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Book Bites: 4 February

Published in the Sunday Times

Trade SecretsTrade Secrets
****
Short.Sharp.Stories, Tattoo Press, R240

As Yewande Omotoso remarks in the foreword, the stories in Trade Secrets range from the futuristic to the bad old days: “You’re a fighter pilot, you’re a young girl getting a haircut, suddenly you know magic…” But a decent collection also emphasises the connections among the stories, like a good mixtape. Trade Secrets does. My favourites were Mishka Hoosen’s powerful take on gay longing and girlhood, Wedding Henna; Kamil Naicker’s story of intimacy and euthanasia, The Liberator, and Darrel Bristow-Bovey’s funny/terrible tale with a wheelchair as its axis, An Act of God – his best fiction yet. Buy this book. – Diane Awerbuck

In the Midst of WinterIn the Midst of Winter
****
Isabel Allende, Simon & Schuster, R285

Despite its improbable plot, the novel’s concerns with the plight of displaced people make it a worthwhile read. It is literally and metaphorically midwinter for the three protagonists. During the worst snowstorm in memory, in Brooklyn in 2016, academic Richard Bowmaster collides with a vehicle driven by Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. Although the damage is minimal, the situation is serious: Evelyn has taken the car without the permission of her employer; and there is a corpse in the boot. At a loss, Richard calls on his Chilean colleague Lucia Maraz for assistance. The trio, all of whom have harrowing backgrounds, contrive to solve the problem. – Moira Lovell

Sourdough
Sourdough
****
Robin Sloan, Penguin Random House, R295

As good if not better than Sloan’s debut novel Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. This is a book hug, set in San Francisco, one to chase away the new year blues. Lois Clary is a coder for a robotics company. Working constantly and not taking care of herself, Lois and her colleagues – most of them men – survive on Slurry, a nutritive drink like Soylent. She is unhappy, lonely and depressed until she meets two brothers who own an illegal eatery. They feed her sourdough and spicy soup. When they’re deported, they leave her their sourdough starter. It’s more alive than any starter and this begins Lois’s odyssey into the mysterious and warm world of food. – Jennifer Platt @jenniferdplatt

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