Summer reads

9th August 2018

News, Alumni news

Packing your holiday reading? New publications by Wadham alumni promise to interest and entertain.  

'Hold' by Michael Donkor (English, 2003)

Moving between Ghana and London, Hold by Michael Donkor is an intimate coming-of-age novel. It’s a story of friendship and family, shame and forgiveness; of learning what we should cling to, and when we need to let go.

More about this book

Belinda knows how to follow the rules. As a housegirl, she has learnt the right way to polish water glasses, to wash and fold a hundred handkerchiefs, and to keep a tight lid on memories of the village she left behind when she came to Kumasi. Mary is still learning the rules. Eleven-years old and irrepressible, the young housegirl-in-training is the little sister Belinda never had. Amma has had enough of the rules. A straight-A pupil at her exclusive South-London school, she has always been the pride of her Ghanaian parents. Until now. Watching their once-confident teenager grow sullen and wayward, they decide that sensible Belinda might be just the shining example Amma needs.

So Belinda is summoned from Ghana to London, and must leave Mary to befriend a troubled girl who shows no desire for her friendship. She encounters a city as bewildering as it is thrilling, and tries to impose order on her unsettling new world. As the Brixton summer turns to Autumn, Belinda and Amma are surprised to discover the beginnings of an unexpected kinship. But when the cracks in their defences open up, the secrets they have both been holding tightly threaten to seep out.

In a Guardian review, Arifa Akbar writes: “A bold literary debut gives voice to a female section of Ghanaian society that is often seen but not heard.”

'Blue River and Red Earth' and the translation from Portuguese of 'Transparent City', Stephen Henighan (Spanish, 1992)

Blue River and Red Earth is a volume of 11 short stories covering a wide range of territory - from Toronto to Cuba to Eastern Europe and an array of characters and situations that can only be situated in the twenty-first century.

Blue River and Red Earth Transparent City

Moving from Russia and Romania to Paris, Central America, the Caribbean and southern Africa, these stories inhabit their characters and settings with the density of compressed novels. In what has been described as Stephen Henighan's finest book to date, life choices strain against the pressure of humanity, and place acquires the force of myth.

Transparent City (Biblioasis, 2018) by Ondjaki, is a blend of magical realism, scathing political satire, tender comedy, and literary experimentation.   

In a crumbling apartment block in the Angolan city of Luanda, families work, laugh, scheme, and get by. In the middle of it all is the melancholic Odonato, nostalgic for the country of his youth and searching for his lost son. As his hope drains away and as the city outside his doors changes beyond all recognition, Odo-nato’s flesh becomes transparent and his body increasingly weightless. Transparent City offers a gripping and joyful portrait of urban Africa quite unlike any before yet published in English, and places Ondjaki, indisputably, among the continent’s most accomplished writers.

Stephen Henighan is the author of five novels, three collections of short stories, and four books of essays. His work has been published in Ploughshares, The Globe and Mail, Geist Magazine, and The Walrus -- to name a few. He has translated novels into English from Portuguese and Romanian and is the General Editor, Biblioasis International Translation Series. He is currently a professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies at the University of Guelph.

'Man Overboard: New and Selected Poems' by Michael H. Levin (English, 1964)

Michael Levin’s poems are a captivating collection of dramatic slices of life netted over the course of decades. 

Man Overboard

Scholar and author James Herbert writes in his review: “In Man Overboard you’ll relive the mopped antiseptic floor of a grandfather’s assisted living facility and the harried white-shoe squeak of a son’s ER stay.  In these 29 mostly short poems you’ll also visit the Valley of the Kings. Laguna Beach, and a young Hitler shaving.  Most of all, Michael Levin’s fresh descriptors and flowing line will carry you to a moment — a moment of acknowledgement, different in each poem but similar in their power to strike sparks.” 

Michael H. Levin is a lawyer, solar energy developer and writer based in Washington DC and Menemsha MA.  His work has appeared in over 50 periodicals or anthologies, and has received numerous poetry and feature journalism awards.   His collection Watered Colors (Poetica) was named a Best Poetry Book for May 2014 by the Washington Independent Review of Books.

For more about Michael and his literary work, see

'Aesthetics, Values and Autobiography in the Works of Willa Cather and Marguerite Duras' by Erna Cooper (European Literature, 1995)

This comparative critical study of Willa Cather and Marguerite Duras reveals the blurring of fiction and autobiography in their works, focusing on their concerns for women, children and the socially marginalized. The study highlights issues of power and authority relevant to the study of feminism and women’s writing during and after the world wars.

Publisher information

Although separated by language and geography, Willa Cather and Marguerite Duras both explored the lives of women and children across the tumultuous twentieth century by drawing on their own experiences.

This monograph originated from a thesis by Erna Cooper when at Wadham in the 1990s. It has been completely revised with the French passages translated to English (alongside the original French) for an English-speaking readership. Erna’s portraits of the two authors, Willa Cather and Marguerite Duras, appear on the cover illustration.

Erna Cooper pursued her postgraduate studies in French and English literature at the University of Oxford, where she was nominated ‘proxime accessit’ for the Rex Warner Literary Prize at Wadham College. She has published short stories with Levure Littéraire, contributed to an encyclopaedia series on French–American relations, and written on Irish, English and French poetry as well as medical and trauma narratives for such publications as World Literature Today and Cultural Weekly. She has also produced theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, written and directed a short-subject film that debuted at Pathé Studios in Paris, and worked as a French-to-English translator for The Washington Post.

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