Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot review – a raw, rich indigenous memoir

A bestselling portrayal of sexual abuse, racial cruelty and addiction is enlivened by wry, deadpan humour and an account of a strong mother-daughter bond

It is difficult, virtually impossible, in this time not to read art against a political backdrop. Voices of difference or dissent are necessary for their reminder of what is being attacked and why we must fight. The danger is that the voice itself gets lost in its greater significance, and we do not hear it clearly, its specific cadences and particularities, what distinguishes it from another in the same camp. The camp becomes the voice.

From the first few lines of Terese Mailhot’s bestselling debut memoir, it is clear that homogenisation will not be tolerated. This is a voice so distinct in tone, texture and personality that the community from which it springs is immediately rendered secondary. Mailhot writes compassionately from deep within the Native experience, ...

Happiness by Aminatta Forna review – love in an urban wilderness

From foxes to parakeets, London’s animal population is as closely observed as its human inhabitants, in this tale of connection and coexistence sparked by a chance meeting on Waterloo Bridge

London’s fox population has increased exponentially in recent years, with daytime vulpine sightings now commonplace and periodic media panics arising over incursions into children’s bedrooms. They get a bad press, to which Aminatta Forna’s new novel offers a refreshing contrast. She depicts the fox not as a threat, a mere raider of dustbins, but as a dignified, elegant creature trying to make a life in the metropolis just like its human inhabitants, though in far greater danger, and with less chance of making it to old age.

The foxes are named: Jeremiah and Babe, Finn and Black Aggie, who is ghostlike and disappearing, and most compelling of all a skinny russet vixen called Light Bright. They are observed and tracked ...

Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò review – a big-hearted Nigerian debut

A woman’s desperate attempts to get pregnant, and the subsequent agonies of loss, are vividly captured in this Baileys-longlisted novel

The childless protagonist of Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s Baileys-longlisted debut is so desperate to get pregnant that she breastfeeds a goat. It happens at the top of “the Mountain of Jaw Dropping Miracles” in southwest Nigeria, surrounded by drooling bearded men in green robes whose leader, Prophet Josiah, has been recommended to the barren Yejide by a pregnant customer at her hairdressing salon. The goat must be white, he has instructed, and it must be pulled up the mountain single-handedly by the miracle seeker, arriving at the summit “without wound, blemish or a speck of another colour”. There follows some frenzied chanting, singing and dancing around the swaddled animal beneath a blazing sun, until eventually, despite her initial scepticism, as Yejide relates, “the goat appeared to be a newborn and I believed”.

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Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò review – a big-hearted Nigerian debut

A woman’s desperate attempts to get pregnant, and the subsequent agonies of loss, are vividly captured in this Baileys-longlisted novel

The childless protagonist of Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s Baileys-longlisted debut is so desperate to get pregnant that she breastfeeds a goat. It happens at the top of “the Mountain of Jaw Dropping Miracles” in southwest Nigeria, surrounded by drooling bearded men in green robes whose leader, Prophet Josiah, has been recommended to the barren Yejide by a pregnant customer at her hairdressing salon. The goat must be white, he has instructed, and it must be pulled up the mountain single-handedly by the miracle seeker, arriving at the summit “without wound, blemish or a speck of another colour”. There follows some frenzied chanting, singing and dancing around the swaddled animal beneath a blazing sun, until eventually, despite her initial scepticism, as Yejide relates, “the goat appeared to be a newborn and I believed”.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi review – the wounds inflicted by slavery

An unflinching portrayal of the slave trade explores its impact down the generations, from 18th-century west Africa to the modern-day USSlavery is an open wound: it will never heal. As such it has provided an endless reserve of material for storytellers, a bottomless well of tragic arcs, epic betrayals, unexpected dimensions and uncharted secrets. What of the black slave owners of Virginia, asked Edward P Jones in The Known World. What of the slaves who killed their children in order to set them free, asked Toni Morrison in Beloved. What if, say, blacks had enslaved whites, asked Bernardine Evaristo in Blonde Roots. It is into the murky waters of this same well that first-time Ghanaian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi delved for the creation of Homegoing, a hugely empathic, unflinching portrayal of west Africa’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. The tale begins in the late 18th century in an ...

School of Velocity by Eric Beck Rubin review – music, memory and love

A quiet storm of a novel about the gulf between the openness of youth and the dangerous restraint of middle ageThere are several pianos in Eric Beck Rubin’s debut novel: a Bösendorfer 280 VC, a Grotrian upright, a 48-inch K-400 upright Kawai. A baby grand walnut Bechstein, manoeuvred by crane through a third-floor apartment window into the practice room of its new owner, Jan de Vries, a haunted virtuoso pianist in decline. Like Jan, the voice of the novel is quiet: it stands back and has secrets. But the music it makes is loud, visceral, cacophonic, terrifying. This is a story about the deafening power of the mind to engulf us when our interior voices are left unheeded. It is not Chopin’s Preludes or Bach’s Cello Suites that set the tone in Jan’s adolescent friendship with Dirk, who is to haunt him so in adulthood. It is George Clinton, ...