RIVER OF INK by Paul M. M. Cooper

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An historical fable, full of rich exoticism, this book uses the tradition of epic saga and brilliant storyteller — like Scherazade. Asanka is the royal poet of a kingdom in Sri Lanka. As the book opens his king is awaiting the arrival of an invading army. He knows he has only a few minutes left and urges Asanka to kill himself to avoid torture at the hands of the enemy.

Asanka resists and learns the invading king is himself a lover of poetry. Asanka must find a balance between pleasing the new king while being loyal to his own people. As an act of kindness, the king asks Asanka to translate a poem into a language that can be understood by his new subjects. The more Askana works on this project, the more comes to rely upon the connotation of the words he chooses. Perhaps this work can have more than one meaning, depending on the audience that reads it.

And as the poet pushes his luck, he becomes increasingly paranoid.

It’s easy to imagine ruin happening suddenly — there’s a crack like thunder and then the walls of the palace collapse, the roof falls in, and pieces of stone are pelting the earth like rain before you can even cover your head. But this isn’t the way it happens. Ruin happens slowly. Rafters sag and soften. Tiles fall, and saplings push their roots through brick. Even before that, it all begins with the falling together of omens. ~Pg. 155

The poet is constantly plotting escape, and yet he tied to this intricate saga. He wants to see what happens when the final section is unveiled. Will the new king see himself in the evil characters or will the poet be hailed as a hero?

Thank you to Theresa at Bloomsbury for the galley.
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Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (January 26, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1632860708
ISBN-13: 978-1632860705
Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.2 inches


TELEPATHY by Amir Tag Elsir

9789927101892

Writers and readers alike can become so obsessed with the worlds they have created that it begins to feel real. In Telepathy, an author’s main character shows up in real life, desperate for an ending that is happier than the one in the book. Set in modern-day Khartoum, the successful author lives a very different life from his doomed character.

I live in an excellent district in the center of the capital, in a house I purchased long ago. I am not married and have absolutely no intention of marrying again after my divorce — from a woman who loved me and whom I loved — seven years earlier. My ex-wife simply could not bear to live with the  lunacy of my writing and perpetual travel, my bouts of pessimism and frustration, and the troupes of women who are always twittering at cultural events. ~Pg. 13

On the other hand, the (purposefully) absurdly named Nishan Hazma Nishan, constructed though he is, lives in a hovel in the outskirts of town.

Other homes, constructed from canvas, corrugated metal, and tree trunks, were scattered through the area.These appeared to house poor people of migrants from remote areas, fleeing war or famine. They had built these shacks on vacant lands that hasn’t been developed yet. … Electricity wasn’t readily available there, and thus the depressing, faint light of scattered gas lanterns provided the night with desolate depth. ~Pg. 46

With occasional moments of dark humor, the narrator navigates the strange world of Khartoum — its modernism, its squalor, its determination. He slowly uncovers what may be clues into Nishan’s identity and must grapple with the reality of his story.

Many thanks to Sarah at Bloomsbury for the review copy.



Published: 01-19-2016
Format: Paperback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 176
ISBN: 9789927101892
Imprint: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing
Dimensions: 5″ x 7 3/4″
List price: $16.00  


THE BLACK BOOK OF ARABIA by Hend Al Qassemi

9789927118098

To the Western mind, this book represents an amazing combination of culture, appearances, ideals, assumptions, and eras. The short stories are set in the present day, yet they reflect an ancient past. The characters are stalked by superstition and curses. It is perhaps not surprising that the author simultaneously inhabits all of these worlds.

Hend Al Qassemi is an Emerati princess, who is editor-in-chief of Velvet, a modern, high-end fashion magazine based in Dubai. She lives in a place dripping with tradition that is also on the cutting edge of the future. And this book reflects it.

I am a perfectionist. I strive to be the best there is and I work really, really hard. Working hard teaches one how to appreciate practice, and the reward is success. I learned all I know from my mother, who was one of the few women of her generation to finish her college education and work full time. ~Pg. 90

The stories have a shade of The Twilight Zone or Guy de Maupassant to them. A bride loses her sight on her wedding day, the recipient of an evil eye. A lonely, pregnant wife dreads the threatening phone calls that warn her of impending danger. A lovesick woman sells her kidney and, unwittingly, her future. Each ends sharply, with a fine point and a lesson.

Many thanks to Sarah at Bloomsbury for the review copy.

______

Published: 01-19-2016
Format: Paperback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 256
ISBN: 9789927118098
Imprint: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing
Dimensions: 5″ x 7 3/4″
List price: $17.00


*Note: I realize that Sri Lanka and Sudan are not technically Arabia. My headline is meant to note the similar storytelling styles and tropes that are associated with ancient Arabian culture.

 

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