The Ravens by Tomas Bannerhed

the ravens by tomas bannerhed

The Ravens by Tomas Bannerhed

Sweddish fiction

Orginial title – korparna

Translator Sarah Death

Source review copy

Tomas Bannerhed is a new writer this book was his debut novel it won the big August prize in Sweden and also a Boras prize for a debut novel .He has previously work as a teacher in university .The august prize committee praised it for been a bildungsroman firmly placed in the Swedish tradition .This is one of last years English pen choices .

Sit on the stone wall and see how many different bird calls I can make out ,waiting for the green woodpecker to show herself in the black hole ,poke her bayonet beak and at least say hello .No sign of life .Dead as a may day in church .My greeny yellow friend must have hacked out a home elsewhere ,moved away and laid he gleaming white eggs in a dead pine instead

Klas sees the birds as his friends in the chaotic world he lives in .


The ravens strangely enough arrived the same day as Crow blue a book I reviewed last year I had noted how strange it was to get books named after birds in the same family of birds ,in fact they also share narrators coming of age but unlike crow blue ,Klas is a young boy on the cusp of manhood .Klas lives in a rural farming community ,his family farm isn’t doing great this means is father Agne is struggling and is in fact going down a spiral into depression and woe .SO Klas has to live in this world his parents constant worry of how they are going to get by ,they expect him to one day take the family farm over .Klas is discovering the world around him ,girls and also he loves the nature around him especially birds .Klas struggles to order his life and how it is going to turn out for he sees beyond the farm and the life that has seemingly been mapped out for him .But as he is so young his fathwer despair wears of on him and he wonders if he is going mad him self .

“So you’re klas !” said Leo ,taking the floor  .” I recall Veronika mentioned you at some point .and now you are off to play Ornithologist ?”

“I wouldn’t call it playing “I said “we’re bound to hear mash warblers ,reed warblers and nightingales tonight and probably some common snipe and spotted crakes as well

“Oh will you ? well fancy that “

Veroinka is Klas girl he is quite shy round her ,weren’t we all at that age !!


I loved this book ,it remind me so much of Black swan green ,a young man’s  struggle to grow into adulthood .I loved Klas world in some ways the seventies Sweden with its mentions of the world around him remind me of my own childhood .I could also associate with his feeling of despair at times as he sees adults struggle as I saw this many times in my own family growing up .Then there is the birds ,Klas is a keen birdwatcher ,this drove me right back to my childhood ,I was a member of the YOC  Young Ornithologists Club a junior club for birdwatchers so loved how Klas connect to the world around him and know why he did it as sometimes opening your eyes to the natural world can make your own world disappear .I hope this is a book that people pick up for in fact I felt as a story of a boy struggling into manhood it bets black swan green hands down ,which is saying something !!!

Have you a favourite book in the Bildungromans style ?

the art and craft of approaching you head of department to submit a request for a raise by Georges Perec


the art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise by Georges Perec

French fiction

Original title - L’Art et la manière d’aborder son chef de service pour lui demander une augmentation

Translator – David Bellos

Source – library book

Well as you can tell by the title this book is a little different .I have previously review his most famous book a life a user manual , a novel that works inch by inch through an Parisian house and the people who live their .Perec was a member of the Oulipo movement that like to challenge the writing using various devices .This book is from one such challenge a French computer expert in the sixties want to see if Perec could write out the various routes of a flow chart he had produced  and make it readable here is the result .Yes this flow chart as you may guess from the title is a guide on what is the best way to ask for a pay rise .

Having carefully weighed the pros and cons you grid up your loins and make up your mind top go and see your head of department to ask for a raise so you go to see your head of department let assume to keep things simple – for we must do our best to keep things simple – that his name is mr Xavier

so mr x is mr xavier actually the opening lines of the book .

The story follows an unnamed employee as he wants to as his head of department for a raise .The Head Mr x is some one he doesn’t know well ,but through the course of the story as the various ways ,times ,day he could approach Mr x are discussed we see the narrator construct  a life for his head of department has he a daughter, or four what happens if they have argued .Thus we see a man worrying about getting a raise and try to pick the absolute best time to do this task ! we see him work outr evry possible combination of outcomes .

watch the cafeteria menu because if fish is on the menu your line manager could easily swallow a fish bone and thereafter be in a really awful mood which will not be in your favour

Another option is before or after lunch to ask ?


I have always admire the Oulipo movement as in many ways it is hard enough to write ,but stay different and creative with follow a strict framework is harder .I was reminded in this book of the recent short novel by fellow Oulipo movement member Italo Calvino the castle of crossed destinies   where he like Perec in this used a device in that case build the story around a grouping of tarrot cards ,where as Perec has used the various outcomes on the flow chart to be the thoughts the narrator has as he awaits the right point to discuss his raise .That is it a short book 75 pages long neat translation by Bellos .An unusual idea but it works Perec has pulled of the challenge he was given .

Have you a favourite Oulipo movement book ?

Pushkin press fortnight 2014


Now I now there has been a yearly event for Persephone books in the past .Now I want to start a yearly event for one of my favourite publisher Pushkin Press ,they are publisher of great translation and have just started doing a number of books from  English  as well .I am picking the middle  two weeks in February  2014  the 10th til the 23rd  , which ties up with the  anniversary of the death of Alexander Pushkin which of course whom the press was originally named after .I hope you can also tie these into my year-long Translation Bingo project .Recent highlights from Pushkin press  for me are -

The parrots by Flippo Bologna 

parrots Flippo Bologna


Jarmilla by Ernst Weiss

JarmillaTraveller of the century bY Andres Neuman

traveller of the centurySo what are you favourite books from Pushkin press ?




The castle of cross destinies by Italo Calvino

castle of crossed destinies

The castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino

Italian Fiction

Orginial title - Il castello dei destini incrociati

Translator – William Weaver

Source – Library

Well I’ve review three  of Calvino’s books before on the blog the Cuban born Italian writer is one of my personnel favourite writers ,he is considered one of greatest writer of 20 th century ,he wrote in various styles from realistic like his book into the war I reviewed here ,which was based on his world war two experiences  ,to surreal  like if on a winters night which I reviewed here  and post modern .He was also a member of the Oulipo group of writers .

i also try to

Now I mention the Oulipo connection because this book is just a perfect example of what that movement hope to achieve .The book takes the form of fifteen tales told at a castle and a tavern .Now it is how the stories are told ,because the people in the book telling the stories have been struck silent and have now power of speech to talk to each other . So they tell each other their stories via a pack of tarrot cards and are narrator fills in the gaps and makes stories for each of them .so we meet an alchemist ,grave robber doomed bride amongst others  at the castle .At the tavern we have waverer ,a forest seeking revenge and warriors .The narratives told are similar in there ways to books like Decameron and canterbury tales .The cards frame the stories and characters .


The stories show how as Calvino said ” a finite number of elements whose combinations are multiplied in a billion billion” Thus a pack of tarot could throw up any number of tales ,but then we have how do we tell the stories ,is it through the words of the narrator or the pictures on the cards how do we decide where to go when the same card with different number appear in different stories .What Calvino does is to spin the tale each time from card to card as he chooses the cards for each tale so we see how each character arrived at the castle or tavern and what has happened to them rather like the tales of the decameron and Canterbury  ,there was meant to be a third part to this et at a motel in the future that Calvino never wrote .This book is very unusual and is one of those books people are going to either love or hate ,now I loved it I love the thought of playing with what is storytelling test the boundaries by in a way cutting the chances down I mean each of these stories is formed from a tarot pack which normally contains 78 cards so thou the stories are infinite the route of the story has only a 1 in 78 chance to move on .Have you read any Oulipo books ?I chooose to use pages instead of writing quotes as it illustrates the stories much better than just the writing as you miss half of it because of their being no cards to see .

All is silence by Manuel Rivas

all is silence by Manuel Rivas

All is silence by Manuel Rivas

Spanish Fiction

Original Title - Todo es silencio,

Translator – Jonathan Dunne

Source – Library

Well I put this book down as Spanish fiction  although Manuel Rivas ,he is a Galician writer he is from that part of Spain and writes in Galician not Spanish and this book is a direct translation from his original .He grew up wanting to be a bricklayer like his father but was persuaded by his mother to become a Journalist poet  and writer .He was also one of the first writers  I reviewed on this  blog with his book The carpenter’s pencil .That  book was set in the civil war .This his latest to reach us in English is set in the Sixties onwards .

“The mouth is not for talking .It’s for keeping quiet .”

This was one of Mariscal’s sayings ,which his father repeated like a litany and Victor Rumbo -Brinco_ recalled when the other boy saw with amazement what was in the strange package  he’d pulled out the basket and asked what he wasn’t suppose to

“what’s that then ? what are you going to do ? “

They have  mouths , and speak not replied Brinco laconically

The opening lines let you know what silence can mean .

All is silence is a book about friends growing up  and what happens when one takes one path and another takes another and there is a girl as well !,Finn and Brinco  are like peas in a pod but there is one thing they have between them and that is they both have a liking for the wild tom boyish ,but beautiful Leda .The boys like all boys spend there days on the coast having adventures with each other ,this although in a world under Franco and the fact their part of Spain (the same as the writer Galicia ,I heard it described as a bit like Ireland to England but from what I’ve read actually the north-east of the UK is a better idea for me ) ,anyway one day they find a large stash of Whiskey and fags stuck by the old school ,Now this is all very Enid Blyton in a strange way a world that although tough maybe isn’t in the kids eyes  to this point ,but then a man  in a hat appears and tells the boys that Mouths are for Silence .We then see the boys grow Brinco and Leda marry ,Finn has gone a different route than his friends he has left the village and returns as a policeman .This is a post Franco world and the smuggling that the boys saw as kids has grown and it’s not just cigarettes and alcohol now no the stakes have grown .What happened to the man they meet as a boy ?

Finn had his eyes closed .When you close your eyes ,beware what you might open ,He took a deep breath ,let go slowly like a mouth of wind .

Finn returning to his childhood home what awaits him .

Well like his other book I’ve read Rivas is a poetic writer he paints his homeland through a poets eyes ,he is a poet as well as a novel writer .I felt he built the tension well in this book as it went on .This world is based round  a love triangle ,power  who has it .What it means to be friends all play a part .This has already been made into a film in Spain .It’s one of those books that seem to get darker as you move on the strange switch from the childhood years which under Franco are viewed as dark but it is the post Franco time when the kids are grown that is darker .I must try his last book before this book burn badly .Have you read Rivas ?

They were counted by Miklós Bánffy

they were counted

They were counted by Miklós Bánffy

Hungraian fiction

Orginal Title - Megszámláltattál

Translator – Patrick Thursfield and Katalin Bánffy-Jelen

Source – Review copy

Miklós Bánffy was in his lifetime  a diplomat , MP and even foreign minister of Hungary ,at this time he signed treaties and brought Hungary into the league of nations .He published this book the first of his famous Transylvanian trilogy in the 1930′s  oh and he also designed sets and costumes and was a graphic artist .He had one daughter as well .It is her that is the co translator of this book

Though Balint realized that he would see Adrienne that evening the thought had little effect on him .It caused neither joy nor that slight irritation he had felt previously when he thought of her marriage .

early on we meet Balint and Adrienne

They were counted is set in the noble families of the Austro-Hungarian .We meet to Cousins both Counts Balint and Laszlo .Through these two we see the decline of the world around them the world war is not upon them but the early seeds of this are blowing in the wind Balint is drawn to the struggling peasants from Romanian and starts to champion the rights of the poor ,whilst his other cousin is drawn into the world of the upper class gents of the time gambling at the gaming tables .This is 1906 and the world around them is speeding up .All this set in the grand house and shooting parties of the upper class of the time .The family castle as we see Balint and Adrienne twist and turn round each other .This book fits his career as a set designer you feel he draws the world around these two in the book and we’ll get to see what happens in the following volumes .

Laszlo had taken his cousins Balint’s advice to heart .While they had been together in Vasarhely , and in the train until they had seprated at Marcos-Ludas , Balint had tried hard to make Laszlo understand the problems he would have to face now that he had chosen musci as a career , problems that would never be solved  unless Laszlo contrived to be freed of his debits .#

The cousins have their own problems Laszlo is money .

Well I kept the description brief this is a huge book and too much for a review .I was reminded of so much I ve seen before from the other side yes this is like the first series of Dowton Abbey the one before the war these cousin are like an Austro Hungarian version of the cast there is even an on/off love affair at their ancestral castle home  .I was also reminded of the film shooting party that follows an English shooting part just on the eve of world war one maybe a bit after this book is set but you get the same feel of a world in the background in flux .This book was lost til rediscovered after the fall of communism and is one of those books you’ve seen and maybe even heard of but I say you should pick it up I really can’t what to see what happens in this world in part two how does the cousins world turn out will the gambler Laszlo come a cropper ,will the socially mind Balint stay so ?There is numerous names mentioned on the cover Tolstoy ,Proust being two I ve seen in connection to this book .I felt his echoes in books b modern Hungarian writers the scope of vision remind me of Nadas ,The upper class world is also like Waugh’s world at times the manners and customs also different at times show how much these worlds had in come before they went to war on either side during world war one .

The son by Andrej Nikolaidis

the son Andrej Nikolaidis

The son by Andrej Nikolaidis

Montenegrin fiction

Original title –  Sin

Translator – Will Firth

Source – Review copy

I’ve reviewed the first book in this what is a lose trilogy of novels by Andrej Nikolaidis .He is a well-known figure in Montenegro where he is quite outspoken at times and is firmly a writer that likes to give his opinions over .He also kindly wrote a piece for this blog on his love of Thomas Bernhard .He said to his publisher this book was more influence by Bernhard than his first novel the coming .

April is the cruellest month , according to Eliot .But he never lived on the Montenegrin Riviera , and his fellow citizens didn’t rake in the wealth by renting out rooms .He never saw tourist arriving in his peaceful town like hordes of Huns and turning it into a giant barbarian amusement park

I loved this line ,as I want to go to Montenegro on holiday at some point and be one of the hordes .


Well given the fact that we know in part this is a book that is influenced by Bernhard ,we can see it straight away as we meet our narrator he is a writer and is unnamed .We meet him on one evening in his life as he wanders round Ulcinj partly the setting for Nikolaidis earlier novel .We follow him through this night as he wanders the city but also interacts with numerous folk along the way a piano student from Vienna ( another nod to Bernhard I think as his book about Glenn Gould the great Canadian pianist  is set in Vienna ) this man has quit piano and become a Muslim . a preacher also crosses his path .Also refugees from Kosovo ,I loved this part I spent a summer in Germany in the mid 90′s working in a factory with a couple from Kosovo so this brought back memories of that time . Add to this the Son of the title is struggling in his real life and his father blames him for his mother’s death and we have a dark evening of guilt and the past of this city itself slaves that made the city initially  and communist past echoes around the narrator .Also a good dose of drinking this is a novel that grabbed me as a reader .

My mother cursed the day she bore me .She was in hospital in Podgorica ,melting away before my eyes as uterine cancer ate her up from the inside , she literally de materialised as the emptiness of her womb spread like the expanding universe ,and disappeared into that void like light is devoured by a black hole

Powerful and touching lines here .

Well I loved this as much as I loved The coming for me Nikolaidis is the reason I read translation ,voices like his make reading books in translation a pleasure .Had I not loved Bernhard works and his unique narrators would I have been able to see his influence on Nikolaidis the narrator her could walk of the page of a Bernhard novel but this isn’t just an homage to Bernhard we see the last twenty years of modern Europe ,very much  the balkans  ,the refugees from Kosovo are a great example of the times their country and recent history sums up the history of the Balkan conflicts religion and Serbia at the heart of it .There is also a dose of almost dream like drifting into the past ,almost like you have had a few drinks as yoy read add to this Andrej has added a playlist to the book I include one song he listen to while writing this book Steve Earle John walker blues (I love Earle since hearing copperhead road as a kid )

Russian stories by Francesc Serés

russian stories

Russian stories by Francesc Serés

Spanish fiction (or russian !)

Translator from Catalan Peter Bush

Translator from Russian Anastasia Maximova

Original  title Contes Russo

Source – review copy

Fransesc   Serés is a Catalan   writer he studied fine art and Anthropology at university ,after this he became a writer he has publish over ten books of novel and short stories in Spain and has also produced a number of stage works . He is also a professor of art history and a Russophile .

Consequently , if it weren’t for this confession of mine , nobody would know that Elvis Presley gave a concert in Moscow’s red square.

Yes , you heard me , a concert in Red square in 1958

It was one of the many demonstrations of strength the superpowers made during the cold war .A stupid one , but it was ,at the end of the day , a demonstration of strength .

Well imagine if the King had played in Moscow .

Frnacesc Serés happen in his love of Russian literature this lead him to coming  across a unmined wealth of lost , writing that hadn’t seen the light of day outside Russia .He gathered together 21 different stories from five new to us in the west  writers spanning the history of modern Russia .We start in modern Russia Ola Yevgueniyeva born in 1967 writes about Putin’s Russia stewardess contrast their world and the places they go and how their world is changing .Also a wonderful story of a chess match between an old gent and a young girl almost showing the change in modern Russia from the older player to the younger player .Then we move back through time with each subsequent writer .The next writer  Vera-Margarita she evokes the soviet past story of red square mentions of Lenin and Stalin .Then we get to Vitali Kroptkin and my favourite story Elvis Presley sings in Red Square ,did you know that Elvis had song in Red square in 1958 well he had new KGB files show ,a fun look at what could have happened had the King played in Russia .Then  we have Aleksandr Volkov he wrote of the post world war two soviet regime also how bizarre the state could be at times given the story about Voromians ,I liked this because it was just them remove the name and it is at heart of a number of incidents involving separate races with in the soviet sphere .The last writer Josef Bergghenko takes us to a pre world war two soviet times .

Voromians are pleasant , the odd one even looks at her as if he regonises her . one couple are called Var and Mirtila , like so many they ask her where they will be taken .She can’t think what to reply

A group that have been moved by the purges .

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it well it is amazing to discover these unknown writers ,ha nearly had you no the book is entirely made up by the writer francesec  Serés it is an homage to soviet writing but also a look into maybe what might have been written .He manages to pull it off with great style each writers piece do seem as thou they are from a different voice they are completely from the hands of Fransesc  Serés he has playfully mixed styles of contemporaries of the figures he is writing about so you get sense of these writers writing in their time echoes of kafka the fun of Bulgakov  .A book for fans of Russian literature but also the likes of Borges .I also discovered an interesting interview here it is in Spanish but comes across reasonably well via google translate .

German lit month 2013

I was so pleased when yesterday Caroline and Lizzy announced German lit month 2013 .this year there is a change with male and female weeks .I have been saving all my German translations since last year so have a good number built up ready for review more than I thought as I grabbed books for pictures I have nine of the books pictured already read . So here are the female books I’m hoping to review

As you see it’s a broad mix of books and as with the last two years I’m reviewing a Herta Muller .I’ve also a Christa Wolf on order from the library and hope in next few days hope to add a few more female names as Lizzy and Caroline noted last year saw more male German writers reviewed than Female I maybe didn’t help as I am more drawn to male voices and writers in my book choices as the picture of what male German books I have show


I wanted to include two by German language writers this time I haven’t review before they are Uwe Timm although not so well known in English is a huge writer in German and Peter Handke who I’m still shocked I’ve not reviewed before as his books I have always enjoyed since he wrote parts for one of my favourite films wings of desire .
What book have you in mind for German lit month 2013 ?

Let the games begin by Niccolò Ammaniti

let the games begin

Let the games begin by Niccolò Ammaniti

Italian Fiction

Translator Kylee Doust

Source – review copy

Now I must admit this is my first novel by the italian writer Niccolò Ammaniti ,I have had I’m not scared sat on my shelves for a couple of years .But when I was offered the chance to review this book I jumped at the chance the mention of satanic cults ,intoxicated supermodels ,olympic athletes and man eating Hippos how could I say no at time I not the wasn’t enough hippos in fiction but strange enough two books in the last twelve months have had hippos in down the rabbit hole and the sound of things falling both had hippos in ! maybe we are on the brink of Hippo fiction .Anyway back to Niccolò Ammantiti and Let the games begin .Niccolò Ammaniti studied biology but didn’t finish his degree ,he moved onto writing he published his first novel in 1994 and has since written six novels had his books made into a film .He won the prestigious Strega prize in 2007 .Let the games begin is his fifth novel .

Fabrizio Ciba was forty-one years old ,but everyone thought of him as a young writer .That adjective , frequently repeated by newspapers and other media had a psychosomatic effect on his body .Fabrizio didn’t look older than thirty-five .he was slim and toned without going to the gym .He got drunk every evening but his stomach remained as flat as a table .

MMM is this the young-looking Niccolò  making a point about people calling him young a lot ?

Let the games begin follows a number of different characters Fabrizo Chiba a Novelist ( to me he was  a writer trying  to live down a huge novel when young  ala Salinger but italian he is well-known for one book more than his others ) ,he is also a little up himself .Then there is Sasa Chiatti a multi millionaire property guy that has a mansion Villa Ada where a lot of the book is set and has invite a group people including Fabrizo ,A satanic cult leader called Mantos  leader of the wild beasts of Abaddon and a model that was a Satanist that has since convert to the Catholic church ,add in a collection of wild animals and you have a recipe for some real moments of madness and dark with .What happens when a writer and a cult leader meet ? All meeting at the Villa Ada .

Sasa Chiatti had built marshland , river and quicksand and committed himself to repopulation the park .He had brought from neglected zoos and abandoned circuses of the eastern european countries bears , seals , tigers , lions giraffes , foxes ,parrots cranes ,storks macaques , Barbary macaques ,hippopotamus and piranhas , and he had scattered them throughout the one hundred and seventy hectares of Villa Ada .

He want it to be like when he was a boy and came with his mum to go round Vila Ada .

I loved this book it may all sound outlandish a sot of modern take on the exterminating angel a look at what may be considered the modern elite where it isn’t class that gets you place it is celebrities .Maybe it is ,I felt it capture the madness and bizarreness money and power can bring to people the thing is Vila Ada Chiatti world isn’t far removed from the world Michael Jackson and others have built round them selves .I can also see Chiatti as maybe the embodiment of all that Silvio Berlusconi politics and personnel life style stands for there is a message against excess her and wonderful with behind the message .One for anyone that likes a little madness in the fiction .

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