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How a protest in Romania spawned a bestseller

Romania’s battle cry

How the biggest protest in Bucharest since the revolution spawned a bestseller. Plus, the Sri Lankan novel taking on the civil war

How the biggest protest in Bucharest since the revolution spawned a bestseller. Plus, the Sri Lankan novel taking on the civil war

June/July 2017

Family tree
A silva rerum – “forest of things” in Latin – was a family chronicle kept by the ancient noble families of Lithuania. For almost a decade, modern Lithuanians have been hooked on their own “Silva Rerum”, an epic four-volume saga following the fortunes of the fictional Norvaisos family through the 17th and 18th centuries. Lithuanians, whose general knowledge of their history tends to jump from the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania, then the largest country in Europe, to the Soviet era, have found that the intervening years were just as interesting: full of power politics and sex. Kristina Sabaliauskaite, its author, has received the national Order of Merit. With the final volume, one of the finest modern contributions to Lithuanian literature is complete.

Out of the shadows
In the eight years since Sri Lanka’s civil war, plenty of books have tried to tackle the conflict, but Shankari Chandran’s debut, “Song of the Sun God”, is being hailed as exceptional. Chandran is from the Tamil ethnic minority, and her tale of the discrimination and violence that affects three generations of a Tamil family is so sensitively written that even Sinhalese readers are praising its depiction of the war that also shaped their own families. Barely two months after its release, a second print run has been ordered and an Indian edition is coming soon.

Pity the children
Donald Trump was elected in part on a promise to remove undocumented migrants, but anyone in America who reads “Tell Me How It Ends” may find themselves questioning his position. This essay, well-reviewed already in Mexico under the title “Los Niños Perdidos” (“The Lost Children”), is based on the 40 questions put to migrant children at the federal immigration court in New York. Its Mexican author, Valeria Luiselli, worked there as a translator, where children’s answers determine whether they obtain legal representation or are deported. Her description of America’s brutal bureaucracy has hit home on both sides of the border.

Welcome to our country, eh
Canadians can be over-earnest, but the success of “This Is That”, a satirical travel guide to Canada, shows that they can certainly laugh at themselves. Instead of useful information on where to go and what to see, the book directs tourists to non-existent high-end boutiques in the wilderness and counsels them not to bring their own medicine because “ours is free”. Bob’s Lingerie and Skate-Sharpening shop in Sault Sainte Marie doesn’t exist, but surely deserves to. Among the many books celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday this year, “This Is That” has located and hit the Canadian funny bone (which according to the book is in northern Manitoba).

It really happened
Last winter, #rezist (I resist) was the battle cry that united 600,000 demonstrators across Romania, in protest at government attempts to decriminalise corruption. Their voices were heard, the contested legislation withdrawn, and a humble hashtag is now the title of the book of the moment: “#rezist” documents the biggest protest since the 1989 revolution as seen through the eyes of some of the country’s best journalists and photographers. Romanians have long been known more for their ability to endure hardship than for their activism. That image has now changed, in both the national and the global imagination.

The joy of text
First published under communism in 1976, “Sztuka Kochania” (The Art of Loving) is a guide to a fulfilling sex life, spanning anatomy, technique and family planning. In overwhelmingly Catholic Poland, its starting-point was that women should enjoy sex, rather than treat it as another household chore. It sold 7m copies (in a country of 35m). Now a new edition, published to coincide with the release of a film about its author, Michalina Wislocka, a pioneering gynaecologist, has surged straight back onto the bestsellers list. In the midst of fierce debate over women’s reproductive rights after government efforts to restrict access to certain fertility treatments, contraceptives and abortion, Dr Wislocka’s joyful book has been embraced like a familiar and much-missed lover.

 

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