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Romanno Bridge by Andrew Greig

Never had much time for patriotism myself. It was Das Kapital on my mind as a young man, not thistles. An internationalist, right? Tear doun the borders and lets have the international brotherhood of man! We got it in the end, except the global economy is not exactly what we had in mind. History, eh?
A stone which is associated with Scottish nationhood has been lost for centuries; the English (incorrectly, in this telling) once imagined that they had appropriated it in 1296. A nationalist seeks it, hiring a murderous contractor to aid him in his quest. An exploration of how thin the lines between good and evil are, of the dynamics of friendship, of how old loyalties can sometimes hold down the generations. "Yet kindness may outlast our thinning hair and fading senses. As the world grows dark, we're surely going to need it," as the author unfailingly reminds us.

The Maker of Swans by Paraic O'Donnell

She studies the even contours of his face. He wishes to appear reasonable, and has allowed his expression to soften slightly. When he continues, the softness vanishes. It is smooth and complete, like the erasure of chalk marks. ‘You must know, little one, that this is une arme à double tranchant. You know this expression, yes? If you do not behave with courtesy, then there will be difficulties. 

"The river, in the evening light, is a dull skein of rust." A book best read slowly filled as it is with beautiful imagery that would be too much of it were not slowly savoured. It examines the nature of creativity, the value of art & its importance being associated with memory, the power of language, and the loss of a person's innocence as time goes by. All this in a work which reads like a musical composition that repeatedly returns to the theme of a child who, with words, crosses the threshold between human creativity and nature's inviobility.

Midnight in the Century by Victor Serge

The sky takes on a pearly, almost azure hue; a kind of peace descends from it. You might mistake it for hope. …. They thought they had gone far enough into the inclement North to be forgotten. They were only half right, but what could they do? However far you flee, your grandchildren will have to flee one day in their turn.

An exploration of the value of community and the inevitability of community in one form or the other when repression is a form of politics, silence doesn't necessarily ensure survival, the civil services are co-opted to realise totalitarianism, and consensual communalism can be subverted by a snitch. All this against the background of nature,  relatively constant, while humans are doomed to repeat their mistakes.

The Accomplice by Kathryn Heyman tell yourself this also: that if you had been there, you would have kept your kindness, kept your faith, kept your hope alive. That you would not be silent, that you would be strong, resistant. .... But you were not there and this is not your story. I thank the Lord that not everyone is a victim. But I ask forgiveness, too. Because I was there and I know that not every victim is innocent.
The lies we tell ourselves to survive are explored in this fictional autobiography in which a woman, almost the sole survivor in her family, tells her daughter of being shipwrecked, and of then being stranded along with her fellow passengers on an island with a leader intent on stealing the wealth carried by the ship. So intent on doing so that he would kill many of those on the island.

The Hussaini Alam House by Huma Kidwai

Bade Pasha like the mothers of brides from other elite Muslim houses of that time would send two women along with the bride. One of them, Khaiser Bee was elderly and in charge of looking after the bride's needs …. The other, Champa, was young, frisky and ugly. She would serve, amongst other duties, as stand-in for her mistress on days she was not available to the master. It was the usual arrangement. .... As Khalajaan often said, “She never betrayed me to the very end and nor did Champa.
I wondered what there was to betray but did not deem it important enough to ask her." Champa never had to stand in for Khalajaan as her husband had no need of her, or his wife for that matter. Her life is almost entirely unremarked on beyond her mistress' appreciation of her loyalty. The book provides a fascinating insight into the lives of the Muslim aristocracy of the erstwhile state of Hyderabad, of how they coped (or didn't) after the state became a part of India.

Of Men and Angels by Michael Arditti

In my version of the story, when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, their eyes would be opened not to their nakedness, with all the shame that that has bequeathed to subsequent generations, but to age and pain and frailty and decay. The knowledge that they gained would be not of sin but of time. It is time that gives human life meaning but that also manifests your distance from God. It is time that introduces imperfection into the universe. It is time that will, in time, be redeemed by eternity.

"Time is not our natural element...," as Simon Leys once said in another context. This book explores time, how myth and concoction can become belief in time, how contemporary circumstances influence interpretations of ancient belief in each age to support conduct which changes in time... all against the backdrop of Sodom, the nature of whose sin we cannot now be certain of. The book is somehow reminiscent of Shankavali in Hindu tradition which explores contradictions in faith not…

Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar

Though I grew moist-eyed when they presented these two envelopes and felt almost sorry to be going—actually nostalgic already for my long time spent with them, for the little things, the little laughs, the silly accidents and birthday cakes—on the bus home I made the mistake, or took the eminently sensible step, of working out how much on average each had given. It came to thirty-five pence per person, with ten pence added on.
Another book about what a woman makes of independence & freedom when she leaves a rather dull life in London behind her for her own house in Bristol which she has inherited and where she begins to behave in increasingly atypical ways. The book explores the gulf between how we see ourselves and how we are viewed by others. 35p each is what her colleagues of 11 years spent on a going away present for her: a book voucher.