Boyd Tonkin

Fine silks and fiery curries

Genial, erudite and companionable over most of its 760 pages, this stout Georgian brick of a neighbourhood history at length flings itself in fury through a toff’s window. Much of Dan Cruickshank’s book has shown with learned charm how, in its tangle of ancient streets just east of the City of London, Spitalfields has always

Gale-force lyricism

Centuries before their footballers learned giant-slaying ways, Icelanders knew how to startle the world with tall stories. In the moonscape that birthed Sagas and Eddas, little grew but epic tales. When this novel’s protagonist, the troubled poet-turned-publisher Ari, announces in an interview that he has given up authorship, his aunt Elin sends him a heartbroken

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,

Where should this music be?

This must rank as the most heartbreaking example of premature chicken-counting in musical history. ‘Gotter has made a marvellous free adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest,’ wrote poet Gottfried Bürger to the translator A.W. Schlegel on 31 October 1791. ‘Mozart is composing the piece.’ Three days later, brimming with misplaced confidence, the dramatist Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter

Nostalgia and nihilism

‘Gilded doorknobs,’ spits a Party diehard as she contemplates the blessings of the Soviet Union’s collapse. ‘Is this freedom?’ Dozens of witnesses from the ‘lost generation’ in Russia who had ‘a communist upbringing and a capitalist life’ share Elena S’s disgust and bewilderment as they contribute to this epic fresco of an empire’s bitter aftermath.