Mazel Tov

JS Margot

Pushkin Press, £12.99

In this memoir, JS Margot casts her thoughts back to 1987 when, as a student in Antwerp looking to supplement her income, she answered an ad from an Orthodox Jewish family looking for a tutor. It was a learning experience for both sides, not lease since Margot was an atheist from a Catholic background living with her Iranian boyfriend. As it turned out, they forged a bond that lasted long after the four Schneider children had fled the nest, but Margot was initially bewildered by the laws and customs of Orthodox Judaism and didn’t always realise when she was being insensitive. Getting to know the family threw up questions about segregation, assimilation and prejudice which she realised paralleled the attitudes faced by her Iranian partner. The Schneiders, meanwhile, had to assess whether this modern, cohabiting gentile woman would be a good influence on their children. It’s a heartwarming true-life account of wary people overcoming their preconceptions which doesn’t gloss over its author’s flaws.

Two Women In One

Nawal El Saadawi

Saqi, £8.99

At various times sacked, imprisoned and forced to leave Egypt for her views, the prolific author Nawal El Saadawi has fought for women’s rights in the Middle East for decades. Two Women in One is one of her most resonant novels. Originally published in 1985 and now reissued by Saqi, it tells the story of 18-year-old Bahiah Shaheen, who has become a medical student – not so that she can become a doctor but for the sake of her father’s prestige. Her whole life has been planned and pre-determined, and she seeks her identity in art, a pastime of which her father disapproves. An encounter with fellow student Saleem at an exhibition introduces her to political activism, making it necessary for her family to clamp down on her even more firmly. El Saadawi’s depiction of the threatening atmosphere generated by the patriarchy chills to the bone, and even after 35 years the novel has lost none of its claustrophobic horror or rebellious, poetic spirit.


Claudia Dey

Borough Press, £8.99

In 1985, after 16 years in “the territory”, Billie Jean Fontaine walks out of her home, leaving behind her husband, The Heavy, and their teenage daughter, Pony Darlene. Billie Jean was the first incomer to join, and is now the first to leave, this isolated community of 400 people in a remote part of North America, founded as a religious community decades earlier. And through three narrators – Pony Darlene, the handsome 18-year-old nicknamed Supernatural and, best of all, Billie Jean’s dog – Claudia Dey explores who she was before she arrived, what brought her there and why she decided to leave. It’s all about mothers, daughters and the secrets they keep in an insular culture given a sheen of normality by the presence of Billy Joel, Van Halen and trashy cable TV. Her fluid, non-chronological narrative has as much potential to infuriate as to beguile, but there’s no denying the imaginative power that brings this complex emotional landscape to vivid life.