First thoughts

Newly released this week

The Great Sea: A Human History Of The Mediterranean

David Abulafia

Allen Lane, £30

Review: David McLoughlin

IT is, perhaps, inevitable, that comparisons will be drawn between this book and Fernand Braudel’s epic volumes on the same subject as both are outstanding examples of the historians’ crafts.

But there the comparisons end. Taking full advantage of the mass of document and archaeological evidence that has surfaced since Braudel’s work was completed in 1949, David Abulafia has successfully challenged many of the aforementioned’s ideas and beliefs.

Central to this is Abulafia’s treatment of the individual in shaping the history of the “Great Sea” and his conclusion that Mediterranean coastal cities thrived because they freely allowed many different types of people, religions and political structures to exist in harmony within their fortified walls.

This book is one of the best works on this subject ever to be released.

The Registrar’s Manual For Detecting Forced Marriages

Sophie Hardach

Simon & Schuster, £12.99, Kindle £8.49.

Review: Natalie Bowen

JOURNALIST Sophie Hardach’s debut novel travels from Turkey to France, using more than a decade of political unrest and emotional turmoil as a backdrop to explore motivations behind marriages.

It opens with Selim, an asylum-seeking teenage Kurd who swims through a “stinking mass of digested pasta” to reach an Italian beach and from there safety of sorts in Germany in the late 1990s.

Interwoven is the account of a Parisian registrar, motivated to investigate a suspicious Kurdish ceremony 15 years later by her experiences with Selim.

Though well-conceived, Hardach’s tale switches awkwardly between first and third person narration, leaving the reader frustrated that Selim’s incomprehensible early experiences are described in detail, yet the registrar’s name is never revealed.

It hints and skirts around European politics, never directly addressing its many issues — love, ideology, self-expression, honour, obligation — and so encouraging reader research rather than drawing satisfactory conclusions.

White Death

Tobias Jones

Faber and Faber, £12.99 Kindle £7.99

Review: Dean Haigh

AUTHOR, journalist and sometime resident of Italy, Tobias Jones’s second crime novel sees the welcome return of his bee-keeping private detective Yuri Castagnetti.

The maverick, limping PI with a tragic past finds himself investigating the construction industry in an unnamed northern Italian city, after a series of arson attacks lead to the death of an innocent immigrant and are proved to be more than just mindless vandalism.

Scratching the surface of what seems like a small-scale swindle, he soon uncovers a profiteering racket involving political dignitaries — with far-reaching and murderous consequences.

Intelligently and economically composed, this novel offers further evidence that Jones is at the very forefront of contemporary crime fiction.


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