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.

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One minute interview: AL Kennedy

Where are you now and what can you see?

Arifa Akbar: Some fictional characters are gay. Get over it

I was waiting for the Australian author, Christos Tsiolkas to begin his first UK event this week and, as the audience filed in from the drizzle, I noticed a particular absence in the room. That of women. It was just me until – phew – three others slunk in. Tsiolkas's reading at a Bloomsbury basement bar had been organised by the bookshop Gay's the Word, so the clue was in the title, but I was thrown at first, to be among an audience with shared affinities that reared themselves – fascinatingly – during the discussion.

Arifa Akbar: The most memorable history lesson on war is found in fiction

Remember Septimus Warren Smith? The returning First World War veteran who haunted the darker recesses of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway? Septimus Smith, who couldn’t stop being tormented by his raw, ravaging, suicide-inducing memories of the front, even as the sun shone on postwar London? He has remained with me in a way that no history lesson has. Sorry Mr Gove, but I’m not embarrassed to say that I learned the best lessons about the Great War through great fiction.

Best of 2014: Books

Arifa Akbar picks this year’s must-read book releases

Arifa Akbar: Does a book make its title or the other way around?

Remember the good old days when titles of novels were nothing more than, well, titles, rather than marketing manoeuvres? Wuthering Heights denoted the place where the book was set. The Canterbury Tales were tales told by pilgrims on the way to – yes – Canterbury. Crime and Punishment was about just that. Madame Bovary was the doomed titular figure on which the tragedy was based. King Lear, Hamlet – same deal.

The Night Guest, By Fiona McFarlane: Book review - a suspenseful debut novel about ageing and illness from a talented young voice

There is an irony to so many young novelists writing about dementia (Samantha Harvey's The Wilderness, Jonathan Franzen's essay "My Father's Brain", to mention just two). In some respects though, it isn't ironic at all.

Sex and the Citadel, By Shereen El Feki: Book review

El Feki, a half-Egyptian broadcaster and academic, conducted a five-year investigation into what goes on in the intimate lives of ordinary 21st-century Arabs. Her rationale behind this experiment was that sexual norms reflect the politics of a society.

Naval gazing, By Anne H. Putnam: Book review

This is a no-holds-barred account of weight gain, weight loss and all the psychological torments in between – from the trauma of wearing a swimming costume or not being able to zip up a garment in a shop changing room, to being seen as invisible by boys as a 20-stone teenager.

2013 - the year in review: The best books of the year

"The Hired Man" by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)

Arifa Akbar: Let’s ban the latecomers from dramatic readings

"A light appeared deep inside the audience, beaming like a gig-lamp in the hands of a woman below me. It was a Blackberry"

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