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Book Bites: 10 September 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

Gather the DaughtersGather the Daughters
Jennie Melamed, Tinder Press
****
Given how long it takes to write and publish a book, it is unlikely that Jennie Melamed timed her debut novel to benefit from the popularity of the TV series based on The Handmaid’s Tale. Melamed is probably sick of having her book compared to Margaret Atwood’s. But it can’t hurt. Melamed’s fictional world, like Atwood’s, can be read as a dark allegory of patriarchy. Her central characters are children living on an island in a religious community cut off from “the wastelands” – the wider world into which only select male elders, the “wanderers”, may venture to bring back supplies and occasional fresh recruits. On the surface this is a gentle, pastoral life, but every time a girl-child is born, all the womenfolk wail and weep. The island way is to give fathers free access to their daughters until the girls reach “fruition”. Far from looking forward to the day when they can kick dad out of their beds, the daughters dread it because it signals no more summers of freedom. Until puberty bites, children run unfettered for a quarter of the year, roaming the island in naked, muddy packs. When one of these wildlings sees something she shouldn’t, it triggers a rebellion led by a 17-year-old who has staved off menstruation by starving herself. Melamed tells a stirring story in lucid, luminous language. – Sue de Groot @deGrootS1

GraceGrace
Barbara Boswell, Modjaji Books
*****
This gripping story tells of how a woman from Cape Town was subjected to abuse from her father. Later in life, Grace thinks she has overcome her hideous childhood until two people from her past make a reappearance in her life. Her suburban lifestyle is on the brink of collapse and it is only Grace that can save herself. The graphic details of the abuse that Grace endures is chilling. Her relationship with her father, and how she thinks she has “beaten” her past, makes the story so relatable and even more worthy of a reread. This book has earned every one of its five stars. – Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

Koh-i-NoorKoh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond
William Dalrymple & Anita Anand, Bloomsbury
****
The Koh-i-Noor brings out so many angry emotions, because it is at the centre of important historical issues: why is it still part of the crown jewels of England? Where does it belong? Dalrymple and Anand investigate the history, dismissing the mythology around the diamond. What they find, is what one suspected – there has been misappropriation by all sorts, along with plenty of torture and murders. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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