Review: Granta 114 – Aliens

I have been reading Granta magazine for years now and usually find that this quarterly magazine is full of interesting articles and stories.  Each issue is themed with a particular topic, recent editions having subtitles such as “Going Back”,  “The Best of Spanish Novelists” and “Pakistan” – with 15 to 20 items in each one, whether reportage, fiction, poetry of photography.  It is a beautifully produced journal, nice and thick, with very powerful design elements – they look handsome volume on a shelf – but it is also available in a Kindle edition for those who are prepared to forgo the physicality of the journal for the convenience of an ebook.

If you subscribe to Granta you also get access to the electronic edition, including the complete archive of all Granta articles going right back to 1979.  I have learned that I can save any article I am interested in by using the website instapaper which puts a nifty little “read later” button on my toolbar and then provides a mobi format Kindle download for whenever I want it.

In Granta 114, the theme is “Aliens” – not as in beings from outer-space, but rather the experiences of alienation that come through being a stranger in a new country.  The articles are as always immensely varied, the writing however being consistently fine.  Here is a small selection:

Come Japanese – Julie Otsuka

In the early 1900s, a group of “picture brides” sail from Japan to America to meet their betrothed American men.  Life is not going to be good – they will end up as migrant workers and domestic staff, only to be interned as enemy aliens when the Second World War begins.

Beach – Robert Bolano

A recovering heroin addict gets his daily dose of methadone and goes sunbathing on the beach.  A vignette of life from the viewpoint of a young man in transition from addiction to a new-found freedom.

Walking on the West Bank – Robert McFarlane

The writers visits Israel to conduct a number of day-long walking trespasses  into restricted-access Zone C landscapes with a Palestinian human rights lawyer.

The B.O.G. standard – Philip Olterman

The experiences of a teenage German boy who is moved with his family to live in a London suburb.

Like most Northern Europeans we were dedicated Anglophiles.  Which is to say that we were practically half-English before we made the move: tea drinkers, shortbread nibblers, watchers of non-subtitled BBC comedies.  When my father was offered a position at the London office of his company, it was a chance to complete the metamorphosis. My parents were ambitious: within weeks of our arrival, my father started demanding fried bacon and beans on toast for breakfast.  My mother tried her hand at a Sunday roast.  I was encouraged to take up cricket.  But the road to Englishness wasn’t always smooth . . .

Here is what you do – Chris Dennis

We read of the experience of being in an American jail for the first time. Chris writes of committing a minor drugs offence and then receiving a year in a Texan Prison – something that would terrify the brave.

You spent eight days in a holding cell with a car thief called Teddy from Houston, then down a long, loud hall full of men yelling and watching as the guard took you to your room. Donald was sitting on the edge of the bunk reading.  The guard handed you your toiletries.  The door made a shocking click-clicking noise when it closed.  Donald moved his hair out of his eyes, held his out his hand for you to shake . . .

This is just a small selection of articles from the magazine.  There is also a photo section, “Inland Iran” and another “Contacts” with photos taken in Belfast of British Military activity during the Troubles.

I usually find something in each edition which makes me glad I subscribe to Granta.  As someone who usually read full length novels and non-fiction, occasionally its nice to have a miscellany like this, particularly one so full of fine writing.

Because it only comes out once every three months, I find there is always an occasion when Granta is just the right reading material. I remember last year, taking the summer edition on holiday to Germany with me, and then realising as I embarked on a four-hour ferry journey home that I’d forgotten to read it. I opened the envelope and found that every article spoke to me in one way or another, and when I got my new Kindle I downloaded the whole of that edition and have kept on referring back to it.


I’ve been reading three review copies over the last week or so, all of which are embargoed until May or June. I should make sure I read books I can write about as soon as I’ve read them.  As it is, I’ve had to take copious notes but will have to dip back into them in order to be able to write something sensible when the time comes.  I don’t normally focus so much on review copies – my own choice of reading material is usually quite enough to keep me going, but these three are so good I just couldn’t wait before reading them.  So watch this space.

18 comments to Review: Granta 114 – Aliens

  • Strange, I noticed this number of Granta in a bookstore, but left it there because I thought it was all about sci-fi, which rarely interests me. Now, after having read your review, I might have to back and pick it up …
    Some weeks ago I managed to get hold of Granta no. 102 “The New Nature Writing”, its full of interesting stuff for a reader like me, who enjoys getting lost in nature –.
    Didn’t know I could get it all electronic. Its great news! (Have to let the paper-nostalgia go in advantage of availability)

  • I love journals like this, I used to always browse them in Borders before it went. I think I’d have to have the print copy.

    I have a little selection of review books that I’m holding off on as I like to review soon after I’ve read and they’re not published til later in the summer.

  • Your description makes Granta sound very interesting. I will check it out.

  • Thoroughly enjoyed the “best of young Spanish language novelists” one (posted on it) & have seen this one, now am thinking of subscribing.

  • I thought this one a particularly good issue, and then yesterday brought The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists so as to make me especially happy to subscribe lately.

  • Tom

    Frances – thanks for visiting. The Spanish edition was particularly good too

  • Tom

    Parrish – yes, the Spanish one was very good wasn’t it. I’ll go and read what you said about it

  • Tom

    Tony – thanks for visiting

  • Tom

    Ellie – thanks for visiting. Its a shame about Borders isn’t it

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  • This is a great recommendation I will have to see if I can get it here. I would have been mislead by the title Aliens.

  • I love journals like this … we don’t have one quite like Granta I think though our Griffith Review might be close. It’s theme based and includes essays, memoir pieces, fiction, photo essays and so on. I buy it occasionally but find it hard to get to read it. At the end of each year they have started a Fiction edition. (It is also quarterly, I think).

  • Looks like I need to get my hands on a copy of this one. I’ve always meant to subscribe to Granta – they have some really great writings to read and perhaps after reading this one and The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists I will do just that. Thanks for the heads up on this one Tom.

  • Tom

    Nadia – thanks for visting. I’ve subbed to Granta for years and years and never fail to find plenty of interest in each edition. Its a useful website (for subscribers) also.

  • Tom

    Sue – thanks for that – the Griffith review sounds interesting . I just visited their website.

  • Tom

    Hi Caroline – thanks for visiting. Granta is an international publication so you should be able to find it in the US.

  • Isn’t Granta amazing? I highlighted this issue after reading Beach and Walking on the West Bank.

  • Tom

    Gavin – thanks for visiting – yes, its a pretty good read – something to relish I think

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