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Jangam by Debendranath Acharya

A Goanese survivor recounts her brother's experiences: 'One day he saw beautiful butterflies in a certain spot. He looked around expecting to see a lot of flowers in this area but what he saw horrified him. The butterflies were covering a bloated corpse and they must have been feasting off the juices that oozed from the decaying body.' Painting such terrifying images of of death and decrepitude, Jangam's narrator says that these butterflies had exclusive sovereignty (xamarajyo) in this realm of death.

A study in contrasts, glimpsed at in this line from its introduction, as the tale of an Indian peasant's family and their neighbours making their way back to India in the wake of WWII and the rise of Burmese nationalism unfolds. Their flight is facilitated by a nationalist to whom they've been family, a nationalist who later pays dearly for aiding them but who had wanted them gone. The Indians themselves struggle to retain their humanity on their arduous journey t…

Bone River by Megan Chance

IT WAS A sacred place, an ancient place. Here was the confluence of river and bay, of sky and forest, salt marsh and slough, the water stretching its fingers far into the land as if it meant always to reclaim it. Here was a presence that gave weight to the fog and the rain, that lingered in the swollen air, even in sunlight, especially in moonlight. By the side of a river where spirits seem to speak to her, a woman learns how easily a man's protection of her can mean his control of her, and how the appearance of his love (whether he's her father or her husband or someone else entirely) may mean nothing. In fact, it is so easily put on to gain cooperation and keep its subject willingly tethered to him that he himself may believe in his lies. And, yet, despite all that, she also learns that she can come into her own, and that there are those both in the world of the living and that of the dead who will stands by her even if they are not perfect themselves.

In Another Light by Andrew Greig

I swallow cooling coffee again and taste the coarse ambiguous sweetness of not being dead. .... I thought on the child we never had. For months or years after a death you carry a weight till in time you learn a different and harder sorrow. You learn that you live on, and in time find yourself sleeping again, then smiling once in a while, noticing a fine day or a good face. And the knowledge that you can and do go on living when people you love do not, that is a grown-up sorrow at last.

After a brush with death, a middle-aged man explores his father's life as a young doctor in bustling Penang at a time when he himself has shifted to a sparsely-inhabited island in Scotland. One is a Presbyterian atheist with a strong work ethic while the other is relatively laid back but, for both of them, the consequences of their actions are determined by the times they live in. Both father and son learn that neither life nor love are easy, and that death is always around the corner. Generations a…

The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Minutes dragged by as if mired in mud and whole days vanished as if struck from the calendar. …. During the week, even if one hated one’s job, one went to work because one had to, because there was no choice in the matter. People congregated in their work places with a sense of communal resignation. It was relatively easy to give the appearance of being a normal member of society. Weekends were different. A great deal and happen even in the sleepiest towns, evil can be an accident, the open spaces which the rich enjoy can make activity invisible but, even so, what is done lives on in memory and colours perception and, ultimately, there is always a price to be paid for all that's done even if no reparation is possible.

Walls of Silence by Ruth Wade

I suspect that the world would be a better place if all of us wore our damage proudly on the outside, but we’ll never know, will we? Life makes us who we are, Edith – deformities and all – and how we react to the cards we’re dealt is what makes us unique individuals. In the end, it is our differences that define our humanity.’ No it wasn’t: it was humanity that defined the deformities. Memory, often of our worst moments, is the aid by which we construct the tale of our lives, by which we define who we are and develop a sense of ourselves. Sometimes, memory or the acquisition of knowledge of our own past becomes too much for us, and the professionals meant to support us are far from perfect themselves. A tale of how we shape our own reputations, of how the quest for fame possibly in the guise of scientific enquiry can override basic decency, of how identities are constructed for us to cope with the realities thrust on to us, of how we construct identities to cope with the realities whi…

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.