The Man Booker International Prize 2018 Longlist

One of my most anticipated literary events of the year is finally here – the announcement of the longlist for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize!

A week before the longlist was announced I shared my longlist predictions and, while it was disappointing to find out today that I don’t have any psychic abilities, since I only managed to guess 5 of the 13 contenders, I’m very excited to get to all of the books on this year’s list! I’m not sure if I will be able to read all of them before April 12, when the shortlist will be announced, but I will make an effort to get to as many as I can. Just like last year, I’m hoping to at least read and review the ones that make it onto the shortlist.

The full MBIP 2018 longlist is as follows:

  1. The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet (France) (tr. Sam Taylor) (Harvill Secker);
  2. The Impostor by Javier Cercas (Spain) (tr. Frank Wynne) (MacLehose Press);
  3. Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes (France) (tr. Frank Wynne) (MacLehose Press);
  4. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (Germany) (tr. Susan Bernofsky) (Portobello Books);
  5. The White Book by Han Kang (South Korea) (tr. Deborah Smith) (Portobello Books);
  6. Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (Argentina) (tr. Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff) (Charco Press);
  7. The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai (Hungary) (tr. John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet & George Szirtes) (Tuskar Rock Press);
  8. Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain) (tr. Camilo A. Ramirez) (Tuskar Rock Press);
  9. The Flying Mountain by Christoph Ransmayr (Austria) (tr. Simon Pare) (Seagull Books);
  10. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq) (tr. Jonathan Wright) (Oneworld);
  11. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland) (tr. Jennifer Croft) (Fitzcarraldo Editions);
  12. The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi (Taiwan) (tr. Darryl Sterk) (Text Publishing);
  13. The Dinner Guest by Gabriela Ybarra (Spain) (tr. Natasha Wimmer) (Harvill Secker).

Of the 13 books, I’ve only read two so far (Frankenstein in Baghdad and The 7th Function of Language, reviews coming soon), both of which I really enjoyed, so I look forward to reading all the rest. Some of these were already on my to-be-read list (Vernon Subutex 1, The Impostor, Flights, The White Book), so I’m happy for the extra incentive to get to them sooner. The list also includes some titles that I’ve never even heard about (The Flying Mountain, The Stolen Bicycle, The Dinner Guest) and that is great, because it gives me the opportunity to discover some new books and authors. That being said, I’m still a bit sad that Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (tr. Margita Gailitis) didn’t make it onto the list. It would have been awesome to see a book from my country recognised by a major literary prize. Oh well…*sigh*

I am particularly keen to read The World Goes On, based on the positive reviews that I have read. It will be my first book by Krasznahorkai and I’m glad that it’s a short story collection, because I’m hoping it will give me a glimpse into the themes that he likes to explore.

What are your thoughts on the longlist? Which of these books are you most interested in?

Happy reading! 🙂


The Only Story by Julian Barnes

Published by Jonathan Cape, 2018, 224 pages.

“I think there is a different authenticity to memory, and not an inferior one. Memory sorts and sifts according to the demands made on it by the rememberer. Do you have access to the algorithm of its priorities? Probably not. But I would guess that memory prioritises whatever is most useful to keep the bearer of those memories going.”

The Only Story by Julian Barnes is a story about love and unreliable nature of memory, in which the nineteen year old narrator Paul recounts the story of his relationship with Susan, a married, forty-eight year old woman, who he meets at a local suburban tennis club. From the outset, it seems like another classic story about a love affair between a young man and an older woman with all the clichés that come with such a story, but, what’s clever about this novel is that Barnes seems to rely on our pre-conceived notions about how this kind of love story usually plays out and our tendency to categorise in order to subvert our expectations.

“We tend to slot any new relationship we come across into a pre-existing category. We see what is general or common about it; whereas the participants see – feel – only what is individual and particular to them. (…) But perhaps this is an illusion all lovers have about themselves: that they escape both category and description.”

The Only Story explores how we all tell and retell stories about our lives, even if only to ourselves. It looks at how our memories can become muddled and how we tend to interpret them according to our emotional needs and, usually, in favour of our feelings instead of facts. We may sometimes remember ourselves as the hero or victim of the story instead of as the villain, depending on what makes us look better. We all do it. We reconstruct and retell our experiences in our minds, or sometimes even on paper, to make sense of our feelings, justify our choices and find meaning in our past experiences that motivates us to keep going in the face of our everyday struggles. Our lives are made up of these stories and memory is at the very core of them. The Only Story is a nuanced examination of the ways in which we remember and try to make sense of past events. However, because of the unreliable nature of memory, remembering might not necessarily lead us to the truth.

“The question then is: do all these retellings bring you closer to the truth of what happened, or move you further away?”


As many other reviewers have noted, The Only Story is a great companion piece to the author’s 2011 Man Booker Prize winning novel A Sense Of An Ending, since both stories follow unreliable narrators, who are looking back at their youth, and ruminating on the process of ageing, the subjective nature of memory and the complexities of romantic relationships. We see how the relationship between Paul and Susan develops as they grow older and how the initial infatuation turns into resentment when various outside factors, as well as their personal issues and decisions start affecting their relationship. The novel illustrates the corrosive nature of lies. Paul soon realises that the lies they told everyone in the beginning to keep their affair a secret, and that made them feel rebellious, have lead them to lie to themselves and each other and slowly poisoned their relationship. The novel also looks at the collateral damage caused by their affair and how it affects the lives of other people involved.

“Years ago, when you started off lying to your parents, you did so with a kind of relish, reckless of consequence; it almost felt character-building. Later, you began to tell lies in all directions: to protect her, and to protect your love. Later still, she starts lying to you, to keep you from knowing her secret; and now she lies with a kind of relish, reckless of consequence. Then, finally, you begin lying to her. Why? Something to do with the need to create some internal space which you could keep intact– and where you could yourself remain intact. And this is how it is for you now. Love and truth– where have they gone?”

Ultimately, The Only Story is a masterfully written, contemplative novel that provides profound and moving insights on love, memory and the ageing.

So Beautiful, But Horribly Sad, Too: A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)

“I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine.”

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) is the final entry in the unconventional, loosely connected trilogy of films by Swedish director Roy Andersson that explore what it means to be a human being and the absurdities of life. The film was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Film in the 71st Venice International Film Festival.

As one of my Christmas presents last year, I received a collection of Roy Andersson’s films, which includes, probably his most famous film, A Swedish Love Story (1970), as well as all three films in his Living trilogy – Songs From The Second Floor (2000), You The Living (2007) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014).


All three films in the Living trilogy are shot in a particular style, using only wide angles and the camera remains static throughout each sequence. There are also no intercuts between the scenes. In an interview, when asked about this stylistic choice to only use wide shots, Roy Andersson explained that:

“I think that the wide shot tells a lot about the human being that a close-up can’t. About their place in the world. The wide shot defines the human being more than the close-up because, for example, the room where the person is tells about his tastes, his life. Even if it’s not home, you can read the history of a person better in a wide shot. When you read this wide shot, there are so many elements that make the picture more tragic.”

Next 10 - A Pigeon

The films are composed of short, thematically linked vignettes. Each scene features a pasty, unhealthy looking character or group of characters battling with isolation and loneliness. For the most part, these are ordinary people, who are weighed down by mundane everyday existence, stuck in the perpetual grind to make ends meet and struggling to connect with their fellow human beings. All these vignettes have a certain absurd comical quality, because, despite the rather unusual situations, they tap into emotions that are very difficult to describe but say something deeply honest about the human condition. Also, the choice not to intercut between the scenes and leave the camera immobile gives the viewer the time to discover the various details that are deliberately placed in the background of each scene. The use of a washed-out, desaturated colour palette in the colour grade only adds to the bleak and sterile atmosphere. Sometimes it almost seems like the characters are blending into their surroundings.


In several vignettes we see an assortment of different characters talking to someone on the phone and repeating the phrase: “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine.”, while clearly feeling lonely, defeated or miserable. The film showcases people that appear to be trapped in their own private  hell, worn down by the mundanities of life and unable to precisely describe their feelings or connect to the people around them. Even their partners, families or friends can’t seem to alleviate their sense of alienation.

In all three films of the Living trilogy, Andersson explores a variety of human emotions and conditions, but mainly focuses on themes such as people’s universal fear of loneliness, the cost of materialism, the lives of woman in a male dominated society, the impact of the past on the present, the delusions and dream castles that people build and hold on to deal with the mundanity and absurdities of life and the masks that human beings create and present to the world in the place of their true selves in fear of being misunderstood and rejected.

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence is a honest and dark existential comedy that will appeal to those, who enjoy ruminating on philosophical topics. I also highly recommend the two previous films, Songs From The Second Floor (2000) in particular, which remains my favourite of the trilogy.

Because Someone’s Got To Sing The Pain: One More Time With Feeling (2016)

“Just file it under lost things. My voice, my iPhone, my judgment, my memory… Isn’t it the invisible things that have so much mass?”

imagesOne More Time With Feeling is a raw and deeply moving documentary, directed by Andrew Dominik, about the recording process of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ sixteenth studio album Skeleton Tree, while Nick Cave is dealing with the grief from the tragic death of his son Arthur. Instead of having to bear the obnoxious questions from the media about the tragedy in the context of promoting the new record, Cave decided to finance the production of this documentary.

I’ve always been fascinated by the intensity Nick Cave’s music. His deep, brooding voice and poetic lyrics always manage to evoke a certain darkly beautiful atmosphere. Each song seems to encapsulate a whole story that is told not just directly though his lyrics, but is also conveyed through deliberate silences and omissions. It is then up to the listener to fill in the blanks and uncover what was left unsaid and what is maybe only alluded to. The same could also be said to describe this documentary. So much of the horrible anguish is left unspoken or is communicated through artistic expression (poetry, music) and meaningful silences. We can see him trying to find space for creativity in the aftermath of this trauma, and his struggle to accept the kindness and sympathy of the people around him.

“Because someone’s got to sing the stars, and someone’s got to sing the rain. And someone’s got to sing the blood. And someone’s got to sing the pain.”


The combination of high contrasted, black-and-white shots, and the dark tone of the music from Skeleton Tree pulls at your nerve stings and evokes a deep feeling of sadness and anxiety. The documentary consists of performances from the recording process of Skeleton Tree and interviews with Nick Cave, as well as pieces of recordings of his monologues and poetry readings, through which he tries to articulate his feelings after going through this horrific trauma. We also briefly hear from his wife and his long-term collaborator Warren Ellis.

large_53a55b31d37f991c009d95fe1a2f9e2ebc0d9d57Watching this reminded me of the excellent documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017) that I also recently watched and highly recommend, in which the prominent American journalist and writer Joan Didion reflects on the process of writing her essay collections The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. In these essay collections she tries, in her own way, to make sense and express her feelings of loosing first her husband and soon after also her daughter. As much as we read and hear about other people’s experiences with loss and grieving process, nothing can truly prepare us for the emotional turmoil of loosing of a close family member. Even more so, if it’s due to unexpected and tragic circumstances. In case of Didion, she channelled her grief into her work and found that the process of writing helped her to sift through her emotions and find a way to move forward after loosing two loved ones. But in the case of Cave, he believes that the powerful trauma that he was confronted with will hinder his creative process. He is very honest in admitting that it is becoming harder and harder for him to continue doing what he is doing.

Overall, One More Time With Feeling is a creatively shot and intimate look into a musician’s creative process, and a profound and moving exploration of grief.

Man Booker International Prize 2018: Longlist Predictions

We’re now less than a week away from the longlist announcement of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize that celebrates and promotes works in translation. It’s currently  also the only literary prize that I’m still excited to follow, so I thought I would discuss some of the books that might make it onto longlist. Here is my list of potential nominees:

1. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (tr. Jonathan Wright) (published by Oneworld)

36657860I would be very surprised if Ahmed Saadawi’s clever take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014 does not make it onto this year’s list. It looks at the immediate  aftermath of the Iraq war in Baghdad and describes the constant violence and bombings that became an everyday occurrence in the city, and how, amid this horror and destruction, the city’s inhabitants try to live normal lives. The novel follows a wide variety of characters and, through their individual storylines and relationship dynamics, the author creates a vivid portrait of the atmosphere in Baghdad during that time. It’s a very thought-provoking read that deserves more attention.

2. The White Book by Han Kang (tr. Deborah Smith) (published by Portobello Books)

36294380Han Kang is the winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her novel The Vegetarian (tr. Deborah Smith), and  I think there is a good chance she will make it onto the list again with The White Book, a largely autobiographical collection of musings on different white things that explores death and grief, and is dedicated to her older sister, who died only two hours after birth. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ve seen only overwhelmingly good reviews, so I look forward to checking it out for myself.

3. The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet (tr. Sam Taylor) (published by Harvill Secker)

31348246I’m a big fan of Laurent Binet’s work and loved both his debut novel HHhH about Operation Anthropoid during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and his latest, much more light-hearted political thriller and satire The 7th Function of Language set amid the French postmodernists in 1980s Paris. The novel starts with a traffic accident when famous French literary theorist Roland Barthes is hit by a laundry van on the street in Paris and dies of his injuries soon afterwards. The novel reimagine this historical event by asking the question – what if this wasn’t an accident but an assassination because Barthes had in his possession the instructions to the much coveted, potentially dangerous 7th function of language? Based on this premise, the author weaves an international conspiracy involving politicians, academics, and criminals. Also, a very interesting secret society of rhetoricians that organise debate duals with ridiculously high stakes. I loved the discussions on semiotics and reading about the almost high-school-ish antics of the postmodern philosophers and their conflict and rivalry with the analytical philosophers. It’s a highly entertaining, yet intellectual read and I hope to see it on the list.

4. Belladonna by Daša Drndić (tr. Celia Hawkesworth) (published by Maclehose Press)

34332951Belladonna is an erudite and thought-provoking novel that explores some of the biggest atrocities of the 20th century. The central character of the novel is a retired and cynical psychology professor and writer Andreas Ban, who looks back at his life that has been deeply affected by the tumultuous history of former Yugoslavia. He ruminates on national identity and displacement, the nature of evil and complicity, both direct and indirect, with the perpetrators of some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, as well as the general apathy of younger generations towards history. On a more personal level, it’s also an honest examination of the unreliable nature of memory, the anxieties of growing old and coming to terms with the deterioration of the human body. The book is quite dense and demands the reader’s undivided attention, but if you give it the time, it offers a powerful and unflinching exploration of the horrors that people have unleashed on one another, in the hopes that history doesn’t repeat itself.

5. Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (tr. Margita Gailitis) (published by Peirene Press)

37554380I’m biased about this one. There are very few Latvian novels that are available in translation, so I was so happy to find out that this book has been translated into English. Moreover, it would be amazing if the novel receives extra recognition by being nominated for a major literary prize (*fingers crossed!*). It was a bestseller here in Latvia and was published as part of a series of novels, written my prominent Latvian authors, that explore different periods in Latvian history during the 20th century. Soviet Milk (original title: Mother’s Milk) is a semi-autobiographical novel set in the 80s, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. On an individual level, it focuses on the relationship between three generations of women and, on a larger scale, the novel describes the crushing effect of the Soviet regime on the lives and dreams of ordinary people. I highly recommend it, and I’m tempted to read it again, this time in English, to see how good is the translation.

6. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (tr. Jennifer Croft) (published by Fitzcarraldo Editions)

33301104I haven’t read this one, but I’ve seen it recommended many times, and the description sounds very unusual – a novel about travel and human anatomy. Uh…what?! It seems to interweave stories from different time periods with the common theme of travel and how it relates to parts of the human body. The novel was also awarded Poland’s biggest literary award in 2008. I’m very intrigued. Fitzcarraldo Editions has previously published some excellent, high-quality works in translation and is slowly becoming one of my favourite publishers, and I think there’s a good chance that Flights might be the book that represents them on this year’s MBI Prize longlist.

7. The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani (tr. Sam Taylor) (published by Penguin Books)

35301485The Perfect Nanny (or Lullaby) was awarded the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2016 and is one of the most talked about books from the list of potential nominees, and, even though I’ve heard very mixed things about it so far, I have a feeling it might still get nominated for the MBI Prize. Compared to other potential nominees, this may appeal to a wider audience because it essentially sounds like a thriller about a nanny, who murders the children she was hired to care for, and I believe that through this interesting character study the author tries to shine a light on the lives of low-income workers. I will admit that, solely based on the premise, this novel doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I might pick it up, if it makes it onto the longlist.

8. Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba (tr. Lisa Dillman) (published by Portobello Books)

34332724Based on the description, Such Small Hands sounds like a short, surreal and unsettling novel that packs a powerful punch, and it immediately brought to my mind the experience of reading Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (tr. Megan McDowell). It’s about a girl called Marina, who lives in an orphanage after the tragic death of her parents, and has a close and rather creepy connection with a doll that she has also named Marina. I’m very curious about this one, even though I suspect that it might give me some nightmares.

9. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (tr. Susan Bernofsky) (published by Portobello Books)

36217818Jenny Erpenbeck is the winner of the 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for her novel The End of Days (tr. Susan Bernofsky), and in her latest novel Go, Went, Gone she explores the very topical subject of the current refugee crisis, focusing on the experiences of asylum seekers in Germany, and asking some serious questions about the borders that separate human beings and our shared responsibility for the current problem.

10. The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo (tr. Janet Hong) (published by Tilted Axis Press)

34333093A modern Korean fairy tale that follows a class of 12-year olds, and the contrasting lives of two girls in particular. The novel seems to explore the hierarchical structures that are created within a group of children in the absence of adult guidance and the cruelty and rivalry between them. I’ve heard that the novel also includes elements of meta-fiction, where the author inserts herself into the story and examines what it means to write a character. Even though I’m personally not a big fan of fairy tale elements, this sounds like a strong contender from Tilted Axis Press.

11. Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan (tr. Annie Tucker) (published by Pushkin Press)

34332552The latest novel by award-winning Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan is described as a gritty, pulp-style thriller that follows Ajo Kawir, a lower-class Javanese teenager, who, after the shock of witnessing the savage rape of a woman by several men, becomes impotent. In order to regain his virility and express his frustrations, he turns to fighting, and he proves himself to be a very skilled fighter, so he’s given the task to kill a local thug, however, during his mission he falls in love with Iteung, a beautiful female bodyguard, who works for the mafia. Overall, this sounds like a very engaging, fast-paced story that explores the lives of women in a violent, male-dominated world.

12. The Sixteen Trees Of The Somme by Lars Mytting (tr. Paul Russell Garrett) (published by Maclehose Press)

34332976The Sixteen Trees of the Somme seems to be both a sweeping multi-generational saga about a family living on a remote farm in the mountains of Norway and a quest to uncover a tragic family mystery that is closely connected to the horrors of the First and Second World Wars. The description immediately reminded me of previous MBI nominees The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (tr. Don Bartlett & Don Shaw) and War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans (tr. David McKay), and I think there’s a good chance that we may see a family story that reflects on the grim history of WWI and WWII also on this year’s list.

13. The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk (tr. Ekin Oklap) (published by Faber & Faber)

33300831Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk is a celebrated Turkish novelist, whose novel A Strangeness In My Mind (tr. Ekin Oklap) was nominated for the 2016 MBI Prize, so I expect that his latest novel The Red-Haired Woman, which has been described as a parable of modern day Turkey, might be featured on this year’s list. It follows a master well-digger and his teenage apprentice that develop a very close bond and, through their connection, the author seems to explore the relationship between fathers and sons, drawing parallels to different Western and Eastern myths. The young apprentice becomes infatuated with an older red-haired woman, who is part of a small troupe of theatre actors that perform morality tales, and she has a profound impact on his life. The novel also seems to touch upon the tension between Westernisation and traditional Turkish culture.

I look forward to finding out on March 12, how correct I was with my predictions and which of these books will actually make it onto the longlist. Let me know if you agree with any of these picks and I would love to hear about your own predictions.

Auditions Of History: Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson

Published by Blue Rider Press, 2017, 300 pages.

“History always auditioning for one last performance that’s never delivered because it’s always rewritten. To, uh, talk of the “lessons” of history suggests…models that can be applied to other instances, when no moment really is enough like another that any model applies, without turning the model into something that’s so much something else as to make it, well, not obsolete, but not all that relevant either.”

Steve Erickson’s latest novel Shadowbahn is set in a fascinating alternative version of America in the near future. It’s a parallel America that could have been and is revealed by taking a road trip on a “shadow highway” that connects both costs of America and is described in the novel as:

“(…) a rumored thoroughfare unmarked on any map, a secret highway called the “shadowbahn” that cuts through the heart of the country from one end to the other with impunity.”

Twenty years after they fell, the Twin Towers mysteriously reappear in the Badlands of South Dakota. Moreover, the towers seem to transmit music, however, every one of the thousands of people who flock to see this miracle hears a different song. The towers are completely empty of people, except for one resident: a full-grown version of Jessie Presley, the stillborn twin brother of Elvis Presley, who suddenly awakes on the ninety-third floor of one of the towers and is going mad from memories of events that never happened and of a life where he survived in his brother’s place. Meanwhile, siblings Parker and Zema are on a road trip from L.A. to see their mother in Michigan, when they hear about the strange reappearance of the Twin Towers and decide to take a detour to see this apparition. Oh, and Zema’s body seems to transmit music, too, in a version of America were all music seems to be disappearing.

I know the premise of this novel sounds completely crazy, but since I’ve previously read Zeroville, I had faith in the author’s ability to weave a strange yet thought-provoking story. And he didn’t disappoint. Erickson has created a dreamscape, where he plays with the idea of actual and thematic twins and alternative versions, shadow versions and surrogates. The central theme of the novel is identity: both individual and cultural. Jessie Presley is haunted by a voice in his head that he knows isn’t his, by the spectre of what his brother would have become. He feels that he is the inferior version of his brother, a feeling that is intensified when he meets people that somehow also know that he is the “wrong” twin, and he vents out his frustrations by writing scathing articles in a music magazine and hanging around the artists and outcasts at, what seems to be, Andy Warhol’s Factory.

A significant part of the book is devoted to discussions on the history of American popular music. Parker and Zema’s father is a radio DJ and a very opinionated music snob, who spends a lot of time compiling elaborate playlists, placing songs in a specific, and, what he deems to be, the “right” order. The novel includes separate chapters, which are interspersed throughout the book, that put songs into pairings (in a kind of face-off) and look into the history of these songs and, on a larger scale, the evolution of American music, and how it has shaped and influenced American culture. It also reminds us that rock ‘n’ roll (what we associate with popular 20th century Western music) evolved from blues music and was essentially invented by African Americans. Elvis was the bridge that brought it into mainstream culture and his absence in this version of America has profound cultural implications on the world. The novel suggests that music is the heartbeat of the country and one of the fundamental elements of its cultural identity that expresses the collective dreams and hopes of its people.

The novel tries to reconstruct the image of America by piecing it together from all these alternative parts. This shadow America is populated by alternative versions of historical figures and the novel seems to be asking, what would be the fates of these famous people in this phantom America, where the political and cultural landscape is different?

I really liked the relationship between Parker and his sister Zema, who was adopted from Ethiopia and struggles with her national identity. They go on a road trip across this alternative version of America that seems to be in a state of disunion. Through their story, the author explores the theme of family legacy, and seems to ask, what is the inheritance that parents leave to their children? In case of these siblings, it is represented by a playlist that was compiled by their father, as well as a notebook with comments about the songs. As they go across this shadow America, they listen to the playlist and are exposed to a wide variety of music that seems to represent the essence of America.

Shadowbahn an engaging, remarkable piece of writing that keeps you guessing, what will happen next, until the very end. The narrative constantly shifts, weaving several story threads, and it almost feels like the book consists of several novels. I can understand how this disjointed structure and impressive amount of musical references might seem frustrating for a lot of readers, but I find that the unconventional way he tells the story and the themes that are discussed in this book make this a fascinating and worthwhile read. In this book, as in Zeroville, Erickson demonstrates how to use pop culture references in a meaningful way, instead of just trying to profit off of the latest nostalgia trend. This is only my second book by Erickson, but I already feel that I’ve found a new favourite author.

“The human heart commits its greatest treachery by healing. It commits its greatest treachery by surviving the love that was supposed to last forever, that was supposed to be the heart’s burden into eternity, only for that burden to be laid down by too much time and, worse, too much banality, too much of everything that’s beneath love, not good enough for love.”

P.S. Here is a playlist of the songs referenced in Shadowbahn: 


Film Reviews: The Death of Stalin (2017), I, Tonya (2017), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

The Death of Stalin (2017), directed by Armando Iannucci

“I can’t remember who’s alive and who isn’t.”

a495279130bea28067ff459fa02e8239_500x735A film that created quite a stir in Russia and was banned from being shown in theatres until after the election. This fact, naturally, garnered it more attention from the press also in my country and resulted in sold out screenings. Even my grandfather, who’s not a big moviegoer, wanted to see this film.

Based on a graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, The Death of Stalin is a satire about the chaos and intense political machinations following the sudden death of Stalin (played by Adrian Mcloughlin) in 1953. If you have seen some of Iannucci’s previous work (The Thick of It (2005-2012), In The Loop (2009)), you’ll pretty much know what to expect – dark, edgy humour criticising the incompetence and ambitions of politicians. The film mainly focuses on the main players of the Soviet regime at the time – Nikita Khrushchev (great performance by Steve Buscemi), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs). If you don’t like morbid humour and are easily offended, I suggest skipping this one, because the film constantly takes sharp turns from the silly and darkly comic to the very bleak, even shocking, showcasing the terror that Stalin unleashed on the people.

It’s a very fast-paced film that feels appropriate to the uncertainty and paranoia characteristic to that period, where anyone might be promoted one day and imprisoned or shot on the next. However, it might also make the film confusing and hard to follow for those, who are not that familiar with the historical events of the time. Even though the film tries to keep the audience up to speed, I think that having some prior knowledge about the political landscape of the Soviet Union at the time will increase your enjoyment of the film.

I, Tonya (2017), directed by Craig Gillespie

“I thought being famous would be fun – it was like being abused all over again.”


I, Tonya is a highly entertaining, energetic, mocumentary style biopic about the life of American Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (played by Margot Robbie) and her involvement in the attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 that destroyed Tonya Harding’s promising figure skating career.

Margot Robbie gives a truly impressive, emotionally nuanced performance in the role of Tonya and Allison Janney is brilliant as her abrasive, chain-smoking, verbally abusive mother LaVona Golden, who believes that her twisted parenting methods will make Tonya a champion. The film shows how Tonya, despite her extraordinary talent and hard work, was always the outsider of the superficial, highly subjective figure skating world and how she was discriminated by the judges because of her background and failure to comply to the “wholesome” image that the ice-skating establishment wants to project.

The film also shows her turbulent relationship with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who at first seems like a goofy dork but soon reveals his violent side. He and his delusional friend are the ones who orchestrate the plot against Nancy Kerrigan. This results in an incredibly stupid incident that unfortunately cost Tonya her career.

The strong performances, combination of different genres, fast camera movements, tight editing style (especially during those amazing ice-skating sequences) and great musical choices make this a very thrilling and hilarious and at the same time thought-provoking and moving film. I, Tonya is a cautionary tale about the dangers of surrounding yourself with delusional idiots and it’s certainly one of the best films that I’ve seen this year so far.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017), directed by Noah Baumbach

“If he’s not a great artist, that means he’s just a prick.”

MV5BMTY1MTA1MjU4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTAwMzE2MzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Another clever and sharply comic family drama from writer/director Noah Baumbach. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) focuses on the complicated family dynamics between the ageing, narcissistic father Harold (brilliantly embodied by Dustin Hoffman) and his three children – Danny (played by Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) – who all crave and compete for their father’s approval. The father, however, doesn’t conceal his disappointment that none of them have followed in his footsteps and become artists. Although, it seems that if any of them did, the father would still be competing with his children for the spot of “top artist in the family”.

I’ve been a fan of Noah Baumbach’s work since I saw his first feature film Kicking and Screaming (1995), which is a refreshing and honest look at a group of highly educated, young people, who are struggling to move on and find meaning in their lives after graduating from college. Also, judging from his later work that I’ve seen (Margot At The Wedding (2007), The Squid and The Whale (2005), Frances Ha (2012)), it seems that he is a keen observer of human behaviour and manages to capture in a very honest way the complexities of familial relationships and friendships. He is great at writing sharp and witty dialogue that fells very true to the characters, and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is another example of his talent in writing believable characters, who make you laugh in one scene and ponder the tragedy of life in the next.