BOOK REVIEW: Transactions (Ali Alizadeh, UQP)

TransactionsAli Alizadeh’s critically acclaimed book of poetry Ashes in the Air was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards last year and I would be surprised if Transactions doesn’t receive similar attention, as it is a powerful work of prose fiction. Through a series of interconnected stories, Alizadeh has created a truly global and uncompromisingly frank narrative, spanning the Red Light District in Amsterdam; various war-torn countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan; an Iranian prison; and a British literary festival. His characters are often caught between East and West and dwell in the harsh fringes of a cultural collision. A Ukrainian sex worker, a spoilt Emirati teenager, an Iranian asylum seeker and a young woman seeking bloody retribution for her mother’s death—among others— are characters glimpsed and yet fully realised through Alizadeh’s poetic yet direct storytelling. Cruelty is spliced with humour, such as the story set in a Melbourne theatre company, in which hilariously terrible dialogue captures the power dynamics being played out to much greater effect elsewhere. The stories intersect in surprising ways: a character reads a book of poetry, later we meet the poet, and even later we find her new book shortlisted for a farcically judged literary prize. This is a challenging and surprising collection from a talented writer.

Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in the Issue 2 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

Top picks from our first mag of 2011

Bookseller+Publisher HQ is filled with the scent of fresh magazine once again, with the first issue of 2011 back from the printers and in the hands of subscribers around our fair land and beyond.

The March issue features books due for publication in March, April and May. Here are some of the books that found favour with our reviewers this time around:

The Sparrows of Edward Street (Elizabeth Stead, UQP, March)
‘Elizabeth Stead takes readers into the grinding world of a NSW housing commission camp for the homeless in the mid-20th century,’ writes reviewer Chris Harrington of Books in Print in Melbourne. The story follows the Sparrow family, fallen on hard times, and the efforts of the eldest daughter Aria, a ‘”bottom-of-the-ladder’ photographic model’, to pull them through. ‘The Sparrows of Edward Street is a wonderful novel about family relationships, about overcoming hardship and the strengths that people can gain by pulling together to beat the odds,’ Harrington writes.

The Book of Rachael (Leslie Cannold, Text, April)
The Book of Rachael tells the story of Jesus’ younger sister, who is ‘ambitious, passionate and unconstrained by her upbringing’, and who ‘falls in love with Judah of Iscariot, Joseph’s best friend and the man who will change their lives forever’. ‘Public commentator and nonfiction author Leslie Cannold had chosen an ambitious topic for her first foray into the world of fiction,’ writes reviewer Eloise Keating. She ‘extends this story in an expert manner, showing the reader the reality of the women in Jesus’ life through engaging and fast-paced prose’.

Little People (Jane Sullivan, Scribe, April)
This ‘quirky novel’ by literary journalist Jane Sullivan is ‘inspired by the real-life tour of a troupe of “little people” to Australia in1870,’ writes reviewer Paul Landymore. When Mary Ann rescues’charismatic entertainer’ General Tom Thumb from drowning in the Yarrariver, she is invited to join his troupe of travelling entertainersincluding ‘the beautiful and perfectly formed Lavinia; her restless and wilful sister Minnie; and rival for lead Commodore George WashingtonNutt’, who ‘inhabit a world of barely restrained, savage curiosity’.’This is a most enjoyable read,’ writes Landymore.

Ashes in the Air (Ali Alizadeh, UQP, March)
‘What do we want from a book of poetry?’ asks reviewer Angela Meyer. ‘We want each poem to paint a picture, to shake us up a little, and to ultimately reach down inside us and peel something back. Ali Alizadeh’s poems doall of these things.’ She continues: ‘Alizadeh explores his own internal conflict of straddling two worlds and never completely feeling hebelongs—in Iran or Australia, or in the places he has visited.’The collection is ‘personal (deeply so) but political, social,philosophical and definitely meaningful’ and ‘makes a perfect companionto Alizadeh’s wonderful biography/history Iran: My Grandfather (Transit Lounge).’

Mezza Italiana (Zoe Boccabella, ABC Books, April)
Brisbane-born Anglo-Italian Zoe Boccabella grew up in ‘Joh’s’ Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s’ where ‘Italian food and culture were openly derided’, soit wasn’t until Boccabella was in her 20s and travelling around Europethat she made an effort to connect with her Italian heritage, visitingher family’s home village of Fossa in the Abruzzo region. ‘What followsare wonderful descriptions of relatives and other villagers, thecountryside and the food—the Abruzzo produces more superb cooks than any other part of Italy,’ writes reviewer Chris Harrington. ‘This is abeautifully written memoir full of characters and places, which willappeal to the literary traveller, to people who already love Italy and to all those intending to visit.’

The March issue has our first Junior supplement for the year too.

If you want to know more about forthcoming titles, sign up for our fortnightly Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here.