Yr Adolygiadau

Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Adolygwyd gan Efa Bowen (Ysgol y Preseli)

Captivatingly strange and escalating from ordinary everyday situations to horrific violence, Adjei-Brenyah’s startling debut will confound and terrorise all who read it.

Capitalism, racism and complacency in a world that is careering off the edge of an impossibly high cliff are all touched upon in the collection of twelve short stories. ‘The Finkelstein 5’, the very first story in the collections, is immediately gripping. Touching on racial prejudices still rampant today, Emmanuel’s first decision every morning ‘regards his Blackness’ and whether or not to tone it down or amplify it, depending on how he wishes others to react. I found the main character’s self-awareness poignant because even from a third-person perspective, his emotions are frighteningly contagious.

‘Friday Black’, the story after which the collection is named, not only details the horrific consumerism culture most evident on Black Friday but also the extensive racism still prevalent in modern times.

Adjei-Brenyah emphasises that underlying problems remain central to modern society. From her writing, it’s clear that those unmarginalized and unaffected are too content in their untroubled lives, inadvertently fuelling the inequality and prejudice that permeate humanity.

As a global citizen, it shames me that we continue to be apathetic towards these atrocities.


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Trinity – Louisa Hall
Adolygwyd gan Dawn Thomson (936074)

Vast in scope and yet intimate in the personal stories it combines, this novel succeeds at both macrocosmic and microcosmic levels. The narrative explores the multi-faceted life of physicist and father of the atom bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, through the viewpoints and testimonies of seven fictional characters.

Multiple viewpoint novels can be challenging. As a reader, one invests in each character but has to end the ‘relationship’ and move on – seven times in the case of Trinity. However, Hall handles this with mastery. The differing viewpoints allow us a range of intriguing glimpses into the complex and shape-shifting mind of Oppenheimer. She maintains reader interest across character switches with memorable scenes, sensory details and beguiling cameos; exploring inner lives and human foibles. Evocation of time, place and character is potent, convincing and underpinned skilfully with vivid specificity. Throughout the narrative, information, whether scientific, political or historical, is introduced naturally. This makes the text engaging and accessible despite exploring weighty and complicated issues.

Historical, yet relevant in our turbulent times, this book will connect with those feeling a sense of vulnerability to the possible fallout from questionable decisions made by those in power.


Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Adolygwyd gan Caitlin Grigg-Williams (Coleg Gŵyr)

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black is a fancifully inventive, twisted and dark portrayal of America. The collection of parallel universes delves into the exasperations of the characters, leaving us to question humanity through our own ambivalent views on each character. The opening story, 'The Finkelstein 5' dynamically conveys the struggles of a vilified character trying to vindicate the murders of innocent African American children whose murderer was acquitted. It boldly makes us question and criticise modern America’s tackling of school shootings and racial injustice. Adjei-Brenyah’s use of voice, also seen across all of his short stories in ‘Friday Black’, cleverly manufacturers the reader’s mind to feel a sense of visceral discomfort; sending chills down our spine upon realisation of how common race-related violence seems to Emmanuel.

An equally captivating short story of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is ‘Friday Black’. Though it’s hard to choose a favourite of the stories, this magical realist world personally captivated me. It humorously explores the American mall-culture through the event of Black Friday at the centre of the chaos of a stampede of tumultuous and frenzied shoppers. Though unrealistic in the fact the “big guy” refers finding a food court that “doesn't have a corpse on it”, this hyperbolic representation of Black Friday can relate, to a certain degree, to those, like myself, who work in retail stores, who watch shoppers rabidly search for their perfect purchase whilst we try to understand and help amongst the chaos. The small moments of reality that peak out during this short story are particularly effective in enthralling you.

Despite at times creating hard-to-follow twists and turns, with every new story contemplating numerous paths regarding humanity, it nevertheless will take every reader on mind-bending adventures that keep them guessing what will happen next. You’ll be wanting to turn the page and read ‘just one more story’. Trust me.


House of Stone – Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
Adolygwyd gan Rhianna Rees (Ysgol Gyfun Penyrheol)

House of Stone is a captivating tale and an entire year’s worth of history lesson, all rolled into one harrowing book – and it is fantastic! An extremely moving book, the horrifying events are told with an extraordinary amount of humanity, understanding and skill, all of which keeps the reader spellbound and on the edge of their seat.

Everyone in this story has been tarnished in some way, especially so for the three main characters: Abed and Agnes by their attempts at survival during the bloodshed of Zimbabwe’s rise to independence and Zamani by his self-serving nature and addiction to the idea of having a sense of normalcy, no matter the cost.

As Zamani worms his way into the family he is lodging with, despite the very recent loss of their only son, he uncovers their past to make it his own. The traumatic and tormenting events are revealed only by Zamani’s manipulations, using anything at his disposal to make his life as comfortable as possible. He abuses the control he has over the mourning parents, as well as the dark secrets revealed unto him, to keep himself situated comfortably within the family, spitting down on anything that stands in his way.

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma has an incredible way with words, keeping the story lively, effortlessly reaching at the reader’s heart, easily eliciting any emotion. With the history of Zimbabwe breathing within the words, she conjures the world as it was, filled with heartache, terror and trauma. And yet, no matter how devastating events become, you simply cannot put the book down. This is the book’s greatest asset: the suffering is so very, sinfully attractive and the characters are so perfectly damaged, and that is all down to the expert craftsmanship. It will stay with you.


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In Our Mad And Furious City – Guy Gunaratne
Adolygwyd gan Janet Davies (919515)

London bring its madness and fury to Guy Gunaratne’s debut novel. “The black younger had stopped solider-boy and struck him down with a cleaver.” It narrates the 48 hours following the murder of an off duty solider by a religious fanatic, echoing the 2013 killing of Lee Rigby. Gunaratna characters are imperfect beings, evoking both sympathy and criticism. “This city taints its young.” Three young friends, second generation immigrants, football and rap music their common bond are supported by two older cast members with their experiences of other troubled times. Yusuf, of Pakistani origin, with no interest in Islam finds himself the recruitment  target  of  local  extremists. Selvon, strives to emulate the success of his Caribbean “bruvs” on the football field while Ardan composes rap lyrics from his tower block flat. Arden’s mother, Caroline, swabs her wounds, left from her upbringing during the Northern Ireland troubles, with alcohol. Wheelchair bound Nelson, of the Windrush generation, has his story of the civil rights struggle told in flashbacks.

The reader is lead along their streets and into their lives accompanied by a bruising soundtrack of grime music. That scorching June results in an inevitable bonfire that is underscored by a more familiar coming of age story.


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Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Adolygwyd gan John Baddeley (903187)

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s writing reminds me greatly of the work of George Saunders. Elements of the surreal but firmly grounded still in the real world of a divided America. Rich and Poor. Left and Right. Black and White. The similarities do not end at subject matter, but extend to form choice too. They are short-story writers. But why forcibly choose to limit yourself and your commentary to such a restrictive form of writing?

Well, in this collection, I see no such limitations. Friday Black is enormous. Not literally, but its themes are contemporary, raw and they feel substantial. Consumerist culture is critiqued through shoppers willing to kill for the latest Parka. Institutionalised racism is disturbingly shown through a theme-park. Many more themes are as frankly confronted and throughout all stories Adjei-Brenyah’s command of prose remains exquisite and honest.

The way Adjei-Brenyah has utilised the short-story is unrestrictive, creating a collection that brilliantly reflects our reality. He holds the mirror up to nature, but it’s a house of mirrors that comes back bizarre, twisted, yet still undeniably real.

Reading Friday Black was a genuine treat, Adjei-Brenyah’s prose jumps straight out of an America rocked by opposition, with startling accuracy.


Melmoth – Sarah Perry
Adolygwyd gan Cara Davies (Coleg Gŵyr)

Follow the flawed protagonist Helen Franklin on her emotional journey into forgiving herself for the unforgivable. In her self prompted exile in the eerie setting of glacial, disdainful Prague, she comes across unnerving testimonies depicting countless encounters with the formidable Melmoth who is “as strange as a nightmare and as familiar as a home” who seeks out the guilt ridden and coerces them to make a choice: live with their wrongdoing, or be led into her own damnation – one which is worse than what can be read in Dante’s Inferno – and be free of the conflicts on the earth in which they’ve done wrong. Infected with her own guilt, Helen becomes sceptical yet plagued with the inkling that she herself is being shadowed by one who has seen the blackest points of history - a similar theme explored in her previous novel, the Essex Serpent. Perry portrays calamitous events – from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia to the fiery persecutions under Mary Tudor’s aggressive counter reformation – in a manner which makes one wonder: how did we relinquish into such adverse times? And how can we prevent them happening in the future?

The novel is filled with grotesque descriptions and haunting imagery which leaves an impression of uneasiness but still beautifully portrays the gothic city of Prague as a place of refuge for the troubled Helen who fights to keep up her fantasy world in which she resides to combat the aftermath of her actions. The setting portrays the darkness and the glory of human civilization through the graphic descriptions of the sublime Vltava and National Theatre in which key events of the book take place juxtaposed by the eerie backdrop which is shown in the document describing the Nazi occupation which previously haunted the city. The phantom narrative voice vividly describes these elements through use of commanding pronouncements and a unique focus on the autochthon jackdaws which present a recurring motif of darkness and bad fortune.

At first glance, the tragic main character, Helen is despondent and brings a sullen atmosphere to a tolerable situation which doesn’t evoke much commiseration from the reader. However, as the plot unfolds and her past circumstances are revealed which causes her overwhelming guilt and frequent dejected mood, the character becomes much more sympathetic to the audience. This is contrasted by the spirited minor character Albína who adds enjoyment and a comical element to the otherwise drear and melancholy coterie in which the book follows. All characters are flawed but evoke consolation through their lifelike repentance and are easily relatable by Perry’s realistic goals and tendencies the characters follow.

As the past reveals itself and Melmoth comes closer it makes the reader wonder: is redemption possible? And do these characters deserve their dark fate?


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Folk – Zoe Gilbert
Adolygwyd gan Polly Manning (900211)

Somewhere between a short story collection and fragmentary novel, Zoe Gilbert’s Folk opens with a map illustration of Neverness – the fictional island village which Gilbert proceeds to people with tales of folklore and magic. But don’t be fooled into thinking this collection of stories is whimsical. With a sensual appreciation of nature, and borrowing from the folk history of the Isle of Man, Gilbert crafts stories which feel simultaneously age-old and modern. The opening ‘Prick Song’, a rhythmic narrative which luxuriates in the eroticism of pain and blood, serves as a shrewd portrayal of sexual politics. ‘Fishskin, Hareskin’ offers up the near-supernatural experience of childbearing as a critique of the patriarchal household, and the tragic ‘Sticks Are for Fire’ bitingly demonstrates the easy slippage into prejudiced thinking. Gilbert’s clean-cut prose allows the poetic beauty of her stories to shine through, whilst never becoming flowery. Certainly, the brilliance of Folk is its refusal of pure escapism

– Neverness is as much a hierarchical and impoverished society as our own. In writing a world afresh through a fantasy lens, Gilbert exposes its taboos, inconsistencies, and pitfalls with a folkish flare that renders them darker - and all the more reflective of our own.


Trinity by Louisa Hall
Adolygwyd gan Megan Phillips (Coleg Gŵyr)

As powerful as the atomic bomb around which the novel centers, Trinity is an extraordinary explosion of truth and lies swirling around one man, entangled and interwoven with the orbits of other people whom he happens to fly past. With seven fictional witnesses testifying their connections to the father of the atomic bomb and unveiling his historical yet controversial life, Trinity tracks Robert Oppenheimer’s every move as he experiences the rise and the fall of his creation. Hall’s seamless blend of fact and fiction keeps the attention focused on the man of the century, while venturing off into the lives of these seven people whom he closely or distantly affected.

The novel begins as we follow Oppenheimer through the eyes, or more specifically the camera lens, of a Secret Service agent tasked with shadowing him during the war. Fast- forward a testimony and we now see ‘Oppie’ from the perspective of a young woman involved with one of his colleagues in Los Alamos. One recount later, we meet an old friend with whom ‘Opje’ shares an evening in Paris, reminiscing their young lives together before he flies to back to the States. A faithful and loyal secretary; a person he met on the island of St. John; a student and finally an interviewer all help piece together the events of his life during the fallout of his weapon, while their own lives explode around them.

With seven different narrative perspectives each as full and captivating as the other, and not a single one from Oppenheimer himself, we are forced to judge this man from the eyes of others, while their own thoughts and opinions encircle ours. We discover only what these people think they know about the mysterious man, and while at first difficult to adjust to the sudden new characters every time the perspective changed, it provided a refreshing and intriguing twist to the plot; one which Hall executes impeccably to add to the growing fascination surrounding Oppenheimer.

What is clear from all seven is that this is the story of a manic genius, caught between the ethics and morals of what he has done. When he desperately tries to atone for his actions, the tide of public opinion hauls him onto a pedestal where he is praised as a hero in one moment, then flagellated as a murderer in the next. A gripping portrayal of a man full of contradictions, once suffocated by the pressures he placed on himself when he was young and now facing the consequences in a world he divided. From passionately defending his work to campaigning against its use, Oppenheimer is trapped in the orbit of his bomb, sailing high into the heavens in an attempt to seek redemption before plummeting in fiery condemnation, scattering the lives of people near and far. With each turn Oppenheimer takes, Hall has us guessing who he might meet around the corner, anxious to see what the obsessive mind of a haunted man may do next.

The novel makes us question the way in which we perceive others, and in turn ourselves, as we ask how confidently we can truly know someone while hiding from the truth in our own lives. A thought-provoking and cleverly ambiguous tail of trust, destruction, paranoia and hope, Louisa Hall effortlessly captures the uncertainty and precariousness of a world and a man trying to salvage the wreckage they left behind.