I couldn’t decide between Shadow Country & The Tutor of History. They’re both chunky, beautifully written door-stops of novels that tell compelling stories through the eyes of multiple characters and bring complex geographies and social realities to life.
Shadow Country, by Peter Matthieson, is a brutal, intricately characterised and stunningly rendered account of turn-of-the-20th-century frontier life, violence, and exploitation of place and people in Florida’s Everglades. It’s a reworking of Matthieson’s Mister Watson trilogy, and – for a novel that starts with its ending (almost) fully revealed – a gripping and suspenseful story.
The Tutor of History, by Manjushree Thapa, is equally beautifully written. It is a quite wonderful account of family and personal struggle set during a fictitious election campaign in Nepal. Her characters are flawed, failing, trapped and yet full of desire and struggling to work out the possibilities for their own personal liberation within a social and political context that is both deeply conservative and also changing beyond recognition. Marvellous.
Best Science Fiction
River of Gods and Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald. Both to reflect my own reading habits, and the strength of this novel and collection of stories, I needed a separate sci-fi category. River of Gods couldn’t quite have won in the best novel category, but it would have gone close. Well written (though occasionally just a shade over-written) story of personal, political and environmental intrigue and conflict set in a fractured India in 2047. The big-picture stuff is, indeed, big-picture – India has fractured into multiple smaller and competing states, climate change has weakened the South Asian monsoon, leading to water conflict, various Artificial Intelligences approach break out point only to be put down like rabid dogs – but they never overwhelm McDonald’s gritty depiction of street-level reality, engaging characters and cracker of a story. Cyberabad Days, a collection of short stories, is an edgy, pacy set of snapshots of life in this same setting.
Tchamantche. Without a doubt. Rokia Traore is one of two women I have fallen in love with on the basis of their singing voices. The other is Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays. And I can’t understand a word either of them sing.
But possibly worst title: Inhabiting the Cruciform God, by Michael Gorman. And definitely worst subtitle: Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Building on an exposition of Philippians 2:6–11 as Paul’s “master story”, Gorman elegantly argues that God’s nature is cruciform – fully revealed in the paradoxically emptying, abasing and negating movement of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion. And, following this, that to be truly human is to participate in and be conformed to this divine nature in holy communities of self-giving love.
There are lots of insights into Pauline texts – I often found myself seeing familiar passages in new ways – and Gorman’s weaving together of justification and holiness, the crucifixion and resurrection is compelling. His arguments in support of a theologically informed non-violence are clear and cogent. Though I found his way of preserving the possibility/reality of a future judgement (by arguing that the narrative structure he identifies in Philippians 2 may express the nature of God but does not exhaust it) troubling. Taking this route seems to me to have the potential to undermine much of what Gorman had argued to this point.
Sunday 19 July.
Samosa chat from a street vendor in Surkhet. It’s spicy, creamy, potatoey goop over samosa fragments, served on a banana leaf plate. Delicious. But Urmila’s tomato and coriander achar runs a very close second.
Up (Disney/Pixar). Gorgeous. Heart-breaking and hilarious animated family feature.