Five Books You Need To Read This Month: April

Easter has come and gone for another year. Hopefully you’ve all eaten your fill of chocolate and hot cross buns. Now it’s time to gorge yourself on some new books, and April is proving to be a fantastic month for great new reads. There’s plenty to choose from this month, but here are the five titles we think you can’t go without this month!

This month has a little bit of a political feel with a few of the works on offer having plenty to say on some important subjects. On this list this month there are two debuts from American writers, the much anticipated return of one of Australia’s finest young poets and a new novel from an award-winning and bestselling author.

As always you’ll find the majority of these books in all the usual places, both online and IRL. Once again I heartily recommend getting down and supporting your local independent bookshop; they’re generally staffed by people who are all to happy to deplete your bank balances in the name of literature.

Anyway without further ado, here are this month’s five titles….

Millefiori – Omar Musa

Millefiori is the much-anticipated new collection from award-winning poet, author and performer Omar Musa. The collection is Musa’s third collection of poetry, and his first since 2013’s Parang. Nestled side-by-side in this collection is new and un-seen work, and the occasional old favourite not previously committed to print. Like, for example, ‘Capital Letters’, a poem which Musa performed back in 2013 at a TedX event in Sydney, now four years later it forms the corner stone of this new collection. Contained within the collection are scans of Musa’s notebook pages, giving readers a glimpse at sketches and drafts, and offering a great insight into the mind and process of the poet.

Millefiori is billed as a collection of love poems and fierce raps, as being both dream-like and gritty. It captures perfectly the dichotomous nature of our world and the poet. Musa is a poet who can write with such exquisite tenderness, but he is also a poet unafraid to speak truth to power – and speak it fiercely. As such Millefiori is at times ‘political’, touching on themes of identity, race and Australian-ness. But that is not all it is. Sat alongside these politically charged poems are ones of love, of romance, of midnight swims and of heartbreak – because after all all good things must eventually come to an end.

Unfortunately I have only had a chance to briefly dip and out of the collection so far, but of those poems I have read the quality is unmistakable. Millefiori, then in short, is a wonderful new collection from one of Australia’s finest young poets.

Millefiori is self-published and is available now from Musa’s web store. If you’re quick you might also be able to find a copy at Better Read Books in Sydney.

American War – Omar El Akkad

American War is the “audacious” debut novel from award-winning journalist Omar El Akkad. In his journalistic career El Akkad has delivered dispatches from the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, from the military trials at Guantanamo Bay, from the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt and from Black Lives Matter rallies in Ferguson. Now with his new novel American War, El Akkad has crafted a truly post-apocalyptic vision of America in the not-so-distant future.

American War is set approximately sixty-ish years in the future, during the second American Civil War. Readers see the war unfold through the eyes of one particular family, the Chestnuts – caught in the middle of the war, buffeted by forces beyond their control. The novel examines how we are shaped by particular times, events and the world around us – and seems to ask of the reader “what would you do?”.

You’ll likely find American War nestled amongst the Science Fiction and Fantasy titles in a bookstore, but it’s not too hard to imagine fantasy turning to reality if some of the current trends continue. The novel has been described as a “warning shot across of the bow of America”, and certainly the novel is channeling some of the America’s many and current anxieties. It is a timely read, and perhaps too a timely warning, but as is so often the case El Akkad did not plan it as such – he started writing the novel 3 years ago, and intended it to in part show the universal desire for revenge. However, ultimately the novel arrives at the time when readers are, in the wake of Trump’s election and Brexit, flocking to dystopian tales – so it should do well.

American War is available now through Pan Macmillan Australia

House of Names – Colm Tóibín

It’s another month, and another contemporary retelling of a classic story. House of Names is the new book from award-winning and bestselling author Colm Tóibín. House of Names is an ambitious and violent retelling of the story of Clytemnestra – wife of Agamemnon and Queen of Mycenae – and her children. As you’d expect from a tale plucked from Greek history – it’s a story packed full of lust, betrayal, violence and murder.

In House of Names Tóibín brings a modern sensibility and language to the classic tale and in the process breathes new life into the character of Clytemnestra – one of Greek mythology’s great villains. In many ways House of Names is a bit of a family saga, albeit one of a truly dysfunctional family. Daughters get sacrificed by fathers, husbands get murdered by wives, and [Spoiler Alert] mothers get murdered by sons. The story told in four parts, sees Tóibín brilliantly inhabiting the minds of Clytemnestra and her children, and in doing so exploring and revealing their motivations for revenge and murder.

Tóibín is renowned for the quality of his prose, and looking at some of the early reviews of House of Names, it appears to be business as usual with Tóibín earning praise for the quality of his prose and his depiction of the central character of Clytemnestra. House of Names reveals the true human machinations at play in the classic myth.

House of Names is released April 26th through Pan MacMillan Australia

The Accusation – Bandi

Events at the weekend have thrust North Korea back into the international spotlight, and with plenty of sabre-rattling talk, this next pick may prove to be something of a timely read. The Accusation is a collection of stories from the North Korean dissident writer Bandi. Written back in 1989, and smuggled out of North Korea, the stories detail life under the regime of Kim Il-Sung.

The Accusation provides a unique and brief window into the most highly secretive of counties, and gives a voice to the often unheard ordinary men and women of North Korea as they attempt to navigate the complexities and absurdities of life within the communist country. There are stories of men and women attempting to reconcile loyalty to the party, with loyalty to friends and family. There are stories of hardship, of families enduring famine, and stories which expose the theatricality of life within the regime.

The Accusation has been described as a heartbreaking portrayal of the realities of life in North Korea. Of course, whilst North Korea continues to wall itself off from the rest of the world, the veracity of these stories remain to be seen, but for now they offer readers the briefest of glimpses through the curtain of secrecy, and show that life exists beyond the propaganda espoused by both sides.

The Accusation is available now through Allen and Unwin

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace – Patty Yumi Cottrell

Sorry To Disrupt The Peace is the debut novel from L.A. based writer Patty Yumi Cottrell. The novel follows the story of Helen Moran, a thirty-two single woman living in New York, as she returns home to Milwaukee to navigate the sudden death of her adoptive brother. As you’d perhaps expect a journey of discovery follows.

The novel is at times poignant, unsettling and funny – the latter is perhaps most surprising when you consider the novel is in part a rumination on why someone might choose to take their own life. As such there is a philosophical aspect to the novel, but judging from early reviews, it is anything but dry, with critics and fellow writers praising Cottrell’s witty prose and ability to present a wry and darkling compelling story. Though perhaps my favourite piece of critical praise for the novel comes from Danielle Dutton who described the novel as “surprisingly beautiful, and ultimately sad as fuck”. In Sorry To Disrupt The Peace, then, Cottrell appears to have successfully captured the absurd and contradictory nature of life.

Sorry To Disrupt The Peace is available now through Text Publishing