Fireflies by Luis Sagasti

Image result for fireflies luis

Fireflies by Luis Sagasti

Argentinean fiction

Original title – Bellas Artes

Translator – Fionn Petch

Source – Review copy

I’m so pleased when I discover a new publisher. Charco press is a new publisher and is based in Scotland and wanting to bring the brightest new talents from Latin America. The first of three books I have been sent to read by them. This is one of those books that makes you remember why as a reader I have chosen to read fiction in translation. Luis Sagasti is a writer, Lecturer and art critic. He s also Curator of the museum of contemporary art in Bahia Blanca, they have an interesting blog

Beuys’ deep blue eyes seem to have cracked. He places his hands on the woman’s shoulders.She blinks awkwardly. Amd asks him: “is the story of the Tartars true? is Karl with the Tartars?”

Beuys removes his felt hat and holds it to his chest.The woman gazes at his scars and understood what she need to understand.

The hare understands art

is the anything to understand?

without the slightest doubt, art is the answer.

What he can’t be sure about is the question

Beuys was an enigma and again even his hat linked to Crimea and the Tartars !

In his song, Fireflies John grant says ~”She catches fireflies at the ice cream social and oh we watch them take flight” The title of this book in English is fireflies and the fireflies in these books are ideas. The book has a sebaldian feel to it a book where each part interconnects with earlier part a collection of small pieces about famous and less famous people. The core of the book is a story of Joesph Beuys and the aftermath of his crash in the second world war in Crimea, where he survived by being wrapped in felt and fat. Then how Gagarin got picked for the space flight over another man un the end. Urban myths like was it Pete Best in the abbey road cover in the background. The death of Antoine de Saint Exupery all gets mention and link in as we have eight stories or vignettes interlinking.

Yuri Gararin was chosen from among 300 candidates to make the first manned voyage outside the earths atmosphere. The son of a milkmaid and carpenter upholds the spirit of Socialism better than one whose father is a teacher and has a foreign sounding name: Gherman Titov misses out after two tie-breaks.

How He ended up in space , remind me of an exhbition Star city about Soviet space flight and art.

As I said this is hard to pin down what it is as a book? It is my good friend Susan from Istros they have a word in Slovenian for good prose that walks the line between fiction and non-fiction like the great book Panorama this is a book that rips at the soul of the reader. For me, I love when a book connects to my own life and this is what has happened here, in particular, the piece about Joesph Beuys rung with me as I lived for a time in the town of his birth just as they were doing a museum at his birthplace and my partner of the time her father lived in Kassel where there is a number of Beuys installations the 700s oaks rung the connection to the crashing in the forest of Crimea he and other plants 700 trees each with a special stone marker. then remembering being amazed the first time I heard the story of the piece  Fettecke another line back to the Crimea and the fat the smothered his body. This is what great books like this do ignite a light in the reader’s mind. A Spanish review describes the book as being like opening pages and linking through a web browser. Fireflies is an apt title as they light up the dark and fly around so quickly, like them this is a book small but full of light easily read in an evening you’ll be thinking about it for days after and going back and rereading parts.


Bye Bye Mark E

It must have been kismet years ago when as a young teen I discovered John Peel on the radio many an hour listening to him lead me many ways in my music taste but the biggest of them and the longest lasting was The fall a band of the ever-changing group of musicians backing up the brilliant Mark E Smith. The band named after a translated novel would happen to be one of my favourite bands. From the NME interview with Nick Cave, Shane MacGowan and Mark talking about the world and their music. Peel doing something that seemed unheard of at the time playing a full album over two nights when Shiftwork came out a high point for the band really. Over the years I have bought or listen on spotify to the latest records from the Band even the complete peel sessions when it first came out with the 24 sessions he record with Peel more than anyone. So when the sad news hit us that Mark has passed tonight leaves the world a little poorer in a world of people trying to get by we need a few more mark as the voice of the disfranchised, the non-iphones smart phone people, the football fans, the northerners, the man in the pub because there won’t be another Mark and that is sad.


pick up a penguin for a pound !


Penguin has done another series of small books for a pound each. This time they ask a number of the editors to pick small titles that reflected the 20th century and came up with a list of 50 titles which has a number of Translations in the list Penguin Modern. Or as penguin says here –  fifty new books celebrating the pioneering spirit of the iconic Penguin Modern Classics series, with each one offering a concentrated hit of its contemporary, international flavour. Here are authors ranging from Kathy Acker to James Baldwin, Truman Capote to Stanislaw Lem and George Orwell to Shirley Jackson; essays radical and inspiring; poems moving and disturbing; stories surreal and fabulous; taking us from the deep South to modern Japan, New York’s underground scene to the farthest reaches of outer space.There is in the list two new translations in English for the first time. The Dialogue of Two Snails by Fereico García Lorca and Of Dogs and Walls by Yuko Tsushima  are both in english for the first time .

The book of Tbilisi


The book of Tbilisi by Various

Georgian fiction

Stories translated by Philip Price, Mary Childs, Maya Kiasashvili, Nino Kiguradze, Tamar Japaridze and George Siharulidze.

Source – review copy

I am never the most proactive at reading short stories, but sometimes when I get the chance with a collection like this it is a wonderful chance to get a glimpse into a new country. I’m not sure how many books from Georgia are out there to be read. As Ann Morgan point out on her world tour, this is changing as the government of Georgia is putting money in translation. So as Comma as brought its latest collection of city-based stories to Georgia to the capital Tbilisi and these writers.

 Ina ArchuashviliGela ChkvanavaErekle DeisadzeShota IatashviliDato KardavaLado KilasoniaZviad KvaratskheliaBacho KvirtiaIva Pezuashvili & Rusudan Rukhadze 

I’ve included the links to the comma bio pages of each writer.

Like most men, Baldy looked old for his age. He lit up his cigarette and asked Redhead what it was that couldn’t wait until the morning. In reply, Redhead said he wanted a story, a real one with blood, corpses – in other words something scandalous.

Baldy took him to his neighbour, a former investigator who had seen a lot in his time, having worked for both Soviet and Georgian police forces.

The rookie reporter listens to the older mens dicatapes.

The collection has ten tales in it. The first we meet a rookie newspaperman called Redhead is shown a tape by his fellow journalist Baldy an older man. That thinks he has found a gem of an old story about the killing of a man a few years ago. We follow him as he listens to the tapes from the time the tale of Uncle Evgeni a popular figure when the country first gained independence even sparking protests. in Dato Kardava story the naive reporter listens to the tapes and as the past unfolds he learns what happen back then. Then we see a piece of graffiti on the side of one of these old block of flats about a couple. This causes all the locals to go to facebook and find all Thea to see just who she was in the piece that said Anzor and THEA = LOVE. Then a young boy is looking after his sister as she is dying and he is getting no help from the state a sad tale. Then a quiet woman is the talk of three blocks of flats after she moves in with her husband but speaks with no-ones until the last line of the story after she is suspected to have run off. There are six other tales.

Her name is Peride. She doesn’t talk to anyone, and doesn’t pay attention to anyone either. It’s a blessing that I remember when she and her rusband first moved here more than thirty years ago. Otherwise, I might have believed she was not of this world, and that they’d brought her here from a parallel universe.

A woman moved in to the block years ago but never talks to her neighbours.

This is a great glimpse into a country that is just waking from its Soviet past. The one thing you found in the sense of a new world emerging after the bleakness of the place some were very sad especially the sister died in the rail carriage it made you feel how lucky we are. As with other collection I have read over the years like the Granta writer series the Spanish one, I do hope we get to read some of these writers in either fuller story collections or novels there is a wonderful chance with these ten stories to turn them into ten books and thus grow a library of Georgian fiction where we find out more about this country where neighbours are close and nosey and the world they are living in is bleak at times but also showing the small glimmer of want to grow and flourish again.


Confession of a murderer by Joseph Roth









Confession of a Murderer by Joesph Roth

Austrian Fiction

Original title – Beichte eines Mörder

Translator – Desmond L Vesey

Source – Personal copy

I was out the other day and called into Chesterfield Oxfam as I do most weeks just see what had come in and saw this on the shelf it caught my eye as it wasn’t a Roth Novella that I wasn’t overly aware off. I got home and looked it up and seen it was last in print in 2002. It was published first in Holland in 1936 at the time he was living in Paris and the drink had started to pay the toll on him. This is also the time covered in the novel about Roth summer before the dark .

“Well goodbye,” Said the prince to me .”Work hard.” He held out his hand . But then he drew it back and said “wait!” and walked over to the writing desk .He pulled open a drawer and took out of it a heavy gold snuffbox. “Here ,” he said, ” Take this as a memento.God be with you !” He forgot to give me his hand.I never even thanked him. I simply took the box, bowed and left the house.

The giving of the Snuff box , he also meets his half brother in this encounter as a young man.

The novella follows a man telling his life story over the course of one evening in a Paris restaurant. Golubchik the man telling his life is a Russian emigre. He tells of his early life as the son of a forester, but there was an open family secret that he was actually the son of the local Prince a man who crosses his path a few times during his life. This leads to one of the main moments in the book where as a young adult he returns to his home and visits the Prince to confront him, the prince now an old man doesn’t remember his father initially but then admits he was his illegitimate son and gives him a gold snuff box. At this point, we meet the other main character in the book Jeno Lakatos a clever devilish young man that help Golubchik sell his snuff-box but in doing so they gather the prince has a drawer full of these snuff boxes to give to people!! The two then spend war years around Europe Golubchik a writer and spy working for his half-brother the young prince Golubchik also becomes involved with women with extravagant taste whom he later sees with his now nemesis Lakatos leading to an act when he captures a man in her room.

So I arrived in Paris. I need not tell you what Paris meant to me , to Golubchik, the spy who despised himself, to the false Krapotkin, the lover of Luteta.It cost me an immense effort not  to believe that my passport was false and to forget that my vile task of watching refugees, who were a so-called menace to the state, was my own.

The end of the book sees him spying in Paris

This is an interesting story that is set all around Europe and in a way follows the fall of the Austro Hungarian empire through the narrator’s eyes. Then there is his story of the bastard son of land gentry, I loved the revelation of the drawer full of snuff boxes to give as gifts, I wondered how many Golubchiks were out there. The book has a lovely pacing as we slowly watch his story unfold over the course of the evening in this Left bank restaurant. A man trying to prove his worth and place in the world in Golubchik. Then another man he is very manipulative and them being involved with the same woman cannot be anything other than trouble.

So the path does not die by Pede Hollist

So the path does not die by Pede Hollist

Sierra Leone fiction

Source – review copy

One of the things I promised myself this year I would try and read a few more titles from around Africa, I have been buying and have been sent over the last few years. Pede Hollist is now based in the US as a professor of English at Tampa University. He is originally from Sierra Leone and has been shortlisted in the past for Caine prize and he has been included in a number of collections of Sierra Leone stories. His work focus on African Migration.

The shouts, wails, and curses heaped on her, her father , and her family ascend into the air.Finaba had heard them in the leaves and had seen them arrayed in the moonlight sky when she and Amadu emerged from the forest; and now, as she lay on the bare metal table of a disinfectant-laden examination roomin the chiefdom health clinic, they echoed in her head.

Just after the attempted FGM , she is already nearly an outcast because of it ina was called Finaba then.

This is an age-old story of the Journey from Africa to the US. We follow Fina a young woman, as we follow her life from her home in a village, where we see her just about to have an FGM, when she is taken away by her family and isn’t given the procedure, because of this she is stunned by the other people within her village. So they decide to move to the capital of Freetown Were she settles, but with the curse and past still in her mind.She soldiers on and manages to go to university and this enables another path to the US and a hope of a new life. She arrives and is successful but struggles to fit in again as she finds the world she lives in divide into Afro Americans, people from the Caribbean and then her group of people from Africa. She then begins to want to return home.She hs a finance but life is still strained for her.

For another few minutes neither spoke.Then, in a softer, less accusatory tone, Fina began again.”After college, I wamted so badly to get out of Sierra Leone to come and live here, where it wouldn’t ,atter what ethnic group i belonged to, whether I was a foster child, or that I was a woman”

She paused .Edna saind nothing

“Boy did I get that wrong! O just replaced the circles on my back tith ones that say Black, Afrcian and Foreign- no alien . Black and alen. Is this what life is all baout? running away from place to place trying to fit in, to belong

Fina struggles as her american dream crumbles as it is still about groups!!

This is an interesting insight into the story of being a fish out of the water all your life. from not having the brutal FGM procedure in her village that leads to being pushed out. To grow up in the capital with questions as to why they are there!  Then arriving and seeing the dark side of the American dream the way people divide themselves into where they are from still. Then we have the questions around FGM and how it is still acceptable in some villages and girls that opt not to have this awful procedure can be pushed out of their home and their own community and we see how this one act has a lasting effect on Fina and her life where she is a square peg trying to squeeze into the round hole. This has a feel of writers like Chinua Ahcibe especially the first part in the village has a similar feel to his writing. The cover for this hardback is very tactical.



Italian Lit month March 2018








I know I do Spanish lit month with Richard, but I was sat the other day in my book room and started looking at how many books from Italy. I thought I would love to do an Italian lit month since reading most of Zibaldone last year one of the defining books of Italian literature. I have been wanting to add a few more titles to my Italian list.So I decide March is a quiet month for me blog-wise I would suggest doing a lit month for Italy. I also like to throw in a couple of films at some point not quite made mind up which two to pick to watch.  I have on my shelves from Alberto Moravia and Italo Svevo









Both of whom I have read but neither is on the blog.Then I have read and reviewed a few books from Italo Calvino and a couple by Claudio Magris












Danube is one I want to feature after finishing river recently another book based around a river . Then I also have a couple of books by Giorgio Bassani and Giovanni Verga .Then I have a number of books by Europa editions which is an offshoot of an Italian publisher.








They have published crime novels, lit fiction and of course Elena Ferrante.HAve you a favourite Italian writer?

Some websites and lists

Best Italian novels on Goodreads.

Tim parks five books from Italy .

10 modern Novels from Italy 

15 Italian writers who aren’t Elena Ferrante

Italian cultural institute  .

Complete review Italian lit under review.

My Italian reviews.

OUP  blog why read Italian Literature 

Europa Editions



The Red-haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk


The red-haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk

Turkish fiction

Original title –  Kırmızı saçh kadın

Translator Ekin Oklap

Source – Library copy

Another from the list of books I missed last year and another I feel may be on the man booker prize. I love Orhan Pamuk he is one of those Nobel winners that write good books every time not knock out of the park books. I have enjoyed all the books by him I have read and have so far reviewed three of his books. It was nice this book was shorter than his recent books which have both been over 500 pages long.

I had wanted to be a writer. But after the events I am about to describe, I studied engineering, geologyand became a building contractor. Even so, readers shouldn’t conclude from my telling the story now that it is over, that I’ve put it all behind me. The more I remember , the deeper I fall into it. Perhap you, too, will follow, lured by the enigma of father and sons

The opening lines set Cems past and present out and what is still haunting him even today.

This is the story of two men digging a well. Their relationship is almost a father and son one as the story unfolds. They are digging a well on the edge of Istanbul in the traditional technique. Mahmut the master well builder is using his age-old knowledge to tell his apprentice. Cem the apprentice is a man who has grown up with an absent father so the regular stories and talks Mahmut and Him have as the work down the ground as the work the ground looking for water to help supply the factory.Then one day the woman of the title appears the red-haired woman a member of a travelling company captures his eye.But also leads to an incident with his master.Then we meet him years later with his own wife and son. He is riddled with guilt for the past.Although he is a successful engineer but not the writer he had dreamed of being. He has an incident with his own son. Then we have the last section of the novel, is  going over the first section from the eyes of the red-haired woman.

As the horse and I reached the open doorway, two more figures emerged: first, a man, maybe five or six years older than I was, and then a tall, red-haired woman who might have been his elder sister.There was something unusual, and very alluring, about this woman. Maybe the lady in jeans was the mother of this red-haired woman and her little brother.

His first sighting of the red-haired woman one that lingers in his mind over the years.

This is a retelling of the old Oedipus Rex story of a son killing a father and the reverse a father causing the sons death. Is a story of how we talk Cem struggles to talk to his own real father a man more caught up in his Dissident movement, so his adopt father Mahmut becomes a father figure as they do the hard work working the well but one moment cause an accident that he blames himself for the rest of his life. In the present, he has another incident with his own son life. Then we have the red-haired woman as a sort of temptress that cause problems from the moment she meets Cem and causes him problems for his life. Less complex than his recent books but still full of thew twist and turns you expect from Pamuk and of course the shadow of Istanbul is always in his stories.

A Poison Apple by Michel Laub



A Poison Apple by Michel Laub

Brazilian fiction

Original title –  A maçã envenenada

Translator – Daniel Hahn

Source – Library copy

I’m looking back at some of the books I have missed in translation over the last year and this was one of them. I read Michel Laub first book translated into English the Diary of the fall when it came out a couple of years ago. He has written books since the late nineties has published five novels so far. He won the Brasilia book prize for the diary of the fall. I also won the Wingate prize for translation.

I haven’t had many relationships between 1993 and today, at least not the long ones that end up serving as a point of comparison for the others. It’s as though the night I met Valeria was the starting benchmark, and from the chance ocurrence of my arriving at her house and seeing the Kurt Cobain poster and ger commenting that her biggest dream ever was tp see a nirvana show, a wave of premonition arose that contaminated all the conversations and fights and getting-back togethers and break ups I would have over two decades.

One moment he sees to blame for the future and the past of his relationships.

I remember the Butthole surfers lyric it is better to regret something you have done than regret something you haven’t done. well, Gibby Haynes wrote those lines on their Locust abortion technician album. He could have meant the guy of this story our Narrator is looking back to a point twenty years earlier. He was in his first serious relationship with a girl called Valeria.She is a singer and the woman that he lost his cherry with!!  He was in the middle of his compulsory military service. This was 1993 He had got them tickets to what would turn out to be the only show by Nirvana in Brazil.So our narrator got held up so let his best friend take his beloved Valeria to the concert. Not knowing that they would fall for each other at the concert. He is now recalling the events. He blames this one moment for not being able to get to the concert for his problems but also looks back at what happened to Kurt after this gig. As within in 18 months he had himself died and left us with the words of another great singer Neil youngs words Its better to burn out than fade away. Has one missed concert been the downfall or had he made the concert would his life had run different, had he been more Gibby and runoff from the CPOR training in Porto Alegre and gone to the concert. He also now a journalist in the present is interviewing a woman that hid in a bathroom with several other women during the Massacres in Rwanda. Her story is marked in his memory as well as his time with Valerie.

One explanation for why I was in London in the week Immaculee went into the bathroomand Kurt Cobain killed himself: a car accident I had had the year before. I crossed protasio Alves, at a traffic light opposite the bus lane, and a fire engineinto the door by my seat. I spent the night in the emergency clinc. They did tests and put a catheter in urethra.All theough the early hours I heard the groans from the other beds, and I was forbidden from drinking any water because they were considering surgery for first thing in the morning.

I like this as it had an echo to Kurt coming out in a hospital gown on reading where he sound like he was groaning in pain  at times during that performance.


This is an interesting book that has a sentimental look at a band that the writer must be a fan of to go into the depth he has with the history of the band and what happened after the Brazil gig. even the title is a quote both of a biblical nature it was Eve eating the apple that got Adam and Eve expelled after a snake told them too. It is also a Kurt Cobain line from the song Drain you about an unrequited love someone, Kurt, like but didn’t like him. Then add to it the side story of massacres and loss in Rwanda almost showing how a missed concert in the big scheme of things maybe isn’t important but maybe is !!I enjoyed this I too am a fan of Nirvana and also often wonder if certain moments in one’s life are those turning points we don’t know are turning points.


Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Indian fiction

Translated by Srinath Perur

Source – library book

I miss the old Man Asian prize because this is the sort of book I would have found via there longlist when it was running. I have always enjoyed the other books from around India I have read that have been translated. I know this one made a few end of year longlists. Vivek Shanbhag has written eight novels and a few plays, He is currently a writer in residence at the University of Iowa in America this is his first book to be translated into English.

Vincent is a waiter at coffee house, It’s just called that – coffeee house, The name hasn’t changed in a hundred years, even if the buisness has, You can still get a good cup of coffee here, but now it’s a bar and restaurant. Not one of those low-lit bar with people crammed around tables, where you come to suspect drinking may not be such a wholesome activiity after all.No this place is airy, soacious, high-ceilinged, Drinking here makes you feel cultured and sophisticated. The walls are paneled in wood to shoulder hieght. Old photographs hang on sturdy squarre pilars in the center of the room.

The coffee house is old but still hasn’t missed the changes in Modern India.

This book is narrated by an unnamed person talking about his family. we meet him initially in one of his favourite haunts a coffee shop, where he is a regular by the way he talks to the Waiter. The place is oak panelled and has a feel of the old India with old pictures of Bangalore where the book is set.The narrator is trying to untie what has happened to his family as he drinks his coffee Then we discover his father there spice business which has suddenly become the one everyone uses that has brought in wealth to him and the family. Then there is his wife Anita.She is the one that comes up with the title of the book a made up phrase her and her brother used when the Kite string got tangled up. That she uses when her new husband struggles to untie her clothes on their wedding night. This is a family sag in the piece the relation between wife, sister in law, father all have little tales in this lovely novella.

My impatient hands couldn’t get anywhere with the stuck knot. She tried, too, but to no avil.”Tchah”she said,” This string has become all ghachar ghochar.Wait” I stood there as she sat up, bent over the knot, and carefully teased it apart.

It came back to me later when we were lying there catching our breaths,”What was that you called the underskirt string?” I asked her.

She giggled” Ghachar Ghocahr” she said

The made up words of the title she used to uses with here brother .

Sometimes the best books come in around hundred pages.  The Great Gatsby, Heart of darkness. This is one of those vbooks that capture the Zeitgeist of there times and that is what happens when people move between classes in Modern India. This is a classic novella about people moving up the class ladder. Like Gatsby people feeling out of place, but I also feel at times Dickens is more apt there is something more in line with his work moving into the middle classes. What Vivek captures is a world that has changed it isn’t the male-centric world on the coffee shop walls no this is a new India was woman speak more than they use to and this is showing the waves that happen from a male point of view. He has constructed a number of strong female characters in this book. I pleased I read this one shame there is no man Asian prize to bring it to a bigger audience still

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