Apr/May 2013  •   Reviews & Interviews

Granta 122: Betrayal

Review by Ann Skea

Granta 122: Betrayal.
John Freeman.
Granta Publications. 2013. 286 pp.
ISBN 978 1 905881 65 9.

Granta's theme, "Betrayal," offers scope for many things, from love to war, from politics to survival, and more. As usual, the pieces included come from authors around the world, and their contributions are unexpected, innovative, and excellent.

Janine di Giovanni, who has reported on wars for more than 20 years, begins "Seven Days in Syria" with her baby son, whose tiny nails she finds herself unable to cut. She charts this same sense of vulnerability in the lives of the Syrian people as she sees the effects of war gradually seep into their lives. Her account is personal and vivid. "There is no template for war," she writes, only the agony, the uncertainty, and the fear, which is constant.

Karen Russell, too, writes of the effects of war, but she weaves a sort of magic into her fictional story. Beverly, a professional masseuse, begins therapeutic massage on an Iraqi war veteran whose body tattoo is a "skin mural" of the war-landscape on the day his friend was killed. "Healing is a magical art" said a pamphlet that attracted Beverly to her career, and her ability to empathize with a customer and to use her massage skills to feel and relax the tensions expressed in the physical body is remarkable. But her expert physical work with this particular customer has inexplicable results, the tattoo does strange things, and there are unexpected psychological effects for both of them.

As well as reportage and stories, Granta includes photography and poetry. Darcy Padilla's photographs of "Julie" chart a life affected by poverty, abuse, and AIDS, but they show happiness, partnerships, and children as part of her struggle to survive. And John Burnside's poem, "Postscript," echoes some of Robert Frost's well-known lines and offers a modern perspective on an evening in snowy woods. It tells of a passing moment in which a search for a mobile phone signal prompts musings on the ephemeral nature of beauty, a cup of tea, a welcoming home, and "no promises to keep." And the only path is the one back to the car.

Mohsin Hamid tells of a young boy's text-message-based love affair with a local girl who has the ambition, it is suggested, of sleeping her way to a better life. Samantha Harvey's small-scale apocalypse-survival scenario set on a fictional island could well be a true story. André Aciman documents an editor's experience with a young woman writer with whom he begins a strangely satisfying relationship. Neither of them seem fully able to commit themselves, but perhaps it is just his reading of the situation, or perhaps he is just a man who cannot make big decisions. The result? I will not spoil the story by revealing it.

Colin Robinson learns about group loyalty and Paddleball. Ben Marcus imagines a dystopia in which group and family loyalties are tested. Lauren Wilkinson writes of the fatal attraction of guns. And Jennifer Vanderbes writes of a lone woman fire-mapper in the forests of New Mexico, whose isolated life is briefly disrupted by a male forestry worker with whom she shares friendship and memories. Both, it turns out, have reasons for choosing to work with fire.

Callan Wink's "One More Last Stand," introduces us to a man who participates in historical re-enactments of General Custer's last stand, but who is inclined to tell tall tales to tourists and to fraternize with the "enemy." It can also be read on the Granta website, along with other material not included in this quarter's magazine.

Granta 122: Betrayal is excellent reading and a fine addition to Granta's long tradition of fostering new writing.


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