This year I have joined a reading circuit. This is not exactly a book group. The organisers select a number of recently published works which are the circulated round the members of the local group. Each member has about 2 weeks to read the book before passing it and receiving a new book. Fortunately, the first two books I have received have been short.

Nel mare ci sono i coccodrilli (In the Sea there are crocodiles) is the story of  Enaiatollah Akbari, taken by his mother from Ghazni in Afganistan, where his people the Hazzara are persecuted by the Taliban, to Quetta in Pakistan, and there left to make his own life. His story begins around the turn of the millennium when he is 10 years old or so. Using the services of people traffickers he makes his way to Iran, then Turkey, Greece and finally Italy, where he is given sanctuary and later political asylum. The writer Fabio Geda met him later in Turin and Geda, a journalist with experience in education, makes it possible for him to tell his story and allows us to understand, at least in part, the life and motivations of a clandestine immigrant. There are interpolated conversations between Geda and Enaiatalloh, in which the writer seems to be probing for more and to understand further what is being said and also what is not being said.

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I enjoyed watching the new film ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ at the cinema, but I also had the sense that, somewhere close by, there was a much better film. Not a different film but a better execution of this one.

The most striking sequence in the film is a chase through the woods as Holmes and his party make their escape from the armaments factory. In slow motion, so the people are just moving and we can track the path of the bullets, it could be a scene from a wuxia movie, a greyed out northern forest replacing the bamboo groves of China. The scenes where Holmes and Moriarty anticipate the moves they will make in combat could have come from the same movie.

And it’s not that this is not an authentic Holmes. There is plenty of warrant in the original stories for the disguises, the theatricality, the hyper-activity and instability. Is there a deliberate echo of Heath Ledger’s Joker in Downey’s smudged make-up at the end of the fight on the train?

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