Lead book review

Russia’s dumping ground

Almost as soon as Siberia was first colonised by Cossack conquistadors in the 17th century, it became a place of banishment and punishment. As early as the 1690s the Russian state began to use Siberia as a dumping ground for its criminals, as though its vastness could quarantine evil. Katorga — from the Greek word

More from Books

Riding high

How’s this for a heartwarming set-up­­? Forty-something recovering alcoholic and aspiring artist Ginger copes with the disappointment of being unable to have children of her own by signing up to an organisation that sends underprivileged inner-city kids to the homes of middle-class couples in the countryside. When she is introduced to 11-year-old Dominican girl Velvet,

Something new out of Africa

In a Johannesburg mall, a listless and lonely IT worker chats with his dad about the bitter fruits of upward mobility in South Africa. ‘Do you remember when you scored 139 for that IQ test?’ Pa asks, in Masande Ntshanga’s story ‘Space II’. ‘I thought it meant my life would be different, I tell him,

In the steppes of the Golden Horde

When I first visited the complex of Buddhist cave grottoes, dating from the fifth to the 14th century, at Bezekilk in Xinjiang province, China, I was struck by the destruction wreaked on them by Muslims whose religion proscribes figurative images of human beings. Eyes had been gouged out and figures lacerated with knives. When and

Death in Greenwich

With the current political saga running in our heads, trumping all other stories, it has been hard to concentrate on the bedside book over the last few weeks. When, in this true Victorian murder mystery, I came to the sentence, ‘Ebeneezer Pook, however, had no intention of succumbing to the crowd’s pressure’, all I could

Stiffen the sinews

It’s not unreasonable to expect that the anatomy syllabus for a medical degree should include breasts. Last year I performed full-body dissection as part of my training to become a doctor. After timid first incisions to the arm, we students were entrusted with opening the chest cavity. Two obstacles blocked the way. I looked in

Pitch perfect | 21 July 2016

One day, many seasons ago, Jon Hotten was on the field when a bowler took all ten wickets. In his memories, the afternoon has the quality of a dream. The ground was deep in the countryside, surrounded by trees. The boundary line was erratic and the sightscreens weathered. The match was won beneath a ‘perfect

The great sulker

Ted ‘Grocer’ Heath, as he will always be for me, was chosen by his fellow MPs to be their leader in 1965 as the Tory answer to Harold Wilson. After two Old Etonian patricians, Macmillan and Douglas-Home, the Grocer was a grammar-school boy, a meritocrat who would spearhead a new-look, classless Conservative party. He was