Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad or to give him his proper name Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski ,was a polish born writer he had a varied life ,working as a sailor ,where the kernel for this book came after a visit to latin america ,he settle in england in his twenties but still travelled he didn’t learn english til his twenties .

Nostromo is a reread for me I read it in my late teens about twenty years ago and like it but didn’t love the book ,but when I read the secret history of costaguna a book based on this book I was advised to reread this by Frank Wynne on twitter and I am pleased I choose to do so ,as the book seemed to have grown in 20 years I think as I m older and more cynical and less idealistic nowadays the book appeals more .So what is the book about well about a silver mine ,a revolution ,a mine owner and Nostromo the man who could save the day .The book shows what a melting pot small harbours where at these  times in latin America where at this time a mix of expatriates ,natives and sailors on shore leave add to a heavy brew the ownership of mine a coup in the air and a pile of silver ,the book moves at a rip-roaring pace you meet a myriad of interesting characters a lot you feel Conrad would have met on his travels when sailing .Nostromo is like some of the great figures from south american history a european that becomes drawn into the struggle for freedom .

In the time of Spanish rule ,and for many years afterwards ,the town of Sulaco – the luxuriant beauty of orange gardens bears witness to its antiquity – had never been commercially anything more important than a coasting port with a fairly large local trade in ox hides and indigo .

The opening lines of Nostromo describe the town of Sulaco .

The story is so modern I felt if you crossed the names and replaced with arabic names you could have the current situation in the arabic world or with african names it could be cotes d ivoire ,at thew heart of the book is greed and money who owns it for silver you could have oil or cocoa in its place .My edition was from Oxford world classics thanks to Kirsty and had a great appendix with loads of facts and explanations on words and sources for the story .As for th story of the silver mine I was reminded of a programme from the early nineties where the radio dj Andy Kershaw and singer Billy Bragg followed the south american silver trail ,at one point we were told there was enough silver mined in the 1800’s to build a silver bridge from south america to Spain .The book shows what greed and colonialism had done to south america using an imagined country was a good idea from Conrad as it could be any of the countries in South America over the late 1800’s to early 1900’s as they all became republics .This book made me think I should read some more classic books than I do .

Have you read this book ?

Have you reread a book and found it better with age on rereading ?

The secret history of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Juan Vasquez is a Columbian writer ,he studied in Colombia then in France ,living in Belgium then spain in Barcelona where he lives today his first novel was a surprise hit the informers this is his second novel ,he has just published a third in spanish.he has also translated books into spanish .
The book is a imagine tale based round the writing of Conrad’s great latin American novel Nostromo .We meet Jose Altamirano a Colombian ,that has come to live in London ,he has escaped the horrors he saw and witnessed , after the thousand day war in his homeland ,that ran between the two main parties in colombia as the fought over the Panama canal and its riches .Anyway he is introduced to Joseph Conrad and they talk about books and writers  at the time Conrad  is writing a book about revolution and turmoil in latin america ,so he is asked to recount his experiences and his families experiences during the two years of war .These are colourful and traumatic and highly violent at times involving him and his loved ones ,Conrad eagerly takes notes from what he says  ,he opens his heart to Conrad as he trusts him when the meet ,and in doing so is Keen to see what Conrad has woven from his story .Well when he reads the first part work of Nostromo which is based in the imagined land of Costaguana of the title  not his homeland or own town .Jose is shocked he feels he has been removed from his own story .

But the republic does exist ,I said or rather beseeched him .The province does exist .But the silver mine is really a canal ,a canal between two oceans .I know because I know it .I was born in that republic ,I lived in the Province .I am guilty of its misfortunes
Conrad didn’t answer .
Jose finds he has been recast and removed from his tale .

This is a clever juxtapose on the Conrad novel the table flipped a latin american writing about a latin american in london .We find out a lot about Conrad and his novelistic life as a sailor His travels in africa and how he end up as an English writer even thou he was born in Poland .The book shows the danger of telling writers your story and also how British and European writers rewrote and maybe didn’t acknowledge the people who stories they told in their great books of far-flung places .Now this an imagined piece of parallel fiction .But having reread Nostromo and be reviewing it tomorrow you feel Conrad would have used someone like Jose in his writing process to get the hard facts and feel of the place although he imagine Costaguana it could be anyone of half a dozen countries in south america .The book was longlisted for this years IFFP and was translated by Anne Maclean who won last year IFFP prize .


A ball and easter break

Well I m back took long off from blog than Intend .But had a busier easter than expected ,we went to a ball at Chesterfield football clubs new stadium for Amanda and mine work .The people we support have spent the last year rasing funds to pay for the night and to get dressed up in dinner jackets ,suits and ball gowns .They all looked wonderful as did my darling wife in here 50’s style dress .

So we had a long night on good friday til early hours .Then we had family visiting on easter saturday and sunday .I not had time to read or blog a lot but have had a great Time with family and friends and most of all my darling wife Amanda .
I return tomorrow with books and a review .Just wanted to let you know I was here .

when a book sprouts from another !

A recent reading of the secret history of costaguna  set me thinking ,this book is parallel novel to Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo ,there is a clever juxtapose about this thou Vasquez is a latin american writing about events in london and Conrad was an english writer writing about latin america ,the link is the character in Vasquez book tells Conrad his life story about the events in his homeland ,this story forms part of Conrad’s book and the imagined country of costaguna .Well I decide to re read Nostromo and the old saying certain books are best read when you are old was true with this book a book that came to life more than before I felt this was mainly due to my increased cynicism with age,so thanks to Vasquez I ve rediscovered a book and writer I had partly written off as a younger man .I ll shortly be review both books .Thanks to Kirsty at oup for the lovely copy of Nostromo (love the picture on the cover )

Now I have previously read march by Geraldine Brooks another Parallel novel that worked for me ,and some Sherlock Holmes inspired stories that were hit and miss .so the question is –



In answer to the second one I d love see a book on Don Quixote maybe him as a younger man .Perec life a user manual  has loads sub plots and characters that would make great stories on their own .


The museum of innocence by Orhan Pamuk

Source – library

Translator – Maureen Freely

Orhan Pamuk won the nobel prize in 2006 ,he was the first Turkish citizen to win a nobel prize .he is professor of comparative literature at Columbia university ,he has been at odds at times with his own country about its past he has had a number of books translated into in english by Maureen Freely that has also done the Istanbul memories book and his novel snow .,this book like his book Istanbul memories of a city which I read and I feel probably inspired this book in a lot of ways Istanbul is like an extra character at times

Well Museum of innocence is an epic book ,it has scope and vision it use the Janus like city of Istanbul ,a city torn between the arabic and western world ,between old and new ,also between classes .The book is a history of a love affair between   a lowly shop girl and a much older businessman ,now I know what you are thinking this is going be a book about a dirty old man ,a new Lolita  .W ell no it is a bout true love in its purest sense ,about obsession ,class and society within turkey who are these people ? the lowly shop girl Fusun is beautiful the sort of girl who stops men in the track but she is only a shop girl ,the man is Kemal he is heir ,a man railroad into marriage by expectations of his class to keep the status quo going .so they embark on a 20 year affair ,The clandestine couple meet at an apartment ,this place becomes the home of the museum of innocence as Kemal start converting every thing about Fusun ,he has put this lowly girl on a pedestal ,over the course of the book we see the affair unfold and the collecting of items increase greatly .

During my eight years of going to Keshkins for supper ,I was able to squirrel away 4,213 of Fusun’s cigarette butts .Each one of these had touched her rosy red lips and entered her mouth ,some even touching her tongue and becoming moist ,as I would discover when I put my finger on the filter soon after she had stubbed the cigarette out ,the stub ,reddened by her lovely lipstick bore the unique impression of her lips .

Kermal gathering items for his collection .

This book is the best of the four I ve read by Pamuk ,he even writes himself into the story at a couple of points being observed at some parts .I found this love affair touching and sad touched with the sadness of what should have been in a different world .The apartment is a bit like bridge  that cross the Bosphorus connecting the two parts of the city ,in this case the apartment connects two classes of Istanbul .There is something timeless about the story ,I can see this being popular for a long time due the love ,obsession ,city and characters that make up Museum of innocence .the book is on the IFFP short list

Istanbul the heart of this story .


The sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

Source – Library

Translator –  Margaret Jull Costa

Alberto is a Venezuelan born writer from Caracas ,he is well-known in his homeland for his biography of the enigmatic leader of his country Hugo Chavez ,he also writer piece for El Pais and Letrea libres from time to time.He has also wrote piece for television in his own country . This is his first novel in English won the Herralde prize for new works in spanish ,Bolano won this prize as well .

The sickness is a book that is about what it says on the cover sickness ,whether its real or imagine ,also death family and what it all means ,the book hinges on dr Andres Miranda ,His father is terminally ill ,they are on a trip to try to sort out ,what is going to happen to his father but also to bring some closeness to them ,also on another strand is on of the patients of Dr Miranda a man who is convinced he is ill and is constantly e mailing the doctor with his various aliments such as being breathless after exerting himself ,over course of the book his enquiries turn to stalking .meanwhile the father and son are on a boat going to the childhood holiday haunt of his father .

Dear Dr Miranda ,

I have a confession to make :I m following you .I’d love to see you face now ,to see your reaction .What do you think ? does it bother you ? Does it worry you ? does it frighten you perhaps ? or maybe you don’t even care ,perhaps you find it amusing .I no longer know what to think .

One of Duran’s e-mails ,as he starts to follow the dr Miranda .

The sickness is a riveting read ,about  modern anxieties ,and life ,he tackles how we cope with impeding death  ,also how caught up we can caught up in worries about  our health ,this shows how worked up you can after small problems  we tend to be surrounded by information in the modern age and this can drag us down this path of feel unwell due to stress .The father son relationship is well drawn as the son a tough doctor ,race to spend time with his dying father and rediscovering in some ways his humanity .I think this would be a great book group book in brings a lot to the table to discuss life ,death and illness could keep you going all night I would think .The translation from Jull costa is as ever highly readable .The book was shortlist for the IFF prize yesterday .


Frank Wynne talks to winstonsdad

Frank Wynne is one best translators about. An Independant foreign fiction prize winner in 2005 with his translation of frederic Beigbeder’s windows on the world and longlist this year for Kamachatka .you may like to look at franks site
• Can you introduce yourself and how you got into translation ?
Frank Wynne, born in Sligo, Ireland and variously miseducated, I grew up with a passion for books and became a translator by misadventure – having  no clear idea of what I wanted to do. I have variously worked as a radio journalist,  a bookseller, an editor, a comics publisher and with AOL at the inception of the internet, where I finally became editorial director). Books were the one constant in my life and the three years I spent living in Paris in the 1980s 1984 left me with a fascination for  language –  not the lexical differences, but by the way in which language shapes thought and imagination. My first translation (done purely for myself and to give friends a chance to read a book I loved) was of Romain Gary’s La Vie devant soi.
So I took to translating furtively, by night, never expecting anything to come of it. My first published translation Somewhere in a desert (L’Hypothese du désert) was well received and a couple of years later, when Atomised (Les Particules élémentaires) won the IMPAC, I decided I could throw in the day job and make a living translating full time. That proved foolishly optimistic, but has allowed me to spend the past decade travelling, living in central and South America and anywhere else I could afford to.
• how long does the average book take to translate and what is the process of translation ?
There is no average book, and the time required to translate books (for me at least) varies widely. It’s sometimes assumed that books with a sustained, poetic register are most difficult to translate but I have often found that these are precisely the books where finding the voice is easiest – and once I have found a voice, that informs many of the decisions I will need to make when translating. The corollary is that sometimes books in simple colloquial language prove hardest to carry across – I don’t want a gritty book set in Zavaleta (a poor suburb of Buenos Aires) to sound as though it’s set in Brixton, or give a bordelais farmer a west-country accent, but I have to find some way to convey accent, class, slang  and, most importantly, the music of spoken language in such books.
The process of translation can vary to. I generally read a book several times before beginning, make a first draft with copious footnotes to myself on phrases, words or images I feel will need work. I usually do a significant amount of research (I don’t know how I translated before the internet and online libraries existed); sometimes the research is necessary because the novel has a historic backdrop or setting, sometimes it’s necessary for me to feel I have a sense of place. When translating Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is not Obliged (Allah n’est pas obligé),   narrated by a child soldier from Côte d’Ivoire, I had Human Rights Watch send me tapes of interviews with child soldiers in French but also in English (from Liberia) to have a sense of what voice to give the narrator (Freudian slip, I nearly typed my narrator).  Once I have a clean second draft of the translation, I will generally approach the author with any questions I have, and submit this draft to my editor for comments. Based on these twin responses I will come up with a final manuscript.
• how close do you work with the orginal writers ?
Writers vary enormously in the extent to which they wish to be involved in the process. When I first started out, editors did not usually put me in touch with writers and I felt too shy and too self-conscious to ask for contact details.  It was a neophyte’s  mistake and one I quickly overcame. many  authors have been generous and unstinting in their help in resolving translation issues (beyond the purview of Anglo-Saxon literature, I have worked with many  authors who are also translators too, and enjoy this collaboration). Equally, I have worked with authors who had little interest in or understanding of the translation process. The easiest writers to work with are those who understand that any translation is a version of their work, that no translation can be definitive.
• what book of yours are you most proud of and why ?
I nurture of my translations – they’re a little like children – when they go out into the world I worry about them, watch them stumble or succeed and  try hard not to have favourites, but those I am most proud to have translated are probably Ahmadou Kourouma’s bitter, blistering, hilarious and  poignant account of post colonial Africa “Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote” (En Attandant le vote des bêtes sauvages) and Houellebecq’s  Atomised (Les Particules élémentaires). The voices and the worldviews of the two books could not be more different, but each in its way takes a cold hard look into the heart of man and finds it  wanting. Kourouma’s language was exultant and attempting to convey it was difficult and rewarding, Houellebecq at times almost made me wet myself  laughing, and I tried hard to make English language readers lose bladder control.
• Is there a book you wish you could translate ?
There are many… but two immediately spring to mind: Céline’s Journey to the End of Night (Voyage au bout de la nuit) to my mind one of the major novels of the 20th century (and a book without which the writings of  Henry Miller,  Jack Kerouac,  Joseph Heller and Will Self  would have been very different ). There are two extant translations ( John H. P. Marks (1934) and  Ralph Manheim (1983)); I don’t know Mark’s translation but Manheim seem to me to miss the vituperative  immediacy of the invective, the vernacular… In part, this is because English  has changed enormously over the course of the 20th century, while the French slang of 1932 still has the ability to shock the modern ear. The second, which I’ve already mentioned,  is La Vie devant soi by Émile Ajar –   (also translated by Manheim as The Life Before Us, also published as Madame Rosa) which I have loved since I first read it. Romain Gary’s late, pseudonymous career as Émile Ajar is  is linguistically playful and immensely moving – both in this novel and in the untranslated Gros-Calin. His books are peopled by curious people who narrate in a fractured French that manages to be quirky and funny,  while being profoundly moving.  To my ear, Manheim misses some of the playful, chaotic language of the original. But as I’ve said, a translation is only ever a version of the original – to quote Peter Fawcett  ” Translation quality assessment proceeds according to the lordly, completely unexplained, whimsy of “It doesn’t sound right” –  so what I’m really saying is “I wouldn’t have done it that way”
• how important are awards like the IFFP to translated fiction ?
Translation has historically been an ‘invisible’ profession (no one talks about reading Constance Garnett or Louise and Aylmer Maude or Anthony Briggs, instead we say we’ve “read Tolstoy”);  what the IFFP and other awards have done is focus not simply on works in translation, but on translation itself in a way that celebrates the craft but also provokes discussion about language, ideas and stories. Without such prizes it would vbe even more difficult for the tiny percentage of books translated into English to find an audience
• what would you say to readers that are maybe nervous about works in translation ?
Get over it! You’ve been reading and have been familiar  with works in translation all your life (Greek and Norse myths, fairy tales (Grimm Brothers via Perrault) and quintessentially ‘English’ stories like the Legend of King Arthur, the list is endless). Like the Anglo-Saxon fear that subtitled films must be  Art (capital A) rather than entertainment, there is an assumption that books in translation must be Difficult. In fact they can be as funny, moving,  irreverent as anything written in English (nor should translated works be accorded some special respect –  writers in any language are equally capable of  being  dull, unreadable or meretricious); read and make up your own mind. Kafkaesque
• what are you curently working on ?
I’m just finishing a translation of The Blue Hour, a wonderful Peruvian novel by Alonso Cueto that deals with grief and guilt, family and reputation, set against   the vicious war waged against Shining Path
• what is your favourtite translation by another translator ?
I’ll pick two:  Barbara Bray’s magisterial translation of Michel Tournier Le Roi des Aulnes (published both as The Erl-King and as The Ogre) and – though I have many reservations about some volumes of the new Penguin translation of Proust’s  “In Search of Lost Time” –  Lydia Davis’ The Way by Swann’s (Du côté de chez Swann) is an object lesson in literary translation, which  Wittgenstein called ‘an exact art’.
(I don’t feel it appropriate to select translations where I don’t know the original – if I did, then I would certainly include William Weaver’s translator of Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller”)


My #iffp 2011 shortlist predictions

Well I got it wrong bar two on the longlist but having read some more from longlist have better idea of what is good and not on this list ,well to my own unique taste .so who made the cut in winstonsdad 6 for Independent foreign fiction prize shortlist .The proper list is announced tomorrow at london book fair by booktrust ,tomorrow I ll have an interview with some one on the longlist .



One of my favourites from last year a struggling mother takes her kids to the french seaside as she makes a shocking decision whilst there .


Another mother runaway with her boy’s father to the back and beyond in Israeli ,talking about him to keep him alive .Whilst he is on tour at the front .


Ten year old Harry on the run with his family during the dirty war in Argentina ,a new voice in latin american literature .


A  love affair between a businessman and shop girl over twenty year ,love obsession ,keep sakes and Istanbul all play part in this epic novel .


A lot bloggers have liked this not read it yet but loved old child and this seems similar set up to Simon Mawers glass house a grand house and the family living in it during 30’s .


The dark side of Japanese life I ve read 50 pages to get a feel ,and been gripped so far .






I curse the river of time by Per Petterson

Source – library

Translator -Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson .

Per Petterson is a Norwegian writer ,his 2006 book out stealing Horse won the 2006 IFFP prize and was a surprise run away bestseller ,he is a trained librarian and say carver and Hamsun have influenced his books .This is on this years Independent foreign fiction prize longlist .

The book is the story Avrid a middle aged man and his relationship with his mother, but also a look back on his younger days and broken dreams and hopes .He was a strong believer in communism and as the book is set in 1989 as the iron curtain begins to tumble ,he looks back on the hopes pf youth when the soviets seemed godlike .Tied in with this is a taut relationship with his mother ,as he choose the ideology in his youth a job in a factory instead of an academic path .His mother wanted him to take .so with his mother ill and returning to her home town in Denmark we find Arvid who isn’t in the best health himself and in the middle of a messy divorce himself ,on his way to see her ,she left her home and husband behind in Oslo ,Arvid has a real love for his mother and other the course of the book you see how there lives unfolded and how decisions can affect your future so much .and your relationship with others .Avrid,s childhood was one of distance from his mother almost clinical it read at times ,with his mother so distant at times and him wanting love from her .

“I m leaving today”,my mother said .

“Where to ?” my father said.


“Home “, he said “Today? shouldn’t we talk about this first ? Don’t I get chance to think about it ?”

“There is nothing to discuss” my mother said .”I ve booked my ticket .I ve a letter from Aker hospital I’ve got cancer .”

“You have cancer ?”

The minute Arvid’s mother drop the bombshell to his father .

His mother is a strong character in this book on might even say a stereotype for a certain time of Scandinavian women strong ,cool and hard to connect with at times.The other character in the book apart from Arvid and his mother is the scenery the sea boats rugged country and places ,Per breaths life into his homeland in his words .I ve rarely read such beautiful prose as Petterson .He is the voice of the everyday world of Norway and master of being in a family in this book .Also broken dream and the fall of communism that is a hell of a lot in 230 pages ,I think !


Kamachatka by Mareclo Figueras

Source – Frank Wynne the translator of this book .

Translator  – Frank Wynne

Marcelo Figueras is an Argentina writer and film maker born in the early sixties he has written four novels and wrote for various spanish magazines ,This is his first book to be translated into english

The last thing papa said to me ,the last word from his lips ,was “Kamchatka ” .

He kissed me ,his stubble scratching my cheek ,then climbed into the Citroen .The car moved of along the undulating ribbon of road ,a green bubble bobbing into view with every hill,getting smaller and smaller until I couldn’t see it any More .

The open ,what did his father mean !

Right the book ,it is set in seventies just after a coup and the period called the dirty war  ,the book is narrated by a ten-year old boy ,for most of the book called Harry a name chosen by the young boy as his hero is the legendary escape artist Harry Houdini ,as he parts Left wingers are forced to flee their home in Buenos Aires to head to a safe house in the back and beyond of Argentine .the book is divide into parts each relating to a school day ,This book is from Harry’s point of view and a bit like Wil Wheaton says in stand by me the days when you’re the age before you discover girls are the best and this is Harry ,yes there is Danger but Harry is more interest in Tv and drinking Nesquik .he talks about the Midget it took me a couple mentions to realised this was his younger brother a close relationship beautifully portrayed  .Harry compares people he meets to the characters he sees on tv mainly from his favourite show Invaders ,which I vaguely remember seeing as a Kid myself .also the saint which I loved myself as a kid .Childhood is a large chunk of this book ,I would imagine a lot of the likes and worries of Harry are from Marcelo’s own childhood although he is a few years older than Harry when the book is set .Marcelo also is a wonderful visual writer ,bring the  places the family visit along the way to Life so much .This is a refreshing change to other Latin American  books based round coups which on whole have been dark and more political ,here we get a reflection on how these events effect a family ,we ‘ve all heard about people going on the run ,now here is a book that shows it through a child’s eyes. The book has been made into a successful Film in Argentina which was Argentina choice for the foreign Oscar in 2002 .The book was translated by Frank terrible-man Wynne  with real lightness the story flows and sometimes you forget this wasn’t written in English .This is on this years Independent foreign fiction prize long list and hopefully shortlist .so what did his fathers last words mean ? well you’ll have to read the book to find out !!

Have you a favourite Argentina Novel ?

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April 2011


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