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 is currently a judge of the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014, and the Independent Scholastic New Children's 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"

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice