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How to Read Like a Writer by Erin Pushman Book Review

How to Read Like a Writer by Erin Pushman Book Review

How to Read Like a Writer, by Dr Erin Pushman, is a 10-chapter exploration of the pillars of creative writing which discusses how, by reading like a writer, you can improve your own writing skills.

With some excellent tips imparted in an easy-to-digest manner, this is a solid primer for the budding writer on how to read in a more analytical way.

But the retail pricing of the book raises significant questions over what the commercial market for this book is.

How to Read Like a Writer
Overview

If you want to be a writer, you need to read more – according to conventional wisdom. You also need to ‘read like a writer’. But what exactly does this mean in practice? 

Fortunately Erin Pushman has assembled a plethora of examples in this short but concise handbook. 

It’s a practical text that discusses topics including ‘pace,’ ‘theme,’ and ‘setting’ in sufficient detail, before assigning the reader a handful of post-chapter writing activities. These chapters guide the reader with some excellent bite-size analyses of each area of writing whilst the activities are thought-provoking enough to help the reader retain the knowledge.

One issue How to Read Like a Writer has, however, is repetition. Pushman frequently uses the same passages from certain texts to illustrate that chapter’s particular lesson. For example, an identical extract from Zadie Smith’s The Embassy of Cambodia appears at least four times across the whole book.

Whilst familiarity with a text makes it easier to comprehend the argument, it does make for incredibly tedious reading. Assuming a basic level of comprehension on the reader’s behalf, and using more varied examples, would have been far more effective.

Regardless, How to Read Like a Writer does a fantastic job of presenting an array of writing styles. This is not simply a how-to guide on writing a 300-page literary fiction novel. Pushman explores fiction (both genre and literary), poetry in its various forms, creative nonfiction, memoir, and so much more.

There’s a remarkable breadth of writing examples on show, and this has to be commended.

Commercial vs Academic Readership

There is one glaring issue with How to Read Like a Writer – and that’s that it isn’t immediately clear who the audience for this book actually is.

On the one hand, it’s published by Bloomsbury Academic, and certainly priced like an academic textbook with an RRP of £19.99 for the paperback and an eye-watering £59.99 for the hardback. Plus, with a bevy of post-chapter activities, the book appears to be designed for formal creative writing classes.

But here’s the thing – if you’re an established writer, you probably won’t need this book.

On the other hand, an aspiring writer who doesn’t have access to a university library is unlikely to drop a significant amount of money just to read this book. Especially when Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and Stephen King’s On Writing are available on the shelf for the price of a regular paperback.

Comparisons with Reading Like a Writer

Purely because of the near-identical title, it’s inevitable that Pushman’s book will be compared with the veritable monolith of creative writing 101, Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.

What is apparent from the beginning is that Erin Pushman’s tone and writing style is far more approachable and open-minded to different kinds of writing. Whereas Prose’s book comes at writing from a purely literary stance (and frequently comes across as hostile towards genre fiction), Pushman embraces writing of all stripes.

That’s one of the great things about this book – it’s designed to elevate the writer, not tell them that they’ll never be James Joyce. It’s inviting, convivial, and encouraging for a budding writer – if you can afford it.

And herein lies the issue. This is a book commercially aimed at the more costly academic market, and yet the content is more aimed at creative writing beginners. Meanwhile, Prose’s book – an arguably more reliable academic text – can be picked up for under £10.

Conclusion

How to Read Like a Writer is a solid primer on teaching readers how to read like a writer. It breaks down the various aspects of writing into digestible chunks and includes some brilliant exercises to reinforce the lessons in each chapter.

But with the average reader priced out of the market and an academic writer not requiring a book to teach them how to read like a writer, who is How to Read Like a Writer actually aimed at? It’s not entirely apparent.

And yet, whilst it’s a little repetitive in parts, Pushman’s book is undoubtedly a useful point of reference for those looking to improve their writing craft.

3/5

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Step Forward, Harry Salt by Ross Lowe Book Review

Step Forward, Harry Salt Book Review

Step Forward, Harry Salt is a bit bonkers.

And by this, I mean that there’s a character called Royds Spittoon and a horse drop-kicks a car.

Following the equally bonkers Seven Nights at the Flamingo HotelBearded Badger Books’ second published novel – and author Ross Lowe’s debut – sees the titular Harry Salt drawn into a Hot Fuzz-esque conspiracy amongst the hills of Derbyshire.

It’s sinister at times, tremendously daft, and a lot of fun.

Step Forward, Harry Salt
Overview

‘The Change’ is coming.

Millions of people voted for it but nobody really knows why – or what The Change even is for that matter. But the will of the people is to be enacted, whatever that will might be.

Caught up in the middle of this moment of national celebration/crisis (delete as appropriate) is Harry Salt.

He’s a regular guy – pretty nondescript and bumbling through life – though far from dull. He’s your Martin Freeman-esque everyman and therefore the ideal protagonist for a novel like Step Forward, Harry Salt; a book packed with zany hijinks, set against the backdrop of Britain floating in a Brexity soup.

It’s a parody, though not a particularly subtle one. The novel re-treads familar arguments from the Brexit referendum and dials them up to eleven, pouring scorn and ridicule upon the pro-Brexit argument. 

Sometimes hilarious, other times a little on-the-nose, one thing is certain – Step Forward, Harry Salt is a brilliant novel, packed to the rafters with witty observations, brilliant characters, and a marvellous mystery.

Parental Poignancy & Parody

Step Forward Harry Salt uses a past/present twinned narrative, pinging the reader back and forth between Harry’s years as a child – his memories with his Father in particular – and the present day.

These memories feature some of the best writing in the novel. It’s often highly poignant, other times disarming – even troubling perhaps – but these passages feel reminiscent and personal; transposing Harry’s memories onto the reader in a nostalgic manner.

Meanwhile, in the modern day, the Ministry of People where Harry works, presents an almost Pratchett-like parody of Orwell’s ministries in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Whilst highly secretive, The Ministry of People is less overtly sinister than Orwell’s depictions of government – rather more bureaucratic and somewhat odd.

This ability to traipse the line between being disconcerting and humorous is disarming as a reader – it’s alienating, making for an interesting read.

Conclusion

Lowe has a lovely style of writing. It’s simple, cheerful, and witty – the sort of writing you really appreciate reading after a book like Dune Messiah; a novel with so much word salad, you could launch a vegan restaurant.

But truly, Step Forward, Harry Salt is a pleasure to read. It’s also fascinating insofar that it defies genre. 

There are Sci-Fi elements, political satire, fantasy, speculative fiction, and magic realism. It’s extraordinary, because the novel holds these elements together in a really authentic way, never feeling mismatched.

And because of this, the novel will appeal to a wide range of readers. 

It’s off-beat, but in the best kind of way. Great stuff.

4/5

Step Forward, Harry Salt can be purchased directly from Bearded Badger Publishing.

YA Fiction Snobbery Needs to Stop. Right now.

YA Fiction Snobbery Needs to Stop Blog Header
YA Fiction Snobbery Needs to Stop Blog Header

In spite of wild commercial success, it’s fair to say that YA fiction snobbery has lingered on the horizon for quite some time now. Sometimes it comes from the more literary circles, other times simply from trolls, which is what Beth @ Booksnest experienced recently.

Even Samantha Shannon, author of the highly successful Bone Season trilogy addressed the very-real topic of snobbery towards YA fiction only a few years ago.

Trumped perhaps only by so-called ‘chick lit’, YA is probably one of the more frowned upon genres of fiction, despite – or perhaps because of – an enormous readership and commercial success.

But why exactly is this?

Why YA Fiction Snobbery Exists

Ageism

There’s a bizarre shibboleth, expressed more often than not by our wizened peers, that certain hobbies or types of media are designed exclusively for a particular age range. 

Once you’ve passed the arbitrarily designated threshold, you’re no longer allowed to read said books, or play video games, or consume certain kinds of media that are deemed too ‘childish’ by the enlightened.

The inherent absurdity of this position is laid bare once you ask the accuser who they think creates these types of media. 

Are video games designed by a focus group of seven-year-olds? No, they’re designed by highly qualified developers and graphic designers, with soaring OSTs composed by actual, well, composers. 

Likewise, books for all ages are written (mostly) by adults passionate about their craft. It’s therefore time that we let go of this vacuous framing of overtly ‘children’s books’ vs ‘adult books’.

Here I must call upon our old friend CS Lewis, one of the fathers of fantasy and an author who, if writing today, would certainly be considered a YA author. 

Addressing the notion of perceived childishness, Lewis wrote this stinging rebuke:

“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence...

CS Lewis hates YA Fiction Snobbery
CS Lewis hates book snobbery. Totes. For reals.

...But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

This perception of being ‘grown up’ from those who engage in snobbery against YA fiction seems, to me, to be a vacuous one.

Literary Pretence

I’m not sure that this group is nearly quite as large as others make out, but it’s certainly a rather vocal sect. There is an element of snobbishness in self-proclaimed literary circles about genre fiction and, by extension, YA fiction.

Ruth Graham, for example – a correspondent for the New York Times – once wrote that adults who read YA fiction ought to ‘feel embarrassed’ for reading books ‘written for children’.

Fascinating.

The general cut-and-thrust of the article, which (to be fair) isn’t without some fair points, is that YA fiction is largely simplistic in comparison to more ‘adult’ books and that readers of YA are stunting their reading growth. 

However, I’m not sure that this is particularly solid ground. 

I’m no scholar of YA literature, and indeed I personally get a lot more enjoyment from classics and literary fiction, but to take The Hunger Games as just one popular example – it’s hardly a simplified, ‘childish’ novel. And I don’t just mean the murder. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy raises a wealth of moral, ethical, and social issues in a fairly mature manner.

It’s intellectually dishonest to claim YA fiction has no depth, in the same way that it would be absurd to claim that James Joyce’s writing is nonsensical drivel. Perhaps it appears to be so on the surface, but if you’re a half-decent reader, you’re presumably capable of reading between the proverbial lines.

Is it more beneficial to read different kinds of genres? Sure. Confining yourself to only certain kinds of writing limits your perspective – and you’re missing out on some really great literature.

But ultimately, we read for pleasure, right? And there’s a vibrant community of readers who derive an enormous amount of pleasure from YA fiction. 

Life’s too short to worry about what other people are, or aren’t, reading.

'Tropeyness'

Yes, YA fiction is quite tropey.

Whether it’s ‘the chosen one’, ‘enemies to lovers,’ or the dreaded love triangle – it’s not unfair to point out that YA fiction has its fair share of tropes. 

But here’s the thing – some people like these tropes. And quite a lot of people really like them. Goodreads has entire shelves dedicated to trope fiction because, ultimately, they’re comfort-reading for a certain type of reader.

YA fiction helps its readers navigate the often complex landscapes of identity and belonging – more so than other types of writing. And no matter the age of the reader, this is pretty important. After all, one doesn’t cease learning about one’s self purely by passing the vague threshold of adulthood.

And of course, it’s still reading. I’m not sure it’s anyone’s place to doubt or ridicule another’s preferences.

So, own your love of YA fiction and enjoy what you enjoy reading – you don’t owe anybody anything and it’s nobody else’s business.

Juvenility lies purely at the door of the accuser.

Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Edward Durham Book Review

Winterset Hollow Book Review Blog Banner

Winterset Hollow is a novel about a novel called Winterset Hollow.

Sound confusing? Don’t worry – it isn’t. 

Jonathan Edward Durham’s debut novel is, however, a fascinating blend of genres.

Dark fantasy meets metafiction, whilst whimsical children’s fiction meets slasher. The result of this rather outlandish experiment is a remarkable piece of fiction that sticks long in the memory.

Winterset Hollow
Overview

It’s Barley Day on Addington Isle – an isolated private island where reclusive author Edward Addington, the author once resided. Winterset Hollow, a popular in-text fictional novel, was once written by Addington and has since acquired a cult following.

Adored in particular by Eamon, our protagonist, and a plucky group of teenagers (as is customary), they plan a trip to the island to celebrate the novel, and commemorate its mercurial author.

But like all good horror tales, the euphoria of our emboldened cast of impressionable youths is short-lived, with things going south rapidly, and rather spectacularly.

Barley Day is, after all, a day of feasting, hunting, and extravagant celebrations. But this time, the anthropomorphised animals of Addington’s tale – Flaxwell Frog, Bing Bear, Finn Fox, and Runny Rabbit (amongst others) – are out for revenge, revolting against their own author, and its readership.

It’s as if Beatrix Potter’s merry cast of creatures developed a predilection for torture and violence. Disturbing, but admittedly a lot of fun.

A Horror Classic with Literary Merit

Despite its slasher elements, Winterset Hollow remains literary in its pretensions. It’s well written, explores metafictional ideas of authorhood, and challenges the morality & ethics of our own contemporary society.

The novel also utilises some fascinating meta-elements, not least by including a novel of the same name within the text. 

It’s clever, without being complex or gimmicky, and serves as a prism through which we, as readers, judge our own actions. The inversion of animals hunting humans being the most obvious social and ethical commentary.

Whereas the humans in the novel range from plot meat bags to endearing and relatable, Durham’s creature-characters are all a genuine thrill and the true highlight of the novel. 

Donny Darko Winterset Hollow Meme
The visual equivalent of reading Winterset Hollow

Lovingly detailed, Durham breathes genuine life into the full horror of Addington’s complex menagerie.

Consider the names Runny Rabbit and Bing Bear, for example. They conjure an image of a Saturday morning children’s cartoon; plush, friendly, and easy-going creatures. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth – these animals are cunning, gruesome, and violent.

And yet, they’re also extraordinarily charismatic, with motives that extend beyond a mere love of killing. Some, in fact, resent it entirely. Their behaviours, masochistic in practice, are underpinned by complex, albeit jilted, moral justifications.

This makes for a fascinating and thoughtful read.

Conclusion

Winterset Hollow is a truly unique novel. Blending the twee with the macabre, Durham has produced a delightfully dark fantasy that thrills.

The setting of Addington Manor is dripping with detail; it’s halls sinister and lonely. This level of rich detail is lightning in a bottle for any author, and Durham excels at it.

The characters are fantastic, for the most part, with Addington’s creatures shining the brightest. Eamon serves as a serviceable protagonist, whilst his companions aren’t quite so memorable. On the other hand, Finn Fox is a real standout. Creepy, unpredictable, and highly unnerving, he’s a persistent foil to the protagonists.

There are some minor pacing issues, mind. What begins as a slow burner, quickly pivots into an action frenzy and never really slows down. Revelations are made that perhaps deserved more time and consideration, but instead struggle to properly surface amidst the gluttony of action.

Some readers won’t mind this, however – especially because the novel is tremendously fun, and the writing remains of a very high quality.

A lot of love and attention has gone into Winterset Hollow, and it shows. It’s a fantastic debut effort, and I’d strongly encourage my readers to add this to their TBR lists – especially with it being available on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited programme.

4/5

Winterset Hollow is available at Amazon in both paperback and eBook.

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden Book Review

Mrs Death Misses Death Book Review Horizontal

Mrs Death Misses Death is the must-read book of 2021 and Tales from Absurdia’s Book of the Year. 

It’s a modern masterpiece that transcends form and genre. This is perhaps part of the reason that, despite having read Mrs Death Misses Death over 6 months ago, I’ve been mulling over the best way to review a book like this. Because this is, undoubtedly, a difficult book to review.

Salena Godden, a UK poet of great renown, wrote sections of her debut novel to music. This is especially apparent if you read the audiobook. At times, the narrative unfolds as prose. Other times, it manifests itself into Godden’s more familiar form of poetry. 

The tale of Mrs Death even transforms into a screenplay/radio drama of sorts for a brief period. There’s a fluidity to the writing that refuses to be pinned down and categorised by a mere review.

But don’t be mistaken – there is no pretense to Godden’s novel, nor is this an overly complicated book, requiring only ‘high brow’ tastes in order to read. This kind of exclusivity is what Mrs Death Misses Death rails against. 

Godden is merely inventive and explorative in the way that she imparts her tale. It’s clever, thrilling, and never gets in the way of the novel itself.

'Spoiler Alert: We all Die in the End'

Mrs Death Misses Death features two central characters. Wolf Willeford is the first; a poet and aspiring writer whose mother died in a fire when their block of flats went up in flames, echoing the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.

And then there’s Mrs Death herself. In spite of her name, she is not the wife of Death but death itself.

Wolf, author of the in-text Mrs Death Misses Death, transcribes the stories she imparts whilst reaping souls on her journey through history and time.

‘Mrs Death is the woman we hardly see, the woman we do not care to see. She is the person we ignore, she is the pause in the silence, she is the invisible woman. She is the refugee at the border. She is the cleaner. She is the backing singer we never bother to learn the name of.’

Salena Godden, Mrs Death Misses Death

But Mrs Death, a shape-shifter who reconfigures her appearance throughout the novel, is tired of reaping the departed. She’s saddened by the deaths in Syria, and the suicides of people gone long before their time.

This is a dark tale of violent imagery, crippling poverty, and sexual exploitation. The Tale of Tilly Tuppence is particularly emotionally challenging to read.

Ir’s also an essential book for the modern reader – Godden raises a mirror, forcing a confrontation between the reader and the injustices they’ve witnessed in life, and probably ignored.

The pronoun ‘we’ is used persistently throughout, thrusting culpability upon the reader, not dissimilar to the way Albert Camus’s Jean-Baptiste in The Fall scolds the reader for their hypocrisies.

It’s deeply personal, and deeply unsettling.

'Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living'

In spite if the unsettling content here, it’s worth mentioning that Mrs Death Misses Death is not a nihilistic book in the slightest.

After all, this is a novel penned by the writer of Pessimism is for Lightweights: 13 Pieces of Courage and Resistance.

“Mourn the dead, and fight like hell for the living”, Godden inscribes in the front of the cover, urging us to look forward and focus our energies on improving the lives of the living, rather than lamenting the dead. Because ultimately, this is as much a novel about life as it is death.

Mrs Death Misses Death is also hilarious, alarmingly so considering the subject matter. The introduction, punctuated with witticisms such as ‘Spoiler alert: we all die in the end’, is quite possibly my favourite passage in literature – let alone this year.

This wry, acerbic humour punctuates the entire book, reminding the reader that finding humour in adversity is one of the greatest emancipators of our species.

Conclusion

What makes Mrs Death Misses Death book of the year, outstanding name aside, is its poignancy.

The final pages of the novel are left entirely blank, reserved for the reader to write down the names and dates of loved ones passed on.

In the context of the time that this book was published, at the height of the COVID pandemic, this is a remarkable gesture and testament to the novel’s mature treatment of both life and death. 

Given the scale of loss we’ve suffered collectively as a species in recent years, this is particularly poignant. In pathos, Mrs Death Misses Death encourages us to celebrate life – and cherish the things we love. 

That’s a special kind of optimism we all need right now.

5/5

Mrs Death Misses Death is available at Bookshop.org in both paperback and hardback, or at Audible.co.uk for the audiobook.

T is for Time Travel Book Review

T is for Time Travel Stanlei Bellan Book Review

T is for Time Travel is a curious collection of short stories by Stanlei Bellan that spans the fullness of space and time.

Included are a colourful array of stories that range from the abstract to the profound. And for a book that stands at circa 120 pages, Bellan is able to extract a bevy of interesting time travel-related hijinks and present them in a concise manner.

It’s thought-provoking without being complex – its simplicity belies the genius contained within.

T is for Time Travel
Overview

I’m sometimes quite suspicious of time travel in fiction. Too often it creates unnecessary complexity, and in the worst cases, problematic plot holes.

So what’s fantastic about T for Time Travel is that it leans into, and even acknowledges some of these shortcomings in the genre with a dash of irony, whilst still providing some genuinely fascinating tales. 

It’s evident that T is for Time Travel was, no doubt, a lot of fun for the author to write. And that comes across to the reader. It’s playful, self-referential, and emotionally satisfying. whilst still not taking itself too seriously – and that makes for a great read.

Bellan experiments with changes in tense, metacommentary throughout, and direct address to the reader – mostly with great success, making T is for Time Travel intellectually stimulating, whilst also spinning a good yarn or two.

The Tales of T is for Time Travel
Rapid-Fire Review

Most of T is for Time Travel’s ten short stories are highly entertaining. 

The first, Another Time, was a little abstract. However, later entries are progressively more interesting and build a wider metanarrative not unlike Cloud Atlas, albeit on a far smaller scale.

Particular highlights include Time Cleaners, which was uncannily reminiscent of the Disney+ Loki series, Wishful Timing, and Tempus Pompeius.

Another Time ⭐⭐

Time to Light ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Time Cleaners ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Wild Times ⭐⭐⭐

Time for Everything ⭐⭐

Better Luck Next Time ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Only Time Will Tell ⭐⭐⭐

Wishful Timing ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tempus Pompeius ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Behind the Timestream ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Conclusion

T is for Time Travel is well worth your time (pun intended).

It’s smart, well written, and raises some genuinely fascinating time-related conundrums.

The inclusion of a crossword at the end, with clues littered throughout the text, was a particularly impressive (though unexpected) addition. 

Some may find this a little gimmicky; I think it’s a fun experimentation with structural form that encourages re-reading the book. It helps that the stories are, for the most part, well written and exciting to read.

If you’re remotely interested in time travel-related speculative fiction, then definitely give it a go. 

In any case, it’s only just over 120 pages – what have you got to lose?

4/5

T is for Time Travel is available at Amazon in paperback, hardback and eBook. 

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Winter in Tabriz Book Review

Winter in Tabriz Sheila Llewellyn Book Review

Set against the backdrop of the 1978/9 Iranian Revolution, Winter in Tabriz by Sheila Llewllyn is a truly remarkable novel. In fact, it’s a very strong contender for Tales from Absurdia’s 2021 Book of the Year.

Winter in Tabriz is passionate, packed with beautifully written prose, and possesses a gut-punching ennui that lasts for quite some time once the final page has been turned.

Here’s why.

Love and Longing in Tabriz

Winter in Tabriz is one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve read in years.

There’s an unassuming warmth to Llewllyn’s prose that could draw any reader in. It’s like being regaled by an old friend – capturing that trusted and earnest sincerity. Some writers just have that innate ability to transform ink on the page into tangible people and places, and Llewellyn is one of them. 

The four main characters; Damian, Anna, Arash, and Reza are real people with real lives. The reader is privy to their inner lives in a way not not too many writers are able to achieve. We get to know their hopes, fears, loves, anxieties, grief, and political alignments in a manner that gives Winter in Tabriz a strong identity.

You needn’t be familiar with the Iranian Revolution either – Damian and Anna aren’t either. Through their deepening relationships with the Iranian Poet Arash and his older, more streetwise brother Reza, the reader’s world expands in line with their readings of the unfolding political crisis.

The novel is told through an expertly crafted framed narrative – with Damian brooding over the previous few years, alone, in an isolated German village. 

Poring over his own diary entries from his time at university in Berkeley, Anna’s in Oxford, and their collective experiences in Iran, the story knits together in a smart, revelatory manner. It’s a phenomenally immersive way of writing.

How Winter in Tabriz Negotiatates the Complex Politics of Iran

For many years, Iran was run by the Shah – a secular monarchy that moved away from traditional Islamic rule, in favour of more seemingly Western values. It was, regardless, a regime that enforced censorship and brutal policing. 

However, during the 1970s a movement gained momentum to return to a more traditionally Islamic rule of law – with those loyal to the then-exiled Ayatollah Khomeini attempting to bring about enough civil unrest against the Shah, that Khomeini might return to the country and take power.

The subject is far more complex than this, with a huge amount of division between those who identified as Iranian, Persian, and Azerbaijani. But in essence, Iran was largely in two camps, those who remained loyal to the Shah and his allegedly secular politics, and those who wanted to see Iran become an Islamic Republic under Khomeini. 

(Incidentally, Against The Compass has a great list of books on Iranian politics, should you wish to read more about this.)

Anyway, Winter in Tabriz covers the events of the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of two westerner translators, Damian and Anna, who find themselves in Iran in 1978 at the boiling point of the revolution. Damian through love, and Anna on a journey of emotional exorcism following a death in the family.

Thankfully, the novel doesn’t exaggerate for the reader’s consumption – Winter in Tabriz is a novel about the everyday. Sometimes, it’s simply about how four people in lockdown amidst civil disorder are able to negotiate the conflict simply to acquire food and drink whilst people are rioting in the streets. 

But it’s more meaningful than this too. Llewellyn’s novel is cartographic in its construction. The streets of Tabriz are lovingly detailed, from the university to the bazaar – the city’s hub of cultural and economic exchange.

It’s a remarkable journey, and a highly educational one at that.

Conclusion

The amount of research that has gone into this novel – which Llewellyn reveals in the appendices – is simply staggering. Llewellyn even draws upon her own experiences as a Westerner abroad in Iran during this exact period. 

And it shows – this is a novel that is highly authentic. It rewards its reader with a rich understanding of the cultural politics of a nation. 

It is, in a single word, remarkable.

Seriously – do not sleep on this book. It’s fantastic.

5/5

Winter in Tabriz is published by Sceptre Books and is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback. 

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.