Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round-up the new books you should, and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features The Last One by Fatima Daas, How the World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide to Our Past, Present, and Future by Vaclav Smil and Wahala by Nikki May.

For more books take a look through our Books Digest Archive.

The Last One by Fatima Daas, translated by Lara Vergnaud (Other Press), £13.99.

Eve Webster

The Last One (La petite dernière, in the original French) is the auto-fictional debut of French Algerian writer Fatima Daas. During her childhood and adolescence in the Muslim-majority Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, she struggled to find a place for herself. Within her family, her violent father stood in the way of any sense of belonging; within France, her position as a second-generation immigrant leaves her out in the cold; and, most despairingly for Fatima, Islam’s intolerance towards homosexuality creates a chasm between her and her god. The work, which reads like a personal diary in its sparse, short flashes of memory, is her attempt to carve a space out for herself.

Much time is spent considering Fatima’s discomfort with intimacy and how, despite her own desires, keeps her family members, her religion, and her lovers at arm’s length. With her stark prose, she also subjects her reader to a hot/cold relationship which on the one hand effectively communicates her vulnerabilities, and on the other is a source of some frustration in a work that is largely a confessional. Nevertheless, following in the footsteps of the likes of Assia Djebar, The Last One is a humane squaring of the circles of identity which at once define and limit Daas.

How the World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide to Our Past, Present, and Future by Vaclav Smil (Penguin), £13.79.

Lily Pagano

Never before have we had such a plethora of information waiting for us at the tips of our fingers. From the complexities of our universe on a grand scale down to every atom, humanity’s knowledge has grown exponentially.

We have been able to translate this knowledge into an ever-expanding field of machinery, devices, procedures and inventions that act to serve our society as a whole. However, the enormity of our understanding proves to lie far beyond the potential of a single mind to comprehend. As individuals, we have been left in the dust, ignorant of how our world works. Never have we been so far removed from the material realities of our everyday lives.

An ambitious and eye-opening read, Vaclav Smil’s How the World Really Works aims to bridge the widening gap between our understanding and application in the real-world. With an informative and authoritative tone, we are led through seven fundamental concepts that enable the survival of our species. From energy and our growing dependence on fossil fuels, to food production, our environment and ultimately its future, Smil offers the reader a brush with reality, emphasising that it is only when we understand the facts of our world can we begin to tackle its problems effectively.

Drawing on Smil’s own extensive scientific research, we are invited to be curious about the inner workings of our world. The author provides valuable insight as opposed to the agenda-pushing rhetoric commonly found in mainstream scientific literature. Data-rich, informative and eye-opening, How the World Really Works is a captivating read.

Wahala by Nikki May (Transworld Publishers), £14.99.

Alice Crossley

The Sex and the City formula — liberal women experiencing life and love in the big city — is tried and tested but a little tired. Nikki May’s debut novel Wahala proves that it needn’t be, the model still works, it just needs a fresh twist. Wahala follows Ronke, Simi and Boo, three friends living in London in their thirties. Their lives aren’t perfect but their friendship is unwavering, grounded by their shared experience of British-Nigerian heritage. 

Then, Isobel comes along, a new friend offering glamour and excitement from the mundanity of their daily lives, only she isn’t quite who she seems. The three women find their lives turned upside down by Isobel, as the novel takes a dark turn and their friendships are put to the test. 

Wahala’s page-turning transition from rom-com to thriller is what makes May’s novel different from other Sex and the City-esque books, but it is her observations on identity, friendship and relationships that will stay with you. Wahala is the kind of book you could easily read in one sitting and will leave you wanting more. Thankfully, it has already been snapped up for a BBC drama, so expect to see Ronke, Simi and Boo again soon.