Henry Green Week jan 23 – 29 2012

After a conversation on twitter this afternoon about Henry Green and the fact that not enough people read him .I decide lets do a week for him in January .I think he is maybe one if not the best pre war English writer .He is probably best known for loving his 1945 novel and his brught young think novel party going .

here  is his wiki page 

Sebastian faulks on him in the guardian 

Have you read him ?

What book will you pick ? 


Purgatory by Tomas Eloy Martinez

Purgatory by Tomas Eloy Martinez

Argentina fiction

Translator – Frank Wynne

I read his Santa Evita a mythical magic realism tale based around the life of Eva Peron early on in the blog and have Tango singer sat on my shelves so when this arrived from Bloomsbury I was excited even more so when I saw it was one of Frank Wynne’s translation ,for me one of the best translators  in the world and certainly when in comes to complex fiction like this .

So Purgatory was Tomas last novel and the fact that in part it is narrated by a north american based Argentina writer as Tomas Eloy himself .The story is centre on Simon and Emilia these where husband and wife, when thirty years earlier in the seventies at the height of the disappearances in Argentina by the Junta .Simon disappear whilst doing his job as a cartographer .Now thirty years later his wife Emilia walks in a bar and sitting there is Simon ,but he hasn’t aged a day ,is it him or a ghost that never really gets answered but as the story progress Martinez jumps from the events leading up to Simon disappearance there married life ,their work as cartographers ,also what was going on around them .We also her Emilia talking to the writer in the modern day about her life and Simon .Also the outside world of the world cup of 78 which was held in Argentina ,Orson Welles    and UFO  all crop up along the way .

Simon disappeared in Tucuman at the beginning of July .The days were mild and the nights frosty .He and Emilia had been sent to the Tucuman by the automobile club on an easy mission , virtually a holiday .They were to map a ten kilometre stretch of an invisible route – nothing more than a dotted line on the map to the south of the province .

in this quote it seems ok til you read it closer .


Now this story is layered the title is a give away to the subject Purgatory and even this has many faces ,Emilia unable to properly move on with her life after Simons disappearance as she has been in limbo like many wifes of the disappeared  ,has maybe by see him purged this feeling  from her life .Argentina its self maybe after a time of not looking at what happened during the time of disappearances and now is maybe  just recently is able to face what happened during that time of the junta .I ve seen this in a number of recent Argentina novels I ve read Kamchatka and open secret to name two  .Also Martinez who at time he wrote book had cancer and maybe this book is his way of purging what happened at the time as well he saw many thinks at first hand and at a distance as he was a journalist at the time .The story mixes what happened with fiction so well and also how it affect everyday Argentina’s .Again Martinez shows his ability to use magic realism to make reality even bolder than before .A fitting testament to his writing life and a great job as ever by Frank bring it to English.

Have you read Martinez ?

What are you listening to Wednesday ?2:54 a new band

Dolce Bellezza start this meme a couple of months ago but I keep missing it but now I bring you a new british band that I ve just found and want to share 2:54 are a london based band formed round two sisters this song is there debut single scarlet and so reminds me of the early ninties band curve that I loved at the time .I always think everything new these days has echos of what has come beofre .

Ordained by the oracle by Asare Konadu

Ordained by the oracle by Asare Konadu

Ghanaian Fiction

When Kinna announced Ghanaian lit week I had just read this novel so I put it to one side and decided to review it for Ghanaian lit week .Samuel Asare Konadu was born in 1932 ,he worked as a reporter and for the Ghana information services ,in the mid sixties he studied traditional customs ,he also started a publishing venture Anowuo book ,how publish some books in the sixties to success .

SO what is Ordained by the oracle about well we follow Boateng ,he is a successful trader in a the Elmina (a coastal town in the south of Ghana ) ,he is a modern man dealing in the modern world in his day-to-day life ,his wife is in hospital dying it turns out ,now she grew up in a small village and via her grandmother ,has mor belief in the old tribal ways of life .So when Dora the wife dies ,Boateng decides to follow his wifes wishes and to sp[end forty days and nights wife his wife’s body .So with his wife he returns to the village his wife is from and then  spends the forty days and nights with the body.As he does this he reflects on his life and his wife’s life also the people they know .he is helped by people in the village as he spend the forty days and nights .AS he starts to putting things in order in his mind having the time to just think and dwell

Boateng found his sleep after two nights of keeping awake .He thought in the first few hours of the life that faced him without his wife ,but the company he had in the presence of the guide took away the fear that gripped him .When he was locked up with his dead wife .The room they now occupied was a few yards from where Dora  lay in state .

Just after the forty days .

Rather like tail of the blue bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes ,this book deals with the clashing of to worlds the old village tribal world of Dora and her grandparents that she spent time with when she was younger ,and that of Boateng his modern world and him wanting to turn his back  on traditional ways .These meet when the modern world in the form of the modern Hospital his dying wife is in can’t keep her alive ,so this sends Boateng down a path of rediscovering the past and the values he was in trouble of losing .Konadu writing is poetic and he keep the pages turning with shortish economical written  chapters ,your never left with endless pages of unnecessary writing .The feeling is this is Konadu own world he is describing ,he himself was born in southern Ghana .I think this is a real lost gem of african writing it was part of the early African writer series no 55 an earlier work by him is no40 also in the first series of the African writer series  .It was first published in 1969 .

Have you read this book ?

What is your favourite Ghana book ?

Parallel stories by Peter Nadas

Parallel stories by Peter Nadas

Hungarian fiction

Translator Imre Goldstein

When I was asked earlier in the year to review Parallel stories I said yes, no problem and when it fell on the doorstep all 1100 plus pages of this modern epic I thought have I made a mistake ,but no I decide to set aside a couple of weeks to work my way through this modern masterpiece ,I finished it a few weeks ago but struggled with how to review it how to pay justice to Nadas vision and scope this book is deep and so multi layered it is hard to sum up with out drifting of into the individual and multiple story lines in this book so I then had to think of a different way of conveying the book and then it struck me the other day when I said in my thoughts how do you cover a master piece then it hit me describe the book as thou it was a piece of art using loose ideas and AI d be able to catch the spirit of the book .

Scene –

Well Nadas has sat down and drawn time from the centre point this is 1956 and 1961 two turning points in Hungary’s modern history in the context of this book the first the revolution that the russians so violently crushed ,the other is set in the bathhouse in Budapest where the three main characters that feature in the book talk about the city all have shady pasts and form the main body of the book .Nadas expands the lines out to recent history be it in Hungary or Germany and back to pre world war two and how this effect the Hungary on the fifties and sixties in this way showing how the events that happened in these two years happened and how the affected the future like a newtons cradle as what happened in 38 or 44 having a knock on effect via these two years to the modern world .



the sketches are the outlines of the three main characters there are a number of others but the three main ones are Hans von Wolkstein his mother was german and had a dark link to the Nazis regime in the war ,Agost from a connected Hungarian family his father served in a number of posts for different governments in Hungary and the last and maybe the darkest character is Andras Rott he is a spy and has very dark ideas .Like a spider’s web these three characters connect to most if not all of the people involved in the stories whether it is there parents stories or the lovers or lovers families all the little vignettes that make the most part of parallel stories connect to the three main stars of the narrative .

For a moment she thought Agost has gone mad .That he’d really lost his mind …..

and she would have loved tp love – no, worship his ankles ,his wrists hi every part ,his cock and every little bone in his body ,even impalpable things like the curve of the arches of his feet ,she adored him .

Agost future with about him .



Well this is a post modern book and like a classic post modern art the rule book of writing has been thrown out ,we drift from crime ,through highly erotic prose and into political drama oh and if you want any indication as to when people are talking forget it Nadas isn’t a fan of quotation marks but it is no harder than Ulysses in that regard .This book is like a collage of different styles that may on the surface seem chaotic , but as you work your way through they all seem to drop into place and in some ways the jarring styles works and yes it jumps from sex to the political but hey doesn’t real life a lot of the time ?


well when I first thought of the way to describe the book like art ,two things came to mind and that was Goya’s spanish french war pieces those horrific torture sketches and the art of Francis bacon ,like bacon Nadas takes the formal eastern european history especially hungarian history , which is the frame of the book like Bacon used the pope image or the crucifix but like Bacon Nadas has taken a personal view of these matters and yes here it is sex, sex and even more sex .This book is littered with sex ,good ,bad and downright vile sex but this is the flip people with no real freedom they find freedom in sex so that is what Nadas describes the end of book one is a novella length chapter that follows one grandiose act of sex between Agost and his future wife .So like the bacon at first you are a little scarred of the images but you then look beyond the picture to the painter and the same is said of Parallel stories Nadas describes the act of sex so well in places he must have had some practice whilst writing the book also the lexicon of rude parts is used to the max her bodily parts are described and over described at times .The connection to the Goya is politics how it plays a part war and conflict, from the nazi regime and the aftermath of that to communism and its faults .The Budapest revolution and lost freedom but how that one event affect the three main characters .

His black shirt and black pants ,wet with other mens urine and filthy with their sperm ,stuck to his back ,chest ,bottom and thighs they clung to him ,adhered to him like a skin ,white-hot with shame .

a scene from book two to give you an idea of the sex content of the book .



The final painting –

Well Parallel stories isn’t going to be to every ones taste to say the least it is not an easy read it needs time having read 2666 and Don Quixote in the last couple of years does it stack up against them yes long books tend to drift and diverge and this does maybe more than 2666 but not as much as Don Quixote .Is it gonna stand the test of time yes in my opinion it seems to lift the veils on the personnel lives of post war eastern Europeans more than any other book I ve read has this takes you in the bedroom even into the toilet more than you may want to know but sometimes you need a little uncomfortable in your reading not everything is comfortable in the world and nadas reminds you of this time and time again .It took Nadas eighteen years to write this book and Imre Goldstein a further five to translate her work on this book has made it accessible to the English reader Hungarian is a very hard language to translate from and she has done a sterling job here ,this is a strong IFFP contender and helps Nadas Nobel claims even more .

Have you a favourite Hungarian writer ?

Do you like post modern fiction ?

Homo Faber by Max Frisch

Homo Faber by Max Frisch

Translator – Michael Bullock

Swiss Fiction

Max Frisch was Swiss writer ,he worked for a early part  of his career as a journalist ,then study architecture and became a architect .he was a member of gruppe Olten a group of post war swiss writer that meet in a old swiss rail cafe they beleived in a democratic  socailist   society .Homo Faber is the story of Walter Faber he is an  engineer,we meet him as he is travleing roun the world on behalf of the united nations .He is onn a flight that crashes in Mexican desert .This leads Walter to confront his life firstly loooking back to an affair in europe when younger ,this in turns leads to a meeting with a daughter he never knew he had .all this has the feel of a Greek tragedy Walter is on a journey through hisd life and what has happened in his life first his love of Hannah who is now married to some one else ,he sits next to a man on the flight who is the brother of his old friend that married hannah ,this is all in what is the first section then in the second section after the crash and he returns to europe and takes a cruise on this cruise he meets a young women called Sabeth that he falls in love with mainly due to the fact she so reminds him of his first love Hannah ,is she her daughter ? well you’ll have to read Homo faber to find out so they spend the night together after watching a lunar eclipse ,at the same time Walter is having stomach trouble this leads to the fact when he arrives in athens he has to have an operation .this where the book ends or the reports end as Max Frisch use a report style to narrate the novel .

Sabeth was standing above and beside me .I could see her rope soled shoes ,then her bare calves ,her thighs ,which even when foreshortened very slender ,anmd her pelvis in the tight jeans she was standing with both hands in her trouser  pockets

Walter is weight up Sabeth a younger women that may be his daughter

I so pleased for german lit month and it making me look up and down the library shelves for some new german language fiction tpo me this is one such ,although after some rersearch I ve a feeling I may have seen the film version of this book callerd voyager a number of years ago .Max Frisch is a clever writer this book has so many layers and twist and turns ,it links the modern world to that of Greek legend ,but also you can see his architects eye in the structure of the prose the abilty to see what has been and what will be and able to link them together like drawing up the plans for a modernist building .there are so many themes in this book forbidden love ,lost ,growing use of technology for man , feminism it is a book that will have you thinking for weeks after you put it down it did me oh and just for my friend rob Walter types his reports on a hermes baby typewriter .The translation was by Michael Bullock exiled for this is a ook that has so many turns and Bullock kept it a page turner .

Have you read this book ?

The wall jumper by Peter Schneider

The wall jumper by Peter Schneider

Translator – Leigh Harfey

German Fiction

Peter Schneider is a German writer in the sixties he was very active on the German student movement ,he has written numerous novel ,short stories and film scripts ,he currently teaches at Georgetown in the USA .This book was originally published in the early Eighties and is about the Berlin wall we are introduced to an array of characters that have jump the Berlin wall and survived from east to west ,one such character is Robert an east Berliner who was attracted to the bright lights ,we meet him in a bar in Berlin and we find that he is finding it hard to adjust to his new life in the west .As he struggles he has descended into drink .Other stories are about people wanting to see western films .Lena an ex lover of the narrator of this book whose whole family are still stuck in the east side of germany .There is a lot of sorrow at times in these tales of the grass not being greener on the other side of the fence .

In conversations with Robert ,it has become clearer what I’m looking for :the story of a man who lose himself and starts turning into a nobody .By a chain of circumstances still unknown to me ,he become a boundary walker between the two german states .

the narrator weighing up Robert .

When I saw this on the library shelf I was quite looking forward to it as one of my favourite films is der himmel über berlin (wings of desire )which is set just before the Berlin wall fell and the wall is a large character in that film ,and it is in this book but some how I found Schneider writing very dry almost Journalistic in a way .The description of the people the narrator talks to all feel like the could have been drawn from the newspapers of the time ,you never get further than the story of how they got there and how they are coping ,we also get a lot of factual info that slow the narrative at a point .I m not saying I didn’t enjoy the book I did I just think if I d read it twenty years ago just as the wall was there or just after it has fallen  I d called it the best book I d ever read but time has passed and it is a good book on the time and the power the wall had on the city not just as a barrier but also as a symbol for the cold war .I m sure in another twenty years this will be a must read for the generations that can’t remember the wall .The book was translated by Leigh Harfey a reasonable translation you get no clue to if the book was a s dry in the original german but I think it may have been .

Have your read this book ?

Shadow man asian booker judges

I received a E- mail from Lisa of anzlitlovers the other day inviting me to join her and three other bloggers in reading and judging this years MAN Asian longlist,of course I said yes I really want to read more Asian fiction than I do at moment  .She was inspired by the long running Giller shadow list that is run by Kevin of Kevin from Canada where he choose bloggers and they decide on a winner of that prize from the long listed books .Now I have to hold my hand up I was am already planning something similar for next years IFFP and had spoken to book trust about it , but more about that another day, any way. The bloggers Lisa have brought together are –

Matt from novel approach 

Sue from Whispering gums 

Fay from Read,ramble

and our chair Lisa from ANZlit lovers .

So here are the books in the longlist

2011 Longlist

JAMIL AHMAD (Pakistan) – The Wandering Falcon

TAHMIMA ANAM (Bangladesh) – The Good Muslim

JAHNAVI BARUA (India) – Rebirth

RAHUL BHATTACHARYA (India) – The Sly Company of People Who Care


AMITAV GHOSH (India) – River of Smoke


ANURADHA ROY (India) – The Folded Earth

KYUNG-SOOK SHIN (South Korea) – Please Look After Mom

TARUN J TEJPAL (India) – The Valley of Masks

YAN LIANKE (China) – Dream of Ding Village


The  books all link back to the MAN Asian prize pages on the writers .I ve read one already Please look after Mother by Khung-Sook Sin . I ve chosen to read the The wandering falcon ,The good Muslim ,The sly company of people who care and The valley of masks .We all be reading a few so I ll be share the other reviews over the course of the prize .

Have you read any of the books listed ?

Do you have a favourite Asian writer ?






A perfect waiter by Alain Claude Sulzer

A perfect waiter by Alain Claude Sulzer

Swiss fiction

Translator – John Brownjohn

I went to library when the german lit month was first mention determined to try some new writers in German and this was one of them I got .I ,must admit the mention of magic mountain and the Downton abbey feel of Erneste the  waiter on the front sold it to me when I mention I got it some one from germany said of that is a LGBF book ,that peaked my interest more it is hard enough getting a book translated but very few LGBF make out through from their original language to english .

So we meet Erneste he is like the star waiter of a swiss hotel good at his job able to speak four languages he has it all going for him work wise ,so one of his perks for being the star waiter is he meets the passengers and new staff that arrive at the picturesque hotel by ferry .So one day he arrives and meet a new waiter a young German looking to expand his horizons Jakob and also two pretty young country girls as the book unfolds we see the two men grow closer but this is in 1935 and just over the border the dark shadow of the war is effecting the hotel as this happen the two men kiss and a new arrival an exiled German writer called Julius sends a spanner into the works for Ernste ,as he also has eyes for the young Jakob anyway Jakob goes back to Germany and then America  and Erneste carries on as a waiter til one day a letter arrives in 1966 many years later this sparks of the whole story being told as it is from Jakob who now is living in the us and has fallen on hard times since they last meet just before the war .

He sometimes caught himself yearning for the authentic Jakob while the real one was lying beside him .Although he could feel the warmth of him ,he kept thinking of the Jakob who had left him behind on the platform in Basel and then ,far away in Koln ,dissolved into thin air .

Erneste dream of Jakob .

This book is a great insight into gay love just before the world war two but also what happens when lovers move apart and go on very different paths in their lives ,also it catches that dream world just before the war where life in some ways in a place like the hotel where they worked was just perfect .We also see how people’s lives can arc one goes one way and another twists off like Jacob of to the US .I loved Sulzer style this is a gentle story of what at the time was a frowned on love between two men told with sensitivity and honesty .I really want to read some of his other books I think I ve found a special writer in Sulzer .I m sure large part of this is due to John Brownjohn translation skills as well holding the gentle prose together of this book .

Have you read any translated LGBF ?

Who is your favourite Swiss writer ?

Jarmilla by Ernst Weiss

Jarmilla A Love Story From Bohemia by Ernst Weiss

German Fiction

Translated by Rebecca Morrison and Petra Howard-wuerz

Ernst Weiss was a German  jewish writer that was good friends with both Franz Kafka who edit some of his earlier works and Stefan Zweig This book Zweig considered Weiss best writing  .Jarmilla is set in the 1930’s in a small rural Bohemian village The title character Jarmilla is a pretty young women described as the village beauty  that married her sugar daddy a local feather merchant a rich man who keeps her in the way she has grown accustom too .But then a younger man a watch  maker appears creating a love  triangle ,Jarmilla is offer a new life by this man in America away from the feather merchant but also away from the money .we see the love affair blossom between the watch maker and Jarmilla he at one point compares her breasts to bohemian apples full of scent and skin like down .But as much as the is love in this affair Jarmilla is always held back by the life she has living with the rich feather merchant and in  That is the crux of the book that decision it is about what is important in people’s lives love or money ,safety or danger .  The book is very short only 80 odd pages long .It  was also lost for a long time until a copy was found in Prague university in 1990 and published in 1998 and this translation published in 2004 by Pushkin press .

It was around the time that my mother died ,she wasn’t old but in a lot of pain .The funeral left me devastated Jarmilla slipped away to see me .This time her silvery hand didn’t hold any wretched watch which had been broken Deliberately ” I noticed how cautiously he pronounced the word silvery as though trespassing .

Jarmilla gets closer to the watch maker

I can see why Zweig  so loved this story from his friend Weiss ,there are echos of his work in it that thing about crossing lines from rich to poor ,from old world europe to new world America .Similar feeling to the post office girl except in this one Jarmilla has control of what happens unlike Christine in the post office girl .As for Weiss his own story is very sad he fled Germany when Hitler rose to power to Paris and eventually killed himself as the german troops rolled into Paris in 1940 .

Have you read Weiss books ?

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November 2011


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