Browser: Moya Roddy’s sweet writing balances some bitter situations

Brief reviews of Fire in My Head; A Hidden History: The Irish Language in Liverpool by Tony Birill; North American Gaels: Speech, Story, and Song in the Diaspora; Same Same but Different; Archipelago: A Reader; Sunlight on a Broken Columnby Attia Hosain; The End of Biasby Jessica Nordell; People that Don’t Exist Are Citizens of a Made-up Countryby Joe Horgan; The American Way: Stories of Invasion; Cosmogramma by Courttia Newland

Fire in My Head
by Moya Roddy
Culture Matters, €12
Fire in My Head is a collection with characters who feel like real people you want to spend more time with. There's retired Maeve, whose days are long and swell with a loneliness that's punctured by the arrival of a woman from the water charge protests. There's the 30-year-old single parent who's being intimated at work and has a chance encounter with "auld wan" Mrs K on the bus.

Or Barbara, who decides to stand her ground in the hospital and insist on proper treatment. Everyone shares challenging circumstances which turn on small moments, of change, resolution or revelation, with a sweetness to the writing that balances some bitter situations. Throughout there is a lively and sometimes humorous spirit against adversity, whether it's climate change or direct provision, and truth here too, speaking to power. – Ruth McKee

A Hidden History: The Irish Language in Liverpool
By Tony Birill
G & K Publishing
North American Gaels: Speech, Story, and Song in the Diaspora
Natasha Sumner and Aidan Doyle, eds.,
McGill University Press
After the vicious attack on Liverpool supporter Seán Cox in 2018, the Spirit of Shankly supporters club contacted Tony Birtill, an Irish-language teacher in the city, to ask for a translation of the phrase You'll Never Walk Alone; it appeared on a banner expressing solidarity with Cox that was displayed prominently at matches. Birtill, who died this autumn, tells that story in an engaging history of Irish-speaking on Merseyside.

Irish-speaking (and Scottish Gaelic-speaking) even further afield is the concern of scholarly essays collected in Northern American Gaels. In those on Irish-speaking, several intriguing figures are glimpsed, including William Gormley of Mayo, who kept a diary in Irish in Ohio in the 1840s; Patrick Lyden (b. 1832) of Connemara, who penned a farcical tale about his homeplace when living in Pennsylvania, and some 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century emigrants from Cork and Clare who wrote poetry in Irish in Newfoundland, upstate New York and Montana. – Breandán Mac Suibhne


Same Same but Different
Ed. Mikka Haugaard
Everything with Words, £16.99
Editor Mikka Haugaard has curated a collection of 18 short stories, presented to the reader as the best stories to come out of lockdown. From a tourist on the streets of Bangkok to a daughter grieving in the Rockies, the characters in these stories have time on their hands, and a lot to think about it. For wary readers who may feel that the pandemic itself may still be too raw an experience to wax lyrical about, it's important to emphasise that Same Same but Different is not actually about the current global crisis, per say. Rather, it's a series of explorations of one of the most common consequences of Covid -19; solitude. Be it loneliness, love, loss, or the quiet comfort one can find in being alone, these stories touch on what it means to be human, and not only in the grip of a pandemic. The literary equivalent of a box of Roses (but thankfully without the universally maligned "coffee one"), this collection has something for every reader. – Becky Long

Archipelago: A Reader
Nicholas Allen & Fiona Stafford (eds)
Lilliput, €25
Archipelago was an occasional magazine of literature and art 2007-2019, where artists focused on their interactions with the Irish-British archipelago. It was "consistently interesting, provocative and gifted with a complement of artists and writers who summoned together an entirely new vision of land and sea, and this from the intractable material of a long-broken union whose fragmentation is ongoing," say the editors. Here we've a selection of key contributions: poems, artwork, analyses, meditations, memoirs. Dividing the archipelago into its constituent countries, it reimagines the relationships between these islands, bringing together divergent voices in creative conversations. From so many fine contributions, it seems invidious to pick a few but for this reviewer Greim an Fhir Bháite (Deirdre Ní Chonghaile), Ailsa (Mary Wellesley), Leaves (John Brannigan) and Tynybraich (Angharad Price) stood out. – Brian Maye

Sunlight on a Broken Column
By Attia Hosain
Virago Modern Classics
Atia Hosain is an important yet obscure figure of South Asian literature, who along with her contemporaries Anita Desai and Bapsi Sidhwa, chronicled the turmoil of pre-Partition India and the demise of British Raj in their works. This August, Virago Modern Classics republished two of her books on the 60th anniversary of her influential novel, with a preface by her great niece Kamila Shamsie. Broken Column is a richly textured, coming of age portrayal of life as a woman in a privileged but conservative Muslim family in the mid-20th century. The book takes readers along on Laila's search for individualism and liberal outlook on life which is at odds with the traditional Lucknow society around her. Set against India's growing resistance against British Raj, this is an evocative representation of a bygone era. – Rabeea Saleem

The End of Bias
By Jessica Nordell
This is a shrewd dissection of the implicit bias in the human psyche and how it could be trained to transcend it. Nordell digs deep into the realms of cognitive and social psychology, anthropology and developmental research to identify all the factors that contribute to our implicit and unconscious biases. The book heavily features Patricia Devine's work on the phenomena and its implications in racial stereotyping and sexism in the workplace. Nordell not only highlights errors in our cognitive processes but also goes into depth about how to rectify them with interventions like diversity training and mindfulness techniques. The End of Bias is an exhaustively researched, illuminating book on what leads to bias and how to avoid those pitfalls. – Rabeea Saleem

People that Don't Exist Are Citizens of a Made-up Country
By Joe Horgan
The Black Spring, €14.99
This is Joe Horgan's fifth book, perhaps simultaneously his most personal and his most universal. Using his own background - Horgan grew up in Birmingham as the child of immigrant Irish parents but has been living in Ireland since 1999 – as a resonant starting point, he embarks on a consideration of the immigrant journey, considering, in prose that is both evocative and economical, the reality of perpetually living between two places, between multiple existences. Ultimately, Horgan's meditation on displacement, loss, and hope, looks its reader in the eye and asks for empathy instead of sympathy, solidarity instead of pity. A powerful and thought-provoking work that will remain relevant so long as humanity continues to value the idea of home and the right to belong. – Becky Long

The American Way: Stories of Invasion
Eds. Ra Page and Orsola Casagrande
Comma Press, £14.99
Part of the Comma Press's History into Fiction series, The American Way is an ambitious anthology that seeks to bridge the gap between the personal narrative and the historically accurate record. Many of the specially commissioned fictional stories, each accompanied by an afterword written by historical experts, exist in the liminal space between imagination and reality, penned by authors whose homelands have been invaded by the USA, often in the name of democracy.

Challenging, engaging, and at times deeply unsettling, this mix of history and fiction is, in essence, an imaginative engagement with the seminal moments of our increasingly bizarre times, even as America itself struggles with the very notion of what its foreign policy should look like. Multiple voices and perspectives offer the reader new ways into the events of our recent global past, presenting us with the inescapable reality that what happens far away if often closer to home than we realise. – Becky Long

By Courttia Newland
Canongate, £12.99
Children who sing colours, seeds which grow to look like people, and terrorism on the moon are some elements of Cosmogramma, a collection of speculative stories which read like fables, with a thrum of unease. A clone-like robot launched by Seneca, a corporation fronted by a god-like figure is the opening story; the robots have been developed through generations to protect and serve but have evolved to surpass their creators. This story anticipates the themes of the collection: the fearful and wonderful heart of humanity; the double-edged sword of progress; moral frontiers. Whether it's the uncanny dream made flesh or the old Manichean battle far into the future, these stories surprise, are dizzying and intricate. The vastness of the different settings lends a strange distance to the whole – fitting for a collection that spans worlds. – Ruth McKee