Robert has been suggested to me as possible performer at the Llandeilo Lit Fest. We haven’t progressed on that front, yet, but I managed to pick up one of his books at the Dragon Garden’s Fair Trade Shop in Llandeilo.
“The Keys of Babylon”is a selection of short stories, following a series of characters, from Babylon to London, the US and a few more exotic locations, such as Eastern Europe. The stories aren’t always easily accessible, they have connections but while you’re reading the book they are very loose. Common themes wash up and disappear.
Although a few years old, some stories, for example Mexcan Maria in the US, have a huge relevance to the world as it is today and our shared issues. We all need to see life from other persepctives to understand and to humanise nationalities and ‘otherness’.
This is a fully loaded read that requires sometimes time to digest and reflect. The characters are unique and defined b ytheir location as much as they are by other aspects. It made me think a lot about what defines us.
The prose is beautiful and the voice compelling, the tone moody and thoughtful and I think everyone will be able to find themselves in one or the other of the many characters, who bring together the different experiences of human existence, immigration and how to succeed.
The title is brilliant, reminding us of the multitude of languages, human hybris and ambition, that what unites us and what makes us different from each other. Some of the characters stayed with me for a long time. Minhinnick manages to bring them to life and makes them distinguishable and relatable with sometimes only a few poignant words or situations. He truly is a gifted story teller and wordsmith, albeit I’m sure I missed some of the references and symbolism. I can see why the book has achieved so many accolades, although this strength could be its weakness with other audiences.
A very memorable and accomplished read.
Shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year Award 2012 and long-listed for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2012
A story from this collection ‘El Aziz: some pages from his notebooks’ was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2012
People are on the move In Albania, Mexico, China, Iraq, Israel, Wales, the US, London … migration and immigration are key issues of the twentieth and twenty-first century.
The Keys of Babylon is a collection of 15 linked stories by award-wining poet and author Robert Minhinnick, giving voices to migrants around the globe. Both a fictional record of, and an exploration into their lives, the migrants and the people with whom they interact reflect a comprehensive mix of hope, success, failure, fear, indifference and passion. And the stories of each of the main characters are drawn together in a final narrative which surveys their situation on a particular day.
Minhinnick was born in Neath, and now lives in Porthcawl. He studied at University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and University of Wales, Cardiff. An environmental campaigner, he co-founded the charities Friends of the Earth (Cymru) and Sustainable Wales. His work deals with both Welsh and international themes.
He has published seven poetry collections and several volumes of essays. He edited the magazine, Poetry Wales from 1997 until 2008. He has also translated poems from contemporary Welsh poets for an anthology, The Adulterer’s Tongue. His first novel, Sea Holly, was published in autumn 2007.
Minhinnick won the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem in 1999 for ‘Twenty-five Laments for Iraq’, and again in 2003 for ‘The Fox in the National Museum of Wales’. His poem ‘The Castaway’ was also shortlisted in 2004. He has also won an Eric Gregory Award (1980) and a Cholmondeley Award (1998), both awarded by the Society of Authors to British poets.
In 2006, Minhinnick’s book To Babel and Back, describing a journey in the Middle East, won the English-language Wales Book of the Year Award, which he had previously won in 1993 for Watching the Fire Eater.