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Johannes Anyuru

Ixelles

Ever since Mio died, Ruth has single-handedly raised their mutual son and created a life for the two of them. She has a house by the sea and is employed at the mysterious “agency”, where her task is to help clients manipulate the public by using invented voices and personas. The boy, who is now ten, knows nothing about his father: not how he lived and not how he died. He is safe.

One day Ruth learns that there is an unconscious teenage boy in hospital who carries a recording of Mio’s voice. She lies to the hospital staff and gains access to his room where she finds the ancient CD-player in his backpack. The disc shimmers like gold. She recognises Mio’s voice – Mio who is supposed to be dead. He says: “There are roofs here from where you can see all the way to the sea. Here in the library of nothing.”

Johannes Anyuru’s new novel, his first since the August Prize-winning They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears, is a polyphonic and meandering story of friendship and yearning, a love letter to fiction, invented lives and libraries.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE AUGUST PRIZE 2022

Johannes

About the author

Anyuru

Johannes Anyuru (born 1979) is a poet and novelist. He debuted in 2003 with the critically acclaimed collection of poems Only The Gods Are New. His 2017 novel, They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears, was awarded the August Prize for Best Fiction and has been sold to 17 territories. Anyuru’s work has been likened to a mix between…

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About the book

Sold to

Denmark: Klim, Finland: Schildts & Söderströms, France: Actes Sud, Germany: Luchterhand, Italy: Frassinelli, Netherlands: De Geus, Norway: Press, Turkey: Profil Kitap, USA: Two Lines Press (North American rights)

Ever since Mio died, Ruth has single-handedly raised their mutual son and created a life for the two of them. She has a house by the sea and is employed at the mysterious “agency”, where her task is to help clients manipulate the public by using invented voices and personas. The boy, who is now ten, knows nothing about his father: not how he lived and not how he died. He is safe.

One day Ruth learns that there is an unconscious teenage boy in hospital who carries a recording of Mio’s voice. She lies to the hospital staff and gains access to his room where she finds the ancient CD-player in his backpack. The disc shimmers like gold. She recognises Mio’s voice – Mio who is supposed to be dead. He says: “There are roofs here from where you can see all the way to the sea. Here in the library of nothing.”

Johannes Anyuru’s new novel, his first since the August Prize-winning They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears, is a polyphonic and meandering story of friendship and yearning, a love letter to fiction, invented lives and libraries.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE AUGUST PRIZE 2022

Reviews

In Ixelles, a more existentially sombre Anyuru comes into view

In Ixelles, a more existentially sombre Anyuru comes into view, increasingly unrestricted in his way of utilising the limited but effective tools that genre literature provides. The burning issues of our time – fake news, media manipulation and the spirals of poverty and drugs relating to gang crime – form the basis for this slightly sci-fi scented novel /… / I often become solemn in my encounter with Anyuru’s books. On one hand because he portrays class differences with a forceful pathos, powerless and complex. On the other hand, because of his poetic style: laden with images and aphorisms. Full of birds, skies and axioms / … / With a remarkably warm sensation I come to the end of a desolate novel about broken dreams and disillusioned life choices, full of subdued poetry.

Aftonbladet
Perhaps it’s just that simple that Johannes Anyuru has written the best novel I’ve read this year

Ixelles prevents the reader from only engaging in the mysterious plot, by employing an imagery characterised by concentration, and issues that continuously address the present, literature and the deeply human. What is a home? What is fiction and what is reality, when fiction becomes an effective political and material power? What is it like to live in the presence of an absence, of a lost loved one? And in grief, are we not always haunted by the voices of the dead? Sometimes I wonder if Ixelles becomes too transparent, spends too much time on pauses and repetitions, that it, despite its many secrets, wants to present the whole text about the characters’ thoughts and inner lives. But I’m also aware that it doesn’t appear over-literal, that it doesn’t bother me. Instead, I realise that this tendency rather has a lingering effect on the text, that forces you to take a break, to read at a slower pace. Therefore, the many intermissions and the urge to write the same thing several times, don’t become exuberant details that could have been edited, but gain both reason and function. The consequence is a tenderness and concern for the characters, an intimacy and a solicitude that might not otherwise have appeared. And I thereby surrender to this novel so marked by love and grief. Perhaps it’s just that simple that Johannes Anyuru has written the best novel I’ve read this year.

Expressen
Anyuru masterfully and suggestively switches between timelines and perspectives

Anyuru masterfully and suggestively switches between timelines and perspectives: we not only meet Mio ten years ago and Rut in the present (whatever the present might be), we also meet parents, friends, the voice on the golden record, a librarian, an imam, and so on. And as you can gather, the author offers both a familiar story and a dazzling fantasy. On the one hand, the urgent story about the lost children of the slum – “the children from the squares and the street corners” – and their equally lost parents, a mother who gambles the rent money on horses, a father who hits his sons with a belt, a story about race, class, war and oppression. On the other hand, we have the golden record, the agency and the mysterious messages about the department of nothing. Anyuru has always held a door open to alternative realities. This is like something of a spy novel from the Cold War or science fiction. It recalls a social-realistic movie or tv series, perhaps Top Boy or The Wire, but with a fairy tale shimmer (a boy named after a Finnish death goddess, the doomsday scenario that befalls a security guard). And in addition, there is this ancient story of displacement and loss and how it is passed down through several generations /… / Ever since his debut with Only the Gods are New in 2003, Johannes Anyuru has successfully merged the tales of the damned, the faceless, the despised and the dispelled, with the eternal tales of humankind. Biblical motifs, Greek myths and tragedies, world literature, mysticism and faith /… / Five years ago Anyuru received the August Prize for They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears. I’m totally fine if he receives it again for Ixelles. I feel completely humble and grateful, that’s how powerful it is. Here you are, allow me to introduce this year’s Swedish super heavyweight champion of novels.

Göteborgs-Posten
Ixelles is a blisteringly dark but also heartening modern fairy-tale that leaves me breathless

Johannes Anyuru’s new novel takes place in Belgium. Single mother Ruth lives in the posh diamond neighbourhoods in Antwerp where she leads a life of delusion. She tells her ten-year-old son that his father died in a car crash and that she was raised in Ixelles. In reality she grew up in the suburb with the postcode twenty-seventy. Her son’s father was a drug dealer who was stabbed to death. Her professional life is also a web of deceit, even more intricate. This is the rudimentary plot in Ixelles. But as always in Anyuru’s novels, it contains so much more. Language, rhythm and agony. Coldness and warmth. A lack of colours. If I was to give it a colour, it would be black and white. The tone is subdued. It takes a while to process the sensory experiences after reading. The novel finds its way into my dreams at night and gives me no peace. As I scroll the morning headlines about shootings, the images from the story are brought to life. Thematically Anyuru moves in familiar settings: twenty-seventy could very well be one of the Swedish public housing districts which we choose to call disadvantaged. Also in previous novels and texts, the author has portrayed class divides, but unlike the August Prize-winning They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears, Ixelles is not set in a dystopian future but in a trembling present. And it has even more grit and a more realistic tone than the previous book /… / Anyuru depicts all the squalor, meaninglessness and relentlessness but also manages to add a sense of light, a tenderness for every character and their stories. Ixelles is a blisteringly dark but also heartening modern fairy-tale that leaves me breathless.

Sydsvenskan
Ixelles is the kind of book that makes you feel smarter.

Of course it’s only Johannes Anyuru who can pull of such a thing: to write a novel that takes place in an area populated by mostly non-EU nationals in the Flemish-speaking Antwerp and name the book Ixelles after a fashionable neighbourhood in the French-speaking Brussels, piece all this together and allow it to grow into a concoction of thriller-flavoured page-turner, a poignant portrayal of life in a socially vulnerable area and a politically sophisticated story of fake realities and manipulated public opinion. Also add poetry evenings at the library, teenagers’ clandestine meetings on rooftops, several winks to Astrid Lindgren, a couple of winks to Miles Davies. Everything executed in a style and a tone where voices never need to be raised, where the over-explicit never need to intervene and where dystopia and utopia, dreams and illusions sit so comfortably next to one another /… / But I suspect that there is a point with Anyuru’s fictive Belgium. Because Ixelles is a European novel. This is what the continent looks like these days. Segregation, growing divides between rich and poor. Every country obviously has its own story and its peculiarities, but this should not stand in the way for the universal, the general: that most larger cities in Europe are part of the same contemporary history /… / Ixelles is the kind of book that makes you feel smarter. As if you had gained a more solid understanding of how reality is actually constructed. This is, as we know, one of literature’s most astonishing magic tricks.

Västerbottens-Kuriren

More titles by Johannes Anyuru

They Will Drown in Their Mothers' Tears
De kommer att drunkna i sina mödrars tårar
If I Were to Die Under Other Skies
Skulle jag dö under andra himlar

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