Heaven and Hell by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

heaven and hell

Heaven and Hell by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

Icelandic fiction

Original title Himnaríki og helvíti

Translator – Philip Roughton

Source review copy

Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

From the rim of the ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge .

Now this is a book I have read three times in the last year and it wasn’t till the last rereading this last weekend I finally got what I felt  Jón Kalman Stefánsson was trying to get across . Jón Kalman Stefánsson is an Icelandic writer ,that studied Literature but then didn’t pass his final exams ,so drifted into teaching ,then became a librarian in Denmark ,before deciding to become a writer which he now does full-time .Heaven and Hell is the first in a trilogy of novels ,tomorrow I’ll be reviewing the second book Sorrow of angels ,but too this book now .

The sea is cold and sometimes dark it is a gigantic creature that never rests , and here no-one can swim except for Jonas who works in the summers at the Norwegian whaling station , the Norwegians taught him how to swim , he is called either the Cod or the Sea-wolf the later more fitting considering his appearance .

I loved the image I got here of Jonas .

Heaven and Hell is the story of a boy ,a boat ,the crew of the boat ,a good man losing his life .But it’s more than that its a feeling a world gone the voices in the book are from the past telling of a world that was a world where Fishermen would read Paradise lost .The crew now have to head out further to get the cod one Crew man Barður whom was the one that was reading Milton ,left some of his gear behind and thus dies of the cold  and wet minus his waterproof gear ,this is a harsh world the rest of the crew seem unbothered by this event apart from one the Boy whom is  the other main character of this book we don’t know his name but he sets of with Barður book across the Island to return this book to its original owner a Blind sea-captain .Along the way he meets a bunch of almost surreal characters .A quest to return the book .

Hell is not knowing whether we are alive of dead

I live ,she lives ,they live ,he dies

This rough conjunction stuck us like a mace on the head ,because the story about the boy ,the snow ,the huts ,almost made us forget our own deaths .

I finally grew to love passages like this .

Now the reason I struggled with this book ,I feel is the style of writing is a style I’m not readily use to a collective voice ,but also I like to get a foothold in a story rather like a climb that little slither of rock I can balance and see what is ahead and in the first two reading I didn’t get that and I feel part of that was wanting to compare this to the few other Icelandic novels I have read ,which it really is very different ,so on this last reading I sat and just like a boat set sail in his prose and Got it and actually went Dam Tony whom I know loves this and the follow-up book was right  .How did I make this break it was using my own life and remember a visit to a fishing museum(s) in Fife ,looking after a lady twenty years ago that followed the Herring fleet up the north coast of England and Scotland during the 20s and 30s ,the small fishing huts I passed once a week in Northumberland all shot into my mind as I turned the pages for a third time and I just went why (but that is the beauty of books and rereading  it took me to try to see the beauty and sometimes we need to break something down and just let it drift over us ) .The world you are drawn into is one of hard men , the cruel sea and a boy looking beyond this world and making more of it .Milton maybe this is the world of Paradise lost in the flesh these fishermen are the cast out souls of Paradise lost .I was remind also in this last reread of Under Milkwood ,how much was I had seen it a week earlier but it evokes the same world feel that dark, tough but very real world that Thomas did in his verse poem .

.Fisherman's_hut_by_the_Ouse_with_view_of_Lindisfarne_Castle._-_geograph.org.uk_-_286907

The hut I remember from Northumberland very like the world in this book picture by Attribution: Jonathan Billinger

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Spanish Lit month 2014 Marquez week

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Well it has been two years since Richard and I .hosted the first Spanish lit month and now we are back so this July ,join in with all literature translated or written in Spanish .Like last time we have chosen two readalong books the first is Three trapped tiger by Guillermo Cabrera Infante this is Richards Choice ,I will be rereading and rereviewing this one as I had read it and review it a few years ago and Loved it he earns his title as the Cuban Joyce my review

three trapped tigersThe second readalong book is the tie in to Marquez ,as I want the last of the four weeks to be dedicate to books By him and also with influences  from Gabriel Garcia Marquez our second readalong book is News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez .I had promised to do a Marquez week and with recent events it seems a great time to remember one of the biggest stars of the Spanish writing world .

news of a kidnapping

We hope you join in picking some of the great books past and Present written in Spanish .Near the time I will do a post about great books of Spanish and connect to some lists for inspiration for every one .

Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

sworn virgin cover Elvira Dones

Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

Albanian fiction

Original title – Vergine giurata

Translator – Clarissa Botsford

Source – Review copy

After that my guess is that you will never hear from him again. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that… he is gone.

Verbal in the film the Usual suspects

Elvira Dones is an us based Albanian writer ,she has written seven novels in Albanian before living in Italy and starting to write in Italian ,where she has written two books ,this is one of them .She also made a documentary about twelve Sworn Virgins like Hana /Mark in this novel ,that have left Albania and gone to live in the US .This book is also due to be made into a film .

You can’t write good poems with a dry cunt ,she thinks to herself again ,annoyed .Why the hell did she tell him she wrote ?

Hana /Mark on plane to US maybe thinks more like a man still

Well I really pleased when I got sent this as I have only read Kadare and a small piece by Ornela Vorpsi that was in one of the Dalkey European collection .So the chance to read about a country that has interested me since working in a factory in Germany along side a couple from  Kosovo ,whom had like Hana in this book escaped Albania (Kosovo is actually Serbia but the country itself is 90% Albanian ) ,So the chance to discover another tale of this country grabbed me .Anyway to the book Sworn Virgin is the story of Hana/Mark ,at the start of the story we see the young Hana in the capital of Albania Tirana studying away at Literature ,start to just spread her wings .She was originally from a small village brought up by her uncle  ,but a call from an Uncle brings her back to her village ,this is because her family want her to marry as the Uncle is dying and there is no male Heir , but that glimpse of another world in Tirana leads to Mark ,as Hana decides under the old ways of her country to live as a man as a Sworn virgin ,so live goes on Until a relative that left Albania ask Mark /Hana to come and live in the US so after all these years of being a man can Hana find her womanhood again ?

“Ok ” she decide .”Me first , since I’m the one who dragged you into this situation .I’m a woman , I’ve always been one .I’m not a transvestite , or a transsexual ,and I’m not gay .I’ve never been any of these things .It’s just that I swore to become a man ,in a social ,sense ,sixteen years ago .I had to do it because circumstances forced me to .

Hana in Us meets a man and tells him this .

This is one of those stories when you hear about it you go to yourself on no it doesn’t happen but this is part of the past ,but when in the post world war two period Hoxha ran the  country as an isolate place for forty years so a lot of these old practices kept going .Here in a piece from Slate by Jill Peters you get the full effect of what happened to Hana/Mark , as you see ,it’s not just dressing as a man no it is to coin the phrase “the whole nine yards ” .The book isn’t a straight narrative no we jump from now to then as we see Hana/Marks life unfold .Elvira captures so well it seems Hana becoming Mark and even better Mark years later becoming Hana once more and how to the outsider do you explain being a Sworn virgin ?As ever And other stories have turned up a quirky novel about a part of the world I always want to know more about .

Have you a favourite part of the world to read books from ?

 

Who am I who is the man behind the blog

Well as it’s two weeks before I go yet again to london for the IFFP , and think back at how I’ve met many folks some get on some seemed to have completely blanked me after meeting so inspired by the books of Karl Ove I’ve decided to talk about myself and who I am well most of you know I Stuart I prefer stu actually I’m forty plus well just over , I was born in Northern Ireland , my dad is Irish my mum is English I lived in Northern Ireland til I was just over one so I’m told then we lived in hazel Grove this is my first memories of my brother being born when I was three I got a police car off my grand parents , I don’t remember my brother but the car I do remember sorry Duncan, when I was seven then we moved to Poyton a small village outside manchester I loved it here fireworks at a lake every year , going to youth club discovering the library and the endless battles and fun with my younger brother .Then my parents split both remarried with in a couple of years this gave me a new brother and sister and my step father we moved to congleton a small town between manchester and Stoke , this was the first set back in my life really I dropped back from being top of the sets at high school to bottom ! When we moved schools ,Something I never really recovered from but I eventually enjoyed school discover music my first real passion via beat route a wonderful small indie shop finished school with lower grades than expect just below what I need to carry on .So I joined college studied electrical engineering but problems at home meant I never quite achieved what should done moves between my mum and dad over a three-year period set me back I was just an angry young man at the wrong time with beauty of hindsight, it would have been different but then we all say that during a lot of this time I had volunteered at play groups with people with disabilities .So I decided to work in care ,first with old people , the day centre I worked at was a great start I helped get a green house built to grow plants , set up a quiz league and helped a man who
was blind find his way round the town to do his shopping ,all these things I am so proud of doing .I then yet again decide to move with impulse to Germany after meeting a German girl on an exchange with work impulsive but maybe where the seed of this blog was planted work with refugees in a factory to earn money whilst there some fun times playing word games in my basic German or discussing football .We then returned to England and set up home but we eventually we broke up and I stayed in Northumberland where my dad was living then and worked in a day service for people with learning disabilities had my first dog and life was a very quiet one but then a series of problems brought me to chesterfield where my dad was living at the time a reunion with my brother who had lived these years with my mum and to carry on working with people with learning disabilities I now work I. A house with six people in and have for twelve years this is 300 meters from my home now .I meet my wife via internet whilst here we’ve been together ten years married seven soon . My whole life happens in chesterfield I very rarely travel outside it this coming trip is the second time this year I’ve been outside chesterfield .So yes I have a northern accent , maybe don’t know quite how to put myself across at times , but at heart I’m just a simple chap that took a chance set up a blog and sometimes like my trip to London gets to see a different world ,one where maybe I don’t fully know the rules heck that be a great idea a rule book for being a book blogger from the publishers lol .
Why do you blog ?
Well a lot of my life I struggled to get across what was in my head due to my handwriting being virtually unreadable .But my wife suggest we get a laptop and I discover first twitter and then blogs and the rest is history

When did books become important to you
Well always really my dad is a huge reader ,but when I was twenty in Germany I really want to read and my dad sent me some more literary books to read and that started me off bit by bit of course in my twenties I loved going out , football ,movies and drinking so maybe could read more but marriage has quieten me down and now I just read and still watch football .
What do you do apart from read ?
Well love football , movies ,walking winston and baking
What are your dreams
Well apart from world turning upside and a job where you have people fate in your hand and their hopes and dreams to help become true ,suddenly being seen for a job worthy of decent pay .Maybe a chance to help translation get more appreciation and value via the blog .Ny dreams are small I do live in the real world
So if you see me say hi if your about on 22nd may

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That’s me all six foot four

Catching the old how to adding depth to my blog and a new site from english pen

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I love translation as every one knows ,but part of the problem with me and the blog is constant thinking I think most days about how to do this that and the other .Mainly just way to improve how and what I blog ,one of the main thing I feel is lacking is depth in the content I have reviewed a lot of books in translation but the coverage tends to be in the last five years .I constantly feel there is gaps ,no Albert  Camus ,One Jorge Luis borges story ,One Umberto Eco novel ,a couple of Grass ,not enough African fiction in Translation  and so on and so on the list is virtually endless as is the job of this blog .It’s great reading the Current but for this to work as a real resource I need to add depth to the books under review ,so I need to start adding a few reread books  in my reading pile  and plundering my piles of second-hand buys  in an attempt to build a canon of world lit fill in my gaps in reading ,form a network of how literature has evolved world-wide how book a in say Argentina has had a visible effect on book b from Iraq say ,in building this knowledge and connections here it will make a better resource ,that said I struggle to avoid new reads ,a point I was discussing with Dan from Utterbiblio the other day but as this year I seemed to be reading a book or two more a month ,I will try to fit these older books in .My question is how do you avoid the shiny and New and do you endlessly by books and then have them on shelves for months and months ?

In other news English pen has launched a new website on books in Translation called world bookshelf in partnership with Foyles here ,A number of the English pen associated books mentioned on the site can be found here under review .Like The ravens to name one ,it also has a blog attach to it with post by translators ,the first post is about the rise in translation ,the small rise we as readers need to help climb to an acceptable level of books published in translation ,for me 4.5% isn’t enough we need to get folks reading the wonderful books on this site and out there and let publishers know they can translate more .

Comapartment No.6 by Rosa Liksom

Compartment-No.6

Compartment No.6 by Rosa Liksom

Finnish fiction

Original title – Hytti nro 6

Translator – Lola Rogers

Source -Review copy

The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond, and must be polished, or the luster of it will never appear.

Daniel Defoe

Well when this dropped though my door ,it was one I put straight to the top of the pile ,I’ve enjoyed all the recent books from Finland ,That I’ve read have been gems ,plus I’ve always had a fondness for books set on trains so two ticks meant it was a must read .Well Rosa Liksom is a Finnish based writer ,she is also a well-known artist in Finland .She has written 13 other books ,this Compartment No.6 is the latest by her ,it won the Finlandia prize in 2011 .

When the station bell rang for the second time she saw a muscular ,cauliflower-eared man in a black  working mans quilted jacket and a white ermine hat and with him a beautiful dark-haired woman and her teenage son ,keeping  close to his mother .

When she first sees Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov on the station platform at Moscow .

Compartment No.6 Follows a train ride from Moscow on the Trans Siberian ,an unnamed finnish girl boards the train ,she searches and finds an empty compartment and settles down ,then her silence is shattered when a grizzled looking fellow enters the carriage , He then starts talking to the girl and telling her the story of his life at first she is a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights not quite knowing what to do ,but as the train speeds through the russian hinterlands she warms to this rough diamond and maybe sees part of her own life in his stories ,as the train is stopped they experience the rough conditions of the Soviet era ,this is the late eighties ,initially the girls thoughts are on getting to Mongolia and see some cave paintings as she is an art student and meeting an old friend but as her and Vadium (the man ) ,grow see maybe sees her life in a wider view outside the life she grew up in .

The night speeds through the dark into dim morning , a dogged queue at the shrine of the WC , a dry wash among the puddles of pee ,sputum ,shame and sheepish looks ,shadows of steaming tea glasses in the window ,large flat cubes of Cuban sugar ,paper light Aluminium spoons ,black bread ,viola cheese ..

She captures life on the train so well the sights and sounds of Soviet life at that time .

Well this is one of those books you can tell came from a love of the writer ,it turns out the writer took a journey on the same train in 1986 ,where she herself shared a compartment with a Russian man .Rosa Liksom has the artist eye for detail so the little things of life in Soviet era Russia are caught so well .For me the story remind me of a very old friend that over the years I lost touch with but Like Vadium was a rough diamond ,yes I remembered my fist meeting Steve and thinking god this bloke is just awful he was a friend of a friend but then over the next few meeting ,I saw through the swearing tales of his very hard upbringing and got to know one of the kindest souls I ever met and regret losing touch with ,That said Vadium isn’t quite such a kind heart soul but he is more than he first appeared to the Girl and he is the person that opens her eyes on her world ,so like me with steve this is someone she will remember for the rest of her life .Rather like the last lines of  the film Stand by me ,a writer remember a friend and journey in younger life .

Have you a favourite book based on a train ?

 

Charlie Chaplin’s Last Dance by Fabio Stassi

charlie chaplin's last dance

Charlie Chaplin’s Last Dance by Fabio Stassi

Italian fiction

Original title – L’ultimo ballo di Charlot

Translator – STephen Twilley

Source – review copy

Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.

Francis bacon

Fabio Stassi is a Rome born Italian writer ,that grew up in Scilly .He start writing whilst working in Rome in oriental studies ,he would write every day on his trip to work .He has so far written six book ,this Charlie Chaplin’s last dance is the first to be translated to English .The book its self won the prestigious Italian book prizes Premio campiello , prize Cielo D’Alcamo,  Award Alassio Hundred Books and Premio Leonardo Sciascia Caves Racalmare .

Death : enough,it’s getting late.

Man : Wait ,not yet .I’ll .. I’ll make you laugh ,it’s the

only thing I know how to do

Death : No one has ever made me laugh ,

Man : I will .I’m sure of it watch this .

Charlie gets a glimmer of hope from death as he has never laughed before .

The plot of Charlie Chaplin’s last dance is really in the title of the book ,we meet Charlie Chaplin  at the time is probably the most famous person alive on christmas eve 1971 , he is 82 years old but a father very ,late in his life and he gets a visit from Death his time is up .Charlie has been waiting thou he was told this would happen in 1910 by a fortune-teller so is ready to face death .But no Charlie wants ,more time so they strike up a bargain ,death will give him an extra year if He Charlie the greats comic of his age can make him death laugh .So Charlie manages after a few times ,so he has another year and so this carries on as death keeps to the same bargain if Charlie can keep him laughing on christmas eve every year .In-between Charlie starts to write down his history and life for his son to read when he grows up .From his humble beginnings in London on the Vaudeville stage ,to his earliest  days in America struggling to get by .To the big breakthrough in Hollywood in the silent film era , then his marriages  the decline of his career and his final years

                              Corsier-sur-Vevey 24 December 1977

Dear Christopher James ,

This evening will mark my eighty-eighth Christmas .Once again ,I will spend it with my family , and the story I am about to tell is my gift to you .I know that I owe you a debt I cannot settle .You’re my last child barely fifteen years old , conceived when I was more than seventy you will grow up without me .So now I need to hurry , to pass this on to you , before the news of my demise sparks a global uproar .

Charlie tells his life in a letter to his son .

Fabio Stassi has cleverly mix his childhood love of Charlie Chaplin ,he says in the back of the book since he was a boy and first read Chaplin’s autobiography ,he has reread it through out his life .He has taken the bones of that book and chucked in a mixer with Ingmar Bergman’s  Seventh seal and may I say the humour of Death from the teen comedy Bill and Ted’s bogus journey which of course saw death have a sense of humour and also play a mean double bass (although he doesn’t in this book ). Then he came up with a witty take on a man trying to avoid dying and looking back on his life .Also we see Charlie Chaplin match in his reason for wanting to live on ,in  what is  said in this article about the top five regrets of the dying .This is a fun book ,by a writer I hope gets more of his books translated if they are as fun as this one .

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