Celebrate spring with some fascinating looks at love (and how to recover from it), life (behind bars), loss – and cutting through the chaos to find out what we really should be eating.
THE PRISON LETTERS OF NELSON MANDELA EDITED BY SAHM VENTER (RANDOM HOUSE)
This is going to sound callous and I don’t mean it to: I hope the memory of the extraordinary person Nelson Mandela was never fades one jot, nor his legacy – but at the same time, I am growing tired of his life being commoditised for money or virtue-signalling purposes. I think it’s all a bit cynical.
Right – having got that off my chest, I am very glad indeed to have read this book, and I found it extremely moving. Many of the 255 letters Mandela wrote from Robben Island have not been seen before now. He kept copies of every letter he wrote in a notebook that was confiscated in prison but later returned to him when he was president … and sadly, some of them were never seen by the people he was actually writing to because they were intercepted by the authorities (one of the saddest of these is one he wrote to his daughter Zindzi on her 19th birthday). The letters beautifully describe his longing for his family and home, and are a powerful reminder of the deep bond he felt with, and the love he felt for, Winnie. But they also show his mental strength and the equanimity he managed to find in his situation: his cell, he writes, is the ideal place ‘to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings.’ I can’t think of anyone else who would describe an 8ft by 7ft prison like that.
THE PAPER LOVERS BY GERARD WOODWARD (PAN MACMILLAN)
Arnold, a poet and lecturer, leads a very conservative life with his wife Polly and young daughter Evelyn… until Evelyn is given a sewing machine as a gift. Her friend Irina’s mother Vera discovers it, and a sewing club is born. Arnold’s quiet predictable home is turned into a frenzy of material, buttons, bobbins, women’s chatter… and Vera’s scent.
Thrown into a sexual thrall, Vera becomes his day and night: he can think of nothing else but her smell. One afternoon he goes to Vera’s house to collect Evelyn and the two begin a catastrophic affair. Vera is deeply religious yet seems resolved to her sin, while Arnold, an athiest, is wracked with guilt – but cannot stop himself.
Polly, oblivious to any of this, runs a successful paper shop where she publishes unusual bodies of work that lend themselves to the exquisite paper she hand-makes.
The Paper Lovers is exquisitely written. I could not put it down. Usually I tend to skip bits that don’t enthrall me, but I read every word, even re-read paragraphs because they were so beautifully crafted. The ending will leave you speechless, elated and with a marvelous sense of justice having been done!
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE BY CELESTE NG (PENGUIN)
Ng’s second novel explores intricate family and friendship dynamics against a backdrop that compares a ‘conservative’ well-to-do family in the conformist suburb of Shaker Heights with a gather-nomoss artist’s creativity and warmth. The characters are credible and beautifully formed, but the book is not pacey, and even the whodunnit part is addressed right at the start rather than at the end. The interest lies, rather, in being pulled into the events and undercurrents motivating a set of teenagers, and later on the parents that raised them. And it all makes sense. The underlying theme of blood and birthright is examined with care. An enjoyable, thought-provoking read that for me compared favourably with Everything I Never Told You, while not exactly kindling any huge inferno in my heart.
MY ABSOLUTE DARLING BY GABRIEL TALLENT (JONATHAN BALL)
If you’re up for vicious, hard-hitting content, this is 100% unputdownable. From the very first sentence you are shoved into the hatred and fierce love of the deeply complex father-daughter relationship that forms the spine of this beautifully written, lethal novel. It’s awful. Incest, abuse and guns are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Be warned.
But it is beautiful. There are rewards – an insight into this tough young woman’s mind, for one. Turtle’s character is masterfully portrayed. Debut author Gabriel Tallent’s genius is in describing her sometimes ferociously terrible traits and actions just as beautifully as her other-times humane and moral responses and her equally impressive survival skills. The sparse prose is a delight. And this fast-paced action thriller builds to an ending that assures you it will be a movie sooner than you can shoot a playing card from your loved one’s outstretched hand.
FOOD: WHAT THE HECK SHOULD I EAT? BY MARK HYMAN, MD (JONATHAN BALL)
MarkHymanisan American doctor who directs the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, and who used nutrition to heal himself of a number of ailments. This book is a welcome road map through the conflicting messages about what we should and shouldn’t be eating (fat’s good/fat’s bad; meat is essential/ plant-based is best; moderation is key/cutting food groups is fine… and so on and so on). He looks at each food group in detail and, backed up by science, lists what’s good about it, what isn’t and what we still don’t know for sure. ‘We now know that food is information,’ he says. ‘It’s instructions that literally change your gene expression, regulate your hormones, can affect your immune system, inflammation in your body, even affects your gut’s microbiomes. Every bite of food you take is really like instructions to control the operating system of your biology.’
Hyman has been studying nutrition for 40 years, so he knows what he’s talking about. His bottom line is: no processed foods, no sugar, limit dairy (if any), eat food as close to its natural form as possible. Hyman calls himself a ‘Pegan’ (a combination of paleo and vegan) – sounds impossible, but it makes a lot if sense.