Book reviews roundup: Homo Deus; The Good Immigrant and Holding

What the critics thought of Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow; The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla; and Holding by Graham Norton

From snapshots of contemporary Britain to a vision of the future, The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla, is, in the words of Daniel Hahn in the Spectator, “a collection of essays about black and ethnic minority experience and identity in Britain today”. It is “inconsistent, infuriating, uncomfortable and just occasionally insulting. It is also right to be every one of those things, and highly recommended.” To Sukhdev Sandhu in the Observer the problem was, unusually, the lack of white voices. “Today a good number of immigrants are from eastern Europe ... The idea, tacitly promoted by this essay collection, that their whiteness confers on them any kind of distinction, privilege or cultural centrality is unsustainable.” But for Arifa Akbar, writing in the Financial Times, “The most moving essay in the collection, Vinay Patel’s ‘Death is a Many-Headed Monster’, is a beautiful and profound rumination on bereavement and belonging. Isn’t where you scatter your ashes, when your own time comes, the place you call home? … There are no simple answers to questions like these, just further questions that need to be asked about Britishness and diasporic lives.”

Critics have been awed and a little terrified by Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, in which the Israeli historian “employs his signature blend of science, history, philosophy and every discipline in between to explore what’s next for mankind”, according to Caroline Sanderson in the Sunday Express, who also called it “mind-expanding”. Harari’s last book, Sapiens, was a tale of “how some undistinguished middling-sized mammals came to be rulers of the world,” explained Jane O’Grady in the Sunday Telegraph. “In Homo Deus, Harari now predicts our future. Once again, he juggles disciplines and conveys his finely structured ideas with ease and clarity. This time, the photographs are in colour. The message, however, is dark.” Pat Kane, in the New Scientist, called it a “big friendly giant of a book”, with “all the pedagogic and encyclopaedic brilliance of its predecessor”. The musician Jarvis Cocker, in the Mail on Sunday, chose it as his favourite: “The mark of a great book is that it not only alters the way you see the world, it also casts the past in a different light ... Harari shows us where mankind is headed in a clear-sighted and accessible manner.”

Prejudice was mentioned by several reviewers of Holding, the first novel by TV’s Graham Norton, set in a small Irish community. “I was apprehensive about his first novel, fearing something too self-consciously funny or hectoring,” wrote Patricia Nicol in the Sunday Times. “In fact, his immersive debut is a gentle joy.” The Observer’s Alex Clark agreed, calling it “a solidly written piece of popular fiction that isn’t quite as sparkly as it should be, but has enough in the way of action and charm to keep the reader interested”. But the veteran novelist John Boyne was perhaps the most pleasantly surprised. “Look, I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t think it was going to be very good,” he admitted in the Irish Times. “I was completely and utterly wrong … Holding is a considerable achievement and if it was a debut novel by an unknown Irish writer it would likely garner significant praise.” He added plaudits such as “considerable empathy”, “sensitivity and understanding” and “real originality”, before concluding: “It’s possible that Norton has been wasted on TV all these years.”

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