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Arifa Akbar

Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books 2013, and the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014.

Poetry of a grieving husband after death did them part: Week in Books

A little blue book was left on my desk a few weeks ago. More a pamphlet than a book, with a paper cover bound by string. It looked like a catalogue or a theatre programme. I pushed it to one side of the desk, just above the bin, and it sat there until it was time for a clear-out, when I picked it up again and saw it was in fact a chapbook by Michel Faber called Poems for Eva, with a pink post-it note on top saying ‘These turned out well. F x’.

Happiness is.... what? Just the opposite of misery, or more? Week in

Earlier this year, a terminally ill cancer patient requested a last visit to the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum to see a Rembrandt exhibition. A striking image accompanied the news story, of the patient on a gurney, surrounded by staff, face turned towards one of Rembrandt’s final self-portraits, the colour and shade in the photograph reflecting something of the light falling across Rembrandt’s aged face in the painting, and the edges of darkness converging behind him.

Back for Round Two: but do we want these character comebacks in

Tyler Durden – or Brad Pitt from Fight Club as he is more commonly known – is back, even before the much-anticipated graphic-novel sequel that is due later this year. Chuck Palahniuk has given Tyler a new lease of life in a book of short stories, Make Something Up, or so we are told. A warm-up for The Big Fight, you might call it. Read the story, “Expedition”, to know more, but beware the thumping disappointment that might – and often does – accompany the reincarnation of iconic or cultish characters such as the dark, doomy Durden.

How many more books will there be telling me how to be a Muslim?

There are three kinds of Muslims, according to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book, Heretic. Yes, three kinds in a population of 1.6 billion followers of the faith who live in vastly different cultures around the globe. Firstly, she says, the fundamentalists who see Islamic edicts as eternal truths, set in the seventh century and unchangeable ever after. Hirsi Ali calls them “Medina Muslims”, who kill non-believers and blasphemers, often in horrendous medieval circumstances. We know this category well.

A foreign language can make sex scenes read better; Week in Books

What is the right language of love? Or sex, I should say, if I were being less British. There are those literary fiction writers who daren’t venture into that territory at all and then there are those intrepid others who have found themselves on the receiving end of a Bad Sex Award.

A book prize as a force of change? Week in Books column

The British Library's usually atmosphere-free conference room was set to be filled to the rafters on Friday 20 March at a sell-out lecture on 'fiction as a social force' by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The lecture, however, was cancelled.

How to reinstate women - not birds - back into history; Week in Books

Last week, the writer and journalist Anita Anand revealed a quietly appalling fact while talking about her book on an Indian noblewoman, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary. In early conversations with editors about this fascinating biography-cum-history of a singular life unearthed from the archives, which reveals the complex intersections between first-wave feminism, the Great War and the Indian independence movement, she said she entered into discussions with two male editors from a large publishing house that shall remain unnamed.

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Happy Valentine's Day and long live domestic dysfunction

So! Some literary food for thought for 14 February: if you’re a freshly courting couple, it won’t last. If you’ve been married a while, he’s having an affair with his laptop. And if you’ve got it all – husband, kids, house, garden, hamster – it’s doomed to unravel through marital infidelity, abducted kids, dad stepping on the hamster and then deep-freezing it, mum having a fantasy affair with the man installing the expensive kitchen. Affairs aplenty. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ethnic fixation is shackling bright new writers; Week in Books

A few years ago, a friend organised a conference for British-Asian writers to talk about why they wrote and whether “British-Asian writing” as a genre was felt to be a boon or burden. The first discussion brought thundering divisions when half the room insisted that ethnicity had nothing to do with it, while the other half argued that cultural identity couldn’t be divorced from creativity.