Thomas the Impostor by Jean Cocteau

Thomas the impostor by Jean Cocteau

French Fiction

Translated by Dorothy Willliams

This is another of my recent library haul ,I ve not read Cocteau but was aware of him  but hadn’t known he wrote this particular book .Thomas the imposter is set during the world war one ,I ve not read a french view on the first world war so was keen to get his take on the war .it opens in paris in 1914 ,the Government has left the city, we meet princess de bromes who is treating the wounded solders from the front line in her house ,she sets off to near the frontline  and a young boy Thomas de  Fontenoy joins the army even thou he was too young to he is assumed by mistake to be the relative of a famous general that share his surname he is sent with  the princesses  who  was caught by the fighting  as she was treating injured men and is  waning t to return to paris Thomas does this but then decides he want to see more of the action returning to a unit right on the front line in the trenches at a time when the battles are at their most violent .although he left behind the daughter of de Bromes that has fallen in love with him .if you want to find out what happens well read the book !

Now this book is in part based on Cocteau’s world war experiences he was a lot older than Thomas .when he survived at the front line  as a red cross ambulance driver serving with many fellow poets and writers  ,but sure Thomas is in some part based on some one he saw during the war it shows the horror of war like events  in Sasson and Graves books two of my favourite war books .

“Who are you ? ” asked Verne with his usual bluntness

“Guillaume Thomas de Fontenoy ” was the reply

“relative of general de Fontenoy ?”

The general was appearing in all the headlines all the time

“Yes his nephew ”

The reply took effect at once ,for the doctor always had his cross in mind .It was his guiding star .

Thomas lies about who he is when he joins a new unit

The book has a number of small pen sketches by Cocteau of  princess and Thomas are placed throughout the book  .On the back it says a coming of age story and it is a bit like catcher in the rye in respect of the fact  that Thomas is some one that has to grow in a hurry I would call it a war story more than coming of age ,but also it shows how names can effect Peoples destiny  ,love and loss and the horror of war and all this in 130 pages it shows Cocteau as a talented writer as well as artist and poet .I enjoyed this book I always thought Cocteau a little to high brow for my self but I will try him again after this one  .

Have you read Jean Cocteau ?

Do you have a favourite world war one book ?


Stick out your tongue by Ma Jian

Stick out your tongue by Ma Jian

Chinese fiction

Translator – Flora drew

I m so pleased I picked this up at the library long have I struggled to get a foot in on chinese fiction ,I ve a few books on my shelf but have read first few pages of them and not be gripped so have been on the look out for something short to get my juices following for Chinese books , but I saw this Ma Jian’s  debut collection published in 1987 and in English in 2006  which is only 89 pages long and thought I ll read this in an evening . I didread it in a evening , but also found a chinese writer I love, as well ,and was pleased to be told on twitter when I said I d read it , he has other books out already .well stick your tongue out is a collection of five short stories ,as normal I ll mention only one of these thus leaving the others for you to find for your self .I ve chosen The smile of lake Drolmula  we meet Sonam ,he is a Tibetan nomad  that has left his nomadic family to live in the city ,but is returning to find his family  , we meet him as he stops by the beautiful lake Dromula ,as he does he images how the people in his family have grown in his time away from them ,also little bits on what he remembers his family being  like a certain apron ,this piece is full of the natural beauty but also the hard life of a nomad at the same time ,also how familes can easily drift apart ,as he progresses he finds his family hard to track down  .

The black horse must have delivered my sack to the tent by now ,he thought to himself .In a daze ,he found himself walking back to his family’s tent .The sheepdog Pemu ran up to him and rubbed its head against the zip of his trousers .

Does he make it or is it just imagined ?

This collection was longlisted for the independent foreign fiction long list in 2007 .The stories all set in Tibet portray a place of wide open spaces and beauty, but also people struggling to survived under communism and the harshness of the landscape  ,but also the characters in the stories seem to be loners and outsiders almost looking for answers at times son and a writer among them . Ma Jian lives in exile in London with his partner Flora Drew the translator of the book  ,his books are banned in China due to their content .Ma Jian is also banned from china since this year .If like me you want a door into Chinese fiction I remember someone on the book show from ABc saying that Chinese fiction would be one the rising star of the 21st century literature . This may be the book for you ,the translation is wonderful from the Han original as you would expect as she is his partner .

Source library

Have you a favourite chinese book ?

Have you read Ma Jian ?

Winstons coffee

Well ten days have flown ,I ve been on holiday from work and wanted a rest from cyberspace ,next thing I know it is ten days later .I ve had a great week thou watch some of my D.V.D  box sets (both the bbc versions of smiley books ) ,got caught up listening to the radio four production of life and fate by Vasily Grossman ,such a well produced and acted piece .It moved me so much I went out and brought it to read my self on friday .My reading has mainly been taken up with Peter Nadas epic parallel stories .So as I sit here thinking there’s a lot to catch up on in cyberspace .

How has your week been ?

Reading and blogging

Today’s BBAW task is all about reading and how blogging effects your reading .
Well I ve always been a reader . But the main thing blogging has brought to my reading is the need to read to keep in order To blog what u read , so I tend to read a bit longer than I used to and more often than I did preblogging .The other thing I have found through blogging is variety in books never much of a genre reader myself since my teens when it was the odd sci-fi crime and fantasy books I would try since then it has been mainly lit fiction til recently when I ve read more crime novels after see how much my fellow bloggers like boof get from them so I ve been trying some more in translation rob inspires me to try short stories as his passion for them oozes from  rob around books as Mel does on her blog  ,I started #translationthurs on twitter I get lot suggestions via that meme .Tony and Richard inspire with read so many books in the original language I wish I was brave enough to do so my self and had the knowledge to do so but hopefully over time I can gain that knowledge . So yes blogging does effect my reading and sure it will continue to do so for many years to come .I love seeing what other bloggers are reading as lot blogs I follow are so different in their taste than mine which I find very inspiring and wonderful way of having my eyes open female writers in particular is an area of reading I m very weak people like Violet,Iris and Amy have all shown me great female writers .

My own habits are I like to read hundred pages a day and that adds up to between eight and ten books a month sometimes more other times less .I read 132 books last year and am on course for same total this year .As for my ripple effect in world of blogging just hope I ve inspired people to look at translation in a better light and hopefully try a couple of books in translation .

How has blogging effect your reading ?

Frank Wynne interviews winstonsdad B.B.A.W SWAP

I wanted to do something different for interview swap so I decided to get the prize-winning translator Frank “terrible man ” Wynne to interview me as I felt he would ask questions to give a deeper insight into me and the blog than a straight forward swap with another blog
1.What is the first book you can remember being profoundly moved by?
oh a tough one as a kid I loved Abel’s island by William Steig a mouse stuck on an island and Charlotte’s web they showed me how powerful emotion can be in books .I remember as a young teen trying Camus and going this is different to everything  else I ve read that maybe was first time I was moved by literature in  translation it was The plague I just found it opened a world of literature where there maybe isn’t a happy ending and yes life is very tough at times as I found out by reading this book .2 What was the last book that frustrated you enough to hurl it at the wall (swearing under your breath at the author will do at a push)?

Oh this is very easy Jonathan Littell the kindly ones I m not a huge novel fan but have tried to read more  large novels over recent years but this one I just couldn’t get on with I felt it was printed in to small a font that was also a little light on the eye that made it hard to read in first place but the main problem was the research He had researched it to well I felt the narrative just got bogged down in acronyms ,ranks and German army terms from the second world war I didn’t throw it but after 300 pages and little progress in two weeks I decide to call it a day and pull up stumps to a sunny day and more time so it has sat on my shelf for last two years  .3 You are a great champion of literature in translation; what draws you to writers in translation?

I always find this hard to sum up I feel I like other places I spent my 20’s reading uk/us literature with a few translations but as years gone by I just feel more drawn to world literature a sense of adventure as an armchair traveler ,but also the different  tones of grammar ,narrative  and description ,A french african novel is so different from a book from  Latin america but in some ways similar ,I like lines of literature how book a knocked on to make book b etc and I like seeing this as a global effect how Cervantes ,Borges, Tolstoy  and say Calvino have had knock on effect in different countries .
4 What language/book/author (if any) would you most like to be able to read in the original?
Know a couple of years ago I would say German I lived there and have a base that maybe could have launched into reading German overtime but as of late I have a real desire to maybe learn and read in spanish one day I feel more and more drawn to spanish and latin american literature and would love to read them in the original language ,I hope one day to have the time to do a Spanish course and start on the path to reading in Spanish .
5 Do you ever read aloud to Winston?
I don’t I hate my reading voices ,hence I never vlog on the blog I ve to deep and northern english accent for my liking .I maybe should practice for when I have kids .
6 How do you decide on which books to read/review? 
I do get sent a number of books I try to review the ones that  appeal on time other than that it what ever takes my fancy from local library or my own collection .I tend to be a butterfly read jumping from places to places .I m terrible at sticking to long-term plans ,so over time I ve  blogged  I found this best way to go a book at a time ,rather than have it all planned out .
6 William Phelps once said “I divide all readers into two classes; those who read to remember and those who read to forget”, do you fit into either category? do you think the categories are valid?
I don’t ,I read to discover new places and times also to escape the every day humdrum of my life ,so on whole I disagree although I suppose escapism is also part of forgetting in a way .I call my self a reader that reads to escape and discover ! .7 Do you prefer the smell of freshly printed books or are you excited by the possibilities of eReaders, iBooks and Kindle?
I love new books I love hardbacks most of all nothing feel better in the hand than a nice new hard back ,I did have a e reader til the screen broke in my work bag ,I m hoping to get a kindle for christmas ,the ability to read  classics is what draws me to e readers lesser known writers are available to read via Guttenberg for free which draws me to getting a replacement as I was enjoying dipping in and out of classics which draws me to getting a replacement also less modern works in translation that are starting to be made available like some of your works are .

8 where as many critics seem to enjoy penning vitriolic reviews, revelling in a stinging putdown, book bloggers tend to enjoy sharing  their passion for literature with the world: would you (do you) feel wary or writing a negative review or would you simply ignore a book you disliked?
I tend to trust my own choices in what I read I can also see the positive aspects in a lot of books I read even if others don’t .I struggle to write negative reviews as I m not a very negative person  in real life  ,I maybe should try to bring some negative points in but at moment I enjoy being positive and upbeat about what I read ,because that on the whole is the way I feel about the books I read .I feel that I know the books I d like accross genres so know if I will enjoy a book before I start most of the time .

9  How has blogging about books changed your life, your reading habits, Winston’s walking schedule?

It takes time to blog ,it hasn’t effect Winston we still go out four times a day for his walks like we always have ,I do read a lot more than I use to and I tend to read for longer than I did a few years ago most evening of i divide time between the blog and reading .It’s all about finding balance  in life and feel I ve got it right at moment with posting a few times a week rather than every day .

10  In “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller”, Italo Calvino gives a wondrous, dizzying list of  “Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them…” Of Calvino’s “countless embattled troops”,  three phalanxes haunt me… Can you give personal examples of:
*Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
*Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread
*Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read
(mine: Riddley Walker, Confederacy of Dunces, Jane Eyre)
I m always curious about the other side of the fence more commercial fiction ,what makes these writers so popular ,I often tempt to try a Grisham or Picoult to see what the fuss is about but never do lol .
I ve been looking at a lord of the rings collection at local books sale I read it years ago and often feel I d like to go on the journey again Tolkien was such a great story-teller and this is such an epic book I felt as I read Don Quixote a click went in my head ,that this must have been a book that influence in a little way lord of the rings .Well like you I maybe admit to reading some Victorian female writers mine be wuthering heights I ve not read it but always feel I have maybe kate Bush summed it up to well or one of the film versions of the book I ve seen made me feel I d already read the book
at some point which I have not .
11   Are there any books you wish you had read when you were younger, or books where you feel you should have waited?
I always feel I maybe tackled Dickens to young as it was at hand ,when I was young due to us have a complete collection its been many years since I read him and I wonder if I would enjoy him more as a middle-aged man ,as for the flip side Don Quixote is a book that entered my life to late II would be further down the path of translation than I am if I’d had read this book years ago as it is so much a part of spanish and Latin American literature it helps you place modern books in context .12  What, for you, is the most satisfying thing about blogging?

I love the blogger I meet via blogging in the virtual world and also in real life ,I love the fact the I spread the word on translation which is the main aim of the blog I m not the biggest blogger and never will be ,nor the most talented but I feel I found my own niche and am happy where winstonsdad is and I feel that is the place for translation and world literature ,there are other bloggers in this field but I think I bring a lot breadth to this field .
Thanks Frank for some great questions ,I hope that gives your more of an insight into me Stu any thing else you want to know feel free to ask me in comments .

The Pyramid by Ismail Kadare

The Pyramid by ismail Kadare

Albanian fiction

translation from french by David Belios

The pyramid is a historic novel on the surface ,Cheops a pharaoh who has decided that he does want a pyramid built to celebrate his life but then is told this is wrong as the building of these great building is a way of keep the masses under control so in the end it is decided and it is going to be a huge pyramid ,but in the building of this the work force is push beyond the edge as people die and are driven to the edge of life and madness .As with his other books Kadare is using the historic setting only as a back drop to an all out attack on the communist regime of Enver Hoxha the late leader of Albania as the system in Egypt falls apart it mirrors the falling apart in the eastern european regimes as they descended into a sort of chaos  ,he also had a pyramid built to be his tomb in the centre of Tirana ,he was in there for a short time following his death later it became a disco .

When one morning in late autumn ,only a few months after he had ascended the throne of Egypt ,Cheops, the new pharaoh, let slip that he might perhaps not wish to have a pyramid erect for him ,all who heard – the place astrologer ,some of the senior ministers ,Cheop”s old counsellor Userkaf ,and the high priest Hemiunum ,who also held the post of Architect in chief – furrowed theirs brows as if they had just heard news of a catastrophe .

The opening of the book .

My main problem with Kadare is the translation process in the early novels a secondary translation by Belios from french ,this is due to there being no Albanian translators about to do it ,it seems here is article from complete review  written by the translator ,Belios does a great job but I always feel it like looking at the book through two sets of net curtains we see the main things but maybe some subtle bits are missed from  the story .Ismail Kadare last few books in english have been direct translations from Albanian by John Hodgson I m not sure if they will go back and re-do all his books at some point .So if you want a book that maybe shows the downfall of communism and how dictators are made using ancient Egypt as a template then this is the book for you a Kadare cleverly winds the modern tale into a tale from the past .I ve know about Kadare for a good while since spend a summer in Germany on a factory floor next t0 a Kosovoian Albanian couple as they worked I discover Ikblar the wife was at one time a professor of Albanian lit so even thou my german was bad and her english too we manage to converse a bit and Ismail Kadare was one of the many names she mention but one I remember most as he was readily available . Ismail Kadare also won man international booker in2005 and also has been mention as a potential Nobel prize winner .

Have you a favourite Albanian writer or book ?


Well last year there was a similar topic I highlight Rob of robaroundbooks and Simon of inside books two bloggers that made me want to start blogging over two years ago .So this year I ll highlight two bloggers that I enjoy –

Parrish lantern – Gary of Parrish lantern is like me a fan of all things in  translation he tends to review a lot of german and Japanese books ,he is my most regular commentor and I have over last few months built a bond with him on twitter ,oh and he likes whiskey real ale and poetry which makes him a real star in my eyes ,so why not go over and check him out                                                                                                                                       The second blogger I want to mention is Richard of  caravana de recuerdos – Richard is a thoughtful blogger who’s post have great depth and often bi lingual as he use his second language spanish to cover his books ,as you may imagine he tends towards all thing spanish and latin american which are two of my favourite area’s to read from .so if you like the sound of richard go check him out .

Who did you choose ?







Proust 90 th anniversary readalong ?


I saw it was 90 years since the death of the french writer Marcel Proust next year and the little voice in my head said read along ,this tied with a recent ABC books show where yet another person picked his masterpiece in search of lost time or if you’re a bit older remembrance of things past as one of their all time favourite reads .It is also a favourite on desert island discs as the desert island read

It was published in seven volumes from 1913 -1927

  1. Swann’s way
  2. Within a budding grove
  3. The Guermantes way
  4. Cites of the plain
  5. The prisoner
  6. The fugitive
  7. The past recapture


What I thought was a 14 month readalong two months on every book with a monthly post for half way and complete reading .ending in 2013 would tie in with 100 th anniversary of the publication of volume one .My editions are the older Moncrieff / kilmartin editions published in the late eighties from penguin I brought second-hand .

At moment I m just want to raise the flag and see what interest there is I ve never got past Swann’s way and feel I need a push to get through it all and want to as it is considered one of the major works of 20th century european literature .

Have you read the book ?

Are you interested in joining in ?

Exiled from almost everywhere by Juan Goytisolo

Exiled from almost everywhere by Juan Goytisolo

Spanish fiction

Translator -Peter bush

This is the latest work of Goytisolo to be translated and published earlier this year by Dalkey archive .The book is subtitled The posthumous life of the monster of Le sentier .As with the other Goytisolo books I read it is different in style than they where  ,this book is set in a dream /nightmare after life set in the cyber world ,we meet a man blown up by a extreme bomber and some how ends up as a ghost in the machines as the book progress the book is told in a series of short vignettes with recurring characters .The characters he meets are mainly religious a Iman ,a pedophile Monsignor a Rastafarian rabbi all crop up ,the monster of le sentier himself a pervert and social  critic was in an earlier book of Goytisolo I read .Through this collection of small nuggets Goytisolo tackles the  modern world issues such as terrorism ,religious fervour .

First he stood in front of him ,looked round at his colleagues ,and then wagged an accusing index finger .

“look! here he is ! It’s him for sure!”

was he about to say ,like a compatrioat of his in the thereafter,

“the author of blood wedding ?”

“The Monster of Le Sentier !”

early on in the book as le sentier becomes use  to cyber heaven / hell ?

Another character we meet is called Alice it easy to see this cyberspace nightmare world as the modern opposite of lewis Carrolls wonderland ,with the characters meet being the  nightmarish monsters and colourful characters of the original but with a modern twist on them .

In order to put the agents of the different secrets services that are after her off her trail “Alice” avoids the hustle and bustle of the ethnic neighbourhoods that so attract our deceased protagonist .she flaunts her charms …

Alice in Parisian wonderland

This is not the easy book to read as it is told in such short snatches the vignettes never more than two pages long dart from here to there .I enjoyed this Goytisolo is a man who has lived in Exile most of his own life so set a book in thereafter using it as a sort of exile would come easily to him .He is trying to answer big questions on terrorism and Islam and other religions but not giving the answers more pointing a way and feelings on the subjects .Peter  Bush translation is very good he manages to keep the Goytisolo voice I ve encountered in his other books .

Juan Goytisolo is probably the greatest living spanish writer and hopefully one day nobel winner he was longlisted for the international booker prize this year , he has lived in exile since the mid fifties first in paris with his wife the niece of the french writer Marcel Proust they lived there until her death in 96 a year later Goytisolo moved to Morocco Marrakech  where he still lives .

Source – personnel copy

Have you read his books ?


Entering the library of babel

As I said yesterday the focus is back on translation firmly so I decide to jettison Waugh Wednesday for time being .So I found a suitable if not better replacement and that is working through the works one by one of a writer I hold in the highest possible regard Jorge Luis Borges .I read labyrinths late last year and struggled to review it as it is such a rich mix of stories and styles of writing ,so I decide to review each story individually from the three collections I own  first whilst adding to them over time .Borges is the godfather of magic realism and the Latin american boom ,He lived AND worked in Buenos Airies ,in later life he became blind and had people read to him on such was the writer Alberto Manguel .

Have you read Borges ?

What is your favourite story ?

I ll pick and mix them from collections as I go along

Have you read Borges ?

if so have you a favourite story ?

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September 2011


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