Stanfords Staff Selects

Our floor manager Lizzie has selected her favourite fiction from 2017 so far.

Red Dirt by E.M Reapy

Where it will take you: Australia

This is a difficult but very necessary read for anyone who has left home for pastures greener- or at least anyone who ever felt alone in a new world, disconnected from the brilliant, shiny new lives and experiences that everybody else seems to be having.

Told in three distinctive voices, it weaves a tale of desperation and loneliness as we watch these young immigrants attempt to create new beginnings in a country wholly different from the one they have left. As they struggle to leave behind destructive behaviour and the ghosts of failed relationships, it becomes clear that the past can’t always be forgotten- sometimes you must learn to carry it with you.

Despite all this, it is a strangely hopeful book as it reminded me that probably most people I know, immigrant or not, feel adrift and alone from time to time, and at a loss as to what to do next.

I think anyone who reads this would recognise at least one of the characters, whether in themselves or someone they know.

 

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada

Where it will take you: Berlin, Canada, Soviet Union

This is quite literally the memoirs of a polar bear, or really three generations of bears- a civil servant, a circus performer and an orphaned zoo inhabitant. The author borrows in part from the real story of the polar bear Knut who was born in the zoo in Berlin and rejected by his mother. His survival is possible only because he is in captivity, in the wild he would die instantly.
The writing and translation are stunning- the chapters regarding Tosca (Knut’s mother) are the strangest and most surreal- her trainer Barbara in the circus promises to tell Tosca’s story to the world, to write it down, but the lines between bear and human memory become blended and blurred and eventually Barbara confesses she has been too busy telling her own history. Tosca replies that it’s okay-”..translate your own story- then your soul will become tidy enough to make room for a bear”.
The book is really quite bizarre and odd- but in the most beautiful and thoughtful way. You will find yourself reaching for it long after it is finished, just to read ‘that one paragraph’ again!

Under the Sun by Lottie Moggach

Where it will take you: Southern Spain

Reading Moggach’s second book made me want to track down all her mates and see if any one them were cardboard cut-outs of her main characters- they are so familiar but yet nuanced that I am sure they are real life people. My heart went out to Anna, the main character in Under the Sun, almost immediately- even though it is she who decides to cut ties with her highly self involved boyfriend, she is completely devastated emotionally, and despite the responsibility of now running a bar she is utterly directionless and unmotivated in life. Stuck in a foreign country, broke, and bereft of any real familial or emotional support she wallows, quite successfully, until a series of quite bizarre events compel her to get up and start noticing life. The author’s description of the fictional Marea and its surroundings, right down to the enormous network of green houses that spoil the view of the idyllic ‘finca’, are so wonderfully realized that again, it’s hard to believe this is fiction. When I finished it I felt I had spent several days in Spain!

 

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Where it will take you: Japan, New York, The Desert (on this planet and beyond!)

I have sometimes wondered why, despite having explored less than 5% of the ocean floors on this planet (and an unquantifiable small percent of the world’s cave network) we spend so much time and energy and money on space exploration. But when I eventually finished this novel- I kept having to pause and re-read certain sentences just purely for pleasure- I realized that it is for the same reason that exploration first began here on Earth- we simply have to know what is out there. The main characters in this book are all searching for something that Earth cannot give them: a new untouched undiscovered place.

I won’t bother mentioning the plot- although a fascinating subject, and beautifully researched- this is not why you should read this book….it’s the writing itself. So here is something to whet your appetite: ”Every two hours Michael Collins had gone out of radio contact for 48 minutes when the moon stood between himself and earth, and during those minutes he was the most alone person in the history of people. Helen still liked to think about that. That had always been her dream: space, not a location within it, just space.”

 

Living the Dream by Lauren Berry

Where it will take you: London

This is a debut novel that has made me very much look forward to more from this author. A well rounded mix- plenty of laugh out loud moments but balances itself nicely with passages of real truth and tenderness, and is often about how the bonds of friendship are sometimes the only thing that can keep you afloat as you try to get by in the city. Perfect for anyone who comes to the big smoke looking for The Dream- or for those who have been there, done that!

 

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