Zone by Mathias Enard

zone_cover

Zone by Mathias Enard

French fiction

Original title – Zone

Translator – Charlotte Mandell

Source – review copy

There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing… I am a recording instrument… I do not presume to impose “story” “plot” “continuity”… Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function… I am not an entertainer…”

William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch This caught me as a perfect summation of this book .

Well I was aware of this book from when it came out in the US from Open letter books a few years ago ,it was on my list of books to buy in London at some point .So when new UK publisher Fitzcarraldo editions (You have to instantly love a publisher that call themselves after a Werner Herzog film haven’t you ) were publishing this as one of their first two titles ,I was pleased to get sent a copy of this and their other title the memory theatre  which I have also read and shows a publisher boldly mixing challenging fiction with cutting edge non-fiction .Mathias Enard is a french writer who currently lives in Spain ,he has published eight books so far this is one of two to be translated into English .This book won the Prix de Livre inter and the Prix Decembre in France .It has been called the book of the new century by one french reviewer .

I read Tsirkas drifting cities ,without really understanding it ,without recognizing in the scheme of the shadowy figures in his pages my own steps as an international informant .

I choose this small quote as  an example of books mention in the novel which they are many ,this book is one I really want to get my hands on and read myself !

Zone is the story of a train journey taken by one man Francis Mirkovic he works for the French intelligence service ,he is travelling from Milan to Rome on a train .But the journey just forms a backbone to the book a Francis nears his final gold which is to deliver a briefcase of files on the activities of people with in the Zone ,now the zone is a region from Spain to Lebanon and from former Yugoslavia to north Africa .Now this book is set twenty years ago and uses the Balkan conflict as a springboard to an alternate reality in the past one where the conflict span out of control and drew in the surrounding areas from Palestine to north Africa ,making a lawless region full of arms dealers and petty warlords .Well Francis has the worst of these people in his files and is willing to sell them to the highest bidder .As the train moves through Italy we see through Francis thought how this all happened  the unravelling the past distant and far distant ,books upon books from the Iliad (a book this is compared too given its journey and drifting nature ) , true incidents in the 90’s  ,his own family history his mother was Croatian ,so he was involved from the start in the unravelling of the Zone .Does he sell the case and what will happen when he does ?

I burrowed into The Zone without passion but also without disgust, with an increasing curiosity about the dealings of the wrathful gods ,patiently in my armoured tent .

Another passage how he got drawn in by The zone .

Now as you can tell this book is one of what I call a snake of a book twisting turning and can always rear up and bite you and I was bitten this is a book that deserves a wider readership ,to show what we may be have been missing in recent years in English language literature .Now I must admit the first writer that came to mind when reading this book was Burroughs ,easily because naked lunch is set in a fictitious area roughly North Africa called the Interzone by Burroughs .But also the way Enard twists the recent past to make an Alternate past is something Burroughs frequently did in his books my favourite Burroughs book cities of red nights is rather like this book twisting through time using the real and surreal to draw a character through the past .Pynchon of course is another writer ,but all said and done these have all been mentioned in other reviews what else can I  say about this book ? Well I look back through all the french novels I have reviewed  through this blog 43 books a good slice of French fiction in the last few years to find if this is a one-off or if I had touched any book similar in style to this book and yes partly Where the tigers are at home  sprung of the blog another twisting novel that mixes past and present real and surreal although different in a lot of respects both show that french publishers seem more willing to take chances on long books both weight in at over 500 pages ,plotless books both have vague plots but are more formed of stories within stories twists within twists ,both have won prizes in France this shows maybe the way forward with the girl is a half-formed thing sounding like a similar style of book to these where plot and the everyday convention of what we view as a novel is thrown out of the window for books that challenge and draw us in as readers .would you like to see more challenging books coming out in English like this one ? Also must admit I love the homage in the cover to Joyce’s ulysses original cover .

A song for sunday Pop earworm or romantic me ?

Now all this summer I’ve had a pop earworm ,I am not a huge chart or pop fan ,whether this song actually is them .The song is John Legends All of me ,a song about his own wife ,about what love can do to you ,I played it for my Amanda and said this was what I felt about her .I’m not sure if I am getting soft in my old age or if this one song and the words just touch what I feel for my darling Amanda .Do you ever get an earworm that you just can’t shake for weeks on end ?

Winston’s books favourite publisher writes

IMG_1903Well another week and three book have arrived at the house during the week a great selection .A writer whose two previous book I have really enjoyed ,A book from one of my favourite places to read books from Finland and lastly a favourite publisher that has a second book out .

Forever yours by Daniel Glattauer from Maclehose press ,I have reviewed the two previous book by him both also translated by Jamie Bulloch Love virtually and Every seventh wave were creavtive connected novels on love in the modern age a new take on the epistolary novel .Forever yours seems to take obsession and love itself as its main subject .

Rabbit back literature society by  PASI ILMARI JÄÄSKELÄINEN from Pushkin press A novel I had my eye on for a while as Pushkin as you all know is a publisher I love ,so to get sent this is a real bonus , plus its from Finland which to me is a favourite and much overlooked corner of European literature and to see a couple of bloggers and a review I trust mention in the press sheet made this tale of a women that has been invited to join the elite Rabbit back literature society ,only to find there is more than it seems to be ….

Clara’s Daughter by Mieke Ziervogel . Last and most important I got sent Meike’s second novel ,I am so happy as Meike is the force behind Peirene press  .I want to read Magda her first book ,but this second novel is set in North london and is a story of a daughter and her overbearing mother .We see how they end up living together and sorting out there relationship .

Which of this appeals to you or have you read ?

 

Manja by Anna Gmeyner

manja

Manja by Anna Gmeyner

Austrian Fiction

Original title – Manja Ein Roman um fünf Kinde

Translator – Kate Phillips

Source – Library

[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
― Jim Henson,Source this summed the book up well for me 

So I decide for women in translation month to do a walk through the shelves of the local library to find something I didn’t know about and this was the one that I found ,I have other books from Persephone books including the Nemirovsky short story collection ,so another translation in the series was a real surprise for me ,but also a female writer from Austria which most of the books I have reviewed are male writers so it’s a welcome edition to the collection .Anna Gmeyner was born in Vienna ,born into a liberal Jewish family ,she married and divorced young she spent time in Paris and Berlin writing scripts as well as book .She fled to Scotland in 1933 ,this book was written in Exile in 1938 it was originally published in English under the title the wall and this is a new translation and brought back the original title .

The five bright stars of Cassiopeia could ,for a moment ,be seen above the church tower .The they disappeared behind scurrying black clouds .

The intro first lines sums up the five friend born on the same day I feel .

Manja is a story set in the inter war years in a small German town ,the book is told in five stories of five friends born on the same day from their birth to the early rumblings of the Nazis and war .The five friend Heini ,Franz ,Harry ,Karl and the title character Manja ,now this is four boys and a girl ,they become friends at school .But each has a different backgroung Heini is from a liberal family his father a doctor and a piano teacher mother .Harry comes from a rich family ,but his father is half jewish .Franz  is from a middle class  family his father Anton is drawn in by the Nazis .Karl famliy is working class his father is very left wing and Maja is from Poland orginally .We see the years from the children but also each of these five familes as they sail their course through the inter war years as others rise others start to feel that darkness of Nazism causing trouble for them .A clever way of portraying the inter war years from every angle of Austrian society and even throug Manja a Pole living in Austria .

At the wall where they had been meeting one another every saturday and wednesday evening for nearly four years ,Karl ,Franz,Harry and Heini were waiting for Manja ,who was coming today for the last time : tomorrow she was moving with her mother and brothers to another town .

The orginal english title refers to this wall where the kids meet .

Now this is a great choice for Women in translation month as Anna Gmeyner does just what Zweig does and that is write the opposite sex perfectly this is a tale of boys growing up and watching their fathers through their eye and it works as each sees what the years going by brings .It also wonderfully catches family life at time ,Gmeyner lived in German at the time the book is set so it has a similar feeling of being true ,I was reminded of Christopher  Isherwoods Berlin books ,which like this book  showed the slow rise of Nazis from a bit of a joke to a conquering force it became  .It plays well what happens when views of kids follow their parentsviews and lives as they twist and turn through out the years and we see our childhood friends through our parents Eyes ,the shift of Liberal attitudes of the twenties to the far right vision sees Harry’s family feeling the rise Nazism .The book was naturally banned at the time it came out and took a while to be reissued in Germany in 1984 .Have you read this book ?

Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky

fire in the blood

Fire in the blood by Irène Némirovsky

French fiction

Original title – Chaleur du sang

Translator – Sandra Smith

Source – Library

I think of myself… as a troubadour, a village storyteller, the guy in the shadows of the campfire.

Louis L’Amour Silvio is our troubadour here .

Another of my books read for Women in Translation month was a return visit too Irène Némirovsky ,whom I have review before her book Le bal and pre blogging had read Suite française this book which like Suite française is set in the same village as that book ,but years before .This book was discovered and first published in France in 2007 after the two parts that had been given to two separate people during the war by Irene were put together after her biographers discovered the parts .I did a bio on Le Bal but a brief recount  Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev ,her family fled russia in 1918 first settling in Finland ,then france she started writing in the twenties and had a number of books in  print before the war ,her book written join the war were banned ,she died in Auschwitz in 1942 ,this book was written in 1941 .

“Why do people call you Silvio ” asked Colette .

“A beautiful women who was once in love with me thought I looked like a Gondolier “, I replied .”That was over twenty years ago and ,at the time I had black hair and a handlebar moustache .She changed my name from Sylvestre to Silvio .

How Silvio became Silvio

Fire in the blood is an interesting find really as it saw  Irène Némirovsky setting a second book in the village of  Issy L’Eveque the same as in  Suite fancaise,this is a country tale of morals thou and set before the earlier book .We meet Silvio his is old and we learn of his life in this book and his family his cousins and their kids .He has returned to his home village and we see him life the veil on the village secrets ,we hear of a middle-aged couple cousins of Silvio  and what is below the surface of their marriage  ,the death of a young man whom just married and drowned ,the daughter  Colette of the middle-aged couple whom is due to marry .This is told like an old man would tell it  in a series of small tales of the village  something Némirovsky really pulls of well here  .But he scraps the surface of the village that from the outside appears a peaceful place to reveal a simmering world of loose morals and double standards .

Jean Dorin was buried the day before yesterday.It was a very long service on a cold and rainy afternoon.The mill is up for sale .Colette is keeping only the land ;her father will look after it and she will go home to live with her parents

Through out the books are little piece like this of village news .

Now those of you that have followed this blog for a good while know I have a huge soft spot for books set in small villages ,because like Miss Marple says a small village is just reflects the wide world the closer you look at it .Know fire in the blood in some ways  remind me of Christie in that way she took small villages and like putting a pan on water on the heat  leaving  it long enough it starts boiling and that is what happens here the village is simmering away  .Ok there is no crime but we have everything else people dying ,affairs and secrets .You could question would Némirovsky maybe have tied a few loose ends and overall tighten the book ,I don’t know it isn’t one of those book published posthumously that feels like it should stayed were it was no it feels nearly complete just a final run through and edit ,would raise this to be her best book in my opinion .I need to read the rest of her books ,I said this after I read Le bal and it took me four years to get to this one ,Have you read her books ?

Holmes but will the book be like the films or better ?

hound of the baskervilles ,my 1982 copy

Now Amanda is organising a read along of this classic in October .Now this has set me think ,I think I’ve mention my love of crime tv shows and films ,well my all time favourite is of course Holmes and this story in particular .It’s been twenty plus years since I’ve read it but less than a month since I watched a film version of it that time it was the Ian Richardson and the Basil Rathbone in the same day ,and in the last year or two I’ve watched the hammer version ,Jeremy Brett version ,Matt frewer ,BBC version of the original and of course the Homage of the modern Sherlock series .Each is different in little ways ,not as much of course as the versions of Buchan’s 39 steps are ,but what has been missed from each and will I now be able to separate the films from the book  ?  Do we fix in our mind when we see a film a character ? I often find I have my own vision of characters I’ve read completely different to the actors cast in the film versions ,but in hindsight when think of the book years later see the actor that played the character .I want to break this and enjoy this readalong afresh as it is a classic I loved and think I still will love and also gives me an excuse to buy or get a new copy of the book to read along with ,have you a favourite edition  of the Hound of the Baskerviles  that is out now ?

The extraordinary journey of the Fakir who got trapped in an Ikea wardrobe by Romain Puertolas

the extraordinary journey of the fakir who got trapped in an ikea wardrobe

The extraordinary journey of the Fakir who got trapped in an Ikea wardrobe by Romain Puertolas

French fiction

Original title – L’extraordinaire voyage du fakir qui étaitrestécoincé dans unearmoireIkea

Translator Sam Taylor

Source – review copy

The island it is silent now
But the ghosts still haunt the waves
And the torch lights up a famished man
Who fortune could not save

Did you work upon the railroad
Did you rid the streets of crime
Were your dollars from the white house
Were they from the five and dime

Thousand are sailing lyrics by the Pogues ,like Aja many Irish people tried to find a better life .

Now this book must win the title for the longest and funniest title this year .Sam taylor is fast become the big French title translator here is another book that is one of those rare books that can break across the divide of being translated and a best seller at the same time .Romain Puertolas has been many things in many places a dj ,singer-songwriter ,steward and just prior to this book as a police inspector with the French border services ,checking for fake documents .he has live in France ,Spain and here in the UK .I imagine that last Job Romain did inspired this book .

Ajatashatru was famous throughout Rajasthan for swallowing retractable swords , eating broken glass made from zero-calorie sugar ,stabbing his arms with fake needles ,and a heap of other conjuring tricks,the secrets of which were only known to him and his cousins ,and which he was happy to label magical powers in order to bewitch the masses

Aja knows all the tricks but does he ?

Now the book follows Ajatashartu Oghash Rathod (Aja from here on )a street Fakir (a street magician con man in India ) ,who has seen in an old Ikea catalogue a bed of nails for sail ,he finds the is a store in Paris so sets off to Paris to buy and bring back a bed of nails for him and his friends with just his wits and a poorly counterfeit 100 euro note on a piece of string .Any way he finally arrives at the store to find out the price he had seen was just an offer from a long time ago ,but while trying to decide what to do Aja ends up in a wardrobe and then finds himself in the UK where he is held as an illegal immigrate and is deported to spain ,then he ends up in Italy ,Libya and finally back in france .Along the way he meets officials that don’t like him is mistaken for an artist ,sells a hand written shirt comes into a lot of money and finally decides on a new path in life .

They had abandoned everything to go to a country where they believed they would be able to work and earn money .That was all they asked : to find some honest work so they could send money to their familes ,to their people ,so that their children no longer had those big ,heavy bellies like basketballs

Aja in Great britain ,how many times we hear these words ,isn’t that what we all want a better life ?

 

Now this book is very funny at times Aja is a hapless chap that seems to stumble from one disaster to the next almost an Indian mr Bean ,although he is a con man he is a loveable character just trying to get a bed of nails or even a better life for himself .But there is another side to the book a more serious side and that is what is in the background as we see Aja trip around Europe and North africa and that is the journey many people take to try to find themselves a better life in Western europe although Aja story is fable like ,how many others isn’t ! I enjoyed this one I manage to read it in a night and actually laughed out loud in a few places a perfect summer read light not too taxing ,but with actually a thought-provoking story behind it .We also see how immigrants are treated around western Europe with the rise of parties like UKIP and people falling for fascist sites like Britain first maybe we need to read a book like this and think about others from outside our cosy shores ! The book is also being made into a film .

Have you read this book ?

The colour of Dawn by Yanick Lahens

the colour of dawn

The colour of Dawn by Yanick Lahens

Haitian fiction

Original title –  La Couleur de l’aube

Translator – Alison Layland

Source – review copy

You better run You better run and run and run
You better run You better run
You better run to the City of Refuge
You better run You better run
You better run to the City of Refuge

You stand before your maker
In a state of shame
because your robes are covered in mud
While your kneel at the feet
Of a woman of the street
The gutters will run with blood
They will run with blood!

I thought this Nick Cave lyric caught the journey of the girls so well .source

 

 

Well I have only read one other book from Haiti on the blog ,that is the Alphabet of the night by Jean Euphele-Milche ,but that was over four years ago and I had always intend to try another from book from Haiti ,so when this dropped through the letter box from Seren with another book from their Seren discoveries series ,i was pleased as it also ties nicely into Women in translation month as Yanick Lahens is a female writer ,born in Haiti ,she left to study in France at the Sorbonne ,she return to Haiti where she teaches at the university and worked on projects for a foundation that helps the young people of Haiti get on with their lives amid the violence that sometimes surround in their everyday lives  ,like in this book .

All night my eyes peered into the shadows .All night my ears strained to hear the crackling of gunfire in the distance – something you always want to imagine distant ,very distant .Until that day when death comes ,bleeding to our door .Untill the day it splatters our walls like the others ,I am waiting

Waiting for their brother in the opening lines a reflection on their everyday life .

The colour of dawn is a story of siblings ,a brother  Fignolé a young man who is both a musician and an out spoken voice of his generation ,his two sister Joyeuse and Angelique one with a child that has found god ,the other is just discovering her self as a women  .Are worried when their brother disappears .So the two young sister set off through the city ,through their eyes as they hunt their brother we see the city as both a place when people know one another but also a much darker violent side that is just below the surface .Fignolé sings about the rebel cause ,he has spoken to foreign journalists ,has this landed him in trouble ,the sister need to find out and only have one day to do so .

I’ve been worried about Fignolé for too long , not because he smokes joints ,not at all ,but because of what these joints could lead him to do .I worry myself sick because of his music ,because of his rebelliousness .Because of everything that gets all mixed up and makes too much sense .The music won’t tear down walls ,Fignolé.

His music worries them ,why hasn’t he come home .

The story is told by the sister ,with frequent flashbacks on their past .Although they tell the story another main character is the city itself Port-au-Prince that comes to life of the pages .Yanick works with the young people of this city you feel the three siblings make up three faces of Modern Haitian youth ,one fighting for his freedom against the poverty of the city ,another finding god through a local priest and the last just discovering sex and maybe on a path but she is now just focused on her brother .I was reminded of films like city of god ,in parts of this book as the girls move through the city and see the darker sides it remind me the ghetto’s in that film ,also the was Caicedo novel I review Liveforever ,also about a young women ,also a journey through a city like this book .The book is one of the hidden gems that a month like Women in translation is their to uncover .

Have you read a book from Haiti

A song for sunday

Simon over at stuck in a book does a song for sunday so I’ve decide to try and do a few songs I loved between now and the end of the year .A sort of history of me in songs so now too todays song and it’s Morrisey Debut single after he left The Smiths Suedehead ,his first solo song. I have recently listen to the new LP ,but something about time and age meant I was less excited than when I heard this ,which was I remember on a John Peel show as I used to record songs from his show on a tape and then listen to them for a week or two on my walkman this is song was on repeat at the time just before the single came out  .Do you feel less excited the older you get about new stuff and artist you have loved ?

Winston’s books some new arrivals

IMG_1896.JPG
I’ve had a few books arrive in recent days and it’s a good while since I shared pictures of new arrivals first too the two none translations
the man who walked away by Maud Casey
From Bloomsbury the story of Albert a man who wanders around Europe like a vagrant and gets run out of towns his past is revealed in snippets .I like walking and wandering myself so this sounds great .
so The path does not die by Pede Hollist
From Jacaranda books ,well I please Kelly who I have known via twitter has sent me this book I ve never read a book from Sierra Leone ,the writer was shortlisted for the Caine prize .The book is the story of Fina and her wanting to fit in by having a female circumcision like her friends but her father stops it and her life heads on a different path .
The portrait by Willem Jan Otten
from Sctibe A painter is given the job of painting a dead boy but who was the boy an intriguing book from a prize winning Dutch writer
Indigo by Clemens J. Setz
From serpents tail some children become infectious to adults so are sent away years later the teacher decides to find out what happened to them from a rising experimental writer in Germany
The sermon on the fall of Rome by Jérôme Ferrari I review his last book Where I left my soul this is meant to be better described as a Corsican 100 years solitude it won the Prix Goncourt

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