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Mini Reviews: Back to Back, Sex and the Citadel and The Hunger Angel

Back to Back Translated from the German by Anthea Bell

Back to Back by Julia Franck

Five words from the blurb: Jewish, Berlin, political, loneliness, dreams

Back to Back is a quiet, reflective novel set in East Berlin during the 1960s. It is beautifully written with some evocative scenes showing the trauma inflicted on children who are ignored by their parents. These issues are mirrored in the problems faced by the population as a whole; people who are trapped behind the Berlin wall.

Unfortunately it was too slow for me and the book was so bleak that I failed to bond with any of the characters. There were a few wonderful scenes, but the narrative was disjointed and failed to engage me. If you enjoy books for poetic writing alone then you’ll love this one.


Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World

Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki

Five words from the blurb: intimate, life, Arab, social, relations

Two weeks ago the Guardian First Book Award shortlist was announced and Sex and the Citadel was the only one I hadn’t tried. Intrigued by the title (and the quality of the other books on the list) I decided to order a copy from the library.

Shereen El Feki was born in England to a Muslim father and Christian mother. She moved to Canada in childhood, but spent her holidays in Egypt. Her understanding of both Eastern and Western culture gives her a special insight into the differences between the two. In this book she speaks to Egyptian people about their sexual lives. She uncovers changing attitudes and examines the way these reflect the politics and economic policies of the modern day.

I loved the introduction to this book! It was funny and warm and gave me a fantastic insight into the differences between Egyptian culture and my own. Unfortunately the rest of the book wasn’t as entertaining. It was a fantastic piece of research, but the facts and figures bored me after a few while. I was already familiar with most of the history/politics and sadly the information on rape, marriage & homosexuality didn’t surprise me. If you are interested in social history then you’ll probably love it, but I’m afraid the broad overview was enough for me.


The Hunger Angel Translated from the German by Philip Boehm

The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller

Five words from the blurb: Russia, hunger, bleak, camp, life

The Hunger Angel is set in 1945 and focuses on Leo, a man forced to work in a Russian labour camp shovelling coal. He is starving and suffering immense pain, but he keeps himself alive by thinking about his grandmother’s positive words.

This book was beautifully written, but unrelentingly bleak. There was a distance to the writing that meant I failed to bond to Leo and this meant the descriptions of his suffering had no impact on me. I’m sad to say that I became bored. I longed for a narrative drive or some lighter sections to break up the unrelenting darkness of it all. It is important to know about what went on, but I’m afraid I found it too depressing. 



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