The notebook by Agota Kristof


The Notebook by Agota Kristof

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Le grand Cahier

Translator – Alan Sheridan

Source – Personnel copy




“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 

Source  Nelson Mandela 


Well I’m back after a couple of weeks and have decide to start with one of those books we al have read and the second we put it down would happily read it again a real breath taking novel .Agota Kristof is a writer a bit like this blog that covered Europe in her life itself .She came from Hungary ,but escaped just to become an exile in the 1950’s in Switzerland .She start to write in french at the age of 51 after studying french ,this book came out in 1986 originally .It won the Austrian lit prize as I say a write like this blog that in her life spent time all round Europe .The notebook (or grand notebook in french although that means slightly more in the french ) was the first of what became a trilogy of novels the other two are called The proof and The third lie .

We call her grandmother

People call her the witch ,She calls us “sons of bitch ” .Grandmother is small thin .She has a black shawl on her head .Her clothes are dark grey ,she wear old army shoes ,When it’s fine ,she walks barefoot .Her face is covered in wrinkles ,brown spots and warts with hair growing out of them .She has no teeth left ,at least none that can be seen

Their first impression of the grandmother isn’t great .

The notebook is the story of two children Twin brothers  ,who just before the outbreak of world war two are left in a small village with the Grandmother .Now this book is their account of this time from the war to the Soviets taking over after the war .We see the world through their eyes but also the cruellness  of this world .The grandmother isn’t bother about them and takes the money their parents send for herself .Now this village has a wonderful collection of oddball character a cobbler that helps them out because he hates the Witch as their grandmother is known within the village ,A sad girl with a horrific harelip ,who just wants to be loved but finds it in all the wrong places especially in one eye-opening scene in the book ,An officer that very cruely treats the twins .The booys quickly learn that to get what they want and to survive the shifting worlkd they are caught in as we see what we may assume is Hungary (we aren’t actually told ) but could be anyone of half-dozen countries that are caught first by the Germans and then as the war is ending the Soviets overrun the country and bring the communist system in .

We put on dirty ,torn clothes ,take off our shoes ,dirty our faces and hands .We go out into the street ,we stop and wait .

When a foreign officer comes by ,we raise our right hands to salute him and hold out our left hands.usually the officer walks on without seeing us ,without looking at us .

They beg from the Armies in the village as they pass by as they get so little from their grandmother .

Now the beauty of this book is the voice of the two brothers ,it just comes across as such a real childlike voice ,it is hard to capture how children speak and think probably for me Andres Neuman recently caught it well in talking to ourselves  ,like that book this is about how the kids see their world ,we as the reader naturally fill in the blanks between Kristof words .She shows the brutal nature of war through a child’s eyes so time and place even at times which army it is are missed just that the war is happening .Kristof also capture in the Harelipped girls story a broken person scrapping by in the world as the boys try to get to know her by first learning this girl’s horrific way of finding love .This is the second book by CB editions I have read this year and they are a publisher I will be looking closer at the back catalogue to find if they have anymore gems their . My first entry for women in translation month 

Have you read this book ?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Aug 11, 2014 @ 15:26:24

    I haven’t read this Stu, but it sounds very powerful!


  2. jacquiwine
    Aug 11, 2014 @ 15:48:44

    The Notebook sounds harrowing, but I’ve heard great things about it and your review confirm this view. Based on your quotes, the prose feels stripped back to the bone, and I guess this reflects the tone of the story.


  3. heavenali
    Aug 11, 2014 @ 21:33:54

    This does sound powerful, I really like the quote you include.


  4. 1streading
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 13:44:39

    Good to have you back and with what sounds like an essential book.


  5. Trackback: Winston’s books of the year | Winstonsdad's Blog

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August 2014


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