our discussion of literature and children’s books. The result is that I have now discovered the Italian author, Antonio Tabucchi, whose life was deeply influenced by the work of Fernando Pessoa. Time Ages in a Hurry (Il Tempo Invecchia in Fretta), first published in 2009, is an astoundingly beautiful, idiosyncratic collection of short stories about memory, the filter through which we regard the period in which we live, and the passage of time. Characters meet and converse – seemingly at cross purposes and without understanding each other – but the effect of the seeming non-communication yields a deeply-layered perception of each person. Warm, often humorous, the stories confront the ghosts of the past and the mysteries of our own identities and help us as readers to experience “liberation, as when finally we understand something we’d known all along and didn’t want to know.”
I cannot recommend these “retro” books highly enough. A publisher just called to let me know that the latest Shades of Grey book is coming out. Think I’ll take a miss! There are so many books more worth your while.
A light and lovely translation from the French of La Femme au carnet rouge will provide you with the perfect beach book for the summer. In The Red Notebook, bookseller Laurent Letellier, discovers a beautiful handbag in a bin on the street and he begins to search for the owner based on her jottings in the red notebook. A whimsical plot line with a touch of romance. One reviewed called it “a little like finding a gem among the bric-a-brac in a local brocante.”
The Young Adult scene is booming at the moment and the age bracket now extends from 15 to 35 years of age. Tahereh Mafi, married to Ransom Riggs, author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is lauded for her dystopian series with its romantic overtones. While the first book, Shatter Me, is quite exciting, it takes time to adjust to the author’s particular writing style. It is pitched to teen girls – and I’m a bit past that stage!
Beth Johnson is the owner of Boekhandel Van Rossum (Beethovenstraat 32 in Amsterdam) which sells a wide range of Dutch and English books.