Portrait of a man by Georges Perec

 

 

Portrait of a Man

Portrait of a man by Georges Perec

French fiction

Original title – Le Condottière

Translator – David Belios

Source – Review Copy

 

“Pay In Blood”

Well I’m grinding my life out, steady and sure
Nothing more wretched than what I must endure
I’m drenched in the light that shines from the sun
I could stone you to death for the wrongs that you done
Sooner or later you make a mistake,
I’ll put you in a chain that you never will break
Legs and arms and body and bone
I pay in blood, but not my own.
This lyric by Bob Dylan from his Tempest album Has Gaspard paid in blood ?

Well this is an important book , as it was only recently published in France after David Belios , Perec’s English translator had rediscovered this book as a carbon copy Perec had kept , the book was mentioned in one of his other books and thought lost .it was Perec’s debut n0vel which at the time he wrote it he couldn’t find a publisher for ,and had been thought lost till it was found again .It is also an important book for this blog as it marks the 500th book I have reviewed here and the 50th novel from French to be review , as I got near to 500 books review I decide this was the one that deserved the honour of being that book .Georges Perec , was brought up by his paternal aunt and uncle after his parents died in world war two .He studied history and sociology at the Sorbonne , whilst at the same time starting to write .This is also the time he started to write this book .

Madera was heavy .I grabbed him by the armpits and went backwards down the stairs to the laboratory .His feet bounced from tread to tread in a staccato rhythm that matched my own unsteady descent , thumping and banging around the narrow stairwell .Our shadows danced on the walls Blood was still flowing all sticky , seeping from the soaking wet towel

The opening lines grip you , what has happened ?

portrait of a man takes as its inspiration the painting that is on the front cover of the book portrait of a man / the condottiere (the French title of the novel ) by Antonelo da Mesina .he use a man who is forging painting by this guy as his character in this book Gaspard Winckler is a master forger , he is working for Madera , who has asked him to copy this one picture  whilst Gaspard has stuck in the background just painting .the book opens as we see Gaspard moving the dead body of Madera , which he has just killed .We follow what happened in two parts the first is formed of an internal monologue as Gaspard is waiting for the police to find him , the events that lead up to the murder .How he became a forger and met Madera  .the second half of the book follows Gaspard after he is arrest and is being interviewed by the police .Gaspard struggled to get the painting on the canvas in the same way as Mesina had , is this why he killed Madera .

“Yes …more or less obvious .Forging isn’t a trade .It’s more like a rut .You get stuck in it .You get drowned .You think things are still possible … But you get tripped up by your own rope-trick .things don’t exist anymore … It’s difficult to explain .. How can I say .. You always do the same thing , you explore the same paths over and over ,you hit the same blocks again and again .

Gaspard explaining to the police what it is like being a forger .

Now I for one am very wary of lost books , the has been a number of them in recent years and they often seem to be the scrapings of a writers life .So I was pleased when this book wasn’t that no this is a book , that maybe at the time it was written was to new for the French readers .Perec is of course known for being an experimental writer and a member of the oulipo group , is this book like those books ,yes and no .It is a different way to tell a story in the two parts that form the book with the internal and the external descriptions of what happen  .It is actually the most accessible book by Perec I have read .The big theme of the book is maybe being False , what are we ,how are we if we just copy , what is the truth behind the murder ? As with some of his later books he has twisted the crime thriller genre to make an interesting study on the human condition . A fitting choice for the 500th review by this blogger a rediscovered book that actually deserved to be published ironically his first book becomes his last book as well , a very Perec thing in a way (maybe that is what he had in mind keeping the carbon copy ?)

have you a favourite rediscovered book ?

uncertain Glory by joan sales

 

 

Uncertain Glory by Joan Sales

Catalan fiction

original title – Incerta glòria

Translator – Peter Bush

Source – review copy

‘The Cemetery Is Near’

(VI: From ‘Cancionero Y Romancero De Ausencias’)

 

The cemetery is near

where you and I are sleeping,

between blue prickly-pears,

blue agaves and children,

who scream excitedly

if the dead darken the road.

From here to the cemetery, all

is blue, golden, clear.

Four paces, and the dead.

Four paces, and the living.

Clear, blue and golden,

my son there grows remote.

The cemetery is near a poem by Miguel Hernandez ,which Pablo Neruda called the face of spain .Source 

Well this is the first of two book from catalan I’ll be reviewing  you in the next few weeks , this first is considered a classic in Catalan and also one of the definitive works on the Spanish civil war .Joan Sales was born in Barcelona and studied law just before the outbreak of the Civil war , he fought in the civil war and afterwards he lived in Exile .He first published the book in 1956 ,but revised it over the years until the definitive version of the book came out in 1971 , as the earlier version had been subject to Franco censorship of them .

8 july

We are still doing , nothing , just waiting for the recruits to arrive .We have already alloted officer to the future companies :I’ve got the 4th and my captain will be lieutenant gallart , the ex-waiter .

The village couldn’t be more dismal :It’s boxed in and you can’t see until you’re inside .It’s boundaries are extensive ,it’s mostly barren waste with the large olive trees that account for its name .

The arrival at the village with the woman of the Castilo de Olivo .

The book follows Lieutenant lluis Ruscalleda he is assigned to Aragonese front in 1937 he is a lawyer (in some ways you could say this is in some  part  Joan sales ), he arrives but start away doesn’t fir in his comrades seem to like a drink and he isn’t a drinker , but along the way he meets a woman the women of the Castilo de OLivo , she is an intriguing woman , that intrigues the lieutenant she became the lady of the house after she was a servant in the house  .Meanwhile Lluis is writing back to Trini his former lover that is a new woman and that is struggling with the war to bring up their son .The winter sees the brigade is sent to a quiet part of the line this brings even more problems , Lluis also writes to his brother and we also see Trini write to her old friend about her struggles with life .Add to this the war isn’t going their way and a strong streak of Catholic guilt and the church in the war , in the story we see the spanish civil war from a Catalan point of view from the losing side .A picture of the chaos that civil war is .

29 june

Dear juli , I received a letter from Lluis the day before yesterday after weeks without one .I was so pleased to hear you are both in the same brigade .I hadn’t heard from him so long ! The only news I had was the monthly postal order he dent me without fail .

Trini on the home front so to speak worries about Lluis at the front .

I have read a number of novels about the civil war those written in recent years ,by the likes of  Manual Rivas , that look back at the aftermath and Chaos of the war once the dust had settled so to speak  his book carpenters pencil looked at being a prisoner and returning after the war .I have also read a couple of books by English languages writers written that were involved with the Spanish civil war  one by Hemingway which isn’t like this book as his writing is full of bravado  .The other is  the novella by George Orwell Homage to Catalonia ,which is the nearest to this book as it follows Orwell’s time at the front .But this book adds more dimension to the fighting given its form , which is an epistolary novel what we are given is the full picture of the fighting , life on the front line not just the fighting but the sitting on the front line .We also see from Trini the life on the home front what is it like raising a kid in the war .The characters in the book , give a full picture of the world around them ,Sales brings lots of details to the story that make the war leap of the page .as we see how the war effects each character changing the relationships but also the view of the world around them .

Have you a favourite book about the spanish civil war ?

The false Apocalypse by Fatos Lubonja

The False Apocalypse by Fatos Lubonja

Albanian Non-fiction

Original title – Nëntëdhjeteshtata – Apokalipsi i rremë

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – review copy

When one voice rules the nation
Just because they’re top of the pile
Doesn’t mean their vision is the clearest
The voices of the people
Are falling on deaf ears
Our politicians all become careerists

They must declare their interests
But not their company cars
Is there more to a seat in parliament
Than sitting on your arse
And the best of all this bad bunch
Is shouting to be heard
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

I ve gone for Billy Bragg song ideologies as this is a story of ideas falling apart

I love the fact that Susan at Istros books is publishing books like this one for I feel no one else would publish a book about Albania internal politics .Fatos Lubonja is the son of Todi Lubonja who was one of the closet aids to Hoxha , until the early 1970’s when he was arrested and Fatos , where Fatos then spent the next 17 years in Jail  , he is considered an outspoken critic on the post communist world of Albanian politics and also the writer Ismail Kadare .In the introduction he is called the closest thing tp an intellectual conscience in Albania .

The arrival of a boatload of sugar , whose sale would pay off all his debts , was the last deception used by the mastermind of the pyramid scheme to palm off the daily demands of his creditors .Qorri has made this boat the focal point of the novel , a symbol of people’s hope and trust in the victory of capitalism over reality of socialism ,The arrival of the sugar boat would solve everything .

The premise of the Novel Fatos Qorri called Sugar boat about one pyramid scheme .

The False Apocalypse is a story of the years after the fall of communism within Albania .The book has two narratives one that follows the greater picture of Albania at the time  the government of Sali Bershia that was the leader of the country at the time .The problem with the regime was the fact they let to many fraudsters take over the country , in particular a number of Pyramid schemes (the schemes used new investors to pay old investors whilst appearing to make money , the only ones that made money where the leaders of the scheme ) , these schemes had grown since the fall of Hoxha and the fall of communism in 1991 , the schemes had grown and grown so in 1997 the collapse of them was going to take the whole country down with it .As the public start to protest and riots begin as scheme after scheme collapses .The second narrative thread in the book is the personnel story of Fatos Qorri ( akter ego of fatos lubonja ) describes the events of 1997 through his own eyes through diary entries . He is in the process of writing a novel in fact about the pyramid schemes and as he is doing so the events take over him .

The victory of the guns in Vlora created a nightmare for thee Tirana government .Could Berisha weather these events ? The Government was on the brink of resignation , with dozens of deaths laid at it’s door State institutions had collapsed , Vlora was in rebellion with fighting in the streets , and the nation faced bankruptcy .moreover , after what had happened , Albania was split in two and Berisha’s people didn’t dare set foot in the south .

The first real crack appeared at Vlora the first of many .

Now I remember the aftermath of this when the west rode in to save the government of Berisha .What I enjoyed about lubonja book is the way he used his own personnel experience at the time and mixed it in with the wider picture of what was going on in Albania at the time .what we see is a country trying to run before they have learnt to walk .A government that has really lost control over the schemes and the country as a whole , this is what happened when the prisons were opened , the gangs are allowed to take control . The former secret service has also  become a force to be watched after it was not taken apart from the fall of communism .What we get is the chaos explained , what happens on the wider scale when a country starts to fall apart but also on the personnel scale to the man on the street .This book appeals to anyone that has an interest in the fall of communism and maybe wants to learn more about Albania .

Have you a favourite non fiction book in translation ?

The Neruda case by Roberto Ampuero

The Neruda case by Roberto Ampuero

Chilean fiction

Original title –  El caso Neruda

Translator – Carolina De Robertis

Source – review copy

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

I choose the first two verse of a poem by Neruda one of the few I read online that touched me a lot A dog has died source

There is nothing better than the unknown book falling through the letterbox at Winston towers such as it was with this book when it arrived .Souvenir press sent me this book I’m one that falls in love with covers and I did with this one with its great picture  of Neruda on the cover .Robert Ampuero has lived a life , in fact in some ways the way he has moved around the world he left his native Chile after the Coup in 1973 first to east Germany to study , then in Cuba back to Chile and then Sweden and finally in the US where he is the professor of creative writing at the university of Iowa .

“In that case , it’s time for you to read the Belgian ,” the poet continued forcefully .”Because if poetry transports us to heaven , crime novels plunge you into life the way it really is , they dirty your hands and blacken your face the way coal stains engine stokers on trains in the south ,where I was born ,I’ll lend you these volumes so you can learn something from Inspector Maigret .

Young Brule is given the task and told to read Maigret to help him with it by don Pablo .

Well  I for one had wanted to know more about Pablo Neruda , he has always been on my radar of some one to read , he of course one the Nobel  prize for literature but is one of the best known poets from Latin America .The book is an imagined journey around the world by a young man on behalf of Pablo Neruda . The young man Cayetano Brule is a young private in the Cuban army where he is given a task to help Don Pablo , the job is to be a detective of Don Pablo’s life to retrace the woman he loved and left through out his life .Don Pablo ask the young man if he has read any crime fiction to help him along the way , he says he has read he says some Christie , Chandler and of course Holmes .At this point Don Pablo says he needs to read Simenon detective Maigret (he is not the only one I’ve read a lot as you all know this year as well ) so Neruda sends his private Maigret to rediscover his former loves , this journey takes him Berlin ,Cuba , Mexico and Bolivia as he follows the woman who meant something in Neruda’s life .

The poets large brown eyes grew more alert , as they always did when he was talking about women .Cayetano already knew this expression with its fleeting , youthful glow “A young woman , then. How old ? “

“She was a teenager in the early sixties so today she should be around thirty “

Don Pablo talking about on of his women as he sends his private to find out what happened to her .

The book is about an old man wanting to find out about his life and using this younger man to in some way recapture his youth , but also do that thing which we all do from time to time and that is to recapture one’s old loves .Alongside this we see the world Neruda lived in and how his shifting views on the world , also reflected at times the moving views in the world he had lived in .The coups,  political changes ever shifting politics of Latin America in the 20th century , all this viewed through the eyes of this young man who dreams of being a great writer like Don Pablo is .Don Pablo is painted with a loving eye , you can tell that Roberto Ampuero is a huge fan of this man , he even says in his after word how when he was younger he could see Pablo Neruda house from his own house , the room he was aware of with the huge chair by the window that Pablo Neruda used to sit in .I always love the way Latin American writers twist the detective novel as a form , Ampuero has twisted it to both be a great detective novel , but also a great piece of biography and also a look at the history and politics at the time of Neruda’s life .I was also left with the wanting to buy a collection of Neruda’s poetry .

Have you read Neruda ?

The glory of life by Michael Kumpfmüller

The glory of life by Michael Kumpfmüller

German fiction

Original title – Die Herrlichkeit des Lebens

Translator – Anthea Bell

Source – Review copy

 

Come on skinny love just last the year
Pour a little salt, we were never here
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer

Tell my love to wreck it all
Cut out all the ropes and let me fall
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Right in this moment this order’s tall

And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind

well skinny love by bon Iver  is about doomed love rather like Franz and Dora is . Source 

Well when I got an email from Haus books about two upcoming books from Germany in translation I jumped at the chance with the knowledge that German lit month was coming up , this book won the Jean monnet prize for European literature prize , his earlier book has won the Alfred Doblin prize one of the most prestigious prizes in literature in Germany   .Michael Kumpfmüller he studied history at university , after he finished his studies he became a freelance writer for several papers within Germany , his first book came out in 2000 a collection of short stories , he has since written three novels .He also in 2005 joined a red/green movement run by the German writer Gunter Grass .

Dora sits at the kItchen table , getting fish for supper .She has been thinking of him for days , and suddenly here he is .Tile of all people , has brought him , and he’s alone , the woman she saw on the beach isn’t with him .He stands in the doorway , looking first at the fish , then at her hands , a little censoriously she thinks .But there is no doubt about it ,this is the man from the beach

Franz meets her alone for the first time .

The glory of life is a novel partly based on true fact , the story follows the last year in the life of the Czech writer Franz Kafka .The story is told through the eyes of Dora Diamant a twenty-five year old woman , who meet the dying Kafka whilst he was recovering on the Baltic coast , she sees the boy with in this forty-year old man and he see life in this much younger woman as the romance starts .We then follow them over course of his last year as we follow the pair to Berlin ,of course the is just the time when fascism is on the rise so apart from the romance between Franz and Dora , we also see Franz having to deal with the Anti Semitism .But he is also growing weaker all the time this means he eventually ends up at a sanatorium in Austria. We see a love that burns bright but is very doomed since the start .

He has seemed to be better again for the last few days .She doesn’t really know why : is it his work on the proofs , is it the whispering at night when she tells him silly things ,what she was like as a little girl , her refusal to have her hair cut after her mothers death ? instead she wore two long braids .

Dora loves him til the end , I love the fact she isn’t sure if it the love or the writer in Franz driving him , I ‘d love to think it was the love !

This is an imagined year , yes Franz Kafka had a relationship with Dora Diamant ,but no real evidence of how this relationship went on so , Michael has done a real good job in imagining the world they lived in , I of course have read Kafka , but it was almost twenty years ago and I have since read bits about his life , I think most of us that read any amount of books in translation know the story of how we are able to read Kafka , he had ask his friend Max Brod to destroy all his work after he died , of course he didn’t thus we are able to read him ,Max is a character in this book .This book could have easily felt like historic document ,but it didn’t no what we get is a blossoming love affair that is doomed from the start ,we know this but Dora and Franz don’t .MIchael Kumpfmüller  has brought us a story of lovers that will I’m sure touch any reader that like me is a romantic at heart .As for Dora , her life after this book is really interesting  she also had some of Kafka’s work but lost it to the Gestapo , one can wonder what was lost to us the reader .

Have you read Kafka or anything about his life ?

 

The enigma of Modiano ?

 

Well Monday see’s the first post nobel book by Patrick Modiano come out its only on kindle for now by Yale press world republic of letters imprints are bringing out Suspended sentences a collection of three novellas by him , they are described as an ode to a bygone Paris and the dark days of Nazi rules and the writers own experience  , this sounds rather like the search warrant , which those of you that read my review know I instantly fell in love with .So we now need to know how this writer hasn’t ever really taken of in the English speaking world ? So why has this not happened , well has he not won a big prize ? no he won the Prix Goncourt ok a long time ago but it is the biggest prize in French literature , he has also won a number of big european prizes before the Nobel win so no that isn’t a reason .Not enough books ? no he has written 26 novels so there is a body of work by him .His books are they  too long ? no they tend to be below 200 pages which means they are actually cheap to translate .The style of the books tend to be Literary detective book missed with memories a sort of Sebald Eco mix so that isn’t really a reason for people not to buy them as both those writers are among the most popular selling writers in translation .Setting now this is maybe a problem a lot of his books look at the French war years , now I think in the 21st century maybe we are ready to rewrite the view of this period , yes it was bad , but people still had to live and this is at heart what a lot of his books seem to be about the everyday going ons of wartime France .He is called the New Proust I have seen , now for me this is another kiss of death line , it reminds me of the bands in the late 80’s and early 90’s that were given the tagline “The new smiths ” , i for one tend to be wary when a writer is directly compared to one of the greats of his own countries literature !! I did say on Grants post for his review of Honeymoon , which he had already order before the win after reading my review of search warrant , that maybe he was a little too subtle for English readers , in the fact that its good writing but not exciting , rather like Pamuk and LLosa both nobel winners that maybe just write  great books but not Standout books .But that said they both have been published most of their careers ,but maybe this is another reason , they have both been published mainly by one publisher were as Modiano books have come out on a number of publishers .Another reason maybe he is a little shy and isn’t interviewed a lot ,not a full enigma like Elena Ferrante or Thomas Pynchon  which maybe is a problem we like a writer we can’t see and ones we can see ,  but somepne  in-between we maybe just don’t get ! well a post of questions no answers I hope the Nobel win brings some more books by him I for one will be reading them .Maybe now he has won we will finally get to like him !

Have you a theory ?

The poisoning Angel by Jean Teule

 

The poisoning Angel by Jean Teule

French fiction

Original title – Fleur de Tonerre

Translator – Melaine Florence

Source review copy

I live in a town called Millhaven
And it’s small and it’s mean and it’s cold
But if you come around just as the sun goes down
You can watch the whole town turn to gold
It’s around about then that I used to go a-roaming
Singing La la la la La la la lie
All God’s children they all gotta die

My name is Loretta but I prefer Lottie
I’m closing in on my fifteenth year
And if you think you have seen a pair of eyes more green
Then you sure didn’t see them around here
My hair is yellow and I’m always a-combing
La la la la La la la lie
Mama often told me we all got to die

I choose the curse of milhaven , as lottie is a bit like Helene from NIck Cave’s wonderful album of murder Ballads ,source 

I struggle with historical fiction , I was one of the few people who didn’t really like Wolf Hall , so when this arrived from gallic books I wasn’t exactly jumping over the moon , but a quick read of the cover and I was caught by the tagline , She came , She cooked , She killed .Who couldn’t resist finding out more .I also want to try Jean Teule ,I know one of his earlier books Suicide shop is highly regard ,a multi talent man who also illustrates , makes films and is a Tv presenter , he has written ten novels and is married to the well-known French actress Miou-Miou .He is currently making a film of this book starring his wife .

Oh no,don’t pick that Helene , it’s a thunderflower .Goodness , that’s what I should call you from now on :”Thunderflower “. And don’t pull on that stem either ; it belongs to a viper flower .Don’t you know that a woman picked up a bunch of those and her tongue split in two ? You’re seven years old – when will you ever learn ?

Seven Helene gets her names and so much more !

The poisoning angel is based on the true story of Helene Jegado  , she was a french servant in 19th century France  .She is from  the Breton region of France , she was schooled via her mother in the old traditions of this region ,so this beautiful young girl grows up in the old world  .She starts working in households , we know her as thunderflower in the book ,which happens to be the original french title  .She travels around from household to household , doing various domestic servant jobs but mainly as a cook people love her cooking  , but what is she adding toi the pot as she cooks ! Now this is the twist in the tail Helene Jegado is one of the most notorious serial killers , as she travelled around in early 19th century France from town to town  , she is thought to have killed up to  36 people .We see her story , a mix of an ancient world of traditions and superstitions .It also shows how in a time when the end of people’s worlds tend to be with in their eyesight how some one could easily get away with murder .

“Helene Jegado is an excellent cook .My one regret is that I was unable to keep her until I die …. ” That’s what I call a glowing recommendation! This missive from the abbe … Lohro has no date .So since then ?

The humour is subtle at times in the book .

This book mixes  dark murder with comic touches so well . This for me is how true crime should be Helene comes to life as more than a woman who killed to more of a woman who by a stroke of fate and misguide sense of tradition want to be deaths henchman .It is a book like version of the murder ballads of the deep south of the US , where we hear the story of the murderer .Has it made me want to try more historic fiction ,well I think I will have more of an open mind next time one comes my way .AS for Jean Teule i have another of his books I was sent that will be jumping up my TBR pile .Jean conjures a world of ancient myths and traditions , and a young girl that thinks she is haunted by a ghost ,that becomes a killer .

Have you a favourite True crime novel ?

 

 

The Eagle’s throne by Carlos Fuentes

 

The Eagle’s throne by Carlos Fuentes

Mexican Fiction

Original title – La silla del águila

Translator – Kristina Cordero

Source – Personnel copy

 

Here we are, seeking out the Reds
Trying to keep the communists in order
Just remember when you’re sleeping in your beds
They’re only two days drive from the Texas border

How can a country large as ours be scared of such a threat
Well, if they won’t work for us, they’re against us you can bet
They may be sovereign countries but you folks at home forget
That they all want what we’ve got but they don’t know it yet

We’re making the world safe for capitalism

Billy Bragg wrote this song , The marching Ballard of the covert battalions ,the song is a satirical take on US foreign policy .

This was one of the first books I brought around the time I started the blog with the idea of  52 books from 52 countries , well of course that has long since been past and this book has sat on the shelf for over five years , I was attracted by both the fact it was a Fuentes novel , but also the great cover on this book a linocutout of an eagle is very eye-catching .Carlos Fuentes is probably the best known Mexican writer in his time a member of what is called the latin American boom ,he wrote over thirty novels , and was always a writer tipped for the Nobel prize .He supported Castro and was at one time investigated by FBI .I had thought i reviewed him before on the blog , but no this is the first by him on here .

Our modern communications system has suffered a grave paradox .On the one hand ,we strived to become part of the largest global communication network in existence .On the other hand , we have wanted to monopolise access to information for our Government’s benefit.

They put all their eggs in one basket so ended up getting cut off , when US struck back at them .

The eagles throne although written twelve years ago and set in 2020 , seems more apt now than it did at the time it was written .We are told the story in a series of letters , yes letters as the premise of the book is the the Mexican president and government in 2020 , has angered the US government  this has led to the US effectively removing all the modern communication tools from Mexico .So with letters are the only way contacting and keeping in touch .We see a change in life as people start to open up more in letters .The topic of course on the mind is how will take over The Eagle’s throne (the name of the seat of the president !) .So what we get is the inner workings of the Mexican government laid bare in letters as we see the leading figures and powerbrokers jostling for power and trying to get the throne and the blackout sorted .Also what secrets will be let out in the letters .

Ex-president Cesar Leon came to visit me .At first I didn’t even recognise him .That young man with wavy black hair is now a mature man with wavy white hair .Those matinée idol’s wavy locks are what define him for me , politically and morally as well as physically .They remind me of that old song “The waves of the lagoon” some waves come ,while others go .

I was struck by the opening of this letter it is so true , leaders do age when in power .

Now I said this is more meaningful now than twelve years ago , imagine the  present with out the chance to use smartphones , laptops etc .I doubt even Fuentes could see how much the world would move on and really even more on wireless communication , this is like the millenium bug happening a country thrown back to a time when the written word was the only way to contact one another .Another thread to this book is of course the relationship between mexico and the US , this strangely has changed as well (from the totally uniformed view of me ) it seems Mexico is growing and is often mentioned as one of those countries along side Brazil , China  and India that will one day hold more power in world affairs ,whereas the US has seen the world power shrinking in recent years .So Fuentes wrote this after fifty years of writing , it isn’t as epic as some of his other books but is said a unusal future take on the epistolary novel .I must not wait five years to have another book by Fuentes on the blog .

Have you read Fuentes

 

Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo

 

Pedro Páramo By Juan Rulfo

Mexican fiction

Original title -Pedro Páramo

Translator – Margaret Sayers Peden

Source – Library copy

Have you got just a minute
Are you easily mad
Let me show you the back room
Where I saw the dead
Dancing like children
On a midsummer morn
And they asked me to join
They asked me to join
But my body was stubborn
Wouldn’t let me give in
So I offered a good deed
In return for a sin

I thought of this song even as i read this book I saw the dead by the underrated Irish band the villagers source

Now I ask myself a couple of years ago when the right time to read and put this book on the blog would be and I decide to wait as it is considered one of the most important books in Latin American fiction as it has influenced some of the biggest names in Latin American fiction .Juan Rulfo had lost both his parent before his tenth Birthday , he carried on to complete his schooling but due to university being on strike he ended up in Mexico city at the military academy ,which he left after three months worked as a clerk managing to study literature at the university in between .He started to write ,publishing a literary journal , then from getting a fellowship he got time to write his first two novel which where a huge hit and in 1955 this book his second book came out .

I came to Comala because I had been told my father a man named Pedro Páramo , lived there .It was my mother who told me .And I promised her that after shee died I would do it .She was near death , and I would have promised her anything .”Don’t fail to go see him ” she had insisted .”Some call him one thing , some another .I’m sure he will want to know you “

Juan completes the promise he made his dying mother .

Pedro Páramo   is the story of a son returning to his home town , after his mother death to find his father , but also to find out more about his father  .The son Juan Preciado sets out to the town of Comala .Now this is the point where the story starts getting odd because he gets to the town and finds it is full of ghosts of his fathers past and the present , so the story drifts between his father  Pedro Páramo time in the village , his father as a boy falling for a girl called Susana .Her life is one of death and madness .Pedro own life takes many a turn he is a womanizer , tyrant and quite a cruel man .But Juan is in the present where this town isn’t the vibrant place it once was now it’s a dying town .THis is a small part of what are many threads Juan sees in his time in Comala .

If was as if time had turned backward .Once again I saw the star nestling close to the moon ,scattering clouds .Flocks of thrushes .And suddenly , bright afternoon light .

Time is very fluid in this book it is almost as thou the past and present are one place at times .

It’s hard to grasp this book without giving to many bits and side stories away  as there are a number of small threads in this book .The book although 120 pages long feels like an epic russian novel by the time you have finished it you feel as thou it was a real epic journey not a short novella .You feel part of Juan Rulfo own story is in this  book , parents dying ,young family torn apart .His greatest influence as  a writer is on the generation that follow just after him .Marquez said he saw how to write after he felt blocked in his first four books , so yes this is the book that gave birth to magic realism , but is a book of Magic realism  , for me no it owes more to its writers homeland mexico where the dead are celebrated and death sometimes isn’t  the end of someones life these are echoes of what was once a more vibrant  place juan sees at times  .The book also shows how sometimes thwarted love as in the case of Pedro and Susana can lead people down different paths .For me the time was right to read it just after a burst of Marquez , but also Fuentes and Llosa in recent years you can see how this slim book had maybe pushed each of these writers to write in turn as I have also read the other great Mexican book that came out five years before this labyrinth of solitude by Octavio Paz a collection of Essays about mexico and its love of death and myths !

Have you a favourite book from Mexico

Winston’s books a tale of two cities !

Well there was four books arrive this week at Winston towers .

IMG_1975

First up is two more in the series Tales from the OUP press , this time they are visiting Copenhagen , with stories from Hans Christian Anderson , Jakob Esersbo , Soren KIerkegaard and Karen Blixen on the back it says it takes you from the narrow twisting streets of the old town centre to the shady docklands ,captures the essence of Copenhagen and its many faces .Next we are off to Vienna and a few more familiar names to me Arthur Schnitzler , Joseph Roth , and Veza Canetti it says about Vienna tales , situated on the cusp of West and East ,between the foothills of the Alps and the mights “Blue Danube ” Vienna has long presented authors with a wealth of material for stories that entertain and intrigue .I love these snapshots of a cities writers and how a place has influenced a writer .

IMG_1974

Next up is a novel by one of Algeria’s most controversial writers Boualem Sansal set in a crumbling mansion in the old quarter of Algiers we meet two women one young and rebellious ,the other is a recluse Lamia whose world is turned upside by the arrival of the young Cherifa at her home .Frank Wynne has translated this novel so I am rather excited about this one .

IMG_1976

The last book is one I have reviewed ,but will mention here as it has been made into a series for Radio four in the UK it seems , The boy from Aleppo who painted the war ,is the Debut novel of Sumia Sukkar , is one of the first works of fiction to cover the recent war in Syria .

What books arrived at your house this week ?

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