Manisha Jolie Amin, Dancing to the Flute (2012). Kalu is a poor boy whose life is changed when a healer overhears him make music with a rolled-up leaf, and offers the boy an apprenticeship with his musician brother. Kalu learns to play the flute, which will eventually take him from around the world. Amin’s novel is a celebration of music, which changes Kalu in more ways than one. But it also keeps an eye on the people left behind in Kalu’s village, and shows how even apparently ordinary lives may be transformed.
And, if you’d like to win a copy of Dancing to the Flute and three other books by women writers, the publisher is running a competition:
Pascal Garnier, The A26 (1999/2013). Translated from the French by Melanie Florence. As the modern world encroaches in the form of a motorway, a brother and sister cling to 1945 in their cottage. Bernard is terminally ill, and develops a taste for killing in his final days. Yolande just stays at home in her own little world. This is a nicely creepy novella that leaves you unsure how everything will end, but almost certain that it’s going to be bad.
Elizabeth Fremantle, Queen’s Gambit (2013). A novel about the final years of Katherine Parr, beginning shortly before she enters Henry VIII’s court, and chronicling her marriage to the king and affections for Thomas Seymour. Fremantle examines the place of women at court, finding both opportunity and restriction: Katherine’s maid, Dot Fownten, can move up in the world, even find love. Katherine also gains status as queen, power as regent, and can pursue projects such as religious reform – but, as a woman, there are still limits on what society considers acceptable from her.
W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe (1982). This is an odd book, especially if you come to it cold, like I did (I knew it inspired Field of Dreams, but have never seen that film). The protagonist, farmer Ray Kinsella, hears a voice saying, “If you build it, he will come”; this inspires him to construct a baseball field – which brings the legendary baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson back to life. Ray then persuades J.D. Salinger to join him on a road trip in search of other faces from the sport’s past. Possibly you need to be into baseball to fully appreciate the novel, but there is quite some charm in its willful and direct strangeness.
Susann Pásztor, A Fabulous Liar (2010/13). Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside. Joschi Molnár: raconteur, Holocaust survivor, late patriarch of a rather extensive family. On what would have been his hundredth birthday, various branches of Joschi’s family gather to work out just what may have been true out of all the stories he told about himself. Pásztor paints a careful portrait of a family forced to question even the most basic ‘facts’ they thought they knew, and examines the pros and cons of doing so.