Harmony and Discord in Africa – Memories of Childhood in Southern Rhodesia by Mark Huleatt-James

Harmony and Discord in Africa by Mark Huleatt-James

Harmony and Discord in Africa by Mark Huleatt-James

This is about a time and a childhood place not far from my own.

Harmony and Discord in Africa, despite its title, is not a political book but rather a slice of ‘home history’ about a boy, his family and their life on a farm in the young British colony of Southern Rhodesia .

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Travels in a Dervish Cloak by Isambard Wilkinson

Travels in a Dervish Coat by Isambard Wilkinson

Travels in a Dervish Coat by Isambard Wilkinson

Here’s a book to pop your eyes. Cloaked in dust and petals it swirls through bedrooms, bazaars, bombings, palaces, shrines, caves and festivals. The pace is insistent and the tensions increasing.

Our guide is journalist Isambard Wilkinson. He takes us to Pakistan (2006 – 2009) and entices us to follow him from Baluchistan to the Khyber Pass, via a couple of pauses for kidney complications.

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Chernobyl Prayer – A Chronicle of the Future by Svetlana Alexievich

Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich (Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature)

Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich (Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature)

I was at St Andrews University in Scotland, when the accident happened … “the gravest technological catastrophe of the twentieth century.” It was 26 April, 1986.

Reactor No.4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Belarus collapsed.

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Book review: Wild is Life – Reaching out (by Sally Carney)

Wild is Life by Sally Carney

Front cover of Wild is Life by Sally Carney

Wild is Life – Reaching Out is about an animal sanctuary that has grown out of the turmoil that swept through Zimbabwe a few years before the millennium.

It is an inspiring, intimate photographic record of a home-made haven that started small – mongoose size – and then stretched. By the end of the book it is giraffe high … and the elephants have come.

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Book review: In Europe, Travels Through the Twentieth Century by Geert Mak

A well-thumbed copy of In Europe by Geert Mak

A well-thumbed copy of In Europe by Geert Mak

Europe is agitated and restless – it always has been.

In Europe, by the Dutch journalist and historian Geert Mak, gives a century of context to today’s anxieties. It looks at the hundred years before the millennium, and through this window reveals the troubled heart of today’s Europe.

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Book Review: Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson

Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson

Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson


Cities are like people … some are packed with character, and others less so.

The city of Naples in Italy is a character, one that can raise you to heaven or leave you in despair.  Johann Goethe was ecstatic; Mark Twain fairly grumpy; Shirley Hazzard inspired; and Elena Ferrante fierce and irresistible.  Now, published in 2016, here’s Katherine Wilson whose style goes straight to the heart of the city.

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I’ve just read the Napoli section of Goethe’s ‘Italian Journey’

A look back (first published on 6 January 2016): Naples is not a ‘do-in-a-day-city’ – it’s a city with roots, a city that takes time, a city that feels like it might be time itself. Even Goethe lost his rhythm here.

The Phraser

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (portrait by Stieler 1828)

There are names I heard at school that are still buried beneath teacher dust. Names I’ve never looked at again – unreachable, academic names.  Goethe was one of them.

Then, a few weeks ago, I bumped into him on the internet and I read his notes on Naples.  They were a happy find.

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