The God Delusion

I was an agnostic before I read this book. My logic went a little something like this. Although I didn’t believe in God, I didn’t know there wasn’t one for sure. Atheism seemed a little arrogant, an assertion of something which could not be known. Dawkins takes this reasoning and smashes it to pieces. You cannot prove the non-existence of Fairies at the bottom of the Garden or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (bless his noodly appendages) or anything else anyone cares to invent. But being unable to disprove the existence of something doesn’t mean the probability of it existing or not existing is 50-50. The logic throughout this book seems flawless. And the only way to maintain a belief in anything supernatural is to abandon reason and take a leap of faith.

Stick Out Your Tongue

A Chinese writer whose marriage has fallen apart travels to Tibet. As he wanders through the countryside, he witnesses the sky burial of a Tibetan woman who died during childbirth, shares a tent with a nomad who is walking to a sacred mountain to seek forgiveness for sleeping with his daughter, meets a silversmith who has hung the wind-dried corpse of his lover to the walls of his cave, and hears the story of a young female incarnate lama who died during a Buddhist initiation rite. In the thin air of the high plateau, the divide between fact and fiction becomes confused and the man is drawn deep into an alien culture he knew nothing about, and which haunts his dreams. Famously banned in China in 1987, Stick Out Your Tongue, is the book that set Ma Jian on the road to exile, and still makes it difficult for him to publish his work in China today. He has written a new afterword for the book that explains it’s title (it is what a doctor says to an ill patient when looking for a diagnosis) how it came to be written and something about the complex relationship between China and Tibet. This is the first publication in English of an important work of Chinese literature that has had a huge influence on other writers.

Sweetness in the Belly

In Thatcher’s ‘London’, Lilly, a white Muslim nurse, struggles in a state of invisible exile. As Ethiopian refugees gradually fill the flats of the housing estate where she lives, Lilly tentatively begins to share with them her longing for the home she herself once had in Africa and her heartbreaking search for her missing lover. Back in Haile Selassie’s ‘Ethiopia’, the young Lilly, born in the 1950s to British parents, now orphaned and full of religious conviction, finds herself living in the city of Harar. She is drawn to the idealistic young doctor, Aziz, himself an outsider in the community. But then convulsions of a new revolutionary order separate them, sending Lilly to an England she has never seen, while Aziz disappears. Camilla Gibb’s evocation of the distinctive world of the ancient city and of its unique religion and culture is vivid and rich.

Pomegranate Soup

For the inhabitants of the damp Irish town of Ballinacroagh, the repertoire of gastronomic delights has never extended farther than the limp meals of the local inn’s carvery. But things change when the beautiful Aminpour sisters — Marjan, Bahar and Layla — arrive, determined to share the magic of their kitchen with the friendly locals. Opening Babylon Cafe, they begin serving traditional Persian dishes and soon the townsfolk is lured to the new premises by thetantalising aroma of fresh herb kuku, lamb abgusht, washed down with jasmine tea. Not everyone welcomes the three women though. And the women of Ballinacroagh want their men back. Filled with recipes and mysterious spices, Pomegranate Soup is a heart-warming tale of romance, friendship and exotic food.

The Underdog

Joshua Davis had a dream — of being the best. It didn’t matter what he was the best at, he just wanted to be number one. This is how it began: Josh was driving through the Mojave Desert when he saw a sign for the American arm-wrestling championship — all welcome. He decided to enter. He came fourth, out of four, but this was enough to secure him a place on Team USA and the chance of a show-down with the ‘Russian Ripper’ at the world championships in Poland (that didn’t end very well either). But Josh had tasted the dizzy rush of competition and wanted more. And more turned out to be the most outlandish contests in the world from bull fighting in Spain and backward running in Italy, to sumo wrestling and the World Sauna Championship in Finland. Joshua’s quest is by turns hilarious, harrowing and a little insane, but it is also inspiring —because, after all, every underdog deserves his day.