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Book Bites: 18 November

Published in the Sunday Times

The Break LineThe Break Line ***
James Brabazon, Penguin Books, R229

“Legally sane psychopath” Max McLean is suave and armed. He is such an asset to the espionage ecosystem that he’s a member of the elite intelligence operation referred to as The Unknown. But to err is human and when McLean cocks up an assassination assignment, he’s given one last task to prove himself. [Insert docket with TOP SECRET printed in big, fat, red letters here.] The gist of the mission is to travel to Sierra Leone to finish an operation which a former colleague of his – “the bravest man I know” – was unable to complete; so traumatised by what he witnessed that he’s been institutionalised. It’s a thrilling read and Brabazon revels in his depictions of the atrocities McLean happens upon (spoiler: it’s pretty sif), but the military references and lingo went straight over this peacenik’s head. Mila de Villiers @mila_se_kind

The Baghdad ClockThe Baghdad Clock ****
Shahad Al Rawi, translated by Luke Leafgren, One World, R285

Imagine living under constant threat of disappearing. Set against a backdrop of war and despair, the story starts in 1991 when two girls form a lasting friendship in a bomb shelter in Baghdad. As they grow up through two wars and unrelenting sanctions, we see the disintegration of their neighbourhood through their eyes and in their dreams. Nadia and the unnamed narrator try their best to go to school, apply for university, write scented love letters and live their lives, but it’s not easy when your foundation is crumbling away. Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, The Baghdad Clock is a deeply personal story that aims to capture and preserve the history of a neighbourhood. Anna Stroud @Annawriter_

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