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Books you need to read this April

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Books you need to read this April
André Aciman weaves magical realism into an idyllic summer novella, while writers through history reflect on walking and living, in this month's book picks

The Gentleman from Peru by André Aciman is published by Faber & Faber

the gentleman from peru by andre aciman book jacket
Best known for his erotic bildungsroman, Call Me By Your Name, this time André Aciman gives us something more dreamlike, sensuous rather than sensual, and, owing to its slightness, perhaps more perfect, in the way that only shorter stories can be. 
A group of old college friends find themselves harbouring at a beautiful hotel on the Amalfi coast after their boat mysteriously experiences engine trouble.
They entertain themselves at dinner, musing snidely on the other guests. But one man in particular holds their curiosity, dressed impeccably and always seated alone.
That is until one evening this stranger approaches them and silently heals one friend’s shoulder wound with a mere touch. They soon discover that their curiosity was not unwarranted.
"This stranger approaches them and silently heals one friend’s shoulder wound with a mere touch"
Aciman’s ability to bring Italy’s transparent blue water and gently toasting sun to a grey drizzly England is unsurpassed.
Reading this during our never-ending winter, it seems impossible that the gentle magic realism slips so comfortably into this beautiful setting, almost unnoticed.
Sure, this guy’s got healing powers and appears to be omnipotent. The trees are also heaving with ripe exotic fruit and the sea is bath-warm. All seem as unlikely as the other, and just as enchanting.
The main thrust of the story, that we all live innumerable lives, trying to find our soulmate, feels mostly by the by, although it does add to the surreal beauty.
No, what is special about this novella is how quickly and effortlessly it transports you, not just to a picturesque holiday, but to a place seemingly outside of time, where nothing is rushed, and you might spend an eternity dipping into the water, drying off on the sand, and dining on fresh fish and fruit over and again.  

Globetrotting: Writers Walk the World by Duncan Minshull is published by Notting Hill Editions 

globetrotting writers walk the world by duncan minshull book jacket
Walking is entirely practical in my daily London life, taking me from one destination to another as quickly as possible. And the city’s overwhelming stimulation has the adverse effect of making me switch off from my surroundings entirely.
Duncan Minshull’s slender gem-filled volume is a welcome reminder to look up; to gaze into the faces of passers-by, to turn my view to the tops of buildings I’ve walked past hundreds of times, but never actually looked at. And of course, to let my gait amble and my mind wonder freely.
Split into three sections—“setting out”, “en route” and “final steps”—Minshull brings together different accounts from across the world.
The experiences are varied: Rabindranath Tagore reflects on the eternal and the ephemeral as he gazes at the moon, while Harriet Tubman walks by night to escape her captors; D H Lawrence struggles to find a local who will sell him a piece of fruit, while Colin Thubron shuffles down a sombre queue in Lenin’s mausoleum.
They may have little to no connection with one another, except that they are all “leaving the sedentary life behind”, as Minshull puts it.
The necessary stop-starting with each new essay—varying from a few pages to a single paragraph—means there isn’t time, as there would be with a full account, to immerse yourself in the particulars.
Instead, you have to mirror the writers’ perambulations, letting the words simply wash over you. Alternatively, you might see it as a great opportunity to dive deep into the lives and achievements of this varied community, stretching a paragraph’s read into a full day of research.
There’s something spiritual about this collection, a prayer to nature and humankind, and old winding roads leading, often, to nowhere in particular. The destinations are mostly by the by, but there’s plenty to sate you along the way.
"There’s something spiritual about this collection, a prayer to nature and humankind, and old winding roads"
"It was Easter Saturday, and my new friend suggested I should spend Easter with him. I demurred, and he said it would be a charity.
He had no words to express his loneliness, and as for the canoe-men, who could not stay to carry my things to Anum, let them go. He would see about my gear being taken up there. And so I stayed, glad to see how a man managed by himself in the wilderness.
The British Cotton-growing Experimental Farm at Labolabo is to all intents and purposes a failure.
The farm should be a valuable possession besides being a very beautiful one.
The red-roofed bungalow is set in a bay of the high, green hills, which stretches out verdure-clad arms, which threaten every moment to envelop it.
The land slopes gently, and as I sat on the broad verandah, through the dense foliage of the trees I could catch glimpses of the silver Volta a mile and a half away, while beyond again the blue hills rose range after range till they were lost in the bluer distance.
"It’s the lonely man’s walk"
Four years ago, this man who was entertaining me so hospitably, had planted a mile-long avenue to lead up to his bungalow, and now the tall grapefruit and shaddock in front of his verandah meet and are regularly cut away to keep the walkway clear.
I am too ignorant to know what could be grown with profit, I can only see that the land is rich and fruitful, and should be, with the river close, a valuable possession.
As it is, it is one of the loneliest places in the world…the loneliness grip…I sympathised deeply with the man living there alone.
If I went to my room I could hear him tramping monotonously up and down the verandah. ‘Tramp, tramp…tramp, tramp’—and when I went out to him, he smiled.
‘I can’t help doing it,’ he said, ‘it’s the lonely man’s walk. And when I can’t see those two lines,’ he pointed to two boards in the verandah, ‘then I know I am drunk, and I go to bed.’"
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