49 minutes | Jun 4, 2021

Reimagining the Aftermath of a Wartime Attack

Francis Spufford’s new novel, “Light Perpetual,” is rooted in a real event: the rocket attack on a Woolworth’s in London, killing 168 people, toward the end of World War II. Spufford fictionalizes the tragedy and invents five children who survive it, trailing them through the ensuing decades to discover all they might have done and seen if they had lived. On this week’s podcast, Spufford says that he settled on this real-life incident for intentionally arbitrary reasons.“The ordinariness is kind of the point,” he says. “I wanted something that was terrible but not exceptional. Something which was one tree in a wartime forest of bad things happening, which I could select out and then follow out the long-term consequences of through time.”Egill Bjarnason visits the podcast to talk about “How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island.”“The title is maybe the opposite of humble,” he says, “but I went into this project wanting to write about the history of Iceland. I have always found that really compelling, because unlike other European nations, we can tell our history almost from the beginning. But I figured that people who don’t have high stakes in that story may not be so interested. So I wanted to tell the history of Iceland through our impact on the outside world, by looking at where we have shaped events in some way or another.”Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year; and Dwight Garner and Parul Sehgal talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:“A Ghost in the Throat” by Doireann Ni Ghriofa“Languages of Truth” by Salman Rushdie
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