Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan

Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan

Egyptian Fiction

Translator  Jonathan Wright

Youssef Ziedan was born in Upper Egypt and raised in Alexandria and studied  philosophy and the Sufism .He is an academic and in charge of the manuscript centre and Museum at Alexandria .He has published over fifty books in arabic both fiction and Non fiction .Azazeel is possibly his most well know and controversal ,it also was the international prize for Arabic fiction winner in 2009 .

Azazeel is a wonderfully realistic piece of historic fiction set in the 5th century Ad and told via a translator of the original manuscripts that we written by Hypa at the time .,we are drawn via the main character Hypa a Coptic monk into the begins of modern religions early christian beliefs but what may have also been the belief of people who later became Islamic .Allow set 1500 hundred years in the past there are some parts of this tale still ring true today every one’s struggle with good and evil  is the same as we see Hypa wrestle with the devil on his journey through the book .When he wrote the book in Arabic originally it seems Zieden intentionality of unintentionally open a provirbal bucket of worms .It seems rare according to Arablit that books deal so closely with religion in egyptian Fiction .So Hypa in a way this is a man coming of age through the book as he wrestle with him self and his own soul but also the temptations of the outside world .But in this questioning he maybe touches on faults with in the christian faith ,this is what so inflamed the Coptic christians in Egypt .We see Hypa meet merchants ,widow and singer he meets along the way ,for although he is a monk he isn’t a monk in the sense we see monks now he is religious but also has interludes with people one my favourite scenes is  with Octavia a women there seems a spark til he mentions he is a monk and then is order from the house .This book is one of those books that has a bit of everything gore ,sex and life but far from feeling like a historic document Ziedan has brought the 5th century to life ,I personally feel  this is  one of my all time favourite historic novels ,I have struggle myself with novels that are historic that deal with history pre 1800 ,but this one kept me interested from the first to the last page .

A moment of shocked silence passed .Octavia bowed her head ,then looked towards me .Her face was flushed with anger ,and her eyes inflamed with a furious sadness .Suddenly she sprang to her feet and stood like one of those massive ancient statues ,full of pagan vigour and ancestral bitterness .She stretched her right arm towards the door and shouted at me in a fearsome voice ,like the rumbling of Alexandria thunder or the howling of a raging pagan wind “Out of my house ,you wretch ,out you villan ”

Hypa has to leave .

I discussed this book when I was in London with Mark who I feel maybe loved the book even  more than me ,we both lament the fact the book which is a great piece of historic fiction , controversial and thought-provoking seemed to have fallen under the radar so much here in the UK on its release with few mentions in papers and the reviews that have come out  have come out over time so not catching the eye by being in every paper pone weekend  .I fin it strange with recent major uk  book prize being won by historic fiction Wolf hall winning the booker and Madeline winning the orange prize last night .Is the fact that this book obviously written by one of the leading experts in the time and full of his obvious insights into the time and the people ,he has spent many years working on real manuscripts from the time so gave this book a real sense of being a real piece of history not a novel .Seems to have fallen onto deaf ears is a shame I feel it is a better historic novel than wolf hall was and also one that gives you many questions about life and religion and yourself after reading it ,which in some way isn’t that the job of great fiction ?

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite Arabic novel ?

Spanish Language Lit Month July 2012

Spanish Language Lit Month

Well last year Iris hosted Dutch lit month and Caroline and Lizzie hosted German lit month .Well I decide it time we had a month celebrating Spanish language lit .I contacted one of my favourite Bloggers Richard from the blog Caravana De Recuredos .He is perfectly suited as he blogs bi lingually in English and Spanish and features a lot of Spanish fiction yet to reach us in English .So after much e mailing  and discussion for last couple of months, we are pleased to announce spanish language lit month ,I’ve  made a badge of sorts at the top it features all the spanish languages countries so you can see where to you could choose books to read from we have chosen two books to readalong during the month and a spanish film to watch as well .I love spanish fiction and really looking forward to sharing my passion with every one .

So the schedule we have put together is –

Week 1 – on the weekend which falls on 6 – 8 th July to post on the film Cria Cuervos a classic from  seventies follows an eight year girl in the dying years of the Franco regime.I’ve not seen it myself so sure richard will have more info .there is a DVD available and looks like it can be streamed as well .

Week 2 July 13 -15 on this weekend we’ll be talking about our first readalong choice .A brief live by Juan Carlos Onetti .This was his first novel to feature the fictional town of Santa Maria .The Uruguayan was one of the most respected writers from Latin America .The book is available in uk  and Us from Serpents Tail  .

Week 3 July 20 -22 , our second readalong book .My choice is from one my favourite Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas .His debut in English but actually he wrote a lot more in Spanish before this became available in English .Its Bartleby and Co .We meet Marcelo and Vila-Matas gives us echos of other books and writers in this modern classic one my favourite books from Spanish .This book is Published by Vintage in the UK and New directions in the US .This also ties nicely with his new book due out next month as well .

Week 4 – roundup weekend we ‘ll round up everyone’s reviews and  posts .

Please feel free to join in for one ,two or all three of our scheduled events .Also feel free to publish on any other book from the spanish speaking world .I ve already read a number of books to include in this month .I ll be posting nearer the time links to list of spanish and latin american books that you could choose from . I ve a number on my blog from Spain and Latin america already for you to  look at .

What is your favourite Spanish language book ?


Rondo by Kazimierz Brandys

Rondo by Kazimierz Brandys

Polish fiction

Translated by Jaroslaw Anders

Kazimierz Brandys was a polish writer ,he is little known but a multiple prize winner and also a member of the order of fine arts in France .He was a graduate in law and made his writing debut in 1935 .his first novel published in 1946 .This considered one of his best was published in 1982 at that time he live in france where he lived until his death in 2000.

So rondo what is it well it is a man life the man in question is called Tom ,it is his story he has written after reading an account of the RONDO organisation a resistance movement in Poland written by a professor Janota  in a historic magazine  .Tom  was a member of , but the question as the books unwinds is what is real and what is false in this account of Rondo and toms retelling of his remembrance of events  ? .Tom past and present mix as we jump from the now of Warsaw in the 70’s a city just starting to become wealthy and changing .Then to the past of pre war and wartime Warsaw .So how did he get involved with the RONDO (Tom called it after a Chopin piece ) well this is how it started as he imagined it he was dating a girl Tola he made it up to impress her (haven’t we all bent the truth a little to impress a girl /boy ) but as the war progresses his peers start to build the imagine resistance movement into a real one because of the own selfish motives and  thus fiction becomes fact .So tom is he the illegitimate son of a famous polish pre war leader ?  This book very much in the allegorical vein of literature a display  of what may have happen if person x had done this and persons a ,b and c had joined in rather than a truthful account of events .Then there is Tola an almost saintly women in Tom’s eye ,he is one of these men brought up to put the women in his life  on the pedestal no matter what they do to them  .

Professor W.Janota claims that (1) Rondo was founded in 1942 ;(2) it was established by people smuggled secretly from London;(3) its activities included extensive infiltration of the Wehrmacht and SS circles as well as surveillance of German strategic objectives ..

Tom read this and through that find out what happen for real or maybe for real .

So this is a mix of spy ,romance ,surreal ,memoir and  allegory  fiction ,all in one package ,I suppose the nearest book in English maybe  is William Boyd’s Any human heart their is something of  similar in Logan and Tom ,Logan is a man  who ends up caught up in major events by accident rather like Tom  has in Rondo and also Logan maybe extends the truth at times like Tom as well  .But in the wider sense outside fiction ,he is a Walter Mitty  the film character carried into a wider story of the second world war in Poland ,also rather like Clifton James the man who played a double of Monty to fool the Germans in the war and he played himself in the film  where he was portrayed as a man who got carried along by events after he initially played Monty for a joke in a stage show ,there is a similar feel in Toms story here he started of with a small idea and then  got carried along into a bigger idea .I loved this books take one world war two in Poland ,Tom was a great character to follow  through these events .The book is published by Europa editions and is part of there first group of books to be published in the UK .

Song for sunday Ian curtis 32 years

Well friday this week saw 32 years since the to soon passing of Joy Divisions lead singer Ian Curtis .The band have been with me since my early teens ,I lived near where the band was from so I  knew places where  he lived and the site of his grave   as I went to college in Macclesfield his hometown .Around the same time ,I remember hearing love will tear us apart in 1990 the 10th anniversary whilst I was working in a local pub ,boy as I heard it was 32 years on friday on 6 music I realised how quick those twenty-two years have gone as in my head so in a moment I had a proustian moment of being transported  back to a busy pub ,behind the bar serving people as this love will tear us apart came on the jukebox (what happen to jukeboxs you never see them these days )and finding myself caught in the moment and singing the lyrics .

Do you like Joy division?


Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Darkness at noon by Artur Koestler

Hungarian fiction

Translated by Daphne Hardy

I ve held off on read Koestler for a number of years never quite sure why but recently saw a old penguin modern classic and thought it was about time I read it ,this book  is his most famous .It was on the Modern library’s hundred best english language books ( strange it is a translation ).Arthur Koestler was born in Hungary in the early years of the twentieth century into a Jewish family he lived all over the world in Palestine ,Paris and Berlin then in mid thirties he went to Soviet russia for five years to report on the country this was a the hit of the Stalin show trails and the great purge  and spent time in Spain in the Spanish civil war .On the outbreak of war he was caught in france but eventually made it to England .Shortly after arriving  ub the uk  he wrote this book which is considered his best work  first published in 1940 .

“Put that gun away ,comrade 2 said Rubashov to him .”what do you want with me anyhow ?”

“you hear you are arrested ” said the boy “put your clothes on and don’t make a fuss “.

“Have you got a warrant ?” asked Rubashov

How it all started .

Now darkness at noon is a dark ,dark book it is really an insight into totalitarian regime through the eyes of a little man caught in a party machine ,although when it was written it seems Koestler’s time spent  in both in spain and Russia inspired the book . (He had a lucky escape in spain when he was still a communist and he  got caught in Franco’s camp but avoided being put to death.)The book is one mans story Nicholas Rubashov ,this man is in late fifties and really comes across as an everyman ,in looking up on the book Koestler Said he made him out of a large number of Soviet prisoners of the time .Any way he is arrested suddenly by some men and but in a cell by him self ,the other people we meet along the way are people in the same part of the prison a cell mate called 402 they communicate via taps ,a old ,old man who has spent more than twenty years in solitary confinement  he calls Rip Van Winkle .We follow him as he has four hearing this loyal man who has risked his life on many occasions for the party (it is never called the communist party ) and thus not placing the book in russia as we are never told where the trails are taking place .It is Obvious the madness of the trails there are four in all this makes up the parts of the book  as they unfold  they are a direct reflection of Stalin’s show trails in the thirties. But in the years since , how many times have we seen dictators run trails with no reasons and people arbitrarily killed for no real reason .This book still rings true seventy years after it came out .

“Asked whether he pleaded guilty ,the accused Rubashov answered “yes” in a clear voice .To a further question of the public prosecutor as to whether the accused has acted as an agent of the counter-revolution ,he again answered “yes” in a lower voice ….

The broken man near the end not the man from the early quote .

This Book is a true modern classic and all I can say if you’ve not read it yet , you should you can see its  standing  in  twentieth century writing .A s a child of Kafka obviously this is a more realistic take of what Kafka did with the character  K in his book   The trail and you can see its influence on Orwell in particular 1948 and works by Solzhenitsyn like the gulag archipelago and one day in the life both have the similar anti-Soviet feel .also the recent book by Elias Khoury Yalo has elements owing to this book the dark brutalness of men being broken by the regime . Daphne Hardy the translator  was Koestlers lover at the time she worked with him on this translation from German and gave  the book it’s  English title, the original title  in german meant solar eclipse .But I feel the English title has so much more meaning than the  German one as in the cells there is no real light at times so darkness at noon fits to me .

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite book set in a prison ?

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