The explosion chronicles by Yan Lianke

 

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The explosion chronicle by Yan Lianke

Chinese fiction

Original title –  炸裂志

Translator – Carlos Rojas

Source – review copy

Yan Lianke is a writer I have read twice in the course of shadowing the man booker and IFFP before we have twice reviewed his books Dream of Ding Village and Four Books  . both of which showed the dark of modern day China .I am always saying I miss the Chinese novel that takes on these Mega cities that are now so vast and huge they are like a sprawling creatures on the chinese landscapes what it must be like to be in those place is what I want to know . Well this on the surface is partly what this is about the birth of one of those mega cities from a few small huts and house to a cities of millions.

Yuan dynasty

When explosion Village was first founded, it had about hundred residents. Because the village had Yi river in front and the Balou Mountain range in back, and because its fields were wide and flat, farmers would often gather there to barter and to buy and sell goods. As a result, the village gradually became a small marketplace.

The small start rather like a number of these megacties .

The novel follows the people of the city of explosion , I find an irony in the name as this is what these huge cities are explosions on the map in away and this is the tale of one of those told in its own history  .What we see is a small village lead by Zhu Ying father starts to expand the village , but he runs into trouble as there is a rival family the Kong family  there are two brothers they also what to be in on the growth of the city. Then  Zhu father is killed in strange circumstances so she leaves but like all prodigal children she returns and firstly runs a brothel then starts to become a serious businesswoman .Add to that marriages between the families , a large amount of back hash. backhands and blackmailing . A scene where a number of elders kill themselves and what we have here is the inside track of these monster cities birthed in the back and beyond and allowed to grow uncontrolled under no supervision into a mega city with a dark underbelly.

Democracy mixed with a thunderstorms, leaving explosions completely soaked.

Zhu Ying returned from the provincial seat the day before the election .By this point the rain had stopped, the sun had come out and the air was fresh. A sedan brought zhu Ying to the entrance  of the village, where she saw the enormous stele the town mayor had erected in her home. Then she strolled into the village .

Zhu Ying returns to her home town to get back what was theirs in the past .

Well I like this it still missed the sense of what it is for these place to be as an everyday person it had at times a traditional Chinese fable like feel to the story as it went on the brother the daughter scared by her father death a marriage to try to unite them these are all familiar themes in myths especially Chinese myths . Maybe what Yan is trying to say is these cities are in a way surreal and fable like growth places like Suzhou have expand since the Chinese since the post Mao reforms . He captures the madness of this world of backhanded and blackmailers. Like his other books he takes a look under the veil of modern china.This is my favourite book by him and worth reading for a take on modern China .

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer

German Fiction

Original title – Im Stein

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – Review copy

I rejoin my late run on the Man booker longlist to try to get through the books , which I have now all read including a rereading of this book. One of the joys or reading so much in translation is to meet writers you have reviewed earlier as they move on in the careers and here is one such case . I first reviewed Clemens Meyer when on of his early short story collections All the lights was translated and published into English , so when six years later his Magnus opus arrived in english I read it, but struggled how to review it as it is like his earlier work an unflinching account of his east german homeland.So when it was longlist I decide a reread and maybe a new look at Im stein the book was also on the german book prize list when it came out in Germany

If this year goes well  I’ll have saved up a nice sum. Most girls can’t kep hold of it , like guys with their cum – money I mean . Gucci here, Prada there ,sure I treat myself now and then , what do you think ? (wink wink !smile to camera , and my little winter comedy’s rolling after all , oh well , it’ll be a nice little hotel job, the perfect end to a working day , and a gentlemen with champagne and hopefully not one of those monster dicks , mind you , wink wink !)

One of the girls early on about the life and how easy it is to get caught up in it and who is that next Man !!

The story is rather like a classic American gangster film plot in a way ,I ‘m think Scarface in a way for the story of Tony in Scarface is similar to that of Arnie the main character in Bricks and mortar . They both come from the tough sde of town one aC killer that escapes to american and the other an East German football thug . Now they have different path tony is of course drugs but Arnie makes his with woman and sex in what is often called the oldest profession and as in Germany it isn’t strictly illegal he sees his empire grow from the early days in 1989 to the modern-day from the dark side of the trade with young children and the pipeline bring women from around the world to the doors . We also see the shifting tastes of his client’s as his empire grows but like all empires he has to protect it and this we see in full police and other people wanting to step in on the trade . We also see the world from the inside with the voices of those on the blunt end the girls

You open , your eyes and you’re not alone . There’s a woman sitting there , on the chair by the wall , right under the flower print . She’s black , her skin , and black curly hair and a  pale pink dress . You don’t understand right away because it’s not possible. ou work with a couple of African women , it used be the Vietnamese to begin with and now its the Africans, but why has this woman of all people come to visit you ? And didn’t they tell you no visitors for one or two days ?

A detached voice of a girl caught up in this world telling of the change faces she has seen

This is a brutal books , Meyer like earlier German writer like Jorg Fauser (who I reviewed here ) or Doblin in Alexanderplatz  they are much better at looking at the dark side of life and here Meyers use the prostitutes and the pimps to show how the old East German stumbled into the New Germany not smoothly but kicking and screaming like a premature child of one of the girls on the came screaming to go back to the safe world of the east at times not the capitalist world of commerce , webcams money to be made from the girls all day every day yes they have rights but some don’t and as the book goes on you see them become more of a wheel in a money-making machine for Arnie and others , hence I choose their voices for the quotes as they really hit home I felt  the hopelessness of this a brutal world elegantly written by Clemens  and translated by katy and another gem from fitzcarraldo a publisher trying to bring the best and most challenging works into English .

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

French Memoir

Original title – Immortelle Randonnée : Compostelle malgré moi

Translator – Martina Dervis and Malcom Imrie

Source – Review copy

I have reviewed one novel by Rufin before Red collar ,which I loved and him as a person I felt was an interesting character he was an early member of Médecins Sans Frontières and also action against hunger . He has also been an ambassador for France to Senegal and Gambia . He has also won two versions of the Prix Goncourt in his time the one for the first novel with his debut and the main prize for his book Red Brazil .But this non fiction work grabbed me when it dropped through the door earlier this year.

What makes the camino de santiago different is that it is not a punishment but a voluntary ordeal. At least , that is what you think, though this view will be swiftly challenged by experience.Anyone who walks the Camino will sooner or later end up thinking they were condemned to it . The fact that they condemned themselves alters nothing; the punishments we impose on ourselves are often no less rigorous than those society inflicts.

Before he sets out he tries to find out more about the camino

The reason I was grabbed bu this book is because I have a small interest in the way of st james or as it is called Camino de Santiago a group or pilgrimage paths across  France and Spain and earlier ones that go into england as well  . We follow Jean Christophe across the Northern route which is the coastal path  the northern route as he considered it a quieter route and would meet less pilgrims on the way but also the journey he recalls the place this one takes in a number of cities along the way Bilbao and Ovideo both of which Rufin describeds very well and then the few pilgrims he meets he describes in breif pen sketches their reasons and where they are from for the journey .as he recalls his time on the Camino .

The third category , not so much romantic but no less touching, is composed of those who knew love a long time ago , entered into the sacred bonds of matrimony, and then suffered its trials and tribulations until their greatest wish was to be free again but the freedom they seek is of the kind and considerate sort – they don’t want to break up a happy families or hurt anyone, they just want a breather,with a little help from Saint James

The man he met from the saint James association was from this third group that take Pilgrimage.

The book is written after he completed the walk , so he kept no notes so what is kept is the bare bones pf what he remember . He took it as a challenge , a journey of discovery but he wanted a to take a less trodden route the northern one .I first came across the way of Saint James in the series Brian Sewell did in the early 2000 about his journey on the camino back in the 1960 when it wasn’t quite as popular as itis now , with 200,00 plus people a year taking the route from barely a 1000 in the early eighties . Another story about the Camino is the 2010 film which  Martin sheen starred in a film directed by his son called the The way about a father completing his late son journey on the camino . The we also have Cees Nooteboom book . Like Rufin they all reveal how people are effected by the camino. The journey is more followed now maybe the pilgrimage is like the third type of pilgrim is a way to clear your slate in the modern age a trip into a  mythical past of monks churches getting your stamps as you follow the way if st james and it scallop shells and get your pilgrim card stamped

 

Mirror , Shoulder , Signal by Dorthe Nors

Mirror, Shoulder , signal by Dorthe Nors

Danish fiction

Original title – Spejl, skulder, blink

Translator – Misha Hoekstra

Source – personnel copy

This was the second book I read after the longlist was announced on th train home from london book fair is where I read this book although only a few weeks ago it seems an age . I was in two minds about this one first I had read some great Scandinavian female writers in recent years . But Dorthe Nors first books was rather hyped when it came out and I am always wary of hype . So this short novel was one of two books I brought in london yes even after two pushkin press weeks i rarely get books sent by them shame . So this is hype or not hype

He pointed to the spot on her throat where they were supposed to imagine her breathing had gotten blocked. He did the Hemlich on her , his fingers up in her face, inside her collar up and down her arms.At one point he put her into a stranglehold, but that wasn’t the worst of it . The worst was when they had to do the exercises themselves. It was humiliating to be placed in the recovery position by a boy of eighteen,It also made her dizzy .

At the driving school Of folkie she has to do first aid and a nod to her balance problem

the story follows Sonja , I must admit now I have been thinking about the book today I actually connect a bit with Sonja more than I did when I read the book she is like me in her mid forties . But unlike me her relationship she is a translator (another odd connection !! lol ) and her partner a fellow translator has left her he is translating a big star of Swedish crime fiction !thou she finds this crime fiction overly bloody at times  so she tries meditation and she is now trying to reconnect to her sister and also like me I have just decided to start driving . She has two instructors thou they won’t even let her change gears yet , she is their oldest pupil . Then add to this she is drifting in her m ind ot her past maybe in a way retracing those steps she took that lead her to where she is now . This is a woman in a sot of modern mid-life crisis that isn’t a crisis she has lost her connection to the world with no partner and no family tie she is drifting .

Sonja’s come to a standstill in front of her mirror .A  short while before, she was on her way through the bedroom , sandal in hand, when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror on the inside of her wardrobe. It looked as if kate were standing in the wardrobe . That’s weird , she thought. Kate and I never resembled each other, So She stepped over to the mirror to have a proper look.

Kate’s got two sons and her husband Frank.When they’re in Copenhagen , they make a beeline for Tivoli, but other wise they go around  trying to disguise the facts that they’re from Jutland.

Sonja thinking on the sister she has no contact with now .

I initially really didn’t get this book , but since I read it .I have grown to like to Sonja is hapless in a way more of a character that is in a classic comic works by the likes of Wodehouse . The way she is hapless in her various quests to reconnect to her sister  no joy , driving her instructors holding her back and even her job she get pain typing and hates what she works on at times . This is bare of lot more a link series of adventures rather like the cuisine that has swept Denmark in recent year where everything is local but is the also cut back so everything in the meal is just enough to give ut taste and not to many tastes . Like the other Danish novels I have read by Pia Juul and Helle Helle plot is twisted this is a midlife crisis stripped to the bare a woman struggling to get balance , even she has an inner ear problem meaning that this is both actual and literal balance she is struggling for in her own life .A quirky fun novel about struggling to be middle aged and with no one !

 

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Black Moses

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Congolese fiction

Original title – Petit Pimen

Translator – Helen Stevenson

Source – review copy

As I limp on trying to get through the man booker list , well that said I am reading the last book on the list and just have my reviews to write-up . Today i catch up with the latest from one of the most featured writers on the Blog Alain Mabanckou  widely regard as one of the best African writers of his generation called Africa Samuel Beckett . this is also the third book he has had on the short and longlist for this and the old independent foreign fiction prize. So to  Black Moses

Back on the platform again , still with hid escort of wardens , Dieudonne Nguoulmoumako launched into grand-orator mode, explaining how we were the builders and protectors of the scientific socialist revolution. On his jacket , just above “where his heart beat” as some people put it, gleamed a badge with three letters on : CWP . You had to get up really close tp read , in small writing under the letters : Congolese Workers Party

The Orphanage under communism and their leader

This follows one boys coming of age story in the Congo of the 1970’s , like many other places in africa at that time the country had swung to the left and fallen in with Communism , like many regimes of the time this was just an excuse for a man called Ngoulmouako and his henchmen to try to run the orphanage where our Hero Mose lives and what follows here is a modern twist on the orphan made good story that made so many great books from Charles dickens , it’s not Oliver twist  or pip no Moses has it hard but he is in the town of Point-Noire the colourful town that has been at the centre of most of Mabanckou fiction Moses gets help from Maman fiat 500 whom he tells her he is called little pepper , part of his robin hood fantasy (I love this name classic Mabanckou) the mistress of the local whore , who finds him a job as a docker and tries to help him out he spends time with her  and the girls.he gets in many scraps with his group of friends as they hang out with Mamans Zairian girls  Then the world start to turn dark Maman disappears the girls are forced out as there is a drive for girls just from Congo as they are driven out we see the dark side of the regime .

Anyway, what’s your name ?

“Little Pepper …”

She looked surprised :

“What kind of a name is that ? You must have a real name , like everyone else?!

When i didn’t react she sighed “Never mind, we’ll call you that ! My name is Maman fiat 500!

She took out a ten thousand CAF franc note and held it out to me .

Here , Little Pepper , that’s for you, buy yourself a shirt and a pair of horts ,what you’re wearing looks like you live in a cave , for good sake !”

Moses and Maman meet for the first time

 

This feels like a writer loving his homeland , after his last book which saw Alain return for the first time in many years to his home town of Point Noire , which is the setting for the novel , I feel this maybe is part of a story he heard on his retutrn that he has woven into a tale of growing up in the town on a different path to his own Moses is a take of the orphan story rather more like artful dodger with his gang of friends and then there is Maman story , her story is almost like the Harlots Progress  as her girls follow the path and rise and then fall like in Hogarth’s etchings  as with Mose is maybe like tom in the rakes progress series of etchings , even to the end where we see mose is in a cell in a prison for the criminally insane . He has revived the classic orphan tale in a Congo under the yoke of communism where the bad take control .

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