‘We bulwark our flesh from the effort’

Common Rest, Holly Pester: Test Centre Publications

By song we bulwark our flesh from the effort and flesh from our flesh from effort from them

– Care

Common Rest takes the form of the lullaby as a structural and thematic starting point for experimentation with poetry in its material manifestations.  A project in collaborative, improvisational sound-poetry accompanied by a book of written poems, both of which explore the languages of work and rest.  Holly Pester’s collaborative sound-work with accompanying book of poetry is available as a 10” vinyl LP in a gatefold sleeve from Test Centre in a limited edition of 250 copies. Pester is exceptionally talented in this field, and this collection features collaborations with Nat Raha and Verity Spott – both of whom are working experimentally with sound in innovative and exciting ways.  The record also features collaboration with poet Vahni Capildeo, as well as artists, musicians and sound artists: the result is a poetry project tangible and alive with shapes and shades and weathers.

tonight you might feel your feet multiply / you might lick or suck or clean ‘em / cos you’ve got a nighttime job 

– Burn

Common Rest

The juxtaposition between the poetry on the page and the sound poetry generates tangential layering and a satisfyingly physical sensation to roll around one’s tongue and cradle in one’s limbs. It’s tangible, tasty and textured.  The materiality of language in its verbal and visual forms is central to Common Rest’s project: the soundscapes feature improvised repetition based on sounds, words and phrases lifted out of sequence from the poetry; ad libs; riffs; vocal and instrumental atmospheric sounds; shifts in volume and pace; haunting, dream-like lullabies both sung and spoken… What the LP is NOT is a spoken word recitation of the poems in the book. There are counterpoints and variations, fissures and reimaginings, teasing and testing the limits of the poetry on the page. The book of poetry itself is equally aware of its material qualities: printed in teal-blue lettering on spacious, soft-white pages, the colour and layout create the sense of tranquility that each poem desires and yet which eludes the vocabulary of most.

These are objects that have been designed with materiality in mind. The poetry’s physical effect/affect on the listener’s body is central to its extended materiality: ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) artist Claire Tolan works with Pester on the track Brush to engender a soundscape that will soothe (and haunt) the listener physically as well as mentally and emotionally, perhaps as a lullaby traditionally might.

I am asleep

but my organs work on some image my heart

likes to look at in the rest space

– Glamour hallucinated love

Playing with the structural conventions of the lullaby and the vocabularies of work and rest, these poetic works explore the impacts of work and rest on human bodies and psychologies.  The two Untitled Lullabys highlight  both the song’s ability to ‘bulwark [the] flesh [against] effort’ and the exhaustive toll of that effort on the physical body. Pester suggests that, ‘While a lullaby sounds out the material labour of care, makes its flesh and breath felt, it also sounds out the radical obscuring of work. Therefore a lullaby might be a chorus for all bodies, affectively performing a different worksong, a kind of common rest.’  Physical Capabilities seems to take its vocabulary from a standard government document to assess a disabled person’s fitness for work.  Pester compounds the words ‘tell us how’, so that the verbal telling is conflated with the visual showing, highlighting the burden of proof as it increasingly falls on the vulnerable, as well as foregrounding the formal strategies employed within Common Rest as a project.

Tellus if you use

a stick tellushow it affects It varies Can you go up tellus more about steps Reaching

– Physical Capabilities

This poetry project locates the effects of the political within the physical bodies of the individual and collective workers and their rhythms of song and sound.  It is one of the most innovative and exciting new poetry projects currently available and it’s a perfect showcase for the publishing work of Test Centre.  Test Centre has an impressive back-catalogue of spoken-word vinyl LPs, books and pamphlets published since 2011, a regular magazine of poetry and fiction, and a forthcoming list of new works.  The combined sound-and-book production of Common Rest re-energises the publication and performance of poetry and demonstrates why Test Centre was nominated ‘Most Innovative Publisher’ at the 2015 Saboteur Awards.

In my opinion, ALL poetry should be presented like this, but I suspect that it just wouldn’t always work.  What Holly Pester and her collaborators have created, however, has found its most fitting expression in the publishing expertise at Test Centre.  This is a collection you should own.

Click here to find Holly Pester’s Common Rest at Test Centre.

Common Rest contributors:
Holly Pester is a poet, writer and cross-disciplinary researcher. hollypester.com
Emma Bennett is performance artist and stand-up comedy scholar. emmabennettperformance.wordpress.com
Vahni Capildeo is an award-winning poet, multi-disciplinary writer and Old Norse scholar. carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?owner_id=1167
Jenny Moore is an artist, musician and drummer in a band. jennymoore.co
Nat Raha is a poet, trans activist and researcher in queer Marxism. sociopatheticsemaphores.blogspot.co.uk
Vera Rodriguez is a photographer, dancer and a sex worker support telephone line operator. ethicalstripper.com/site/the-collective/vera-rodriguez/
Verity Spott is a poet, cellist and mental health care worker. twotornhalves.blogspot.co.uk
Claire Tolan is a sound and ASMR artist. cst.yt
Yasmin Kuymizakis (sound editor) is a sound artist, sound designer and singer/songwriter. soundcloud.com/yasmin-kuymizakis
Mariana Simnett (album cover artist) is an artist. frieze.com/article/focus-marianna-simnett

About the Publisher:

Test Centre is an independent publishing house and record label with an interest in the spoken and written word. Based in Hackney, East London, it was established in 2011 by Will Shutes and Jess Chandler.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics at the University of Westminster and is the research assistant for The Contemporary Small Press. @willowwriting

Seduction and Betrayal in Pre-War China

Seduction and Betrayal in Pre-War China

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle by Karen Kao: Linen Press, 2017

‘The rain has stopped and the street gleams like the barrel of a rifle.’

Shanghai, 1937. During the opulent days before the Second World War, 18-year-old Anyi travels to the city determined to make her fortune. Raped and left for dead on the journey, this is the story of her battle for survival in a culture where all a woman has is her fragile reputation.

As an intelligent young lady from wealthy parents, Anyi has always been frustrated by polite society’s stifling attitudes towards women. Deeply traumatised by the vicious attack, she is taken in by her aunt and uncle who, despite their initial kindness, rush to arrange her marriage before what they consider to be her shameful secret is revealed.

‘No-one must know. It never happened, you see, because you are a good girl from a good family. Something like that doesn’t happen to people like us’.


Referred to from the beginning as ‘the broken girl’, Anyi defiantly reinvents herself as a glamorous siren able to wrap men around her little finger. Captivatingly beautiful, she inspires lust and jealousy in equal measure. Against the odds, she becomes a successful dancer earning enough money to live independently. In the dazzling world of the dancehalls, she is worshipped by diplomats and playboys alike as she embraces her new lavish and amoral celebrity lifestyle.

‘We, the dancing girls, are the gazelles who draw the predators out of the high grass. The whores are the dead meat to be flung to the lions.’

But in secret she is plagued by visions of the soldiers who violated her and at night their ghosts line her bedroom wall. In a desperate attempt to block out the memories, she seeks release by allowing paying men to abuse her. At times a painful read featuring unflinching references to physical and emotional cruelty, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is a sensitive portrayal of the devastating impact one incident can have on a woman’s life.

‘Why didn’t they just leave me to the dogs?’

It is also a brutally honest account of the seedier side of Shanghai as the flashbulbs of the paparazzi thinly veil the opium-addled, oppressive courtesan culture flourishing beneath the surface. Anyi’s most powerful customer, the charming Japanese diplomat Mr Tanikazi, finds her eagerness to satisfy his particular taste for violence irresistible. Political tensions mount in the buildup to the Japanese invasion as the world teeters on the edge of war. Secret desires overflow into real life as people’s public and private faces are threatened with exposure.

‘The city amazed and disgusted him. Perversion was available on any street corner of Shanghai’.

The story is narrated by multiple characters and everyone from family members to the downtrodden servants is given a voice. The human need for intimacy and understanding is apparent on every page and the reader is offered a vivid picture of events from different points of view. Progressive attitudes collide with old customs in a world tentatively embracing modernity yet still steeped in tradition. Gripping and complex, this challenging read provides an intensely detailed, often harrowing but ultimately sympathetic insight into a lost culture.

Click here to order Karen Kao’s The Dancing Girl and The Turtle direct from Linen Press.

About the Publisher

Linen Press is an independent publishing house founded by Lynn Michell and run ‘by women, for women’ that aims to promote talented female writers producing unique work in a range of genres about relatable issues that matter to women today. Michell explains: ‘I want to read beautifully crafted writing that speaks to women. I want to fall into a novel and not emerge until its ending’.

Review by Becky Danks

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, dog lover, book reviewer, and occasional poet. She was recently shortlisted for the Verve Poetry Prize 2017. Follow her on Twitter @BeckyD123 or visit her website www.beckydanks.com.

2084: Science Fiction Anthology from Unsung Stories

2084: Science Fiction Anthology from Unsung Stories

Unsung Stories launch Kickstarter for new dystopian short story anthology: 2084 

New stories from Christopher Priest, David Hutchinson, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Jeff Noon, Anne Charnock and more.

As the events of 2017 reveal an ever more complex relationship between people and their governments, classic dystopian literature is proving its relevance once again. But as readers turn to classics, like Nineteen Eighty-Four, writers are also looking to our future, and what may lie there.

Unsung Stories have gathered eleven leading science fiction writers who have looked ahead to 2084, as Orwell did in 1948, for a new anthology – writers such as David Hutchinson, Christopher Priest, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Jeff Noon and Anne Charnock, who are already famous for their visions of the near future.

Speaking about the anthology, George Sandison, Managing Editor at Unsung Stories, said, “We knew when we first started work on the anthology that the idea was timely, but the start of 2017 has really hammered home how important writing like this is.

“Dystopian fiction gives us a space in which to explore today’s fears, and the nightmares of society. For many people the events of the last eighteen months have brought those dark futures much closer, so it’s inevitable that we turn to literature to help us understand why.

“The ideas at work in 2084 range from the familiar to the fantastic, but all are bound by a current and relevant sense of what we could lose, what’s at stake. As with Orwell’s work, decades from now, we will be looking back to our stories, to better understand today.”

2084 will be published by Unsung Stories in July 2017 and features leading writers, including Christopher Priest, David Hutchinson, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Anne Charnock and Jeff Noon.

In 1948 Orwell saw a world in flux, at risk of losing liberty so recently won. In response he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, a prophetic book. Now, in 2017,the themes are still with us.

This anthology of new short stories draws together leading science fiction writers – famous for their visions of our near future – and asks them to look into our future, to the year 2084.

Put humanity on trial as the oceans rise. Slip over borders in a Balkanised Europe. Tread the bizarre streets of cities ruled by memes. See the world through the eyes of drones. Say goodbye to your body as humanity merges with technology.

Warnings or prophesies? The path to Paradise or destruction? Will we be proud of what we have achieved, in 2084?

Our future unfolds before us.

Click here to find out more and support 2084.

Full list of contributors:

Desirina Boskovich

Anne Charnock (Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind and A Calculated Life)

Ian Hocking (Deja Vu)

Dave Hutchinson (The Fractured Europe Sequence)

Cassandra Khaw (Hammers on Bone)

Oliver Langmead (Dark Star and Metronome)

Jeff Noon (Vurt, Automated Alice, Pollen and more)

Christopher Priest (The Prestige, The Dream Archipelago, The Gradual and many more)

James Smythe (The Australia Trilogy, The Echo, The Explorer and more)

Lavie Tidhar (A Man Lies Dreaming, Osama and Central Station)

Aliya Whiteley (The Beauty and The Arrival Of Missives)

About the Publisher:

Unsung Stories publish literary and ambitious speculative fiction that defies expectation. Publishing stories from the varied worlds of genre fiction – science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the areas in-between.

RofC Prize Rewards ‘Brilliant & Brave’ Fiction from the Small Presses

RofC Prize Rewards ‘Brilliant & Brave’ Fiction from the Small Presses

‘Small press fiction enables stories, characters and experimentation not found anywhere else in British publishing’ – Neil Griffiths, founder of the Republic of Consciousness Prize

Last night’s inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize award ceremony was held in the iconic setting of the University of Westminster’s Fyvie Hall, in conjunction with The Contemporary Small Press.  

The prize’s founder Neil Griffiths, who set up and crowdfunded the prize to reward ‘brilliant and brave literary fiction’ being published by small presses ‘who are willing to take risks’ in the UK and Ireland, hosted the evening and spoke about the work of contemporary independent publishers.  He said, ‘I’ve been accused of trying to overthrow the established order of the literary establishment’, and while he readily acknowledged the high quality books that are being published by big publishers, he affirmed that in his opinion ‘the best fiction currently being published in the UK and Ireland is with the small presses.’  He elaborated on this, saying that ‘small press fiction enables stories, characters and experimentation not found anywhere else in British publishing.’  Griffiths explained the awarding process for this year’s prize, saying that there would be one ‘Winner Winner’ and two runners-up: ‘not second and third’.

Winner of the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize for fiction from the small presses was Counternarratives by John Keene, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Unanimously voted the overall winner by all six judges, Counternarratives was considered a ‘once in  generation achievement for short form fiction’ and praised for the way that its ‘subject matter, formal inventiveness, multitude of voices, and seriousness of purpose transform a series of thematically linked stories into a complete work of art.’  Accepting the prize,  Jacques Testard from Fitzcarraldo confessed that ‘it’s not easy to publish this kind of fiction in the contemporary British climate’ – another example of the risk-taking innovation of small press publishers as testified by the quality of books selected for the prize.

Testard said: ‘We’re so thrilled that John Keene’s COUNTERNARRATIVES has been awarded the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize. First of all, it is a magnificent book and deserves the widest possible readership. The prize is so important for its focus on small presses — it’s tough, in this cultural climate, for risk-taking small presses to achieve visibility for our books. It’s also a unique prize on two other counts: it does not put limitations on what fiction can be in considering short stories, novels and translation together, unlike other prizes in Britain, and in fact it is the only prize which COUNTERNARRATIVES has been eligible for. Less important but remarkable nonetheless, it is a prize that rewards the publisher as well as the author — a welcome, refreshing reversal when many bigger prizes expect a financial contribution from a shortlisted publisher, big or small. Long may it continue.’

Counternarratives by John Keene, Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Photograph by Sally-Shakti Willow

The two runners-up and winner were announced by The Guardian’s Literary Critic Nicholas Lezard who praised the ‘long and distinguished history of publishing by the small presses.’  The first runner-up to be declared was the novel Martin John by Anakana Schofield, published by And Other Stories about which the judges said, it ‘makes no judgment: it renders Martin John’s world with phenomenological honesty. It is a moral act.’  Joint runner-up was Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones, published by Tramp Press, described by the judges as a novel that ‘sets a new bar for fiction about a family. No other novel we’ve ever read portrays the lived experience of dying with such precision.’

A further category was created for Griffiths’ own criteria of Best First Novel, or ‘Surfeit of Multitudinous Energy’, awarded to writer Paul Stanbridge and publisher Galley Beggar Press for Paul’s novel, Forbidden Line.  Galley Beggar’s Sam Jordison collected the prize with Stanbridge.

Paul Stanbridge and Sam Jordison
Writer Paul Stanbridge and publisher Sam Jordison from Galley Beggar Press.  This photograph and the header image by Becky Danks

‘So much in the literary industry disadvantages small presses, and yet they are publishing the most interesting and innovative current fiction’ Dr Leigh Wilson, The Contemporary Small Press

The Contemporary Small Press’s Dr Leigh Wilson said, ‘We’re delighted to be involved in supporting the prize. So much in the literary industry disadvantages small presses, and yet they are publishing the most interesting and innovative current fiction.’  Organiser Neil Griffiths concluded: ‘I thought it was a wonderful evening. All the presses seemed mutually supportive, and I’m not sure that’s always the case at prize events. I think the key take-out is that small presses really appreciate the emotional support just as much as the chance to win some money’.

The prize was judged by: Sam Fisher of Burley Fisher Books in Hackney; Gary Perry at Foyles; Lyndsy Kirkman from Chapter One Books, Manchester; Gillian Robertson of Looking Glass books, Edinburgh, Marcus Wright and Neil Griffiths.

Congratulations to all the writers and publishers whose books were selected for the Republic of Consciousness Prize long- and short-lists.  

image (1)
The Contemporary Small Press’s Dr Leigh Wilson with prize founder Neil Griffiths.  Photograph by Georgina Colby

Article by Sally-Shakti Willow, Research Assistant for The Contemporary Small Press.

Photographs by Dr Georgina Colby, The Contemporary Small Press; Becky Danks reviewer for The Contemporary Small Press; Sally-Shakti Willow

Beyond the Bestseller

SAT 25 MARCH 2017, 10:00 – 16:30 GMT

We’ll tell you about the book trade, the workings of a small press and offer advice about submitting your work and approaching publishers.

Talks and readings by Lynn Michell, director of Linen Press, and Avril Joy, successful Linen Press author and finalist in The People’s Prize.

Karen Kao will introduce her accomplished, searing novel The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, a new publication due April 2017.

Put your questions, worries, frustrations and hopes to our experienced panel. We’re here to help!

WIN—a consultation with Lynn Michell to discuss your novel

WIN—a consultation with Avril Joy to discuss your short story

WIN—a selection of books from Linen Press

Click here for more information and tickets to Beyond the Bestseller.

Linen Press: The Dancing Girl and the Turtle by Karen Kao

Circles and Spirals

Circles and Spirals

Dodge and Burn, Seraphina Madsen: Dodo Ink, 2016Republic of Consciousness Prize Long List*

‘the spiral is the spiritual circle: a circle set free’ 

Dodo Ink’s debut title, Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen sets an exciting precedent for the press’s direction.  Longlisted for the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize 2017, this is a magical-realist psychedelic road-trip novel with a strong and unconventional narrative voice.  With a strong feminine voice, Madsen writes in a genre usually dominated by male writers such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thomson and Carlos Casteneda.  From the outset it’s difficult to pin down the locus of reality in Eugenie (Genie) Lund’s tale, as we’re told that her mother’s death was caused by killer bees and Genie and her twin sister Camille have been held against their will by the sinister psychic researcher Dr Vargas.  Everything that happens as Genie grows up and attempts to piece her life back together is beyond the bounds of the ordinary, including drinking daily doses of a poisonous hemlock ‘Pan’s Elixir’, developing ‘jungle sensitivity’ in which all physical senses become acutely amplified, frequent visions of a hunter called Deadeye, and an uncanny skill at poker.  When Camille disappears, Genie naturally wonders whether there must be a supernatural reason for the disappearance:

‘I was suddenly struck with the thought that perhaps the rituals, potions, and practices we had been following had taken a turn.  Had she managed the sophisticated manoeuvre of displacing herself in space and time?  Yes, I believed, it was certainly possible that Camille had disappeared and taken all physical evidence of her existence with her only to resurface in another location.’  

Traveling across Europe and North America in search of Camille, Genie meets and marries the Venus Acid Boy, Benoît, a raver and DJ with a passion for psychedelic substances.  The novel intersperses extracts from Genie’s journal with news articles and third-person narration to weave and tangle the full-throttle account of their journey through this world, the inner world, and the other-world on a quest to retrieve Camille.  Echoes of the Persephone myth add structural dynamics to this book, only to be subverted as the narrative draws towards its conclusion.

This is a novel that really resonated deeply with me.  I loved the psychic and psychedelic magical-realities created by Madsen, and felt excited by the female perspective on the intoxicating acid-fuelled road trip.  Above all, Genie’s matter-of-fact forays into the other-world gave credence and weight to their place within this narrative and, by extension, to their place for exploration within the everyday realities that we call ‘life’.  The combined skill of Madsen’s gift for storytelling and her meticulous research into occult and spiritual practices means that, however far-fetched things might seem to get within this story, its events remain credible in the magically-infused-reality of Genie’s world.

‘Camille and I had noticed that in certain moments during our meditations we would be popped into a hologram world where everything, including ourselves, was transparent, our differentiations delineated by rainbow shimmers.’

Madsen does, however, leave Genie’s world open to question throughout the novel, and the novel’s literary weight is perhaps enhanced by its ability to be read simultaneously from multiple perspectives: not all readers will take from it the same assurances as I did.

Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen: Dodo Ink

‘In our cabin we discovered that time was not as immutable as Dr Vargas had led us to believe. […] It had a yielding and compliant nature and could vanish, only to reappear with alternating shapes, courses, and rhythms.’

The novel experiments with temporality to create a spiraling narrative that is not quite circular and not quite linear.  It is the circle set free.  Neither a narrative of clear and direct linear progression nor a futilely circular narrative returning to a point of stasis from which it began, the text weaves and spirals in a fluidity of forward and backward motion with lateral shifts and multidimensional resonances. This enables the narrative to move in multiple directions while retaining a breathless momentum that propels the story towards the possibility of future resolution.  This is a book that I couldn’t put down but didn’t want to finish.  Circling and spiraling in and out of psychic, psychedelic and mundane consciousness, seamlessly intermingling past, present and future, life and death, this novel is described as a ‘Moebius strip of indistinguishable fantasy and reality’, questioning where we might draw the line between one thing and the other, and perhaps suggesting that such lines may not always be entirely necessary.

‘Had Camille and I spiralled out of the circle of life on Earth?’ 

Seraphina Madsen brings an exciting new voice to experimental literary practice, and as Dodo Ink’s first published title it bodes well for the press’s future that its risk-taking passion for fiercely original, imaginative fiction has shown such a promising start.  A novel that certainly intends to challenge and expand our definition of ‘consciousness’, Dodge and Burn has been long listed for the Republic of Consciousness Prize: the winner of which will be announced in March 2017*.

Click here to buy Dodge and Burn directly from Dodo Ink.

About the Publisher:

Dodo Ink is an independent publishing company based in the UK. Founded by author Sam Mills (The Quiddity of Will Self, Corsair, 2012), digital publishing and marketing specialist Alex Spears, and reviewer Thom Cuell, Dodo Ink publishes original fiction, with a focus on risk-taking, imaginative novels.  Aiming to publish three novels per year, Dodo Ink’s first publication was Seraphina Madsen’s Dodge and Burn in July 2016.

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow is researching for a practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, where she also works as research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.  Sally’s poetry is included in the #NousSommesParis anthology from Eyewear Books; the experimental collection The Unfinished Dream by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016.  @willowwriting


*The Contemporary Small Press is celebrating the first ever Republic of Consciousness Prize for small presses by reviewing a range of titles from the long- and short-lists throughout early 2017.  The Republic of Consciousness Prize was established by writer Neil Griffiths to support and reward adventurous new fiction published by small presses in the UK and Ireland.  The judges have selected some of the most exciting and innovative new fiction to highlight through their long- and short-lists, demonstrating the breadth and depth of high-quality literary fiction currently being published by small and independent presses.  The winner will be announced at an award-ceremony held in conjunction with the Contemporary Small Press at the University of Westminster in March.

Violence, Suffering and the Defeat of Love

Violence, Suffering and the Defeat of Love

Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan John: Cassava Republic Press, 2015 – Republic of Consciousness Prize Short List*

Elnathan John is known in Nigeria for his satirical writing. His debut novel Born on a Tuesday was shortlisted for the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature, the largest literary award in Africa. John says that he comes from a city which is split by religious segregation between Muslims and Christians. The novel is also about religion: its narrator is a young Muslim in Nigeria. As John states, the novel is inspired by anonymous almajiri who are those sent from their homes as children to study in Islamic schools.

The novel explores the Nigerian Islamic political and religious landscape after the founding of Boko Haram in 2002 through the individual. John gives a voice to the voiceless through the figure of the narrator, Dantala. Dantala is named after the day of the week in which he was born. The idea behind the novel is that the personal is the political: that individual experience and identity is conditioned and shaped by external events. This is why the arbitrary day of the week gives a name to the narrator. Yet the novel also asks how much agency is possible in this world of ours. Can the narrator forge an identity out of that which seems to be free of identity?

Dantala moves from childhood to adulthood in the novel. He begins as a young student of Islam. At first, he is a drug user and violent criminal in a gang. One day, he decides to run away from his life after setting fire to the local headquarters of the opposition party. Dantala goes on to advance to a key role in a mosque as a member of the religious community. Dantala’s journey towards holding a position of power in Islamic society is a process of learning. Dantala must learn to cope with the grief of his mother’s madness at losing her daughters and then her death. He must face the consequences of flooding. He must face another language and another way of looking at the world as a student of English. He must face Islamic fundamentalism and extremism. Dantala has to face a situation in which stark choices have to be made. He also has to learn how to love: what friendship is and what it means to love a woman.

Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan John: Cassava Republic

The novel works through a number of themes. As is to be expected, there is a portrayal and contrast of the good Muslim and the bad Muslim. I will not comment upon this issue in this piece. Such commentary has been carried on in Western writing ad infinitum. I will concentrate on another major theme which is foremost: the roles of violence and suffering in human life. Violence and suffering permeate every social and human relationship in the novel. Dantala is first portrayed as a violent thug. Students are corrected through the use of force. Husbands beat their wives or force sadistic sexual acts upon them. Criminals and enemies are punished or silenced by chopping off their hands or shooting or beheading them. The mujahideen wish to impose violence upon the world and rule through it. The state tortures individuals. Nothing is free from violence and the attendant suffering that it brings.

The story of love is situated within this violence. Love relationships outside of marriage spring out of domestic violence within the marriage. Love itself is disrupted and defeated through acts of violence. Indeed, the love of those that impose violence is judged to be above the love of those that will not impose violence by some. Love itself is continuously defeated. The novel asks the serious question of whether love can triumph in this world of ours. Fatalism in the novel says that an all-powerful God’s will must order things to be so and only so. It contends with a reader’s recognition that evil is done in the name of a God by men. Love is not defeated because it must be so. It is defeated because of the measures that humans take to make it unachievable.

John’s novel is harrowing. The novel contains scenes and tales of horrific violence. The laconic style of writing conveys a directness which can be brutal. The form, however, is subtle. It plays on the act of the translation. Some words are not translated from the original Hausa. English words are presented as dictionary entries and then applied to concrete situations. These language games confront the English-speaking reader with a voice and interpreter of events outside of the community of the English language, someone that has a different framework of understanding.  I am certain that the novel will be criticised by some for its depiction of Islam. Such issues are indeed important. However, for me, the novel exposes the reality of the human condition. People will not let people love. They would rather accept the brutality of the strong over the innocent. They will have suffering in the world. The question is whether we can carry the strength to love within us. I believe that Dantala’s story does show us the strength of a love that will continue despite every obstacle in its path. This love is stubborn. It goes against the world. It will place its head against the sword every time.

Click here to buy Born on a Tuesday direct from Cassava Republic.

About the Publisher:

Cassava Republic was set up in 2006. The rationale for its existence was to publish work which was read in Africa rather than overseas. Its mission is to change thinking about African writing. Cassava Republic Press publishes on the principle that African prose should be rooted in African experience in all its diversity.  The publishing house sets out to ask challenging questions of African writing – where have we come from, where are we now, where are we going?  They believe that their role is to facilitate and participate in addressing these questions with the books that they publish.

Review by Suneel Mehmi

Suneel Mehmi is a scholar and an amateur writer, poet, musician and artist. He is a member of the British Asian community and lives in East London. He holds degrees in Law and English Literature from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Brunel University and the University of Westminster. He has published academic work on the concept of Law and it relationship to violence in the adult short stories of Roald Dahl. He has previously contributed scholarly book reviews to the Literary London journal and to the London Fictions website.


*The Contemporary Small Press is celebrating the first ever Republic of Consciousness Prize for small presses by reviewing a range of titles from the long- and short-lists throughout early 2017.  The Republic of Consciousness Prize was established by writer Neil Griffiths to support and reward adventurous new fiction published by small presses in the UK and Ireland.  The judges have selected some of the most exciting and innovative new fiction to highlight through their long- and short-lists, demonstrating the breadth and depth of high-quality literary fiction currently being published by small and independent presses.  The winner will be announced at an award-ceremony held in conjunction with the Contemporary Small Press at the University of Westminster in March.