Amin Maalouf

World Editions, £12.99

Once, people tended to believe they were transient beings passing through an immutable world. Maalouf, however, sees the world crumbling around him and a turbulent, unpredictable future beckoning. This isn’t an uncommon view, but it’s fascinating to see it presented from an Arab-centric perspective. Maalouf argues that the collapse of progressive society is directly related to events in the Middle East which, interacting with Cold War politics and a conservative resurgence, led to increased inequality, surveillance culture and the failure of the USA and Europe to provide leadership. Born in Lebanon, he mourns the passing of its diverse population’s peaceful co-existence and regards it, along with mid-century Cairo’s liberal and cosmopolitan culture, as an example which could be followed were we not “hurtling” in the opposite direction. An unavoidably personal and sometimes contentious account, it’s born of a post-War liberal worldview which has been unfashionable for some time but still holds much of value.


Abdulrazak Gurnah

Bloomsbury, £13.99

Zanzibar-born Gurnah follows up 2017’s Gravel Heart with an equally accomplished novel set in the early 1900s in what is now Tanzania, but was then under German control, and where the European powers mercilessly put down revolts and used Africans to fight their wars for them. Frustrated clerk Khalifa, whose father was Indian, is part of the Gujarati community in a coastal town far from the conflict. But his life doesn’t remain untouched by it, as WWI veteran Hamza comes to town looking for work and meets Khalifa’s ward, the 19-year-old Afiya. Gurnah assembles his cast slowly, taking the time to develop each of his main characters before throwing them together, in a vibrant and vivid novel which shows human beings in all their generosity and greed, pettiness and nobility, so that even minor characters seem capable of carrying entire novels all by themselves.

Lake of Urine

Guillermo Stitch

Sagging Meniscus, £12.99

Stitch’s absurdist comedy takes place in a timeless neverland which somewhat resembles the rural 19th Century, albeit equipped with mobile phones, Facebook and underwater cameras. Although it’s kicked off by the gormless Willem Seiler’s attempts to measure the depth of a lake using Emma Wakeling’s daughters, Naranbole and Urine, the bulk of the story chronicles Emma’s comically dysfunctional upbringing in Tiny Village and her many strange husbands. There isn’t a character here who doesn’t display some weird eccentricity, including Naranbole, who escapes to the city intending to reshape a powerful corporation into the world’s first Gothic conglomerate. Stitch has such a talent for world-building that he can’t resist loitering in various corners of his creation, slowing the pace down at times, but he peppers the text with an abundance of funny, bizarre, imaginative touches