Temple Bar by Bahaa Abdelmegid

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Temple Bar by Bahaa Abdelmegid

Egyptian fiction

Original title – Khammarat al-ma’bad

Translator – Jonathan Wright

Source – personal copy

So we move from Lampedusa yesterday across the med to North Africa and an Egyptian Novel mainly set in Dublin. As I have felt I haven’t reviewed enough Arab fiction I have gone out and got some recently and this is the first of those I am reviewing. Bahaa Abdelmegid is a lecturer in English literature at Cario University. He himself was a student in Ireland at Trinty College at the same time as the character in his book Moataz. Not entirely Autobiographical in an interview at the time the book came out he wants the hero of the book to be like those in Passage to India or A Death in Venice.

As soon as she had gone, the landlord and I went up to the room. He was aman in his seventies, but well-built, with sever features, a powerful voice, and white hair like his mother.He showed me how to use the gas meter saying that you have to put fifty to cook a meal and warm the room for two hours, fifty pence to use the electricty for a day and fifty pence to have a shower.The more energy you cosumed the , the more you paid. I remembered reading in the Cario newspaper Al-Abram that Ireland imports natrual gas from Egypt through an underwater pipeline.

The cost of his digs adds up bit by bit as he is told how far fifty pence will go in the meters.

Moataz has got a scholarship to Trinity college as he is doing a Ph.D. on the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He has a family that has very high expectations of him. So the trip to Dublin has given him a breathing space in his world. He arrives and is sent to a boarding house with an old fashion landlord that tells him he will have to pay fifty pence for this fifty pence for this. He nearly ends up on the street early on when his father is late putting money in his account and leaves him penniless. He wanders the streets and sees the ghost of Ireland great writers as he wanders like the hero of Joyce Ulysses Bloom and Stephen did. Moataz is a man haunted by those women he left behind failed romance and the woman he meets in Dublin and is drawn to them. He struggles forced in the middle of the day to sell flowers to make ends meet. He also ends up in Trouble with the law in Dublin which leads him to head out of town. The trip out of town has a lasting effect on him he heads North to Belfast and the troubles in the north. A different city from Dublin he says full of politics and struggle but leaves it calling it his O beautiful Belfast as it was where Heaney studied at Queens. He eventually returns to Cario and marries but is a man changed by his time in Dublin.

The beautiful women of Dublin

When I started at Trinity college in Dublin, I couldn’t work out the university women. I couldn’t tell whteher they were conservative and shy,or whether they just didn’t welcome freindship with a young foreign man. They didn’t speak to me and I couldn’t find the right words to start a conversation with them. Pergaps I was shy too, perhaps I  had litttle knowledge of women ot too many miscinceptions of western- that they were easy and available , so why was it difficult to get to know them ?

Moataz and his experience early on with the women of the university before he met Simone!

I choose this book just because it is a book about a subject I love that of Culture clash seeing a place you know well through another cultures eyes. I spent a lot of time in my youth in Ireland mostly around Belfast but have also spent time in Dublin. This is like Heinrich Boll’s book Irish Journal or Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas one that is an ode to the country and the writers that haunt the city of Dublin especially Joyce. Although the modern multinational Dublin we see through Moataz eyes is a far cry from Bloom’s Dublin his view of the city is similar crossing the Liffey, flower sellers and underlying sexual desires. Bloom and Moataz share that repressed nature one remembers Blooms description of the woman on the beach in Ulysses that is echoed somewhat in Moataz meet Simone. He also captures the time this is just after the Good Friday deal but at this time the bombing of Omagh happened which is touched on a bombing that touched our family as we have relatives in that town as well that had friends effect by the bomb. A short book easily read in a day but one seep in the writers love for Ireland and the writers but also the effects of that town on a young Egyptian writer.

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Lampedusa by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta

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Lampedusa gateway to Europe by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta

Italian Memoir

Original title –  Lacrime di sale

Translator – Chenxin Jiang

Source – review copy

Its take a while to get to this book. I did stat it when I was sent it last year but it got put to one side as I got caught with other books. Which was a shame as I was enjoying the few pages I had read? The book is written by Pietro Bartolo the doctor in the Island Clinic on Lampedusa. Where he has treated and helped many of the refugees that have arrived on the coast from North Africa. He was helped by RAI journalist Lidia Tilotta in writing this book.

One red shoe on Favaloro Pier. That one shoe and so many others like it lie there, scattered like pebbles in a trail thatleads nowhere, breaking off abruptly like the migrants”hope of coming ashore in a different world. Those shoes appear in my nightmares. So do all the little pendants, necklaces, and braclets on all the tiny bodies I examine. It is my job to unzip them, one by one, from those horrible green bags.

Pietro haunt by those dead childs bodies he has to see day after day.

The book is formed of a number of short memoir pieces as Pietro as he describes the world he lives in where he runs the clinic on Lampedusa. Where he has treated and seen most of the quarter of a million refugees that have arrived on boats to this small Italian Island over the last 25 years in a growing number. From the deaths hitting home in the second piece which talks about the one read shoe that he sees on the beach. For me, it evokes the famous words from Hemingway bay shoes for sale never worn. a single read shoe is all that is shown of a life lost at sea. Then we see his own life his father and the boats they took to sea in. Two women in another tale Faduma and Jerusalem one from Somalia and the other a younger one from Eritrea as he tells there tales Faduma 37 seems much older paralyzed struck by the emotional and mental trauma of her life. Then Jerusalem 15 thinks she may be with child but thankfully this young girl tyha\t thinks she is a woman isn’t. Each is touching brutal images a bay found attached to the mother still by the umbilical cord both buried with a teddy that Pietro had put in it. One man and his island trying there best to get the best care for these new arrivals but struggling under the sheer numbers at times.

Faduma: aged thirty-seven, Somali. Jerusalem: aged fifteen, Eritrean. The list grows longer. My USB drive fills up every day with names and faces of women, some of whom are adults, other little more than children. Mothers, daughters, wives. I catalgue their names and preserve their stories with merticulousness of an archvist.

I do this because I do not want them to be forgotten. I travel all over Europe telling their stories , and I want to give each of them the space they deserve. I do not want to leave any of them put. I hope their gripping tales will help people to understand what is happening . They have certainly helped me understand what has changed over the years, and what kinds of problems we can expect to confront.

The tale of two women and their world is what Pietro is trying to keep alive when he talks to people or here has written about them.

There have been a few books about the situation in Lampedusa but this one is very touching from a man that has been at the heart of the crisis that is facing Lampedusa. The mix of his own past and the present flesh out him and those near him. This is a man that has sen a trickle of people from around the world tries to enter the promised land of Europe via boats some not even getting there in overcrowded boats or just being too worn down by getting to the coast of North Africa. Form Africa and places like Syria. His clinic has been a become of hope but as the local mortician, he sees everyone as he records all the people he has seen over the years to his USB. A crisis that hasn’t really been given the full coverage of the Horrors they have to endure. I remember the shock of the Vietnam boat people ok the journey was long but these short journeys are so dangerous and the dream isn’t there for most. I

That was the month that was Nov 18 and a break from blogging

  1. The tidings of the trees by Wolfgang Hilbig
  2. The end of the mission by Heinrich Boll
  3. River by Ester Kinsky
  4. The Giant dwarfs by Gisela Elsner
  5. Tell them of Battles, kings and Elephants by Mathais Enard
  6. The last day by Jaroslavas Melnikas
  7. Vic City Express by Yannis Tsirbas

I managed to review seven books last month four german novels for German lit month. Then a french novel from an old favourite and two new writers to the blog from Lithuania and Greece. One new publisher Barka books.

Book of the month

 

Tell them of battles, king and Elephants by Mathias Enard

This slim novella is a perfect mix of fact and fiction he has taken actual events like Leonardo visit to Constantinople to design a bridge. Then added the fiction of if Michelangelo had taken the same journey but also found love and his eyes open by the east. A companion in a way to Compass as it touches the same ground of west meeting east.

Non-book events

Well, this has been a dreadful month for personal reasons it started on a high of me passing my test in the first few days but then a personal event has led to me not reading as much as usual as I need spend time with Amanda as she needs me at the moment. As we have to get over a large loss for our family I am not in the mood for reading much.

So I haven’t blogged for a few days and I start some nights tonight and then Amanda and I are in Tamworth with her family for a few days due to what has happened. I am back at work straight after that. So I won’t be posting anything for maybe ten days or more.

Vic City Express by Yannis Tsirbas

Vin city Express by Yannis Tsirbas

Greek fiction

Original title – Η Βικτώρια δεν υπάρχει

Translator – Fred A Reed

Source – review copy

It has been five years since I have featured a book from Greece, in fact, there are only three books on the blog. A quick look at Complete review shows there aren’t many modern greek novels out there. So I was pleased to get sent this slim novella by a young Greek writer Yannis Tsirbas. This book was shortlisted for the Greek national literature award. This book was part of the idea behind the well regarded greek Film Amerika square. The book has been published by Montreal based publisher Baraka books a few months ago.

I look him over and can’t resist the impulse to egg him on. I keep listening to his voice over the monotonous clicking of the train.

“And does it ever stink, pal! Hash and piss. They toke up, if you get my meaning, all along Heyden in old buildings just before Fillis street you get high just walking by . They kae a drag and then cut a slash right there on the sidewalk. Snort; then piss it off. Moroccans, Algerians, people like that. They’re the ones with dope; grows wild down there. And  the exact spot the Algerian was pissing the night before the Pakistani lays out his bed sheet and sells underwear the next day; see what I meean?”

The train passenger listens to him rant early on here.

This book is set on a train ride in the north part of Athens as we follow two passengers on the train one a loud mouth talking to the other about what he sees has happened to the Vic city as he starts talking about the place he knew and how it has changed in recent years with all the people that have come to Athens via Turkey. The shops they have opened and what they have changed about the Vic city. His fellow passenger keeps interrupting as we see him clearing the emails from his spam box these little glimpses of capitalism and the usual emails we all get for such things as HIV test and restaurants still being sent even thou there is an economic downturn. The book is formed as outburst each chapter is a separate monologue from one about kids at the school another start with having not eaten for a few days only a discarded sandwich and each of these tales are drawn back to the angry man’s bile about those immigrants he sees everywhere. The man tries to defend his position but as his words get harsh describing the immigrants as a cockroach. A stark view of modern Athens and how the economic crisis has brought the city to its knees but also drawn deep lines of hatred in some peoples hearts that see the city another way.

Three days. Since I ate. Three days. A cheese sandwich missing a bite. Some kid dropped it. Bang, a slap from his mom. And into the garbage. I fished it out. Ate it. Three days. A cheese sandwich. Head spinning. One step forward. Stop two steps; stop again. I’m at the square. Hungry. Thristy. Fountain. Water. I ask for money, Stretch out my hand. Ten Drachmas. Twenty. Nobody gives if you’re young. Dizzy. I remember what food was like. Hunger is like a dream. Taste of food.

Another voice describes there hunger in the chapter Happiness is a sandwich

 

Fred Reed says this book was inspired in some ways by the rise of the Golden Dawn movement in Greece a far-right party that had grabbed the populist view. The book is Greek but the beauty f the narrative that Tsirbas has used with no names and even the places are not fully seen as Athens landmarks. Means this could be anywhere in Europe where the right-wing Populist that have been taking power or gaining power. The way the Angry man talks about people you have heard many times before around Europe and here from UKIP to the national front in France. The man’s bile is so well caught as he describes the way these folk views the world full of hatred and the fact they see the world as one way, not another. They Blame immigrants for the countries woes. The book is only 90 pages and backs a punch I read it in an evening. A fresh take on the economic problems in Greece as they ride on a train.

The last day byJaroslavas Melnikas

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The last day by Jaroslavas Melnikas

Lithuanian fiction

Original title – Rojalio kambarys

Translator – Marija Marcinkute

Source – Reivew copy

I’ve been late getting to this as it came out a while ago from the small press Noir press whose books I have reviewed before. They have been bringing some of the brightest writers from Lithuania. Jaroslavas Melnikas has written six novels, collections of philosophical essays in Lithuanian he has also written poetry and prose in Ukrainian and a novel in French. He has worked for a number of Magazines including Laima and Woman. He is a member of both the Lithuanian and Ukrainian writers union. He won the BBC book of Ukraine with this book. This is his first work to be translated into English.

A very strange situation unfolded in the country and across the whole planet. Everybody was convinced that a divinity existed. But where was it? The sun shone, as always, the sky was still there, as were the clouds, the trees and animals. The world hadn’t changed; everything was alive, vibrant, but the hidden divinity was nowheere to be found. There was just that book, which appeared out of nowhere.that simpy infuriated everybody.God, if you decide to reveal that you exist, and in such an original manner, then show yourself!

The book of everyones last day changes the way the world is and they think about God.

This is a collection of eight short stories some from a few pages to others about fifty pages long. The collection opens with the title story the Last day based in an alternative world where someone has the power to find out when everyone dies and these days are published in books this shows how people deal with knowing when the last day is and what they do. The second story we find a man Jura thinking about the times he has played his grand piano at his home in his grand piano room only for his family to deny there was ever such a room he even remembers his wife seeing him play but she denies this ever happen he is left question as he walks through a door to a different plan or has he just imagined all this. Other stories see a woman grow younger a sort of female version of Benjamin Button she rediscovers her sexual prowess. Other see a man following directions but where are they leading him? Then a man ends in a cinema watching a film that never ends about a girl called Liz where reality and life get blurred.I laughed at an early line about the film saying it was a film that seems pointless as it was plotless.I was reminded that is something My Amanda would say about some of the films I watch.

Nikodimova was sixty when she noticed the small bloody discharge. She didnt take any notice at first, but then the skin under her eyes became smoother. Just like that. She began to feel like living and enjoying herself. And the birds and spring. In the mornings, while in the morning, while in the shower, she discovered her body was astonishment. Not in the prime of youth, of course, her skin drooped here and there, but still, in shape, sufficently supple.

She could reach hjer toes without bendingher knees, the stream of water pleasantly drumming against her vertbrae and her waist, running in a warm stream down her bottom and thighs

The tale of Nikodimova and her growing younger when she turns sixty.

 

This a great collection. The stories all make you as the reader thinks about what is the truth behind each one each story.  There is a lot about who people are, what we are! who we are.! Those major questions like how we look shown when the Nikodimova the sixty year starts growing younger she get the neighbors talking. The other thread is the community as in the Soviet era of close living where everyone was on top of each other at times the identity gets blurred as shown in the grand piano room a story about shifting truths with a nod to the Soviet past. These would make great short tv series in the style of something like The outer limits used to be.  Where we are asked to accept various views of the world. Then asked to read greater into the stories than what is on the surface. An interesting collection of stories from a new writer to us in English. Noir press have brought an interesting writer out one of the best short story collections I have read in recent years.

Tell them of Battles , kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard

Tell them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard

French fiction

Original title – Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d’éléphants

Translator – Charlotte Mandell

Source – review copy

A break today from German lit a recent novella from one of my favorite writers of recent years Mathias Enard. This Novella appeared in French after his book Zone Reviewed here and street of thieves which also I have reviewed. This is a book that for me is more connected to his most recent book Compass as it tackles the connection between the east and the west the gateway to the Orient as once it was known  Constantinople. What Enard has done is used a piece of actual history around the time and added a story that might have happened to it.

Three bundles of sable and mink fur, one hundred and twelve panni of wool, nine rolls of Bergamo satin, the same quality of gilt Florentine velvet, five barrels of saltpetre, two crates of mirrors and one little jewellery box: that is the list of things that disembark with Michaelangelo Buonarroti in the port of constantinople on Thursday, 13 May 1506. Almost as soon as the frigate moors, the sculptor leads ashore. He sways a little after six days of difficult sailing. No one knows the name of the Greek dragomanwaitint for him, so we’ll call him Manuel.

The trade imortance is shown by what has arrived with Michelangelo in the boat from Italy.

The book is set in 1506 where we join the rising Artist Michelangelo who has been asked to make a trip to Constantinople by the Sultan of the town to try and design a bridge to go over the Golden Horn. He is following in the footsteps of Leonardo who was asked to design a bridge but his design wasn’t liked by the Sultan so he has asked Michaelangelo to come and put his mark on the world by building a great and wonderful bridge to Join east and west. The young man has his eyes and heart opened by the Ottoman world he sees so different from his own home as he tries to bridge the ap and one night sees a singer that captures his eye. As he is guided around the city by Mesihi (an actual member of the Ottoman court at the time). We also see the trade route that the city is the crossing road of the produce from the Orient to those going from Europe to the east on the various ships and barges he sees in the port area. As he tries to get the bridge right in his mind and then on the paper but eventually he gives his friend Mesihi a drawing of Elephants.

Little by little, sittin cross-legged on his cushions, Michelangelo feels overwhelmed with emotion. His ears forget the music, or elseperhaps it’s the music itself that is plunging himinto this state, making his eyes tremble and filling them with tears  that will not flow; as it was on that afternoon at Santa Sophia, as it is every time he touches beauty, or approaches it, the artist shivers with happinedd and suffering intermingled.

Next to Michelangelo, Mesihi observes him; he sees him overcome by this pleasure of the body and soul together that only Art, or perhaps opium and wine, can offer, and he smiles, happy to discover that the foreign guest os moved by the rhythm of the androgynous jewels to which his eyes riveted

He falls for the androgynus singers of the Ottoman era the first time he sees them

This book cleverly uses real people all the main character existed. Leonardo did go and design a bridge that was rejected. But there is no proof that Michaelangelo did although as Enard points out there is drawing in the Sultans collection that had been attributed to Michaelangelo. If a bridge had been started or even built a huge earthquake three years after the book is set could destroy it. The book shows the art of storytelling a simple idea did he go is a way of lifting the veil of the Ottoman world of the 16th century and also its importance as a trading post and crossroads or a bridge between to worlds as Orhan Pamuk said “To be able to see the Bosphorus, even from afar—for İstanbullus this is a matter of spiritual import that may explain why windows looking out onto the sea are like the mihrabs in mosques, the altars in Christian churches, and the tevans in synagogues, and why all the chairs, sofas, and dining tables in our Bosphorus-facing sitting rooms are arranged to face the view.” His modern city has seen many changes from the Sultans time but the Bosphorus is still the blood ruing through the body of the city connecting the west and east sides and the two worlds. The title is a nod to Kipling and is a quote from a story that is told by an elderly Indian to a young westerner.

The Giant Dwarfs by Gisela Elsner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Giant dwarfs by Gisela Elsner

German fiction

Original title – Die Riesenzwerge

Translator – Joel Carmichael

Source – personal copy

I pick another older book for my German lit month choice this is a prize-winning novel from Gisela Elsner was a member of the Gruppe 47 writers when she joined the group in 1958 alongside many of the great writers of Postwar Germany. I choose to get a copy of her book as she seems to have disappeared somewhat in the years since she died. She wrote a number of novels but her life was cut short as she took her own life. Her son is the German filmmaker Oskar Roehler he made a film that starred someone playing his mum in the early ’80s. The film Death to the hippies long lives the punks look at the time his mother and father were in Berlin this film came out a couple of years ago.

Myfather is a good eater. He dosen’t stand on ceremony. He sits down at the table and tucks the ends of his napkin behind his collar. He props his palms of his hands on the table, to the right and left of the knife and fork. He raises his behind  a little from chair. He leans across the table so that his napkin hangs down into his empty plate and he can see what is in the dishes. Then he lowers his behind onto the seat. then he pitches in. He serves himself with the seving fork, with the seving spoon, one forkful after another, one apoonful after another , until he has a great heap on his plate.

Lothar observes his father in the opening chaptewr as he gorges himself on food.

The Giant Drawf is a narrative told by a young boy called Lothar it is the view of his grotesque world. This is a slightly over the top world that is shown in the opening when he watches his father gorge himself on food. I was reminded of Homer Simpson and Bart at times in this early piece. There is him viewing the growing world of consumerism. As the book is told in a series of chapters that sees Lothar observing and discovering the world like a trip to the forest which gave him his first glimpse of sexual behaviours. This is a view of Germany at the time Lothar domestic life is like many the minor problems we all have like we see with his father who can lose his temper easily. He also has a strange observation of the doctor talking about Tapeworms which seems to go over the young Lothars head at the time.

“The same thing every morning!” my father calls out every morning. And as he hurries through the hallway, he stuffs is shirt into his trousers and buttons his clothes beginning at the bottom, first pushing the buttons on one side of his fly into the buttonholes on the other side as far up as his waistband, then putting its button into its hole, then pushing the shirt buttons into the buttonholes of theshirt from the bottom to the collar. And whenever he buttons, when he gets to the top button, the collar button, and my mother is pouring the coffee through the strainer into his mug, that button refuses to go into its buttonholes, and he cries, “The least a man can ask of a button is that it fit into the buttonhole!”

A whole chapter on the top button and how they try to sort it !! a satirical piece that has a wider meaning!

This is a clever book that has a feel of a world that has gone but also some observation that said it was written in the early sixties. She sees the early signs of consumerism in the way Lothar parents are. There is a grotesque slightly out nature to his view of the world that adds to the childlike sense of the narrative. Lothar reminds me of a number of child characters from Bart Simpson to the main character of the curious incident in the night the opening when he observes his dad eating remind me of many an episode of The Simpson’s then later there is a similar detatch nature to his observations that remind me of Christopher in that Novel. This is a book that has been out of print for a number of years from a writer that has been dead for over 25 years. It is a slice of its time and has nods to her fellow Gruppe 47 writers but also

River by Esther Kinsky

River by Esther Kinsky

German fiction

Original title –  Am Fluss

Translator – Iain Galbraith

Source – review copy

I have reread this for German lit month as I read it late last year and never reviewed it and had wanted to but as time flew this year I picked it up last week. Esther Kinsky is a German writer and translator she had lived in London for a number of years with her late husband the German to English translator Martin Chalmers. In her work as a translator of English books into German she had worked on books by John Clare his journey from Esse. That follows Clare walk in the countryside of 1841.  she also translated Iain Sinclair’s book which he followed in Clare’s footsteps and she has also done works by Henry David Thoreau of the books she has translated this three jumped out at me as they seem to connect to this wonderful novel.

The king stretched out his hands and the ravens gather around him. Several settled on his arms, shoulders and hands, briefly flapping their wings, lifting again and flying a short distance, then returning. Perhaps each bird wanted to touch him art least once, or perhaps they had no choice. Thus encirclircled by birds, he began to make gentle swinging and circling movements with his arms, as if they were haunted by a memory of wings

The King in the opening chapter see saw one evening a strange figure .

This is one of thos novels that have no real plot it is a meandering work just like the rivers our narrator tells us about. She is a German that has ended in our capital. She has then drift to Hackney and spends her time wandering the marsh-river area around the river Lea the book and many strands all come from these meandering walks the memories of her past and time in her childhood on the Oder and the single visit of her father but then the other people she meets eccentric character like the King a Man in a headdress that  I was never sure was just an imaged person a sort of modern take on the Crow King especially when she said he opened his arms and the ravens drifted around him. Or was this just an eccentric dress like a beefeater that wanders the river paths of the Lea? Then she meets orthodox Jews and other people that have ended up in this multicultural area like people from Former Yugoslavia leads to another digression to the rivers there many views of the rivers both in Europe and America she had seen over the years form a sort of memory of her life and also flow like a river as you read it.

What were my memories of rivers, now that I lived on an island whose thoughts were turned seawards, where rivers looked shallow and pretty, noticable only when they frayed into flats, or cut deep channels as they flowed out to sea ? Sometimes I dreamed of rivers I had known, rivers that cleaved their wat through plains and towns, rivers kept at bay by flood defences, or which rippled through the bright countryside. I remembered ferries and bridges and endless searching in unfamilar terrain for ways to cross a foreign river . I spent my younger years by a river that appeared to me in dreams when I ran a fever.

The river of my childhood was the Rhine. The chugging of barges

I remeber a few evening by the Rhine in my early twenties a much broader and buiser river than ours in the Uk in a way.

Now anyone that follows this blog knows that this is the sort of book I am a fan of those that can not be put in a pigeonhole. I pointed out that she had translated John Clare the peasant  poet and his walk of 1841 which was redone by Iain Sinclair another great writer around London and this is another grea\t view of that city from an outsiders eyes like Sebald she views the places she sees differently and drifts through time and place this is another book that would be great to map out the places mentioned on a google map guide like someone did with Sebald’s rings of Saturn if I ever have a spare week or two I may even try this myself as it made me think of the times I used to walk along the river Dane in Congleton growing up then past Alnwick castle with my first dog as I meet a whole host of people as Alnwick was always full of tourists and finally to the still canal waters of here my home and those cold mornings with my old pal Winston this is what great fictions do when a reader connects and that draws you into the tale.

The end of a Mission by Heinrich Böll

 

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The end of a mission by Heinrich Böll

German literature

Original title – Ende einer Dienstfahrt

Translator – Lelia Vennewitz

Source – personal copy

It has become a tradition in a way to review a Heinrich Böll for German lit month. I have reviewed five of his book before.I have a few more on my tbr pile and with Penguin putting his debut novel out. It has been over thirty years since Böll died so it nice see he is getting new attention as for me he alongside Gunter Grass was the voices of post-war West Germany. This book came in 1966a mid-career book by this writer.

The evidence of the elderly Inspector Kirffel was short and to the point. He said that the scene of the crime was known to all local inhabitants for miles around as “Kupper’s tree” ; although there was no tree anywhere in the vicinity and never had been – not even in his childhood had he ever seen a tree there – he  chose to use the name because it appeared on the regional maps. Herr hermes, the teacher from Kireskirchen who was such an expert on local lore, had explained the name this way; some generations ago a tree had probably soodthere , and someone called Krupper had either hanged himself or been hanged from it .

The place the jeep was found was a place named after a tree that may have been there at some point !!

This is maybe the most german novel by Böll I have read. The book is set around a trial in a small county court in an otherwise sleepy town and the trail of a father and son Johann Gruhl and his son Georg. The trail of these two came about as the son stole an Army Jeep near the end of his conscription in the army he takes it to his fathers and the Jeep is burned out.the jeep was found near a local landmark which is highlighted a number of times in the book.  The book follows the trial the son was sent out in the jeep in a meaningless exercise to get a certain mileage on the jeep was ask to drive around but end up at his father who was in trouble with some huge outstanding bills in the family Cabinet maker business. The Jeep got burnt was this malicious or an act of art or being anti-military! The trail is held by a local judge known for being a bit of a pushover. The judge is just on the verge of retirement. So over the course of the books, we see witness setting the events first one way and then another to discover what really happened this is a comic book that also highlights the absurd nature of the state and the army at times when a system becomes inflexible. The book follows the inner working of a trail and the madness of it sometimes.

Upset and nervpous as he was, Dr Stolfuss (he had also known Gruhl senior from childhood and had always had a soft spot for him – a few weeks before the incident he had even employed him to restore a valuable Empire chest of drawers which had finally, after a lengthy inheirtence dispute with his cousin Lisdeth, sister of Agnes Hall, come into his possesion. In paying Gruhl he had in fact, if not demostrably. put himself in the wrong because, knowing that Gruhl was being snowed under with seizure orders, he had sliiped him his money privately)

Another witness and another odd tale and tonuge in cheek at time

This is different to the other books I have read by him but is an interesting comic work into the absurd nature of the state, justice system and the way being draft in the army can change the family business. The absurd jeep ride by the son it is all tongue in cheek at times but also shows the bureaucratic process and justice system at its most absurd as the two men are set to the fact the Judge. This is the sort of novel that would struggle to get out now as it is cerebral and also comic also it subject matter of a small country trail around a stolen burnt out jeep isn’t the most exciting but that is what sets this apart as it is stunning read by one of the great writers of his time. I enjoy the fact the way he takes apart the inner workings and shows the madness the state can sometimes have. Have you a favorite Böll

The tiding of the trees by Wolfgang Hilbig

The tiding of trees by Wolfgang Hilbig

German fiction

Original title – Die Weber, alte abdeckeri, Die kunde von baumen

Translator – Isabel Fargo Cole

Source – personal copy

Well, it is German lit month and I start with a new writer and new press for this blog I have actually read two books by Wolfgang Hilbig but hadn’t reviewed the earlier book which I hope to bring later in the month. But this is the last of his books to appear on Two line press. Wolfgang Hilbig grew up in East Germany he was initially a poet after giving up his job as a stoker. He wrote a number of works till in 1985 he got a visa and traveled to West Germany and wrote his first novel. His works look on life as a writer in the former GDR and the politics of the time. He won many prizes and wrote twenty books.

What do I know now , said Waller, of the preplexities that came over me as I tried to write my first stories? right here I falter: back then I’d never have dared to put it that way! that act of story-wrting consisted in an ongoing routine of crossing out words that had found their way to paper with no effort on my part. I seemed to have set them down in some kind of madness – I found whole lines, whole passages filled with words what could have arisen in no other way, all I couldaccept was the branching frame work of the conjunctions – and suddenly it was as though someone, not I , had shone a lamp on them: my words, if I could still read them at all, were the falest conceivable way to express what I actually wanted to name

The openiong lines show Waller isn’t really writing at times and also the sense that he could only writer freeier later on in his career.

This novella is narrated by a shift worker called Waller. He is a man similar to the writer himself he is in his twenties as the book is written this is 1961. The Berlin wall has cut of the east german. The writer lives in the city of V with his mother on Cherry Tree Avenue where the tree has disappeared and in their place is a dump and the Garbagemen that he sees working that dump. He is writing a report and also trying to write about the disappearance of the trees. But he seems to get caught in a cycle of start with the city of w and living on cherry tree avenue but never writes any further as thou he is blocked from writing more in his mind and wanting to tell who the open pit min turn a wood into a pit and when that was used into a dump and the dump is manned by these barely human garbagemen shifting through the trash of the locals. Will Waller ever finish his writing!

How long ago, I asker myself, had I last been in that area? many years must have passed, and the terrain had changed utterly. The ash had grown into an extensice plain, leveled, but in contrast to earlier times impossible to survey: it was covered in dense brush, strange weeds that stood yards tall, and nothing led through that tangle but narrow paths forming a bewildering labyrinth. I had no idea what that jungle of  plants consisted of : dry, tough grass, burdock, reedd… things whose yellow flowers caught the eye at a certain time of year, scrubby mugwort, dingy goldenrod, thickets that thrived better on barren ground than in fertile soil..

The local area has been changed beyond his memories of the place and now is a barren jungle of weeds a metaphor for the GDR maybe !!

There is a real darkness and sense of the world the narrator is living in the black air around him the ash that at a point he wipes of the page he is writing these mysterious figures all add to an air of a world where all is not what it seems. A world where the ground has been ripped apart I have seen the open cast pits when I lived in the northeast in the 90s, in fact, my father repaired the huge dragliners so I got to see very close an open cast from the bottom and the effect it had on the landscape but the difference here was after it was filled it was filled with water and became an area where nature flourished here we see the scars opened and the filled with rubbish and the people that live on the tip sorting the rubbish all this from the local area. This is a commentary on the way the GDR ruing parts of East Germany after the Berlin Wall was closed and ravage the land for Coal. The Huge machines that dug open the land like the Blue wonder . Then when they left the government turned it into a tip and the home waller knew when young on Cherry tree avenue is no more the cherry trees are gone. A desolate world captured in a wonderfully poetic work of despair and hopelessness wonderfully captured from one of the best writers of the later 20th century in German.

 

 

 

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