Canongate, £16.99, pp368
In 2011, Chitra Ramaswamy was dispatched by her editor to interview Glasgow Jews Henry and Ingrid Wuga for a story about refugees. It would mark the beginning of a deep if unlikely friendship between the then thirtysomething journalist, born in London to Indian immigrants, and the octogenarian Wugas, both of whom had fled Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport. Entwining the arc of their lives with her own sometimes feels forced, but an awkward beginning gives way to vivid storytelling, and while drawing out commonalities – migration and belonging, racism and resilience are threaded throughout – Ramaswamy reflects with dreamlike clarity on memory and transience. As she writes: “we are all born into vanishing time”.
Lauren John Joseph
Bloomsbury, £14.99, pp384
Queer London, San Francisco and New York provide the backdrops to this millennial Bildungsroman centring on an unnamed transgender narrator, recalling their late sometime lover, one Thomas James. The romance was doomed, not least because Thomas, though charismatic, appears to have been a pretty toxic character. Even so, it takes a decade to run its course, providing moments of dizzy intoxication and wild abandon before cruel betrayal kicks in. This is a novel that tries hard to impress and doesn’t always succeed – overlong, messy in places, yet heartfelt and scintillating too.
Atlantic, £10.99, pp368 (paperback)
Capability Brown, Humphry Repton, Gertrude Jekyll: peer back in time and the nation’s most celebrated gardeners invariably hail from the upper classes. Here, Royal Horticultural Society librarian Fiona Davison sets about reinstating history’s forgotten working-class gardeners, inspired by the discovery of a small volume dating back to the early 19th century and filled with handwritten notes by young men hoping to make a living from horticulture. Tracing their careers, she uncovers tales of fraud, scandal and insanity. It’s energetically researched and gripping, too.