The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz

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The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz

Egyptian fiction

Original title –  ملحمة الحرافيش

Translator – Catherine Cobham

Source – personal copy

I was looking for a number of books to do for the 1977 club and this was another that cropped up as coming out in Arabic that year. Mahfouz was a Nobel winner. He was regarded as the first truly modern writer in Egypt and his books have been described as Existentialist in their style. He is maybe best known for his Cario Trilogy. A man that spoke out for what he believed in most of his books were banned in the Arab world to his Nobel win. It also gives me a chance to fill a gap in the writers that should be on this blog.

Nothing like this had ever happened in the alley. The police only came near it in extreme emergencies. The clan chief’s numerous crimes were usually unattributed, thanks to the testimony of false witness. was inspector Faud Abd al-Tawwab going to do what nobody had done before him of Mohammed Anwar’s body was discovered on the path or under the archway? How had Muhammad had the insolence to go to the police for help, and why had the inspector been ready to challenge Nuh in this underhand way?

The police were rare visitors to the Alley here because someone went outside the alley world.

The harafish is a family saga told over ten chapters as we follow the family living in an alley from Ashur Al Nagi whom is the chief of the family in the first tale through the years and generations til the last story Ashur crops up again the chapters are told in small vignettes. I liked the style it was almost like reading or listening to gossip on the street among the Harafish as the people of the alley are called. Exist is hard at times I remember a line on page 301 where someone says “you’d preserve your youth forever ” this shows the toughness of this world. The cycles of the alley violence trying to get to the top is repeated over the chapters the characters are different sons or daughters of earlier characters. I loved the part in one chapter, when the police appeared which was considered an outrage as they liked to run there own little world.

The emotions of the Nagi family and the harafish were set in turmoil by the unexpected return and sudden disappearence of Samah. His sons were probably the least affected of anybody because he came and went while they were asleep and anyway, as far as they were concerned, he was no longer much more than a faint memory, like their mother in Bulaq. His story was told far and wide, and became a legend and a cautionary tale.

The opening of the fifth chapter and already past battles become like a myth or legend.

This is a clever book as you think it is cardio and feel as though you know the timeframe of the novel. But nothing is ever said about the timeframe of the novel or the location of the book all we know is that the families live in an alley where the characters all live. A true family saga covering the years of a place. Mahfouz was a fan of Zola and Balzacs works and there is a feeling of their worlds here a tough look at life realist but also at the same time without time and place it could be another place even if you change the names and in that regard for me it is a true work of Existentialism of the question why are we here why are they there what makes their world. A great second choice for 1977club and for me another piece in the canon of books and writers I have covered on the blog. I hope at some point to bring the Cario trilogy to the blog.

 

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Maryam Keeper of stories by Alawiya Sobh

Maryam keeper of stories by Alawiya Sobh

Lebanese fiction

Original title Maryam Al-Hakaya

Translator – Nirvana Tanoukhi

Source – personal copy

Well, this is a great day for the blog it sees the 800th review and this book seems fitting all the time I have run the blog. I have run shadow juries connected to translation prizes. So for this to be the first in my new shadow EBRD prize jury is a real treat. Alawiya Sobh studied English and Arabic literature at university and has been writing since the early 1980’s and was editor of a leading woman’s magazine. This book won the sultan’s prizes in 2006 four years after it came out, her other novel was also longlisted for the Arabic Booker prize.

Before the war ended, Alawiyya did come sporadically. Somwtimes, she would be gone for days, weeks or months, but in the end she would return to knock on my door. I rarely left the flat. Often, I would only only go to the firm to collect my slary at the end of each month, since regular attendance wan not enforced. Particularly during the early years if the war when the fighting was at its worst, I spent most of my time at home in my room, unless I had arranged to meet Abbas. Ibtisam and Alawiyya, for their part, went to the fronts and disappeared for days. they wandered off like a sheep and grazed in the war meadow only to be brought back to my little stable where they regurgitated their tales.

Maryam talks of her friend and them going to,the front, I loved this image.

Maryam is a Lebanese woman, she is in Beruit.But she is just found out she is going to leave and go to live in Canada away from the war. She is worrying that the stories she has told her friend the writer Alawiya haven’t been used by her. Even thou she promised. So we see Maryam recounting the tales she had told her friend. She worries about why ALwiya hasn’t asked for more of her stories.So we see Maryam struggle as the war raged on but also times before a place that is now lost.Then we also see her parents yes her mother is a bit of a character there is some great interaction between and the father who the mother has just in the place she wants him. Like the tales of her various aunts like the slow one. Then we see the wider picture of the city and the conflict, which for me at the time was bewildering and complexed.

My sister prepared to carry out Mother’s orders and stood guard over the brad for fear of puinishment,But my older brother Ahmad slipped by her, stole some loaves and escaped down the valley to eat them there. My sister ran after him, but he was faster and soon disappeared from her sight. He devoured the loaves in the orchard while, bacj at the house, fear devoured my sister. When Mother returned and heard about my brother’s “big Belly”, she broke into a rage and ran after my sister to thrash her.

The mother was feared and made the daughters hold the line .

This book has an interesting take on Maryam narrating, but a writer called Alawiya in their lives that had promised to tell the story. There is a feeling is this Maryam or is Alawiya being Maryam? It is good to see a female voice on the Lebanon war, I have read a couple of books from the male perspective. It was great to see the bonds between mothers daughters and friends keep their spirits up in the darkest times. A family saga set during a dark time shows how the family pulls us through the darkest times and also the humour we find within families even in the dark days of the war there is still humour here. I wouldn’t have read this without it being on the EBRD literature prize shortlist so I am pleased it was on the list.

Bled dry by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

Bled dry by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

Morrocan fiction

Translator – Benjamin Smith

Source – review copy

I reviewed another crime novel by Hamdouchi a couple of years ago the Final bet. Which focus on a different detective and a different part of the Moroccan society. But this is the first in a new series he is writing set Casablanca and with the Detective Hanash as he heads into the slums of that city. Hamdouchi writes also for Tv in Morroco police dramas. He lives in Rabat in Morocco. This is from Hoopoe fiction a branch of AUC press.

Detective Hanash was in his fifties, and only a few years from retirement.. Everything about him suggested a man who had spent a lifetime interrogating ciminals, studying murderers, and unraveling clues to crimes. This was how he got his nickname “Hanash” which meant “Snake” his real name was Mohamed Bineesa.He would change character by “Shedding his skin” and then “Strike” his prey. Those who met Detective Hanash for the first time immediately got a sense of his strange personality, and those who had met him on multiple occasions tended to find him quite unpleasent

The Detective Hanash described remind me of so many classic detectives.

The problem in crime novels is when to set the murder. To early I find and the characters that have been killed have no backstory and too late it is mat to short for the crime to be solved. Well this book for me has it right. We start by discovering the life of Nezha, she is a young woman that has been drawn into being a prostitute to keep her family together. We see her as she works the men she meets a mixture of men from factory men to police, to religious men. She has got used to the work as it is what keeps her life on track. But then something happens and she and her lover are found dead then step in Hanash a man called the snake by those who know him and because when he gets his prey he will strike. He is drawn into the dark streets and has a connection with the dead that means he wants this crime sorted as soon as possible.

Nezha normally spent the morning hours asleep, and didn’t wake until three or four in the afternoon. She would have a meal with her mother and then prep for another night out. She would shower, get dressed, tie her hair back, and leave the house looking like she was going to a normal job. She’d then head straight to Salwa’s salon, whish she considered a second homeIt was there that she would get herhair done and makeup, in preparation for the evening.

Nezha does it for the family and  tries to keep up normal appearance for everyone.

Now, this is a better than a normal crime novel. The first part of the book is a wonderful look at the underbelly of the city through the eyes of NEzha as she visits her men and we see how extremist are creeping into the city. This is a good piece of social insight. Hanash is a detective that is clearly pencilled out as a bit of a loner a man that maybe rubs his colleagues up the wrong way. Part Rebus part Harry hole, a loose cannon of a detective. world-weary also aware of the reality of the city he lives in as he walks into its underbelly to find a killer. I look forward to reading more in this series it is one of the best crime novels I have read, great pacing, interesting main characters and interesting settings.

African Titanics by Abu Bakr Khaal

African Titanics by Abu Bakr Khaal

Eritrean fiction

Original title –  تيتانيكات أفريقية

Translator – Charis Bredin

Source – personnel copy

I have reviewed a few books from the small publisher Darf over the last few years. I picked up this recently as it was a book from a country I haven’t read from, but also a story that appeals as it is  the tale of many people trying to seek a new life in Europe. Abu Bakr Khaal followed the route described in the book and himself spent many years in Libya and the in a refugee camp in Tunisia.Before living in Denmark.

I do wonder how many nicknames. I’ll bear throughout my life. In Khartoum I was known as Awacs(The Airbourne warning and Control System) because I’d refuse to go to bed at night til I’d garnered evryy last useful scrap of information from the world of immigrant smuggling, by land, sea and air. From mt lodgings in Khartoum I kept track of the number of Titanics that left North Africa’s shores bound for Europe evry Summer.I was always informed of the most recent departures and whether or not the boats had reached dry land.

The Gamble they all take using these make shift crafts to reach their dreams in Africa.

This book mix the present with the past as we follow one young man’s journey from his home in Eritretooo Libyia and then Europe. Abdrar has been hearing tales of life in Europe and we get to follow his journey from his home first to Sudan Khartoum after he is arrested at home .In Khartoum, there are many smugglers there to  take people on  their journey north through the mainland of Africa.  We see how they charge people different amounts for here they come from. All the time there is a thread of folk tales and previous migrants stories underlying the tale. Till they arrive in Libya and take what they call those African Titanics, those makeshift and often overcrowd former fishing boats and other put together ships that the refugees sail on. The latter part of the book is like a collective tale of these people a fellow traveller Malouk who you may sense might even be a ghost tells tales and then is lost at sea, but then is seen again in the Med by other people on one of the African Titanics!

To all the pounding hearts

In feverish boats

I will cut

Through these paths

with my own liberated heart

And tell my soul

To shout of your silenced deaths

And fill

Palms of dust with morning dew

And song

I Choose the end lines as they are so powerful a song sung by the ghost Malouk on the Med.

This is a short but hard-hitting Novella that is the voice of many those lost and the trail to Europe that Abdar and many others through the years have followed to Libya to Tunisia and then frequently to drown in the Med. The style of this story reminded me of the early books by Ben Okri that mix so well African folktales, Magic realism and realism into a story that like the smoke of the refugee’s fires at night drifts in the air and becomes a collective voice for the many. It also highlights the horrors faced and the Exploitation of those seeking a new and better life away from their horrors of their homelands. May I also point out that Darf is running a fundraiser for the second part of The Confines of \shadow by Alessandro Spina I reviewed the first part a couple of years ago.

This is a review of a fiction novel and no person in the text is based on a real character or organisation.

 

 

Butterfly wings by Mohamed Salmawy

 

Butterfly wings by Mohamed Salmawy

Egyptian fiction

Original title أجنحة الفراشة

Translator – Raphael Cohen

Source – Library edition

I took some short novels from the library to read on my time off , but as ever when you are away time was short sightseeing and spending time with amanda but I did manage to read this great Arabic novel by Mohamed Salmawy . Salmawy is the president of the writers union of Egypt and secretary-general of the Arab Writers and also editor of a leading daily newspaper. This book came out just before the events of 2011 , so in a way is quite insightful about what happened then .

Doha imagined that meeting Ashraf al-Zayni on the plane had been a chance encounter.It would be over when the flight ended and they went their separate ways- she to Milan for the annual fashion show and he to Palermo in Scilly for the international NGO conference. Fate , however had something in store for her that she neither expected nor imagined.

The three and a half hours of the flight from Cario to Rome left an impression that would remain with her for the rest of her life.She had never met anyone like Ashraf al-Zayni before .She saw in him something she not seen in other politicians, plus  he had brought back to life something inside her that she had not believed still existed

The chancce encounter leaves an impression on the both .

This is a story with two main characters in it Doha is a fashion designer , a sort of link between the west and arab world , she comfortably travels between here homeland and The fashion world of Italy . Her husband is a leading figure in the Murbareck regime . We see their privileged world . But after a chance encounter with Dr Ashraf a man from the opposition she meets when they are both in Rome after talking to him she sees a new insight into her world . But even with this sense the wind may be changing in her homeland she returns and like the old saying about chaos theory a butterfly wings flapping can change the world the butterfly appears time after time whether flying or in patterns on the clothes Doha is wanting to show , the two meet later in the book as the tables are turned slightly from their first meeting  . Add to that a couple of small side stories about a man waiting to meet his internet wife and a pair of brothers hunting for the real mother.

Unable to rest, Doha flicked through The butterflies of Egypt , she came to a photograph of the mural in the tomb where the ancient  Egyptian artist had painted a picture of the butterfly . The tomb belonged to a noble called Nob Amun. According to the book , there were fifty-eight indigenous species in Egypt , which was a relatively small number in comparison with other countries. This was due to Egypt’s desert environment . Neverless , Egypt’s butterflies had adapted to the harsh conditions and were able to survive and maintain their beauty despite hardships

LIke the country itself the butterflies make a good metaphor from the Egypt post Arab spring .

This is another book that captures the can of worms that was opened in Egypt when Murbarek regime was on the verge of collapsing as part of the Arab spring A figure like Ashraf , is a passionate voice of a the young people on the street we saw so much in the TV coverage  clever wanting a bright future , which as we know never really happened . There is also echos of this change in the brothers seeking their mother a new mother maybe is clever metaphor for a new country and leadership. I also love the subtle use of butterflies as a recurring Motif throughout the book. But also a larger motif of the country emerging as a butterfly from it catalyst moment of the riots being the start of something beautiful like a pure white Butterfly. This is clever look at the recent past of Egypt.

2084 the end of the world by Boualem Sansal

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2084 The end of the world by Boualem Sansal

Algerian fiction

Original title – 2084  La fin du Monde

Translator – Alison Anderson

Source -review copy

A few weeks as they say in politics is a lifetime and since I read this at the turn of the year this book has probably more meaning than it did two weeks ago .Boualem Sansal is a writer that talks about the uncertain world we live in his books are frequently banned in his homeland, I have reviewed him before with his book Harraga  , this book is set in a distant future and is a reworking in a way of Orwell’s book 1984.

The reasons for these restrictions are not known. They date from long ago. The truth is that the question had never occurred to anyone, harmony had reigned for so long that no one knew of any reason for disquiet .Even disease and death, which took their turn more often than was fair, had no effect on people’s moral. Yolah is great and Abi is his faithful delegate.

This is what happens when one man takes power to far the rest forget why the rules were put down in the first place .

 

Ati lives in a future where his country Abistan is a totaliranian regieme the coutry is named after its leader Abi a man that found and was given a new book to live by from a new god Yolah . The new religion is of course a twisted version of Islam we see beheading , stoning of the criminals as examples to the nation. As they have to pray nine times a day  . Now he happens to meet an archeologist that says he has discovered some truths in the caves about the village they have found Nas tells Ati about this but this discovery could threaten the regime that wants to control the lives of the citizens by watching the every move like in 1984 . Can ATi and his friend Koa get to the village and discover the real truth behind Yolah and Abi ? Before they are caught by the regime !

Over time Ati found some peace, which allowed him to settle into the routine he dreamt of. At last he was a believer like all the other; he was no longer in danger. He rediscovered the pleasure of living from day to day without worrying about tomorrow, and the joy of believing without asking any questions. Rebellion is impossible in a closed world where there is no way out. True faith is in surrender and submission, Yolah is omnipotent, and Abi is the flock’s infallible shepherd

Ati nearly falls for a quiet life of being blind to the truths around him that he knows are their .

Well how strange the book has so many echoes of what is happening now this is of course the other end of Trumps world a state that  has taken an extreme version of Islam that seems very similar to the language of Trumps world . Even the fact the village means the history is different to the History Abi is trying to give other since I read the book I am reminded of the Alternative Facts quote from the Trump camp. This is a timely novel as much as 1984 is seen to have much in common with Trump this take on 1984 is maybe more scary as this is partly Trump but maybe what could happen if the regimes Trump has just kicked by banning their citizens take another path could become Abistan. I can see why this book made a lot of book prize shortlist in France it is maybe better than Houellbecq book that every one was talking about last year . A powerful book against totalitarianism in all its forms whether eastern or western!

1984 no sorry its now 2084 the first book in the post of 2017

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Well the first book I got sent this year is from a writer I have reviewed before Boualem Sansal is an Algerian writer that has had his works banned and censored in his homeland. I reviewed Harraga Two years ago. This is of course an homage in a way to Orwell’s  great book 1984 and also a work  against all totalitarian regiemes here  in the future a country called Abistan after its spiritual leader a place where like in Orwell’s world every move is watch we find one man who is trying to find a new truth. What was your first book of 2017

The Final Bet by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

 

 

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The Final bet by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

Moroccan fiction

Original title – al-Rihan al-akhir

Translator – Jonathan Smolin

Source – review copy

This is the second from The new AUC impress Hoopoe fiction I was sent late last year . Abdelilah Hamdouchi is a Morrocan writer of crime fiction he was one of the first writers of this genre to be translated into English. He has written 8 novels and also written for television and cinema were all his novels have been made into Dramas. He lives in Rabat in  Morocco.

As for Sofia’s body, it was lying on the bed drenched in blood. Her nightgown was open at the waist. Her right arm was extended as if she wanted to grab something. The left hung down to the ground. She was lying on the edge of the bed and looked like she was about to fall off, but death had frozen her in this position. Alwaar stared at her pale face and understood the meaning of the inspector’s ambiguous smile.He looked for Boukrisha among the other cops in thee room.

“The young guy downstairs , that’s her husband ?”

Alwaar sees the dead seventy year old woman and on way to her room meet her thirty year old husband.

Well this book The final bet claims to have been the first Arabic crime novel to be translated to English.I have actually the original edition of this book when it came out a few years ago sat on my shelves , IO see the translation may have been update in this new edition. The book follows a murder the woman whom is murdered is a french woman living in Morocco , she married a few years earlier Othman a Moroccan who was forty years his wife Sofia’s Junior. He own son is even older than her husband and he is also about when the crime is committed . Now Othman has fallen for a woman more his own age since him and Sofia married Nameea , he get very little time to sneak out and meet his mistress. Sophia is ever watching so a walk out with the dog or a trip to the shop are the short snatches of time they capture. It is one of these meetings late one night Othman returns from his meeting to find his wife stabbed in her chest.. This enter the Moroccan Police in the form of a detective Alwaar and the inspector he reports too Boukrisha. They almost from the start put the crime as one cause by the husband , and blame him. Even thou he could give an alibi , he tries to get more help from an old friend who is now an up and coming Lawyer that has been waiting for a chance to show how the police can be wrong sometimes.

For alwaar, this was the most difficult stage of any investigation. He’d look for what the evidence was telling him and read from every angle before moving to the next step. This made Alwaar move slowly, testing the patience of his assistants, who were always standing around, awaiting orders.

he finally got down to buisnees.He walked around the beside table and, with a cloth wrapped around his hand opened the top drawer, taking out a box lined with silk. He opened the lid and found it full of jewelry: Gold earings, a diamond necklace, and a ring with a sparkling jewel.He immediately ruled out theft as a motive for the murder.

The point I felt Alwaar is part Maigret but this also point Othman is the main suspect!

This is a short Book  as i would say one of those evening reads . It is an interesting insight into a new police force . We haven;t had many books looking at law and order in the Arabic world, as this was one of the first crime novels from the arabic world to break out. I wonder how many more in the coming years we will see as we see the Police in this part of the world like it is here in Morocco has changed over time  This may be owes a debt to Simenon in a way the lead detective Alwaar is maybe an homage to the French detective , even down to having a scene at home like we often see in the Maigret novels. What on the surface from the police point of view as we could see the young man killing his rich much older wife is so much more it turns out.I enjoyed this it was an enjoyable crime novel with a new setting and angles in it .

 

 

Looking forward 2017 Arab and Quebec book and a White read along

Well I am pleased to see the back off 2017. I spent last few months slowly blogging just think about the turn of the new year being a new start for the blog. I have recieved some great books this last few weeks of 2016. So the start of the year will see one real Gem a Quebec novella The brothers .A truely surreal book.

 

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Then I have started on the first few books from the new press from AUC Hoopoe press  . I have read one book already Otared by Mohammad Rabie a book shortlist for the Arabic book prize.They also have some great books coming as well as these other arabic gems on Arablits post of what is coming this next year.

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THen In March I join Messy Tony , Grant and Kimbfo in a read along of the great Novel Voss by Patrick white He is the only Aussie writer so far to win the Nobel prize . This is described by the Guardian as .  A love story set against the disappearance of an explorer in the outback, Voss paved the way for a generation of Australian writers to shrug off the colonial past when it was no 77 in there 100 best novels . So join us from March the first and talk about the book ?

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I will be doing the shadow man booker again for the sixth year and the first part of this year will see me reviewing some books from the past year as I try to catch up.

Happy new year for tomorrow from allnhere at Winstonsdad .

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

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The Meursault investigation by kamel daoud

Algerian fiction

Original title – : Meursault, contre-enquête

Translator – John Cullen

Source – personnel copy (books for Syria from waterstones )

Every year there is a few books in translation that seem to break free of being just in the circle of fans of translated fiction well last year this was one of those books, it made a lot of the end of year lists.It is also the winner of three prize in France. All this from a book that is based in an older book by the French writer Albert Camus  for what kamel Daoud has done is taken part of the story from the novel the Outsider where Meursault the anti-hero of The outsider kills an Arab(that is all we are told even thou this killing is mention as the main character in the book say 26 times the person killed is never mentioned just refered to as the Arab) .Well this is the story of The Arab as told 70 years later by his brother .

I’ll tell you this up front: The other dead man, the murder victim, was my brother. there is nothing left of him only me, Left ti speak in his place, sitting in this bar, waiting for condolences no one’s ever going to offer. Laugh if you want, but this is more or less my mission: I peddle offstage silence , trying to sell my story while theater empties out. As a matter of fact, that’s the reason why I’ve learned to speak this language, and to write it too so I can speak in place or a dead man, ao I can finish his sentences for him.The murder got famous, and his story’s to well written for me to get any ideas about imitating him.

Harum in the bar talking about his brother the dead Arab from the Novel The outsider.

This is the story of Harum , who tries to describe what happened 70 years earlier in the events that lead to the death of his Brother Musa, that killing on a sunny beach in an act of random killing by a French man on a sunny day  in Algeria seventy years ago as the country tried to break free of France. But the story follows harun life after that event as he starts to tell the wider story of post colonialism and in some ways the rise of islam in his country all this is a strange mirror to events that happened in recent years with the Arab spring seen as a freeing of the Arab world, which maybe it is could Daoud have written this book twenty years ago ? But also the heart of this is what has happen in France in the last years with a number of the people involved in the attacks having connection to north africa . A timely story of what scars remain from France’s time in North africa , well any western nation it could easily be india or pakistan the story could have come from a kipling story say .

Oh what a joke! Do you understand now? Do you understand why I laughed the first time I read your hero’s book? there i was , expecting to find my brothers last words between those covers, the description of his breathing, his features, his face , his answers to his murderer: instead I read only two lines about an Arab. the word “Arab ” appears twenty-five times, but not a single name, not once

Camus book doesn’t mention Musa name just calls him an Arab in the novel The outisder .

What Daoud has brilliantly done is taken a small character in a well-known book and given him a real life and a name. I reviewed The secret history of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez , which took a character from the great Latin american novel of Conrad Nostromo and told his story from a native point of view rather like this book flipping the story to tell it from the other angle almost like a reply to the first book . why was Musa just called the Arab was he just the same as those bit part actors in the original Star trek given a red tunic and expected to die with no real name or back story.Daoud highlights what Camus missed the real person. This is the first of a number of books from last year I will be reviewing in the coming weeks as I look forward to the first longlist in the new man booker international coming in March as I try to wrap up some books i missed from the last year.

Have you read any great books based on another novel to start with?

 

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