The Art or Losing by Alice Zeniter

The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter

French fiction

Original title –  L’Art de Perdre

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – from Frank via the publisher

I don’t often ask the translator for a book but this is one I really wanted to read as it seemed like one I would really like and I am a fan of Franks translations so thank Frank. Alice Zentier is a real talent she published her first novel at just 16 years old since then she has written a number of novels. She has also set up a company putting on plays for younger audiences. This novel came out 14 years after her debut and was a huge prize winner in France was on the final list for the Prix Goncourt. She is from a french Algerian family so a lot of the journey of the granddaughter in this book is similar to her own journey.

When he comes home (this ellipsis in my story is the one that appears in Ali’s story, the one that had Hamid and Naima will encounter when they try to retrace his memories: no one will ever say anythinhg but two words, “the war”, to account for these two years), Ali is faced with the same crippling poverty, which his mitlitary pension alleviates only a little.

The following spring, he takes his little brothers Djamel and Hamza, to wash in the Wadi swollen with the waters of the melting snow, The current is so stroing they have to cling to the rocks and tufts of grass on the riverbamk to avoid being swept away. Djamel, the scrawniest of the three, is terrified, His brother laugh, they mock his fears, playfully tug at his legs while Djamel sobs and prays, thinking that the current is pulling hu=im under and then

Back home as ali is caught in a flood with his brothers.

The book follows three generations of an Algerian then a french Algerian family through the start of the Algerian war seen through Ali the father of Hamid who we meet in the fifties as the country is starting to fall apart we view this through his eyes as he is growing but as he meets his wife and his dreams of being a father to a son. Then when the war is ended takes the hard decision to leave in the aftermath of that. So the journey moves on to the son to France for a new life as he struggles with his father and growing up in France. Where the first two years of their lives where they live in a camp that is like a pressure cooker full of violence and threats to the two of them having a future in the new home. Added to this is the tussle of being Muslim in France at the time as Hamid grows up and meets his wife a traditional french wife, so he loses his identity somewhat, and thus when they have Naima she is more French than Algerian. Then the story moves on to his daughter Naima who is more French than Algerian this is a story of the generation that is silent Naima knows little of her ancestry. She works at a gallery as she says she hasn’t traveled much as she views the world through the art she shows in the Gallery but when her boyfriend sends her to Algeria as she is preparing to show new art from there she uncovers her own past as she reconnects with those of her family that was left behind. returning she says to her gran she could go but I was touched by the line her gran said it is near the end of the book and maybe for me summed up the migrant experience I’m not going home to sleep in a hotel. having just said she want to return there to die. The loss of place is the silence in the world of being an immigrant loss of home.

Sometimes , she jokes about her family background, she says: “MY grandmother got married when she was fourteen, my mother met my fahter when she was eighteen. At least one woman in this family needs to break the mould”.

And yet, at twenty-five she decides to put the brakes on this, It is not that her desire waned, or that some ancestral form of mortality had caught up with her, it is that suddenly she has the impression that her actions have been rendered so banal by American TV series – particularly Sex and gthe city – they have become the norm.

The change in the granddaughter and the american influence on Fench life in one!!

A family world is a voice for a wider generation in this book is a book that has three-parts of this novel. Are the grandfather’s life than the father’s and finally the daughter as we see the transition of one family from Algerian to French but still haunted by the silence of her history. of the Algerian part of her life, this is what Alice Zeniter has tried to fill in with this book. It is part of a growing number of books in French that tackle the journey and history of immigrants in France from David Diop’s work and this both of which won prizes in the same year. This is a voice to those that have been faced with silence about their past. But also hints at the modern problems in France where the tension of the past and past crimes still haunt the present. This is one of those zeitgeist books that capture the world for those three generations and the wider community. maybe this is the French Windrush fiction of those voices that haven’t spoken since they came in 62 to France and the loss of their identity in their children. Have you read this book?

winstons score A-

The No World Concerto by A.G Porta

The No World Concerto by A.G Porta

Spanish fiction

Original title – Concierto del No Mundo

Translators – Darren Koolman and Rhett McNeil

Source – Personal copy

I first came across A G Porta when I started reading up about Roberto Bolano a few years ago as the two were close friends from the mid-seventies and they used to talk about writers when they started and they decided to write a book together which came out in the early eighties. I do hope their joint book comes out at some point even the title grab you Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce fanatic. Then after this  Porta disappeared for a number of years Bolano said for these years Porta just read and reread James Joyce which I would love to do just have a long time to wallow in Joyce. Since the 99 he has written five novels this is the only one so far to be published in English.Lets hope it isn’t the last to be translated.

The screenwriter stands with his luggage, facing the hotel, having just gotten out of a taxi, thinking he ought to know or at least have a good idead, bow the story he intends to write is going to end. He certainly seen better hotels than this, but today he can’t afford to pay for onem because he no longer gets his advances he used to, and he’s lost a well-paying job teaching literature at a schiool for gifted kids. Now all he has left are some savings and a miserable pension, and he doesn’t now how long they are going to last, for life n the neighbouring country’s capital is so much more expensive that the city he just left.

Maybe Madrid for Paris we don’t know but maybe as he arrives to work on the screen play the screenwriter.

 

The book has a couple of main storylines that at times link and than others seem to follow one another over time. First, we meet an old screenwriter who has shacked up in a hotel after a number of years of writing failures he is writing a screenplay about a young girl that is a piano prodigy who is at the point of becoming a huge talent as she is tasked with taking on one of the most challenging works of a modern composer. So as the story unfolds the tales start to mirror each other as the reality of the screenwriter and the young pianist start to blur as the worlds they are in at times almost touch always mirror themselves. As time seems to move forward and back as at some points they are lovers and others each seems to be working on works about each other this is a book that has so many layers. It is a book that left me wanting for more from Porta in the future which is a good thing.

Her skin, he thinbks while caressing her arm, examing every fine blonde hair, delicate skin, he thinks while envisioning her in a tuxedo, or perhaps just wearing the jacket, double breasted but unbuttoned, with a bowtie around her neck; her mother’s high heel shoes, whichare clearly too big for her, the only other item of clotyhing covering her naked body as she stands before him, aloof and domineering, despitebeing only a girl. Thus the screenwriter imagines her, repenting his decison to get rid of his camera equipment, not that he could realizise vision onstage in the little theater where they rehearse, let alone the church in which they’re going to perform their concerts. He caresses her delicate skin. What does No World mean ?

Is he seeoing her or writing her the lines blur at times as the older man dresses the young girl.

 

The stories remind me of what Borges may have done if he had ever written a novel the mirroring of place and time the blending of the present and future is often something that Borges did in his short stories I was also reminded of those books I have read from Noveau Roman movement there is a sense of removing a sense of place from the book and also making the character’s general. The people are in this book as we are never given any names for the main characters just what they are and though they are in a big city there is no real sense of a single place in the book. The book is considered one of the best Spanish novels in recent years. This is a modern classic from a writer that maybe should be better known in English. He had a big part to play in the early career of Bolano and it is a shame his books haven’t been as widely received as Biolano but he is a writer that is challenging for the reader. Have you heard of Porta and his connection to Bolano?

Winstons score – B

A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti

A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti

Argentinean fiction

Orignal title – Una ofrenda musical

Translator – Fionn Petch

Source – Personal copy

When it comes up toward the man booker every year I try to buy a couple of books. That I feel may be on the longlist. This is the first I have brought to read. It is the second book the Charco press has brought out from Luis Sagasti. I was a huge fan of his first book so don’t know why I haven’t got to this sooner but you all know the quandary too many books too little time and I can be such a firefly in my reading habits buzzing brightly from place to place. Sagasti is a teacher now he was a curator at one point as well as a writer and art critic.

The most famous performance of the Variations, a feat not unlike swimming across the magellan Strait, is by the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. In fact, he recorded two; between them stretch twenty-six years in the life of a planet. The first version is as urgent and flamboyant as Baroque music permist, and was taped in 1955, when Gould was just twenty-three years old, The second is a recording made shortly before he died from a stroke at the age of fifty in 1981. For all his ggenius, Gould couldn’t escape the fate of the wise; the slower pace of the later version is that of someone who knows we only leave a circle before taking the first step.

Gould was also used as a character in  a novel by Thomas Bernhard.

I must admit before I review this I am no classical music fan I do have the Goldberg variations I had brought them after I watched the film 32 short films about Glenn Gould a number of years ago. So I was pleased that this book had chosen one of the few pieces of classical music I have to listen to more than once. The book like his earlier book is a collection of interconnection short stories that all interlock like one of those puzzle balls made of wood where they interlock to form a complete the stories range from just a couple of pages to two longer stories. The opening story the main one about the Bach work is about how it came about as a harp piece to ease into sleep the count that was Bach benefactor. This leads into digressions of Glenn Gould the Beatles connections between them both this is a book with no real plot but you can not put it down. Other stories range from a massive organ that sets off an avalanche over the village of HimmelHein. A rift of Silences from Ligeti work through the works that lead up to Cages 4 33 of silence where the silence is always different due to the setting then the lack of silence on the Beatles interlocking back to the other stories.

The funeral March composed for a deaf man , by Alphonse Allais , could well be a forerunner of 4′ 33′, though it is more like a painting than any other art form, as the silences are not even marked on the score. Unlike Cage’s piece, the march was not intended to be performed.

Allaishad created a series of monochromatic works. firsr communion of Anameic girls in the snow of 1883 would appear to predate Malevich’s white squre. But total silence can’t be possible there, not with such a figurative title.

A art piece that was a music core that was similar to Cage’s 4′ 33′

I am a huge fan of most of the books the Charco have brought out. I know I tend to be positive about most of the books I read but this is one of those I put in the class above everything If I did a letter score it would be mostly B’s or C’s for what I read but this is an A+ in the time I have blogged if I get two or three of these a year I am happy this is one of those books that fire the brain makes you root out the album you not listened to for a long while or want to rewatch the film about Gould also I had my Beatles CDs on today. The Bach piece has been in a Bernhard book and The Richard Powers book the Gold Bug Variations. Sagasti’s works are often compared with Sebald or Flights both mentioned in connection to Sagasti. But for me, I was also reminded of the Nocilla trilogy and another Spanish book I read last year Glass eye. Both of which like this mix fiction and history together which for me is a mix I love it’s like a mixtape to get it right takes time and thought to get the right mix of stories is harder than you think. Anyway as I said earlier here we go my first score. Have you read this or any other titles from Charco press that have you enjoyed?

Winstons Score A+

The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili

The pear field by Nana Ekvtimishvili

Georgian fiction

Original title – მსხლების მინდორი

Translator – Elizabeth Heighway

Source – review copy

I had this sent earlier but had tried a couple of times to start it and just wasn’t getting into it. But as the last few weeks, I am now sitting and reading for a couple of hours solid rather than ten to fifteen mins a few times a day. I did what Peirene has always said about their books and that they are like sitting and watching a two-hour film. This is the debut novel from the Georgian writer Nana Ekvtimishvili. She studied philosophy then went to Germany to study film making it is in scriptwriter with Simon Gross she has made a number of films including the well-received In Bloom.  The book has also  been translated into German.

On the outskirts of Tbilisi, where most of the streets have no names and where whole neighbourhoods consists of nothing but soviet high rises grouped into blocks, grouped in turn into microdistricts, lies Kerch Street. There’s nothing worth seeing here, no historic buildings, o fountains, no momuments to soceity’s great accomplishments, jusy tower blocks lining both sides of the street and, now and then, anpother building tucked between them: the college of light industry, up in the plateau surrounded by spruce trees; the kindergarten; the municipal middle school; the officesof the housing managment committee; a small shopping centre; and at the very end of the street, the Residential School for the Intellectually Disabled Children or, as the locals call it, the school for Idiots

The opening lines of the book the grim reality of post soviet Georgia.

The Pear field is set on Kerch street in the capital of Georgia Tbilisi where is the residential school for disabled children or as it is locally called the school for idiots. The book opens and we meet Lela she is in her late teens and could leave the school and go beyond the pear fields but she has stayed for just two reasons which are the driving force for the book. We learn that she really wants to kill her history teacher and then alongside this is the story of Irakli a young boy that Lela has taken under her wing, every week they go to their neighbors of the school for the young boy to ring his mo0ther but over time it is clear the mother is just paying the young boy with her lip service as the story unfolds we see the school the pupils and also the dark reason behind her wanting to kill her teacher. Then there is hope for her young friend as an American couple wants to take the young man to the US to start a new life with the help of Lela and the neighbor Lena they try to help the boy get the American dream.

The school began to lose teachers as well. Only Tiniko, Dali, Vano and Gulnara are left from the old guard Nowadays new teachers come, they teach a few lessons, realize the school has nothing to offer them and go again. New children have stopped arriving too. Maybe parents todays are less willing to abandon their children or maybe there are better schools out there to abandon them in maybe idiots just aren’t being born anymore.

That is why everyone is so suprised when one day the gates open and a well-dressed young woman in her thirties walks in with a girl aged about nine The girl ;ooks smart and well cared for but aso nervous and guarded. Lela strokes the little girl’s hair, then walks them over to Tiniko’s office. Tiniko is expecting them, the woan explains that the little girl is related to her husband, Having lost her parents, she was being raised by her grandmother, Now that she has died, the child’s relative have decided to leave her with the school.

There is the hated teacher Vano for what he has done to her and other pupils over the years.

Well for those of you that don’t know my job is working with learning disabilities. I spent twenty years working in the community a few years ago taking a ward-based role on an assessment and treatment unit where we deal with people in crisis to help them get back in the community. The school setting was like the old institutions the ones I have to look after people were in before things t=change her so Lela’s story of Abuse. It is one I have heard not so much sexual but a lot of physical abuse years ago when people viewed people with learning disabilities like they still do in this book. This is the story of a mother hen to those in the school like young Irakli. But as her heart, she is a damaged young girl who has no memories outside the school and has been damaged by what her teacher had done to her.  This is an interesting finish to the closed universe series Lela world isn’t beyond the pear field just yet but their chance of breaking out is there also this is going on with the background of the break up of the soviet union had just happened and Georgia is still a new state and the school has suffered due to this. If you like post soviet books that look at the personal lives of those involved this is one for you. Have you read this book?

Tower by Bae Myung-Hoon

Tower by Bae Myung-Hoon

Korean fiction

Original title – 타워

Translator – Sung Ryu

Source – review copy

I move to Asia today and a novel that is maybe a bit different to the usual ones I read as it is a sci-fi work well more a dystopia novel. Bae Myung- Hoon studied internatrional relations befroe winning a sci-fi short story competion in 2005 he blurs the lines between liteary fiction and genre fiction in his works. This book is his breakthrough work and won both prize for liteary works and sci fi as well. It has been described Social science fiction for the way it uses satire and a futurstic setting to comment on the problems in the present. He has said it is easier to tackle social issues usiong a sci fi setting.

Some liquors serve as currency. In life, there are times when one must give something to someone with no guarntee of getting anything in return. This is different from giving bribes, kickbacks and payoffs, or sweetners, in which case what to give is fairly straight forward and what to get in exchange is crystal clear. But in payment for service relationship that involved far more delicate and sensitive mechanisms like offerning a “token of gratutude” or a “little something,” what that subtle gift might be and what is expected in return afre not specified explicitly. this is how power usually works, eexcept in emergencies.

The curency of the tower whiskey swapping hands not a bribe as such but.

The tower is set in a 624 skyscraper called the beanstalk in the interconnectiong stories  of the world that is the Beanstalk. Firstly, we meet Professor Jung Of the beanstalk power research. He is looking into the pratice of giving expensive whiskey.So he looks into the circulation of the expensive whiskey around the Beanstalk to dear to buy and drink. It is  more used as gifts  almost a currency in itself for future deeds from folks as the tracks down the circulation of the bottles he ends up finding the heart of this situation is a dog in a room.  that is getting lots of gifts sent too. Then we meet Writer K (an obvious nod to Kafka) who has terraphobia a fear of being on the ground and has lived in the beanstalk for years after events in his younger years. But folks start to wonder when he starts writing about nature due to some  as he previous works had been based around the beanstalk. coming up with titles like the dog and the elevator a nod to the first story. Then we have an elephant being used as crowd control by a man that has just come to the Beanstalk. A pilot is saved as he is shot sown and being on the run. Thre is also an appendix which links into events in the stories like an extract of writer K work another work or a woman that had written a work just on one floor and the comings and going.

excerpt from ” The Bear God’s Afternoon by Writer K

once it rose, the sun was in no hurry to set. One day lasted one year in the Bear God’s realm, which remained buried in snow all year long, “The Bear Godwas the evil ruler of night. As the long, long night wore on for half a year, the Bear God’ would show the,self fleetingly admist the infinte emptiness and darkness pouring in from the far side of the univers. The Bear god brought a cold blizzasd with them wnerever they went. When bitter winds, rasping like the futile breath of the grim reaper, those the eatrs and reached the heart, all good bears had to retreat into their caves for a seemingly eternal slumber.

From the appendix an excerpt fro writer K work

I really got into the world of the beanstalk althogh not a sci fi reader I do like some dystopic ficion and some great sci films. This is in the vein of writers like Orwell , kafka and maybe a chunk of sci fi writers like China Mieville anpther modern writer that seems to blur genre lines in his works. The beanstalk itself could be an ancestor of the great sci fi story universe from Robert Heinlein set on a huge abandon ship that has become the inhabitations universe like the world of the beanstalk it has its divides. The book is a commmentary on issues with sounth korea things like corrupition , social issues and the state itself the divide nation. He creates a world of the tower the floors the half a million people living there therte is also a hunour like in the first story that remind me of something Douglas adams would come up with the dog at the heart opf it all remind me of the deep thought and the answer 42. The second story of writer K is an obvious nod to Franz Kafka characters. This is a clever collection of interconnection stories bits from other stories crop up in other stories. As I said at the start it wouldn’t be a book I would pick myself but it is one I would now recomend.this has just come out from Honford star. Also this is one ofmy favourite covers this year so far

 

The Imagined Land by Eduardo Berti

The Imagined land by Eduardo Berti

Argentinean fiction

Original title – El país imaginado

Translator – Charlotte Coombe

Source – personal copy

I have had this on my shelves a couple of years and when I was looking for something that maybe had a love story or romance at its heart this struck me as a contender. It is written by the French-based Argentinean writer Eduardo Berti A cultural Journalist based in France he was elected to the Oulipo group of writers being the first writer from Argentina to be elected to the group. He also works as a transxlator he=aving translated works from Alberto Manguel and Romesh Gunesekera. He has published 15 books of novels and short stories over the last thirty years.

ON the first day of the new year, my father was in such a good mood that he was hardly recognisable; he was usually so moderate, so restrained. He saw that there sun, that the air was fresh, and there wa no threat of clouds on the horizion, of the “corner of the sky” as my grandmother used to call it. This all seemed to be a good omen, since nothing was more desirable for the chu-yi than a crystal clear dawn, Shortly after, at midday, he reminded ius enthusiastically that in the evening we would be joined for dinner bt tje family of his friend Gu Xiangong, who lived about a two hour drive away by car from our city. This was a dangerous ambigous distance

Thy had three daughters the visits why are they coming to visit the family.

This book is set in CHina pre reveloution in a small city we view the life there through the eyes of Ling she is 14 and nurses her grandmother as she says her parents don’t trust him to nurse her. The Grandmother is old and has a great collection of old books that she  has read to her grandchildren especially her granddaughter. The book are to be taken out to stp insects eating them she is told by her father this is something that Ling does herself as her brother isn’t bother this isall part of some old ideas and pratices that her father has that make them seem out of time to those around them. But when pone day they are visited by a local family as there daughter Xiaomei as her brother future bride but the young 14 year old ling is dumbstruck by the beauty of this girl and then decides to befriend her as the two meet in the park over time. This is also intersped with Ling talking with her grandmother who has now passed about what she is feeling and her grandmpther spirit is a guide for her. The two girls discuss going ona run , her brother admits he is in love with a different girl will she be found a husband were will the love take them all and what do the do to follow there parents wishes.

Give me your hand, said Xiaomeri, and I did

Interlacing her fingers with mine, she formed one hand using both out hands and guided it  into the basket. We clumsily grabbed the first piece of paper within our reach.

Xiaomei unfolded the paper to reveal a melon

We will have lots of children,Ling ! she said, laughing.

We laughed even more, however, when before we saiud goodbye, she unfoilded all the pieces of paper to tecveal the drawings melons, melons, nothing but melons.

The two girls grow close as they meet in a park !

If you have followed this blog for any time you know I am a huige fan of fiction set in villages or small city that have a real sense of place  as they have that air of being caught in amber in at times and here is a village that is looking far back to tradition in the values like buying a blackbird the book starts with a blackbird and ends with the vchaning as the bird seller isn’t in the ,market anymore the book is set in the twenties and follows ling to the edge of the reveloutin through the Japanese ocupation. It is obvious as I read in an interview with Berti this China in the book is a mix of real and inmagined China the china of the west the way we like to view it but I was remind fo the documentry channel four showed years ago Beyond the clouds which showed small villages that like this city had got lost in time. That had like this place missed the call of time touched by the modern world like when Ling talks about watchiong films especially of the silent film star Ruan lingyu who died young but was called the Greta garbo of China for the emotions she showed in her film. Ling says Xiaomei is even more beautiful this is a tale of the first love not sexual but of attraction and the blossoming of a young girl struggling with who she is !! Then there is her and her brother struggles to conform with their parents and try and keep the family traditions and values alive. If yoiu like books like Reef where coming of age is mixed with the scenery of a place and spirt this mixes the spirit of the small village. Ann interesting book of a place long gone from a new writer to the bog Have you read anything by Him? Happy Valentine’s day all !!

Why we love women by Mircea Cărtărescu

Why we love women by Mircea Cărtărescu

Romanian fiction

Orignal title – De ce iubim femeile

Translator – Alistair Ian Blyth

Source –  personal copy

Another visit to Romania and I decided to read one from a writer that has in the last few years been a leading name for the Nobel winner. He is a writer I had wanted to try for a while so here is the first of a few books I hope to read from him in the coming year or two I have blinding on my kindle and will be getting Nostaglia which is due out next month from Penguin and his huge Solenoid which is due at some point from DeeVelp vellum in the US this seemed a great intro a collection of short stories around women he has known and other women, they were orignally published in a series in a Magazine in Romania. He grew up in ROmania but like many writers in his generation he was forced to move to France. This collection came in 2008.

The girl was npt just beautiful, she was the tangible images of Beauty itself. I can’t say whether she was merely an aesthetic object, wholly devoid of psychology, of whether, on the contrary, she was pure, a projection of the facinated gazes of those around her. Looking at her, I understood whey the call it ” captivating beauty”: we were all her captives, as if waiting for cruel sacrifice at any moment, one by one. Nevertheless, shyness and innocence were her only powers.

from the first story the Little African women. a vision of beauty he had seen in america in a white sari.

The collection starts with him remembering an attractive Afircan lady in a white sari he said he had never been with any one of another colour but laments this fact. this is a collection of memories with a thjin veil on the whole to make them fiction and in fact in parts he talks abou thow the women in some of these tales were actually the role models for some of his own shprt stories he wrote after meeting them. So D was Gina in a later story from charater tics like the rather large girl he meet gthat had the annoying habit of saying  my ears are pinned back ever so often.  Else where he remembers a drunken night in Ireland  as he was on a tour with two poets who didn’t really get on. I laughed when he said abpout talking in his Iowa English at one point I thought how many other writers from around the world had a similar accent. Also him ordering an Irish coffee not quite knowing it what it was then he talks aboput a Jewish girl and links it to a frank Zappa song the last story is the title tale a ode to what makes women so loveable in his eyes.

At the time, my ind was not quite as innocent as you might imagine. On the poutskirts of Belfast, we had stopped off at a pub, where I had ordered an Irish coffee. Back then (it was in 93) I had no idea what Irishcoffee was. I just wanted to try something local, given that it was my first time in the land of the Druids, Guinness and Joyce. They brought a large cognac glass brimming with hot coffee and two chocolate mint wafers in little dark green envelopes on a saucer. When I got up from the table I realised, to my disbeliefm tjat I could not walk straight. For, in Ireland, the “Coffee”  contain more whiskey than coffee, And so it was that at it grew dark ancd the towns and villages flew past, my state of confusion was amplified

Drunken on a very Irish coffee made me smile !

I’m not sure if this is the best intro to him it seems this is more of a memoir or auto fiction as he is  a writer that has been compared to Thomas Pynchon. Even so I liked the view into his pife and the travel he had done and those women he has met or seen over the years at points there is maybe a feeling that he couldn’t get away with some of the stories and titles now but the time he is remembering is twenty years ago. I brought this as it was a short work by him and for me as a reader I will be reading him again no matter if his other works are different this maybe is one of those to start with later but it has let me know where some of the characters in his other works have come from it is also as a piece of auto fiction into a male view of the world insightful he does notice the femlaes around him and remembers them. So it would be hard to say on this as from all I’ve read it is a different collection to his other works if he is a worthy nobel winner lets see what I think of his other books in a month or two when I get to them. Have you read anything by him are you like me eager to get to Solenoid considered his best book when it comes out ?

waiting by Goretti Kyomuhendo

Waiting by Goretti Kyomuhendo

Ugandan fiction

Source – personal copy

It has been a while since I add a new country to the list of place I have read from you get to a point where the countries become harder to find I have always had a couple put to one side for an emergency and still have three other countries on my shelves to read but this has been on my list to read for a while it was highlighted on a post for the best books from Africa this one jumped out at me as I hadn’t read a title from Uganda. Goretti Kyomuhendo has written a number of novels and a couple of children’s books. But uin recent years she has been involved with the African writer’s trust and has published a handbook on how to be a creative African writer. This was the last novel she has published in 2007.

We had learned about the details of the war a month before, when Father returned from thje city where he had worked at the Main Post Office as a clerk. He told us that President Idi Amin was about to be overthrown by a combined force of Ugandans who lived in exile and the Tanzanian soldiers who were assisting them. The soldiers were advancoing quickly, heading for Kampala from the southwestern border that Uganda shared with Tanzania. The districts along that route were already in the hands of the Liberators.

Alin’s soldiers were looting shops, hospitals, banks and private homes in the city. They wanted to seize as much as they could before the Liberators arrived, Some were fleeing towards the West Nile and Notrthern Ugandan regions, their home areas. People had vacuated the city in fear of both the advancing liberators and the fleeing soldiers. No one knew what each group was likely to do to civilians

THe first details hit the village from her father.

This follows the wars that raged in the seventies in Uganda that tore the country apart. Where the Liberators are trying to unseat the tyrant Idi Amin or as he was calling himself at the time the Last King of Scotland as his troops go through the country trying to kill all the rebels and those that had helped them. This is all seen through the eyes of a young teen Alinda who because her mother is drawn-out labour has become the main mother figure for the family that is in the village extend family as they all try to avoid the Amin troops. One brother is set on to draw the liberators her mother is trying to give birth but is panicking about getting caught. We are also told how things got so bad the background to the Indians getting sent away from the country. An uncle he then takes on four wives. When he converts to Islam this was due to them getting those businesses that had been left by the Indians when they left all this after he had spent time before that selling black market items to get by. We also see the beliefs and superstitions that drift through the locals as they try their best to avoid the looting and violence that follows Amin troops. Will they get through is there hope outside Uganda.

Mother was gasping, and calling out softly for help. I saw a cushion of blood, and heard a baby crying. Mother told me to find a small bundle under her pillow, which contained a razor blade and some cotton, wool and gauze.

“Cut,” she commanded, when I told her I’d found it

“Cut what?”

“The umbilical cord.”

My hand trembled, and I could not hold the razor blade steady. I could not see the cord. I feared to look at the jellied blood next to the baby. I thought I might vomit and tried hard to contain myself. Then I saw something like a felshy string coiling out of the bloody mess and winding its way to the baby’s stomach

She helps give birth to her baby brother as the war rages outside the village.

Powerful is the word for this book we get to see the last embers of the war as Amin troops try and control the local road. Alina and her family are trying to get by her mother struggling to give birth with all this going on all around. Alinda voice comes through so well in this book as the does the village life the comes and going of the extended family as they all try to keep away from the war but also the spirit of a world that is maybe gone with the use of herbs and nature maybe helping the villagers get through. I have been a fan of books set in Villages as they always show how similar we can be the uncle is a typical figure a black market man that when he sees the chance to get an Indian business comes his way by changing his religion he seizes it with two hands. Will they all survive will they find a way out?

Our circus presents … by Lucian Dan Teodorovici

Our Circus Presents by Lucian Dan Teodorovici

Romanian fiction

Original title – Circul nostru vă prezintă

Translator – Alistair Ian Blyth

Source – review copy

I return for a second visit to Romania this year and this time it is a modern writer from the Dalkey Archive series for the country. Lucian is the manager of the Romanian literature museum and also a festival of literature and translation. He has also written for the Guardian and edited a series of books called the Ego Prose in his native Romania. He has written for numerous publications and has published prose, drama, and screenplays including a feature-length one for this book.

I don’t know , why, but when I was little — it happened a long , long time ago — my father deemed it fitting ti tell me a story, an anecdote, a joke – yes, I think he told me it in the form of a joke — about a circus. So a circus comes to town (I don’t remember which town), and the poster looked something like this

The main attraction!

Our circus presents a unique act:

The birdman !

One day he flies, the next day he dosen’t

He’s not flying today!

I was remind of the Hemingway or not six word tale babyshoes for sale never worn which leads you to wonder like this joke !

The unnamed narrator of this book could be called the birdman. Every morning he steps onto the ledge outside the window as he tries to commit suicide will this be the day he jumps of the ledge or will he carry on like he does most days. This morning he is seen by a neighbour above who wonders what he is doing there. The birdman is a name from something his father said he had seen on a sign in a circus or was it something his father thought was funny. but as a child, he put a smile on his face. As he goes on he spends time ion the church and later on sees a man trying to hang himself from a tree as he saves this man carries it on his back. It turns out the man does this sees a rescuer appear and then hangs this leads to a tale of been hung with a bag of stray dogs being hung and trying to find the man hung next to them as he said he wanted to hear people say he died like a dog. As the two become friends we find our narrator had messed up his first sexual encounter after his father’s advice. he visited prostitutes after that as he and his friend or as he calls him the man with Orange suspenders. But what happens when someone really dies that he knew will this death change his outlook on life. Add to this a third friend that is trying to sleep his way to death.

Now I’m heading toward the station, for the first time truly desirous — and, what matters, fully aware — to spend the night with a prostitue. All that happen back then is in the past. My father, my mother, my brotherare far away, transformed into memories from many years. And I must admit, not even those memories are very pleasent. And so no one can prevent me now, at this very moment, from deciding for myself. There will certainly be no one waiting for me back home, seated on the toliet. And, above all, no one else will have to pay for the girl of my choice.

Haunted by what his father had told him in an ackward sex talk with his father as a teen !

These two and a fellow friend are all trying to take their lives with various reasons why they are doing it and various ways of doing it some alone some wanting to be found others anting someone close as they do. There is an air of desperation amongst them all. This reminds me of a couple of writers Beckett which of course the down and outs of Waiting for Godot come to mind as they talk. But I was also reminded of the American short story writer Raymond carver there is a similar feeling of the lost souls in the world these are scrapping the barrel of life. They just seem stuck in a loop trying to end their lives. This does have dark humor behind it at times yes the subject is very dark but the circle of the suicides are more cries for help and maybe a way of being seen by anyone. I was drawn ion by the way Alastair had translated the voice of the main character you are hooked from the first page to his life and what brought him to where he is? Another example of why Dalkey archive is so important to be kept running thanks to Deep Vellum. I wonder if anyone would be interested in later in the year doing a Dalkey archive week maybe?

Game of the Gods by Paolo Maurensig

Game of the Gods by Paolo Maurensig

Italian fiction

Original title – Il gioco degli dèi

Translator Anne Milano Appel

Source – review copy

Paolo Maurensig first published a book in the sixties but it wasn’t till his second novel the Luneberg Variation that I had reviewed very early on in this blog in fact just over ten years ago. That book came out in 1993 and since then he has written a string of successful novels. That this book like this book revolved around Chess and the world of chess. Because if in fact if there is a master of the novels that involves chess it would be Paolo Maurensig as it says on the front cover he had written four books that had chess involved when he felt drawn to writing this book. The novel is partly based on the real chess player Mir Sultan Khan.

In past years, I had already collected quite a bit of material about Sultan Khan; photos and articles from newspapers dating back to the thirties when he had arrived in Europe in the service of Maharaja Sir Malik Umar Hayat Khan. After four years of successful matches, howeer his career was suddenly interrupted, and once he’d left the circuit of the great international tounaents, he’d been quickly forgotten, No one knew what he might have done in the meantime, and had it not been for the “scandal” related to the legacy of Cecilla Abott, one of the wealthiest women in America.

How did he come to America wjat happened over those years?

The book finds Norman La Motta a writer from the Washington Post that had been sent to cover the growing trouble between India and Pakistan in the mid 1960s. He comes across the old man as he was then Mir Sultan Khan a chess master that had come from Punjab this is the opening into us finding out the life story of Mir Sultan Khan from his humble background as he described how fragile that life was at the edge such as when the Elephants got spooked. He is taught at a very early age the Indian form of Chess Chaturanga from being 9 he eventually comes to the attention of the local Landlord a Maharaja who decides he wants to see if the young boy now becoming a man can play western chess just as well as its Indian counterpart. He is just as good at the other version and this leads the village boy to the heart of Western chess and is brought by the Maharaja to England to beat the best of the western players. but as this is just in the pre-war years he is drawn onto the dark side of world war two where they want to use his mind to build strategies for the war how does he get on how did he end up in the US and how far can he get in the chess world.

That was how I came to move to Delhi, to enter the maharaja’s court as a servant. Going from the humble clay and bamboo hut, where I had lived until then, to the magnificence of his residence seemed like a dream to me. All my miserable clothes were replaced with silks and fabrics ablaze with bright colours. I no longer moved amid the dust and dung of the poor village in which I was born, but in the midst of unimaginable luxury. Sir Umar Khans attendant – genrallyyoung boys from age fifteen up – did not have soecific duties, but had to be able to anticipate his every need and desire: to bring him a thrist-quenching beverage at the right time, arrange a pillow behind his back was comfortable, or cool him with a fan when he appeared to be suffering from the heat

He is let into the Sultans world but with a cost !!

This book like his earlier book is set in the time around the war the earlier book used a game of chess between a younger and older chess master here we see the culture clash of east and west as the situation. It is also a classic tale of someone getting to the top from nothing and also the outsider what Maurensig does is weave those stories together through La Motta meeting and wanting to know the turban-wearing chess master end up in New York but also the journey he had taken from Punjab a lowly stable boy to chess master. The real character was a great player of his time in fact the Elo ranking of him meant he would have beaten most players easily. He was never a master or grandmaster maybe another nod towards the clash of culture and how he was viewed as a lesser player when he came with his Maharaja to play the best of the west but then shock people with his talent. Have you read any of his books ? he had now had a couple of books come out from World editions.

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